July 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


A Crass and Consequential Error : a review of Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue  (Roger Cohen, 8/16/12, NY Review of Books)

[E]ven his wavering US-backed nemesis, Muhammad Reza Shah, called him "our Demosthenes." An ascetic with an extravagant sense of mission, a lawyerly man who lived by Voltaire's "I may disagree with what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it," Mossadegh was, as Christopher de Bellaigue puts it in Patriot of Persia, "a cussed contrarian." Just what he amounted to in his brilliant prickliness, and how his quixotic defiance mirrored the Iranian psyche, remain important questions seven decades after the United States ousted this European-educated constitutionalist and declared its preference for Middle Eastern strongmen. Mossadeghism failed. Iran never found a stable reconciliation of patriotism, democracy, and faith. Its persecution complex, fostered by British contempt and cemented by an Anglo-American coup in 1953, endured. Just as ownership of oil once was the vehicle of Iranian nationalist ambition, so the vexed nuclear program is today under the mullahs who exploited the blowback from 1953.

Such persistent failure and confrontation raise a question: Could it have been otherwise with Iran? An elegiac tone runs through de Bellaigue's rich portrait of Mossadegh. He quotes the ousted prime minister, after the coup, saying, "If I am murdered, it will be more useful for the country and the people than if I stay alive"--and notes that even Mossadegh's "thoughts of death were quintessentially Persian." Martyrdom is a persistent theme in a Shia nation that teems for a month every year with flagellants mourning the Imam Hussein, the Prophet's grandson, slaughtered by the caliph in 680 but recalled with all the ardor of a recent passion. In fact Mossadegh survived for fourteen years in the Shah's nascent police state, first as a nonperson in prison and then confined to his country estate at Ahmadabad. He died at eighty-four, long after the many contemporaries who had fretted over his frailty.

De Bellaigue allows himself to speculate on what might have been:

Mossadegh's Iran would have tilted to the West in foreign affairs, bound by oil to the free world and by wary friendship to the US, but remaining polite to the big neighbor to the north. In home affairs, it would have been democratic to a degree unthinkable in any Middle Eastern country of the time except Israel--a constitutional monarchy in a world of dictatorships, dependencies and uniformed neo-democracies.

If the Wilsonian acquiesence to colonialism after WWI was generally a disaster, this was a specific Realist catastrophe.
Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Poll shows most Americans favor Medicaid expansion (David Morgan, Jul 31, 2012, Reuters) 

In a survey released on Tuesday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, 67 percent of respondents gave a favorable view of President Barack Obama's healthcare reform provision to "expand the existing Medicaid program to cover more low‐income, uninsured adults."

Support for the idea, which would expand coverage to as many as 16 million uninsured Americans, broke sharply along partisan lines. Nearly nine out of 10 survey participants who said they were Democrats and two-thirds of independents backed the expansion. Six out of 10 Republican participants said they opposed it.

Half the folks in polls who think Obamacare should be repealed believe it should be replaced by a more nationalized system.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Here Is The Best Longread I've Seen On Milton Friedman's Legacy (/Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 7/31/12, Forbes)

My friend and the best French econoblogger Alexandre Delaigue wrote this about Milton Friedman after his death. On his 100th birthday, I am translating and reposting it here, with permission. It's the best, most fair-minded evaluation I've seen of his legacy for a popular audience. [...]

So what is it that Friedman brought to the world? In the 1950s, the consensus of economists was to build a synthesis between Keynesianism and neoclassical economics. The idea was that fiscal action and the arbitrage between inflation and unemployment allowed a perfect regulation of the business cycle.

Friedman made two devastating critiques of this consensus. The first was his study of what actually caused the Great Depression in the 1930s. He showed that the real problem was not a lack of overall demand (which fiscal policy could straighten out), but the actions of the Federal reserve which, responding to a normal shock (a stock market crash) led an extremely restrictive monetary policy which led to the devastation of the banking system. This move was imitated in most countries, exacerbating the recession everywhere. Backing his insight with data, Friedman changed the entire perspective on the causes of depressions: they happened because central banks couldn't usefully adjust the money supply. The solution, according to Friedman, was to make sure that, whatever happens, the money supply increases progressively.

If the prescription is disregarded nowadays, the basic principle remains: fundamentally, what causes a recession is too little money chasing too many assets. Therefore, in a recession, the central bank must increase the money supply. It may seem abstract when you put it like that (Krugman's example of the baby-sitting coop can help, here) but it's one of the most important ideas of the 20th century.

Why did the Crash of 1987, which was steeper than that of 1929, not cause a global recession? It's because in the meantime, we had Milton Friedman. Unlike in the 1930s, the Fed massively injected money into the US economy.

Friedman's second critique of the 1950s Keynesian consensus was his forecast that using the Philips curve to regulate economic activity (if there's too much unemployment, there needs to be a little more inflation, and vice versa) would lead to an increase in inflation, since the inflation you needed to "buy" a drop in unemployment would increase continuously. The Stagflation of the 1970s eventually proved him right, and the success of the disinflation policies pursued after him was directly inspired by his work.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Cigna must refund $2.3 million to Vermont customers (Alan Panebaker, June 21, 2012, VT Digger)

Cigna, a major health insurer of large businesses in Vermont, is on the hook for more than $2 million that it must return to its customers in the state under a provision of the federal health care law.

According to numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 4,636 Vermonters will receive a rebate -- averaging out to $807 per family.

The rebate is required under a section of the federal Affordable Care Act which requires insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent (or 85 percent in the large group market which is generally insurance through large employers) on medical care.

If insurance companies do not meet this requirement, they have to refund the portion of the premium that exceeded the 20 or 15 percent limit on things like administrative expenses.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Confucius Says.... (John Keane, 7/30/12, The Conversation)

Are there plausible substitutes for the old ruling ideology?

Such questions occupy the heart of a recent New York Times op-ed piece by Jiang Qing (founder of the Yangming Confucian Academy in Guiyang) and Daniel A. Bell (a prominent Canadian scholar of Chinese politics). They call for a new moral foundation for political rule and everyday life in China. To the surprise of most China watchers, they say, 'Western liberal democracy' has no future in China. Their swipe against Francis Fukuyama and the American foreign policy establishment is backed by a strong preference for Confucian notions of Humane Authority.

Qing and Bell explain that the current revival of Confucianism in China is fuelled by the moral bankruptcy of communism. They presume (or hope) that Confucian values are destined, with Party help, to replace communism as the ruling ideas. Their anticipation underestimates the magnetism of other values. Their silence about the conspicuous consumption of the middle classes and the hyper-rich 'princelings' is typical. Can risky market innovation, profit and self-interested greed of the 'small person' (xiăorén) denounced by Confucius be combined with his teachings on the saintly, scholarly, ascetic 'perfect man' (jūnzĭ)? Or (to take another example) how many Chinese women will be willing to embrace the old Confucian values of chastity, silence, hard work and compliance? Qing and Bell don't say.

Playing the role of court intellectuals, they yearn for a 'progressive' politics of Confucianism. Central to their vision is a strategy for building a new governing institution to replace the leading role of the Party. The sketch includes plans for a tri-cameral legislature. It would comprise a House of Exemplary Persons guided by mandates from heaven; a House of the Nation, whose representatives are imbued with 'wisdom from history and culture'; and an appointed or elected House of the People.

The blueprint seems quixotic. Never mind the clutch of difficulties that would confront legislators when trying, in the much-changed circumstances of the early twenty-first century, to sort out the philosophical and political tangles within key texts such as the Analects. What does it mean to say that authorities should be 'beneficent without great expenditure' or 'majestic without being fierce' (Book 20)? Or that those who govern by means of 'virtue' can be 'compared to the north polar star, which keeps its place and all the stars turn towards it' (Book 2)? Of what relevance are these words in resolving bitter conflicts such as last week's events in the Jiangsu city of Quidong, where at least 50,000 citizens defied riot police, stripped shirtless the local mayor, who quickly changed his tune by announcing the shut-down of a pulp mill pipeline which locals feared would pollute the nearby coastline?

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Obama: Funding Planned Parenthood is Important for My Daughters (Fr. Ben Johnson, 7/29/12, Orthodoxy.net)

President Barack Obama again invoked his daughters as reasons to support the abortion industry in a campaign stop in Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday.

"Mr. Romney wants to get rid of funding for Planned Parenthood," the president told nearly 1,000 donors at the Oregon Convention Center. "I think that is a bad idea. I've got two daughters. I want them to control their own health care choices. We're not going backwards; we're going forwards."

The reference echoes a comment he made in 2008 on the campaign trail. "I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old," he said. "If they make a mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby."

