June 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Exclusive: President Obama Asks Campaign Donors to Send Him More Money (Lloyd Grove Jun 30, 2012, Daily Beast)

President Obama sounded weary and maybe a tad worried late Friday during a rambling conference call with campaign donors whom he repeatedly begged to send money--and send it now.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Burmese Days (Christian Caryl, 7/12/12, NYRB)

My conversation with the 88 Generation leaders took place just days before the president made good on this overture. On April 1, Burmese in a handful of districts around the country voted in an unprecedented parliamentary by-election. For the first time in decades, the ballots included candidates from the NLD--including Aung San Suu Kyi herself, who ran for a seat in a hardscrabble rural district on the outskirts of Rangoon. (She was released from house arrest in November 2010, shortly after the controversial vote that brought Thein Sein to power.) In their August meeting, Thein Sein had expressly invited Aung San Suu Kyi and her party to participate in the by-election, and after some hesitation the NLD leader accepted the offer, though with considerable misgivings.

The pro-democracy activists had good grounds for caution. The forty-six seats at stake in the election represented a tiny fraction (less than 7 percent) of the overall seats in the national parliament, so even a clean sweep would leave the NLD in a tiny minority, far short of the strength needed to change any laws. On top of that, the military-engineered constitution, crafted by a national assembly widely regarded as a pro-government body, reserves one quarter of the overall seats for members of the armed forces, and otherwise tilts the playing field in favor of the military's tame party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), which commands an overwhelming majority. The most likely opportunity for changing this constitution, if at all, will come no sooner than 2015, when the next national election is scheduled.

The oppositionists thus worried that participation in the by-election might amount to legitimizing a government that they would be in no position to control. When I asked Min Ko Naing about this, he hastened to assure me that Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys the support of his movement, even if the 88 Generation Students Group has carefully remained independent of the NLD. (It was, indeed, Min Ko Naing himself who had an active part in persuading the Lady, as many Burmese respectfully refer to her, to enter national politics for the first time back in 1988.) Even limited involvement in the business of government was better than none, he explained: "She can bring the voice of the people into parliament."

He then described a government riven between supporters and opponents of Thein Sein's recent reforms, and stressed that everything should be done to bolster the reformists. "Sixty percent of the government is sitting on the fence," he said. Above all, he emphasized, this first modest entry into the political system was necessary to assuage the fears of many members of the ruling elite who--all too aware of Aung San Suu Kyi's immense popularity--know full well the fragility of their own position, and accordingly worry that if they lose control, they could be subject to retribution for the decades of maltreatment the government has meted out to its own citizens.

To underline his point, Min Ko Naing told me a remarkable anecdote. During his most recent stint in a remote provincial prison, he discovered that the inmates included a former army colonel who had an active part in one of his earlier arrests; the ex-officer had landed in jail after losing out in a power struggle in the upper reaches of the regime. Min Ko Naing told me how he had made a point of treating the man with respect rather than enmity. When the officer was released along with the other prisoners in January, journalists approached him for interviews. But he declined, and referred them instead to Min Ko Naing, who, he said, spoke for all the prisoners. "The main emotion I feel for him is pity," Min Ko Naing told me. "As for me, I have political beliefs. That was why I was in jail. But in his case, a tree fell, and he just happened to be one of the branches."

I was struck by this story precisely because I had already heard versions of it from other oppositionists. Burma's pro-democracy activists are confronting a dilemma familiar to many societies that have experienced complicated transitions of their own. In the past, South Africans, Chileans, and Indonesians have all found themselves in comparable positions: the trick is finding acceptable ways to reassure authoritarian power holders that leaving the stage will not expose them or their families to the pent-up demand for vengeance.

These precedents are well known to Burma's oppositionists; it is such experiences that Aung San Suu Kyi has in mind when she speaks of the need for "restorative" rather than "retributive" justice in a post-authoritarian future. Yet the Burmese approach is not based solely on hardheaded political calculations. Figures like Min Ko Naing share with Aung San Suu Kyi a devotion to Buddhist precepts that deeply informs their striving for democracy and the protection of human rights.1 It is an attitude that attests to a great inner strength. When I asked Min Ko Naing how he felt when he finally emerged from his prison on that January day, his smile never wavered, and he replied without hesitation: "To me, it felt like returning home at the end of a long day's work." [...]

Burma is a changed country. A little over a year ago, Aung San Suu Kyi was still an unperson; merely mentioning her name was to invite trouble with the authorities. Today she is an officially acknowledged interlocutor of the president and a member of the country's highest lawmaking body. She and her NLD colleagues took their seats in parliament on May 2. Her image is sold openly by vendors on the streets of Rangoon and newspapers breathlessly report her every move. Indeed, a few days before the April 1 election she invited journalists to a press conference on the lawn of the lakeside home where she has spent most of the past twenty-four years under house arrest; hundreds of us, both Burmese and foreign, showed up, marveling at the faint surrealism of an event that would have been unimaginable not so long before. One of my reporter colleagues recalled his previous trip to Burma early in 2011. He was able to get a visa only by posing as a businessman, and once inside the country resorted to a variety of conspiratorial measures in order to evade the security services and protect the identity of his sources. Now it all seems a bit absurd.

The implications of this shift are potentially as far-reaching as the democratic revolutions of 1989 or the more recent upheavals of the Arab Spring. As Thant Myint-U explains in his excellent political travelogue, Where China Meets India, Burma is a linchpin country in the evolving geopolitics of Asia. It shares borders with both China and India, and policymakers in Beijing and Delhi are feverishly planning ambitious infrastructure projects--pipelines, highways, and railroads--that will allow them to boost their trade between each other as well as with Burma itself, which has an extraordinary wealth of untapped natural resources. Though such plans antedate the current opening, they stand little chance of succeeding unless the Burmese government can find a way to calm the ethnic rebellions in its own borderlands--an aim that is likely to be furthered by liberalization. Meanwhile, an outbreak of democracy in Burma could also have a profound effect on its neighbors in Southeast Asia, where a rising middle class has already begun to challenge long-dominant authoritarian assumptions in some countries.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Win-Win-Win: John Roberts saved the Court, Obama got his policy, and the GOP got its issue. (Plus, the public got to laugh at the errors of the media, and, oh, yes: health care.) (John Heilemann, Jun 29, 2012, New York)

Whatever his motives, however, by doing so Roberts emphatically ensured that the ruling--and he himself--would be immune to the increasingly adamant accusations of partisanship that have dogged the Court and damaged its stature in the eyes of the public in the wake of Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. It also guaranteed that many of the same hot-eyed ultracons who sang hosannas to him are now braying for his head. The day after the decision, Roberts told a gathering of judges and lawyers at a conference in Pennsylvania that he would soon be headed to spend his summer break on Malta, which, "as you know, is an impregnable island fortress. It seemed like a good idea."

History will judge the jurisprudential value of Roberts's opinion in upholding the ACA. But even at this meager temporal remove, its brilliance in one respect is already indisputable: the way it made a mockery of the self-serious self-certainty of any number of self-appointed Court savants. I'm not talking here about the folks at Fox News and CNN who, in their haste to be first to the air with the ruling, broadcast to the world that the individual mandate had been overturned. (Among those briefly given a minor coronary by the errors: President Obama, who--need it be said?--already has quite enough gray hair at this point, guys.)

No, I'm referring here to the likes of Jeffrey Toobin, who raced out of the Court after oral arguments in March and declared, "This was a train wreck for the Obama administration. This law looks like it's going to be struck down." Or to former Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino, who, after hearing public comments by Justice Ginsburg that there would be "sharp disagreements" when the decision was handed down, jumped to the entirely baseless conclusion that "that means it's either a 6-3 or a 5-4 decision against Obamacare." Or Bill O'Reilly, who months ago huffed and puffed as only he can, "It's going to be five-to-four [against the law]. And, if I'm wrong, I will come on and I will ... apologize for being an idiot."

In truth, O'Reilly is no more an idiot (on this topic, at least) than almost everyone else sitting rapt on Thursday morning, waiting for history to be made. And that, in the end, was what made the event so wonderful. On a political landscape where so much is familiar and predictable, the ruling was an utter surprise. For a moment, we were all blithering idiots together--though we'll still take that mea culpa, Bill.

...the only surprise was that Kennedy wasn't there to assign it to.  But it had to be written by one of the conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


OBIT: Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld: Count Robert de La Rochefoucauld, who has died aged 88, escaped from Occupied France to join the Special Operations Executive (SOE); parachuted back on sabotage missions, he twice faced execution, only to escape on both occasions, once dressed as a Nazi guard.  (The Telegraph, 29 Jun 2012)

Considered a sickly child, Robert was sent to a succession of private schools for the jeunesse dorée in Switzerland and Austria where, in 1938, he was taken on a school trip to Berchtesgaden, Hitler's Alpine retreat. When Hitler's convoy drew up, the Fuhrer approached and patted Robert on the cheek affectionately. It was, La Rochefoucauld later recalled, a dream come true for his 15 year-old self. Hitler was then the great statesman of Europe; young Robert and his schoolmates had attached swastikas to their bicycles in admiration.

La Rochefoucauld was back in France when the Nazis invaded. His father was taken prisoner; the rest of the family took refuge in the Chateau de Villeneuve, east of Paris. Furious at the Occupation, La Rochefoucauld protested long and loud until he was warned to keep quiet by a friendly postman, who had intercepted a letter denouncing the young man to the Nazis.

La Rochefoucauld made contact with the Resistance in the spring of 1942, keen to find a route to join Free French forces in England. He took the pseudonym René Lallier and travelled, via Vichy and Perpignan, to the Pyrenees, where he accompanied two British airmen over the Col de Perthuis into Spain. Immediately arrested, the three spent two months in jail before Major Eric Piquet-Wicks, head of recruiting French nationals for SOE, arrived from the British embassy in Madrid and arranged for the three to be released.

It was at the embassy that La Rochefoucauld was invited to join SOE. "The courage and skill of British agents is without equal," he recalled the ambassador noting. "It is just that their French accents are appalling."

After meeting de Gaulle to ask his permission to join British forces ("Do it," came the reply. "Even allied to the Devil, it's for La France.") La Rochefoucauld began his training early in 1943 at RAF Ringway, near Manchester, where he learned to parachute and use small arms and explosives, as well as how to kill a man with the flat of his hand. Experienced safe-crackers were brought out of jail to show the recruits the art of breaking and entering. In June he was considered ready for his first mission.

Dropped into the Morvan with two British agents, including one radio operator, La Rochefoucauld teamed up with a Maquis group near Avallon led by a man who called himself The Pope. After destroying the electrical substation at Avallon, and blowing up railway tracks, La Rochefoucauld was awaiting exfiltration by the RAF when he was denounced and arrested. After a series of interrogations, he was condemned to death.

En route to his execution in Auxerre, La Rochefoucauld made a break, leaping from the back of the truck carrying him to his doom, and dodging the bullets fired by his two guards. Sprinting through the empty streets, he found himself in front of the Gestapo's headquarters, where a chauffeur was pacing near a limousine bearing the swastika flag. Spotting the key in the ignition, La Rochefoucauld jumped in and roared off, following the Route Nationale past the prison he had left an hour earlier.

He smashed through a roadblock before dumping the car and circling back towards Auxerre on foot under cover of night. He sheltered with an epicier. From Auxerre, friends in the Resistance helped him on to a train for Paris, where he evaded German soldiers hunting him by curling up underneath the sink in the lavatory. "When we arrived in Paris I felt drunk with freedom," he recalled.

Taking refuge with an aunt and uncle, both of whom had assumed he was dead, La Rochefoucauld spent a month rebuilding his strength before, in February 1944, recontacting SOE, which ordered him to the Calais coast, then on high alert for the expected Allied invasion, to be extracted by submarine. After a successful rendezvous off Berck, La Rochefoucauld enjoyed a convivial evening with the crew, only to find himself obliged to stay on-board for three days while the sub completed a patrol. Those days of confinement, he wrote, were among his "worst of the war". When the vessel came under depth charge attack, La Rochefoucauld noted later, he had "never been so scared in my life".

Back in London, however, he found a city celebrating a victory that many assumed was just around the corner. "We were invited to the best houses," he recalled. "Girls fell into our arms." By May he was ready to be parachuted back into France, charged with blowing up the vast munitions factory at Saint-Médard near Bordeaux ahead of D-Day.

The mission, code-named "Sun", saw La Rochefoucauld infiltrate the factory dressed as one of the workers there. Over four days he smuggled in 40 kilos of explosives, concealed in hollowed-out loaves of bread and specially designed shoes. On Thursday May 20, La Rochefoucauld linked the charges and set timers before scaling a wall and pedalling to safety on a bicycle. The blast was heard for miles. After sending a message to London (the reply read simply: "Félicitations") he enjoyed several good bottles with the local Resistance leader, waking the next day with a hangover.

Cycling to Bordeaux to meet a contact who was to arrange his return to England, however, he ran into a roadblock, taken prisoner, and imprisoned at the 16th-century Fort du Hâ.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


The Healthcare Myths We Must Confront (Cliff Asness, June 29, 2012, American)

The goals of healthcare reform--covering more Americans, improving outcomes, and doing so more cost effectively--are all laudable, but are all hampered by the continued belief in these myths. Rejecting these misconceptions is crucial to any chance of our eventually emerging with a better system.

Myth #1:  Healthcare prices have soared in the recent past

Everyone knows that healthcare prices have soared, but everyone may well be wrong. The statistics we see are always about the amount we spend on healthcare, not the price of healthcare. Consider a comparison of healthcare in the 1950s versus today. In the 1950s, you had none of the subsequent developments in pharmaceuticals, surgery, diagnosis, etc. How much would you pay for that versus today's healthcare? Not so much, I'm guessing. In fact, if you look around the world, in impoverished countries you can probably find a reasonable facsimile of this 1950s healthcare at a low cost. While this example is intentionally extreme, the measurement problem it illustrates is important. The quality of the best healthcare has soared over time. This measurement problem is not unique to healthcare. Measuring the price inflation in computers is incredibly difficult. If the price of a laptop today is the same as 20 years ago, but the laptop is ridiculously better now, hasn't the price really fallen dramatically?

Consider another hypothetical. Imagine we develop a cure for all cancers that costs a flat $1 million per person and works perfectly. Let's assume this is more than the total cost to treat these cancers otherwise. In this case, the amount we spend on healthcare will likely rise dramatically, because it just got much better and we chose to spend more on it. The cure we are talking about did not exist before now, so it does not make sense to ask whether the price rose. Here's a better question. Are we better off even though we are spending much more on healthcare? Yes, we are, although some will cite the dramatic rise in our healthcare spending and demand that action be taken.

One more, and let's get really simple. In the olden days, our great-grandparents might have had one pair of reading glasses. Now, many of us have one pair at home, one in the car, one at work, etc. Because we are more prosperous we spend more on reading glasses than our forebears, even though the price has not necessarily changed. Again, there is a gigantic difference between what we spend on something and its price. And again, the comparison of old and new prices is particularly vexing in healthcare because most of the healthcare we buy was not even invented when our great-grandparents were ill.

The above is highly relevant to our ongoing debate because the "soaring price of healthcare" is often cited as a reason we desperately need reform, perhaps radical reform. Even if correctly referred to as the "soaring cost of healthcare," this is presented as an unambiguously bad thing, when that is certainly false. It's bad when it's a function of waste or monopoly power gained through cronyism--undoubtedly part of our system and, as usual, with government the main culprit--but not bad when it's the result of improvement, undoubtedly a huge component over time. The price of healthcare over time is hard to accurately measure, but those screaming about the price soaring are probably wrong.

Until consumers have their own skin in the game, there's no reason for them not to waste money in this fashion.  Universal HSAs will force each of us to consider whether we'd rather have six pairs of glasses and all kinds of vanity procedures or rather have the money in our own savings accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Jukebox The Ghost Live From World Cafe (WXPN, June 29, 2012, World Cafe)

Crafting a fresh-faced indie-pop sound, Jukebox the Ghost is frequently compared to They Might Be Giants and Ben Folds. Hear the trio perform songs from its latest record, Safe Travels, at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Biggest Winner in Healthcare Decision: The Founders (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 6/28/12, Via Medea)

I have one other thought on the decision.

Both the United States and the European Union have been confronting profound and divisive issues over the last few years. In Europe, they are trying to hammer out the nature of a currency union, a matter that affects the money in everyone's pockets. In the US, we have been trying to get a grip on our health care system. These are both the most difficult kind of political issues to address: they affect everybody, they stir up powerful emotional currents, and no perfect solutions that please everyone exist.

I don't think the health care policy we've adopted is a particularly good one, but at least our institutions more or less worked. The President made a proposal, the Congress then in office debated the proposal and, after much agony and pork peddling, passed a law. The law was and is controversial; it is being relitigated in two forums. Judicially, it moved through the Court system and received a full and thorough review, and a definitive decision has been pronounced. This is the law of the land, and it will and should be enforced until changed.

The second form of litigation is through the political system. The people voted in 2010, electing a House that is ready to repeal the bill and start anew. This fall, the public will decide whether the President who proposed the bill and the Senate majority that passed it should or should not be replaced.

Like the results or not, our institutions are producing answers. Our institutions take up the questions before the public and they make decisions. Their deliberations conclude, and they pronounce, and we move to the next stage.

Compare all this with Europe, where there are no institutions that are capable of coming to grips with the currency question. Meeting after meeting is held, no real agreement is reached. Neither the EU Parliament nor the Commission nor the heads of government meeting in summits has the power or a method to decide. Europe is trying to write a constitution even as it works desperately to stave off an economic collapse.

The United States, God knows, isn't perfect. Our political class is not exactly the Best in Show. We labor under some deeply misguided policies and powerful forces threaten to undermine the values and the habits that have made us a great people. Nevertheless, our institutions still work more or less as the Founders designed.

...is that they can't win the universal health care argument democratically.  They needed the most dangerous institution to win it for them.  Now they'll have to settle for reforming it along conservative principles instead of abolishing it on radical ones.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


They Preached Liberty: The passion of American ministers for political freedom in 1776 reflected their belief in religious toleration. (JOSEPH LOCONTE, 6/28/12, WSJ)

On Sunday morning, Jan. 21, 1776, at a church in Woodstock, Va., Rev. Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg brought his sermon to a dramatic and unexpected crescendo. His text was taken from the book of Ecclesiastes. "The Bible tells us 'there is a time for all things,' and there is a time to preach and a time to pray," said Muhlenberg. "But the time for me to preach has passed away; and there is a time to fight, and that time has now come."

Stepping down from the pulpit, the minister took off his clerical robes to reveal the uniform of a colonel in the 8th Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army. He had been personally recruited by George Washington. Outside the church door, drums sounded as men kissed their wives goodbye and strode down the aisle to enlist. In less than an hour, 162 men from Muhlenberg's congregation joined the patriot cause.

The "fighting parson" was a common sight in the American Revolution. Why? Because American Christianity--anchored in a Protestant understanding of religious freedom--gave its blessing to democratic self-government.

So ended History.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Congressional Democrats' Pennsylvania Problem (STUART ROTHENBERG, JUNE 29, 2012, Rothenburg Report)

But if the southeastern corner of the Keystone State has started to resemble New Jersey and Connecticut, Western Pennsylvania increasingly looks like West Virginia or southeastern Ohio, areas where voters have started to think and behave more like Republicans. This movement of working-class voters toward the GOP has helped offset the partisan trend in the Philadelphia suburbs, keeping Pennsylvania an interesting and competitive state.

Pennsylvania swung wildly between 2006 and 2010, as most of the country did.

Democrats gained a total of five House seats in the Keystone State in the 2006 and 2008 elections -- one-tenth of their total haul. After the '08 elections, Democrats held 12 of the state's 19 Congressional districts. Two years later, the numbers flipped, with Republicans sitting in 12 seats.

Redistricting after the 2010 census, of course, has further changed the state's arithmetic because the GOP-controlled state Legislature made it more difficult for House Democrats to make gains by packing Democratic voters together, including throwing two incumbent Democrats into the same district.

So, while Democrats remain hopeful about retaking the House, Pennsylvania is starting to look like a black hole for them this year. And if the party can't come out of Pennsylvania gaining even a single additional House seat this cycle, there will be extra pressure in states such as Illinois, California and Florida, where redistricting did benefit Democrats, to pick up seats.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Roberts Calls Mandate What Obama Swore It Was Not -- A Tax (Jonathan Horn, 6/29/12, Forbes)
Unlike justices, elected leaders, Roberts reminded, "can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With one sentence, Chief Justice John Roberts did what scores of speeches from President Barack Obama and hundreds of pages of legislation from Congress could not do: define what the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act actually was.

"The Affordable Care Act's requirement that certain individuals pay a financial penalty for not obtaining health insurance may reasonably be characterized as a tax," wrote Roberts, who joined the four liberal justices Thursday in upholding the key provision of Obama's signature health care law. [...]

As Roberts limited the power of the legislative branch, he also reminded Americans about the limits of his own branch. "Members of this court are vested with the authority to interpret the law; we possess neither the expertise nor the prerogative to make policy judgments," Roberts wrote. "It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices," the chief justice added with a spirit of humility always strangely absent from the commander in chief's remarks.

None of this is to say that voters must live with their bad decisions. Unlike justices, elected leaders, Roberts reminded, "can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them." In other words, ObamaCare need only be the law of the land for as long as Americans care to keep Obama in office.

June 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Why Roberts Was Right (Michael Knox Beran, June 29, 2012, National Review)

However painful it was to read the headline "Obamacare Stands" on Drudge yesterday, Chief Justice Roberts made the right call.

Roberts's opinion, far from being an act of cowardice or betrayal, is true to the tradition of the early Republic, when the Supreme Court exercised the power of judicial review to strike down federal statutes only very rarely.

Before 1803, federal judges, acting on Alexander Hamilton's arguments in Federalist 78 and Sir Edward Coke's ruling in Bonham's Case, flirted with the idea of judicial review of federal laws. But it was only in 1803 that the doctrine came into its own, when the Supreme Court struck down a clause in the Judiciary Act of 1789 because it was, in Chief Justice Marshall's words, "in opposition to the Constitution."

The case, of course, was Marbury v. Madison. But the justices were hardly intoxicated by their newly asserted power. The Court didn't invalidate another federal law again until 1857 -- in Dred Scott v. Sandford, not exactly the crown jewel of American jurisprudence.

Judicial review, like any other form of authority, is subject to the Actonian principle that power corrupts.

Learned Hand deplored the way this particular power was corrupting the integrity of the Supreme Court, and in his 1958 Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures at Harvard he warned that the Court was becoming a "third legislative chamber."

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


The Giants are our Daddies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Celtics Draft Picks Add Greater Evidence That Team Long Ago Began Process of Building Around Rajon Rondo (Ben Watanabe, Jun 29, 2012, NESN)

Most of what was said during and immediately following the NBA draft on Thursday was standard front office-speak. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and assistant general manager Ryan McDonough were surprised to get Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo with the 21st and 22nd picks. They had both players rated higher. They like both players' potential but are not counting on both to contribute right away. They're excited, and all that stuff. Two subtle comments stood out, though. In speaking about Melo, McDonough noted that the 7-footer from Syracuse is "an over-the-top threat on lobs." Ainge added that Sullinger is "not a sprinter by any stretch, but he's a rebounder and you've got to have the ball to run."

 In other words: Happy offseason, Rajon Rondo. The Celtics got you two new toys to play with.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Modesty and Audacity (DAVID BROOKS, 6/29/12, NY Times)

And here's the biggest gift that Roberts gave to the nation: By restraining the power of the court to shape health care policy, he opened up space for the rest of us to shape that policy through the political process. By modestly refraining from rewriting health care laws himself, he has given voters and politicians more room to be audacious.

The decision doesn't end the health care debate; it accelerates it. I spoke to some conservatives on Thursday. They were disappointed by the ruling, but they were delighted with the language on the commerce clause. Most of all, they were excited about the coming political debate. They remain sure that Obamacare is a fatally unpopular and flawed Rube Goldberg device and were energized to work harder for its repeal.

I spoke to some liberals Thursday, too. It was striking how quickly their comments moved from the past to the future -- to the need to ramp up the exchanges, modernize delivery systems and build on the bundling experiments.

People in both camps seem to agree: We've had a big argument about health care over the past several years, yet we haven't tackled the big issues. We haven't tackled the end-of-life issues. We haven't fixed the medical malpractice system. We are only beginning to correct the antiquated administrative systems.

Crucially, we haven't addressed the structural perversities that are driving the health care system to bankruptcy. Obamacare or no Obamacare, American health care is still distorted by the fee-for-service system that rewards quantity over quality and creates a gigantic incentive for inefficiency and waste. Obamacare or no Obamacare, the system is still distorted by the tax exclusion for employer-provided plans that prevents transparency, hides the relationship between cost and value and encourages overspending.

...is that it is conservatives who need the mandate to bring market forces to bear on such problems, via universal HSAs, which is why it was their idea in the first place--back before they started pretending it was unconstitutional....

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Did Roberts Gut the Commerce Clause? (Jonathan Cohn, June 28, 2012, New Republic)

Richard Primus, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan, is skeptical that Roberts' opinion will seriously limit the reach of that clause:

"People will say the discussion of the Commerce Clause is important, but its importance is symbolic rather than practical. This decision gave the Court a free shot to say that the commerce power is limited without having to strike anything down. Judges will get to say that the commerce power is limited and cite this decision. But no statute is likely to get struck down on this ground anytime in the foreseeable future. There aren't any statutes that would fall to this analysis, and Congress is unlikely to pass any.

"The job of a Supreme Court justice is to say the commerce power is limited, just like it is the job of a Cardinal to say "I believe in one true Church, holy, Catholic, and apostolic." It's a statement of creed. The Chief Justice may well believe in that creed, and certainly lots of other people do. There is value in asserting that creed. But I don't think it will actually decide a foreseeable case, and it didn't today.

"The brilliance of the decision is that the Court affirmed the creed without doing damage."

Elections are the only constitutional limit on the Commerce Clause.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


The Silent Friendships of Men (ROGER ROSENBLATT, 12/07/1998, TIME)

The silence of men in general is over-talked about and overcriticized. To be sure, men never open up as much as women want them to, but there is a wordless understanding in which we function fairly well--especially in friendships. There are a dozen guys whom I count as friends and who do the same with me, yet months pass without our speaking, and even when we do, we don't.

Old story: two women approach Calvin Coolidge. One says to the close-mouthed President, "Mr. Coolidge, I just bet my friend that I could get you to say three words." Says Coolidge: "You lose."

I believe, in fact, that most women would prefer a man to be glumly uncommunicative than to spill his guts at the drop of a hat. [...]

The push for men to express their feelings presumes that we have feelings, and we do have a few, but they remain submerged, and the airing of them often violates their authenticity. [...]

There's a deep, basically serene well of silence in most men, which, for better and worse, is where we live. I do not mean to start claptrapping myself, but I often think that all our acts of aggression and wanna-fight posturing arise from that well as forms of overcompensation or panic. Unlike women, men are not social creatures, not born administrators. It's nicely P.C. to think of God as female, but no woman would have thrown Lucifer out of heaven; she would have offered him a desk job. Had Lucifer been a woman, she would have dropped all that "myself am hell" business and taken it.

I would go so far as to argue that men were programmed to be isolated from one another and that aloneness is our natural state. Silence in male friendships is our way of being alone with each other. Once men have established a friendship, that itself is the word. The affection is obvious, at least to us. A main component of our silence is an appreciation of the obvious.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Waiting game : Watching the world's best tennis players at Wimbledon over the next fortnight can help us make better decisions (Frank Partnoy, 6/24/12, Financial Times)

Watch Novak Djokovic. His advantage over the other professionals at Wimbledon won't be his agility or stamina or even his sense of humour. Instead, as scientists who study superfast athletes have found, the key to Djokovic's success will be his ability to wait just a few milliseconds longer than his opponents before hitting the ball. That tiny delay is why most players won't have a chance against him. Djokovic wins because he can procrastinate - at the speed of light.

During superfast reactions, the best-performing experts in sport, and in life, instinctively know when to pause, if only for a split-second. The same is true over longer periods: some of us are better at understanding when to take a few extra seconds to deliver the punchline of a joke, or when we should wait a full hour before making a judgment about another person. Part of this skill is gut instinct, and part of it is analytical. We get some of it from trial and error or by watching experts, but we also can learn from observing toddlers and even animals. There is both an art and a science to managing delay.

In 2008, when the financial crisis hit, I wanted to get to the heart of why our leading bankers, regulators and others were so short-sighted and wreaked such havoc on our economy: why were their decisions so wrong, their expectations of the future so catastrophically off the mark? I also wanted to figure out, for selfish reasons, whether my own tendency to procrastinate (the only light fixture in my bedroom closet has been broken for five years) was really such a bad thing.

Here is what I learnt from interviewing more than 100 experts in different fields and working through several hundred recent studies and experiments: given the fast pace of modern life, most of us tend to react too quickly. We don't, or can't, take enough time to think about the increasingly complex timing challenges we face. Technology surrounds us, speeding us up. We overreact to its crush every day, both at work and at home.

Yet good time managers are comfortable pausing for as long as necessary before they act, even in the face of the most pressing decisions. Some seem to slow down time. For the best decision-makers, as for the best tennis players, time is more flexible than a metronome or atomic clock.

The belief that we need to decide things quickly is largely a function of overestimating our own importance. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


How Can a Big Gulp Look So Small? (TARA PARKER-POPE, 6/24/12, NY Times Magazine)

Recently, Pierre Chandon, a French marketing professor and visiting Harvard Business School scholar, decided to test the idea that consumers know what's best for them. He asked 294 people to estimate -- using photos of a 6.5-ounce bottle (the standard for decades), a 12-ounce can or a 12-ounce cup as benchmarks -- how much liquid was in a range of cups, starting at 12 ounces all the way up to a 50-ounce "Double Gulp." While it sounds simple, respondents consistently guessed wrong, assuming that the larger cups held about 20 percent to 40 percent less liquid than they actually did. Dozens of other studies, using jelly beans, popcorn, ice cream and alcoholic drinks, have also shown that consumers can't be depended on to perceive serving sizes accurately.

The reason comes down to the fact that the human brain has a surprisingly tough time with geometry and often can't accurately gauge when an object has doubled or even tripled in size. It's even trickier when the object is a wide-mouth cup, larger on the top than the bottom. "We tend to underestimate the increase in the size of any object," said Professor Chandon, director of the Insead Social Science Research Center in Paris. "When you double the size of something, it really looks just 50 to 70 percent bigger, not twice as big."

In one study, dietitians were asked to estimate calories in three fast-food meals. The baseline meal consisted of a three-inch ham sandwich, six chips and a 10-ounce cup of soda. The portion size was doubled in the second meal and doubled again in the third meal. Yet even the dietitians failed to see it, guessing 13 percent to 26 percent too low on the calorie counts. 

June 28, 2012

Posted by Stephen Judd at 10:53 AM




Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


In Praise of Leisure (Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky, 6/18/12, The Chronicle Review)

The irony, however, is that now that we have at last achieved abundance, the habits bred into us by capitalism have left us incapable of enjoying it properly. The Devil, it seems, has claimed his reward. Can we evade this fate? Perhaps, but only if we can retrieve from centuries of neglect and distortion the idea of a good life, a life sufficient unto itself. Here we must draw on the rich storehouse of premodern wisdom, Occidental and Oriental. [...]

Let us state firmly that we are not in favor of idleness. What we wish to see more of is leisure, a category that, properly understood, is so far from coinciding with idleness that it approaches its polar opposite. Leisure, in the true, now almost forgotten sense of the word, is activity without extrinsic end, "purposiveness without purpose," as Kant put it. The sculptor engrossed in cutting marble, the teacher intent on imparting a difficult idea, the musician struggling with a score, a scientist exploring the mysteries of space and time--such people have no other aim than to do well what they are doing. They may receive an income for their efforts, but that income is not what motivates them. They are engaged in leisure, not toil.

This is an idealization, of course. In the real world, extrinsic rewards, including financial rewards, are never entirely out of mind. Still, insofar as action proceeds not from necessity but from inclination, insofar as it is spontaneous, not servile and mechanical, toil is at an end and leisure has begun. This--not idleness--is our ideal. It is only our culture's poverty of imagination that leads it to believe that all creativity and innovation--as opposed to that specific kind directed to improving economic processes--needs to be stimulated by money.

"That is all very splendid," our critic might retort, "but it is hardly likely that a reduction of externally motivated activity will lead to an increase of leisure, in your high-flown sense of the term. Slackers like us need the stimulus of money to move us to anything. Without it, our natural laziness comes to the fore, leading not to the good life but to boredom, neurosis, and the bottle. Read a few Russian novels and you will see what I mean."

Such an objection can be met only with a declaration of faith. A universal reduction of work has never been attempted, so we do not know for sure what its consequences would be. But we cannot think them as dire as our critic suggests, or of the central project of modern civilization, to improve the well-being of the people, as empty and vain. If the ultimate end of industry is idleness, if we labor and create merely so that our descendants can snuggle down to an eternity of daytime television, then all progress is, as Orwell put it, "a frantic struggle towards an objective which [we] hope and pray will never be reached." We are in the paradoxical situation of goading ourselves to ever new feats of enterprise, not because we think them worthwhile, but because any activity, however pointless, is better than none. We must believe in the possibility of genuine leisure--otherwise our state is desperate indeed.

Another reflection gives us hope. The image of man as a congenital idler, stirred to action only by the prospect of gain, is unique to the modern age. Economists, in particular, see human beings as beasts of burden who need the stimulus of a carrot or stick to do anything at all. "To satisfy our wants to the utmost with the least effort" is how William Stanley Jevons, a pioneer of modern economic theory, defined the human problem. That was not the ancient view of things. Athens and Rome had citizens who, though economically unproductive, were active to the highest degree--in politics, war, philosophy, and literature. Why not take them, and not the donkey, as our guide?

Of course, Athenian and Roman citizens were schooled from an early age in the wise use of leisure. Our project implies a similar educational effort. We cannot expect a society trained in the servile and mechanical uses of time to become one of free men overnight. But we should not doubt that the task is, in principle, possible. Bertrand Russell, in an essay written just two years after Keynes's effort--a further illustration of the stimulating effects of economic crisis--put the point with his usual clarity:

It will be said that, while a little leisure is pleasant, men would not know how to fill their days if they had only four hours of work out of the 24. Insofar as this is true in the modern world, it is a condemnation of our civilization; it would not have been true at any earlier period. There was formerly a capacity for lightheartedness and play which has been to some extent inhibited by the cult of efficiency. ... The pleasures of urban populations have become mainly passive: seeing cinemas, watching football matches, listening to the radio, and so on. This results from the fact that their active energies are fully taken up with work; if they had more leisure, they would again enjoy pleasures in which they took an active part.

We might add that it is largely because leisure has lost its true meaning of spontaneous activity and degenerated into passive consumption that we throw ourselves into work as the lesser of two evils. "One must work," wrote Baudelaire in his Intimate Journals, "if not from taste, then at least from despair. For, to reduce everything to a single truth: work is less boring than pleasure."

An additional objection to our ideas takes the form of a qualified defense of moneymaking: True, say our critics, it is not the noblest of human activities, but of the main goals of human striving it is the least harmful. Keynes put it well: "Dangerous human proclivities can be canalized into comparatively harmless channels by the existence of opportunities for moneymaking and private wealth, which, if they cannot be satisfied in this way, may find their outlet in cruelty, the reckless pursuit of personal power and authority, and other forms of self-aggrandizement."

But he added that "it is not necessary for the stimulation of these activities and the satisfaction of these proclivities that the game should be played for such high stakes as at present. Much lower stakes will serve the purpose equally well, as soon as the players are accustomed to them." This perfectly captures our defense. We are not proposing that moneymaking should be banned, as it was in the Soviet Union, but that "the game" should be subject to rules and limitations which do not move society away from the good life.

The last, and deepest, objection to our project concerns its supposedly illiberal character. A liberal state, John Rawls and others have taught us to believe, embodies no positive vision but only such principles as are necessary for people of different tastes and ideals to live together in harmony. To promote, as a matter of public policy, a positive idea of the good life is by definition illiberal, perhaps even totalitarian. This view rests on a thorough misconception of liberalism. Through most of its long history, the liberal tradition was imbued with classical and Christian ideals of dignity, civility, and tolerance. ("Liberal," we should remember, originally designated what was appropriate to a free man, a usage surviving in phrases such as "liberal arts.")

In the 20th century, such prototypical liberals as Keynes, Isaiah Berlin, and Lionel Trilling took it for granted that upholding civilization was among the functions of the state. It is a superficial conception of liberalism that sees it as implying neutrality among different visions of the good. In any case, neutrality is a fiction. A "neutral" state simply hands power to the guardians of capital to manipulate public taste in their own interests.

Perhaps the chief intellectual barrier to realizing the good life for all is the discipline of economics, or rather the deathly orthodoxy that sails under that name in most universities across the world. Economics, says a recent text, studies "how people choose to use limited and scarce resources in attempting to supply unlimited wants." The italicized adjectives are strictly redundant: If wants are unlimited, then resources are by definition limited relative to them, however rich we may be in the absolute sense. We are condemned to dearth, not through want of resources, but by the extravagance of our appetites. As the economist Harry Johnson put it in 1960, "we live in a rich society, which nevertheless in many respects insists on thinking and acting as if it were a poor society." The perspective of poverty, and with it an emphasis on efficiency at all costs, is built into modern economics.

It was not ever thus. Adam Smith, the founder of modern economics, assumed that our inborn desire for improvement would eventually run up against natural and institutional limits, resulting in the achievement of a "stationary state." For Alfred Marshall, Keynes's teacher, economics was the study of the "material prerequisites of well-being," a definition that preserved the Aristotelian and Christian concept of wealth as a means to an end.

After Marshall, however, economics shifted gear. In a classic definition, Lionel Robbins wrote of economics as "the science that studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses." Robbins's definition both puts scarcity at the center of economics and brackets out judgments of value. The domain of economics is the study of efficient means to ends, but the economist, qua economist, has nothing to say about those "ends." He assumes only that they will always outstrip the means at our disposal for attaining them, meaning that scarcity is a permanent feature of the human condition.

If scarcity is always with us, then efficiency, the optimal use of scarce resources, and economics, the science that teaches us efficiency, will always be necessary. Yet in any common-sensical view of the matter, scarcity waxes and wanes. We know that famines are periods of extreme scarcity, and that good harvests produce relative plenty. Thomas Malthus understood that when population grows faster than food supplies, scarcity grows; and in the reverse case, it declines. Moreover, scarcity, as most people understand it, has diminished greatly in most societies over the last 200 years. People in rich and even medium-rich countries no longer starve to death. All this implies that the social importance of efficiency has declined, and with it the utility of economics.

The beginning of sanity in this matter is to think of scarcity in relation to needs, not wants. And this is how we do normally think of it. The man with three houses is not thought to be in dire straits, however urgent his desire for a fourth. "He has enough," we say, meaning "enough to meet his needs." Flagrant manifestations of insatiability--such as an uncontrollable desire to collect cats or dollhouses--are widely viewed as pathological, not normal. We are all, in principle, capable of limiting our wants to our needs; the problem is that a competitive, monetized economy puts us under continual pressure to want more and more. The "scarcity" discerned by economists is increasingly an artifact of this pressure. Considered in relation to our vital needs, our state is one not of scarcity but rather of extreme abundance.

The material conditions of the good life already exist, at least in the affluent parts of the world, but the blind pursuit of growth puts the good life continually out of reach. Under such circumstances, the aim of policy and other forms of collective action should be to secure an economic organization that places the good things of life--health, respect, friendship, leisure, and so on--within reach of all. Economic growth should be accepted as a residual, not something to be aimed at.

Except that greater economic growth is largely detached from labor these days and while it does provide the wealth the authors rightly welcome it produces ever greater leisure as well.  What we need to accept is not the idea of working less just for aesthetic reasons but because our work is unproductive and impedes growth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Will We Ever See Another LT? (Robert Mays, June 18, 2012, Grantland)

In today's NFL, there's a feeling of impermanence surrounding even the best running backs. The value of the position has diminished to the point that teams that draft backs too high or dole out massive contracts are questioned for it, and the thing is, those questions have some merit. The New York Giants won a Super Bowl in February with the league's worst rushing offense. Two of the league's best five backs will be coming back from torn ACLs this season. Another took home $30 million guaranteed last offseason before falling off the face of the earth. With every 5,000-yard passer and every running back by committee, there's an increased fragility in the lifespan of truly dominant backs. That's why today, as LaDainian Tomlinson ends an unbelievable 11-year career, it feels like an era is ending with it.

Give Bill Belichick a worse quarterback and a better running back and you'd get ten similar years.

The question is, will we ever see another Lawrence Taylor?  That LT would have been switched to the offensive side of the ball today, which is why there are no longer any good outside linebackers.  If you're fast enough to get to the passer and strong enough to tackle, you're a tight end.  No one would move Rob Gronkowski, but if you made his brother, Dan, a linebacker instead of a tight end the Pats would have a pass rush.

June 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM

1 + 2 = 4th:

Future tense, X: The fourth revolution : On the possibility of a forthcoming political revolution. (James Piereson, June 2012, New Criterion)

Notwithstanding its reputation for stability and continuity, the U.S. political system seems to resolve its deepest problems in relatively brief periods of intense and potentially destabilizing conflict. These events are what some historians have called our "surrogates for revolution" because, rather than overthrowing the constitutional order, they adjust it to developing circumstances.

There are a few clear reasons why the American system adjusts in this discontinuous fashion. The constitutional system, with its dispersed powers and competing institutional interests, resists preemptive and over-arching solutions to accumulating problems. At the same time, America's dynamic economy and highly mobile society are constantly creating new challenges to which the political system cannot easily respond. At times, these challenges have built up to a point where the differences between parties and interests have been so fundamental as to defy efforts to resolve them through the ordinary channels of politics.

There are a few superficial similarities in the structure of these earlier events that might provide clues as to what we might look for in any new upheaval. These events--Jefferson's revolution, the sectional conflict, and the crisis of the 1930s and 1940s--extended over several election cycles before producing a stable resolution; the political settlements that emerged from these conflicts lasted roughly a lifetime--sixty or seventy years--until they began to unravel under the pressure of new developments; and each event ended with the ouster of the political party that had dominated the system during the previous era.

At a deeper level, each of these realignments discredited an established set of governing elites and brought into power new groups of political and cultural leaders. After reorganizing national politics around new principles, these new elites took control of the national government, staffing its departments and agencies with their political supporters. As they strengthened their control over the system, they also gradually extended their influence into important subsidiary organizations, such as newspapers, college and university faculties, book publishers, and civic associations. College and university faculties and our major newspapers today are overwhelmingly Democratic; from the 1870s into the 1930s, they were generally Republican. This is one of the factors that cements any realignment in place and gives it the stability to persist over many decades.

One can also identify in all three cases an abrupt change of policy, a broken agreement, or some perceived violation of faith that poisoned relations between the parties, drove them further apart, and closed off possibilities for compromise. The Federalists' passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798), which opponents saw as an attempt to criminalize criticism of the Adams administration, provoked all-out warfare with Jefferson's fledgling party and convinced Jefferson and James Madison that their ultimate goal should be the destruction of the Federalist Party. The Democratic Party's repeal of the Missouri Compromise in 1854 brought the Republican Party into existence and sharpened the sectional conflict by several degrees. In 1932, FDR claimed (falsely in this case) that the bankers and industrialists had caused the Depression by irresponsible speculation in stocks. Because of this violation of trust, he declared that their activities would have to be supervised more closely by federal authorities.

More fundamentally, each of these realignments was carried out and then maintained by one dominant political party. Following the election of 1800, Jefferson's (and later Jackson's) Democratic party defined the parameters of political competition until the outbreak of the sectional crisis in the 1850s. The Republican Party led the nation through the Civil War and maintained its dominant status throughout the post-bellum era of industrial development. In the midst of the Great Depression, FDR's Democratic Party organized the modern system around the politics of public spending and national regulation. The Democrats completed this revolution after World War II when the United States began to assume responsibilities in the international arena commensurate with those it had already assumed in the domestic economic arena.

The dominant parties in each of these eras might be called "regime parties" because they were able to use their political strength to implement and carry forward the basic themes around which these political settlements were organized. Jefferson's party pushed forward the themes of localism, democracy, and expansion; Lincoln's, the themes of union, freedom, and capitalism; FDR's, the themes of national regulation, public spending, and internationalism. In this sense, the United States has rarely had a two-party system but rather a one and one-half party system consisting of a "regime party" and a competitor forced to adapt to its dominant position. These competitors--the Whigs in the 1840s, the Democrats after the Civil War, and the Republicans in the post-war era--occasionally won national elections, but only after accepting the legitimacy of the basic political themes established by the regime party.

The question today, then, is whether or not the party system formed in the 1930s and 1940s is about to exhaust itself in a new upheaval that will lead to some new political alignment around a new constellation of issues. There is little doubt that many of the political signs present in earlier upheavals are increasingly in play today.

The Democratic Party established itself in the 1930s and 1940s as the "regime party" in modern American politics by building majorities around the claims that it pulled the country out of the Depression and won the war against fascism. Democrats won five consecutive presidential elections from 1932 to 1948, comparable to the six straight ones won by Jefferson's party between 1800 and 1820 and the six won by Republicans from 1860 to 1880. Throughout the period from the 1930s into the 1980s, Democrats consistently maintained control over both houses of the U.S. Congress. This electoral strength gave the Democrats solid control over the institutions of the national government.

Given the popularity of FDR and the New Deal, Republicans had little choice but to accept the general contours of the new regime. Following their landslide defeat in 1936, Republicans nominated a succession of presidential candidates--Willkie, Dewey, Eisenhower, and Nixon--who did not challenge New Deal programs but promised only to administer them more effectively. Among Republican candidates between 1940 and 1980, only Barry Goldwater sought to roll back the New Deal, and his defeat in 1964 was taken as evidence of the futility of that strategy.

Over the decades, the Democratic Party has built its coalition around public spending and the recruitment of new groups into the political process, often by promises of new public programs. It has displayed a remarkable capacity to renew itself by adjusting its appeals to the ever-changing political marketplace. In the 1930s, FDR built his coalition around urban workers, farmers, and industrial unions with appeals that grew out of the grim realities of mass unemployment and destitution. By the 1960s, John F. Kennedy and his successors succeeded in broadening the Party's appeal to the middle class and suburban home owners by pushing "quality of life" themes like environmentalism, civil rights, women's rights, and government support for the arts. Later, as private sector unions began to disappear in the 1970s and 1980s, Democrats replaced them in several key states by organizing public sector unions and mobilizing them into their party. In many states, these unions provide the organizational backbone of the Party by supplying votes and money and serving as well-placed advocates for further public spending. The Democratic Party has gradually evolved into a "public sector party" that finds its votes and organizational strength in public sector unions, government employees and contractors, and beneficiaries of government programs.

Many thoughtful observers argue that the New Deal alignment came apart in the 1960s and was replaced by Ronald Reagan's conservative revolution in the 1980s. There is something to be said for this view. Since the 1980 election, Republicans have achieved rough electoral parity with the Democrats, winning five of eight presidential elections and winning control of the House and Senate in roughly half of the elections that have taken place since that time. The Republicans, much in contrast to the Democrats, have organized themselves in recent decades as a "private sector party," winning votes and contributions from individuals and business groups committed to cutting taxes and reducing the size and scope of government.

Despite their electoral successes since the 1980s, Republicans never managed to reverse the flow of political power to Washington and failed to eliminate or substantially reduce any of the New Deal or Great Society social programs. Federal spending on domestic programs grew nearly as quickly under Republican as Democratic administrations. Republicans have on occasion tried to balance the budget or tinker with Social Security and Medicare but were rebuffed by Democrats who accused them of trying to destroy these popular programs. 

It is more accurate to say that Ronald Reagan, who cut a Social Security deal with Tip O'Neill, was the last New Dealer.  Likewise, Bill Clinton will turn out to have been a pivotal figure in the coming of the Fourth Revolution, though it will mark a shift back towards conservative principles.  

That Fourth Revolution is just the Third Way, which proceeds apace throughout the Anglosphere and Scandinavia. It is marked by the use of First Way (free market) methods to achieve Second Way (social security) ends--universal personal accounts for retirement, health care, education, housing, unemployment, etc..  It is accompanied by a transition from taxing income, property, profits, interest, etc. to taxing consumption, all to encourage savings to feed those accounts.  

It is not yet clear that one party or the other will truly dominate this period, as they have in the past.  Since the revolution represents a fusion of their ideas and an acceptance of the core of your opponents world view, it may be that the two parties will continue to take turns resisting and presiding over the revolution, depending on whom the vagaries of electoral politics put in office.  Or, it may be that the concession that the other party had a point all along proves so difficult to process psychologically that one party will debilitate itself rather than accept reality.     

In any event, as has been the case for twenty years now, our politics is likely to be bitterly partisan because the policy differences between the two parties are so trivial.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The libertarian lobby in pursuit of marital constraint (Christopher Caldwell, 6/15/12, Financial Times)

Gay marriage is not a core issue of civil or human rights. We know this because it did not cross the minds of the great thinkers who devoted their lives to considering civil and human rights systematically: Frederick Douglass, Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King junior. It was only in the mid-1990s, in Hawaii and elsewhere, that gay marriage became a public cause. The activists who sought it were often viewed as curiosities more than politicians. Their views have since swept the world. In 2004, Britain passed a Civil Partnership Act that accorded gay couples all the practical rights of marriage; but clearly the right to call these partnerships marriages, of equal standing, is all-important. The government is in transition from enforcing tolerance of homosexuality (an expansion of citizenship) to enforcing approval of it (an expansion of censorship).

For refusing to place life-long homosexual relations on the same moral plane as heterosexual ones, the Church of England has been accused by the gay-rights group Stonewall of holding "a masterclass in melodramatic scaremongering". This point makes some superficial sense. On one hand, you have a 2,000-year-old faith as professed by a 500-year-old Church that for centuries set the moral tone of the world, from Putney to Punjab. On the other, you have a 15-year-old lobby, representing what may yet turn out to be an ideological fad.

June 26, 2012

Posted by Stephen Judd at 7:21 AM


Romney says immigration law has become a 'muddle' ( Jack Gillum, June 25, 2012, Associated Press)

Romney instead used Monday's ruling as an opportunity to criticize President Barack Obama for what he termed inaction on immigration reform until recently. Romney called for a national immigration strategy and insisted he would tackle immigration during his first year in office.

America's immigration laws have "become a muddle,'' Romney said.

The court struck down three major provisions of Arizona's immigration enforcement law: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers; making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job; and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


The Right Honourable Mr. Burke: Impassioned orator, eloquent statesman, esteemed writer--but who was Edmund Burke the man? (Brian Doyle, Summer 2012, American Scholar)

His words remain, but his voice is lost; and what a voice. "Vehement, rapid, and never checked by any embarrassment: for his ideas outran his powers of utterance, and he drew from an exhaustless source," wrote Nathaniel Wraxall, who listened to Burke for 14 years in the Commons. "A boundless imagination," "a memory of equal strength and tenacity," a "fancy so vivid that it seemed to light up by its own powers. ... [H]e could be, during the same evening, often within the space of a few minutes, pathetic and humorous, acrimonious and conciliating, now giving loose to his indignation or severity, and then, almost in the same breath, calling to his assistance wit and ridicule." The best orator ever, according to the American scholar Chauncey Goodrich; "no one ever poured forth such a flood of thought--so many original combinations of inventive genius ... all intermingled with the liveliest sallies of wit ... surpassed by no one in the richness and splendor of his eloquence." But Burke was also subject to, and all too capable of instant exhibitions of, remembers Wraxall (with an almost audible sigh), "petulance, impatience ... intractability ... anger ... irritability. ... [H]e was often intemperate and reprehensibly personal." "A vein of dark and saturnine temper," wrote the journalist William Godwin. And the later member of Parliament John Morley: "Though it is not wrong to say of Burke that as an orator he was transcendent ... he had sonorous but harsh tones ... and his utterance was often hurried and eager ... his banter ... nearly always ungainly, his wit blunt." And so very often, given Burke's general residence in the minority, and even in his own party and among admirers so often alone in his opinions, an unpersuasive voice:

"Mr. Burke, when posterity reads one of your speeches in Parliament, it will be difficult to believe that you took so much pains, knowing with certainty that it could produce no effect, that not one vote would be gained by it," observed Sir Joshua Reynolds.

But I find these detractions revelatory; don't they illuminate the man, not the glowing historic figure? Doesn't it make someone more interesting, more real, more understandable, more accessible, more amazing, if we know she--to take Teresa of Calcutta as an example--was testy, rude, blunt, dogmatic, and subject to endless dark nights of the soul? Perhaps the finest writer of his time, perhaps the bravest and wisest politician of his time, certainly the most famous of orators in the most powerful country of his time--yet he was hurried and harsh, impatient and intractable, his gestures clumsy, his Irish accent, which he never lost, growing stronger as his temper rose. I can see him, in the well of the Commons, in the heat of his second speech on conciliation with the American colonies, in 1775, furious at what was being lost, snarling at the terrible waste of money and lives such a loss would mean, mortified at the shallow greed of his fellow ministers, enraged at the way their snatching for the small coin of taxes would inevitably lead to the grievous loss of the cousin-colonies as a whole. He soared, he stumbled, he raged, he went on for hours; a member who was there that night reported that the performance "drove everybody away."

What did he read, this wonderful writer? Dryden's prose was Burke's great favorite, reported his friend Charles Fox; Demosthenes was his favorite orator, according to Chauncey Goodrich; "he delighted in Plutarch ... and was particularly fond of Virgil, Horace, and Lucretius, a large part of whose writings he committed to memory. ... Shakespeare was his daily study. ... But his highest reverence was reserved for Milton, whose 'richness of language, boundless learning, and Scriptural grandeur of conception' [said Burke], were the first and last themes of his applause." He read Bacon's essays again and again, and clearly had read Cicero closely; he read Gibbon and Sheridan, whom he knew from Parliament; Johnson, Goldsmith, and Boswell; and he either still regularly scoured, or had a ferocious memory for, the Bible--"the most valuable repository of rhetoric in the English language," as Burke's later editor Edward Payne remarked. Was this, too, how Burke expended his little time alone, in his root-house in Buckinghamshire, reading avidly, widely, hungrily, happily, delighted to swim in eloquence other than his own? I hear him laughing quietly at a wry and piercing passage from Plutarch, or reciting the swinging cadences of Cicero in sheer admiration of the music of the man, or chanting lines from Lear, or reading aloud, with a shiver of awe, the Lord declaiming to Job: Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who laid the corner stone thereof, when the morning stars sang together? Who shut up the sea with doors, when it brake forth, as if it had issued out of the womb? Declare, if thou hast understanding ...

Perhaps the best and truest measure of a life is not fame or feats, power or pos- sessions, renown or reputation, but rather how you loved, how deeply, how unselfishly; did you savor and appreciate others, did you love a few well enough to help them rise and open, was your love a strong light and clean water for others? Here too is Burke the man; sometime between 1750 and 1756, when he was in his mid-20s, he drafted an essay in his notebook. Never published in his lifetime (the notebook itself was not discovered until the 1950s), the piece is surely about Jane Mary Nugent, the soon-to-be Mrs. Burke, and I can never read it without a smile at the sheer burstingness of it (not to mention the lovely careening casual capitalizing of the time):

I intend to give my Idea of a woman. If it at all answers any Original I shall be pleased; for if such a person really exists as I would describe, she must be far Superior to any Description. ... She is handsome; but it is a Beauty not arising from features, from Complexion and Shape. She has all these in an high degree [he hastens to say]; but ... '[t]is all the sweetness of Temper, Benevolence, Innocence, and Sensibility which a face can express, that forms her beauty. ... Her Eyes have a mild light, but they awe you when she pleases. ... Her stature is not tall. She is not to be the admiration of everybody, but the happiness of one [he says hopefully]. She has all the Delicacy that does not Exclude firmness. She has all the Softness that does not imply weakness. ... Her Smiles are ... inexpressible. Her Voice is a low, Soft musick; not formed to rule in publick Assemblies, but to charm those who can distinguish a Company from a Croud. It has this advantage, you must come Close to her to hear it [he says with nearly audible zest]. ... She has a true generosity of Temper. ... No person of so few years can know the world better; no person was ever less corrupted by that knowledge. ... She has a steady and firm mind. ... Who can see and know such a Creature and not love to Distraction? Who can know her, and himself, and entertain much hope?

Yet the doctor's daughter said yes when Burke proposed; they were married in 1757, when Ned was 28 and Jane 23, and moved to Battersea, on the south side of the Thames. A year later Jane delivered Richard in February, and Christopher in December. Two babies in a year, one hard on the heels of the other. Richard lived; Christopher did not. Died in infancy; what haunted words those are, how terse the fact, how endless the grief; did Burke sit quietly among his roots of trees, moss, and so forth, thinking of the mewling boy cradled in their hands, of the silent boy cradled in his casket? Surely he did; surely once in a while the mew of a fledgling would open the dark room in his memory; surely from time to time he murmured Mr. Christopher Burke, to bring the young man into this world, if only for a moment.

Everyone claims Edmund Burke, except me. I merely savor and celebrate him, and appreciate his piercing thought and ringing speech, and honor the service he rendered his bruised native land and his earnest adopted country, which tried, against great odds and the tide of history, to operate a generally reasonable and enlightened empire, except in the case of its neighboring island, where it destroyed an ancient culture with a thorough and strategic violence it did not inflict on any of its other many colonies around the world.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Science: A Call for Humility (Russell Stannard, 06/05/2012, Huffington Post)

Hawking, in particular, claims to have solved the age-old problem: "Why is there something rather than nothing?" His answer? M-theory. M-theory spontaneously created the universe out of nothing. It created this universe and countless others. He concludes that M-theory is "a candidate for the ultimate theory of everything... the only candidate." [...]

So, what does M-theory look like when written down? No one knows; it has yet to be formulated. It is but a gleam in the eye. If there is such a thing, how could it be verified? It is hard to say. How might one prove the existence of other universes given that we can experience only this one?

But even if the M-theory hypothesis is correct, does it in fact answer the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" It would certainly account for the existence of the world. But would it not raise a fresh question: "Where did M-theory come from? What is responsible for its existence?"

This brings us up against what one suspects is a fundamental limitation of the scientific enterprise. The job of science is to describe the world we find ourselves in -- what it consists of, and how it operates. But it appears to fall short of explaining why we are presented with this kind of world rather than some other -- or why there should be a world at all.

Indeed, there is cause to wonder whether science even gets as far as describing the world. For instance, what is the world made of? One might answer in terms of the electrons, protons, and neutrons that make up atoms. But what are electrons, protons and neutrons? Quantum physics shows how they are observed to behave like waves as they move about. But on reaching their destination and giving up their energy and momentum they behave like tiny particles. But how can something be both a spread out wave with humps and troughs, and at the same time be a tiny localized particle? This is the famous wave/particle paradox. It afflicts everything, including light.

The solution given by the Danish physicist Neils Bohr was that one has to stop trying to explain what something, such as an electron, is. Instead, we are confined to explaining how something behaves in the context of a certain kind of observation being made on it -- whether we are observing it moving from one place to another (in which case the language of waves is appropriate), or alternatively observing it interacting on reaching its destination (requiring the language of particles).

We said earlier that the job of science is to describe the world. In order to do this, we have to observe it to find out what kind of world it is. But having made the observations (done the experiments) what we write down in our physics textbooks is a description of the world itself, regardless of whether one happens to be observing it. Bohr, and other adherents to his so-called Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics, claimed that this was not so. What has been written down is not a description of the world at all, but a description of acts of observation made on the world. All our customary scientific terms such as energy, momentum, position, speed, distance, time, etc. -- they are terms specifically for the description of observations. It is a misuse of language to try and apply them to a world-in-itself divorced from the action of an observation. It is this misuse of language that leads to problems like that posed by the wave/particle paradox. Which is not to say that the world-in-itself does not exist outside the context of someone making an observation of it. Rather, as Werner Heisenberg asserted, all attempts to talk about the world-in-itself are rendered meaningless.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


...a conservative president.

June 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


What's German for funny?: What makes Germans laugh - and why is it so different from what amuses the British? The answer may lie in a slapstick English comedy that became a TV favourite in Germany (Philip Oltermann, 2/12/12, guardian.co.uk)

The sketch is called Dinner for One, and it is easily described. The curtain opens on butler James laying a lavish dinner table. The lady of the house, Miss Sophie, wearing an elegant evening dress, descends a flight of stairs, and sits at the head of the table. We soon realise that it is her 90th birthday, and that something is not quite right. "Is everybody here?" Miss Sophie asks. "They're all here waiting, Miss Sophie, yes," James says, gesticulating towards the empty seats around the table. "Sir Toby?" Sophie asks. "Sir Toby is sitting here," James says, patting the back of the chair on Miss Sophie's right, and continues to assign seats to the imaginary guests named by his mistress: "Admiral von Schneider", "Mr Pommeroy" and "my very dear friend, Mr Winterbottom".

The evening continues in this vein. James serves four courses: mulligatawny soup, haddock, chicken and fruit. With each, Miss Sophie requests a different drink: first sherry, then white wine, then champagne, then port. In the absence of any actual people around the table, James impersonates the different guests and toasts the host on their behalf. With each course, James's walk becomes less stable, his tour around the dining room more haphazard.

Much of the comedy in Dinner for One is slapstick, knockabout stuff: James spills wine, drops food, crashes into furniture and downs the water in the flower vases instead of what's in the port glasses. But the most memorable comic moment in the sketch is verbal. Before each change of wine, James stops short: "By the way, the same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?" The mistress of the house looks accusingly at her servant: "The same procedure as every year, James." At the end of the sketch, Miss Sophie decides to retire to her bedroom. James, now completely drunk, offers his arm. For a final time, there is the catchphrase - but this time, the effect is different: "Same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?"

"Same procedure as every year, James."

"Well, I'll do my very best."

As he is dragged offstage, James winks at the audience, baring his gappy teeth for a Cheshire-cat grin.

Originally scripted by the variety playwright Lauri Wylie in the 1920s, Dinner for One, also known as The Ninetieth Birthday, used to be a staple in the music-halls of seaside resorts from Blackpool down to Brighton: a very British kind of pleasure. Very British, that is, until German TV show host Peter Frankenfeld and director Heinz Dunkhase watched the sketch at Blackpool's Winter Gardens in August 1962. Straight after the show, Frankenfeld convinced the two performers - veteran comic Freddie Frinton and 72-year-old May Warden - to record their act for German TV, even though it took the show almost another 10 years to find an audience there.

On New Year's Eve 1972, NDR, northern Germany's regional television channel, screened the sketch at 6pm, and something clicked. In fact, something amazing happened: Germany fell utterly in love with it. People put down their plates of potato salad and left their frankfurters to cool; entire parties huddled around the television set. The following year, each of the regional channels showed Dinner for One at 6pm, and a few showed a repeat four hours later. Since 1963, the sketch has been screened 231 times to German audiences, making it the most repeated show on German television, and, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most popular show in TV history. In 2004, 15.6 million Germans watched it.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


The last tower: The decline and fall of public housing (Ben Austen, May 2012, Harper's)

Forty years ago, when U.S. cities began abandoning high-rise public housing, blasting crews would fill a tower with explosives and in a few monumental booms all would be reduced to rubble and rolling clouds of dust. It was as swift as it was symbolic. Now the demolitions are done by wrecking ball and crane, and the buildings are brought down bit by bit over months. This gradual dismantling seemed especially ill suited to the felling, in March 2011, of the last remaining tower at Cabrini-Green. Described almost unfailingly as "infamous" or "notorious," this Chicago housing project had come to embody a nightmare vision of public housing, the ungovernable inner-city horrors that many believe arise when too many poor black folk are stacked atop one another in too little space. For the end of Cabrini-Green, I imagined something grandiose and purifying--the dropping of a bomb or, as in Candyman, the 1992 slasher film set in Cabrini's dark wasteland, a giant exorcising bonfire. Instead, as I watched, a crane with steel teeth powered up and ripped into a fifth-floor unit, causing several feet of prefabricated façade to crumble like old chalk. Water sprayed from inside the crane's jaws to reduce dust.

The fifteen-story high-rise was known by its address, 1230 N. Burling. Already stripped of every window, door, appliance, and cabinet, the monolith was like a giant dresser without drawers. The teeth tore off another hunk of the exterior, revealing the words I NEED MONEY painted in green and gold across an inside wall. Chicago was once home to the second-largest stock of public housing in the nation, with nearly 43,000 units and a population in the hundreds of thousands. Since the mid-1990s, though, the city has torn down eighty-two public-housing high-rises citywide, including Cabrini's twenty-four towers. In 2000, the city named the ongoing purge the Plan for Transformation, a $1.5 billion, ten-year venture that would leave the city with just 15,000 new or renovated public-housing family units, plus an additional 10,000 for senior citizens. Like many other U.S. cities, Chicago wanted to shift from managing public housing to become instead what the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) called "a facilitator of housing opportunities." The tenants of condemned projects were given government-issued vouchers to rent apartments in the private market, or were moved into rehabbed public housing farther from the city center, or wound up leaving subsidized housing altogether.

The centerpiece of the plan, though, was an effort to replace the former projects with buildings where those paying the market rate for their units and those whose rents were subsidized would live side by side. Since 1995, when the federal government rescinded a rule that required one-to-one replacement of any public-housing units demolished, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded billions of dollars to cities nationwide to topple housing projects and build in their stead these mixed-income developments.

During his twenty-two years as Chicago's mayor, Richard M. Daley had moved Lake Shore Drive and created Millennium Park, but he believed the Plan for Transformation represented his most sweeping effort to reshape the city's landscape. Daley proclaimed that mixed-income housing would reconnect shunned sections of the city to services and investment, and that these developments would allow poor African Americans who had lived in social and economic isolation to reap the rewards of a middle-class lifestyle. "I want to rebuild their souls," he said.

In 1995, residential property sales in the two-block radius around Cabrini-Green totaled around $6 million. By the start of the Plan for Transformation, according to an analysis by the Chicago Reporter, annual sales had reached $120 million, and total sales from 2000 to 2005 neared $1 billion. The neighborhood looked like nothing I remembered from my years growing up in Chicago in the Seventies and Eighties. Down the street from 1230 N. Burling stood a mixed-income development of orange-bricked condos and townhomes called Parkside of Old Town. Its squat buildings were outfitted with balconies and adorned with purple ornamentation and decorative pillars. There was a new school, a new police station, a renovated park, and a shopping center with a Dominick's supermarket and a Starbucks. A Target was expected on the site the last tower would soon vacate. Later, I would warm up two blocks south in @Spot Café, where employees from Groupon's nearby corporate headquarters streamed in to pay full price for lattes and panini.

Today, what seems harder to fathom than the erasure of entire high-rise neighborhoods is that they were ever erected in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Why weren't they grateful?: a review of Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Very British Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue (Pankaj Mishra, 6/21/12, London Review of Books)

Asian intellectuals and activists had begun to challenge the arbitrary power of Western imperialists and their native allies in the late 19th century. The first generation contained polemicists like al-Afghani, who gathered energetic but disorganised young anti-imperialists around him in Kabul, Istanbul, Cairo and Tehran. The next generation produced men like Mossadegh, who had been exposed to Western ways or trained in Western-style institutions and were better equipped to provide their increasingly restless compatriots with a coherent ideology and politics of anticolonial nationalism.

In Christopher de Bellaigue's politically astute biography, Mossadegh is not the 'dizzy old wizard' and 'tantrum-throwing Scheherazade' of countless Anglo-American memoirs and press reports, but a member of 'that generation of Western-educated Asians who returned home, primly moustachioed, to sell freedom to their compatriots': 'Beholden to the same mistress, La Patrie, these Turks, Arabs, Persians and Indians went on to lead the anticolonial movements that transformed the map of the world.' Mossadegh was more democratically minded than Atatürk, for example: de Bellaigue calls him the 'first liberal leader of the modern Middle East' - his 'conception of liberty was as sophisticated as any in Europe or America'. But he was less successful than his heroes, Gandhi and Nehru; he was nearly seventy, an elderly hypochondriac, by the time he became Iran's prime minister in 1951. It was his misfortune to be a liberal democrat at a time when, as Nehru remarked, looking on as British gunboats directed the course of Egyptian politics, 'democracy for an Eastern country seems to mean only one thing: to carry out the behests of the imperialist ruling power.' Though more focused and resourceful than al-Afghani, secular-minded moderates like Mossadegh were often easy victims of imperialist skulduggery. They never had more than a few token allies in the West and at home were despised by the hardliners, who later assumed the postcolonial task of building up national dignity and strength. Khomeini, for one, always spoke contemptuously of Mossadegh's failure to protect Iran from the West.

Both liberal and radical Iranians could cite instances of the country's humiliation by the West in the 19th century, when it had been dominated by the British and the Russians. The events of the early 20th century further undermined its political autonomy at a time when its political institutions were being liberalised (a parliament had been established as a result of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-7). In the First World War, Britain and Russia first occupied and then divided the country in order to keep the Ottoman-German armies at bay. The end of the war brought no respite. The Red Army threatened from the north and Britain, already parcelling out the Ottoman Empire's territories, saw an opportunity to annex Iran. Lord Curzon, now foreign secretary and convinced, as Harold Nicolson put it, that 'God had personally selected the British upper class as an instrument of the Divine Will,' drew up an Anglo-Persian agreement which was almost entirely destructive of Iranian sovereignty.

Mossadegh is said to have wept when he heard about the agreement. In despair he resolved to spend the rest of his life in Europe. As it turned out, Curzon, never an accurate reader of the native pulse, had misjudged the Iranian mood. The agreement was denounced; pro-British members of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, were physically attacked. Facing such opposition, Curzon grew more obdurate: 'These people have got to be taught at whatever cost to them that they cannot get on without us. I don't at all mind their noses being rubbed in the dust.' Despite Curzon's stubbornness, Iranian revulsion finally sank the Anglo-Persian agreement. But another inequitable arrangement already bound Iran to Britain. Presciently buying government shares in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) in 1913, Winston Churchill had managed to ensure that 84 per cent of its profits came to Britain. In 1933, Reza Khan, a self-educated soldier who had made use of the postwar chaos to grab power and found a new ruling dynasty (much to Mossadegh's disgust), negotiated a new agreement with APOC, which turned out to be remarkably like the old one. During the Second World War, British and Russian troops again occupied the country, and the British replaced the rashly pro-German shah with his son Muhammad Reza.

In these years, British policy was infused with what de Bellaigue calls, without exaggeration, 'a profound contempt for Persia and its people', which provided the spark not only for modern Iranian nationalism but also for the seemingly irremovable suspicion of Britain as a 'malignant force'. When in 1978 the shah called Khomeini a British agent, he intended it as a vicious slander; it backfired, triggering the first of the mass protests against him. APOC, renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1935, grossed profits of $3 billion between 1913 and 1951, but only $624 million of that remained in Iran. In 1947, the British government earned £15 million in tax on the company's profits alone, while the Iranian government received only half that sum in royalties. The company also excluded Iranians from management and barred Tehran from inspecting its accounts.

Growing anti-British sentiment finally forced Muhammad Reza to appoint Mossadegh as prime minister early in 1951. The country's nationalists by now included secularists as well as religious parties and the communist as well as non-communist left. Mossadegh, who, de Bellaigue writes, 'was the first and only Iranian statesman to command all nationalist strains', moved quickly to nationalise the oil industry. Tens of thousands lined the streets to cheer the officials sent from Tehran to take over the British oil facilities in Abadan, kissing the dust-caked cars - one of which belonged to Mehdi Bazargan, who would later become the first prime minister of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The American ambassador reported that Mossadegh was backed by 95 per cent of the population, and the shah told the visiting diplomat Averell Harriman that he dared not say a word in public against the nationalisation. Mossadegh felt himself to be carried along on the wings of history. 'Hundreds of millions of Asian people, after centuries of colonial exploitation, have now gained their independence and freedom,' he said at the UN in October 1951: Europeans had acknowledged Indian, Indonesian and Pakistani claims to sovereignty and national dignity - why did they continue to ignore Iran?

He was supported by a broad coalition of new Asian countries. Even the delegate from Taiwan, which had been given its seat in the UN at the expense of Mao's People's Republic of China, reminded the British that 'the day has passed when the control of the Iranian oil industry can be shared with foreign companies.' Other postcolonial regimes would soon nationalise their oil industries, thereby acquiring control of international prices and exposing Western economies to severe shocks. But the British, enraged by Mossadegh's impertinence and desperately needing the revenues from what was Britain's biggest single overseas investment, wouldn't listen.

Britain could no longer afford its empire but, as de Bellaigue points out, in many places, 'particularly in Iran, red-faced men went around in tailcoats as if nothing had changed.' 
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June 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Obama asserts presidential powers he once spoke out against (STEVEN THOMMA AND WILLIAM DOUGLAS, 6/24/12, McClatchy Newspapers

President Barack Obama is starting to channel his inner Cheney.

For years, Obama talked about the limits on presidential power. Now, driven either by principle or political expediency, he's working to build and maintain a powerful presidency that pushes the edge of what it can do, while often telling Congress and the courts to mind their own business.

As a (putative) legislator he should have opposed the power of the executive, just as, now that he is the executive, he must oppose the power of the legislature.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


'A Perfect and Beautiful Machine': What Darwin's Theory of Evolution Reveals About Artificial Intelligence (Daniel C. Dennett, 6/22/12, Atlantic Monthly)

 The pre-darwinian world was held together not by science but by tradition: All things in the universe, from the most exalted ("man") to the most humble (the ant, the pebble, the raindrop) were creations of a still more exalted thing, God, an omnipotent and omnis/cient intelligent creator -- who bore a striking resemblance to the second-most exalted thing. Call this the trickle-down theory of creation. Darwin replaced it with the bubble-up theory of creation. One of Darwin's nineteenth-century critics, Robert Beverly MacKenzie, put it vividly:

In the theory with which we have to deal, Absolute Ignorance is the artificer; so that we may enunciate as the fundamental principle of the whole system, that, in order to make a perfect and beautiful machine, it is not requisite to know how to make it. This proposition will be found, on careful examination, to express, in condensed form, the essential purport of the Theory, and to express in a few words all Mr. Darwin's meaning; who, by a strange inversion of reasoning, seems to think Absolute Ignorance fully qualified to take the place of Absolute Wisdom in all the achievements of creative skill.

It was, indeed, a strange inversion of reasoning. To this day many people cannot get their heads around the unsettling idea that a purposeless, mindless process can crank away through the eons, generating ever more subtle, efficient, and complex organisms without having the slightest whiff of understanding of what it is doing. In order to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.

Turing's idea was a similar -- in fact remarkably similar -- strange inversion of reasoning. The Pre-Turing world was one in which computers were people, who had to understand mathematics in order to do their jobs. Turing realized that this was just not necessary: you could take the tasks they performed and squeeze out the last tiny smidgens of understanding, leaving nothing but brute, mechanical actions. In order to be a perfect and beautiful computing machine, it is not requisite to know what arithmetic is.

Mr. Dennett is notorious for not comprehending where his own faux-Darwinian reasoning leads him, but his comparison of evolution to intelligent beings designing a computer system is blind even by his own standards.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Green 'drivel' : The godfather of global warming lowers the boom on climate change hysteria (LORRIE GOLDSTEIN, 6/23/12, TORONTO SUN)

Having observed that global temperatures since the turn of the millennium have not gone up in the way computer-based climate models predicted, Lovelock acknowledged, "the problem is we don't know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago." Now, Lovelock has given a follow-up interview to the UK's Guardian newspaper in which he delivers more bombshells sure to anger the global green movement, which for years worshipped his Gaia theory and apocalyptic predictions that billions would die from man-made climate change by the end of this century.

Lovelock still believes anthropogenic global warming is occurring and that mankind must lower its greenhouse gas emissions, but says it's now clear the doomsday predictions, including his own (and Al Gore's) were incorrect. [...]

Among his observations to the Guardian:

(1) A long-time supporter of nuclear power as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which has made him unpopular with environmentalists, Lovelock has now come out in favour of natural gas fracking (which environmentalists also oppose), as a low-polluting alternative to coal.

As Lovelock observes, "Gas is almost a give-away in the U.S. at the moment. They've gone for fracking in a big way. This is what makes me very cross with the greens for trying to knock it ... Let's be pragmatic and sensible and get Britain to switch everything to methane. We should be going mad on it." (Kandeh Yumkella, co-head of a major United Nations program on sustainable energy, made similar arguments last week at a UN environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro, advocating the development of conventional and unconventional natural gas resources as a way to reduce deforestation and save millions of lives in the Third World.)

(2) Lovelock blasted greens for treating global warming like a religion.

"It just so happens that the green religion is now taking over from the Christian religion," Lovelock observed. "I don't think people have noticed that, but it's got all the sort of terms that religions use ... The greens use guilt. That just shows how religious greens are. You can't win people round by saying they are guilty for putting (carbon dioxide) in the air."

Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:15 AM


The Big Life of Brownson: a review of Orestes A. Brownson: A Definitive Biography by Thomas R. Ryan, C.PP.S. (Robert Emmet Moffit, University Bookman)

Ryan's subject was himself something of the stereotyped American folk hero, a fitting symbol of what was good and true in the Jacksonian vision of the, unspoiled "natural man." No product of urbane culture or sophisticated schooling, Orestes Brownson was born of pioneer parents struggling to eke out a meager existence in the primitive back country of Vermont. With less than a few months of formal education, he eventually emerged into national--and international--prominence as one of the most notable of American journalists, the editor of the Boston Quarterly Review. Teaching himself to read Latin, Greek, French, German, and Italian, he broadened his horizons and became an intellectual innovator in his own right, to the joy, shock, or dismay of the sundry parties, sects, or factions with which he was variously associated throughout his long and colorful public career. Consecutively, he was an itinerant preacher of liberal Protestantism, an atheist, the inventor of a proletarian radicalism astonishingly similar to the later speculations of Marx, a leader of the illustrious Boston Transcendentalists, and a convert to Calhoun's constitutionalism. These early mental excursions rendered him all the more profound in his mature days as an aggressive champion of conservatism in politics and Roman Catholicism in religion.

An acquaintance, friend, or correspondent of many of the leading men of his age, Brownson's forceful style inspired respect, admiration, and even trepidation. The controversies which swirled around him, into which he plunged with such martial enthusiasm, were nothing less than the primary issues composing our national history: slavery and states' rights, industrial expansion and labor disputes, the Civil War and Reconstruction, women's rights agitation and humanitarian socialism, as well as the broader trends of relativism in philosophy and the onslaught of materialistic atheism.