Kind of an odd message unless he's still worried about his furthest Left base.
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


The worst Olympics ever: Now we know why police never caught Benny Hill : Two years ago the Vancouver Winter Olympics was labelled the worst Games ever by the Guardian. It's time to turn the tables (Harrison Mooney, 7/31/12, guardian.co.uk)

First there was the humiliation of private firm G4S managing to rustle up only 6,000 of the 10,000 security guards it was paid nearly half a billion pounds to provide. (We'll just chalk that up to inflation.) Then we learned that authorities lost the keys to Wembley Stadium sometime last week, an admission of incompetence that serves to explain why they never able to catch Benny Hill.

But it's OK. The police have assured everyone that all the relevant locks have been changed (and the new keys have been put on a lanyard). Thus, there's no reason to worry about security - apart from, I would suggest, the fact that these bumbling bobbies are in charge of it.

It is a shame that the police could not lose the keys to the Olympic Stadium instead, especially since it might have afforded the common citizen an opportunity to get in and see Thomas Heatherwick's beautiful cauldron in person. As it turns out, the only good‑looking part of the Olympic Games is hidden away where only ticket-buyers and athletes can experience it live.

You will recall that London was critical of Vancouver's decision to place the Olympic cauldron behind a chain-link fence. Clearly, this criticism stemmed from the fact that the fence was not opaque enough. Now they are showing us how it is done, hiding it inside a stadium.

Regarding the whiny, poor, spoiled tourists who think that a trip to London entitles them to see the Olympic cauldron, London's mayor Boris Johnson does not see what the problem is. "It's going to be visible to everybody who watches it on TV. It's there. I don't think it's a big deal", he said. On that same note, why would anyone want to make love to a woman when you can just find a video of someone else doing it online?

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


5% of Americans Spend 50% of Health Care Dollars (MERRILL GOOZNER, 7/31/12, The Fiscal Times)

A new issue brief from the National Institute of Health Care Management adds grist to the mill of those who rebelled against the universal insurance mandate. The study showed that in 2009 half the population - fully 150 million people - spent an average of just $236 per person on health care. That was a paltry $36 billion for the entire group out of $1.3 trillion in personal health care expenditures.
On the other side of the use spectrum, however, just five percent of the population - about 30 million people - spent a whopping $623 billion or about half of all personal health care expenditures. That came to nearly $41,000 per patient.

And if one looks at just the top 1 percent of health care "spenders" - those who were often battling life-threatening or crippling illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, cancer or dementia - they averaged over $90,000 per patient per year. These three million people accounted for over 20 percent of the total health care tab.

We're mandating savings accounts, not health care.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Milton Friedman's century : How his ideas shaped our world (Chicago Tribune, July 31, 2012)

Friedman is best remembered among economists for making the case for the central importance of monetary policy in the performance of the economy. No one really disputes that view anymore, which is why in the current economic morass, everyone looks to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for rescue.

One of the favorite debates among experts is what would Friedman would do now. Some say he would reject Bernanke's use of quantitative easing, which they see as sowing the seeds of future inflation. Others say the Fed has repeated the error Friedman blamed for Japan's lost decade by failing to generate sufficient growth of the money supply. But on the value of his theories, there is no dispute.

His influence can be seen in other places too. Friedman was one of the earliest proponents of expanding educational choices, an idea that has led to vouchers and charter schools. He advocated opening up the airline business to competition, which made air travel affordable to the masses.

Floating exchange rates, one of his ideas, are now the norm. He played a key role in abolishing the military draft, which has never come back. The earned income tax credit, which supplements the earnings of lower-income workers, grew out of a Friedman proposal.

If all that weren't enough, free markets and reduced government involvement in the economy have gained adherents around the world, from Chile to China -- unleashing economic progress that has raised living standards and lifted billions of people out of poverty.

School choice is only a portion of the panoply of Third Way ideas Mr. Friedman pioneered, most successfully in Chile, with its mandated personal retirement accounts, personal unemployment accounts, etc. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Romney and Obama Strain to Show Gap on Foreign Policy (PETER BAKER, July 28, 2012, NY Times)

Despite the campaign positioning, on the most fundamental international issues, the president and his challenger generally share the same goals, even if they would get there in different ways.

They both would press the battle against Al Qaeda through drones and special operations while drawing down troops in Afghanistan. They both would try to stop Iran's nuclear program through sanctions and negotiations without ruling out a military option. They both would support rebels in Syria while keeping American forces out of the conflict. Even in areas where Mr. Romney has been most critical, like Israel, Russia and China, it is not entirely clear what he would do differently.

It may be, then, that the real test on foreign policy this year is how voters assess the candidates in terms of their leadership, experience, strength and agility. In other words, the argument may come down to who would be more effective pursuing the same aims, who would do better at asserting American will, rallying allies and confronting adversaries, who would find the right blend of diplomacy and assertiveness.

July 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Behind the Economic Pessimism (Robert Samuelson - July 30, 2012, Washington Post)

 It is an index of fear. Last week, interest rates on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds fell to 1.4 percent. This was the lowest on record and less than present or expected inflation (generally 2 percent to 3 percent). On 30-year Treasuries, rates have tumbled to 2.5 percent. The investors piling into Treasuries and driving rates down aren't buying risky stocks or using their cash to expand businesses. They're protecting themselves against unknowns. The question is whether the resulting plunge of rates signals something more ominous: renewed recession, deflation or both.

...and strong debt sales and domestic deflation follow.
Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Scalia stuns Identity Conservatives: says guns can be regulated (KEVIN KERVICK, 7/29/12, Examiner)

In a shocking statement made this morning on FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said he believes the U.S. Constitution allows states to regulate firearms. In a response to a question about the Second Amendment from Wallace, Scalia said the following:

... there were legal precedents from the days of the Founding Fathers that banned some weapons. There were also "locational limitations" on where weapons could be carried. --They had some limitations on the nature of arms that could be borne.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Abortion insanity prevails in Arizona : A Clinton-appointed judge in Arizona buys suspect science and deals a huge blow to abortion rights (IRIN CARMON, 7/30/12, Salon)

It turns out that Judge James Teilborg's harangue of a lawyer from the bench about her allegedly insufficient compassion for the unborn was indeed a sign of what was to come: The Clinton-appointed district court judge in Arizona just did something, well, unprecedented. He upheld Arizona's ban on abortions after 20 weeks, claiming it didn't actually "ban" abortions before viability, it just "regulates" them down to the most grueling emergencies.

Worse, Teilborg even regurgitated the suspect science of "fetal pain," a first in the federal courts, though his decision was based on the contorted "regulation" versus "ban" finding. The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the state can only ban abortions after viability, regardless of the rationale, but Teilborg found that Arizona's H.B. 2036 "does not impose a substantial obstacle to previability abortions," because a woman can still get an abortion after 20 weeks if she's about to die or suffer major physical impairment.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Carbon tax gets unusual support (Steve Hargreaves, 7/30/12, CNNMoney)

While the carbon tax plan is drawing attention now, the idea itself is not new in conservative circles.

For example, a 2007 paper published by the American Enterprise Institute, an influential conservative group, argued that a carbon tax would be preferable to other ways of reducing greenhouse gases such as mandatory emission limits.

One of the authors was Kevin Hassett, now an adviser to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. A spokesman for Hassett said he was unavailable for comment. A Romney campaign spokeswoman said the candidate does not support such a tax, saying it would push jobs overseas.

But Inglis and others like the idea because it would let cleaner forms of energy compete with dirtier forms without the need for the complicated mandates and tax breaks that currently support renewable energy.

It could also supersede pending greenhouse gas regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency -- something the business community and politicians of all stripes are leery of but which the courts say the agency must carry out.

While no current Republican lawmaker is thought to support the plan, other influential Republicans are on board.

"We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs," President Reagan's former Secretary of State George Shultz said in a recent interview with Stanford University News. Shultz now heads a task force at Stanford that is currently studying the feasibility of a carbon tax.

For Shultz there are many reasons to support such a tax. One is making fossil fuel energy sources absorb costs that are currently borne out by society at large, such as through higher health insurance premiums or Medicare bills caused by pollution-induced diseases.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Americans Want Next President to Prioritize Jobs, Corruption : Lowest priorities are taxing wealthy and environmental problems (Jeffrey M. Jones, 7/30/12, Gallup)

Creating good jobs, reducing corruption in the federal government, and reducing the federal budget deficit score highest when Americans rate 12 issues as priorities for the next president to address. Americans assign much less importance to increasing taxes on wealthy Americans and dealing with environmental concerns.