In tracing Brownson's response to the intellectual, social, and political crises of his turbulent age, Father Ryan has accomplished more than an elaborate chronicle of the man's intellectual dynamics in time and space. The author has penetrated the intriguing character of the man himself, revealing the immense complexity of his personality. Possessed of a clear, logical, and vigorous English style, a talent which won him considerable notoriety, we learn that Brownson was enormously combative and self-confident in the fray. As Ryan makes clear, his conversion to Roman Catholicism and political conservatism in 1844 changed the "radical style" of his youthful militance not a whit:

Brownson was now moving along in his forty-second year. His giant, muscular six feet, two inch frame, just beginning to put on weight, was becoming even more formidable in appearance. His great shock of hair, brushed straight back from his high sloping forehead, balanced by a full spreading beard, giving him something of the appearance of a biblical prophet, was already streaked with gray. Under shaggy brows his eyes looked out through small gold-rimmed spectacles that rested on a slightly beaked nose. Ruddy in complexion, his whole appearance was leonine. And like the lion, he was ready for any battle. The battles he had passed through had only served to prepare him for those ahead, and his greatest battles by far lay in the future. He fed on battles and seemed to bid Armageddon welcome. His sword was the pen he held in his long, graceful fingers. His countenance wore the mien of a no-nonsense man. And he was utterly without fear. As Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has said, "He was not a man to be intimidated by all the devils in hell when he thought he was right."

Once one of the most powerful foes of orthodoxy in politics, religion, and philosophy, Brownson was to become the scourge of socialism, anarchism, atheism, sentimental humanitarianism, relativism, or any political doctrines at variance with the peculiar genius of the American constitutional order. But his pugnacity in defense of his principles was surely not the whole of his personality. Such a complicated man, nigh inscrutable, he eluded simplistic classification. Easily moved to tears by the beauty of a poem, he could be sincerely tender and laudatory of the qualities of those who differed with him on questions of philosophy. Frightfully independent, he was equally humble in the presence of legitimate authority. An engaging conversationalist on weighty matters, he was not above innocent expressions of pride for his beloved rose garden, which he cultivated devoutly. Ryan's book is tastefully spiced with anecdotes, mostly humorous, concerning the badinage he enjoyed with friends and opponents alike.

Orestes Brownson on Catholicism and Republicanism (Jude P. Dougherty Fall 2003, First Principles)
For Brownson, a proper understanding of America begins with an appreciation for the contrast between democracy and republicanism. The roots of this political analysis can be seen in his response to the Nativist critique of Catholicism in America.17 The Nativist sees foreigners as holding views that are undemocratic, and therefore un-American, and therefore antithetical to the common good. Brownson's view of the American political order and its founding principles casts doubt on the cogency of these Nativist sentiments, both in their rejection of Catholicism and in their attachment to what he considers an exaggeratedly democratic interpretation of the America experiment.

Brownson maintains that America is the product of a combination of religious--or, more precisely, Christian--and secular influences, as he suggests in an essay on the relationship between the institutions of church and state. The northern colonies were settled by strict religious believers (establishing a "theocracy" or "clerocracy"), while in the southern colonies the tendency was "to establish the supremacy of the civil order, and to make the church a function of the state."18 The resulting combination of these two "tendencies" was the assertion of "the Christian idea, or the union and distinction under the law of God, of the two orders."

The uneasiness of the marriage between secular and Christian elements in America can be seen, Brownson argues, in the divergent understandings of natural rights, which he calls the "real, unwritten, providential constitution" in America.19 The secularist understands natural rights to be unconnected with anything transcendent: in effect, autonomous. But the truth about the American experiment is that the nation's founding documents acknowledge the necessary dependence of any system of natural rights on a divine creator; natural rights are ultimately grounded in, and derived from, the rights and authority of God. Thus, for Brownson, within the American order, consent alone cannot be the basis of legitimate government.20 Popular sovereignty is limited by the sovereignty of God.

The strength of the American republic, then, lies not in its individualism or in its unbridled democracy, but in its maintenance of an orderly hierarchical society, and this is where the fundamental necessity of Catholicism arises. The people, freed from a class of political masters over whom they exercise no control, are now in the seat of power; they are "sovereign." Yet the people themselves "need governing, and must be governed. . . .They must have a master."21 In contrast to the Nativist claim, Brownson holds that Catholicism "is necessary to sustain popular liberty, because popular liberty can be sustained only by a religion free from popular control, above the people, speaking from above and able to command them--and such a religion is the Roman Catholic."22 This being the case, the Nativists undermine their stated interest in sustaining the American form of government through their opposition to the one institution that would be adequate to the task, thus revealing that their animus is not really pro-American but only anti-Catholic, and especially anti-Irish.23

Opposition to Nativism, or the "Know-Nothings," was of course also voiced by non-Catholics on political grounds, either because of the secrecy of the movement or because of its rejection of the founding principles of America's constitutional order. As Abraham Lincoln famously put it in 1855:

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can anyone who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor of degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read, "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty--to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy. 24

Brownson's view, again, is that Catholicism is necessary for America. As he put it in 1859, "Catholicism recognizes and confirms the law of nature, that is to say, natural justice, denied by the stricter forms of Protestantism, and therefore recognizes the equality of all men before the natural law, the true basis of liberty."25 Against the charge that Catholic principles are at odds with the fundamental American principles, Brownson echoes Augustine, noting that Catholicism is not hostile to any particular political order, save despotism. The Church provides the remedy for defective orders where there are no checks upon arbitrary power by imposing moral restraints on its use, and where such checks do exist the Church "hallows them and renders them inviolable."26 In a republic, on the other hand, the Church restrains popular passions, subjects the people to the law of God, and "disposes them to the practice of those public virtues which render a republic secure."27

While he had earlier held out great hope for the future of America, and thus was unstinting in his support for America's cause (and the Union's cause, during the Civil War), by 1875 Brownson had grown less sanguine than formerly: "Let the American people become truly Catholic and submissive children of the Holy Father, and their republic is safe; let them refuse and seek safety for the secular order in sectarianism or secularism, and nothing can save it from destruction."28 The real threat to the American way of life comes in the ascendancy of human pride, emboldened by a false, extremist claim of equality and freedom. Republican government cannot countenance such selfish immoderation: "It must be based on love; not on the determination to defend your own rights and interests, but on the fear to encroach on the rights and interests of others. . . . It is only in the bosom of the Catholic Church that this sublime charity has ever been found or can be found."29 After about 1875, while Brownson will still defend the American form of government, he will do so only insofar as democracy is understood in the qualified manner in which he articulates it; the difficulty, he notes, is that practically speaking, no one else understands it that way.

The second fundamental principle at the heart of Brownson's thought on religion and America is the "givenness" of Catholic Christianity's confidence, and thus its self-assurance concerning the promulgation of its doctrines and dogmas, as well as in its missionary endeavors. As we have seen, for Brownson the Catholic message is exactly what republicanism needs to heed, for without it the political order will be lost on the shoals of anarchic democracy: "A republic can stand only as it rests upon the virtues of the people; and these not the mere natural virtues of worldly prudence and social decency, but those loftier virtues which are possible to human nature only as elevated above itself by the infused habit of supernatural grace."31 The political or earthly success of the American system will itself depend upon recognizing and sustaining the elements of civil society that promote the life of substantive, real virtue, not simply the calculative, self-interested "virtue" capitalized on by the band of devils famously employed by Kant.32

The teaching of Catholicism, as Brownson repeatedly stresses, is not at odds with the notion of political or civil liberty. Instead, it is the very ground of such liberty.

Orestes Brownson and the Truth About America (Peter Augustine Lawler, December 2002, First Things)
Against all of these views, Christian thought proposes something very different: namely, that human beings have been made to know the truth, and that the truth is fundamentally Good News. Brownson should grab our attention, then, because he adopts a philosophic stance on political life that is neither pragmatic nor existentialist. And neither does he point back to Greece in an effort to bypass the Christians, as many twentieth-century political theorists have done. Rather, in a broadly Thomistic way, he views natural reason and supernatural theology as complementary human goods-and he rejects the easy dichotomies that permeate so much of the history of political philosophy. We need not choose Athens or Jerusalem, rational self-sufficiency or humble submission to authority. We ought to follow reason, but we ought also to recognize its limits-and what those limits imply about the centrality of revelation. As Brownson writes, "Let philosophy go as far asit can, but let the philosopher never for a moment imagine that human reason will ever be able to understand itself." Most crucially, the philosopher will never be able to answer, through reason alone, the most pressing question of all: Why did rational, finite beings come into existence in the first place?

We could not have figured out simply by using reason and analyzing the natural facts available to us that the world was, and continues to be, created by a providential God. But once we learn of this fact through revelation, we know that it is the most reasonable account of the origin and perpetuation of all things. Theology thus aids human reason in making sense of the facts it perceives about nature: "In this sense, tradition, both as to the natural and as to the supernatural, renders an important service in the development of reason, and in conducting us to philosophic truth." Biblical revelation in general and Christianity in particular are indispensable for philosophy's development. The dogmatic denial of the possibility of the truth of revelation leads to philosophical shipwreck (as the self-destructive history of philosophy in the twentieth century so clearly demonstrates). It is for this reason that Brownson distinguishes between two kinds or modes of philosophical reflection: "philosophy in the sense of unbelief and irreligion" and "philosophy in the sense of the rational exercise of the faculty of the human mind on the divine and human things, aided by the light of revelation."

When Brownson turns to politics itself, he draws striking conclusions from his insights into the harmony between reason and revelation. For example, he informs us that it is appropriate to view the influence of Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence on the United States with a degree of ambivalence. While Brownson affirms the political conclusions of the document, he rejects the Jeffersonian or Lockean way of reaching them. It is certainly true, he argues, that "under the law of nature, all men are equal, or have equal rights as men." But the reason that "one man . . . can have in himself no right to govern another" is that a "man is never absolutely his own, but always and everywhere belongs to his Creator." That is, we can reasonably affirm that the natural law originates with a Creator, and that we are dependent on Him for all that is and all that we are. It is this affirmation-the virtual antithesis of the Lockean principle of self-ownership-that provides the proper foundation of human equality, or the doctrine that we have "equal rights as men." All governments that truly protect individual rights depend on the assumption that man is not God. Likewise, all despotism originates in the "sophism," "error," and "sin" that in some sense man is God. Hence only the Catholic or Thomistic understanding of the relationship between reason and revelation, or nature and the Creator, can make sense of America's founding principles.

Brownson also affirms Aquinas' view that what human beings can know through natural reason is largely available only to "the elite of the race."For "the bulk of mankind a revelation is necessary to givethem an adequate knowledge even of the precepts of natural law," although"in some men it can be known through reason alone." That is, some men need revelation more than others in order to come to correct conclusions aboutGod and His law. But Brownson rejects the view of the classical philosophers, who hold that a few men do not need revelation at all. The wisest of men, in fact, should most clearly see the need for revelation, because they are most aware of the limits of human reason. Those who know the natural law best should also know best that its origin and legal character are not really explicable without what we know about the Creator through revelation. They know, in particular, that God Himself could not possibly be bound by natural law:"To pretend, as some do, that God is tied up by the so-called laws of nature,or is bound in His free action by them, is to mistake entirely the relation of Creator and creature."

Yet Brownson, despite his acknowledgment of the inequality of men's rational faculties, was convinced that the Catholic Church's defense of the truth in America should proceed mainly by argument. He opposed the Church when it distrusted reason or disparaged science, and he was a critic of the American Catholic education of his time, insofar as it did not make a place for both philosophy and theology. He complained that "we have found no epoch in which the directors of the Catholic world seem to have so great a dread of intellect as our own." To him, the Church seemed animated by "the conviction expressed by Rousseau that 'the man who thinks is a depraved animal.'" In Brownson's own experience, nothing could be further from the truth than the common churchman's conviction that a man must choose between being smart and thoughtful or pious and orthodox.

Christopher Lasch has observed with admiration the extent to which Brownson aimed to provoke argument in America over the truth of religious doctrine. Brownson's concern with that truth led him to attack the insipid idea that an American civil religion that suppressed doctrinal differences should be promulgated. Teaching a vague, general faith that denies the importance of human differences regarding fundamental questions amounts to a form of tyranny. Hence, he saw in the work of Horace Mann-as he would have seen in the pragmatism of John Dewey and Richard Rorty-a thoughtless conformism that privileges comfort and control over truth. Brownson also rejected the deeper Hobbesian doctrine behind pragmatism, which holds that peace is more important than truth and justice. Because he preferred truth to comfort, Brownson's thought is nobly antibourgeois; the people can and should be better than hedonistic middle-class materialists. Like Tocqueville, Brownson understood that metaphysics and theology tend to lose ground in democracies, and he wrote, at least in part, to fend off that degradation in America.

Brownson's insights into the character of American political life have exerted precious little influence. A handful of pre-Vatican II American Catholic scholars, sensing the superiority of his political thought to secular and Protestant liberalism, took him seriously (among them Stanley Parry of the University of Notre Dame). But there have not been many such scholars, and their books and articles are today largely forgotten. None of them had the combination of depth of thought and literary talent required to establish Brownson as a major figure in American political thought-or to locate Brownson in critical relation to the dominant secular, natural-rights, humanitarian, and progressivist tendencies in American thought.

If anything, things became worse after Vatican II, when Brownson almost disappeared from view, even among American Catholic scholars. Only a very few studies since then have taken his claims seriously.Non-Catholic scholars, when they have found something to admire in Brownson,have usually pointed to his passionate devotion to the search for truth andnot to what he actually thought he found at the end of that quest. One outstanding exception to this rule was Lasch, who both admired what Brownson had to say about truth being the moral foundation of democracy and applauded his refusal to separate completely politics and religion.

But far more than Lasch, it is Father John Courtney Murray, S.J., who can serve as the best touchstone for understanding Brownson's thought today. Murray, of course, is the author of the classic work of American Catholic political philosophy, We Hold These Truths . It was Murray, more than anyone else, who was responsible for the character of Vatican II's statement on religious liberty (Dignitatis Humanae ). As far as I know, Murray never acknowledged a debt to Brownson, but the similarities between their thought have been noticed more than once. There exists an obvious and deep intellectual kinship between the two that arguably points to certain core truths about the relationship between Catholicism and the American nation.

Murray, like Brownson, claims that the American founders built better than they knew because they were providentially dependent on the Catholic tradition of natural law. What Murray considers "providential"is "the evident coincidence of the principles which inspired the American Republic with the principles which are structural to the Western Christian political tradition." The founders built better than they knew, but they also left their accomplishment vulnerable to erosion by choosing to describe their work in terms derived from John Locke, whose political theory is ultimately destructive of all government, order, and liberty.

The founding must thus be reinterpreted in a better light than the one in which the founders viewed it themselves. As it was for Lincoln, Murray maintains that the Declaration of Independence must be used to illuminate the Constitution-and this illumination requires deviating to some extent from Jefferson's intentions and self-understanding in writing it. For Murray, the Declaration, a "landmark of Western political theory," put "this nation under God." Like Lincoln, Murray believes that the only way to save the Constitution from the moral superficiality or excessive selfishness of secularism is to constitutionalize the Declaration. Brownson might have objected to this project on the grounds that the Declaration, with its theoretical and Lockean presuppositions, is actually more dangerously atheistic than the Constitution's pedestrian and narrowly political "We the people of the United States." That is why Brownson preferred to refer to America's"unwritten," but no less real, constitution that was embodied in its customs and tradition. Murray, in response, may well have pointed out that in the years since Lincoln's death it has become all but impossible to defend a correct understanding of the American order based entirely on an "unwritten constitution." America, Murray might have followed Lincoln in saying, isa country "dedicated to a proposition," not (at least consciously) to received wisdom.

The part of the American proposition that is most imperiled in our time is the belief that the principles we hold in common are true-that is, that they actually correspond to the created nature of human beings. If this faith in a "realist epistemology is denied," then "the American proposition is eviscerated . . . in one stroke." Murray's realism holds that human beings are oriented by nature toward the discovery of truth. That view now seems to be denied everywhere, and one main reason for the denial is that the contract theory of Locke was itself based on the denial of realism. Locke and his successors(including, to some extent, Jefferson) believed that social and political reality is created out of nothing by sovereign human beings. According to Murray, we can most effectively defend our principles by abandoning Locke in favor of the realist St. Thomas. Echoing Brownson, he asserts that our founders' belief in Locke's teaching concerning the state of nature is no longer credible. Their "serene, and often naive, certainties of the eighteenth century" sound like nonsense to our ears. The deconstruction of Lockeanism, then, points the way to a realism that would truly make sense of the American proposition.

More even than Brownson, Murray contends that Americans now need to employ reason to become conscious of their purpose. With the waning of Lockeanism, our ability to appeal to our political "fathers" for guidance is quite limited. The problem of human freedom "stands revealed to us" ina way it was not to our fathers, because we, not they, are in a position to see the "naked essence," the nihilistic individualism, at the core of the modern experiment to which they contributed. We have no choice but to confront what they did not have to confront.

Following the path opened up by Brownson, Murray contends that the modern idea of freedom has been primarily destructive. It has left human beings dissatisfied with all traditional, natural, or "given" answers to the question, "What is man?" We no longer know why being human is good at all. In The American Republic, Brownson articulates fears about the Rousseauian theories that inform radical humanitarianism-fears that appear to be confirmed by Murray's reflections almost a century later. Communism, Murray claims, was "political modernity carried to its logical conclusion," by which he means that the anthropocentric thrust "that is implicit or unintentional in modernity" became "explicit or deliberate in the Communist system."

Well before the revolution of 1989, Murray knew that communism was the end of modern history, but not the end of history itself. Hope for history's end has always been a misanthropic "mirage." At the end of this destructive modern era, human beings feel, in Murray's words, a "spiritual vacuum . . . at the heart of human existence." Murray observes that "postmodern" man cannot help but engage in "anxious reflection" about how our "hollow emptiness[should] be filled." We have no choice but to confront "the nature and structure of reality itself," and by so doing make "a metaphysical decision about the nature of man." In a way, we are better situated in our time than Brownson was in his to see the futility of the modern ambition to cut man off from the divine. We now know that we cannot do without metaphysical and theological reflection; despite the best efforts of its children, the modern era simply failed to destroy the thoughtful and anxious human individual. It is now up to this individual to choose to recognize the truth about being and human being-a truth embodied in natural law-and to reject the ideological lies and Lockean abstractions that were devised to distract us from it.

June 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 PM


Smarter lighting would save US$110b, summit told (June 24, 2012)

 Efficient lighting would save US$110 billion (RM330 billion) a year worldwide, according to a UN-led study published at the Rio+20 summit on Thursday.

Yearly savings in phasing out incandescent bulbs and making other simple changes would amount to around five percent of global electricity consumption, it said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Ankara vows response after Syria downs Turkish jet (France 24, 6/23/12)
Syria on Saturday confirmed it had shot down a Turkish fighter jet that had entered their territory, as Turkey said it would take "necessary steps" once it had established all the facts.

A Syrian military spokesman told the country's official news agency SANA that they had opened fire on an "unidentified target" that had entered its airspace, bringing it down in Syrian waters.

They had subsequently established that it had been a Turkish fighter and the two countries' navies were now cooperating in an operation to find the two missing pilots, the agency reported.

This latest crisis will likely further test relations between the two neighbors, already strained over Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's outspoken condemnation of Syria's bloody crackdown on anti-government protests.

Never a good idea to give a natural enemy--especially a US ally--a pretext to attack you.
Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Indian Americans ahead of all other ethnic minorities in US (Yashwant Raj, 6/19/12, Hindustan Times)

Indian Americans are the third largest Asian American group at 3.18 million, behind Chinese and Filipino origin Americans at 4.01 million and 3.41 million respectively.

The first Indians came to the US between 1904 and 1911 as farmhands. They were then described as caucasians, and could become citizens and marry US-born whites. But that changed.  Immigration from India was prohibited in 1917, and a 1923 Supreme Court decision called them non-whites. The gates were thrown up in 1965 with new laws.

Indians started landing in waves, mostly through student and temporary-work visas, accounting for more than half of H1B recipients in 2011 (there have been cuts since). Their successes make the community the most prosperous and educated.

Median annual personal earnings for Indian-American full-time, was $65,000, higher than for all Asian Americans ($48,000) as well as for all US adults ($40,000). Among households, the median annual income for Indian Americans  was $88,000, much higher than for all Asians ($66,000) and all US households ($49,800). And, that's probably because they are better educated. "Among Indian Americans aged 25 and older, seven-in-ten (70%) have obtained at least a bachelor's degree."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Zimmerman Prosecutors Struggle to Outmaneuver Florida Law (US Politics Today, 6/23/12)

Florida's Stand Your Ground law allows residents to use deadly force to defend themselves or their property, and when doing so, protects them from prosecution. This law may derail the prosecution of defendant George Zimmerman in the much-publicized case of a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed teenager Trayvon Martin.

State prosecutors see the case as open-and-shut, arguing that Martin was simply a kid buying a soda at a convenience store. When Zimmerman called 911 to report a suspicious individual, police told him to stand down until they arrived; he did not. [...]

Florida's Stand Your Ground law is clear: an individual has no duty to retreat from a public confrontation in which he or she reasonably perceives a danger. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


America, Start Your Natural-Gas Engines: Replacing gasoline in our cars could be an energy game changer. Here's what we need to do to get from here to there. (TOM FOWLER, 6/18/12, WSJ)

Beyond the chemical, mechanical and economic challenges of getting natural gas into the vehicle fleet, there are psychological barriers. The average person doesn't think about natural gas when thinking of alternative vehicles, says Mike Omotoso, senior manager for LMC Automotive U.S., a research firm. "They might think of diesels, but they mainly think of gas-electric hybrids or plug-in electrics. They just aren't aware of natural gas."

Much of how the public will react is unknown. Will there be safety fears? Will people be willing to use the same fuel that heats their houses to run their cars? There's no wide-scale effort to answer those questions.

The arguments that will win over buyers aren't clear either. Honda used the cleaner-emissions pitch when its Civic GX came on the U.S. market in 1998, says Brad Johnson, corporate fleet director with Pacific Honda in San Diego. Now, he says, buyers seem more interested in saving at the pump and using a fuel produced in the U.S. Honda is also promoting the fact that CNG vehicles can drive in high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on California freeways.

Even though consumers are slow to adopt natural-gas passenger vehicles, at least a few gas retailers are optimistic that if they build it, drivers will come.

Love's Travel Stops & Country Stores, of Oklahoma City, plans to open 10 retail outlets with CNG pumps this summer, thanks to a partnership with Chesapeake Energy.

And Kwik Trip Inc., an operator of gas stations and convenience stores, opened its first CNG station aimed at passenger-car drivers in La Crosse, Wis., this spring, with plans for several more.

"It's attractive to customers because it's a domestic product, there's a steady supply, and the price is right," says John McHugh, Kwik Trip's communications manager. "If we can offer the consumer a value, we know people will jump on the bandwagon."

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Mitt Romney's Playbook on Immigration, Everything: Pivot to the Economy (Chris Good, 6/22/12, ABC News)

Just when you think identity politics is back, Mitt Romney does his best to squash it.

Now that the Obama administration says it will no longer deport young illegal immigrants, pundits have wondered whether Romney's criticism of the move - and the ambiguity over whether or not he would actually reverse the policy, if elected - will hurt him among Latino voters. The former governor and his campaign have an answer: the economy. [...]

Romney's maneuver is basic: Criticized for policies unpopular with a particular demographic group, he has pointed to unemployment rates in that group, diverting attention back to the campaign's top issue and suggesting that, regardless of immigration policy, Obama's presidency has harmed Latinos.

If this move sounds familiar, it should. Romney and his campaign employed the same strategy this spring, when Republicans faced criticism for policies that affect another group - women.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Glen Hansard is doing just swell (Maryam Siddiqi, Jun 19, 2012, National Post)
Glen Hansard knows how to tell a story, which is fantastic if you're a journalist because he'll answer questions without having to be asked, and the conversation will flow naturally to unlikely subjects.

But it might be a challenge if you're a publicist, particularly one who's trying to manage a strict interview schedule, because no matter how emphatically you're tapping your finger on your watch, journalists (this one, anyway) won't want to interrupt Hansard, 42, remembering how, as a nervous 20-year-old, he celebrated Van Morrison's 50th birthday with him, singing and playing guitar together. "We didn't talk. At all. We just sang," he says. "The guitar had four strings on it when we finished."

Film review: Falling out of love with The Swell Season
Just days before Hansard was in Toronto for interviews this past May, he played a small show in New York and shared a song with another famous Irish singer during his birthday week -- Bono. "You kind of forget that here's a guy from the biggest rock band in the world, and he doesn't do this, ever. He doesn't jam," Hansard says. "So it was nice to see him do that."

And a week or so before that, Hansard played the New Orleans Jazz Festival and was asked to sing with Mavis Staples. "I met her before she went on and she invited me to sing in tribute to Levon [Helm], but my god, man. I stood at the side of the stage, and honestly it was the best show I've ever seen. She's just all light," he says, awe still in his voice.

"I feel like, how blessed a life have I managed to live that I bump into Mavis, have this brief conversation about Levon and the next thing I know I'm singing with her. That's the kind of magic that I definitely signed up for in this life," he explains. "It says a lot for, if you're there, it can happen. If you're available to the muse or to the magic, it will come and land on your shoulder."

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


The Problem Is Relative (H. Gilbert Welch, 06/21/2012, Huffington Post)

A few years ago a study of a cholesterol-lowering statin drug was hailed for big reductions in heart attacks in people with so-called healthy cholesterol levels. The drug led to about a 50 percent reduction in the risk of heart attack. That sounds like a breakthrough.

But the absolute risks -- the real numbers -- are sure to look a little different. Why? Because in people with healthy cholesterol levels, heart attacks are rare. To get that context, get the two additional numbers: the risk of heart attack in people taking and not taking the drug.

For people taking the drug, the chance of having a heart attack over five years was less than 1 percent. To be sure, that is about 50 percent lower than the analogous risk for those not taking the drug -- less than 2 percent -- but it sounds a lot less like a breakthrough.

These absolute risks suggest that 100 apparently healthy people have to take the medication for five years for one to avoid a heart attack. And it's not even clear from the research -- or the federal registry of clinical trials -- what kind of heart attack: the kind that patients experience (the bad kind) or the kind that is diagnosed by detecting less than a billionth of gram of a protein in the blood (the not-so-important kind). Add in all the hassle factors of being on another drug (filling scripts, blood tests, insurance forms) and the legitimate concerns about side effects, the use of relative change might now strike you as more than a little misleading.

Whatever the finding -- harm or benefit -- relative change exaggerates it.

Upon learning this, one of my students likened relative change to funhouse mirrors. If you are thin, there is a mirror that can make you look too thin; if you are heavy, there is mirror that can make you look too heavy.

In the case of relative change, it all happens in the same mirror. It provides a potent combo to promote medical care: exaggerated perceptions of risk and exaggerated perceptions of benefit. Can you imagine a more powerful marketing strategy?

June 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Shortages: Is 'peak oil' idea dead? (Roger Harrabin, 6/19/12, BBC)

And what do you know? In 2008 we reached a new production high of 73.71 million barrels a day according to the IEA, thanks largely to new technologies for getting the stuff out of the ground.

Oil comes from fragments of vegetable matter laid down amongst particles of rock. Even by 1980 we could only recover about 22% of the oil from a typical well. Technology has now driven that figure to 35%. Same oil wells, more oil.

A surge of car ownership in China has exacerbated concerns about peak oil
Supply has been boosted by unconventional oil extracted from rocks which were previously uneconomic to exploit - like oil shales and tar sands. It takes much more energy and water to separate the oil from these rocks than conventional oil drilling so it's much worse for the environment.

But your car doesn't know or care whether it's running on conventional oil or tar sand oil.

Fears over "peak oil" haven't evaporated, but the advent of unconventional oils has driven the peak further into the distance.

There's also a boom in unconventional gas production that's made the Americans relax about energy security. Gas can be turned into diesel - at a cost - pushing peak oil further into the distance. If things get really bad we can also turn coal into diesel.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


My Health-Care Alternative for the Old and Poor: Replacing Medicare and Medicaid with a simple debit card will result in better-quality care, for less. (DEVIN NUNES, 6/21/12, WSJ)

Geared toward low-income individuals and seniors, this simple plan will replace participants' Medicare and Medicaid benefits with roughly equivalent funds put on a debit-style "Medi-choice" card. Participants can then use their card to buy the health insurance of their choice on the open market and to pay for out-of-pocket expenses such as co-payments and deductibles. In succeeding years the card's funding level will be adjusted for inflation, and any unused funds will roll over to the next year.

This plan will streamline health-care delivery by replacing hospital insurance, Medigap, prescription-drug programs, Medicare and Medicaid with a simple debit card. Instead of dealing with the notorious restrictions, exclusions and red tape of government-provided health care, participants will be empowered to control their own health care and force insurers and providers to compete for their business. Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries will be freed from these failing, regimented programs, and they will gain the same access and choice in health care enjoyed by other Americans.

The pilot program would be launched in eight counties in California's San Joaquin Valley, an impoverished area whose residents are woefully underserved in health care. According to a December 2005 Congressional Research Service report, "By a wide range of indicators, the SJV [San Joaquin Valley] is . . . one of the most economically depressed regions of the United States" and is "suffering from high poverty, unemployment, and other adverse social conditions." The report found that the region had nearly double the percentage of Medicaid participants (22.9%) compared with the national average (11.7%) and around half the ratio of active doctors (1.4 doctors per 1,000 people in the San Joaquin Valley, compared with 2.3 doctors per 1,000 nationwide).

The valley's poorer inhabitants are precisely the kind of people whom government-provided health care is supposed to help. Yet their access to quality care is severely limited due to myriad restrictions and bureaucratic obstacles. As a result, local hospitals, doctors and medical professionals have shown enthusiastic support for our plan.

The pilot program's costs will be minimal, since it will largely redirect today's inefficient government spending. But its potential rewards are high. It will constitute a voluntary real-life experiment--applying only to those who choose to participate--in using choice and competition to eliminate the waste, inefficiencies and restrictions of the current system. Best of all, if it works in the difficult conditions of the San Joaquin Valley, it will likely work across the country--with essentially no additional costs.

In fact, if the program is implemented on a large scale, it will have beneficial ripple effects throughout the health-care sector and the national economy. It will encourage widespread entrepreneurship, innovation and competition as providers seek to meet the needs of empowered consumers. It will harness the free market to drive reforms that will benefit all Americans, particularly the poorest.

June 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


C.I.A. Said to Aid in Steering Arms to Syrian Opposition (ERIC SCHMITT, 6/21/12, NY Times)

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers.

The weapons, including automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, ammunition and some antitank weapons, are being funneled mostly across the Turkish border by way of a shadowy network of intermediaries including Syria's Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the officials said.

The C.I.A. officers have been in southern Turkey for several weeks, in part to help keep weapons out of the hands of fighters allied with Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups, one senior American official said. The Obama administration has said it is not providing arms to the rebels, but it has also acknowledged that Syria's neighbors would do so.

The clandestine intelligence-gathering effort is the most detailed known instance of the limited American support for the military campaign against the Syrian government. It is also part of Washington's attempt to increase the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who has recently escalated his government's deadly crackdown on civilians and the militias battling his rule. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


Supreme Court says union must give notice to nonmembers before collecting dues increase (Associated Press, 6/21/12)

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that unions must give nonmembers an immediate chance to object to unexpected fee increases or special assessments that all workers are required to pay in closed-shop situations. [...]

"When a public-sector union imposes a special assessment or dues increase, the union must provide a fresh ... notice and may not exact any funds from nonmembers without their affirmative consent," Alito said.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed with the judgment but wrote their own opinion.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


How to make U.S. healthcare even worse (David Lazarus, June 22, 2012, LA Times)

Put simply, by eliminating the individual mandate but leaving in place what's known as "guaranteed issue" of coverage, the Supreme Court would be giving Americans a green light to wait until they get sick before seeking health coverage.

Why spend thousands of dollars on insurance when you're young and healthy? Without a mandate but with guaranteed issue, you could just put off paying annual premiums until you actually need medical care. It would be almost foolish to do otherwise.

This would have enormous ramifications for the insurance industry. It would essentially mean that insurers would be covering only sick people, rather than spreading their risk among the entire population, healthy and unhealthy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


How Skilled Immigrants Create Jobs: The Employ American Workers Act has achieved three things: Lost ideas. Lost jobs. Lost taxes. (MATTHEW J. SLAUGHTER, 6/20/12, WSJ)

Won't more immigrant graduates staying in America mean fewer jobs for Americans? No. On the contrary, they will create jobs for Americans--in large corporations and new companies alike. Large companies that hire skilled immigrants tend to hire more U.S. nationals as well. Bill Gates has testified that for every immigrant hire at Microsoft, an average of four non-immigrant employees are hired.

As for start-ups, a 2007 study by researchers at Duke and UC Berkeley found that 25% of all U.S. high-technology firms established between 1995 and 2005 had at least one foreign-born founder. In 2005, these new companies employed 450,000 workers and generated over $50 billion in sales.

Skilled immigrants have long supported U.S. jobs and living standards. They bring human capital, financial capital, and connections to opportunities abroad. Despite all this dynamism, U.S. policy toward skilled immigrants has long been far too restrictive. The H1-B program, which accounts for nearly all of America's legal skilled immigration, imposes a cap of 85,000 visas annually--65,000 with at least a bachelor's degree and 20,000 with at least a master's degree. For years, demand far exceeded the supply. In 2007, the year before the financial crisis struck, more than 150,000 H1-B applications were submitted on the first day.

Since the financial crisis, America's immigration policy has further tightened. Buried in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was the Employ American Workers Act, which restricted H1-B hiring at any U.S. company that received government support from either TARP or new Federal Reserve credit facilities. This act foolishly hurt hundreds of finance companies by limiting their talent pool precisely when they needed new talent the most.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


What kind of mandate should "the right" have supported? (Tyler Cowen, June 20, 2012, Marginal Revolution)

The conservatives and libertarians who earlier supported a mandate, ideally, should have been looking for the following qualities in a health care policy:

1. A very small number (one?) of categories for health care coverage and also reimbursement rates.  Mandates for everyone, in other words.  No Medicare, no Medicaid, no separate set of people in an employer-based, tax-subsidized health insurance sector, rather a unified system.  Switzerland comes relatively close to this, and of course some commentators hope ACA will evolve into this ("means-tested vouchers"), though I suspect the scope of the mandate and the cost of the subsidies will prevent this.

2. A rejection of health care egalitarianism, namely a recognition that the wealthy will purchase more and better health care than the poor.  Trying to equalize health care consumption hurts the poor, since most feasible policies to do this take away cash from the poor, either directly or through the operation of tax incidence.  We need to accept the principle that sometimes poor people will die just because they are poor.  Some of you don't like the sound of that, but we already let the wealthy enjoy all sorts of other goods -- most importantly status -- which lengthen their lives and which the poor enjoy to a much lesser degree.  We shouldn't screw up our health care institutions by being determined to fight inegalitarian principles for one very select set of factors which determine health care outcomes.

3. A modest bundle of guaranteed coverage and services.  I am very influenced by David Braybrooke's book on meeting basic needs.  Yet for me basic needs truly are basic and do not involve cable TV or small probability chances of delaying death from prostate cancer.

4. Price transparency (mandated if need be) and real competition in the health care sector, including freer immigration for doctors, nurses, and other caregivers, and relaxation of medical licensing and encouragement of retail medical clinics, a'la WalMart style.  This helps keep the cost of the mandate to reasonable levels.  Most cost-saving innovation should come through markets.  The man strapped to a gurney, bleeding, while negotiating a price with his doctor is the exception in this sector, not the rule.  In any case the insurance companies can prearrange the price for that one.

...universal HSAs from birth, with public funding for those who could not otherwise afford them.  While such a system returns market pressures to the health care industry, more importantly it is a Trojan Horse for boosting peoples' savings/wealth.  Modern democratic polities demand health coverage, but they don't need it.  So give it to them in a form that actually does some social good.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


UNPOPULAR MANDATE: Why do politicians reverse their positions? (Ezra Klein, JUNE 25, 2012, The New Yorker)

On March 23, 2010, the day that President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, fourteen state attorneys general filed suit against the law's requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance, on the ground that it was unconstitutional. It was hard to find a law professor in the country who took them seriously. "The argument about constitutionality is, if not frivolous, close to it," Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law-school professor, told the McClatchy newspapers. Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, told the Times, "There is no case law, post 1937, that would support an individual's right not to buy health care if the government wants to mandate it." Orin Kerr, a George Washington University professor who had clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, said, "There is a less than one-per-cent chance that the courts will invalidate the individual mandate." Today, as the Supreme Court prepares to hand down its decision on the law, Kerr puts the chance that it will overturn the mandate--almost certainly on a party-line vote--at closer to "fifty-fifty." The Republicans have made the individual mandate the element most likely to undo the President's health-care law. The irony is that the Democrats adopted it in the first place because they thought that it would help them secure conservative support. It had, after all, been at the heart of Republican health-care reforms for two decades.

The mandate made its political début in a 1989 Heritage Foundation brief titled "Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans," as a counterpoint to the single-payer system and the employer mandate, which were favored in Democratic circles. In the brief, Stuart Butler, the foundation's health-care expert, argued, "Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seat-belts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement." The mandate made its first legislative appearance in 1993, in the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act--the Republicans' alternative to President Clinton's health-reform bill--which was sponsored by John Chafee, of Rhode Island, and co-sponsored by eighteen Republicans, including Bob Dole, who was then the Senate Minority Leader.

After the Clinton bill, which called for an employer mandate, failed, Democrats came to recognize the opportunity that the Chafee bill had presented. In "The System," David Broder and Haynes Johnson's history of the health-care wars of the nineties, Bill Clinton concedes that it was the best chance he had of reaching a bipartisan compromise. "It should have been right then, or the day after they presented their bill, where I should have tried to have a direct understanding with Dole," he said.

Ten years later, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, began picking his way back through the history--he read "The System" four times--and he, too, came to focus on the Chafee bill. He began building a proposal around the individual mandate, and tested it out on both Democrats and Republicans. "Between 2004 and 2008, I saw over eighty members of the Senate, and there were very few who objected," Wyden says. In December, 2006, he unveiled the Healthy Americans Act. In May, 2007, Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, who had been a sponsor of the Chafee bill, joined him. Wyden-Bennett was eventually co-sponsored by eleven Republicans and nine Democrats, receiving more bipartisan support than any universal health-care proposal in the history of the Senate. It even caught the eye of the Republican Presidential aspirants. In a June, 2009, interview on "Meet the Press," Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, had signed a universal health-care bill with an individual mandate, said that Wyden-Bennett was a plan "that a number of Republicans think is a very good health-care plan--one that we support."

It's not surprising they reacted against the mandate once Democrats adopted it.  But it is startling that they've convinced themselves their own idea is sudden;y unconstitutional, though Eric Hoffer would recognize the phenomenon.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


The Intervention Dilemma (Joseph S. Nye, 21 June 2012,ISN Blog)

[A]fter a genocide that cost nearly 800,000 lives in Rwanda in 1994, and the slaughter of Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, many people vowed that such atrocities should never again be allowed to occur. When Slobodan Milošević engaged in large-scale ethnic cleansing in Kosovo in 1999, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution recognizing the humanitarian catastrophe, but could not agree on a second resolution to intervene, given the threat of a Russian veto. Instead, NATO countries bombed Serbia in an effort that many observers regarded as legitimate but not legal.

In the aftermath, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan created an international commission to recommend ways that humanitarian intervention could be reconciled with Article 2.7 of the UN Charter, which upholds member states' domestic jurisdiction. The commission concluded that states have a responsibility to protect their citizens, and should be helped to do so by peaceful means, but that if a state disregarded that responsibility by attacking its own citizens, the international community could consider armed intervention.

The idea of a "responsibility to protect" (R2P) was adopted unanimously at the UN's World Summit in 2005, but subsequent events showed that not all member states interpreted the resolution the same way. Russia has consistently argued that only Security Council resolutions, not General Assembly resolutions, are binding international law. Meanwhile, Russia has vetoed a Security Council resolution on Syria, and, somewhat ironically, Annan has been called back and enlisted in a so-far futile effort to stop the carnage there.

Until last year, many observers regarded R2P as at best a pious hope or a noble failure. But in 2011, as Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi prepared to exterminate his opponents in Benghazi, the Security Council invoked R2P as the basis for a resolution authorizing NATO to use armed force in Libya. In the United States, President Barack Obama was careful to wait for resolutions by the Arab League and the Security Council, thereby avoiding the costs to American soft power that George W. Bush's administration suffered when it intervened in Iraq in 2003. But Russia, China, and other countries felt that NATO exploited the resolution to engineer regime change, rather merely protecting citizens in Libya.

In fact, R2P is more about struggles over political legitimacy and soft power than it is about hard international law. Some Western lawyers argue that it entails the responsibility to combat genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes under the various conventions of international humanitarian law.

And since the regimes are undemocratic they are illegitimate.  Essentially, the onus is on the Realists to justify not intervening.  Since there is no justification for not aiding the Syrian people, we will do so.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


The Measured Man: Larry Smarr, an astrophysicist turned computer scientist, has a new project: charting his every bodily function in minute detail. What he's discovering may be the future of health care. (MARK BOWDEN, July/August 2012, The Atlantic)

When Socrates exhorted his followers, "Know thyself," he could not have imagined an acolyte so avid, or so literal, as Larry. You've heard of people who check their pulse every few minutes? Amateurs. When Larry works out, an armband records skin temperature, heat flux, galvanic skin response, and acceleration in three dimensions. When he sleeps, a headband monitors the patterns of his sleep every 30 seconds. He has his blood drawn as many as eight times a year, and regularly tracks 100 separate markers. He is on a first-name basis with his ultrasound and MRI technicians, who provide him with 3-D images of his body, head to toe. Regular colonoscopies record the texture and color of his innards. And then there are the stool samples--last year Larry sent specimens to a lab for analysis nine times.

Larry is a mild, gentle soul, someone generally more interested in talking about you than about himself. He does not go out of his way to get your attention, and nothing about him is remotely annoying or evangelical. But if you show an interest in his project and start asking questions--look out. Beneath the calm and the deference, Larry is an intellectual pitchman of the first order. His quest to know burns with the pure intellectual passion of a precocious 10-year-old. He visibly shudders with pleasure at a good, hard question; his shoulders subtly rise and square, and his forehead leans into the task. Because Larry is on a mission. He's out to change the world and, along the way, defeat at least one incurable disease: his own. (More on this in a moment.)

Larry is in the vanguard of what some call the "quantified life," which envisions replacing the guesswork and supposition presently guiding individual health decisions with specific guidance tailored to the particular details of each person's body. Because of his accomplishments and stature in his field, Larry cannot easily be dismissed as a kook. He believes in immersing himself in his work. Years ago, at the University of Illinois, when he was taking part in an experiment to unravel complex environmental systems with supercomputers, Larry installed a coral-reef aquarium in his home, complete with shrimp and 16 other phyla of small marine critters. It was maddeningly fragile. The coral kept peeling off the rocks and dying. He eventually discovered that just five drops of molybdenum, a metallic element, in a 250-gallon tank once a week solved the problem. That such a tiny factor played so decisive a role helped him better grasp the complexity of the situation. And as he fought to sustain the delicate ecosystem in his tank, he developed a personal feel for the larger problem his team was trying to solve.

Today, he is preoccupied with his own ecosystem. The way a computer scientist tends to see it, a genome is a given individual's basic program. Mapping one used to cost billions. Today it can be done for thousands, and soon the price will drop below $1,000. Once people know their genetic codes, and begin thoroughly monitoring their bodily systems, they will theoretically approach the point where computers can "know" a lot more about them than any doctor ever could. In such a world, people will spot disease long before they feel sick--as Larry did. They will regard the doctor as more consultant than oracle.

Not everyone sees this potential revolution as a good one. Do people really want or need to know this much about themselves? Is such a preoccupation with health even healthy? What if swimming in oceans of bio-data causes more harm than good?

"Frankly, I'd rather go river rafting," says Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, and the author of Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health. "Data is not information. Information is not knowledge. And knowledge is certainly not wisdom." Welch believes that individuals who monitor themselves as closely as Larry does are pretty much guaranteed to find something "wrong." Contradictory as it sounds, he says abnormality is normal.

"It brings to mind the fad a few years ago with getting full-body CT scans," Welch says. "Something like 80 percent of those who did it found something abnormal about themselves. The essence of life is variability. Constant monitoring is a recipe for all of us to be judged 'sick.' Judging ourselves sick, we seek intervention." And intervention, usually with drugs or surgery, he warns, is never risk-free. Humbler medical practitioners, aware of the sordid history of some medical practices (see: bloodletting, lobotomy, trepanning), weigh the consequences of intervention carefully. Doing no harm often demands doing nothing. The human body is, after all, remarkably sturdy and self-healing. As Welch sees it, "Arming ourselves with more data is guaranteed to unleash a lot of intervention" on people who are basically healthy.

Not to mention creating an epidemic of anxiety. In other words, the "quantified life" might itself belong to the catalog of affliction, filed under Looking too closely, hazards of.

In that sense, the story of Larry Smarr might be less a pioneering saga than a cautionary tale.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


Dirtying Up Our Diets (JEFF D. LEACH, June 20, 2012, NY Times)

Increasing evidence suggests that the alarming rise in allergic and autoimmune disorders during the past few decades is at least partly attributable to our lack of exposure to microorganisms that once covered our food and us. As nature's blanket, the potentially pathogenic and benign microorganisms associated with the dirt that once covered every aspect of our preindustrial day guaranteed a time-honored co-evolutionary process that established "normal" background levels and kept our bodies from overreacting to foreign bodies. This research suggests that reintroducing some of the organisms from the mud and water of our natural world would help avoid an overreaction of an otherwise healthy immune response that results in such chronic diseases as Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and a host of allergic disorders.

In a world of hand sanitizer and wet wipes (not to mention double tall skinny soy vanilla lattes), we can scarcely imagine the preindustrial lifestyle that resulted in the daily intake of trillions of helpful organisms. For nearly all of human history, this began with maternal transmission of beneficial microbes during passage through the birth canal -- mother to child. However, the alarming increase in the rate of Caesarean section births means a potential loss of microbiota from one generation to the next. And for most of us in the industrialized world, the microbial cleansing continues throughout life. Nature's dirt floor has been replaced by tile; our once soiled and sooted bodies and clothes are cleaned almost daily; our muddy water is filtered and treated; our rotting and fermenting food has been chilled; and the cowshed has been neatly tucked out of sight. While these improvements in hygiene and sanitation deserve applause, they have inadvertently given rise to a set of truly human-made diseases.

While comforting to the germ-phobic public, the too-shiny produce and triple-washed and bagged leafy greens in our local grocery aisle are hardly recognized by our immune system as food. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Why the War of 1812 still matters (Alexandra Deutsch, 6/18/12,BBC)

Externally, the mutually beneficial "special relationship" that has grown between Great Britain and the United States since that period developed in the aftermath of the war that pitted those nations against one another. [...]

Speaking volumes about the modern relationship between the US and Great Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife made their first official foreign trip this year in March, and it was to the United States.

As President Barack Obama joked during his public welcoming remarks: "It's now been 200 years since the British came here to the White House under somewhat different circumstances. They made quite an impression, they really lit up the place!"

Jokes aside, the two countries have come a long way from the War of 1812. Even after the conflict ended, tensions continued between the two nations in the 19th Century, but by the 20th Century they had established a valuable partnership of trust and support.

From the occupation of Europe during World War II to today in Afghanistan, Great Britain and the US tend to globally present a united front.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


LeRoy Neiman dies at 91; artist depicted sports in bold strokes (Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2012)

LeRoy Neiman, a wildly successful American artist who was famous for his colorful portraits of athletes in motion and who became an artistic fixture at such major sporting events as the Olympics and the Super Bowl, has died. He was 91.

Neiman, who was also a longtime contributor to Playboy magazine, died Wednesday in New York, said his longtime publicist, Gail Parenteau. A cause was not disclosed.

The accessible works of art he painted depicted sports and other leisure activities with bold, distinctive strokes on a canvas that invariably brimmed with color.

He was so successful that as early as 1976 The Times called him "in market terms ... a bigger success than Rembrandt -- or any other painter. He is the first sports artist of America. More significantly, Neiman is first by so far nobody knows who's second."

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June 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


Rio+20: Right sentiment, wrong problems, poor solutions: World leaders gathered in Rio for the Rio+20 Earth Summit are looking at the wrong problems (Bjorn Lomborg, 6/19/12, The Telegraph)

Much of Rio+20 has focused on making the third world part of the 'green economy', as defined by Europe and the US. But developing countries are right not to be lured into this beguiling notion'. Today's green economy policies only make miniscule carbon reductions at an extremely high cost. They promise jobs, but only with huge subsidies - and this raises costs for the rest of the economy, causing an equal or greater number of job losses elsewhere.

Most of the world's poor people are focused on making a living, let alone a 'green living'.Likewise, for most poor people, there are far more immediate problems to confront. Nine hundred million people are malnourished, one billion lack clean drinking water, 2.6 billion lack sanitation, and 1.6 billion lack electricity. Every year, about 15 million people die from diseases that would be cured easily and cheaply.Crucially, while rich countries are worrying about global warming and enamoured with alluring solutions like the green economy, there are far more important environmental issues at stake for the third world. Each year, 13% of all deaths in the developing world come from old-fashioned air and water pollution. In comparison, even if we unrealistically attribute all deaths from flooding, droughts, heat waves and storms to global warming, it causes about 0.06% of all third world deaths. Air and water pollution kills 210 times as many.

By focusing on a green economy, the first world might help prevent one person from dying. That sounds good until you realize it means that 210 people in poorer countries will die needlessly - because the resources that would have saved them were spent on biofuels, solar panels, windmills and other rich world obsessions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Our Streets Aren't Hard Enough (to Save Fuel) (Rachel Swaby, 6/18/12, Pacific Standard)

The roads are getting some heat for their interactions with our tires. The problem? Pavement has gone soft--or rather has been too soft from the beginning.

Researchers at MIT, who recently conducted a study looking at the space between the rubber and the road, compare the present interaction to walking barefoot in the sand. The vehicle's load ends up trailing behind the travel path due of the way the energy is dissipated. But by swapping in stiffer materials, the researchers found, the United States could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 3 percent--a savings of more than 250 million barrels of crude oil annually.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


What America Spends On Groceries (LAM THUY VO, 6/19/12, NPR)

We spend less of our money on groceries than we did 30 years ago.

Income spent on groceries
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Credit: Lam Thuy Vo / NPR

June 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


A Better Way to Get Hydrogen from Water (KEVIN BULLIS, June 19, 2012, Technology Review)

An experimental approach to splitting water might lead to a relatively cheap and clean method for large-scale hydrogen production that doesn't require fossil fuels. The process splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using heat and catalysts made from inexpensive materials.

Heat-driven water splitting is an alternative to electrolysis, which is expensive and requires large amounts of electricity. The new approach, developed by Caltech chemical-engineering professor Mark Davis, avoids the key problems with previous heat-driven methods of water splitting. It works at relatively low temperatures and doesn't produce any toxic or corrosive intermediate products.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Occupy Wall Street movement has hit a wall (Dana Milbank, 6/18/12, Washington Post)

[Van] Jones, an Obama administration official who resigned under pressure because of his far-left positions, is a fixture at the annual gatherings and a fiery orator. But this version of his yearly pep talk was laced with disappointment. "I'm watching that movement that inspired the world . . . that stunned the world, in the moment of maximum peril now sit down," he lamented at the opening session, where half of the 500 seats were filled.

Suffering Americans, he went on, "need a movement that is willing to stand with them -- and yet there is this reluctance. We saw in Wisconsin what happens when we put our minimum against our opponents' maximum. . . . Are we going to let the tea party govern America?"

Jones was preaching to the choir. But surveying the demoralized state of the left, it's not unreasonable to think that his question will be answered in the affirmative. The failed gubernatorial recall election in Wisconsin showed that momentum is against Democrats and their allies, and the still-lumbering economy has depressed President Obama's supporters.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


The Obama Campaign Needs an Intervention (Albert R. Hunt, Jun 17, 2012, Bloomberg)

"The challenge for the president is not the current conditions, but the huge expectations he set that have not been met," said Hart, a leading Democratic pollster. "There is no road map, no program, no conviction of where the president wants to lead the country."

Too often, it's felt that Obama is playing political small ball or tactical games. Party critics note the fumbled response to the president's much-criticized statement earlier this month that the "private sector is doing fine."

When the president assembled the press, he really had nothing much to say about the European crisis or the domestic economy, so the slip dominated the story. After he later backtracked, the White House and campaign prolonged the story by insisting those remarks were being taken out of context by Romney and the press.

Not so. Go to the White House website and check the June 8 transcript.

All politicians make misstatements. And there was a plausible follow: corporate profits are soaring, the largest companies in the Standard & Poor's 100 Index (SPXL1) have increased earnings for 11 consecutive quarters and are now more profitable than ever, while demand for U.S. government securities reached a record last year. Corporate chief executive officers are as well compensated as ever, and the most recent figures show that the inflation-adjusted incomes of the 1 percent of wealthiest Americans rose by an average of $105,637 in one year.

The problem, the president could have declared, while citing these numbers, is that the middle class and small business have been left behind. Saying so would have afforded an opportunity for Obama to contrast his views on what to do with Romney's emphasis on the more affluent.

,,,but the notion that you can argue in favor of both record profits and increased hiring is even more divorced from reality.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


A GOP bait-and-switch on disclosure (Fred Hiatt, 6/17/12, Washington Post)

Now Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) have introduced legislation that would -- without limiting a single act of political speech -- promote disclosure, sunlight and disinfectant. Not a single Republican has signed on. [...]

"There are laws against threats and intimidation; and harsh criticism, short of unlawful action, is a price our people have traditionally been willing to pay for self-governance," Scalia wrote. "Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed."

Democracy is endangered, too, if politicians cannot hold to principle equally when it's politically beneficial and when it's not. Disclosure may soon come up for a vote in the Senate. Will any Republicans have the civic courage to remember where they stood a few years back?

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Fears of 'Creeping Sharia' : This chimerical battle in the culture war poses real dangers. (Matthew Schmitz, 6/18/12, National Review)

Sharia, of course, does not grant all the rights that the U.S. Constitution does; neither does Christian canon law or Jewish Halakhic law (or English or French law, for that matter). But why should this fact prevent a court from honoring a contract made under the provisions of one of these "foreign" legal systems if the contract does not itself violate any U.S. or state regulations, laws, or constitutional provisions? Under one reading of the Kansas law, a contract that makes reference to canon law or sharia -- but is otherwise perfectly legal -- would be thrown out, while an identical one that makes no such reference would be upheld. The other possible reading of the law is that it only bars rulings based on foreign legal systems when the rulings themselves would violate constitutional rights. But in that case, as Professor Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia Law School has argued, the law is meaningless, for courts will not tolerate or enforce violations of constitutional rights in any case. 

The assumption undergirding the Kansas law, and similar laws enacted or being considered in other states, is that America faces a serious threat from "creeping sharia." While some Western countries do face real difficulties from large, radicalized Muslim populations, evidence for the Islamization of America is terribly thin. Sharia, moreover, is not one rigid legal system but rather an immensely varied set of legal, cultural, and ethical understandings. It varies between countries and regions, encompassing social custom and dietary habits as well as what Westerners consider matters of law.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Americans More Positive About Immigration (Jeffrey M. Jones, 6/18/12, Gallup)

President Barack Obama's decision not to deport young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children comes at a time when Americans' views toward immigration are much more positive than they have been in recent years. Currently, 66% say immigration is a "good thing" for the U.S. today, up from 59% last year and one percentage point off the high of 67% in 2006. [...]

In fact, the 35% who now favor decreased immigration is the lowest Gallup has measured on this trend since 1965. At the same time, the 21% who favor increased immigration is the largest percentage Gallup has measured.

June 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


UNPOPULAR MANDATE: Why do politicians reverse their positions? (Ezra Klein, JUNE 25, 2012, The New Yorker)

On March 23, 2010, the day that President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, fourteen state attorneys general filed suit against the law's requirement that most Americans purchase health insurance, on the ground that it was unconstitutional. It was hard to find a law professor in the country who took them seriously. "The argument about constitutionality is, if not frivolous, close to it," Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law-school professor, told the McClatchy newspapers. Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine, told the Times, "There is no case law, post 1937, that would support an individual's right not to buy health care if the government wants to mandate it." Orin Kerr, a George Washington University professor who had clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, said, "There is a less than one-per-cent chance that the courts will invalidate the individual mandate." Today, as the Supreme Court prepares to hand down its decision on the law, Kerr puts the chance that it will overturn the mandate--almost certainly on a party-line vote--at closer to "fifty-fifty." The Republicans have made the individual mandate the element most likely to undo the President's health-care law. The irony is that the Democrats adopted it in the first place because they thought that it would help them secure conservative support. It had, after all, been at the heart of Republican health-care reforms for two decades.

The mandate made its political début in a 1989 Heritage Foundation brief titled "Assuring Affordable Health Care for All Americans," as a counterpoint to the single-payer system and the employer mandate, which were favored in Democratic circles. In the brief, Stuart Butler, the foundation's health-care expert, argued, "Many states now require passengers in automobiles to wear seat-belts for their own protection. Many others require anybody driving a car to have liability insurance. But neither the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement." The mandate made its first legislative appearance in 1993, in the Health Equity and Access Reform Today Act--the Republicans' alternative to President Clinton's health-reform bill--which was sponsored by John Chafee, of Rhode Island, and co-sponsored by eighteen Republicans, including Bob Dole, who was then the Senate Minority Leader.

After the Clinton bill, which called for an employer mandate, failed, Democrats came to recognize the opportunity that the Chafee bill had presented. In "The System," David Broder and Haynes Johnson's history of the health-care wars of the nineties, Bill Clinton concedes that it was the best chance he had of reaching a bipartisan compromise. "It should have been right then, or the day after they presented their bill, where I should have tried to have a direct understanding with Dole," he said.

Ten years later, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, began picking his way back through the history--he read "The System" four times--and he, too, came to focus on the Chafee bill. He began building a proposal around the individual mandate, and tested it out on both Democrats and Republicans. "Between 2004 and 2008, I saw over eighty members of the Senate, and there were very few who objected," Wyden says. In December, 2006, he unveiled the Healthy Americans Act. In May, 2007, Bob Bennett, a Utah Republican, who had been a sponsor of the Chafee bill, joined him. Wyden-Bennett was eventually co-sponsored by eleven Republicans and nine Democrats, receiving more bipartisan support than any universal health-care proposal in the history of the Senate. It even caught the eye of the Republican Presidential aspirants. In a June, 2009, interview on "Meet the Press," Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, had signed a universal health-care bill with an individual mandate, said that Wyden-Bennett was a plan "that a number of Republicans think is a very good health-care plan--one that we support."

Wyden's bill was part of a broader trend of Democrats endorsing the individual mandate in their own proposals. John Edwards and Hillary Clinton both built a mandate into their campaign health-care proposals. In 2008, Senator Ted Kennedy brought John McDonough, a liberal advocate of the Massachusetts plan, to Washington to help with health-care reform. That same year, Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, included an individual mandate in the first draft of his health-care bill. The main Democratic holdout was Senator Barack Obama. But by July, 2009, President Obama had changed his mind. "I was opposed to this idea because my general attitude was the reason people don't have health insurance is not because they don't want it. It's because they can't afford it," he told CBS News. "I am now in favor of some sort of individual mandate."

This process led, eventually, to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act--better known as Obamacare--which also included an individual mandate. But, as that bill came closer to passing, Republicans began coalescing around the mandate, which polling showed to be one of the legislation's least popular elements. In December, 2009, in a vote on the bill, every Senate Republican voted to call the individual mandate "unconstitutional."

This shift--Democrats lining up behind the Republican-crafted mandate, and Republicans declaring it not just inappropriate policy but contrary to the wishes of the Founders--shocked Wyden. "I would characterize the Washington, D.C., relationship with the individual mandate as truly schizophrenic," he said.

...doesn't mean you can't get four, or even five, justices to take it seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


US-India: Alignment & autonomy (Seema Sirohi, Jun 18, 2012, Times of India)

India and the United States, partners in prime, concluded the third round of their strategic dialogue last week. It was a talk session so vast and varied, it took 13 pages to summarise the discussions. The comfort level is obvious as is the keenness to help each other without pushing the wrong buttons.

The discussion has expanded from geostrategic issues to cover a dizzying array of fields - from agriculture to education, from science and technology to women's empowerment, from cyber security to counter-terrorism, from police training to creating virtual institutes on mathematics - a very large palette is coming alive.

To be sure it is an experiment in building a new kind of relationship, one never attempted by either country. Because it is an experiment, finding the right ingredients and a catalyst is a search. But the fundamental logic of strategic convergence holds. Of that, there is little doubt. 

...but the reality of India's geostrategic, economic and demographic challenges mean it will depend on America in a way that is not in any way reciprocated.   But that's okay, we have broad shoulders.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Is Wisconsin ripe for a Romney win? (Leigh Ann Caldwell, 6/18/12, CBS News)

"I would still put Wisconsin in the lean Democratic category but I don't think it's far from moving into the tossup category," Professor Franklin said.

Wisconsin has backed the Democrat in the past six presidential elections. However, in 2000, George W. Bush gave Al Gore a run for his money, only losing by just under 6,000 votes, and in 2004 he lost to John Kerry there by about 11,500 votes.

President Obama widened Wisconsin's Democratic margin in 2008, handily beating challenger John McCain, who stopped contesting Wisconsin after the polls showed Mr. Obama with a comfortable lead.

Despite the Democratic-leaning preferences of Wisconsin voters, a sea change occured in 2010.

Wisconsin voters elected a Republican governor and a Republican state legislature. Liberal Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., lost his bid for a fourth term to Tea Party-backed Ron Johnson. Also, outspoken liberal and 21-term Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc, retired in large part because of a tough re-election bid and was replaced by Republican Sean Duffy. Republicans picked up another congressional seat as well.

After the results of 2010 and Walker's successful recall this past June, the Republican tailwinds appear to be behind Romney.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


MILLENNIALS' HOME OWNERSHIP DREAMS DELAYED, NOT ABANDONED (Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais 06/18/2012, New Geography)

Eighty percent of Americans buy their first house between the ages of 18-34. While the Millennial Generation's (born 1982-2003) delayed entry into all aspects of young adulthood has sometimes been characterized as a "failure to launch," the generation's  preference for single tract, suburban housing should become the fuel to ignite the nation's next housing boom as Millennials  fully occupy this crucial age bracket over the next few years.

According to a study by Frank N. Magid Associates, 43 percent of Millennials describe suburbs as their "ideal place to live," compared to just 31 percent of older generations. Even though big cities are often thought of as the place where young people prefer to live and work, only 17 percent of Millennials say they want to settle  in one. This was the same percentage of members of this generation that  expressed a preference for living in either rural or small town America. Nor are Millennials particularly anxious to spend their lives as renters. A full 64 percent of Millennials surveyed, said it was "very important" to have an opportunity to own their own home.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Mitt Romney's strategy against President Obama is to say nothing at all (Mike Lupica, 6/17/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

There was Mitt Romney on Sunday with Bob Schieffer, in the middle of his bus tour through Pennsylvania, Romney presenting himself as honestly as he could, which means as the rich, affable, last stiff standing on the Republican side.

And, by the way? It might be more than enough to make him the next President. Romney doesn't have to stand for anything.

Once the GOP nominated a plausible candidate, all that matters is what the economy was like in the Spring.

June 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Rodney King, whose savage beating at the hands of Los Angeles police officers led to widespread rioting and a reassessment of race-relations in America, has died.

OFFICIAL NEGLIGENCE : Lou Cannon dissects the Rodney King case and the LA riots.  (Online Newshour, April 7, 1998)

[T]he purpose of my book was to find the truth, not reinforce stereotypes. Mr. King is a muscular person who led police on a 7.8 mile chase, ignored police commands to lie down on the ground, threw four officers off his back who tried to handcuff him without hurting him. He was wearing a T-shirt but was sweating on a cold night, and the officers thought that in addition to being drunk (which he later acknowledged) that he was on PCP. They became convinced of this when he rose to his feet after being hit with two volleys of a stun gun, each of them containing 50,000 volts of electricity, and then charged at an officer. It has never been determined whether Mr. King was in fact on PCP, but it is almost certainly true that anyone who behaved as he did would have been beaten. There have been many lawsuits against the LAPD settled by the city where people of all races were beaten for far less resistant conduct. I think the beating went on far too long, but the issue of whether it constituted criminal conduct is a complicated one that in discussed from many points of view on my book.

The problem with understanding the incident is that the events described above occurred before the famous videotape of the incident--except for the first three seconds of the video in which King charges toward Officer Laurence Powell. These three seconds, and ten other seconds that follow, were deleted by the Los Angeles television station that showed the beating, which is the version that most people saw. Neither the leading state prosecutor (who is an African American) nor the federal prosecutors thought that King was beaten because of his race, although they believed the beating was criminally excessive.

In any case, there is no doubt that Officer Powell was poorly trained and that his panic when Mr. King charged toward him contributed to the subsequent events. Training is supposed to overcome fear in the teachings of LAPD, but Officer Powell had by coincidence flunked a baton text against a stationary target (a rubber tire) at the beginning of his shift that night, and Rodney King was not stationary. I quote veteran officers as saying that Powell should not have been sent out into the field after he failed the test.

There is also no doubt that the verdicts of the Ventura County jury in Simi Valley were widely seen as an act of racial injustice, in large part because there were no blacks on the jury. I fault not the jurors but the judges who defied their own precedents and moved the trial out of diverse Los Angeles into mostly white Ventura County, where there were few blacks in the jury pool. Also, the prosecution in Simi Valley was put at a definite disadvantage by the prior editing of the videotape on television. When the full videotape was played during the trial, it reinforced the perception of conservative jurors that the media had not told the full story of Rodney King.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM

Next: Broncho (World Cafe, 6/11/12)

The Oklahoma City band Broncho crafts sing-along anthems that combine punk and garage-rock. You could make all the likely comparisons to punk bands of the '70s -- Ramones, Iggy Pop and The Stooges -- or even bring up the new-school garage-rock undertones of The Strokes and The Strange Boys. But that would sell the band short. If anything, it combines the best elements of both genres: raw guitar chords and energy, plus DIY sentiment, but with hi-fi production.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Adviser suggests Romney's position in line with Obama's on addressing fate of younger immigrants (MAGGIE HABERMAN, 6/16/12, Politico)

The Obama campaign last night blasted out this quote from Tara Wall, a recently-hired adviser on the Mitt Romney campaign, talking on CNN about the presumptive GOP nominee's take on President Obama's pre-emptive move over Sen. Marco Rubio on the DREAM Act, and wherein the difference lies:

"Within the party, there are plenty of opinions about this and I think there's plenty of time to talk about how we address this. There's no easy solution and I think he said that all along. He has also said that he's open to hearing other solutions like the DREAM Act. I think the more he's heard from others, including Marco Rubio, the more he's opened to broadening the idea of what we need to do with the folks, the young people, who are here through no fault of their own. If nothing else, we also see today, his opinion is the same, essentially in some degree, to President Obama's. The difference is: what do we do as a long-term strategy?"

...only about the timing of the universal amnesty.
Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Ryan's budget chase could shape his political path (BRIAN BAKST, 6/16/12, Associated Press)

There are plenty of reasons for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to choose Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate.
The whip-smart Wisconsin congressman is from a battleground state. He's the GOP's leading voice on the nation's budget and is the rare member of the Republican establishment who's loved by the tea party.

"If that bridge ever came, I would consider crossing it," Ryan told The Associated Press in an interview this month. He added: "I really don't have tremendous political ambition. I have policy ambition." [...]

Heavy with both factories and farms, Ryan's district in southern Wisconsin is typically carried by Democratic presidential candidates. His opponents note that part of his success lies in the overtures he makes across the aisle, from party-bucking votes against weakening prevailing wage laws to simpler gestures, like his recent attendance at a wake for the father of a local Democratic stalwart.

Prone to speaking in bar graphs as he warns of "a gathering storm" of debt that will challenge America's way of life, Ryan has also mastered the ability to hang a smile on ideas that generations of politicians have found treacherous.

He casts his push to scale back food stamps and other welfare assistance as empowerment for the downtrodden now lulled into complacency. Opening Medicare to more private competition, he argues, is about preventing an all-out program collapse that would devastate future retirees.

"He's a master politician," said former Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Jim Wineke. "I don't have a mean thought in my body about Paul. I just fundamentally disagree with his policies. He puts on a good face for some pretty awful policies."

The global economic crisis and the rise of the tea party, with its focused attention on government spending and debt, have made Ryan's budget plans something of a GOP litmus test. In March, Romney was quick to praise Ryan's latest proposal to slice trillions from the federal budget. Ryan reciprocated soon after with an endorsement of Romney's White House bid.

Picking Ryan as his running mate would be read as a full embrace of his budget ideas. 

A President Romney would be better served having Mr. Ryan in the House to guide the budget plan through.
Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Europe Is Unraveling, While U.S. and Canada Grow Closer (Joann Muller, 6/15/12, Forbes)

The new bridge spanning the Detroit River between the Motor City and Windsor, Ont., will create 10,000 construction jobs and help bolster the economies of both countries. But because Michigan is too broke to pay for its share of the project, the Canadian government will foot the entire $3.5 billion cost -- including all the land, customs plazas and new highways on both sides of the border.

The kicker? Even though it won't put up a cent of taxpayer money, Michigan can use $550 million of Canada's outlay to qualify for U.S. federal matching funds on $1.1 billion worth of highway projects across the state. "There isn't a down side," said a smiling Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has made the bridge one of his signature projects. Canada will get to collect all the tolls until Michigan's debt is paid back.

It's an unusually generous commitment on the part of the Canadians, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper made clear Friday there is no more important project to secure the future growth of Canada, which is highly dependent on trade with the U.S. "This is a great act of confidence in the future of  the North American economy at a critical time," said Harper, who just returned from a meeting in London with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Looking for a fun vacation? Why fly when you can drive?  (PAULA CONWAY AND J.P. HOORNSTRA, 6/16/12, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Woodstock, Vermont

Woodstock is one of those perfect places where you can safely bike along country roads, sample freshly-churned ice cream, cheese and peanut butter along the way, and take a swim in a lazy river before falling asleep under a 400-year-old hemlock tree. This is quintessential charming Americana.

Activities: Lunch at the Simon Pearce restaurant overlooking the Quechee Falls and Quechee covered bridge.Tour the glass-blowing mill and shop.Visit The Billings Farm & Museum, a restored 1890 farmhouse with programs on caring for livestock, including the Junior Farm Vet for a Day (offered only on June 27, July 18, and August 8 from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.), where kids ages 10 - 15 learn the basic care of large farm animals with hands-on instruction. Take a pastry class at King Arthur Flour.See the upper valley of Vermont and New Hampshire in a Vermont Balloon ride.Travel the back roads with Bike Vermont.

Stay: The Woodstock Inn & Resort rests majestically beyond a white picket fence with beautiful panoramas from any room. Guests love to plop into one of the oversized chairs in front of the 6-foot fieldstone hearth, enjoy the Cabot cheddar fondue at The Red Rooster restaurant on property or take in a round of golf on the 18-hole masterpiece golf course.

: from $190/night. The King Arthur Flour Package, where guests indulge their fantasy of becoming a top pastry chef, includes one-night accommodation for two (two night min. on weekends), country breakfast, a three- or four-hour baking class at the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center in Norwich, 20 minutes from The Inn. From $397, based on double occupancy, excluding taxes and resort fee. July 6 - 8, August 3 - 5, September 7 - 9 October 12 - 14.

Contact: woodstockinn.com or call 802-457-1100.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Market Bear Gets (a Little) Bullish (Paul Vigna, 6/14/12, WSJ)

[I]t caused a mini-sensation within financial circles this week when Mr. Rosenberg--the former economist at Merrill Lynch & Co. who's now at Canadian money-management firm Gluskin Sheff--wrote a morning commentary titled "Parting of the Clouds?" [...]

Mr. Rosenberg says his newfound optimism was crystallized by the votes last week in Wisconsin and California. He sees those representing a sea change in the way state and local governments are addressing their fiscal problems, and expects that attitude will sweep across statehouses and eventually filter up to the national level.

He said that those political events were an eye-opener, but the thoughts have been coalescing for some time. A few weeks ago, he published a note listing 10 "silver-linings" amid the dark clouds.

All of this leads him to believe the next 15 years or so won't be like the past 12 or so. Anybody who tries to project the future based on the immediate past is making a mistake of "gargantuan" proportions, he says. "I think we may look back at the events of last week as a real inflection point," he says.

One of the reasons a feared wave of municipal defaults never materialized, he says, is that pundits underestimated the resolve of mayors and governors to clean up their finances. It's that mindset he expects will eventually work its way to Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Ahmadinejad to retire from politicsIranian president says he will finish his term in 2013 and return to academia (ILAN BEN ZION June 16, 2012, Times of Israel)

The Iranian president may not serve more than two consecutive terms, but may run for office again after an absence of one four-year term. Despite this, Ahmadinejad said "Eight years is enough," in an interview with Allgemeine Zeitung that will be published on Sunday.

He's done enough damage.
Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Confirmed: Obama Mailed It In Yesterday (Guy Benson, 6/15/12, Townhall.com)

On Twitter, I mused that the RNC was licking its chops to assemble a video demonstrating just how lazy and non-groundbreaking The Great Reframing really was.  They didn't disappoint.  Devastating:

June 16, 2012

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:14 PM


It's Bloomsday today, when a bunch of trend-sucking dilettantes pretend to have read and enjoyed James Joyce's notorious excrescence, Ulysses. You can pretend also by checking out the much less painful Ulysses for Dummies. Or, you can learn why it's in no sense worth the effort to assay Joyce by reading the following, which oddly enough is to be found in a mystery novel:

It begins with Joyce and the novel of competence. In spite of what I just said bout him in a negative way--since we must smash old idols in order to raise new--Joyce was a man of undoubted imminence, great imagination, deep learning, and a brilliant intellect, none of it more obvious than in the manner in which he 'plotted'--and I mean that in the strategic, not simply tactical way--all of his works, but in particular Ulysses, which, to continue the military analogy, was his breakthrough book.

About words he once said, 'Why own a thing when you can say it.' And since with his intellect and astounding facility with languages, tongues, stories, and myths, he could say most things, it therefore followed that he--James Joyce, impoverished émigré son of a Dublin idler--owned not only the things he could name in the contemporary world, but many other things from all
recorded time. That was step one in the grand stratagem to become the modern Shakespeare.

Step two was to analyze the novel. Some critics contend that Joyce decided that the novel was the ideal literary art form of bourgeois society, in which, of course, people define themselves by the things that they own. The novel then is like a container--first word to last, beginning to end, front cover to back cover--that contains things or at least words that are references to things.

It follows, then, that that novel is best which, within the established limits of the container, includes the greatest number and type of things. Joyce decided he would set the limits of a single day in Dublin and write a book about it. He chose the sixteenth of June, 1904, the day that he first walked out with Nora Barnacle, the shop girl from Galway, who later became his wife.

But he would tell every thing about that eighteen-hour period, such that he would give (and I quote), 'A picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth, it could be reconstructed out of my book.' And so he poured the names, places, events, streets, buildings, race horses, tram schedules, tides, prices, advertisements, weather, a dog, a dead man, a birthing hospital, a cemetery, music, the theater, pubs, songs, murder, mayhem--you name it--along with the story of the day for two men who, although only partially acquainted, are like father and son. They are like the hero Ulysses himself, lost and wandering and trying to make their way back to impossible homes. Hence the mythic element.

Of course, how Joyce wrote the book was also new, an attempt to weave the actual verbal texture of Dublin--the specific whatness of Dublin verbal things--into the container. Ulysses is so perfectly constructed that it takes exactly eighteen hours to read aloud, the amount of time that one would have been awake on such a day.

Joyce said, 'If I can get to the heart of Dublin, I can get to the heart of every city in the world. In that particular is contained the universal.' [...]

With the Wake Joyce decided to write the ultimate novel. Instead of exhausting the possibilities of some other day--or a year or a decade or a century--in dear, dirty Dublin, he expanded the container to its final extension. For setting he chose nothing less than the world entire. For
characters all people, speaking all voices, who had ever lived. Time? All time, past, present, and--since there is a belief that certain combinations of words can sometimes serve as prophecy--perhaps even future time as well. In conception, at least, it was an impossible project.

But he made it all into the simple tale of the dream of a Dublin pub owner. Finnegan, like Jung claimed all of us can, establishes touch with the collective unconscious of the race of man. And his mind, wandering forward and back in time, touches upon all symbol, myth, and history from the hieroglyphics on ancient tombs through Vedic and Norse myths, the Bible in its several forms, sagas and passion plays and verse, and on to modern literature, right up to Beckett himself, who was often sitting across the room from Joyce, and so appears in the Wake.

During the twenty years that it took Joyce to write the Wake, he had a team of readers--the literary groupies of his day--scouring the Bibliotheque in Paris, reading all the great books he suggested. They would synopsize each and include a few representative pages of text so that Joyce could then add both statement and word to Finnegan's dream.

With a few dozen minds and at least one, perhaps two--here I mean Beckett--indisputable geniuses working on the Wake, it became the ideally competent novel that the ideally erudite reader might peruse for the rest of his life and still never appreciate in all its ideal complexity. In other words Joyce, within the assumptions of his aesthetic, exhausted the form of the novel of competence. Another novel more complete probably could not be produced, since it would require another Joyce, greater scope, a larger vision, more and better help, a second Bibliotheque Nationale.

And since the form of the novel as written from Richardson to Joyce was exhausted, Samuel Beckett turned around and attempted to exhaust the form in its 'negative' image, as it were--the novel of incompetence. By incompetence Beckett does not mean novels written by incompetent authors. He means that, unlike Joyce, he cannot assume the possibility of communication among human beings, much less between human beings and the collective unconscious.

For Beckett words don't work. They are an imposition, given us by others after our births; they really can't describe our own particular experiences in our own individual terms. Also, when we speak words, we need somebody else to hear and acknowledge them. A witness. In other words, we can't say us in our own terms for anybody's ears but our own. And if we were to try,
say, by speaking out all the words of the Others once and for all, we would find that there's nothing to say, since Western civilization assumes that we are no more than what we were when we were born--a tabula rasa, a void, un neant, a nothing. And nothing can only be described by silence.

There--that takes care of Beckett too.