Next, how important a priority should each of the following issues be for the next president -- extremely important, very important, somewhat important, or not that important. How about -- [RANDOM ORDER]? July 2012 results

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


tUnE-yArDs, Live In Concert: Newport Folk Festival 2012 (July 30, 2012

tUnE-yArDs' strange, joyous concoction is wild, rhythmic, layered and swirling with surprises. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


FUSSBUDGET : How Paul Ryan captured the G.O.P. (Ryan Lizza, AUGUST 6, 2012, The New Yorker)

As much as he relished the battle against Obama--"European," he repeated, with some gusto--his real fight was for the ideological identity of the Republican Party, and with colleagues who were content to simply criticize the White House. "If you're going to criticize, then you should propose," he told me. A fault line divided the older and more cautious Republican leaders from the younger, more ideological members. Ryan was, and remains, the leader of the attack-and-propose faction.

"I think you're obligated to do that," he said. "People like me who are reform-minded ignore the people who say, 'Just criticize and don't do anything and let's win by default.' That's ridiculous." He said he was "moving ahead without them. They don't want to produce alternatives? That's not going to stop me from producing an alternative."

Ryan's long-range plan was straightforward: to create a detailed alternative to Obama's budget and persuade his party to embrace it. He would start in 2009 and 2010 with House Republicans, the most conservative bloc in the Party. Then, in the months before the Presidential primaries, he would focus on the G.O.P. candidates. If the plan worked, by the fall of 2012 Obama's opponent would be running on Paul Ryan's ideas, and in 2013 a new Republican President would be signing them into law.

Sitting in his office more than three years ago, Ryan could not have foreseen how successful his crusade to reinvent the Republican Party would be. Nearly every important conservative opinion-maker and think tank has rallied around his policies. Nearly every Republican in the House and the Senate has voted in favor of some version of his budget plan. Earlier this year, the G.O.P. Presidential candidates lavished praise on Ryan and his ideas. "I'm very supportive of the Ryan budget plan," Mitt Romney said on March 20th, in Chicago. The following week, while campaigning in Wisconsin, he added, "I think it'd be marvellous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan's budget and adopt it and pass it along to the President."

To envisage what Republicans would do if they win in November, the person to understand is not necessarily Romney, who has been a policy cipher all his public life. The person to understand is Paul Ryan. [...]

For decades, policy wonks on the Republican fringes had talked about turning Social Security, the government safety-net program for retirees, into a system of private investment accounts. The architect of the movement was Peter Ferrara, a former Harvard Law School student, who, calling it "the craziest idea in the world," sold it, in 1979, to the small-government fundamentalists at the Cato Institute. (Ferrara is now at the Heartland Institute, best known for its denial of climate change.) They evangelized on behalf of the idea for more than two decades, before pushing it into mainstream Republican politics. Bush was the first Republican Presidential nominee to embrace the idea, but it wasn't a priority in his first term, which was dominated by the response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq.

We all know where we're headed, the past 8 years were just a costly Republican vacation from Third Way reality.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Romney Praises Israel's Universal Health Care System, Which Includes Individual Mandate (Amanda Peterson Beadle, Jul 30, 2012, Think Progress)

[D]uring his trip to Israel, Romney inadvertently praised the individual requirement and universal health care. "[F]or an American abroad, you can't get much closer to the ideals and convictions of my own country than you do in Israel," he said. And according to The New York Times, Romney spoke favorably about the fact that health care makes up a much smaller amount of Israel's gross domestic product compared to the United States:

"Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the G.D.P. in Israel? Eight percent," he said. "You spend eight percent of G.D.P. on health care. You're a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our G.D.P. on health care, 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, compare that with the size of our military -- our military which is 4 percent, 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of G.D.P. We have to find ways -- not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to fund and manage our health care costs."

Israel spends less on health care because of a universal health system that requires everyone to have insurance. Every Israeli citizen has the obligation to purchase health care services through one of the country's four HMOs since government officials approved the National Health Insurance Law in 1995. People pay for 40 percent of their HMO's costs through income-related contributions collected through the tax system, and the state pays the remaining 60 percent. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Inequality: Why egalitarian societies died out (Deborah Rogers, 7/30/12, New Scientist)

For tens of thousands of years, egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies were widespread. And as a large body of anthropological research shows, long before we organised ourselves into hierarchies of wealth, social status and power, these groups rigorously enforced norms that prevented any individual or group from acquiring more status, authority or resources than others.*

Decision-making was decentralised and leadership ad hoc; there weren't any chiefs. There were sporadic hot-blooded fights between individuals, of course, but there was no organised conflict between groups. Nor were there strong notions of private property and therefore any need for territorial defence. These social norms affected gender roles as well; women were important producers and relatively empowered, and marriages were typically monogamous.

Keeping the playing field level was a matter of survival. These small-scale, nomadic foraging groups didn't stock up much surplus food, and given the high-risk nature of hunting - the fact that on any given day or week you may come back empty-handed - sharing and cooperation were required to ensure everyone got enough to eat. Anyone who made a bid for higher status or attempted to take more than their share would be ridiculed or ostracised for their audacity. Suppressing our primate ancestors' dominance hierarchies by enforcing these egalitarian norms was a central adaptation of human evolution, argues social anthropologist Christopher Boehm. It enhanced cooperation and lowered risk as small, isolated bands of humans spread into new habitats and regions across the world, and was likely crucial to our survival and success.

How, then, did we arrive in the age of institutionalised inequality?  [...]

One line of reasoning suggests that self-aggrandising individuals who lived in lands of plenty ascended the social ranks by exploiting their surplus - first through feasts or gift-giving, and later by outright dominance. At the group level, argue anthropologists Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd, improved coordination and division of labour allowed more complex societies to outcompete the simpler, more equal societies. From a mechanistic perspective, others argued that once inequality took hold - as when uneven resource-distribution benefited one family more than others - it simply became ever more entrenched. The advent of agriculture and trade resulted in private property, inheritance, and larger trade networks, which perpetuated and compounded economic advantages.

It is not hard to imagine how stratification could arise, or that self-aggrandisers would succeed from time to time. But none of these theories quite explain how those aiming to dominate would have overcome egalitarian norms of nearby communities, or why the earliest hierarchical societies would stop enforcing these norms in the first place. Many theories about the spread of stratified society begin with the idea that inequality is somehow a beneficial cultural trait that imparts efficiencies, motivates innovation and increases the likelihood of survival. But what if the opposite were true?

In a demographic simulation that Omkar Deshpande, Marcus Feldman and I conducted at Stanford University, California, we found that, rather than imparting advantages to the group, unequal access to resources is inherently destabilising and greatly raises the chance of group extinction in stable environments. This was true whether we modelled inequality as a multi-tiered class society, or as what economists call a Pareto wealth distribution (see "Inequality: The physics of our finances") - in which, as with the 1 per cent, the rich get the lion's share.

Counterintuitively, the fact that inequality was so destabilising caused these societies to spread by creating an incentive to migrate in search of further resources. The rules in our simulation did not allow for migration to already-occupied locations, but it was clear that this would have happened in the real world, leading to conquests of the more stable egalitarian societies - exactly what we see as we look back in history.

In other words, inequality did not spread from group to group because it is an inherently better system for survival, but because it creates demographic instability, which drives migration and conflict and leads to the cultural - or physical - extinction of egalitarian societies.

So, let's see if we have this straight: once the human population was small and barely scraped by at subsistence level; now it is large and has surplus wealth and food, in part because inequality better equipped civilized Man for competing with hunter-gatherers, who we annihilated.  But it's not a better system for survival?

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Olympics empty seats row: Locog calls in the army (again) (Robert Booth and Owen Gibson, 7/29/12, guardian.co.uk)

Locog chairman Lord Coe says seats left empty will 'not be an issue' throughout the Games Link to this video
Soldiers have been drafted in to fill empty seats at the London 2012 Olympics after prime seating at the aquatics centre, gymnastics arena and basketball venue again went unused on the second day of competition.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Electric cars: How many miles will kill 'range anxiety'? : Most electric car charges last longer than 95 percent of the trips made in the US, but 'range anxiety' is still a major drawback for many potential electric car buyers. How many miles will it take to curb that fear? (Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, July 29, 2012, CS Monitor)

Even though research clearly shows that present electric cars can satisfy the requirements of 95 percent of all trips made in the U.S., many car buyers say electric cars need to travel further per charge before they'll consider buying one. [...]

With battery technology improving, building an electric car with a range of 120 miles per charge within the next few years seems technologically feasible. 

More importantly, with electric car battery prices already dropping faster than analysts previously predicted they would, a larger capacity battery pack capable of 120 miles of range per charge is much more likely than it was even two years ago. 

July 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Rethinking cancer : New studies show that aggressive measures aren't always best. What does this mean for healthcare? (LA Times, 7/29/12)

Most recently, a study published this month in the New England Journal of Medicine found that men whose early-stage prostate cancer is carefully monitored but not treated right away appear to live as long as men whose cancer is immediately operated on, and that they also avoid the troubling side effects of urinary problems and erectile dysfunction. The study isn't definitive, and its findings might not apply to all forms of prostate cancer or to younger men.

The public, though, seems a little doubtful about pronouncements that Americans are over-tested and over-treated, and it's easy to see why. Our very nature tells us that if there's a bad thing in us like cancer, we want it out. Also, insurance companies and the government have been warning that runaway increases in medical costs are unsustainable. This makes patients worry that important medical tests and treatments will be withheld for financial rather than health considerations. What many people fail to realize is that some unnecessary tests and treatments are currently being ordered for a different financial reason: in order to earn doctors money. Many procedures are profit centers for medical providers; in other cases, they are ordered to shield practitioners against possible malpractice suits, rather than because they are medically necessary and appropriate.

The sensitive new technologies that enable doctors to find and diagnose more medical problems have also led them to find, explore and treat things that never would have caused problems, according to Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. "We now recognize that we all harbor abnormalities," Welch said in a Times story last year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Buy generic. Go ahead, try it. : For each name-brand product you usually buy, try the  generic version at least once. More often than not, you won't notice the difference. (Trent Hamm, July 29, 2012, CS Monitor)

Let's be pessimists and say that you decide that only four of them are worth buying again. On future store visits, you'll save $0.75 each time you buy that generic item instead of the name brand version. If you buy these four items each an average of once a month, you're going to be saving $36 a year and you won't notice a difference compared to what you already buy.

Of course, that's a low-end estimate for your family. We use store-brand paper towels, salad dressings, saltine crackers, liquid soap, Kleenexes, and many other items. I would estimate that we save a couple hundred dollars a year simply by focusing on generics.

Many of those items, such as ketchup and applesauce, have identical ingredient lists and nutrition facts labels as name brand versions. As far as we can tell, they're the same product - except that the generic version is substantially cheaper.

There are other items that might not be quite as good as the name brand version, but the quality difference is small enough that it doesn't really matter. Kleenexes are a good example of this. The only time you'll see a difference is if it's going to be an intense use of the item, in which case you just double up on the generic (or, in my case, use a handkerchief). You'll still save money.

In my experience, the big challenge with generics is getting past the mental block that name brands are somehow better.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Islamic butcher shop an outpost of cultural fusion in East L.A. : Al Salam Polleria opened on Whittier Boulevard with plans to provide fresh poultry killed according to Islamic law. Instead it has been embraced by its Latino neighbors. (Weston Phippen, 7/22/12, Los Angeles Times)

Al Salam Polleria's success, as well as its distinction, can be found in its East L.A. location and in its name -- al salaam is Arabic for peace, polleria is Spanish for poultry shop.

It was never their intention to end up in East L.A. But as they would find, it was quite fortunate.

Elrabat-Gabr's father, Safwat Elrabat, emigrated from Egypt, figuring he could fill a niche in Los Angeles by selling fresh poultry killed according to Islamic law, called halal.

How he arrived on this stretch of Whittier Boulevard, a heavily Latino neighborhood, came down to zoning laws that allow the storage and slaughter of live animals. Still, when Elrabat and his brother-in-law opened the shop in 1984, they expected a line of fellow Muslims trailing out the door.

"Yeah, it didn't happen that way," Elrabat-Gabr said.

Instead the local community embraced the new polleria. It still does. Here, there is no culture clash.

It also didn't hurt that Elrabat placed a super-sized white chicken on the roof, like the Michelin Man, a kind of lighthouse beacon welcoming the neighborhood. In fact, local residents began shopping here with such regularity that Elrabat and most of the family quickly learned enough Spanish to know exactly what customers wanted.

Elrabat-Gabr sees strong similarities between the Egyptian and Latin cultures. Both place great importance on family and on respect, she said, and because the Moors controlled parts of Spain for hundreds of years, the languages share similar words.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


The Sources of American Conduct : A review of George F. Kennan: An American Life, by John Lewis Gaddis (Angelo M. Codevilla, July 23, 2012, Claremont Review of Books)

Gaddis's subtitle, An American Life, reminds the reader that George Kennan's intellectual and emotional ambivalences are anything but atypical of America's 20th-century upper-middle class, that they are interesting to us because they explain, to some extent, the class that gave the American Century its character, and that such things are among the deepest sources of American conduct. The most basic factor among them was a sense of superiority to the mass of Americans. Like others of his class, Kennan loved the America of his own reminiscences, imagination, and close acquaintances, while loathing the rest of Americans and the civilization they represented. He recalled lovingly his youth at his family's compound on a Wisconsin lake, and treasured his gentleman's farm in exurban Pennsylvania, as equivalents of Chekov's spiritual communion with the cherry orchard of his doomed character, Ravenskaya. These "stood for certain ideals of decency and courage, and generosity." Kennan's attitude toward the rest of America seems a paraphrase of the Pharisee's prayer in the Temple: "Lord I thank thee that I am not like other Americans...."

Thus when Kennan looked at Hitler's Germany in the 1930s he saw primarily "a great garden, well kept and blooming...populated by clean and healthy people." By the same token, while he recognized that Communism negates the soul--Soviet funerals showed "the meaninglessness of life expounded and argued from the meaninglessness of death"--he nevertheless thought it was better "to sell one's soul...than to let it dry up in its own bitterness and get nothing for it whatsoever."

Lack of soul, or indeed of anything worthy, is what Kennan saw in ordinary Americans. He wished that Americans might "have their toys taken away from them, be spanked, educated, and made to grow up." That would take a "strong central power (far stronger than the present constitution would allow)." Meanwhile, he expressed revulsion at the sight of well-fed, "shapeless, droopy" Americans, getting out of their cars "tired from not walking," "a skin disease of the earth." He told his diary: "I hate democracy; I hate the press.... I hate the 'peepul;' I have become clearly un-American." America was unworthy of him. [...]

In 1947 Kennan became a victim of the Peter Principle. Having become a celebrity, he was promoted out of his competence as a reporting diplomat and into the role of a policymaker, which encouraged him to pontificate, to indulge his prejudices and inner instability.

He began well enough. In the spring of 1947, as the "X" article was being printed, he advised Secretary of State George C. Marshall that containing the Soviets in Europe required relieving the continent's misery, which in turn required massive American economic aid with the sole condition that plans for it be coordinated among Europeans and agreed upon with Americans. The ensuing "Marshall Plan" indeed started the process that Kennan had advocated, of "turning former enemies into allies." But it was downhill from there.

As theoretically sound and similarly influential, but pregnant with trouble, was Kennan's critique of President Truman's pledge of aid to Greece and Turkey. The decision was the first manifestation of the "Truman Doctrine," a promise to intervene in any and every situation where there might be danger of the Soviets gaining any advantage, no matter how small or temporary. Kennan's general point was valid enough: surely no principle of policy applies automatically to any and all circumstances. Indeed, Gaddis reminds us that Kennan's formulation of containment had implied both automaticity and universality, rendering his critique of the Truman Doctrine a refutation of his own words.

Kennan the policymaker argued strenuously for retrenching U.S. commitments. Czechoslovakia should be allowed to fall to the Communists, never mind the sad precedents of 1938-39. Even China, he argued, on which America had placed so many hopes and expended so much blood and treasure, should be permitted to go Red--the sooner the better. To boot, he urged driving the anti-Communist side out of Taiwan. He repeated that the Soviets could not hold onto such conquests, that they would choke on them in the long run. But Gaddis notes that in Kennan's original formulation, containment's virtue consisted substantially of depriving the Soviets of vital psychological satisfaction. Would Communist victories in China and Czechoslovakia not give them that satisfaction? And what would their victories do to us psychologically? Why would Kennan's new version of "containment," which seemed to be about containing America more than the Soviet Union, not dispirit and destroy us instead of them?

Because Kennan never addressed such questions directly, we may well suspect that his enthusiasm for retrenchment came, not from any understanding of history or principles of statecraft, but instead from his increasing socio-political identification with Americans who believed Soviet advances and American retreats were inherently good. Indeed, to the extent he got involved in policy and politics, he set principles aside. His mind seemed to work on two mutually exclusive levels. For example, he seemed unaware that his statement of diplomatic principles in American Diplomacy, 1900-1950 was identical to the argument of A Foreign Policy for Americans, published in the same year by Robert Taft, whom he loathed socio-politically. In later years, he reacted with outright disbelief when discovering that his views matched those of conservatives.

...by John LeCarre, who shared this loathing for America.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM

(profanity alert)

Alabama Shakes, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012 (NPR, July 28, 2012 I

Singer Brittany Howard has the bearing, power and charisma of a star twice her age, but on stage, she's positively dominant.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


US loves cops and firefighters -but not their pensions (Reuters, July 29, 2012)

The average annual pension for Suffolk County cops who have retired since 2007 was US$86,702 (RM274,108), according to figures from the Manhattan Institute, a public policy think tank, against US$37,270 for other county employees, excluding teachers. The county, facing a three-year deficit of US$530 million, declared a fiscal emergency in March.