[originally posted: 6/16/04]

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


It's time to strike down the 'Amazon exemption' (Becky Quick, 3/27/12, Fortune)

It's the dirty not-so-little secret of online and catalogue shopping: Buy from a retailer that doesn't have a physical presence in your home state, and you avoid state and local taxes on your goods at the time of purchase. Technically, if I buy Mass Effect from Amazon (AMZN), I'm required to send my $4.20 to New Jersey's coffers on my own. Yeah, right. Plenty of people don't even realize they're supposed to be sending that money in -- I didn't before I wrote this column. (Amazon collects taxes in only five of the 50 states.) Ask any tax expert or economist what percentage of these taxes is ever collected from consumers, and he will tell you it's virtually zero.

It's a great bargain for shoppers but a huge, unfair advantage for the online retailers, which have been beating up their brick-and-mortar counterparts for years. And it's a double whammy for state tax coffers: Not only do the online retailers not collect sales taxes on what they sell, but they are helping put chains like Borders and Circuit City out of business, shutting off what was once a spigot for state and local revenue.

This brawl over the collection of local taxes has been brewing for more than a decade, but it matters now more than ever. Online sales are expected to total about $226 billion this year and soar to $327 billion by 2016. States and municipalities are losing out on about $25 billion a year in uncollected tax revenue, the National Retail Federation estimates.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Romney's Worsening Latino Headache (HAROLD MEYERSON JUNE 15, 2012, Prospect)

President Obama's executive order to the immigration service to cease deportations of immigrants who came here without documentation before they turned 16 has gone as far as a president can go without bringing Congress along with him. A president can't change the legal status of the undocumented by himself, but he can issue orders to Homeland Security, which is precisely what Obama did.

...and Johnson could pardon the Rebels and Cleveland could blanket pardon Mormon polygamists, then a president can certainly blanket pardon immigration law violators.  President Obama has taken a good, but too trifling, step.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Crumbs!: Italy worried a biscuit will knock them out of Euro 2012 (Daily Mirror, 6/15/12)

Italians fear a Euro stitch-up between Spain and Croatia in the final round of Group C matches.

A 2-2 draw in the Spanish match on Monday would see Italy knocked out, no matter what happens in their simultaneous match against already-eliminated Ireland.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Punch Brothers On Mountain Stage (NPR,  June 12, 2012)

Punch Brothers makes its third appearance on Mountain Stage, recorded on the campus of West Virginia University in Morgantown. Initially categorized as a group that inserted bluegrass instruments and sensibilities into the structure of modern classical music, Punch Brothers' third album (Who's Feeling Young Now?) finds the quintet reaching out to territories whose nearest sonic neighbors might be experimental rock bands like Radiohead.

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


In Focus Group, Independent Voters Souring on Obama (Eleanor Clift Jun 15, 2012, Daily Beast)

Nine of the 12 people gathered in Denver on Tuesday voted for Obama in '08, but only three lean toward him at this point. They are a cross-section of America, working in real estate, health care, IT, and sales, and they're torn between a president whose performance they say has been underwhelming and who doesn't deserve reelection, and a challenger they know very little about beyond the fact that he's a rich and successful businessman.

When Democratic pollster Peter Hart probed for their thoughts about Bain Capital, the private-equity firm that Mitt Romney headed, nine of the group opted out, saying they didn't know enough to talk about it. Of the three who ventured they knew "a little," one said "Mitt ran it," while another said "He did well," three words that sum up the Obama campaign's challenge as they try to tarnish what Hart has called Romney's "halo effect" on the economy. They aren't biting on Bain.

...just explaining what private equity firms are, nevermind why the experience of running one is supposed to be poor preparation for the country's chief executive.  It's like folks on the Right who thought that Bill Ayres mattered. No one knows who he was and you can't squander a campaign trying to make voters care.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Sid Meier on 10-Year Civ Game: 'We Couldn't Test for That' (Chelsea Stark, 6/15/12, Mashable)

Sid Meier, the creator of the Civilization game franchise, tells Mashable there was no way for his team to test a game that spanned 10 years -- a scenario that Reddit user Lycerius posted about on Tuesday.

"I can't say that we ever thought anyone would play a game of Civ for that long," Meier says.

Lycerius posted earlier this week that he had been working on the same Civilization II game gradually for a decade. While the game ends at year 2020 A.D., Lycerius continued playing to 3991 A.D. He described the resulting world as a "hellish nightmare of suffering and devastation," where nuclear war between three superpowers had wiped out most of humanity.

The post was simple, but the response was explosive on Reddit. The subforum created just for this saved game now has hundreds of posts as Redditors create fiction, songs and interpretive dances. It's also inspired many to fire up the 16-year-old game and try to solve Lycerius's post-apocalyptic situation -- or recreate their own.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Will Evangelicals' Immigration Shift Mean Common Ground With Obama? (David Sessions, Jun 15, 2012, Daily Beast)

A diverse group of evangelical leaders gathered in Washington this week to announce the Evangelical Statement of Principles for Immigration Reform, which cast immigration reform as a moral imperative and establish "ground rules" for a policy solution. The signatories include Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's "morality and ethics" arm and a prominent figure on the religious right, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners, the left-leaning evangelical organization that has long advocated for more humane immigration policy. One signatory seems to have come as a shock even to the other evangelicals: Focus on the Family, a group that has been seen for years as aligned with the most right-wing elements of the Republican Party. The statement was also endorsed by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.

The arrival of the Christian conservatives at the immigration-reform table might seem like a surprise, considering the high tensions surrounding the issue on the right. 

Evangelicals are conservative, not Right.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Skip the falsehoods, Mr. President, and give us a plan (Dana Milbank, 6/15/12, Washington Post)

I had high hopes for President Obama's speech on the economy. But instead of going to Ohio on Thursday with a compelling plan for the future, the president gave Americans a falsehood wrapped in a fallacy.

The falsehood is that he has been serious about cutting government spending. The fallacy is that this election will be some sort of referendum that will break the logjam in Washington.

Just revive the Simpson-Bowles deal he'd pretty much reached with John Boehner and throw the GOP some Ryan Plan bones.  At this point, the logjam is ready to burst once a president is willing to spend political capital on it, the way President Reagan did when he saved SS or GHWB when he boosted taxes or Bill Clinton when he cut deals with Newt or W when he passed the prescription drug plan.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


How Obama Got Fierce on Foreign Policy: James Mann's 'The Obamians' : A new book, James Mann's 'The Obamians', traces the unlikely journey of Obama to becoming a fierce foreign policy president. Jacob Heilbrunn on those he's disappointed and surprised on the way. ( Jacob Heilbrunn, June 15, 2012, Daily Beast)

Throughout his campaign, Obama had proclaimed that he would not follow in George W. Bush's footsteps in foreign affairs. But he has proved to be no less an imperial president than his predecessor. Specifically, "he was sending American forces," Mann says, "into military conflict without going to Congress under the provisions of the War Powers Resolution. In doing so, he arguably asserted presidential power in warmaking beyond even the claims of George W. Bush."

Such are the vicissitudes of foreign affairs. Obama, like not a few presidents, has found himself saying and doing things that are at violence with his statements as a candidate, a source of perplexity, vexation, and even fury to many of his supporters, some of whom have become erstwhile ones. Meanwhile, the champions of democracy promotion abroad have despaired about what they see as his gelid realism when it comes to Syria, where, as Ryan Lizza, speculates in the latest New Yorker, he may soon have to decide whether or not to employ American military might. Obama has opened himself up to the charge of hypocrisy. For the most part, however, he gives every sign of trying to muddle along. To expect him to control events would be to endow him with a power that no president has possessed. Even Ronald Reagan, credited on the right with singlehandedly bringing down the Soviet Union, saw it occur only two years after he had left office.

But are clarity of purpose and a clear strategic vision always desirable in conducting American foreign policy? A good case could be made that, more often than not, they constitute the road to disaster. Consider Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was a crusader whose aims could not have been clearer or more noisily enunciated. He wanted to make the world "safe for democracy." But in endorsing the Treaty of Versailles and supporting the League of Nations, he ended up creating the very conditions that led to the rise of Hitler and World War II.

...that gave us WWII, The Cold War and the WoT.  The UR, likewise, cares more about elite institutions than the liberty of peoples. Happily, as an American president, his hand is continually being forced.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Assad's Response to Syria Unrest Leaves His Own Sect Divided (NEIL MacFARQUHAR, 6/15/12, NY Times)

As the Syrian conflict escalates to new levels of sectarian strife, Mr. Assad is leaning ever more heavily on his religious base for support. The Alawite core of the elite security forces is still with him, as are many Syrians from minority groups.

But interviews with a dozen Alawites indicated a complex split even within their ranks. Some Alawites are frustrated that security forces have not yet managed to crush the opposition, while others say that Mr. Assad is risking the future of the Alawites by pushing them to the brink of civil war with Sunni Muslims.

Mr. Assad's ruling Baath Party professes a secular, pan-Arab socialism, but Sunnis, who make up about 74 percent of the population, have long bridled at what they see as sectarian rule by the Alawites, who are nominally Shiite Muslims and make up only 13 percent of the population.

People like Mr. Abboud say they feel stranded in a no man's land. Blackballed by their own Alawite community, they find that the Islamists who dominate parts of the armed opposition regard them with murderous suspicion. A few with opposition credentials have been killed.

On the other extreme are Alawites who criticize Mr. Assad as being too soft, saying that his father and predecessor as president, Hafez al-Assad, would have quashed the threat by now.

With Alawite youths dying by the hundreds to defend the government, voices are raised at funerals and elsewhere asking questions like, "Why is the government not doing enough to protect us?" according to the Alawites interviewed.

There were also anti-Assad chants in Alawite neighborhoods like Zahra in Homs, like: "Bashar became a Sunni!" (Mr. Assad's wife, Asma al-Akhras, comes from a prominent family of Sunni Muslims from Homs.)

June 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


WHY SMART PEOPLE ARE STUPID (Jonah Lehrer, 6/12/12, The New Yorker)

Here's a simple arithmetic question: A bat and ball cost a dollar and ten cents. The bat costs a dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs ten cents. This answer is both obvious and wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and a dollar and five cents for the bat.)

For more than five decades, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this and analyzing our answers. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way we think about thinking. While philosophers, economists, and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents--reason was our Promethean gift--Kahneman, the late Amos Tversky, and others, including Shane Frederick (who developed the bat-and-ball question), demonstrated that we're not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

When people face an uncertain situation, they don't carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren't a faster way of doing the math; they're a way of skipping the math altogether. Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort.

Although Kahneman is now widely recognized as one of the most influential psychologists of the twentieth century, his work was dismissed for years. Kahneman recounts how one eminent American philosopher, after hearing about his research, quickly turned away, saying, "I am not interested in the psychology of stupidity."

The philosopher, it turns out, got it backward. A new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology led by Richard West at James Madison University and Keith Stanovich at the University of Toronto suggests that, in many instances, smarter people are more vulnerable to these thinking errors. Although we assume that intelligence is a buffer against bias--that's why those with higher S.A.T. scores think they are less prone to these universal thinking mistakes--it can actually be a subtle curse.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


DOES ALL WINE TASTE THE SAME? (Jonah Lehrer, 6/14/12, The New Yorker)

What can we learn from these tests? First, that tasting wine is really hard, even for experts. Because the sensory differences between different bottles of rotten grape juice are so slight--and the differences get even more muddled after a few sips--there is often wide disagreement about which wines are best. For instance, both the winning red and white wines in the Princeton tasting were ranked by at least one of the judges as the worst.

The perceptual ambiguity of wine helps explain why contextual influences--say, the look of a label, or the price tag on the bottle--can profoundly influence expert judgment. This was nicely demonstrated in a mischievous 2001 experiment led by Frédéric Brochet at the University of Bordeaux. In the first test, Brochet invited fifty-seven wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn't stop the experts from describing the "red" wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its "jamminess," while another enjoyed its "crushed red fruit."

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle bore the label of a fancy grand cru, the other of an ordinary vin de table. Although they were being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the bottles nearly opposite descriptions. The grand cru was summarized as being "agreeable," "woody," "complex," "balanced," and "rounded," while the most popular adjectives for the vin de table included "weak," "short," "light," "flat," and "faulty."

The results are even more distressing for non-experts. In recent decades, the wine world has become an increasingly quantitative place, as dependent on scores and statistics as Billy Beane. But these ratings suggest a false sense of precision, as if it were possible to reliably identify the difference between an eighty-nine-point Merlot from Jersey and a ninety-one-point blend from Bordeaux--or even a greater spread. And so we linger amid the wine racks, paralyzed by the alcoholic arithmetic. How much are we willing to pay for a few extra points?

These calculations are almost certainly a waste of time.

You can spend a lot of money on being pretentious.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Independence 'milestone' praised (Stornoway Gazette, 6/15/12)

MSPs have for the first time voted in favour of Scotland becoming independent.

First Minister Alex Salmond hailed the vote, by 69 to 52, as a "milestone" in the country's history. He also revealed that 15,000 people have backed a declaration stating it is "fundamentally better" if decisions about the country's future are taken by the people of Scotland.

The declaration is a key part of the Yes Scotland cross-party campaign for independence, which officially got under way just six days ago.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


The Rebirth of Tragedy: The television show The Wire resurrects the classical Greek vision: some conflicts are beyond resolution (John Gray, 6/08/12, Prospect)

While much of the debate surrounding The Wire has focused on the concrete political issues it addresses (such as America's drugs policy), one of the show's greatest achievements has been widely overlooked. The Wire presents a damning portrait of inner-city life in America without the prospect of redemption. It has none of the faith in the ultimate triumph of justice and the saving power of goodness that shows through many of the most hard-boiled thrillers. Taken seriously--as the series was undoubtedly meant to be, though it contains many scenes of black comedy--The Wire plants a compelling question mark over the creed of nearly all of those today who insist they have no religion: the belief that the intractable conflicts that are the stuff of tragedy are slowly being left behind.

Simon has acknowledged the influence on the series of ancient tragedians such as Euripides, Sophocles and Aeschylus. Like the Greek dramatists he shows humans enacting fates they cannot escape. As Simon put it in a 2007 interview with Nick Hornby, he lifted his thematic stance "wholesale" from the Greeks, aiming "to create doomed and fated protagonists who confront a rigged game and their own mortality. The idea that... we're still fated by indifferent gods, feels to us antiquated and superstitious... But instead of the old gods, The Wire is a Greek tragedy in which the postmodern institutions are the Olympian forces. It's the police department, or the drug economy, or the political structures, or the school administration, or the macroeconomic forces that are throwing the lightning bolts... In much of television, and in a good deal of our stage drama, individuals are often portrayed as rising above institutions to achieve catharsis. In this drama, the institutions always prove larger, and those characters with hubris enough to challenge the postmodern construct of American empire are invariably mocked, marginalised, or crushed. Greek tragedy for the new millennium, so to speak."

...isn't The Wire just an argument that the city has failed as a social model and that the notion of warehousing poor blacks in high concentration hasn't worked?    Given the citified nature of Ancient Greece it is certainly a Greek tragedy.  From an American perspective, the tragedy is that we haven't used all the money we wasted on urban programs to resettle folks in suburbia.

June 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM

Leftover Salmon On Mountain Stage (NPR, 6/14/12)

After playing a handful of concerts and embarking on several successful side projects, Leftover Salmon has reunited for its first proper tour in nearly a decade, as well as a new album titled Aquatic Hitchhiker. Before leaving for Colorado in the late 1980s, singer and founding member Vince Herman was a college student in Morgantown; the excitement he and the audience felt upon his return can be heard throughout Leftover Salmon's five-song set.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


King Arthur introduces self-rising flour (Eric Schroeder, 6/14/12, FoodBusinessNews.net

King Arthur Flour has added a new flour to its line for home bakers: King Arthur Self-Rising Flour. The flour is a soft, unbleached, southern-milled flour that is combined with aluminum-free baking powder and salt.

"Bakers, especially southern bakers, have been adamant in their requests for us to add self-rising flour to our line," said Tom Payne, marketing director for King Arthur Flour. "After careful formulation and extensive testing, the flour has launched to rave reviews."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Eugenics, Past and Future (ROSS DOUTHAT, 6/09/12, NY Times)

[G]iven our society's track record with prenatal testing for Down syndrome, we also have a pretty good idea of what individuals and couples will do with comprehensive information about their unborn child's potential prospects. In 90 percent of cases, a positive test for Down syndrome leads to an abortion. It is hard to imagine that more expansive knowledge won't lead to similar forms of prenatal selection on an ever-more-significant scale.

Is this sort of "liberal eugenics," in which the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state, entirely different from the eugenics of Fisher's era, which forced sterilization on unwilling men and women? Like so many of our debates about reproductive ethics, that question hinges on what one thinks about the moral status of the fetus.

From a rigorously pro-choice perspective, the in utero phase is a space in human development where disease and disability can be eradicated, and our impulse toward perfection given ever-freer rein, without necessarily doing any violence to human dignity and human rights.

But this is a convenient perspective for our civilization to take. Having left behind pseudoscientific racial theories, it's easy for us to look back and pass judgment on yesterday's eugenicists. It's harder to acknowledge what we have in common with them.

The Daughter had a question in 7th grade this year, after reading Uncle Tom's Cabin, where the teacher asked which side she'd have been on in the abolition debate.  She answered that she couldn't know because she doubted the Southerners thought themselves bad people even if they supported slavery, so, maybe if she'd been one of them she'd have shared their views.  The teacher didn't like it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Romney Scaling the Blue Wall (Josh Kraushaar, June 13, 2012, National Journal) 

For much of the presidential campaign, President Obama's top strategists have outlined their numerous paths to 270 electoral votes: win Florida, sweep the Southwest, or pick off a Southern state or two. But they didn't prepare for the possibility that working-class white voters in the Rust Belt could abandon the president en masse, throwing his well-laid plans into disarray.

With the economy struggling to pick up steam, three must-win "blue-wall" states are looking increasingly winnable for the Romney campaign: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Both election results (from the Wisconsin gubernatorial recall) and reputable polling show that all three states are shaping up to be highly competitive, and that both campaigns will be devoting significant resources there.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Obama loses veneer of deniabilty with intelligence leaks (Richard Cohen, 6/12/12, Washington Post)

Pity the poor Obama administration leakers. They impart their much-cherished secrets to make their man look good and then, at the first chirp of criticism, are ordered to confess their (possible) crimes by the very same president they were seeking to please. In this, they are a bit like the male praying mantis. He does as asked, and then the female bites his head off.

What is remarkable about the recent leaks is the coincidence -- it can only be that -- that they all made the president look good, heroic, decisive, strong and even a touch cruel; born, as the birthers long suspected, not in Hawaii -- but possibly on the lost planet Krypton. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Karl Storchmann reports from the front: French wines vs. Jersey wines (Tyler Cowen, June 13, 2012, Marginal Revolution)

At the Princeton tasting, led by George Taber, 9 wine judges from France, Belgium and the U.S. tasted French against New Jersey [TC: that's the New Jersey] wines. The French wines selected were from the same producers as in 1976 including names such as Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion, priced up to $650/bottle. New Jersey wines for the competition were submitted to an informal panel of judges, who then selected the wines for the competition. These judges were not eligible to taste wines at the final competition The results were similarly surprising. Although, the winner in each category was a French wine (Clos de Mouches for the whites and Mouton-Rothschild for the reds) NJ wines are at eye level. Three of the top four whites were from New Jersey. The best NJ red was ranked place 3. An amazing result given that the prices for NJ average at only 5% of the top French wines.

A statistical evaluation of the tasting, conducted by Princeton Professor Richard Quandt, further shows that the rank order of the wines was mostly insignificant. That is, if the wine judges repeated the tasting, the results would most likely be different. From a statistically viewpoint, most wines were undistinguishable. 

June 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Obama campaign's erratic behavior concerns some Democrats (Karen Tumulty, 6/12/12, Washington Post)

[S]ome Democratic veterans are wondering whether the reelection campaign, run by the same tight-knit group that led it four years ago, is equipped for what lies ahead.

"The bad thing is, there is no new thinking in that circle," said one longtime operative in Democratic presidential campaigns who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid.

Eight other prominent Democratic strategists interviewed shared that view, describing Obama's team as resistant to advice and assistance from those who are not part of its core. All of them spoke on the condition of anonymity as well.

The latest alarm came in a memo Monday from Democracy Corps, a research group headed by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and political consultant James Carville.

Based on their analysis of focus groups conducted late last month among swing voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, they wrote that the current campaign message -- which stresses the fragile progress of the economic recovery -- is out of touch with the daily pain voters are feeling.

"We will face an impossible head wind in November if we do not move to a new narrative, one that contextualizes the recovery, but, more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class," Greenberg, Carville and pollster Erica Seifert wrote. They added: "They know we are in a new normal where life is a struggle -- and convincing them that things are good enough for those who have found jobs is a fool's errand."

The memo came days after Obama handed the Republicans new ammunition with his declaration at a news conference that "the private sector is doing fine."

...is that team, had lost to John McCain until the credit crisis blew up and the House GOP gave away the election.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


How Robin Roberts' Breast Cancer Treatment Could Cause More Cancer (Casey Schwartz, Jun 12, 2012, Daily Beast)

"As many of you know, five years ago, I beat breast cancer," said a shaky Robin Roberts on Good Morning America Monday morning. "Sometimes treatment for cancer can lead to other serious medical issues and that's what I'm facing right now."

Clutching George Stephanopolos's hand on the sofa next to her, Roberts announced that she has myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a relatively rare blood disease that Roberts herself said she'd never heard of until she was diagnosed with it. Likely even more unfamiliar for many viewers than the name of her condition was Robert's startling remark that cancer treatment can result in other serious health problems,  including different forms of cancer,  several years after the initial cancer is in remission.

But in the medical world, it has been known for decades that cancer treatment carries with it the risk of causing another kind of cancer to develop. "We always think of the drug as a double-edged sword, where there is a benefit from the drug and there is a harm from the drug," says Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. "It's actually one of the reasons why I'm one of the folks who's been very outspoken about being conservative and only using chemotherapy when we absolutely need chemotherapy."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


The European Atrocity You Never Heard About: In the largest episode of forced migration in history, millions of German-speaking civilians were sent to Germany from Czechoslovakia (above) and other European countries after World War II by order of the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. (R.M. Douglas, 6/11/12, The Chronicle Review)

Between 1945 and 1950, Europe witnessed the largest episode of forced migration, and perhaps the single greatest movement of population, in human history. Between 12 million and 14 million German-speaking civilians--the overwhelming majority of whom were women, old people, and children under 16--were forcibly ejected from their places of birth in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, and what are today the western districts of Poland. As The New York Times noted in December 1945, the number of people the Allies proposed to transfer in just a few months was about the same as the total number of all the immigrants admitted to the United States since the beginning of the 20th century. They were deposited among the ruins of Allied-occupied Germany to fend for themselves as best they could. The number who died as a result of starvation, disease, beatings, or outright execution is unknown, but conservative estimates suggest that at least 500,000 people lost their lives in the course of the operation.

Most disturbingly of all, tens of thousands perished as a result of ill treatment while being used as slave labor (or, in the Allies' cynical formulation, "reparations in kind") in a vast network of camps extending across central and southeastern Europe--many of which, like Auschwitz I and Theresienstadt, were former German concentration camps kept in operation for years after the war. As Sir John Colville, formerly Winston Churchill's private secretary, told his colleagues in the British Foreign Office in 1946, it was clear that "concentration camps and all they stand for did not come to an end with the defeat of Germany." Ironically, no more than 100 or so miles away from the camps being put to this new use, the surviving Nazi leaders were being tried by the Allies in the courtroom at Nuremberg on a bill of indictment that listed "deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population" under the heading of "crimes against humanity."

By any measure, the postwar expulsions were a manmade disaster and one of the most significant examples of the mass violation of human rights in recent history. Yet although they occurred within living memory, in time of peace, and in the middle of the world's most densely populated continent, they remain all but unknown outside Germany itself. On the rare occasions that they rate more than a footnote in European-history textbooks, they are commonly depicted as justified retribution for Nazi Germany's wartime atrocities or a painful but necessary expedient to ensure the future peace of Europe. As the historian Richard J. Evans asserted in In Hitler's Shadow (1989) the decision to purge the continent of its German-speaking minorities remains "defensible" in light of the Holocaust and has shown itself to be a successful experiment in "defusing ethnic antagonisms through the mass transfer of populations."

Even at the time, not everyone agreed. George Orwell, an outspoken opponent of the expulsions, pointed out in his essay "Politics and the English Language" that the expression "transfer of population" was one of a number of euphemisms whose purpose was "largely the defense of the indefensible."

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 AM


Not Jeb Bush's GOP: Does the Republican hero and former Florida governor have a place in his own party? (John Dickerson, June 11, 2012, Slate)

It's not just that Bush's policy prescriptions on topics like immigration and tackling the deficit are a challenge to party orthodoxy. He also describes a more pragmatic vision of leadership--where accomplishments are valued over ideological purity--that seems deeply at odds with conservative calls for maximum constancy. This is perhaps the freedom enjoyed by those who are not running for president. But the formula Bush offers does reflect on the man who is running: Jeb Bush is describing a hole in American politics, and Mitt Romney is not necessarily the man to fill it. 

"We're in decline which distinguishes us historically from where we've been," says Bush, who sees the economy shuffling along with anemic growth for the next year, no matter who wins in November. His solutions for getting out of the rut are less policy-specific--he doesn't have a grand plan about Medicare vouchers or getting rid of the home mortgage interest deduction. He's more focused on the temperament of governing.  

As a former governor, it's not surprising where he finds the best examples of leaders who are free of Washington orthodoxy and getting things done: "Just about any statehouse in the country." He singles out Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels and Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper for their effectiveness. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also gets praise. Among his qualities: He knows how to "cut a deal." Bush is not making a pitch for moderation or watered-down conservative principles, but for conservatism that goes beyond a talking point.

"Ronald Reagan would have ... a hard time if you define the Republican Party--and I don't--as having an orthodoxy that doesn't allow for disagreement, doesn't allow for finding some common ground," Bush said, adding that he views the partisan sclerosis as "temporary."

"Back to my dad's time and Ronald Reagan's time--they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support," he said. Today Reagan "would be criticized for doing the things that he did."

Nothing typifies the maturity of the GOP so much as nominating a governor this cycle.
Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Disqus 2012 - The Web's Favorite Discussion Platform from Disqus on Vimeo.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM


The Classic 1956 Oscar-Winning Children's Film, The Red Balloon (Open Culture, June 12th, 2012)

Many Americans remember seeing The Red Balloon for the first time as a 16mm film projected in elementary school classrooms and cafeterias. With the 2008 release of the Criterion Collection DVD, many are rediscovering the movie-and perhaps over-analyzing it-from the perspective of adulthood. "An adult watching The Red Balloon will not find it difficult to see the title character as a symbol of spirituality, friendship, love, transcendence, the triumph of good over evil, or any of the countless other things that a simple, round red balloon can represent," writes Selznick.

The boy and the balloon are the triumph of evil.
Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


Christie's Favorability in New Jersey Is on The Rise  (Shushannah Walshe, 6/12/12, ABC News)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose name is mentioned most often these days as a potential VP candidate on the Republican ticket, is gaining in popularity in his home state. A new Rutgers-Eagleton poll out Tuesday reveals he is more popular than he has ever been since taking office in January 2010.

Half of New Jersey voters say they have a favorable view of the veepstakes contender, up four percentage points since March. Garden State voters with an unfavorable opinion of Christie declined to 39 percent, while 11 percent have no opinion of the tough-talking governor. August of last year was the governor's low point, with 47 percent viewing him unfavorably and 45 percent favorably.

More good news from the latest poll: Just over half of voters now say New Jersey is going in the right direction, also up four points. Those who believe the state is going in the "wrong direction" remained at 40 percent in the survey while nine percent were unsure.

June 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


A Tale of 2 Transit Systems: Battery-Powered Buses Enter the Mainstream  (Nick Chambers  | June 11, 2012, Scientific American)

Lithium ion batteries are still not energy dense enough hold more than the equivalent of between four and eight liters of gasoline in a battery package small enough to put on a bus. Nevertheless, inherent efficiencies in the electric drivetrain enable significant increases in fuel economy. Whereas a typical 12-meter-long, diesel-powered transit bus might return between one and two kilometers per liter, the electric ones that Foothill is running average the equivalent of 8.5 kpl. After some quick math it is apparent that 8.5 kpl combined with 7.5 liters of energy storage is not enough to fuel the hundreds of kilometers a bus might need to travel in a day. To get around this, both Foothill and LINK have added ultrafast charging stations in the middles of their buses' loops.

Foothill Transit operates three 12-meter long, 35-passenger buses built by Greenville, S.C.-based Proterra. Each relies on batteries that supply 72 kilowatt-hours and runs on a 27-kilometer-long loop that handles 5 percent of the yearly ridership. At specially built fast charging stations in the Pomona Transit Center the buses can fill up within 10 minutes on their normally scheduled layover, meaning they never have to travel more than 27 kilometers between full charges--about half what their rated battery capacity can provide. LINK's system is similar, although it uses five, Ebus-built, seven-meter long, 22-passenger trolleys with 28 kWh-batteries that travel on two separate eight-kilometer-long loops and can be filled in about seven minutes with a fast charge at the downtown Wenatchee Transit Center.

LINK originally planned to have its electric trolleys up and running by late 2010, but issues with the battery cooling system and manufacturing of the fast-charging station delayed full operation until later this year--although the trolleys are currently running for about two hours each day without fast charging. "There's nothing off-the-shelf about our trolleys," says Greg Pezoldt, special projects coordinator at LINK Transit. "As the first electric trolley of its kind, everything we have done with Ebus we've had to develop and sometimes redevelop. Even with the delays we're still excited about it, and we have an ultimate goal of electrifying the entirety of our Wenatchee and East Wenatchee routes."

It is no wonder LINK is still bullish on the endeavor: Pezoldt says a comparable diesel-powered trolley would cost about $435,000 and each electric trolley built by Downey, Calif.-based Ebus costs significantly less at $370,000. On top of that, diesel fuel for the same trolley on the same route runs about $1,200 per month, whereas the inexpensive and green hydropowered electricity used for the Ebus trolley comes in at approximately $100 per month--less than one tenth the cost. The biggest question revolves around battery life, but even with the worst-case estimates, Pezoldt says LINK still comes out significantly ahead with electric bus operation in terms of lifetime fuel and maintenance costs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins (Frank Newport, 6/01/12, Gallup)

Forty-six percent of Americans believe in the creationist view that God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years. The prevalence of this creationist view of the origin of humans is essentially unchanged from 30 years ago, when Gallup first asked the question. About a third of Americans believe that humans evolved, but with God's guidance; 15% say humans evolved, but that God had no part in the process.

With a population that's 80% creationist and where Darwinists are so marginal, isn't it more appropriate to wonder why they embrace Scientism than to fret that the rest of us reject it?

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Pound for pound 99p is worth every penny (The Daily Telegraph, June 5, Tim Harford)

And yet the perfect point often seems to end in 99p.

Indeed it does. There are three main theories as to why it makes sense to end prices with a "9". The first is an explanation favoured by economists because it works even in a perfectly rational universe. Product prices with 99p endings are difficult to pay for with exact money; the shop assistant will almost always have to make change.

Why is that a good thing?

Because it means the sale must be recorded to open the register. The shop assistant can't just hand over the product and trouser the cash.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


A bonus for letting utilities turn off your AC (Sandy Bauers, 6/11/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

On the hottest, sunniest, sultriest days of summer, Peco wants to reach through its wires and turn off your central air conditioner.

About 87,000 households have told the utility, "Have at it."

Whence this seeming insanity?

There's good money in it.

Utilities across the region are so intent upon lessening the spike of demand for electricity on these days, which routinely show the highest electricity use of the year, that they're dangling incentives for customers.

Generally, the utilities "cycle" the air conditioners. Fifteen minutes on, 15 minutes off.

And the cycling applies only to the compressors. The blower that circulates your household's air keeps running, if your thermostat tells it to, so your house doesn't become a fetid swamp.

Peco has probably the best deal -- $30 a month for June through September, or $120 total.

Once you enroll, they come out and attach a device to your central air conditioner that will let them take control.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


To Sniff Out Childhood Allergies, Researchers Head To The Farm (PATTI NEIGHMOND, 6/11/12, NPR)

Allergies are on the rise these days, especially in children. Nearly half of all kids are now allergic to something, be it food, animals, or plants. Federal health officials say that rate is two to five times higher than it was 30 years ago.

And as researchers are trying to understand why, they're increasingly looking at kids who grow up on farms.

The leading theory behind the uptick in childhood allergies, says Andy Nish, a physician with a private practice in Gainesville, Ga., is the hygiene hypothesis. Paradoxically, the theory goes, we're too clean.

"It looks like with our modern conditions and cleanliness that we have fewer and fewer germs to fight off," Nish says. Our immune systems protect us by learning to fight off foreign invaders, whether they're harmless or not. We can't train our defenses if we don't get exposed. And if you're allergic to one thing, you're likely allergic to a number of things.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


...and John Calvin have done for us
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


Self-Made Man : Barack Obama's autobiographical fictions (ANDREW FERGUSON, 6/18/12, Weekly Standard)

What's dispiriting is that throughout Dreams, the moments that Obama has invented are precisely the occasions of his epiphanies​--​precisely those periodic aha! moments that carry the book and bring its author closer to self-discovery. Without them not much is left: a lot of lovely writing, some unoriginal social observations, a handful of precocious literary turns. Obama wasn't just inventing himself; he was inventing himself inventing himself. It made for a story, anyway.

We can see the dilemma he faced. Obama signed a contract to write a racial memoir. They were all the rage in those days, but in fact their moment had passed. Even with the distant father and absent mother, the schooling in Indonesia and the remote stepfather, Obama lived a life of relative ease. He moved, however uncomfortably, into one elite institution after another, protected by civil rights laws, surrounded by a popular culture in which the African-American experience has embedded itself ineradicably. As Obama's best biographer, David Remnick, observed, this wasn't the stuff of Manchild in the Promised Land; you couldn't use it to make the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass or the Auto-biography of Malcolm X. So Obama moved the drama inside himself, and said he'd found there an experience both singular and universal, and he brought nonexistent friends like Regina and Ray to goose the story along.

He did in effect what so many of us have done with him. He created a fable about an Obama far bigger and more consequential than the unremarkable man at its center. He joins us, haters and idolaters, as we join Huell Howser, looking this way and that, desperately trying to see what isn't there. Isn't that something?

June 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Obama: Too busy to help Wisconsin Democrats in recall election (Olivier Knox, 6/11/12, Yahoo :  The Ticket)

President Barack Obama explained in a radio interview Monday why he didn't do more to help Wisconsin Democrats in their battle to recall Republican Governor Scott Walker: He was too busy.

"The truth of the matter is that, as president of the United States, I've got a lot of responsibilities," he told WBAY of Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


The Tipping Point (John Ellis, 6/11/12, Real Clear Politics)

In 2008, 43 percent of white voters cast their presidential ballots for Sen. Barack Obama. That was more than he needed to win. Today, according to the most recent FOX News poll, 35 percent of white voters say that they support President Obama's re-election. This is what makes the 2012 presidential election too close to call.

The overriding fear of Team Obama is that the president's support among white voters will collapse. The math is simple. If Romney gets 65 percent of the white vote (which will likely comprise -- at least -- 72 percent of the electorate) then he gets 48 percent of the total vote. From there, Romney need only get 20 percent of all non-white voters to win by a comfortable margin.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


THE SECOND TERM : What would Obama do if reëlected? (Ryan Lizza, JUNE 18, 2012, The New Yorker)

In November, 1984, President Ronald Reagan was reëlected in a landslide victory over Walter Mondale, taking forty-nine states and fifty-nine per cent of the popular vote. The Reagan revolution was powerfully reaffirmed. Soon after, Donald Regan, the new chief of staff, sent word to a small group of trusted friends and Administration officials seeking advice on how Reagan should approach his last four years in office. It was an unusual moment in the history of the Presidency, and the experience of recent incumbents offered no guidance. No President since Dwight D. Eisenhower had served two full terms. John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Lyndon Johnson, overwhelmed by the war in Vietnam, had declined to run for reëlection in 1968. Richard Nixon resigned less than seventeen months into his second term. Gerald Ford (who was never elected) and Jimmy Carter were defeated. By the nineteen-eighties, it had become popular to talk about the crisis of the Presidency; a bipartisan group of Washington leaders, with Carter's support, launched the National Committee for a Single Six-Year Presidential Term. [...]

Every President running for reëlection begins to think about his second term well before victory is assured. In early 2009, Rahm Emanuel, Obama's first chief of staff, told me that the White House was already contemplating the Presidency in terms of eight years. He said that it was folly to try to accomplish everything in the first term. "I don't buy into everybody's theory about the final years of a Presidency," Emanuel said. "There's an accepted wisdom that in the final years you're kind of done. Ronald Reagan, in the final years, got arms control, immigration reform, and created a separate new department," that of Veterans Affairs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Newer tablets cost less than originals, with little sacrifice (Donna L. Tapellini, Jun 11, 2012, Consumer Reports)

Three tablets in our Ratings show how manufacturers make virtually the same device for less money, and what trade-offs--usually minimal--you'll make when choosing the less expensive tablet. Asus, Samsung, and Toshiba each recently debuted cheaper versions of their tablets, keeping the new ones as appealing as the earlier, more expensive versions.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Ultra-Orthodox Jews Vandalize Jerusalem's Holocaust Memorial (Alex Klein, Jun 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

On a typical Sunday afternoon, the central courtyard at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's storied Holocaust memorial, is filled with visitors: Tel Aviv tourists, Israeli Defense Force cadets, American Birthrighters. But on an unseasonably cool day yesterday, the memorial's gates were ringed with security tape, its walls stained with black paint. Beside a statue of Mordecai Anielewicz, the hero of the Warsaw uprising, dripped a crude cartoon of an Auschwitz-bound train. Below an engraved procession of victims looped rows of hateful graffiti: "Hitler, thanks for the Holocaust," "Israel is the secular Auschwitz," and so on.

But the neat cursive writing was not in Arabic; it was in Hebrew. And although the police have not identified any suspects, a museum spokeswoman told The Daily Beast, it's almost certain that the can-wielding vandals were haredim, or ultra-orthodox Jews. Yad Vashem's chairman, Avner Shalev, has already told the press that one of the tags was signed "World Haredi Jewry." According to a guide at the site who asked not to be named, a few key grammatical errors in the Hebrew would confirm authorship by a member of the ultra-orthodox--many of whose first language is Yiddish. "Arabs didn't write this," he told me, visibly shaken. [...]

Why would Jews desecrate this place? Because, in the eyes of far-right fundamentalists, even Nazism is preferable to the secularism of the Jewish state.
So why would Jews desecrate this place? Because, in the eyes of far-right fundamentalists, even Nazism is preferable to the secularism of the Jewish state. The first killed merely the body, while the latter kills the soul. And a liberal Israel that fosters strong Reform and Conservative Jewish traditions--an Israel of nightclubs, shopping malls, and topless beaches? Blasphemous.