Traditionally, US voters have backed generous pay and benefits for the cops and firefighters willing to risk their lives to keep citizens safe. That was especially so after the deaths of many emergency workers in the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.

But as economic conditions have worsened and many local governments have run into severe fiscal problems, that attitude has started to change. Since the 2007 recession, some cities have tried to roll back pension benefits and pay, among the most rigid and, in some cases, highest expenses in municipal budgets.

From New York to California and points in between, cops and firefighters have been drawn into pitched battles over their pay and benefits.

In San Diego and San Jose, California's second and third biggest cities, voters in June overwhelmingly backed sweeping pension reforms. In San Jose, all employees will have to choose between reduced benefits or higher retirement contributions.

In the mid-sized California cities of Stockton and San Bernardino, officials say public safety costs were among the factors that forced both to declare bankruptcy. In Vallejo, a former US Navy town near San Francisco that emerged from a three-year bankruptcy last year, public safety pay and benefits were consuming three-quarters of the city's general fund.

Detroit, plagued with one of the highest crime rates in the country, nonetheless cut pay and healthcare benefits for city workers, including police, by 10 percent just over a week ago, a move the mayor says will save the cash-strapped city US$102 million a year.

A legal challenge by the Detroit Police Officers Association failed, even as union President Joe Duncan publicly complained of what the cuts would mean for Detroit's ability to hire police, noting that the city is "already 50th on the list of pay for the biggest 50 cities in the United States."

St. Louis this month approved an overhaul of the firefighter retirement system that rolls back decades of increases, while Miami officials trying to plug a US$60 million budget gap this week declared "financial urgency," which will let them alter employee contracts. Among the city's proposals: limit overtime for firefighters and require higher health care contributions.

According to an analysis by New York-area newspaper Newsday published last month, police and sheriff's department employees in Nassau and Suffolk counties reached nearly two-thirds of each county's payroll.

"That is why a lot of municipalities are choosing bankruptcy, because it's the only way - other than getting a state control board - of getting out of these salary and pension requirements,'' said the former top official of Suffolk County, Steve Levy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Missouri Slipping Away From Democrats (NATE SILVER, 7/28/12, NY Times)

Missouri, the state that was once considered the nation's ultimate bellwether, looks as though it is likely to be out of reach for President Obama this year, unless there is a significant shift toward him in the final 100 days of the campaign.

A Mason-Dixon poll of the state, released on Saturday, gave Mitt Romney a nine-point lead there. Mr. Romney's nine-point lead matches his advantage from another poll of the state, conducted by the firm We Ask America, which was released earlier this week.

The forecast model now estimates that Mr. Romney has an 88 percent chance of winning Missouri in November. And Missouri has fallen off the list of tipping point states, meaning that it is very unlikely to be a decisive state in determining the winner of the Electoral College. The cases where Mr. Obama wins Missouri are probably those where he is headed toward some sort of near-landslide in the national race, like because of an unexpected rebound in the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Is Algebra Necessary? (Andrew Hacker, 7/28/12, NY Times)

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong -- unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. [...]

Nor is it clear that the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job. John P. Smith III, an educational psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied math education, has found that "mathematical reasoning in workplaces differs markedly from the algorithms taught in school." Even in jobs that rely on so-called STEM credentials -- science, technology, engineering, math -- considerable training occurs after hiring, including the kinds of computations that will be required. Toyota, for example, recently chose to locate a plant in a remote Mississippi county, even though its schools are far from stellar. It works with a nearby community college, which has tailored classes in "machine tool mathematics." 

That sort of collaboration has long undergirded German apprenticeship programs. I fully concur that high-tech knowledge is needed to sustain an advanced industrial economy. But we're deluding ourselves if we believe the solution is largely academic.

A skeptic might argue that, even if our current mathematics education discourages large numbers of students, math itself isn't to blame. Isn't this discipline a critical part of education, providing quantitative tools and honing conceptual abilities that are indispensable -- especially in our high tech age? In fact, we hear it argued that we have a shortage of graduates with STEM credentials.

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists.

As a wise young man once informed his math teacher, "I'll never need to even know what a polynomial is in real life."
Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Big trouble for Obama: Lessons of presidential reelection history (Abe Katsman, JULY 11, 2012, Times of Israel)

[T]here is a remarkable underlying pattern in American presidential history: While the United States has elected 16 presidents to second terms, in 15 of those cases, the president was reelected by a wider margin than in his first-term election. (The outlier: Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 by a razor-thin margin in what was essentially a referendum on whether America should enter World War I. His campaign theme: "He kept us out of war." Eleven weeks into his second term, at Wilson's urging, the US declared war against Germany.  Fascinating history, but I digress.)

There is a lesson in that wider-margin-required-for-reelection statistic. Second term presidential candidacies are ultimately a thumbs-up/thumb-down verdict on a president's first term in office. Either the first term has been successful enough to win over even some of those who voted against the president the first time around, or the president loses. The question in the minds of voters -- especially those who did not vote for the incumbent the first time around -- boils down to: "Do I want four more years of this?"

And in the case of President Obama, who won 53% of the vote last time out, it's hard to see what segments of the electorate would be clamoring to answer that question in the affirmative at all, let alone in higher percentages than he received in 2008. His job approval numbers are far below that 53% level already.

Obama's 2008 margin of victory was 7%. Now, let's assume that 2008 Republican voters remain Republican; if just one in 13 Americans who supported Obama switch their vote, he loses. And if he can't repeat the enthusiastic turnout numbers from various demographics he won in 2008, he's in even bigger trouble.

On the way out? President Barack Obama (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/ GPO/Flash90)

Ready for some campaign arithmetic? 

July 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Obama blamed for failure of international arms-trade treaty (Julian Pecquet,  07/27/12, The Hill)
The United Nations indefinitely suspended action on an international arms trade treaty Friday after the United States and several other countries asked for more time.

The decision sparked angry reactions from human rights groups often allied with the Obama administration, who believed a treaty to regulate the export of deadly weapons to rogue regimes was within reach. The UN had spent the entire month of July hammering out a deal, and Friday was the deadline for an agreement on a treaty that has met with the staunch opposition of the National Rifle Association and bipartisan concerns in the Senate.

"This was stunning cowardice by the Obama administration, which at the last minute did an about-face and scuttled progress toward a global arms treaty, just as it reached the finish line," said Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty International USA. "It's a staggering abdication of leadership by the world's largest exporter of conventional weapons to pull the plug on the talks just as they were nearing an historic breakthrough that would have required all nations to deny arms export licenses where there was an overriding risk that the weapons would be used to facilitate serious crimes against humanity."

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


A Challenge for Pakistan: Saudi Arabia's New Counterterrorism Cooperation with India ( Animesh Roul, 7/26/12, Jamestown Foundation)

The visible shift in Indo-Saudi bilateral ties in the diplomatic sphere can be traced to the January 2006 Memorandum of Understanding on combating terrorism (part of the larger "Delhi Declaration") signed by then Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faizal bin Abdul Aziz al-Sa'ud (Press Trust of India [New Delhi], January 25, 2006). The much needed extradition treaty was finally signed in late February 2010, furthering bilateral security cooperation under the auspices of the March, 2010 Riyadh Declaration (Times of India, March 1, 2010). 

Riding in this new wave of counterterrorism cooperation from Saudi Arabia, India is attempting to target other Indian terrorist fugitives currently holed up in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region, including former leaders of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) and LeT operatives such as C.A.M. Basheer and Abu Haroon. 

The arrest and deportation of Ansari, who was sent by his LeT handlers to Saudi Arabia on a mission to mobilize resources for the next big attack against India, certainly signals a new phase of Indo-Saudi anti-terrorism cooperation, even though it took months of diplomatic negotiations (with the United States playing an active role) to persuade Saudi authorities to overcome their long standing pro-Pakistan policies. Indeed, the latest policy shift goes against the Kingdom's old ally Pakistan in many ways. Ansari now becomes the third living proof of Pakistan's complicity in the Mumbai attacks, along with Ajmal Kasab and David Headley. It also sends a strong message to Pakistan that the Kingdom is no longer a safe haven or staging point for Islamic extremists who use the country to exploit both Salafist sympathizers and the South Asian diaspora to raise funds and to scout talent for jihad.

India is concerned about Saudi Arabia's largesse towards the Islamic madrassas and charity organizations that have contributed to Salafist-Jihadi extremism in South Asian countries. Saudi Arabia has also been at the center of controversy over its support for Kashmir-centric charities and LeT fronts like Jama'at-ud-Dawa (JuD) in the name of health and educational aid. Even Saudi Arabia's legitimate banking institutions are now being closely watched by authorities in the United States, India and Bangladesh for facilitating transactions and hosting accounts of Indian-centric Pakistan-based terrorist groups and charities.