The haredim believe that no formal government should exist in Israel before the Messiah comes and reestablishes a Jewish kingdom. Some on the far right even subscribe to the classic anti-Semitic lie that the Holocaust was made up to provide a pretext for the establishment of Israel. One wall bore the phrase, "An alternative museum will be built next to the selective Yad Vashem"--a museum, apparently, for the "true" Jews: the orthodox Ashkenazim from Eastern Europe, and not the "Sephardic Jewry" demeaned in another line of paint.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


The Supreme Court's Passive-Aggressive Gutting of Habeas Corpus (SCOTT LEMIEUX, JUNE 11, 2012, American Prospect)

Since it requires four votes to hear an appeal, however, we know that at least one of the Court's Democratic appointees voted not to hear the appeals. This could mean a number of things. The worst-case scenario is that one or both of President Obama's nominees do not take habeas corpus rights as seriously than the moderate Republican nominees (John Paul Stevens and David Souter, both part of the Boumediene majority) they replaced. It's also possible that one or all of the more liberal members of the Court didn't trust Anthony Kennedy to critically evaluate the standards established by the D.C. Circuit, and made the strategic calculation that not hearing the case was better than establishing a bad precedent. Either way, as of now Boumediene has essentially be reduced to an empty shell, holding out a promise of constitutional protections the federal judiciary has no intention of actually fulfilling.

What's alarming is anyone taking seriously the notion that foreign enemies have habeas corpus rights under the Constitution of We the People.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Mitch Daniels Says Public-Sector Unions Should Be Abolished (ROLAND LI, June 10, 2012, IB Times)

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels said on "Fox News Sunday" that public-sector unions should be abolished in the wake of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's victory in a recall election.

"I think, really, government works better without them," said Daniels, who restricted unions' collective-bargaining rights in his own state. "Money is being devoured by very high salaries, almost bulletproof job protection, and huge pensions."

He said private-sector unions remain "necessary," but hopes that the Walker victory will be a "turning point" in the public union system.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Pro-Pinochet documentary triggers clashes in Chile (Deutsche Welle, 6/10/12)

Simply entitled "Pinochet," the documentary portrays the Chilean dictator as a national hero who saved the country from communism. The Corporacion 11 de Septiembre organized the screening, which also hosted the biggest gathering of Pinochet supporters since his death in 2006. The group is named after date when Pinochet ousted socialist president Salvador Allende in a 1973 US-backed coup.

"We want to set the record straight on Pinochet," Juan Gonzalez, a retired army officer who leads the pro-Pinochet group. "We have stoically put up with the lies and cheating and seen how the story has been manipulated."

Pinochet supporters claim that his 1973-1990 dictatorship prevented Chile from becoming a failed socialist state and helped pave the way for the South American nation's current economic success.

Even had the regime not saved the country from communism and pioneered the Third Way, it would still be worth celebrating the Washingtonesque transition to liberal democracy the General led.
Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


Middle class rejects Dems' class warfare (Nolan Finley, 6/10/12, Detroit News)

That middle-class voters feel more affinity with those who stand higher on the economic ladder than those who occupy the lower rungs suggests some things about the electorate.

Clearly, those in the middle haven't stopped striving to get to the top. If they really felt as if they were being pushed out of the middle class, they'd align themselves politically with the lower-income voters who are the beneficiaries of Obama's redistributionist crusade.

They also understand that the transfer of wealth won't stop with the wealthy. To capture enough revenue to sustain the entitlement state Obama is crafting, broad tax hikes will be required. Since much of the money resides with the middle class, that's who will pay the tab.

Although middle-income families have been battered during the lingering economic doldrums, they aren't seduced by a Robin Hood who promises to ease their pain with an exhaustive menu of government handouts.

They want more and better jobs, income growth that keeps up with the cost of living, restoration of their home values and a chance to move up in life. They've given Obama nearly four years, and he hasn't delivered.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Trying to Kill Bashar al-Assad Not So Radical Given U.S. Security Interests (Peter Beinart, Jun 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

[I]t's hard to discern any principle that distinguishes killing Assad from the targeted assassinations and humanitarian wars that command significant American political support. A key principle of just-war theory is the principle of discrimination: You should tailor your violence as narrowly as possible. Some justify drone strikes on exactly those grounds: They hurt fewer people than the full-scale invasions the U.S. launched in Afghanistan and Iraq. The same principle applies to sanctions: Most people would agree that sanctions that target a ruling elite are preferable to ones that affect an entire people. If that's the case, then why isn't it preferable to target Assad personally instead of bombing Syrian conscripts, or Syrian civilians, in order to bring down his regime?

Establishing the principle that dictators are fair game is entirely worthwhile.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Move over, Wisconsin -- the union battle is beginning in California (Jon Ortiz, Jun. 10, 2012, Sacramento Bee)

"Unions have just two channels of influence," said Daniel J.B. Mitchell of the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA, "collective bargaining and the political side, so this initiative is extremely important to them."

The measure, which has not yet received a proposition number, would ban both unions and corporations from contributing directly to candidates, although both sides could still freely spend money on their own independent efforts.

Another provision forbids both sides from using money gathered from payroll deductions for political purposes. It promises to gut the power of labor unions because they raise nearly all of their money for political and other purposes via payroll-deducted dues from their members' paychecks.

...ban the independent efforts too.

June 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Why Obama's coalition is unraveling (Lloyd Green, June 08, 2012, FoxNews.com)

In 2008, Barack Obama won by assembling what has been called an "Upstairs Downstairs" coalition. Wealthy whites and lower-income minority voters brought Obama first across the finish line. Four years later, Obama's 2008 coalition does not appear to be holding. The question is whether it will implode by Election Day.

Earlier this week, Gallup released a summary of its polling results for mid-May onward which pegged the presidential race as a 46-46 dead heat. The numbers beneath the numbers showed that Mitt Romney holds roughly a 4-point lead among middle income voters, a 4-point lead among the upper middle income voters ($90,000-$179,999) and an 11-point lead among those with incomes exceeding $180,000. Middle and upper-income America is beginning to wave goodbye to the president. His appeal to middle-class voters is falling flat.

Among white voters, the numbers are even starker. The president is trailing by 19 points among middle-income whites and is down by 14 points among higher income whites.

...single women, blacks, and Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


For U.S. Inquiries on Leaks, a Difficult Road to Prosecution (CHARLIE SAVAGE, 6/10/12, NY Times)

Identifying a leaker is also rarely easy, since there are often dozens or hundreds of officials who had access to the information. But it is easier today than in earlier eras to build a circumstantial case that a particular official talked to a reporter because modern communications technology -- like e-mail -- leaves trails.

Several of the recent disclosures, however, resulted from deeply reported projects. Such articles tend to have diffuse sourcing, making it hard to isolate who first disclosed the essence of what later becomes an article.

On those rare occasions when there is an identifiable leaker, the government must still decide whether prosecuting would mean divulging too many secrets to be worth it -- starting, usually, with having to confirm in public that a particular leak was accurate. Defendants who choose to fight often rely on a so-called graymail defense. This involves making the disclosure of further classified information a centerpiece of their right to a fair trial by pushing for even more revelations, such as identifying other people at the agency who had access to the same knowledge.

While a federal law, the Classified Information Protection Act, is intended to allow such trials to go forward without revealing secrets, in practice judges have not always agreed with the government that certain information can be withheld from a public trial. If it turns out that prosecutors miscalculated in predicting how a judge would rule on such evidentiary issues, the agency that had urged the Justice Department to bring the case might balk at letting it continue.

That said, there are possible situations in which it may be easier for prosecutors in the current cases to succeed -- in particular, if they can locate e-mails in which a particular official disclosed a clearly sensitive secret.

Still, wide-ranging leak investigations can also have unintended consequences -- as when Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor investigating the disclosure during the Bush administration of the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, ended up charging Vice President Dick Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis Libby Jr., with lying to the F.B.I. under questioning.

Mr. Libby's problem was lying, not leaking.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


In a world of super PACs, Mitt Romney rules (Michael Kranish, Jun 10, 2012, Boston Globe)

The case was called Citizens United, and the court's ruling was that any corporation or union had a constitutional free-speech right to spend unlimited funds on election-related ads, movies, or similar productions.

Following the ruling, a lower court further widened the field, saying individuals could give unlimited amounts of money to independent committees that could advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.

The combination of these two decisions - one clearing the field for corporations and unions, the other for individuals - gave rise to super PACs and, soon enough, to Restore Our Future.

The new group was free to raise money and run any ad it wanted, without Romney's interference.

"It is a much smaller decision-making loop ... you have more control. We basically decide what we want to do and it doesn't involve 30 people,'' McCarthy said in an interview. He wasn't troubled by criticism of his past ads. Asked whether he had regrets about the Horton ad, for example, he responded, "None ... this sounds deceptively simple, but you do an ad to move numbers.''

The legal brain behind Restore Our Future was Charles Spies, the lawyer who had been the chief financial officer and counsel for Romney's 2008 campaign. Spies had long believed that post-Watergate limitations on campaign contributions were threats to free speech.

He co-wrote a 1998 law review article that said "nothing in American history ... matches the menace to the First Amendment posed by the campaign 'reforms' advancing under the protective coloration of political hygiene.''

The third cofounder was Carl Forti, who had been Romney's political director in 2008. Forti, who declined comment for this article, became a protégé to Republican strategist Karl Rove, who has described Forti as "one of the smartest people in politics you've never heard of.'' Forti now helps run two independent groups run by Rove, Crossroads and Crossroad GPS, which are collecting hundreds of millions of dollars that will be spent during the 2012 campaign.

The birth of Restore Our Future and similar super PACs represented the climax of a 40-year effort by opponents of restrictions on campaign donations to weaken or eliminate federal election finance rules enacted since the Watergate scandal. Much of that effort involved the creation of independent committees that avoided some of the restrictions placed upon campaigns.

In 2004, a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran ads that attacked the Vietnam War record of Senator John F. Kerry, another Democratic presidential candidate from Massachusetts.

The Swift Boat group asserted it didn't have to abide by limits on donations, because it was not expressly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate, and collected contributions as large as $4.5 million. But the Federal Election Commission fined the group $300,000 on grounds that it should have registered as a political committee, saying that the group had overtly attacked Kerry and exceeded a $5,000 contribution limit.

The other longstanding legal limitation on independent committees was that there be an "absence of prearrangement and coordination'' between an independent committee and a campaign.

But in the aftermath of Citizens United, that definition of coordination was quickly watered down by the Federal Election Commission. The agency, for example, announced on June 28, 2011, that a candidate could be a "featured guest'' at fund-raisers for super PACs.

Romney quickly took advantage of the ruling. He appeared at a New York City fund-raiser on July 19, 2011 for Restore Our Future, according to the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, and committee officials have said he went to at least one other event.

The money started rolling in. The biggest donor was a home building magnate named Bob Perry, a huge backer of the Swift Boat effort who had given Restore Our Future $4.7 million by the end of April. Perry spokesman Anthony Holm said "Mr. Perry has always been very transparent with his donations'' and contributed to Restore Our Future as allowed "under reformed campaign laws.''

The restrictions on coordination had been diminished to the point that Romney could appear at a super PAC fund-raiser and thank donors as long as he didn't specifically ask for unlimited contributions. The only major restriction was that Romney could not talk with Restore Our Future about the content or timing of advertisements.

So, when the cofounders of Restore Our Future greeted Romney at their fund-raiser, they were careful not to discuss specifics. "We didn't need to,'' McCarthy said. "We knew what needed to be done. We all came out of Romney World.''
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Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


A 'Fine' Mess. Even Obama Loyalist Winces at Obama's Take on Private Sector (Major Garrett, June 8, 2012, National Journal)

When Jared Bernstein, Vice President Biden's former top economist, began reviewing notes of President Obama's press conference on Friday, he stopped cold when he read "the private sector is doing fine."

"It caught my eye," Bernstein told National Journal. Bernstein immediately fired off an email to the intern who took the notes to make sure it was accurate and not a rough or garbled translation. "I thought, 'Did he really say that?'"

To his dismay, the intern wrote back that those were Obama's words. Verbatim. [...]

"It's not manna for Republicans," Bernstein said of Obama's comment. "The way a gaffe sticks is when a gaffe sticks with someone's world view, when they fit with a narrative. This gaffe doesn't fit with the narrative."

...that he's running on a concession that the economy is doing badly after he's been in office for four years? 

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Donations to Key Cuomo Ally Show a Rift Among Unions (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, 6/07/12, NY Times)

Backed with millions of dollars in contributions from business, the Committee to Save New York has been Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's most important ally in his battles with public-sector unions over government spending, pensions and teacher accountability.

But the committee turns out to have another source of money: a group of building trade unions who contributed $500,000 last year. Their decision to back Mr. Cuomo -- and help finance an offensive against their public-sector brethren -- illuminates a deepening fissure in the labor movement.

Labor officials said the union contributions to the business group in 2011, which were revealed in records filed with the federal Labor Department and interviews with people familiar with the donations, reflected workers' deep unease about a slowdown in the construction industry in New York and their hope that Mr. Cuomo and the business committee could persuade voters and lawmakers to support publicly financed building projects and encourage growth.

But the unions' aid to the business coalition also shows how battles over government spending, especially at the state level, have deepened longstanding tensions in the labor movement between union members employed by government and those employed by private business.

It's every boondoggler for himself.
Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


The Algorithm Didn't Like My Essay (RANDALL STROSS, June 9, 2012, NY Times)

The standardized tests administered by the states at the end of the school year typically have an essay-writing component, requiring the hiring of humans to grade them one by one. This spring, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation sponsored a competition to see how well algorithms submitted by professional data scientists and amateur statistics wizards could predict the scores assigned by human graders. The winners were announced last month -- and the predictive algorithms were eerily accurate. [...]

Barbara Chow, education program director at the Hewlett Foundation, says: "We had heard the claim that the machine algorithms are as good as human graders, but we wanted to create a neutral and fair platform to assess the various claims of the vendors. It turns out the claims are not hype."

If the thought of an algorithm replacing a human causes queasiness, consider this: In states' standardized tests, each essay is typically scored by two human graders; machine scoring replaces only one of the two. And humans are not necessarily ideal graders: they provide an average of only three minutes of attention per essay, Ms. Chow says.

We are talking here about providing a very rough kind of measurement, the assignment of a single summary score on, say, a seventh grader's essay, not commentary on the use of metaphor in a college senior's creative writing seminar.

Software sharply lowers the cost of scoring those essays -- a matter of great importance because states have begun to toss essay evaluation to the wayside.

"A few years back, almost all states evaluated writing at multiple grade levels, requiring students to actually write," says Mark D. Shermis, dean of the college of education at the University of Akron in Ohio. "But a few, citing cost considerations, have either switched back to multiple-choice format to evaluate or have dropped writing evaluation altogether."

As statistical models for automated essay scoring are refined, Professor Shermis says, the current $2 or $3 cost of grading each one with humans could be virtually eliminated, at least theoretically.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Christopher Hitchens' Waterboarding Video Changed Eric Holder's Mind (JOHN HUDSON, 6/06/12, Atlantic)

Sometimes "enhanced interrogation" doesn't feel like torture until you see it happening to someone you can relate to. For Attorney General Eric Holder, that meant watching Vanity Fair writer Christopher Hitchens undergo the technique in 2008 for his essay "Believe Me, It's Torture." Reading Hitchens's disturbing testimonial and accompanying video moved Holder to launch an investigation of the Bush-era interrogation practice, according to Dan Klaidman's new book Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency. An excerpt of the book, which comes out tomorrow, appeared in Mike Allen's Playbook this morning:

Holder was at home catching up on his reading when he came across an article in Vanity Fair magazine by Christopher Hitchens, in which the writer and critic described what it was like to be waterboarded. Hitchens had arranged to be 'abducted' by a team of security contractors in a rural part of North Carolina. They hooded him, placed him in a dark room, and strapped him to a sloping board, positioned so that his head was lower than his heart. They placed a thick towel over his hooded face and proceeded to pour water into his nostrils, a managed-drowning technique.

After reading the article, Holder viewed the accompanying video online, at Vanity Fair's website. He sat in his study, engrossed in the macabre spectacle. Hitchens lasted for fewer than ten seconds before asking for mercy, sputtering and gagging as the cloth used in the demonstration was removed from his mouth. Watching the video, Holder was both mesmerized and repulsed. Over the next few weeks he plunged into classified reports and briefings on the CIA's interrogation program. He was increasingly convinced that he would need to launch an investigation, or at least a preliminary inquiry to determine whether a full-blown probe was warranted.

...why aren't we prosecuting the guys whom the General believes "tortured" Christopher Hitchens?

The two main takeaways from the story for most folks were that the procedure was effective and did no harm.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Shortage of homes for sale creates fierce competition (Alejandro Lazo, 6/10/12, Los Angeles Times)

The newest problem for the slowly improving housing market isn't a shortage of serious buyers, it's a shortage of good homes.

Would-be buyers are packing open houses and scrambling to make offers on properties before they are even listed. Bidding wars are erupting. And real estate agents are vying fiercely to represent the few sellers that do exist.

Housing inventory has sunk to levels not seen since the bubble years. The number of American homes with a "for sale" sign hit 2.5 million in April, the lowest number for an April since 2006, according to the National Assn. of Realtors.

The Obama stimulus bill should have consisted of nothing but immigration reform.

June 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


Booming Sweden's Free-Market Solution (Anders Aslund Jun 6, 2012, Bloomberg)

Americans still think of Sweden as a tightly regulated social-welfare state, but in the last two decades the country has been reformed. Public spending has fallen by no less than one-fifth of gross domestic product, taxes have dropped and markets have opened up.
The situation is similar in the other Scandinavian countries, the Baltic nations and Poland. But no turnabout has been as dramatic as Sweden's. 

Sweden's traditional scourge is taxes, which used to be the highest in the world. The current government has cut them every year and abolished wealth taxes. Inheritance and gift taxes are also gone. Until 1990, the maximum marginal income tax rate was 90 percent. Today, it is 56.5 percent. That is still one of the world's highest, after Belgium's 59.4 and there is strong public support for a cut to 50 percent. [...]

The 26 percent tax on corporate profits may seem reasonable from an American perspective, but Swedish business leaders want to reduce it to 20 percent. Tax competition is fierce in some parts of Europe. Most East European countries, for example, have slashed corporate taxes to 15-19 percent.

In the bad old days, the annual centralized-wage bargaining between the Trade Union Confederation and the Swedish Employers' Confederation was a prized custom. But in the 1970s, this system led to both inflation and strikes. Today, it is long gone. Wage bargaining is still collective, but it is decentralized. Wage inflation is no longer a concern and strikes are extremely rare. The employers have won, but real wages are rising with productivity, so the workers are benefiting, as well. As everywhere, trade unions are losing members, money and power. [...]

The Social Democrats haven't only joined the free-market consensus, but seem to attack the current government from the right, pushing for a better business environment. Gone are demands for the restoration of social benefits. Opinion polls have rewarded the Social Democrats for their right turn with sharply improved ratings.

Sweden is still offering good social welfare, but more efficiently and sensibly and increasingly through the private sector. This model of falling taxes and public spending is rapidly proliferating from the north of Europe toward the south, and the northern Europeans have little tolerance for the statist conservatism and fiscal negligence of Southern Europe. 
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Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Obama's Gaffe and How His Campaign Lost Its Groove (Michael Tomasky, Jun 9, 2012, Daily Beast)

Anyway, the bigger problem with Obama's press conference was that there wasn't any news in Obama's prepared remarks. This really makes me shake my head. If you're going to call a press conference, you have to give beat reporters something new. New is the root of news. If you don't say something new, a misstatement is bound to dominate, or an answer to an off-message question. In this case, his response on the national-security leaks would have probably led the stories--as it did Daniel Stone's Beast report. Not as bad as a gaffe, from the spin-room point of view, but also not what they wanted to put out there.

At bottom, then, the press conference reflected the general drift that Clift described. The White House doesn't have an argument right now. Ever since the jobs report, Romney's got all the momentum. The White House has tried but then dropped arguments, as I wrote earlier this week, and it sounds a little whiny and ineffectual when Obama urges Congress to pass something that everybody knows Congress isn't going to pass. And by the way, he ought at least to say "Republicans," not "Congress." I'm sure there are risks associated with sounding too partisan, but to me, he has little choice but to lump Romney and the GOP Congress together.

That is a crucial part of the story Obama needs to tell. Romney's story is easy. The economy is bad, he's had four years, it's his fault. Boom. Simple. Obama's story takes longer to tell and goes something like this: "We inherited a disaster from George Bush (yes, he should use the name--people still do not like him). We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. But since early 2010, we've been gaining, and we've now created more private-sector jobs than were lost early in my term. So things are turning around. But if you elect Mitt Romney, with his promised huge tax cuts for the wealthy and his support for Paul Ryan's extreme budget, which are both even more right wing than anything Bush tried, we're going right back off the cliff that I've steered us away from."

...is that Mitt Romney is too moderate for the Right to stomach.  Trying to portray the governor of Massachusetts and the Father of Obamacare as an extreme Rightwinger is idiocy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Obama and Romney locked in tight race with 150 days to go (Josh Lederman , 06/09/12, The Hill)

President Obama and Mitt Romney are locked in a tightening race for the White House with just 150 days to go before Election Day.

Polls show the two dead even nationally, with Obama enjoying perhaps a slight edge in the dozen or so swing states that will decide the contest.

Yet the president's reelection hopes have been dimmed by a dismal few weeks capped by a bleak jobs report and the president's own gaffe on Friday at a hastily arranged press conference where he said the private sector is "doing fine."

Obama was forced to walk back the remark just a few offers later after realizing he had served up a political gift for Republicans, who immediately seized on it to highlight their argument that Obama is not in tune with the public.
"I think he's defining what it means to be out of touch with the American people," Romney said a few hours later.

It's not important that the President is right, just that he failed the bathos test.  He's required to pretend that things are tough all over but didn't.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Romney camp aims to win over Hispanics (Matt Viser, June 9, 2012, Boston Globe)

With a bit of irony, the campaign is also reaching out to a group that combines two constituencies that Romney has fared poorly with in the past: Hispanic evangelicals.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, said he has been in touch with Romney's campaign as recently as this week. He thinks the campaign is making significant progress - and has done more outreach than Senator John McCain had at this point four years ago - but still has a way to go.

"I can't deny the fact that he's going to inevitably have to cross the proverbial Jordan of immigration,'' Rodriguez said. "If he wants to step into the Promised Land, he's going to have to address immigration reform.''

Romney is preparing a speech on June 21 before a group of Latino officials in Orlando, an address that some of his Hispanic advisers are pointing to as a potential major turning point. Romney will address that group, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, one day before President Obama does, so it will provide a stark contrast between the two candidates on dealing with the nation's persistent immigration problems. [...]

A reform proposal by Rubio, a potential vice presidential pick, could provide a way for Romney to recast his position on immigration.

That's the beauty, that an Evangelical can't be a nativist, so this is literally a come to Jesus moment for him and completely natural.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


American homes are getting bigger, but energy use is shrinking (Brad Plumer, 06/08/2012, Washington Post)

American houses are getting more massive. They're becoming more plentiful. We're cramming their outlets with an ever-expanding array of power-hungry electronics -- from large flatscreen TVs to multiple smartphones to the occasional iPad.

And yet, surprisingly, the average American home now uses less energy than ever before. That's according to a new analysis from the Energy Information Administration, which offers up the graph below. As a result, total energy use for all U.S. homes has flatlined since 1980, even as the overall number of houses keeps growing:
Why is that? One reason is that homes are becoming considerably more efficient -- the EIA notes that newer houses tend to feature better insulation and things like double-paned windows that help lower the utility bills. (Remember, heating and cooling takes up the biggest chunk of a home's energy use.) Many appliances, like refrigerators and washing machines, have also become more efficient, thanks to government regulations signed by President Reagan in 1987.

Your bigger home, with the payments smaller than your Dad made, is also an indicator of deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Can gas savings make up for a hybrid's higher sticker price? (Jerry Hirsch, 6/10/12, Los Angeles Times)

You need to figure out how much money saved at the pump will add up to the cost difference between a hybrid and the same or similar model in a gas-only vehicle.

Let's go back to our Camry example. On average, the hybrid version sells for $25,850, about $3,300 more than the regular model, according to car price information company TrueCar.com. Factor in the tax and licensing fees on both versions and the difference climbs to close to $3,600, depending on where you live.

Using $4 a gallon, 13,500 miles of annual driving and a ratio of 55% city driving, the hybrid saves about $650 a year. That means it takes about five years to save enough in gas to recoup the extra expense at today's prices.

Our analysis of hybrid and regular Ford Fusions and Hyundai Sonatas also came up with paybacks in about the same range.

Those who drive 75% or more of their miles at highway speeds aren't likely to make the difference back during the life of the car. The payback comes at about the 10-year mark.

However, for some cars -- mostly the more expensive brands that don't charge a premium for the hybrid models -- the savings are immediate and significant.

Buick sells hybrid and gas-only versions of the LaCrosse with the same sticker price of $31,115 for similar trim and features, according to the EPA. When you plug in our fuel cost and mileage numbers, the hybrid version saves $725 a year on fuel when driven 55% of the time in city traffic.

The hybrid and gas-only version of the Lincoln MKZ also have the same sticker price -- $35,630 -- but the hybrid model saves the driver almost $1,200 a year based on our analysis.

You can compare vehicles and your own calculations based on your driving patterns at this handy EPA website: FuelEconomy.gov.

Should I worry about the new technology?

Consider this: 95% of all the Toyota Prius hybrids sold since 2000 are still on the road today. That's a lot of years of fuel savings for their owners.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Poll: Americans know how to save energy, but balk (MATTHEW DALY | Associated Press)

But that doesn't mean they'll do it.

A new poll shows that while most of those questioned understand effective ways to save energy, they have a hard time adopting them.

Six in 10 surveyed say driving a more fuel-efficient car would save a large amount of energy, but only 1 in 4 says that's easy to do, according to the poll by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. People also are skeptical of carpooling or installing better home insulation, rating them as effective but impractical.

June 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


U.S. debt load falling at fastest pace since 1950s (Rex Nutting, 6/06/12, MarketWatch)

If you want to know why economic growth has been so tepid, here's your answer. Four years after the storm hit, the economy is still deleveraging. And it's very hard for any economy to grow when everyone is focused on increasing their savings.

Total domestic -- public and private -- debt as a share of the economy has declined for 12 quarters in a row after surging over the previous decade.
The rapid rise in federal debt over the past four years has distracted us from the big picture. The level of public debt is indeed worrisome, but it's not as big a worry as the economy's total level of debt -- public and private.

Although we have a whole cottage industry devoted to warning us about the dangers of too much public debt, we don't have any comparable Cassandras telling us about the dangers of too much private debt. 

US household net worth surged in 1Q on rising stocks, increased home values (Associated Press, 6/07/12)

MORE WEALTH: U.S. household wealth, or net worth, rose 4.7 percent to $62.9 trillion last quarter, according to a Federal Reserve report released Thursday. Net worth is the value of assets like homes, bank accounts and stocks, minus debts like mortgages and credit cards.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Booker's big mouth ruins relationship with Obama, Cabinet hopes (JOSH MARGOLIN, June 8, 2012, NY Post)

It's bye-bye, Beltway for Cory Booker.

Newark's mayor, who was gunning for a spot in President Obama's Cabinet, lost the chance after he shot his mouth off during a blunderingly honest TV appearance last month, sources told The Post.

"He's dead to us," one ranking administration official said of the prevailing feelings at the White House and Obama headquarters in Chicago.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Euro 2012 team guides: Get the lowdown on the 16 teams, all the top players and every manager ahead of Euro 2012 (guardian.co.uk, Saturday 2 June 2012)

Euro 2012 TV Schedule on ESPN (EuroJoe, June 1, 2012)

All EURO 2012 games are broadcast on ESPN and its partner stations ESPN2, ESPN3 and ESPN Deportes.

ESPN Deportes match coverage will begin 30 min before match time

ESPN and ESPN2 match coverage will begin 15 min before match time.

All times is the table below are match times, coverage will start 30 or 15 min before the match time.

Your friend Orrin Judd has signed up for European Soccer Challenge, it's free, and Orrin thinks you would get a kick out of it, too. 

Check it out at http://seattletimes.upickem.net/upickem/registration/login.asp?contestid=57861

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


E.O. Wilson's Semi-Closeted Social Conservatism (Peter Lawler, June 5, 2012, Big Think)

Consider, for example, E.O. Wilson's criticism in his new and magisterial The Social Conquest of Earth of the dogmatic, unscientific ignorance of Pope Paul VI's encyclical explaining the church's ban of artificial contraception. Wilson appears to emphasize his criticism of Humanae Vitae in order not to make too unfashionably obvious the ways in which he actually agrees with it.

The pope, according to Wilson, holds that God intended sexual intercourse to be only for the purpose for conceiving children.  He made it clear, Wilson should have added, that he also thought natural law was also on his side.  The pope seems very Darwinian here, after all.  The purpose of members of our species is to pair bond, reproduce, and raise their young.  Sex is deformed when detached from those natural, social functions. 

There is, Wilson observes, an opposition genetically present in each member of our species between the two levels of natural selection--one that produces cooperative social behavior and the other that produces self-serving behavior.  That opposition, in Wilson's words, "renders each of us part saint and part sinner."  Human beings through all their religions have, he explains, characteristically praised action according social instinct virtue, and blamed preferring one's own good over the good of the various groups of which he or she is a part as sin.

 Neither the pope nor Wilson deny that members of our species have the biological capacity to  choose for themselves over the good of their groups, beginning with the family.  But they also can agree to call such choices sin because our natural flourishing depends on group selection--driven by social instinct--prevailing over individual selection.  Although they differ in many ways on personal details, the pope and Wilson agree that each of us is most fundamentally a social or relational being.  For Wilson, organized religion has been pretty much "an expression of tribalism" and nothing more.  For the pope, the Christian religion is much more, but it, like other religions, does support our social and relational duties.

The pope missed, Wilson explains, another purpose for sexual intercourse discovered lately by scientists.  Human females differ from those of the other primate species in not advertising "estrus" or being in heat.  That means a woman bonded with a man invites "continuous and frequent intercourse."  The cycle-based Natural Family Planning--or a kind of natural contraception--practiced by some Catholics, Wilson could have added,  gets in the way of what nature intends a husband and wife to be always doing.

Wilson explains that the evolutionary or "adapative" function here is that women use sexual pleasure to make sure the father is always around to help raise the children.  Human children, because of their "high intelligence," are helpless and then need lots of help for a much longer period of development than the young of other species.  It could hardly be called an evolutionary intention for a social animal that is the natural mother be stuck with raising those kids alone.  It's clearly better for the children for their parents to stay bonded--sharing both parental responsibilities and sexual pleasure--until they're raised.

So nature encourages the woman to use her constant ability to give and receive sexual pleasure to sustain her existing family, and her intention is sometimes not to add to that family.  Reproduction and raising the young are equally indispensable functions of the social animal, and Wilson suggests, of course, that the social instinct of a woman that supports putting her children first is stronger than the comparable instinct in men. It seems women are somewhat more about using sexual pleasure, and men about receiving it. From this view, some use of artificial contraception within marriage or at least parenthood can be compatible with natural family values.

Wilson even adds that there's no reliable alternative to raising children to two "sexually and emotionally bonded mates."  The mother, even "in tightly-knit hunter-gather societies" can't count on the broader community or tribe. So the superiority of the two-parent heterosexual family with children is both natural and enduring.  Other kinds of families less natural or adaptive, which is not to say that they aren't better than nothing.  It may take a village to raise a kid too, but not in place of parents.  This conclusion, it should go without saying, should fill us with supportive empathy for the lonely struggle of single moms, and it shouldn't diminish our admiration for gay couples with the generosity to choose to raise kids.

On the basis of Wilson's analysis, we can say that the pope has too narrow a view of the function of sex in pair-bonding and raising the young.  More impressive, however, are their broader areas of agreement.  Marriage is for having and raising children.  The capacity of our women to be constantly available to give and receive sexual pleasure must be understood in the context of the stable, enduring marriages our young require to be raised well.  So women "sin" and are unhappy when they give and receive sexual pleasure as free individuals mistakenly believing that they are "autonomous" enough to be unguided by social instinct.  Society, the family, and the species suffer when too many women are deceived by that mistaken judgment about who they are.

 Wilson and the pope appear to agree that women sin and are unhappy when they make sexually pleasure too readily available to men who are sinfully unwilling to accept the responsibilities of sexual and emotional mating.  The use of contraception to avoid having kids altogether--and especially the casual use of contraception outside of marriage--must be viewed as sinful or as undermining the social or group cooperation that's the natural fuel responsible for the singular success of what Wilson calls by  far the most intelligent of the "eusocial" species.

Friend Lawler, perhaps in his eagerness to co-opt Mr. Wilson, misses the central irony of his position.  Suppose that we take Darwinism seriously for a moment, which the Darwinists never do.  Then Mr. Wilson's argument about biology driving us to act for the good of our group is nothing but a justification of tribalism. If we accept Darwinian notions of species, and acknowledge that the tribe is, by their definition, a species, the argument is that we are pre-programmed to act in the interest of our own race/ethnicity/species.  Racism then, in the context of Darwinism, is Natural. When we pretend, along with the post-Holocaust Darwinists, that their theory can coherently support the idea that all human beings are one species, we do a disservice to their theory and to clarity of thought.

The Pope, on the other hand, represents the view that all men are brothers, that race/ethnicity is insignificant.  It is Christianity that is anti-tribal, which is why no one can be both Christian and Darwinist. Nor can the latter be conservative in the final analysis.  They can only be rightwing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


The Exchange: Gladwell vs. Simmons IV: Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons trade e-mails on jockosophers and fame in the digital age (Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons on June 6, 2012, Grantland)

SIMMONS: [T]hat Jackson story made me wonder if we (by "we," I mean the sports media) need to recalibrate everything we're doing. Do we really need 25 people crammed in baseball locker rooms fighting for the same mundane quotes? What's our game plan for the fact that -- thanks to the Internet and 24-hour sports stations -- a city like Boston suddenly has four times as many sports media members as it once had? Why are we covering teams the same way we covered them in 1981, just with more people and better equipment? If I could watch any Celtics game and press conference from my house (already possible), and there was a handpicked pool of reporters (maybe three per game, with the people changing every game) responsible for pooling pregame/postgame quotes and mailing them out immediately, could I write the same story (or pretty close)? If we reduced the locker room clutter, would players relax a little more? Would their quotes improve? Would they trust the media more? Why haven't we experimented at all? Any "improvements" in our access have been forgettable. Seriously, what pearls of wisdom are we expecting from NBA coaches during those ridiculous in-game interviews, or from athletes sitting on a podium with dozens of media members firing monotone questions at them? It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet of forgettable quotes, like the $7.99 prime rib extravaganzas at a Vegas casino or something. There's Russell Westbrook at the podium for $7.99! Feast away! We laugh every time Gregg Popovich curmudgeonly swats Craig Sager away with four-word answers, but really, he's performing a public service. He's one of the few people in sports who has the balls to say, "This couldn't be a dumber relationship right now."

I don't blame athletes for retreating into their little sports-cliché cocoons. We've pushed them there, especially because we (and by "we," I mean ESPN and every other media outlet, newspaper or sports blog that blows stuff out of proportion for eyeballs, page views, ratings or whatever) have a tendency to blow provocative quotes out of proportion. For instance, you might remember Larry Bird mentioning on my podcast that he'd rather play with Kobe than LeBron, if only because ESPN ran that answer across our ticker for 24 solid hours. If you listened to the podcast as a whole, his answer wasn't that simple -- Bird was saying that, as a player, he gravitated toward other players who were obsessed with winning. That's what he valued most. Kobe seems similarly obsessed, so that's who Bird picked. It wasn't a pick against LeBron -- in fact, he believed LeBron was the best current basketball player "by far." But Bird was an overcompetitive weirdo, and so is Kobe, so that's why he picked Kobe.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Why Has US Manufacturing Productivity Surged This Year: It's The Software, Stupid! (DAVID ZIELENZIGER, June 7, 2012, IB Times)

U.S. manufacturing productivity surged 5.4 percent in the first quarter, the most since last year's third quarter, even as overall productivity eased about 1 percent, the U.S. Department of Labor said.

Why? The probable reason is enterprise software and other technology tools that make U.S. products easier to design, produce and scrutinize than ever before. Even as there is a whiff of recession surrounding the technology sector when it comes to hardware, nobody sees a decline in software.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Cheaper LED Lightbulbs Are on the Way (PRACHI PATEL, 6/07/12, Technology Review)

Cost has been a major barrier in keeping people from buying energy-efficient LED lightbulbs.

Now one of the world's largest LED makers, Osram Opto Semiconductors, says it has perfected a technique that could significantly cut the production cost of LEDs.

White LEDs are typically made by coating blue gallium-nitride LEDs with yellow phosphors. Manufacturers normally grow the gallium-nitride in thin layers on top of costly sapphire substrates. Osram is making the devices on silicon substrates instead. Silicon substrates cost a third as much as sapphire and could get even cheaper, since they're made in larger pieces.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Americans' Religious Values (Pew Rsearch,  June 7, 2012)

The latest Pew Research Center American Values study finds that the United States continues to be a highly religious nation. Two-thirds of the public (67%) agrees with each of a series of three religious statements, affirming that prayer is an important part of their daily life, that "we will all be called before God at the Judgment Day" and that they never doubt the existence of God. When the first values study was conducted in 1987, a virtually identical number (68%) agreed with all three of these statements.

But partisan gaps in religious values have arisen over the past 25 years. In 1987, for example, 91% of Republicans said they never doubt the existence of God, as did 88% of Democrats and 86% of independents. Today, 92% of Republicans continue to say they never doubt God's existence, but the numbers of Democrats and independents saying this have fallen (to 77% among Democrats and 76% among independents).  

June 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Romney's Tipping Point: Has the presidential race come to a crucial turn? The Obama campaign hopes not. ( June 7, 2012, National Journal)

Every four years, the race for the White House is defined by a turning point, a period when the contest breaks toward one side and the other can never recover. In the winter and spring of 1996, a rebounding economy gave Bill Clinton a lead over Bob Dole that he never relinquished. In 2008, the growing economic crisis in early September shut down any hope that Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign had left.

If Republican Mitt Romney is inaugurated as president in January, history may look to June as the month in which President Obama's fate was sealed.

This may be the month, seen in retrospect, in which it became clear the economic winds that propelled Clinton to a second term won't be at Obama's back. Administration officials barely tried to spin last week's dismal jobs report, an acknowledgment that there was nothing to brag about.

The economic turmoil that ushered Obama into office, and dramatically shaped his first-term agenda, is an existential threat to the prospect of a second term.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Cruel June for Obama, Dems _ and could get worse (DONNA CASSATA, 6/07/12, Associated Press)

Even before the votes were counted in Republican Gov. Scott Walker's win over Democrat Tom Barrett Tuesday night, there was hand-wringing and second-guessing among Democrats on Capitol Hill.

-- The jobs numbers have them worried that they'll be running on a weak economy, with the White House -- and them -- getting the blame.

-- Wisconsin's implications for the general election and for organized labor in general have some asking why Obama didn't get more involved than an 11th-hour 

-- The looming Supreme Court decision on the health care law has some Democrats insisting the White House and the party did a terrible job selling the overhaul to the American people.

In Wisconsin, millions of dollars spent on Walker's behalf trumped labor's get-out-the-vote effort in a swing state that suddenly moves up on the battleground list in the presidential race. Republicans also have set their sights on the seat of retiring Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl in a race that probably will pit Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin against the winner of the Aug. 14 GOP primary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


President Obama gets enthusiastic welcome at L.A. gay event: The LGBT community turns out in force to celebrate the man who has been dubbed the nation's 'first gay president.' (Robin Abcarian and Kathleen Hennessey, June 6, 2012, LA Times)

Before launching into his serious remarks, the president seemed briefly caught off-stride when the audience interpreted as off-color a joke he made about a push-up competition between DeGeneres and his wife, initiated by the talk show host in February.

DeGeneres, Obama said, is "a great friend who accepts a little bit of teasing about Michelle beating her in push-ups. I think she claims Michelle didn't go all the way down."

The audience began to chuckle and then erupt in bawdy laughter. 

Don't blame him.  He was just reading the teleprompter.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


The Age of Unsatisfying Wars (JOHN A. NAGL, 6/06/12, NY Times)

Mr. Obama should welcome an Iraq-like end to Afghanistan: as contradictory as it may seem, messy and unsatisfying are the hallmarks of success in modern counterinsurgency wars.

America can live, for example, with the current Iraqi government and its policies, and Iraq's increasing oil output will help the global economic recovery. [...]

Like any successful counterinsurgency, Afghanistan is likely to end somewhat unsatisfyingly for Americans, with a corrupt but gradually improving government in Kabul, advisers helping Afghan security forces fight a weakening but still dangerous Taliban, and a schizophrenic Pakistan alternately helping Afghan and Taliban fighters.

It may also, in the odd logic of counterinsurgency, be more likely to succeed if we leave the project somewhat unfinished. T. E. Lawrence, no slouch as an insurgent himself, advised: "Do not try to do too much with your own hands ... It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Q&A: The Hard Truth About Political Compromise (Boston Globe, June 03, 2012)

Increasingly, this hardened attitude represents a danger to democracy and the economy. (Think of last summer's debt-ceiling standoff--likely to be reprised this summer.) And it stems, according to two political scientists, from our failure to understand what compromise really is. In their new book, "The Spirit of Compromise: Why Governing Demands It and Campaigning Undermines It," Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson argue that Americans have an inaccurate view of compromise. In particular, they say, we vastly underestimate the costs of rejecting it.

Nowadays, they write, we have a simplistic view of compromise. We tend to think of compromise in terms of settling for less: We want two scoops of ice cream, but settle for one. That might describe what happens when you and your spouse compromise over the size of a new television--but it doesn't work, the authors show, when it comes to politics. Political compromise requires more than settling; it requires actually letting the other side make progress on its agenda, even if you find that agenda repugnant. Even worse, political compromises are often incoherent. A compromise on immigration, for example, might mean combining ideas that seem to work against one another, like amnesty for illegal immigrants and strict rules criminalizing illegal immigration.

All of this makes it tempting to believe that we can do without compromise. But, Gutmann and Thompson warn, the alternative is worse. A vote against compromise might feel like a vote for purity, for boldness--but it's actually a vote for the status quo. In a democracy where people disagree on fundamental questions, no-compromise politicians create logjams, not progress. So when we vote for hyperpartisan politicians who promise to save us from the pain and frustration of compromise, what we are really doing is voting, repeatedly, for nothing to change.

The reality is that with the paradigm shifting from the Second Way to the Third, every compromise is a loss for the Left and a win for conservatives.  Of course, because the Third Way puts much of the Second on sounder financial footing, these compromises are also losses for the the Right.  You can't really blame the Left and Right for wanting nothing to change.

June 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 PM


Red Flags All Over for Obama in Wisconsin (Josh Kraushaar, June 6, 2012, National Journal)

Walker won by a bigger margin than he did in 2010, and with more overall votes. He carried 38 percent of union households - a slight improvement from his 2010 midterm tally -- a strikingly strong number given how he's been cast as the villain of labor.  It's a sign of the cultural divide between national Democrats and blue-collar whites, one that is particularly acute for the president.

Obama's team is taking consolation in the fact that exit polling showed him leading Mitt Romney, 51 to 44 percent.  But that's hardly good news: with near-presidential level turnout (and notably higher level of union turnout), Obama is running five points behind his 2008 performance.  Replicate that dropoff across the board, and all the key swing states flip to Mitt Romney. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


Europe Is Dumbfounded By Scott Walker's Victory (JOHN HUDSON, 6/06/12, The Atlantic)

The recall victory of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is sending shockwaves through Europe as right-wing and left-wing newspapers marvel at the Republican's ability to survive an election months after stripping the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions. In European countries, where a much larger percentage of the labor force is unionized, politicians typically face insurmountable opposition from labor groups during wage and work-hour disputes. Today, some of the continent's biggest paper's are doing a double-take at headlines from over here.

"Wisconsin is not France," reads the headline of  Pierre-Yves Dugua's article in Le Figaro, France's conservative broadsheet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Men with Lit Matches: a review of Fahrenheit 451, The Fiftieth Anniversary Edition by Ray Bradbury (A. W. R. HAWKINS, The University Bookman)
Montag's seminal moment takes place as he and his fellow firemen are burning down a house that contains books, and the homeowner, rather than leave her books behind, stands among them determined to be burned with them as a witness to their value. Before she burns, she quotes from the English Reformers about whom she'd read: "Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out!"

From that early point onward, Fahrenheit 451 shows Montag on a quest for truth. And he, the destroyer of books, becomes a hoarder of the same, until even his fellow firemen turn on him and burn his house to the ground in their sheer intolerance of learning.

Like so many of Bradbury's works, Fahrenheit 451 is priceless. And it bolsters perfectly the point that Russell Kirk made when he wrote, "Bradbury's stories are not an escape from reality; they are windows looking upon enduring reality."

    -OBIT: Ray Bradbury, Master of Science Fiction, Dies at 91 (GERALD JONAS, June 6, 2012, NY Times)
    -OBIT: Ray Bradbury dies at 91; author lifted fantasy to literary heights: Ray Bradbury's more than 27 novels and 600 short stories helped give stylistic heft to fantasy and science fiction. In 'The Martian Chronicles' and other works, the L.A.-based Bradbury mixed small-town familiarity with otherworldly settings. (Lynell George, 6/06/12, LA Times)
-OBIT: American science fiction author Ray Bradbury dies age 91 (NICK CLARK, 06 JUNE 2012, Independent)
    -OBIT: Ray Bradbury dies aged 91 (The Telegraph, 6/06/12)
    -OBIT: Author Ray Bradbury, who fused sci-fi with morality, dies at age 91 (Agence France-Presse, Jun 7, 2012)
    -REMEMBRANCE: Ray Bradbury, Pulp God: The fabulist of the Space Age was half doomsday prophet, half man-child. (Bryan Curtis, June 6, 2012, Slate)
    -REMEMBRANCE: Remembering Ray: A visionary science-fiction writer, and a dispenser of good advice. (Ted Elrick, 6/06/12, National Review)
    -REMEMBRANCE: Ray Bradbury, Dead at 91, Taught Generations of Readers How to Dream: The fantasy writer Ray Bradbury scorned the label of "science-fiction writer" and taught generations of readers the benefits of letting their imaginations run wild, writes Malcolm Jones, 6/06/12, Daily Beast)
    -INTERVIEW: Ray Bradbury, The Art of Fiction No. 203 (Interviewed by Sam Weller, Paris Review)
    -REMEMBRANCE: Ray Bradbury: Finding Our Reflections Where We Didn't Expect Them (PETER SAGAL, 6/06/12, NPR)
    -REMEMBRANCE: LOVING RAY BRADBURY (Junot Díaz, 6/06/12, New Yorker)
    -OBIT: Ray Bradbury, a passionate sci-fi writer with the gifts of a painter: Ray Bradbury wrote his more than 500 stories, novels, plays, and poems on a typewriter, creating imagery that helped bring sci-fi and fantasy into the mainstream of American popular culture. (Gloria Goodale, Staff writer / June 6, 2012, CS Monitor)
    -REMEMBRANCE: Ray Bradbury vs. Political Correctness: The science-fiction author, who died Wednesday, was a fierce critic of thought-control. (SOHRAB AHMARI, 6/06/12, WSJ)
Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Amazon's Warehouses Are Cooler, More Humane These Days (REBECCA GREENFIELD JUN 5, 2012, The Atlantic)

Though, the job is still physically demanding.

Then: "One former temporary warehouse employee said he worked seven months before he was terminated for not working fast enough. In his 50s, he worked 10 hours a day, four days a week as a picker, plucking items from bins and delivering them to packers who put them in boxes for shipment. He would walk 13 to 15 miles daily, he estimated, and was among the oldest pickers," explains Soper. 

Now: "Work in the warehouse is physical, with many employees walking more than 10 miles per shift plucking items from shelves," writes Soper. Though, as we wrote back in March, Amazon acquired a robot company that would make work at Amazon's factory's less mobile and therefore less strenuous. But also less active, which some might see as a downside.

But, overall, workers just sound a lot happier. However, the investment might not have had everything to do with improving employee morale. "Amazon ships a lot of electronics and food now. It's not good to have that stuff in extreme temperatures," Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with Forrester Research told Soper. "I would like to think there was an element of humanity to the decision but there's nothing in Amazon's history or in Jeff Bezos' public persona that would lead me to think that was the driver of the decision. ... Rarely has Amazon made any business decisions that didn't affect the bottom line." No matter the motivation, however, Amazon's warehouses have gotten a lot cooler. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Wisconsin speaks. Again. : By endorsing Walker's cost cuts, taxpayers make public spending nationwide an issue for Nov. 6 and beyond (Chicago Tribune, 6/06/12)

On Tuesday, a majority of the voters who for a year and a half have spent the most time weighing those sorts of numbers reaffirmed that they think their Wisconsin governments had grown too elephantine, too expensive.

There's another elephant in the room: Act 10 ended the compulsory collection of union dues by government employers. It turns out that when workers have a free choice of whether to keep paying, many decide that it isn't worth the money. We were surprised last week by a Wall Street Journal report that Wisconsin membership in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees plummeted from 62,818 in March 2011 to 28,745 in February 2012. At the American Federation of Teachers, 6,000 of 17,000 Wisconsin members have walked away.

Drop-offs that stark have implications not only for the unions, but also for politicians who rely on union donations to fund their campaigns.

After Walker's victory, the implication of which we're surest is this: Government spending and taxpayer debt, the issues that spectacularly animated the politics of the 2010 election cycle, will be potent in 2012. Wisconsin is but one reason. Turmoil in European nations that spent and borrowed themselves into disaster will focus Americans on what can happen when public officials spend money they don't have.

Wisconsin voters again have affirmed their decision:

Spending discipline is the order of the day.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Big Banks Are Not the Future: As leading financial firms face market and regulatory challenges, the likelihood of their managers responding deftly seems slim at best. (HENRY KAUFMAN, 6/05/12, WSJ)

The power of leading financial conglomerates is being narrowed in other ways. Their inventiveness in introducing new financial products and marshaling new technology allowed them to outrun regulators for decades. The gap is now narrowing. Even though supervisory authorities initially were slow to perceive the implications of securitization and to respond appropriately to the rapid growth of derivatives, the landscape is much clearer now. In the wake of the 2008 crisis, neither regulators nor investors see these innovations as reliable ways to diversify risk. Large financial institutions will need to work hard to develop new techniques for expanding credit that are acceptable to regulators.

Information technology, once the handmaiden of leading financial conglomerates, now serves regulators. It is not difficult to imagine a day in the near future when credit flow information--data on trades, loans, investments, changes in liabilities, and so on--will flow instantaneously from financial institutions to official regulators.

In the somewhat more distant future, the entire demand deposit function probably could be taken over by governments through a network of computer facilities in "the cloud." Even more likely, within a generation branch banking will become obsolete as the general population (not just early adopters) conducts all its banking on hand-held devices. McDonald's or Starbucks or some other retailing chain will gobble up the bank branches for remodeling.

As leading financial firms have challenges to their dominance from several directions, the likelihood of their managers responding deftly seems slim at best. Change is seldom attractive for incumbents, especially when they enjoy such a predominant position in a major sector of the economy. Rather, shareholders need to push for action.

The most critical measure shareholders should insist on is divestiture. The financial conglomerates need to shed some of their activities and become more focused. That strategy would bring several major benefits, for the firms as well as for our financial markets and our economy. It would reduce their operations to manageable proportions. It would declassify them as "too big to fail." It would lessen the role of government in the marketplace. And, in a win-win dynamic, it would enhance stockholder value significantly. All are reasons not to lament the sunset of the giant financial conglomerates.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Romney woos Hispanics over economy (Cameron Joseph and Justin Sink, 06/05/12, The Hill)

But in his speech, Romney once again did not mention immigration, an issue polls show Hispanic voters care about nearly as much as the economy and one where Romney's views are starkly at odds with many Hispanic voters. One protester waving a sign in opposition to Romney's immigration views was quickly escorted from the event minutes after the presumptive Republican nominee began speaking. 

Romney ran hard to the right on immigration during the primary, and has kept silent on the issue since the general-election campaign began -- he also avoided addressing it in a late May speech to the Latino Coalition at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Wind: Kansas' other energy boom (Blake Ellis, June 6, 2012, CNNMoney) 

It's not just oil that's turning Kansas' rural communities into America's latest boomtowns.
Wind turbines are being built right next to oil rigs, bringing an additional rush of jobs and revenue to the small towns along the southern border of the state -- as well as big paychecks to local landowners.

BP Wind Energy is currently building the biggest wind farm in the state, and it plans to begin production by the end of this year. The project has already brought 500 jobs to the three counties its wind turbines span: Harper, Barber and Kingman, according to BP.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


The (very) bullish case for the American auto market : After a staggering few years, things have turned a corner for carmakers hoping to make a profit in the U.S. Now easier credit is likely to send sales skyrocketing. (Doron Levin, 6/05/12, FORTUNE)

The writhing agony of American automakers has given way to something rather more pleasant: ecstasy. After a dismal few years, U.S. car companies are thriving again, turning profits and selling cars. Now, they have an additional bit of encouragement: easier credit.

Experian, the Dublin-based financial services firm, says more applications for auto loans are being approved by banks, auto company finance subsidiaries and credit unions. The confidence of U.S. lenders is being rewarded by fewer delinquencies, suggesting a virtuous cycle that may lead to a further easing of credit.

Government ought not own companies permanently, no matter the profits to be made.

June 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


How Romney Pushed State Health Bill: Emails Show Governor Defending Insurance Mandate for Massachusetts Residents (MARK MAREMONT, 6/05/12, WSJ)

In Massachusetts, Mr. Romney didn't include an individual mandate in his original proposal, but soon adopted the idea. The emails show his aides later came to champion it, even amid uncertainty from some Democrats. At the time, the mandate was a favored policy of the right, with the left instead pushing for government-run insurance programs.

"We must have an individual mandate for any plan to work," Tim Murphy, Mr. Romney's health secretary, wrote the governor and several aides on Feb. 16, 2006, in an email analyzing the latest confidential Democratic proposal, which he wrote was "unclear" about that requirement.

That Democratic proposal, obtained by the Journal, didn't include such a mandate, and instead focused on "individual responsibility," aiming to "encourage individuals to buy health insurance, not go uninsured."

According to the emails, Mr. Romney personally drafted an op-ed article published in The Wall Street Journal the day before he signed the legislation. The draft, written on a Saturday, also defended the individual mandate, in different language from the final version of the piece as published.

Using an argument deployed today by the Obama administration, Mr. Romney defended the mandate by noting that taxpayers generally foot the bill when the uninsured seek health care.

"Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian," the published op-ed stated. In a line that didn't make the edited version, Mr. Romney added: "An uninsured libertarian might counter that he could refuse the free care, but under law, that is impossible--and inhumane."

Modern democratic polities demand universal health insurance.  The only remaining question is how we'll provide it.  Republicans will use the individual mandate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Breast Cancer Isn't Just Pink : The documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. casts a skeptical look at all those pink-branded efforts to raise awareness (Marjorie Ingall|, June 5, 2012, Tablet)

The movie is most effective when it sticks to examples of pink opportunism. For instance, the yogurt company Yoplait has long run a promotion called "Save Lids, Save Lives," in which you send in yogurt lids (but only the pink ones, and only during specific periods, and no, you can't save your pink lids until the next period because Yoplait tracks the codes on them), and Yoplait donates 10 cents per lid to the Susan G. Komen For the Cure foundation. Which sounds great, except that a stamp costs 45 cents. Why wouldn't you donate your 45 cents directly to charity instead of going through the creamy yogurt middleman? Furthermore, as King's book points out, if you ate three pink-lidded yogurts a day for four months, you'd wind up donating a whopping $36. Or you could just write a check to the women's health organization of your choice. Maybe even Planned Parenthood!

(And speaking of Planned Parenthood: Unfortunately for the filmmakers, the documentary was made before the poop hit the fan about Komen pulling its support from that organization. Fortunately for the filmmakers, Komen's president Nancy Brinker appears in the movie and still comes off as a fine villain, exuding money, privilege, and unnerving agelessness as the chant "There's not enough pink! There's not enough pink!" emanates from her hypnotically glossy pink lips.)

It would have been nice for the film to spell out how Komen spends its vast money: Since its founding in 1982, it's raised nearly $2 billion; yet as Komen's revenues have climbed, it has spent less and less on research. (According to Komen's own figures, today it spends about 21 percent of its budget on research.) There are other strange gaps in the film, such as the fact that it glosses over whether breast cancer is more deadly or more prevalent than it was in the past. We're told that around the world, someone dies of breast cancer every 69 seconds, and in North America over 59,000 women die from breast cancer every year--but how have those numbers changed over time? The movie doesn't say.

However, in keeping with the excellent "what's everyone's agenda here" aspect of the film, it does tell us that Breast Cancer Awareness Month was invented in the early 1980s by a P.R. guy at what's now AstraZeneca, then the American arm of the largest chemical company in the world. The goal: Promoting mammograms and not-so-incidentally increasing the profit potential of the company, which not-so-incidentally, makes breast cancer drugs. But again, that begs the question: Is breast cancer on the rise, or is it just more frequently diagnosed thanks to the push of people making money off it? The movie does point out that early diagnosis doesn't always lead to increased survival rates. Breast cancer manifests itself differently in different people--sometimes, early detection finds a cancer that never would have become life-threatening, which can lead to overtreatment and panic; other times, a cancer detected early (especially in younger women) still leads inexorably toward an unhappy outcome. These facts don't fit with the happy-happy-joy-joy messaging of the pink ribbon brigade.

If you told them the truth about mortality rates they wouldn't believe you anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Cheap Dye-Sensitized Solar Cell Moves toward Commercialization (PETER FAIRLEY, 5/30/12, Technology Review)

Unlike thin-film and silicon panels, dye-based panels can be produced in cheap roll-to-roll processes akin to printing. So even if they are less efficient than silicon solar cells, they could prove cost-effective.

The Northwestern development is just the latest in a string of advances in what Michael McGehee, director of Stanford University's Center for Advanced Molecular Photovoltaics, recently dubbed a "renaissance" in dye-sensitized cells. Recent advances in the field could finally transform these elegant scientific curiosities into practical energy-generation devices. 

In a dye-sensitized solar cell, incoming light excites a porous layer of titania coated with a dye, generating negative and positive charges. The negative charges--excited electrons--flow out of the cell through the titania, while positive charges flow into a liquid electrolyte. As with electrolyte-filled alkaline batteries, leakage is an ever-present danger, especially in solar panels subject to extreme weathering. Electrolytes heated to 80° C (on a rooftop, for instance) can expand and rupture the panel's seal. The dye cells' iodine-based electrolyte is also corrosive enough to eat through even rust-resistant metals such as aluminum and stainless steel.

Northwestern University chemist Mercouri Kanatzidis, materials scientist Robert Chang, and two graduate students replaced the dye cells' liquid electrolyte with a solid iodine-based semiconductor. While prior solid-state designs have reduced the power output of dye cells, the Northwestern design actually boosts performance, the researchers say, because the cesium-tin-iodine semiconductor that replaces the liquid electrolyte also absorbs light. "Our material actually absorbs more light than the dye itself," says Kanatzidis.

Just another breakthrough....

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Recall Battle in Wisconsin May Snarl Obama Camp (JEFF ZELENY, 6/04/12, NY Times)

While the presidential campaign is well under way across the country, the contest has been overshadowed here by the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican. The election, a culmination of more than a year of bitter unrest, has created a combustible political climate that defies easy characterization in the five months leading up to the general election.

But Mr. Romney is within striking distance of Mr. Obama in Wisconsin, according to several public and private polls and interviews with strategists in both parties, and he intends to start building a campaign operation off the robust get-out-the-vote machinery assembled for Mr. Walker. The decision by the Romney campaign to try to contest Wisconsin is the first sign that Republicans are eager to expand their targets of opportunity and compete on terrain that not long ago seemed squarely on Mr. Obama's side.

"If we win on Tuesday, this is going to be a shot in the arm and adrenaline that we didn't expect to have," said former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, a Republican who is seeking the party's nomination to run for Senate. "It is going to spark fervor in the presidential race."

Mr. Obama has purposefully tried to keep his distance from the recall fight, which has unfolded with all the intensity and acrimony of a presidential campaign within the borders of Wisconsin. The mayor of Milwaukee, Tom Barrett, is the Democratic candidate trying to replace Mr. Walker, who ignited a furor by cutting collective bargaining rights for most of the state's public workers. It is a rematch of the 2010 governor's race, which Mr. Barrett lost to Mr. Walker.

The White House has showed tepid support for the recall. Democratic advisers thought the effort would take time and money away from the presidential campaign and poison the pool of independent voters who were a key part of Mr. Obama's success here four years ago, when he carried the state by 14 points and swept 59 of 72 counties.

The president, who campaigned for Mr. Barrett two years ago, has been conspicuously absent this time.

It's not as if staying out of the race will save the UR any embarrassment, whereas it does depress his base.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Pakistan condemns U.S. drone strikes (Qasim Nauman, 6/04/12, Reuters)

Pakistan's parliament called for an end to U.S. drone strikes, and the foreign minister told Reuters in an interview in April that the United States was ignoring Islamabad's demands for an end to the operations.

Publicly, Pakistani officials condemn the use of the drones, saying they violate Pakistan's sovereignty and warning the Americans they are driving angry Pakistanis into the arms of militant groups.

...then either it would have to dispose of the terrorists or we would be within our rights to target the central government. The fact they aren't sovereign is all that's saving them.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Ethiopian-Israeli Jews, mistaken for African migrant workers, feel racism's pain (Eetta Prince-Gibson, June 4, 2012, JTA)

 When violent riots against African migrant workers erupted in south Tel Aviv recently, a mob attacked Hanania Wanda, a Jew of Ethiopian origin, mistaking him for a Sudanese migrant worker.

"Wanda is my friend," says Elias Inbram, a social activist in the Ethiopian community and a former member of the Israeli diplomatic corps who served as spokesman for the embassy in South Africa. "I knew I had to react somehow." 

He suddenly realized, says Inbram, 38, "that since to white people, all blacks look the same -- I, an Israeli Jew who is black, or anyone in my family, or anyone in my community, could be attacked, too."

That moved him to stencil "CAUTION: I am not an infiltrator from Africa" onto a bright yellow T-shirt. He then drew in by hand, in the upper left corner, the unmistakable yellow "Jude" patch from the Nazi era. 

Ethnocracy gets so confusing sometimes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Who Is Mike Leavitt, the Man Leading Mitt Romney's Transition Team? : The former Bush cabinet member is a close confidant of the GOP presidential contender, but his support for a key part of Obamacare has conservatives furious. (David A. Graham, JUN 4 2012, Atlantic)

He has been a prominent backer of one element of Obamacare. Even as Obamacare has become the GOP's bete noire, Leavitt has vocally backed one provision of the law: state-level health-insurance exchanges. As part of the law's expansion of insurance, these exchanges allow citizens to shop for insurance from private companies, and if they qualify they can use federal subsidies to purchase coverage. Insurance companies accepted various strictures -- most notably, the ban on rejecting applicants with pre-existing conditions -- in return for the individual mandate, which broadens the pool of insurance buyers. A Leavitt aid told Politico, "We believe that the exchanges are the solution to small business insurance market and that's gotten us sideways with some conservatives."

Who could possibly support markets in health care?
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Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Food Trucks in Paris? U.S. Cuisine Finds Open Minds, and Mouths (JULIA MOSKIN, 6/04/12, NY Times)

[I]n Paris, American food is suddenly being seen as more than just restauration rapide. Among young Parisians, there is currently no greater praise for cuisine than "très Brooklyn," a term that signifies a particularly cool combination of informality, creativity and quality.

All three of those traits come together in the American food trucks that have just opened here, including Cantine California, which sells tacos stuffed with organic meat (still a rarity in France), and a hugely popular burger truck called Le Camion Qui Fume (The Smoking Truck), owned by Kristin Frederick, a California native who graduated from culinary school here.

"I got every kind of push-back," said Ms. Frederick, 31. "People said: 'The French will never eat on the street. The French will never eat with their hands. They will never pay good money for food from a truck.' " (Her burger with fries costs 10 euros, about $13.) [...]

It could have been Williamsburg, Brooklyn, or Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Los Angeles, but the truck was parked at the north end of the Canal St.-Martin on the Right Bank

"It's against my religion to wait for a burger," said Guillaume Farges, who was near the front of the line, which began to form at 5:30 p.m., though the truck would not open until 7. "But for this one, I make an exception."

American chefs are at the helm of some of Paris's hippest restaurants, like Daniel Rose of Spring, Kevin O'Donnell of L'Office and Braden Perkins of Verjus. And the city's collective crush on high-end hamburgers continues: Parisians are paying 29 euros, or just over $36, for the popular burger at Ralph's, the Hamptons-Wyoming-chic restaurant in the palatial Ralph Lauren store.

No one voluntarily eats French food.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Weak Economy Points to Obama's Constraints (JACKIE CALMES and NICHOLAS KULISH, June 2, 2012, NY Times)

Alan J. Auerbach, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said, "Frankly, I don't see what President Obama can do right now other than to forcefully present a detailed plan for action and challenge Congress to take it up."

But "short of a real crisis," as in 2008, Mr. Auerbach, an expert on fiscal policy, added, "I doubt that there is anything he can do to spur meaningful legislation before the election."

Yet even in 2008, with the financial system near collapse, most Congressional Republicans rejected the rescue plan of a Republican president, George W. Bush. And now, despite their own record-low numbers in the polls, they have next to no incentive to help an embattled Democratic president lift the economy.

Continued economic anemia plays to Mr. Romney's call for new stewardship, and to Republicans' demands to extend and deepen the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans rather than let them expire, as Mr. Obama and Democrats want. And they figure that if Mr. Romney succeeds, it will probably help them win close House and Senate races, while Mr. Obama's re-election could do the opposite.

By emboldening Republicans, the report on Friday that the economy added only 69,000 jobs in May seemed to dash the hopes of some in the White House for a replay of 1996. That summer, as President Bill Clinton sought re-election with the economy improving, Republicans in Congress decided that their party's weak presidential nominee, Senator Bob Dole, was doomed. To Mr. Dole's chagrin, they compromised with the Democratic president to notch some significant achievements and ensure their own survival.

John Boehner ought to send the House home before his caucus can do any damage to the nominee.

June 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Jerusalem apartment housing migrants firebombed (Harriet Sherwood, 6/04/12, guardian.co.uk)

An Eritrean woman stands with her daughter outside a Jerusalem apartment housing migrants which was set ablaze. Photograph: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images
An apartment housing 10 Eritreans has been firebombed in Jerusalem, against the backdrop of rising anti-migrant sentiment in Israel.

Four of the occupants were taken to hospital suffering burns and smoke inhalation. Graffiti sprayed on the walls of the building said: "Get out of the neighbourhood." [...]

The attack in the early hours of Monday morning follows a series of firebombings in southern Tel Aviv - an area in which African migrants are concentrated - including apartments and a kindergarten. Shops run by or serving migrants were smashed up and looted in a violent demonstration last month, in which Africans were attacked.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Video: Dutch Artist Turns His Dead Cat Into a Flying Quadcopter ( Paul Adams, 06.04.2012, PopSci)

After Bart Jansen's cat Orville was killed by a car, the artist had the animal taxidermied and then, "after a period of mourning," converted the stuffed kitty into a radio-controlled quadcopter. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


9 great road-trip cars (CNN/Money, 6/04/12)

Ford Flex

The long, low Flex may not be the best-seller on Ford's lots, but it's not for lack of utility and style. Basically, it's like a minivan with a personality. Considering how much space there is inside, fuel economy is remarkably good.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Oil Output Soars as Iraq Retools (TIM ARANGO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS, 6/03/12, NY Times)

Despite sectarian bombings and political gridlock, Iraq's crude oil production is soaring, providing a singular bright spot for the nation's future and relief for global oil markets as the West tightens sanctions on Iranian exports.

The increased flow and vital port improvements have produced a 20 percent jump in exports this year to nearly 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, making Iraq one of the premier producers in OPEC for the first time in decades. [...]

For Iraq, the resurgence of oil, which it is already pumping at rates seen only once -- and briefly -- since Saddam Hussein took power in 1979, is vital to its postwar success. Oil provides more than 95 percent of the government's revenues, has enabled the building of roads and the expansion of social services, and has greatly strengthened the Shiite-led government's hand in this ethnically divided country.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Too Big for Comfort : Why we need to break up the banks. (James Pethokoukis, June 4, 2012, Weekly Standard)

[A]merica doesn't need 20 banks with combined assets equal to nearly 90 percent of the U.S. economy, or five mega-banks​--​JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and Goldman Sachs​--​with combined assets equal to almost 60 percent of national output, three times what they were in the 1990s. That amount of complexity and financial concentration​--​which has grown worse since the passage of Dodd-Frank​--​is a current and continuing threat to the health of the U.S. economy. [...]

So how do you (a) make the financial system more shockproof when the next economic earthquake hits, (b) reduce the likelihood of expensive taxpayer bailouts, and (c) ensure the banks themselves don't cause the next crisis? Hoenig, for one, would only allow banks to engage in traditional activities that are well understood and are based on long-term customer relationships so borrowers and lenders are on the same page: commercial banking, underwriting securities, and asset management services. Banks would be barred from broker-dealer activities, making markets in derivatives or securities, trading securities or derivatives for their own accounts or for customers, and sponsoring hedge funds or private equity funds. The result would be banks that are smaller, simpler, safer. Not only would they be less likely to spark financial crisis because management would know government might let them fail, the cost of failure to taxpayers would be less.

Of course, some will argue that we need large, complex financial institutions and that their very existence is proof of that. Who are the know-it-all breaker-uppers to say we don't? But that size and complexity is itself more a result of crony capitalism than of market forces. It's little wonder, then, that the preponderance of the evidence is that all the supposed benefits from supersized banks and their economies of scale are outweighed by the risks of disaster they generate. Take this 2011 study from the University of Minnesota: "Our calculations indicate that the cost to the economy as a whole due to increased systemic risk is of an order of magnitude larger than the potential benefits due to any economies of scale when banks are allowed to be large. .  .  . This suggests that the link between TBTF banks and financial crises needs to be broken. One way to achieve that is to break the largest banks into much smaller pieces."

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


SPIEGEL Interview with Daniel Kahneman: Debunking the Myth of Intuition : Can doctors and investment advisers be trusted? And do we live more for experiences or memories? In a SPIEGEL interview, Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman discusses the innate weakness of human thought, deceptive memories and the misleading power of intuition. (Der Spiegel, 5/25/12)

SPIEGEL: Professor Kahneman, you've spent your entire professional life studying the snares in which human thought can become entrapped. For example, in your book, you describe how easy it is to increase a person's willingness to contribute money to the coffee fund.

Kahneman: You just have to make sure that the right picture is hanging above the cash box. If a pair of eyes is looking back at them from the wall, people will contribute twice as much as they do when the picture shows flowers. People who feel observed behave more morally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


New TVs have full browsers, new LED backlights, lower prices (Consumer Reports, May 25, 2012)

We keep hearing that this is the year that TV prices will rise. But based on the new 2012 models Consumer Reports has tested, it looks like prices are still falling, especially on step-up models with some key features--including 3D and Internet access.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


On foreign policy, Obama focuses on economic issues, not on Syrian turmoil (Scott Wilson, 6/03/12, Washington Post)

[I]n the furious aftermath of a massacre in Syria that resulted in the deaths of 108 civilians, most of them women and children, Obama has remained quiet. The reticence from a president who has made repairing America's moral leadership in the region a central premise of his administration, and who delivered a speech from the heart of the Arab world three years ago designed to do just that, has disturbed those pressing for stronger international response to the crisis.

"There was a time when this president looked for opportunities to put his imprint on world events," said Jon B. Alterman, the Zbigniew Brzezinski Chair in Global Security and Geostrategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He's doing less and less of that now, and the reason may have to do with the campaign."

...but wasn't the point of the Cairo teleprompt that Mr. Obama would not lead based on what was morally right, the way his Christianist predecessor had?  Silence on Syria is just Realism at its most abhorrent. (Which is why he'll be forced to intercede even if it's bad domestic politics.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Mass transit use jumps amid high gas prices (Steve Hargreaves, June 4, 2012, CNNMoney) 

Mass transit use jumped 5% in the first quarter of 2012, as high gas prices and a rebounding economy put more people on the bus and train.

Over 2.65 billion trips were made using trains, buses, ferries or street cars in the first quarter of 2012, according to the American Public Transportation Association. That's up from 2.5 billion trips in the same period last year.

The increase was one of the largest quarterly jumps on record, and comes on the heels of a 2011 ridership rate that was the second highest since 1957 -- when widespread use of the car and suburbanization began to turn many people away from mass transit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Pain Pills Add Cost and Delays to Job Injuries (BARRY MEIER, 6/03/12, NY Times)

Workers who received high doses of opioid painkillers to treat injuries like back strain stayed out of work three times longer than those with similar injuries who took lower doses, a 2008 study of claims by the California Workers Compensation Institute found. When medical care and disability payments are combined, the cost of a workplace injury is nine times higher when a strong narcotic like OxyContin is used than when a narcotic is not used, according to a 2010 analysis by Accident Fund Holdings, an insurer that operates in 18 states.

"What we see is an association between the greater use of opioids and delayed recovery from workplace injuries," said Alex Swedlow, the head of research at the California Workers Compensation Institute.

The use of narcotics to treat occupational injuries is part of a broader problem involving what many experts say is the excessive use of drugs like OxyContin, Percocet and Duragesic. But workplace injuries are drawing particular interest because the drugs are widely prescribed to treat common problems like back pain, even though there is little evidence that they provide long-term benefits.

Along with causing drowsiness and lethargy, high doses of opioids can lead to addiction, and they can have other serious side effects, including fatal overdoses.

Between 2001 and 2008, narcotics prescriptions as a share of all drugs used to treat workplace injuries jumped 63 percent, according to insurance industry data. Costs have also soared.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Poll: Romney's favorable rating jumps, but Obama still more popular (CNN, 6/03/12)

According to a CNN/ORC International survey released Monday, Romney's favorable rating among Americans has jumped from 34% in February, during the heat of the divisive GOP presidential primaries, to 48% now.

He's making a good first impression.

June 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Why Bill Clinton Works to Undermine Barack Obama (Mark Whittington, 6/03/12, Yahoo! )

Former President Bill Clinton appears to be playing a game that is calculated to embarrass the current president, Barack Obama, whom it is reported he has despised since the 2008 campaign. [...]

The new book about Obama, "The Amateur," was recently excerpted in the New York Post. The excerpt depicts how Clinton, fuming with rage at Obama since 2008, attempted to persuade his wife, Hillary, to challenge Obama this year. The secretary of state demurred, but the account illustrates the lengths to which Clinton would go to exact revenge on the president.

And well he might. It is not just the humiliations Obama visited on Hillary Clinton during the last campaign that has enraged the former president. While the Clinton presidency was entertaining from a tabloid standpoint, it was mostly a successful one, especially when Newt Gingrich became speaker of the House in the 1994 takeover of Congress and thus provided some much-needed adult supervision. Clinton sees the ruin that Obama has caused the country and the Democratic Party, and must wail and gnash his teeth at night.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


Let's (Not) Get Physicals (ELISABETH ROSENTHAL,  June 2, 2012, NY Times)

FOR decades, scientific research has shown that annual physical exams -- and many of the screening tests that routinely accompany them -- are in many ways pointless or (worse) dangerous, because they can lead to unneeded procedures. The last few years have produced a steady stream of new evidence against the utility of popular tests:

Prostate specific antigen blood tests to detect prostate cancer? No longer recommended by the United States Preventive Services Task Force.

Routine EKGs? No use.

Yearly Pap smears? Nope. (Every three years.)

So why do Americans, nearly alone on the planet, remain so devoted to the ritual physical exam and to all of these tests, and why do so many doctors continue to provide them? Indeed, the last decade has seen a boom in what hospitals and health care companies call "executive physicals" -- batteries of screening exams for apparently healthy people, purporting to ferret out hidden disease with the zeal of Homeland Security officers searching for terrorists.

Make folks pay out of pocket and the whole habit will disappear.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Canadian porn actor wanted for murder reportedly spotted in France (Matt Williams in New York and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris, 6/03/12, The Guardian)

Police in France are investigating two claimed sightings of a Canadian porn actor wanted in connection to a gruesome murder in Montreal. [...]

An investigation was launched on Tuesday after officers found a man's torso in a suitcase behind Magnotta's apartment building in Montreal. A severed foot was then discovered in a package posted to the Conservative Party headquarters in Ottawa.

A hand was found in a separate package at a postal facility, addressed to the Liberal party of Canada.

It later emerged that a graphic 10-minute film, apparently of the killing, had been posted on amateur horror sites.

The footage showed a man stabbing a naked victim with an ice-pick, and then performing sexual acts. It also showed the dismemberment of the corpse while the song True Faith by New Order played in the background.

But, then again, who are we to question their lifestyle choices?

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Dreaming of a Superhero (MAUREEN DOWD, 6/02/12, NY Times)

The president who started off with such dazzle now seems incapable of stimulating either the economy or the voters. His campaign is offering Obama 2012 car magnets for a donation of $10; cat collars reading "I Meow for Michelle" for $12; an Obama grill spatula for $40, and discounted hoodies and T-shirts. How the mighty have fallen.

Once glowing, his press is now burning. "To a very real degree, 2008's candidate of hope stands poised to become 2012's candidate of fear," John Heilemann wrote in New York magazine, noting that because Obama feels he can't run on his record, his campaign will resort to nuking Romney.

In his new book, "A Nation of Wusses," the Democrat Ed Rendell, the former governor of Pennsylvania, wonders how "the best communicator in campaign history" lost his touch.

The legendary speaker who drew campaign crowds in the tens of thousands and inspired a dispirited nation ended up nonchalantly delegating to a pork-happy Congress, disdaining the bully pulpit, neglecting to do any L.B.J.-style grunt work with Congress and the American public, and ceding control of his narrative.

As president, Obama has never felt the need to explain or sell his signature pieces of legislation -- the stimulus and health care bills -- or stanch the flow of false information from the other side.

"The administration lost the communications war with disastrous consequences that played out on Election Day 2010," Rendell writes, and Obama never got credit for the two pieces of legislation where he reached for greatness.

The president had lofty dreams of playing the great convener and conciliator. But at a fund-raiser in Minneapolis, he admitted he's just another combatant in a capital full of Hatfields and McCoys. No compromises, just nihilism.

The entirety of what he communicated during his campaign was that he was black and that John McCain wanted to reform Medicare, at least implying that Mr. Obama would not touch it.

Well, we all got to feel good about electing a black president, but, sadly, like most quota hires his lack of qualifications for the job were ignored.  And, as it turned out, the one thing he did as president was to change health care policy at least as much as John McCain ever would have.

So what was the point?  His teleprompter isn't telling.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


New farm bill would end direct payments to farmers (JIM ABRAMS, 6/02/12, Associated Press)

A program that puts billions of dollars in the pockets of farmers whether or not they plant a crop may disappear with hardly a protest from farm groups and the politicians who look out for their interests.