However, the change of heart on the part of the Saudi authorities is not directly related to U.S. pressure. Saudi Arabia well understands the dynamics of the changing geopolitical atmosphere in the Arab world and India's growing clout in the world stage. It also appreciates the fact that terrorism is a double-edged sword, especially following the August 2009 suicide attack on Prince Muhammad bin Nayef in Jeddah (al-Jazeera [Doha], August 28, 2009). 

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Europe's impossible dream (John Lloyd, JULY 23, 2012, Reuters)

The economic logic of European integration is now directly confronting nationalistic sentiments in the hearts and souls of Europeans. It's becoming clear that nationalism resonates more deeply. That is the stuff of our patriotic life, fragments from our history that we use to shore up our present and point to our future. To discard them is to discard part of our mental and moral makeup.

The Anglosphere is bound by ideas, Europe has no equivalent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Karl Rove: He's Back, Big Time (Paul M. Barrett on July 26, 2012, Business Week)

Perched safely on the sidelines, he also dodged the Republican disaster in November 2008. At the center of that debacle, presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) distanced himself from outside political action committees and accepted public financing, a decision that had the effect of limiting what he could spend in his race against Obama. The Democrat turned down public money, revealed himself to be a fundraising dervish, and outspent his opponent by nearly two-to-one. Rove watched carefully. "After seeing their success and recognizing liberal groups and unions would systematically spend hundreds of millions of dollars every cycle," he says, some on the right "decided to create an enduring entity as a counterbalance." Those entities are the Crossroads groups.

Rove's return to the arena coincided with a major campaign-finance ruling by the Supreme Court. It irritates Rove that Obama has succeeded in crafting the conventional wisdom on Citizens United. According to Obama's account, a 5-4 conservative judicial pronouncement liberated a cabal of zillionaires and corporations to launch a hostile takeover of American politics. In his State of the Union Address in January 2010, the president blamed the justices, some of whom were seated before him, for empowering "America's most powerful interests, or worse ... foreign entities" to "bankroll" elections. Television cameras caught Justice Samuel Alito mouthing the words, "Not true."

Rove agrees with Alito. Obama's bit about "foreign entities" giving to campaigns was flat wrong; that remains illegal. Citizens United did clarify that corporations have a First Amendment right to political speech in the form of spending for advocacy. The majority tossed out an important 1990 precedent and invalidated certain legislative restrictions on how and when companies and unions can deploy political dollars. Spending has increased dramatically in the wake of Citizens United, much to the advantage of Republicans, and yet the notion that the ruling sparked a brand new conservative bonanza is misleading. "The left," Rove notes, "pioneered the use of 527s and 501(c)(4)s years ago, spending millions of dollars to influence public opinion and the policy landscape, on issues spanning the environment to the Iraq War. Drawing on their example, Crossroads was being planned before Citizens United, and would exist with or without Citizens United."

A quick look at campaign-finance history illustrates what he means. Secret contributions and sundry other corrupt actions culminating in the Watergate scandal led to reform legislation in the mid-1970s. Before the ink had dried on the new rules, the Supreme Court intervened in 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo, to remind lawmakers that the First Amendment complicates any inclination to limit political expression. The upshot was a problematic system that curbed contributions to candidates in the interest of reducing quid pro quo corruption, but encouraged open-ended expenditures in the name of free speech. Cue the K Street loophole artists.

By the 1990s labor unions and companies had perfected the "soft money" gambit, funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to political parties, rather than particular candidates. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, known as McCain-Feingold, was supposed to wall off soft money. In doing so, the law inadvertently redirected the cash flow to 527s, such as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, to which conservatives could give unlimited amounts to assail the war record of Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.). Another alternative was the 501(c)(4) social-welfare group devoted to issue advocacy, which did not require the disclosure of donors' names. Six years before Citizens United, the basic technology for an outside-spending arms race was in place.

In 2004 a 527 called America Coming Together led a $200 million initiative, partly financed by Soros and Lewis, to unseat George W. Bush. One reason many forget this liberal financial surge is that it failed; Kerry, a diffident campaigner, lost by 34 electoral votes. Republicans, for their part, didn't fully appreciate the advent of outside groups because they were lulled by Bush's talent for gathering direct-contribution checks with the assistance of "bundlers," the dedicated supporters and lobbyists who aggregate individual donations.

Rove and his consultant friend Ed Gillespie--now a paid senior adviser to the Romney campaign--had warned from the inception of McCain-Feingold that it would lead to problems for Republicans. Borrowing from the chorus of the classic Sonny Curtis song, Gillespie joked that as RNC chair for the 2004 election cycle, he "fought the law, but the law won." In 2009, Rove and Gillespie decided it was time for Republicans to stop whining and turn the tables. [...]

The word that Dowd and many other Rove contributors want amplified is not the tear-the-walls-down Tea Party howl. If there is an establishment Republican alternative to the Tea Partiers, it is embodied by Rove. In October 2010 he used an interview by the Telegraph in London to question Sarah Palin's suitability for the White House. He helped marginalize Christine O'Donnell, the right-wing senatorial aspirant from Delaware with a colorful financial history and a past interest in witchcraft. O'Donnell, Rove told Fox viewers, "does not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for." She lost in November 2010 to Democrat Chris Coons.

Unfortunately, without W to guide him, he still lacks the positive message that will make the GOP the long term majority by claiming the Third Way first.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


...that they don't mess up his book.
Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Syrian army supply crisis has regime on brink of collapse, say defectors (Luke Harding, Friday 27 July 2012, The Guradian)

Bashar al-Assad's military machine is on the brink of logistical meltdown and collapse, because it lacks petrol and food, and is having problems resupplying its soldiers, according to a Syrian general who has defected to the opposition.

Much has been made of the Syrian military's supposed superiority over the opposition, but General Mohammad Al-Zobi told the Guardian: "The benzine is nearly finished. They are running out of rockets. There is scarcely any bread or water for the soldiers."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


THE AGE OF GIRLFRIENDS (Anna Holmes, 7/27/12, The New Yorker)

Boldly striding into this theatre of tensions is Sheila Heti's new book "How Should a Person Be?", which shares many of the same concerns as "Girls." Heti's novel documents the unconventional and difficult friendship between two Canadian women, a young playwright named Sheila and a visual artist named Margaux. As in "Girls," Heti's characters don't spend much of their time talking about men. Instead, they discuss ideas: art, creativity, truth, beauty, freedom. There is intimacy in Heti's book, yes, but also death--spiritual, artistic, emotional. Even more telling, the friendship portrayed in it is a love affair--a platonic one, but a love affair all the same. "I could never find fault in someone for choosing not to be my friend," Margaux tells Sheila early on. "But I was disappointed not to have a girl, after searching high and low."

Heti is said to have based the book on her real-life friendship with the artist Margaux Williamson, and her style is playful and self-conscious--a mishmash of first-person narrative, dialogue in the style of a play, and e-mail messages. It has an unfinished, brazen quality that is both captivating and, sometimes, glib. As James Wood wrote in a review of the book for The New Yorker, Heti seems to insist on a certain kind of superficiality: she reproduces all her characters' most pretentious, cynical, and self-absorbed thoughts. ("We are all specks of dirt, all on this earth at the same time," Sheila muses.) But this superficiality is married with seriousness and knowingness. ("I had spent so much time trying to make the play I was writing--and my life, and my self--into an object of beauty. It was exhausting and all that I knew," she explains in a passage about creativity and art.) In fact, in focussing so closely on the ostensibly frivolous conversations between (and within) her characters, Heti seems to be questioning the idea of superficiality altogether.

The fact that they're only interested in the trivial details of their own lives is why women can't be friends.  It's all particular, no universal. Of course, it's also why they aren't moral beings.

* Kind of sad that the main legacies of David Remnick's tenure at The New Yorker are political partisanship and, not coincidentally, gutter language.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Chevy Volt wins drivers' hearts, gets top marks in satisfaction: Chevy Volt owners are happier with their cars than any other compact owners in the US, according to a recent survey. The Chevy Volt garnered top marks across a wide range of categories, including  performance, style and comfort. (Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield, July 27, 2012, CS Monitor)

 In its impartial study, J.D. Power noted that the 2012 Chevrolet Volt was awarded a maximum of five stars for its Overall Performance and Design, Features and Instrument Panel, Style, Performance and Comfort.  [...]

With its win in the compact segment, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt helped Chevrolet win the highest number of segment awards, with the 2012 Avalanche and 2012 Sonic also receiving the top award in the large pickup and subcompact car segments respectively.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM

Wilco, Live In Concert: Newport Folk 2012 (NPR, 7/27/12)

Hear the band perform a career-spanning set at the 2012 Newport Folk Festival, recorded live on Friday, July 27 in Newport, R.I.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


I mean no disrespect to the uncircumcised, but who'd want to look like that? (Howard Jacobson, 7/27/12, Independent)

Among the acts of consideration I have to thank my parents for, circumcision ranks very high. I mean no disrespect to the uncircumcised, but who the hell would want to look like that? I take the point that beauty doesn't trump all other considerations - a German court recently ruled that circumcision was criminal bodily harm - but when did anyone look at a foreskin and say, "Now that's what I call a thing of beauty"? And when did anybody who didn't have that unsightly otiosity wish he did? I know there are some out there in crazy.com who rage against what was done to them, but that's zealotry talking - parent hatred, Jew and Muslim hatred, sentimentality about the rights of boy babies and their putzes - not aesthetics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Keeping the Special Relationship Strong (John Kerry, 07/26/2012, Huffington Post)

For decades, the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom has been the cornerstone of leadership in the world. [...]

[President Obama] appreciates the importance of an alliance, particularly with a country like Great Britain. From intelligence sharing to political, military and economic cooperation, our two nations have become even closer under the Obama Administration. Both of our nations gain from this relationship.

Unfortunately, Governor Romney is taking a precarious path with respect to our relations with Great Britain and our other European allies. His rhetoric suggests that he would ignore the counsel of our friends around the world. On the key issues of our time, Gov. Romney would split the partnership that this administration, and others before it, worked so hard to build.

In January, he told supporters in New Hampshire that, "I want you to remember when our White House reflected the best of who we are, not the worst of what Europe has become." Gov. Romney has also called European militaries "second-tier," even though many of them have been fighting right beside us in Afghanistan since the beginning.

But it's not just what Governor Romney says; it's also what he promises to do as president. In the Governor's foreign policy proposals, he repeatedly diverges from the path that President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have forged together.

As Gov. Romney lands in London this week, he would be wise to realize that our European alliances are not something that holds us back. 

...the difference between England and Europe?  What has the latter ever done but try to thwart America and the former?

July 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


What Is the Nocebo Effect? (Joseph Stromberg, 7/23/12, Smithsonian)

Last week, researchers from the Technical University of Munich in Germany published one of the most thorough reviews to date on the nocebo effect. Breaking down 31 empirical studies that involved the phenomenon, they examined the underlying biological mechanisms and the problems it causes for doctors and researchers in clinical practice. Their conclusion: although perplexing, the nocebo effect is surprisingly common and ought to be taken into consideration by medical professionals on an everyday basis.

In many of the experiments they analyzed, the suggestion or expectation of pain brought about significant increases in the amount of negative side effects experienced by participants. For example, in one study, 50 people who suffered from chronic back pain were given a flexibility test. Half were told beforehand that the test might cause some pain, while the others were not. Afterward, the first group reported a significantly higher amount of pain, despite enduring the exact same procedure.

In another experiment, the drug finasteride was administered to help relieve symptoms of prostate disease, and half the participants were told that it could cause erectile dysfunction, while the other half was kept in the dark. Forty-four percent of the first group reported that they'd experienced ED, compared with just 15 percent of the uninformed group.

The nocebo effect might even be powerful enough to kill. In one case study, researchers noted an individual who attempted to commit suicide by swallowing 26 pills. Although they were merely placebo tablets without a biological mechanism to harm the patient even at such a high dose, he experienced dangerously low blood pressure and required injections of fluids to be stabilized, based solely on the belief that the overdose of tablets would be deadly. After it was revealed that they were sugar pills, the symptoms went away quickly.

The researchers suggest that doctors reconsider conventional beliefs about pain management to avoid magnifying painful side effects. It's commonly thought that properly preparing a patient for pain--for example, "this might hurt quite a bit"--is the best way to minimize anxiety, so the patient knows what to expect. But one experiment analyzed showed that the very words used by a doctor before injecting radiographic substances affected the amount of pain experienced. The more frequently the words "sting," "burn," "hurt," "bad" and "pain" were said, the more discomfort felt by patients.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Microsoft's Lost Decade : Once upon a time, Microsoft dominated the tech industry; indeed, it was the wealthiest corporation in the world. But since 2000, as Apple, Google, and Facebook whizzed by, it has fallen flat in every arena it entered: e-books, music, search, social networking, etc., etc. Talking to former and current Microsoft executives, Kurt Eichenwald finds the fingers pointing at C.E.O. Steve Ballmer, Bill Gates's successor, as the man who led them astray.(Kurt Eichenwald, August 2012, Vanity Fair)

The story of Microsoft's lost decade could serve as a business-school case study on the pitfalls of success. For what began as a lean competition machine led by young visionaries of unparalleled talent has mutated into something bloated and bureaucracy-laden, with an internal culture that unintentionally rewards managers who strangle innovative ideas that might threaten the established order of things.

By the dawn of the millennium, the hallways at Microsoft were no longer home to barefoot programmers in Hawaiian shirts working through nights and weekends toward a common goal of excellence; instead, life behind the thick corporate walls had become staid and brutish. Fiefdoms had taken root, and a mastery of internal politics emerged as key to career success.

In those years Microsoft had stepped up its efforts to cripple competitors, but--because of a series of astonishingly foolish management decisions--the competitors being crippled were often co-workers at Microsoft, instead of other companies. Staffers were rewarded not just for doing well but for making sure that their colleagues failed. As a result, the company was consumed by an endless series of internal knife fights. Potential market-busting businesses--such as e-book and smartphone technology--were killed, derailed, or delayed amid bickering and power plays.

That is the portrait of Microsoft depicted in interviews with dozens of current and former executives, as well as in thousands of pages of internal documents and legal records.

"They used to point their finger at IBM and laugh," said Bill Hill, a former Microsoft manager. "Now they've become the thing they despised."

Today, Microsoft stands at a precipice, an all-or-nothing opportunity that may be Ballmer's last chance to demonstrate to Wall Street that he is the right man with the right plan to lead the sprawling enterprise into the future. With Surface, the recently unveiled tablet, Windows 8, Windows Phone 7, Windows Server 2012, and Xbox 720 in the offing, he could be on the verge of proving his strategies--including last year's controversial, $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype. But whether these succeed or not, executives say, the Microsoft of old, the nimble player that captured the passions of a generation of techies and software engineers, is dead and gone.

"I see Microsoft as technology's answer to Sears," said Kurt Massey, a former senior marketing manager. "In the 40s, 50s, and 60s, Sears had it nailed. It was top-notch, but now it's just a barren wasteland. And that's Microsoft. The company just isn't cool anymore."

Cool is what tech consumers want. Exhibit A: today the iPhone brings in more revenue than the entirety of Microsoft.

How was it supposed to survive once governments started enforcing the laws?
Enhanced by Zemanta

July 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Love Classic Republican Foreign Policy? Vote For Obama (Jonathan Rauch, July 25, 2012, New Republic)

Greatness comes from winning cosmic conflicts like World War II and the Cold War, and at present we are fortunate not to be engaged in any and therefore not to need a great leader. (Remember, in this connection, the wisdom of Calvin Coolidge: "It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.") In ordinarily messy, disorganized times like these, success in foreign policy means navigating treacherous currents safely, avoiding major mistakes, leaving the country stronger than you found it, and hopefully nudging the world forward a little. By that measure, Obama has done well.

An exception was his naïvely conceived and clumsily executed run at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His rookie flailing set back the peace process (such as it was) and made him look like a doormat. But he learned from his mistakes. And consider the positive side of the ledger.

Ending two wars. He has closed out the war in Iraq on acceptable terms. He is on course to do the same thing in Afghanistan. Ending two wars is a big deal.

Stabilizing relations with Russia. Russia-U.S. relations were in a tailspin when Obama entered office. Thanks to the Russia "reset," they are stable today. Russia could certainly be more cooperative on Iran and Syria, but it is quietly helping us in Afghanistan (where it could instead be a major irritant) and generally not putting bite behind its bark.

Stabilizing relations with China. The administration built enough capital with Beijing to smuggle a prominent dissident out of the country with barely a diplomatic ripple--an extraordinary thing, if you think about it. Hardly less extraordinary is that the administration's "Asia pivot," which is really a move to counterbalance China, is also clicking smoothly into place.

Isolating Iran. Partly thanks to Obama's show of willingness to negotiate, Europe is joining with the U.S. in boycotting Iranian oil, a remarkable show of solidarity behind exceptionally tough sanctions. Sanctions may yet fail, but Obama's patient approach has weakened Iran's position and built a consensus that will make further steps more effective. Oh, and Israel hasn't bombed Iran and Hezbollah hasn't bombed Israel.

Strengthening America's brand. In Europe and most of the rest of the world (Muslim countries being important exceptions), the United States is significantly more favorably regarded than when he took office. That is bankable soft power.

Prosecuting the war on terror. Obama has been so successful at continuing and refining the most effective elements of Bush's counterterrorism policy, while taming its provocative excesses, that Republicans don't even want to raise the issue. Pinch me.

There are two big problems with this analysis: (1) the conflict with Islamicism is nearly identical ideologically to that against Nazism and Communism; and (2) President Eisenhower was perfectly happy to let people be oppressed by Communist regimes so long as we could keep out of the Cold War.  

Mr. Obama is more like Truman or George H. W. Bush, adeptly handling the victory phase of a war won by his immediate predecessor.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


From red to black, Wisconsin is back : States can secure positive bond ratings (Scott Walker, 7/24/12, Washington Times)

Since the largest portion of our state budget is aid to local governments, we dramatically lowered state aid payments. But our collective-bargaining changes provided a way for state and local governments to more than offset these reductions with savings from pensions and health insurance premium contributions, changes in work rules that allowed bidding out health insurance, reductions in overtime abuses, and overall reform.

These changes saved the hardworking taxpayers more than $1 billion, helped lower property taxes for the first time in 12 years on a median-valued home and turned a budget deficit into a surplus. Wisconsin has a great story to tell about reform.

As I travel to New York City this week to meet with each of the national bond-rating agencies, I am actually looking forward to reporting on our positive progress.

During the past 18 months, we stopped the raid on the transportation and patient compensation funds and dramatically took on the deficit with long-term, structural reforms that allow both state and local governments to balance budgets for years to come. In fact, for the first time in Wisconsin's history, we've set aside money for the rainy day fund in back-to-back fiscal years. In other words, we thought more about the next generation than we did about the next election.

According to a recent Pew Center study, Wisconsin is the only state pension system in the country that is fully funded, and we are one of only seven states that cover retiree health benefit obligations at 25 percent or higher. Last year, Moody's called our budget credit positive.

July 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


Obama's poll spending is obscene (Dr. David Hill, 07/24/12, The Hill)

Some of you may be saying that spending $15 million is no big deal given that this is a presidential election. You are mistaken. This is an obscene, over-the-top amount of money. Obama faces only about 12 to 15 electorates that are worthy of sampling separately. There is the national electorate, and then there are the individual electorates of swing states, and then there are special targets like his partisan base of Democrats and swing voters like independents. Even if he polled each of these sub-samples every week since the first of the year, he couldn't come close to accounting for the amount that's supposedly been spent.

Just by normal ratios or rules of thumb for campaign spending, the research outlays are out of whack. For presidential campaigns, polling should fall into a range of 3 to 4 percent of the total budget. In this case, the percentage is much higher. It is being reported that the Obama campaign has spent $100 million thus far on campaign ads. If they have, in fact, spent $15 million researching those ads, they are genuinely out of control over at the Democratic "research institute" where all this political science is percolating.

It's interesting to try and follow the money, but it's also disturbing. Why must Obama spend so much money to find his way?

Because he'll try to be whatever we tell him we want him to be.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Israel confronts a flood of African refugees (Ruth Marcus,  July 24, 2012, Washington Post)

Israel faces a demographic threat to the Jewish state from its fast-growing Arab population, even without a deluge of African refugees with no religious ties or political loyalties to the country. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that "60,000 infiltrators are liable to become 600,000 and lead to the eradication of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

Infiltrators is an unsettling word but mild compared to others' rhetoric. Knesset member Miri Regev of Netanyahu's Likud Party termed the Africans a "cancer in our body" -- and, although she later apologized, a poll found 52 percent of Jewish Israelis agreeing with that ugly sentiment.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Russia accuses US of justifying terrorism in Syria (REUTERS, 07/25/2012)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the United States on Wednesday of justifying terrorism against the Syrian government and berated Western nations he said had not condemned attacks that killed top members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's inner circle.

Referring to what he said were comments by US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland indicating such attacks were not surprising given the Syrian government's conduct, Lavrov said, "This is a direct justification of terrorism."

...but by the target.  It's not terrorism when we approve.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Why You Should Take a 10-Minute Nap Every Day (David DiSalvo, (7/24/12, Forbes)

 Few of us enjoy jobs that allow an afternoon siesta, but we'd probably all be better off if they did-including our employers.  According to new research, all we'd really need is a solid 10-minute power nap to boost our focus and productivity.

Researchers tested four nap time spans: 5, 10, 20 and 30 minutes (and a control group that didn't nap).  They then tested participants across several benefits for three hours after the nap.  Here's a summary of the results:

The 5-minute nap produced few benefits in comparison with the no-nap control. The 10-minute nap produced immediate improvements in all outcome measures (including sleep latency, subjective sleepiness, fatigue, vigor, and cognitive performance), with some of these benefits maintained for as long as 155 minutes. The 20-minute nap was associated with improvements emerging 35 minutes after napping and lasting up to 125 minutes after napping. The 30-minute nap produced a period of impaired alertness and performance immediately after napping, indicative of sleep inertia, followed by improvements lasting up to 155 minutes after the nap.

July 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Mayberry R.I.P. : Declinist panic. Hysterical nostalgia. America may not be over, but it is certainly in thrall to the idea. (Frank Rich , Jul 22, 2012, New York)

[T]he underpinnings of our discontent are almost uncannily reminiscent of those that marked all our other modern waves of American declinism. Witness an essay by the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington written in 1988 for the journal Foreign Affairs on the question "The U.S.--Decline or Renewal?" The proximate crisis of declinist panic then was the October 1987 stock-market crash and the economic rise of Japan. Surveying that era's own blizzard of declinist lit, led by the historian Paul Kennedy's best-selling The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Huntington compiled an inventory of woes that can be found in most of the 2012 sequels: America was losing its competitive edge, piling up trade and fiscal deficits, declining in growth, and falling behind in education, research, and development. And, as Huntington pointed out, the declinist panic of the late eighties was the fifth in a mere three decades--following the "Sputnik moment" of 1957-58, the economic rise of Europe and Japan in the late sixties, the opec oil shock of 1973, and the cornucopia of woes of the later seventies (Watergate, defeat in Vietnam, the Iranian hostage crisis). Since then, the spin-and-dry cycles of morning and mourning in America have repeated themselves like clockwork, with scant variation from the Huntington template. Hardly had Bill Clinton celebrated peace and a booming economy in his 2000 State of the Union valedictory than the tech bubble burst and the market crashed once more, soon to be followed by 9/11 and the long "Why do they hate us?" funk of the American soul.

In the post-World War II years of American might, it is hard to find a sustained period when America was not fretting about its status in the world and its ongoing or potential decline. That includes those golden years apotheosized in Coming Apart, That Used to Be Us, and The Andy Griffith Show, when rising affluence and the Cold War ostensibly unified the country around core values. It's not just Mad Men that has exposed the romantic view of the fifties and early sixties as a golden age to be something of a sham. In her revisionist 2008 excavation of that period, Inventing the "American Way," the historian Wendy Wall shows how America's mid-century political and business Establishments were sufficiently frightened about the prospect of disunity that together they manufactured an American consensus and sold it as a brand, the American Way.

The American Way was promoted in every medium available, from billboards to Superman comics. One representative stunt in 1947 was the Freedom Train, a red-white-and-blue locomotive christened the Spirit of 1776 and charged with barnstorming the nation to exhibit a bounty of historic and patriotic documents. The project was promoted by Harry Truman's attorney general, Tom Clark, financed by major corporations, and packaged by movie and advertising executives. The mission was to demonstrate to one and all that America "was unified, consensual and inclusive"--or, in other words, a nation adhering to "the vital center," a term that would be coined by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in 1949. The launch was celebrated in Philadelphia to capitalize on the 160th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention, with an Independence Hall jamboree of patriotic songs and speeches broadcast on NBC. But though the train would chug on for sixteen months, it was nearly thrown off-track by one dispute after another. Some of the exhibition documents--including copies of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments and of William Lloyd Garrison's abolitionist newspaper The Liberator--were dumped. The Gettysburg Address survived the cut, but by being paired with an 1865 address by Robert E. Lee. Attempts to permit white and black viewers in the South to mix freely were met with resistance, with the consequence that at a few stops, the Emancipation Proclamation was exhibited to segregated audiences. Even the choice of "freedom" as a rubric was a carefully considered avoidance of the more contentious "democracy."

A decade later, just as Mayberry was being readied for prime time, fears of decline were ratcheting up further. Bipartisan panels of elite leaders convened by the Rockefeller brothers in the late fifties--ranging from liberal stalwarts like Adolf Berle and John Gardner to conservative grandees like Henry Luce and Henry Kissinger--published their collected findings in a 1961 report titled Prospect for America. "The number and the depth of the problems we face suggests that the very life of our free society may be at stake" was the opening sentence. This history has been either forgotten--or willfully blocked out--to such an extent that a