The Senate is expected to begin debate this week on a five-year farm and food aid bill that would save $9.3 billion by ending direct payments to farmers and replacing them with subsidized insurance programs for when the weather turns bad or prices go south.

The details are still to be worked out. But there's rare agreement that fixed annual subsidies of $5 billion a year for farmers are no longer feasible in this age of tight budgets and when farmers in general are enjoying record prosperity. [...]

The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee last month approved a bill that would save $23 billion over the next decade by ending direct payments and consolidating other programs. The bill would strengthen the subsidized crop insurance program and create a program to compensate farmers for smaller, or "shallow," revenue losses, based on a five-year average, for acres actually planted.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Losing faith in Democrats' religious outreach (RACHEL ZOLL, 6/02/12, Associated Press)

In 2008, Barack Obama took aim at the "pew gap," the overwhelming Republican edge among voters who regularly attend church.
The Democratic presidential nominee came nowhere near closing it, but he didn't have to. He just needed an extra percentage point or two among traditional GOP constituents, and he got it.

The Democratic National Committee is promising a repeat performance in 2012. But some religious leaders and scholars who backed Obama in 2008 are skeptical. They say the Democrats have, through neglect and lack of focus, squandered the substantial gains they made with religious moderates and worry it will hurt Obama in a tight race against Republican Mitt Romney. [...]

In 2008, the Obama campaign sought ways to cooperate with religious moderates and conservatives and make them feel more welcome among Democrats. Many political veterans dismissed the idea as quixotic. For the past decade or so, exit polls have found that the more often a voter attends church, the more likely he was to back a conservative candidate, earning the GOP the nickname "God's Own Party."

The Obama campaign built grassroots support among religious voters by organizing "faith house parties," sending Roman Catholic and evangelical surrogates on the campaign trail, and holding faith caucus meetings at the party's national convention. Cooper remembers a conference call the campaign organized with Democrats who opposed abortion rights and a position paper the campaign circulated from a Catholic theologian about reducing the need for abortion.

According to exit polls, the effort paid off. Obama made gains over the 2004 nominee, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, with voters who attend religious services more than once a week, 43 percent to 35 percent. Obama also won 26 percent of the evangelical vote, compared with 21 percent for Kerry.

"It wasn't huge, but it was statistically significant," said John Green, director of the University of Akron's Bliss Institute for Applied Politics. Religious Democrats began to talk of a new era for the party.

Has Support for Gays Cost Obama the Black Vote? Marc Hujer, 6/02/12, Spiegel)

Obama's declaration of support for same-sex marriage has African-American communities up in arms. Many African-Americans live in a culture that values strong masculine figures and looks down on homosexuality. "We've been taught that the institution of slavery 'stripped us' of our manhood, and we have to maintain what's left," African-American writer Charles Stephens wrote for the Huffington Post in March following incidents of anti-gay violence within the African-American community.

And few things have greater influence on African-American sensibilities than churches, which serve as centers of community life for many African-Americans. Twenty-two percent of black Americans attend church services more than once a week -- twice as often as white Americans. Many put their faith in what their pastors say and what is written in the Bible, including the statement that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

Obama did everything possible to minimize the damage he knew his decision would cause. Immediately after his declaration, the president made calls to eight African-American pastors, including Otis Moss Jr., father of Otis Moss III and a colleague of Martin Luther King Jr.

Still, Obama met with fierce criticism, even from those who had previously supported him. Pastor Dwight McKissic from Arlington, Texas, declared, "Obama has betrayed the Bible." Pastor William Owens from Memphis, Tennessee, decried what he described as "the homosexual community hijacking the civil rights movement," adding, "I did not choose to be black, and you did not choose to be white -- and homosexuals make a choice to be homosexual. So why compare what we went through with your situation? It's not the same thing; there's no comparison."

Owens is now threatening to sabotage Obama's re-election, and he and many other ministers are using their Sunday sermons to oppose Obama's support for same-sex marriage. Owens has founded an interest group of 13 African-American pastors in Tennessee to take action against Obama. They're determined to deny Obama their votes if he doesn't recant.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


"Witness" at Sixty (Joseph Wood, 5/26/12, Catholic Thing)

Chambers recalls that he was originally drawn to communism for its two main promises, change and hope: 

The tie that binds [communists] across the frontiers of nations, across barriers of language and differences of class and education, in defiance of religion, morality, truth, law, honor, the weaknesses of the body, and the irresolutions of the mind, even unto death, is a simple conviction: It is necessary to change the world. . . .It is the same power that moves mountains; it is also an unfailing power to move men. It is not new. . . .Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: "Ye shall be as gods." [It is] the vision of Man without God.

He continues: "[Communism] had one ultimate appeal. In place of desperation, it set the word: hope. . . .In the twentieth century, it seemed impossible to have hope on any other terms."

Observing an interwar world that was "without faith, hope, [or] character," Chambers embraced the change and hope offered by communism as a "choice against death and for life." But in subsequent years, he cast off "the whole web of the materialist modern mind. . .paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of [man's soul] for God." He realized that in choosing secular statism and collectivism for ostensibly virtuous and noble reasons, he had chosen the very thing whose essential nihilism made virtue and human dignity impossible.

Chambers argues that a "man is not primarily a witness against something. That is only incidental to the fact that he is a witness for something. A witness, in the sense that I am using the word, is a man whose life and faith are so completely one that when the challenge comes to step out and testify for his faith, he does so, disregarding all risks, accepting all consequences." 

That's one reason he became a powerful witness against all forms of materialism, in favor of God and life, of the nature and value of the human person. He witnessed, not through political participation in the usual channels (though he does vote), but by denouncing the inhuman political system spawned by Marxism and then testifying against an existential threat to the best of what American political institutions once represented. 

When Chambers decided to break from communism, he believed he was joining the losing side. While he shared much of the philosophy of American conservatives, he did not join in their sometimes sunny optimism. His viewed the West as in decline, though he believed strongly in the underlying truths of Western beliefs and ideas. Those truths are ultimately the source and object of his witness, of what made that witness right regardless of the odds against its success.

In the end, although he made both his living and his lasting contributions through writing and editing, his great loves were his faith, his family, and the labor and land of his farm. He maintained a great trust in the American people - most of them - despite his skepticism about what American institutions and elites had become.

...is the Whiggishness of History.  Thus they convince themselves that an essentially Republican president is a gay Muslim Socialist.
Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


The Border Crossers: a review of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 by John Connelly (Peter E. Gordon, May 18, 2012, New Republic)

But among the most radical innovations of doctrine that sprang from Vatican II was the "Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions," typically known by its Latin title Nostra Aetate, or "In Our Age." Included in the declaration was a forthright condemnation of anti-Semitism and a revised official teaching on the Jews. The Church decried "hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone." While it allowed for the historical claim that a portion of the Jews in the time of Christ had called for his death, it warned that the crucifixion could not be blamed on all Jews without distinction and across all time. No longer accursed by God, and absolved of any collective responsibility for the death of Christ, the Jewish people were now embraced as the "stock of Abraham" (stirps Abrahae). Most astonishing of all, the Church also affirmed that "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers" and that "He does not repent of the gifts He makes"--a phrase that seems to allow for the continued validity of Judaism alongside Christianity.

To understand how this transformation came about, an inquiry into pure theology is necessary but not sufficient. The story is too thick with ironies and politics, and it demands a patient and open-minded reconstruction of ideological quarrels that embroiled the Roman Catholic Church during its darkest and most shameful years of compromise. This is a task undertaken with admirable equipoise by John Connelly, a historian of Central and East-Central Europe, in his remarkable new book. It is not a pleasant tale. Connelly resists the temptation of Whiggish self-congratulation that would make Vatican II appear as a foreordained conclusion, driven forward by nothing else than the Church's soul-searching and its turn to the higher light of its own universalist ideals.

The truth is that the Church did not reform itself without struggle. Even today many Church officials still lapse into modes of Christian triumphalism and implicit anti-Judaism that were supposed to have been corrected decades ago. Indeed, it is one of the central lessons of Connelly's book that the bonds of empathy that made Nostra Aetate a historical possibility are far more fragile, and less expansive, than one might care to imagine. The detailed history of its genesis reveals a singular fact: most of the architects of the Catholic statement concerning the Jews in 1965 were themselves, either by descent or practice or public definition, Jews who had converted to Christianity. A handful were Protestants. The drama of this discovery deserves emphasis (the italics are Connelly's): "Without converts the Catholic Church would not have found a new language to speak to the Jews after the Holocaust."

This is indeed a bitter and complicating truth. The history of Nostra Aetate, writes Connelly, may stand as an instructive lesson on both "the sources but also the limits of solidarity." A certain tone of disillusionment pervades the book--as if the historian could not wholly abandon the ahistorical (and perhaps religious) expectation that the Church should have lived up to its own ideals. "Christians are called upon to love all humans regardless of national or ethnic background," Connelly avers, "but when it came to the Jews, it was the Christians whose family members were Jews who keenly felt the contempt contained in traditional Catholic teaching."

...why Judaism has not similarly been capable of overcoming its contempt for Christianity.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Squeezing out the doctor : The role of physicians at the centre of health care is under pressure (The Economist, Jun 2nd 2012)

Less flashy technology, though, could make the biggest difference by reducing the number of crises which require a doctor's intervention. Marta Pettit works on a programme to manage chronic conditions that is run from Montefiore Medical Centre, the largest hospital system in the Bronx, a New York borough. Ms Pettit and a squadron of other "care co-ordinators" examine a stream of data gathered from health records and devices in patients' homes, such as the Health Buddy. Made by Bosch, a German engineering company, the Health Buddy asks patients questions about their symptoms each day. If a diabetic's blood sugar jumps, or a patient with congestive heart failure shows a sudden weight gain, Ms Pettit calls the patient and, if necessary, alerts her superior, a nurse.

Other tasks are simpler, but no less important. Montefiore noticed that one old woman was not seeing her doctor because she was scared of crossing the Grand Concourse, a busy road in the Bronx. So Montefiore found a new doctor on her side of the Concourse. Together, such measures make a difference. Diabetics' trips to hospital plunged by 30% between 2006 and 2010; their costs dropped by 12%. [...]

America has led the world in developing the roles of nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Other, less trained workers are proliferating there too. The number of "diagnostic medical sonographers", who have two years of training, is expected to jump by 44% between 2010 and 2020, according to the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Yet productivity still falls. This seems to be because new ways of doing things, and of managing health teams, have not kept pace--and are still under the control of doctors.

The doctors' power rests on their professional prestige rather than managerial acumen, for which they are neither selected nor trained. But it is a power that they wish to keep. The Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania, a regional group of doctors' lobbies, wants "task-shifting" limited to emergencies. Japan's medical lobby has vehemently opposed the creation of nurse practitioners. India's proposal for a rural cadre outraged the country's medical establishment, and legislation to create the three-and-a-half-year degree has gone nowhere.

In 2010 America's respected Institute of Medicine (IOM) called for nurses to play a greater role in primary care. Among other barriers, nurses face wildly different constraints from one state to another. But any change will first require swaying the doctors. The American Medical Association, the main doctors' lobby, greeted the IOM's report with a veiled snarl. "Nurses are critical to the health-care team, but there is no substitute for education and training," the group said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Herbert Hoover's Despairing Verve: The former president's magnum opus on World War II is a revisionist's delight : a review of Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover's Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath, edited by George H. Nash  (WILL MORRISEY, 16 May 2012, City Journal)

Boiled down to its essentials, Hoover's argument justifies not American isolationism, but hemispheric defense in preparation for a well-timed diplomatic, economic, and military entry into a world compelled to listen to what America has to say. The strategy reprises some of President Woodrow Wilson's strategy in his first administration: staying out of the European war; allowing the combatants to become exhausted; then working toward a (now-feasible) League to Enforce Peace composed of republican regimes. Immanuel Kant's famous 1795 essay, "Perpetual Peace," formulated a similar approach. Unlike some of the America Firsters, Hoover contemplated a considerable expansion of American influence in the world--but not at the price of a world-warring prelude.

Could Hoover's vision have worked in practice? Like the American and French revolutions before them, the Soviet and Nazi revolutions led to military expansion--but this time in the same quarter-century and on the same continent. Thus "Fascism and Communism were bound to clash and produce a world explosion." Because the ideas animating both revolutionary regimes were evil, "and evil ideas contain the germs of their own defeat," as Hoover saw it, "the day will come when these nations are sufficiently exhausted to listen to the military, economic and moral powers of the United States." Americans should stay out of the war while arming ourselves "to the teeth," ready to defend the Western Hemisphere in the unlikely event that a clear victor emerged in Europe. The underlying moral principle of Hoover's policy was that "American lives should be sacrificed only for independence or to prevent the invasion of the Western Hemisphere." He believed that "to align American ideals alongside Stalin will be as great a violation of everything American as to align ourselves with Hitler," and that "the aftermath of the war would be revolution and world-wide extension of communism, not democracy."

All American intervention did was enable the USSR to move West after we defeated the Nazis. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Interpreting Shari'a : Sadakat Kadri on Muslim and Western ignorance of what Shari'a law really means--and the real concerns that should be targeted. (Mishal Husain, 5/01/12, Guernica)

Mishal Husain: 

I'd like to address the central issue that many people in this room, and many people generally have with the Shari'a, which is the sense of disquiet, distaste, maybe even disgust at what they hear about Shari'a in parts of the Muslim world and the suggestion that it is already being used in this country--and some people would like to see it used more in this country--and the unsettling effect that that has on many in mainstream society here; I mean, is this a system that has merit?

Sadakat Kadri: 

Well, I mean, there's crucial distinction that has to be drawn between the Shari'a, which is this hugely expansive vision of cosmic order that I've been describing, and principles of Islamic law, known in Arabic as "Fiqh"--a word that means understanding. If you're a devout Muslim, you don't argue against the Shari'a; the Shari'a is the path that God has laid down. But what you can do, and what people are doing all the time, is arguing over the correct interpretation of the Shari'a, arguing over the Fiqh. That's something that has been going on throughout Islamic history. The first rules about Islamic law weren't even written down for a century and a half after the Prophet's death, and it was another five centuries, half a millennium, before they assumed anything like a definitive form. So there have always been huge arguments over what Islamic law actually requires. There are four main schools of law in Sunni thought and there's a separate school of law in Shia thought, so these arguments do take place. But I guess we can boil it down saying that people have disquiet about things like chopping the hands of thieves off, which is laid down in the Qur'an, there's no denying that. Stoning adulterers to death--that's not, interestingly enough, laid down in the Qur'an--the penalty laid down in the Qur'an is one hundred lashes, but it was subsequently developed as a rule by jurists in years after the death of the Prophet that actually the Qur'an, while none of them would have said the Qur'an was wrong on that point, would have said, well, the fact that there's no revelation doesn't mean that you shouldn't stone adulterers to death.

In parentheses on that point, even though the Qur'an among non-Muslims has this reputation for being a violent book in the context of criminal justice, if one actually looks at the criminal justice provisions, there are only four criminal offenses laid down in the entire Qur'an. Apostasy isn't made punishable, blasphemy isn't made punishable. There are four criminal offenses, there is no mandatory death penalty in the Qur'an. The death penalty is referred to twice in the Qur'an, once for the crime of Heraba, which is waging war against God and his prophet, which was always understood to mean highway robbery, and then there's the replication of the Torah rule, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life, which is dependent upon the wishes of a victim. Now that's a seventh-century rule. A basic point, which I deal with in my book, is that we're talking about a seventh-century system of justice here, and clearly I'm a human rights person. I've defended plenty of thieves in my time and I'm not going to suddenly start saying that we should start chopping thieves' hands off. I think that these rules have to be updated to take into account the fact that 1,400 years have elapsed since the revelation.

Mishal Husain: 

That's a very controversial point.

Sadakat Kadri: 

It is a controversial point.

Mishal Husain: 

The idea of updating is actually something that's never happened with the body of Islamic law and with Islamic teaching over the centuries.

Sadakat Kadri: 

Well, that's not strictly true. As far back as the ninth century you had a group called the Mu'tazilite who, I won't get into the big theological discussions, but basically there was a big argument in the ninth century in Baghdad about whether or not the Qur'an had always existed or whether it was created by God. And the argument was set off by esoteric arguments which had themselves been set off by the reception of Greek philosophy in Persia and Aristotelian ideas about the primary attributes of God and secondary attributes of God. The Mu'tazilite basically said, look, if you're a monotheist, you have to believe that God existed independent of himself before the Qur'an, so the Qur'an was clearly created. And there were traditionalist opponents of them who said, no, no, that's not right, look at the words of the Qur'an, the Qur'an says that it's an eternal book, so it's always been there.

Now that does sound like a really esoteric argument, but basically it's got crucial significance, because if the Qur'an was created, it means that it was given voice to by God at a specific moment in history, and if that was the case, then it's meaning will change over time. And that argument was battled over in the ninth century. Sunni Islam doesn't take the Mu'tazilite view. Sunni Islam is hostile to that idea, admittedly, that the Qur'an's meaning can change over time. But the Shia have always adopted the Mu'tazilite view that the Qur'an's meaning can change over time and that's why Shia Islam is significantly more flexible than Sunni.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Daddy, What Were Compact Discs? (SAM GROBART, 5/31/12, NY Times)

ONE day, when my children are a little older, I will gather them close and I will tell them about how I lived through the Great Format Wars.

I will recount to them a seemingly endless cycle of battles. From LP to cassette to minidisk (oh wait -- not to minidisk) to CD. From Betamax to VHS to DVD to HD-DVD to Blu-ray. From punchcards to magnetic tape to floppy disks to zip drives to DVD-ROMs.

Some were dirty little skirmishes, like the Eight-Track Incursion of the late 1960s. But, oh, there are epic tales to be told as well: How my children's hearts will leap and dive (assuming they are not the kind to be bored to distraction by what Dad is droning on about) as they hear about VHS and Betamax, each bringing the other ever closer to oblivion, and how only one of them left the battlefield -- only to fall victim to a far nimbler opponent, DVD, which was waiting in the wings.

And my children will hear of this and be amazed (see assumption above), for they know nothing of this kind of conflict. They will grow up in a world where physical storage of information is as outdated as rotary-dial telephones and mimeograph machines are now.

Indeed, they already live in that world, even if vestiges of the old remain (turntables, for example). We older people can enjoy this new world as well, what with streaming music and video services, cloud-based storage options and social networks that easily absorb our photos and ephemera. We may be hardened by battles past, but our future is digital, wireless, ubiquitous and, we hope, pacific. Here's what it looks like.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Jack Twyman, N.B.A. Star Known for Off-Court Assist, Dies at 78 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, 6/01/12, NY Times)

On March 12, 1958, the Royals were playing their season finale, against the Minneapolis Lakers. Stokes went over the shoulder of an opponent and hit his head on the floor so hard that he was knocked out. In those days, teams had no trainers, much less doctors, and scant knowledge of head injuries. He continued to play.

Three days later, Stokes, who was 24, went into a coma. When he came out of it, he could not move or talk. The diagnosis was brain damage. Stokes, whose family lived in Pittsburgh, had to stay in Cincinnati to be eligible for workers' compensation.

"Maurice was on his own," Twyman told The New York Post in 2008. "Something had to be done and someone had to do it. I was the only one there, so I became that someone."

Twyman always insisted that any teammate would have done the same. Others saw something special. On the occasion of Stokes's death in 1970, the sports columnist Arthur Daley of The New York Times wrote that he saw "nobility and grandeur" in Twyman's actions, likening him to the biblical good Samaritan.

"What gives it a quality of extra warmth," he wrote, "is the pigmentation of the two principals." Stokes was black, Twyman white.

John Kennedy Twyman, the son of a steel company foreman, was born in Pittsburgh on May 21, 1934, and grew up playing against Stokes in summer leagues. Twyman went to the University of Cincinnati and Stokes to St. Francis College (now University) in Loretto, Pa. Their teams met in the semifinals of the 1954 National Invitation Tournament, and Twyman outscored Stokes, 27-26.

"I never let him forget about that," Twyman told The Post.

Both were genuine stars. Stokes, at 6 feet 7 inches and 232 pounds, was the N.B.A. rookie of the year in 1956. The next year he set a league rebounding record, and he became a three-time All-Star. The Boston Celtics star Bob Cousy called him "the first great, athletic power forward."

Twyman was a skinny 6-6 forward who in 11 seasons with the Royals (now the Sacramento Kings) was a six-time All-Star.

He shot 45 percent over his career, and when he retired in 1966 he trailed only Chamberlain in points scored, with 15,840. In their record-setting season of averaging more than 30 points a game, Chamberlain edged Twyman, 32.1 to 31.2. Twyman's 59-point game came with the Royals against the Minneapolis Lakers on Jan. 15, 1960.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Russian Church Is a Strong Voice Opposing Intervention in Syria (ELLEN BARRY, 5/31/12, NY Times)

As the West sought to pressure the Kremlin recently to help stop the killing in Syria, diplomats from Damascus were ushered into the heart of one of Russian Orthodoxy's main shrines.

Opening an exhibition devoted to Syrian Christianity in a cathedral near the Kremlin, they commiserated with Russian priests and theologians about their shared anxiety: What would happen if Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, was forced from power?

It is clear by now that Russia's government has dug in against outside intervention in Syria, its longtime partner and last firm foothold in the Middle East. Less well known is the position taken by the Russian Orthodox Church, which fears that Christian minorities, many of them Orthodox, will be swept away by a wave of Islamic fundamentalism unleashed by the Arab Spring.
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June 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Breaking News: Socrates Tried Again in Athens and Acquitted! (OPen Culture, 5/29/12)

Last Friday the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens gave Socrates a new trial, assembling a panel of distinguished jurists from Europe and America to reopen the case. As the Onassis Centre's Web site explains, the event was "not a re-enactment but a modern perspective based on current legal framework supplemented with ancient Greek elements and comical theatrics." This time the verdict was different-but just barely. The vote by the jury was a 5-5 tie, which meant Socrates was acquitted.

...he was guilty.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Wisconsin Union Membership Plunges After Labor Law (ROLAND LI, June 1, 2012, IB Times)

A key reason membership dropped was because the labor law, championed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, forbids automatic collection of union dues. Instead, workers must voluntarily say that they want to continue paying dues to remain union members.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran (DAVID E. SANGER, 6/01/12, NY Times)

The impetus for Olympic Games dates from 2006, when President George W. Bush saw few good options in dealing with Iran. At the time, America's European allies were divided about the cost that imposing sanctions on Iran would have on their own economies. Having falsely accused Saddam Hussein of reconstituting his nuclear program in Iraq, Mr. Bush had little credibility in publicly discussing another nation's nuclear ambitions. The Iranians seemed to sense his vulnerability, and, frustrated by negotiations, they resumed enriching uranium at an underground site at Natanz, one whose existence had been exposed just three years before.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took reporters on a tour of the plant and described grand ambitions to install upward of 50,000 centrifuges. For a country with only one nuclear power reactor -- whose fuel comes from Russia -- to say that it needed fuel for its civilian nuclear program seemed dubious to Bush administration officials. They feared that the fuel could be used in another way besides providing power: to create a stockpile that could later be enriched to bomb-grade material if the Iranians made a political decision to do so.

Hawks in the Bush administration like Vice President Dick Cheney urged Mr. Bush to consider a military strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities before they could produce fuel suitable for a weapon. Several times, the administration reviewed military options and concluded that they would only further inflame a region already at war, and would have uncertain results.

For years the C.I.A. had introduced faulty parts and designs into Iran's systems -- even tinkering with imported power supplies so that they would blow up -- but the sabotage had had relatively little effect. General James E. Cartwright, who had established a small cyberoperation inside the United States Strategic Command, which is responsible for many of America's nuclear forces, joined intelligence officials in presenting a radical new idea to Mr. Bush and his national security team. It involved a far more sophisticated cyberweapon than the United States had designed before.

The goal was to gain access to the Natanz plant's industrial computer controls. That required leaping the electronic moat that cut the Natanz plant off from the Internet -- called the air gap, because it physically separates the facility from the outside world. The computer code would invade the specialized computers that command the centrifuges.

The first stage in the effort was to develop a bit of computer code called a beacon that could be inserted into the computers, which were made by the German company Siemens and an Iranian manufacturer, to map their operations. The idea was to draw the equivalent of an electrical blueprint of the Natanz plant, to understand how the computers control the giant silvery centrifuges that spin at tremendous speeds. The connections were complex, and unless every circuit was understood, efforts to seize control of the centrifuges could fail.

Eventually the beacon would have to "phone home" -- literally send a message back to the headquarters of the National Security Agency that would describe the structure and daily rhythms of the enrichment plant. Expectations for the plan were low; one participant said the goal was simply to "throw a little sand in the gears" and buy some time. Mr. Bush was skeptical, but lacking other options, he authorized the effort.

Breakthrough, Aided by Israel

It took months for the beacons to do their work and report home, complete with maps of the electronic directories of the controllers and what amounted to blueprints of how they were connected to the centrifuges deep underground.

Then the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex computer worm that would become the attacker from within.

The unusually tight collaboration with Israel was driven by two imperatives. Israel's Unit 8200, a part of its military, had technical expertise that rivaled the N.S.A.'s, and the Israelis had deep intelligence about operations at Natanz that would be vital to making the cyberattack a success. But American officials had another interest, to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own pre-emptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities. To do that, the Israelis would have to be convinced that the new line of attack was working. The only way to convince them, several officials said in interviews, was to have them deeply involved in every aspect of the program.

Soon the two countries had developed a complex worm that the Americans called "the bug." But the bug needed to be tested. So, under enormous secrecy, the United States began building replicas of Iran's P-1 centrifuges, an aging, unreliable design that Iran purchased from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear chief who had begun selling fuel-making technology on the black market. Fortunately for the United States, it already owned some P-1s, thanks to the Libyan dictator, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

When Colonel Qaddafi gave up his nuclear weapons program in 2003, he turned over the centrifuges he had bought from the Pakistani nuclear ring, and they were placed in storage at a weapons laboratory in Tennessee. The military and intelligence officials overseeing Olympic Games borrowed some for what they termed "destructive testing," essentially building a virtual replica of Natanz, but spreading the test over several of the Energy Department's national laboratories to keep even the most trusted nuclear workers from figuring out what was afoot.

Those first small-scale tests were surprisingly successful: the bug invaded the computers, lurking for days or weeks, before sending instructions to speed them up or slow them down so suddenly that their delicate parts, spinning at supersonic speeds, self-destructed. After several false starts, it worked. One day, toward the end of Mr. Bush's term, the rubble of a centrifuge was spread out on the conference table in the Situation Room, proof of the potential power of a cyberweapon. The worm was declared ready to test against the real target: Iran's underground enrichment plant.

"Previous cyberattacks had effects limited to other computers," Michael V. Hayden, the former chief of the C.I.A., said, declining to describe what he knew of these attacks when he was in office. "This is the first attack of a major nature in which a cyberattack was used to effect physical destruction," rather than just slow another computer, or hack into it to steal data.

"Somebody crossed the Rubicon," he said.

Getting the worm into Natanz, however, was no easy trick. The United States and Israel would have to rely on engineers, maintenance workers and others -- both spies and unwitting accomplices -- with physical access to the plant. "That was our holy grail," one of the architects of the plan said. "It turns out there is always an idiot around who doesn't think much about the thumb drive in their hand."

In fact, thumb drives turned out to be critical in spreading the first variants of the computer worm; later, more sophisticated methods were developed to deliver the malicious code.

The first attacks were small, and when the centrifuges began spinning out of control in 2008, the Iranians were mystified about the cause, according to intercepts that the United States later picked up. "The thinking was that the Iranians would blame bad parts, or bad engineering, or just incompetence," one of the architects of the early attack said.

The Iranians were confused partly because no two attacks were exactly alike. Moreover, the code would lurk inside the plant for weeks, recording normal operations; when it attacked, it sent signals to the Natanz control room indicating that everything downstairs was operating normally. "This may have been the most brilliant part of the code," one American official said.

Later, word circulated through the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, that the Iranians had grown so distrustful of their own instruments that they had assigned people to sit in the plant and radio back what they saw.

"The intent was that the failures should make them feel they were stupid, which is what happened," the participant in the attacks said. When a few centrifuges failed, the Iranians would close down whole "stands" that linked 164 machines, looking for signs of sabotage in all of them. "They overreacted," one official said. "We soon discovered they fired people."

Imagery recovered by nuclear inspectors from cameras at Natanz -- which the nuclear agency uses to keep track of what happens between visits -- showed the results. There was some evidence of wreckage, but it was clear that the Iranians had also carted away centrifuges that had previously appeared to be working well.

But by the time Mr. Bush left office, no wholesale destruction had been accomplished. Meeting with Mr. Obama in the White House days before his inauguration, Mr. Bush urged him to preserve two classified programs, Olympic Games and the drone program in Pakistan. Mr. Obama took Mr. Bush's advice.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Americans Have No Idea How Few Gay People There Are (Garance Franke-Ruta, 6/01/12, The Atlantic)

In surveys conducted in 2002 and 2011, pollsters at Gallup found that members of the American public massively overestimated how many people are gay or lesbian. In 2002, a quarter of those surveyed guessed upwards of a quarter of Americans were gay or lesbian (or "homosexual," the third option given). By 2011, that misperception had only grown, with more than a third of those surveyed now guessing that more than 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian. Women and young adults were most likely to provide high estimates, approximating that 30 percent of the population is gay. Overall, "U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian," Gallup found. Only 4 percent of all those surveyed in 2011 and about 8 percent of those surveyed in 2002 correctly guessed that fewer than 5 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian. [...]

In recent years, as homosexuality has become less stigmatized, pro-gay rights groups have come around to acknowledging that a smaller percent of people identify themselves as gay than some of the early gay rights rhetoric claimed, based on Alfred Kinsey's 1948 report, "Sexuality in the Human Male." His survey research on non-random populations in the immediate post-World War II period concluded that 10 percent of men "were predominantly homosexual between the ages of 16 and 55" and that 37 percent had had at least one homosexual experience in their lives, but did not get into questions of identity per se.

Contemporary research in a less homophobic environment has counterintuitively resulted in lower estimates rather than higher ones. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a gay and lesbian think tank, released a study in April 2011 estimating based on its research that just 1.7 percent of Americans between 18 and 44 identify as gay or lesbian, while another 1.8 percent -- predominantly women -- identify as bisexual. Far from underestimating the ranks of gay people because of homophobia, these figures included a substantial number of people who remained deeply closeted, such as a quarter of the bisexuals. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of women between 22 and 44 that questioned more than 13,500 respondents between 2006 and 2008 found very similar numbers: Only 1 percent of the women identified themselves as gay, while 4 percent identified as bisexual.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Kashmir militants give up fight and head home (Zulfiqar Ali, 6/02/12, BBC)

Twenty years after they took up arms to fight Indian rule in the Kashmir valley, hundreds of local insurgents are now returning to their homes after renouncing militancy.

The reasons are diminishing support from the Pakistani government, a realisation that the "Kashmir jihad" is going nowhere and a promise of amnesty by the Indian government.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


The Survivor (Alex Altman Monday, June 11, 2012, TIME)

It's hard to see any of this from Madison, where the anti-Walker hostility is as high as it was 15 months ago, when he muscled a bill through the legislature that increased public employees' obligations toward their pensions and health care costs and stripped them of virtually all their negotiating rights. For weeks, protesters flooded the frozen capitol square, marching laps around the statehouse in the falling snow and huddling on the marble floors of the rotunda. As soon as Wisconsin law permitted, they organized a recall drive that netted nearly 1 million signatures. Every weekday since the bill was signed, opponents have gathered at the capitol at high noon for an hour-long protest. "No matter what happens, this doesn't end here," says Chris Reeder, 41.

But while the activists chanted, the governor went to work. He raked in a record $31 million to defend his seat, most of which came from out-of-state donors. Republicans poured that cash into a robust ground game, blanketing the airwaves with ads and making more than 2.5 million phone calls to energize supporters. "They can protest," Wisconsin GOP spokesman Ben Sparks says of Walker's opponents. "They've got us beat on that. But that's about all they've got us beat on."

By charging straight at his critics, Wisconsin may actually be moving closer to the Republican column. Having assembled a seamless campaign to defend their imperiled star, party elders hope that his survival could foreshadow Romney's ability to ride a similar coalition of fiscal conservatives, Tea Partyers and heavyweight donors to an upset in the state in November. While Republicans haven't won Wisconsin on the presidential level since 1984, George W. Bush nearly pulled off the feat twice, and Romney is only a step or two behind Barack Obama in recent polls.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Social Security is not going broke (David Cay Johnston, MAY 4, 2012, Reuters)

Which federal program took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty?

Why, Social Security, of course, which ended 2011 with a $2.7 trillion surplus.

That surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Iran building new space center to launch satellites (AP, 6/02/12)

Iran's defense minister says construction is being completed on a new space center from where domestically made satellites will be launched into orbit.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Romney could pick VP early, and cash in often (Steve Holland,  Jun 1, 2012, Reuters)

Outside advisers to the Romney campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say he has the option of announcing his choice well before the Republican convention where Romney will be nominated, in Tampa in late August.

The tradition is to announce the No. 2 around the time of the convention to inspire grassroots activists and seek maximum publicity for the final two-month push to the November 6 election.

But in this case, the Romney team has discussed whether to announce the pick a few weeks earlier to generate buzz for his campaign during August and help raise campaign funds.

It is far from clear, according to the outside advisers, on whether this route will be taken. But many Republicans see an advantage in going early.

"You double your ability to campaign, you double your ability to raise money," said one Republican official. "You get a longer media halo," said another.

Romney's list is a closely guarded secret, but speculation has centered on a host of Republican leaders including Ohio Senator Rob Portman, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

...is that, thanks to BDS, he's been pre-vetted as thoroughly as a nominee can be.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Violent Arab ghetto shows Israel's seamy underside (Jihan Abdalla, May 30, 2012, Reuters)

Out of a total population of 7.8 million in Israel, 1.6 million - 20 percent - are Arabs. Many live in Nazareth and Arab villages located mostly in the north of Israel and in so-called mixed cities such Acre, Lod, Ramle, Haifa and Jaffa.

Most are descendants of Palestinians who stayed on after the 1948 war to establish Israel in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven out. Many Arabs feel kinship with Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Jewish rightwingers say many Arabs are disloyal to the state.

Most Arabs are exempt from service in Israel's conscript military forces, which is compulsory for Jews, and they are barely integrated into the local economy.

The government estimates that just over 50 percent of Arab families live under the poverty line.

Truly mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhoods are increasingly hard to find as Jews, often with government support, move out to more affluent neighborhoods, creating Arab ghettoes and exacerbating the feeling among Arabs that they are second-class citizens.

Dor Shaulov, a project manager at City Without Violence, a government-funded initiative aimed at reducing violence in urban areas, said Arabs tend to be in favor of mixed communities while Jews preferred to stay separate.

"When Arabs start to move in a Jewish neighborhood, the Jews start to move out," Shaulov said.

Residents in the Arab areas complain of inferior municipal services, higher unemployment rates, crowded neighborhoods, inferior health care and unfair allocation of resources in the education system and housing.

"Since 1948, there has not been one governmental housing plan in the Arab neighborhoods of Lod ... even though there have been hundreds of plans for Jews," said Faten Zinati, a municipal government employee who works in Lod.

As a result, she explains, Arabs have been forced to build homes without permits, many of which have been demolished, and the rest are under threat of demolition.

The result is that today, "the Arab neighborhoods are neglected, dirty and disordered," she said.

We Brothers grew up in a town like Lod, but we could get out because of our ethnicity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


America's jobs crisis (Felix Salmon JUNE 1, 2012, Reuters)

Corporate profits now account for significantly more than 10% of GDP: that's never happened before.

To spell this out: high corporate profits and low levels of job growth are two sides of the same coin. If things were working properly right now, companies would take their excess revenues and use them to hire more people. Instead, they're basically just letting those excess revenues sit on their balance sheets as cash because they're scared to invest in themselves. It's frankly pathetic.

...those who think the point of a business venture is to make money and those who believe it is to make jobs.  Right now, the latter are pleading for us to find a way to make business less productive and efficient in order to achieve their goal.

June 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


via Ed Driscoll
Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Jeb Bush, Grilled on Capitol Hill, Differs from Party on No-Tax Pledge (Shushannah Walshe, 6/01/12, ABC News)

Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the ranking Democrat on the committee, asked Bush if he agreed with Norquist's pledge and he answered, "No."

"I ran for office three times," Bush said. "The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge. I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don't believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people. I respect Grover's political involvement. He has it every right to do it, but I never signed any pledge."

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Africa: A Tale of Two Presidents (National Black Chamber of Commerce)

Here is a review of President Bush's involvement in Africa by the Africa Growth Initiative:

"Bush's most important initiatives focused on alleviating major heath challenges facing the African people. In 2003, President Bush launched the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which was then the largest single effort by any nation targeting a specific disease. The program sought to establish and scale up HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs. According to the PEPFAR program website, "during its first phase, PEPFAR supported the provision of treatment to more than two million people, care to more than 10 million people, including more than four million orphans and vulnerable children, and prevention of mother-to-child treatment services." Under President Bush, this program was criticized for its emphasis on abstinence based prevention, but on the whole this initiative was an unprecedented attack against the AIDS pandemic. 

Bush then targeted another deadly disease with the launch of the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2005. The PMI had the initial goal of reducing malaria-related deaths by 50 percent in 15 focus countries. Malaria places a huge burden on Africans--causing millions of adult deaths every year and significant reductions in productivity. Results on the PMI website show that the program has major effect in reducing prevalence of malaria, child mortality and related deaths. 

The Bush administration's African foreign policy did not stop with health initiatives. Bush led the push for the G-8 nations to demand the multi-lateral debt relief initiative (MDRI), which encouraged the IMF, World Bank and the U.S. to reduce the debt burden of highly indebted poor countries. According to the African Development Bank, as of 2009 the MDRI relieved debt for 21 African countries. In 2004, Bush also successfully passed reforms that converted poor country debt into grants. Additionally, Bush tackled security issues. The president was one of the first world leaders to label the conflict in South Sudan genocide. Although, Bush received criticism for not recognizing the indictment of Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court, he did put in place sanctions on oil coming from the Republic of Sudan in order to pressure a peace deal. These sanctions currently remain in place. Bush was also determined to create an Africa-based central command for U.S. forces. However, he did not win the support of African leaders to base the command, now called Africom, on the continent, with the base now resting in Germany. Africom, however, is now an implementing partner for the Department of Defense and PEPFAR, supporting training and testing throughout Africa. 
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Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Scott Walker's Last Stand? Democrats Lose Momentum In Wisconsin: The left has seemed more comfortable being angry than channeling that emotion into influence (Sally Kohn, 6/01/12, Daily Beast)

When Scott Walker, freshly elected as governor, dropped his bombshell proposal to revoke the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin's public employees, protest erupted. Kim Cosier was right in the middle of it all. "It was exhilarating," says the University of Wisconsin assistant professor of arts education. "We were in the center of the Capitol when the firefighters marched in. I felt more American than I've ever felt, standing there, singing the national anthem, like we were finally participating in our own government."

But just days before Tuesday's vote, when Wisconsinites will have their chance to boot Walker for good, Cosier is in her office grading papers and preparing for classes.  Is she simply too busy now?

"I was busy then, too," she says, "but I found a way to be involved."

Derangement fades away.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM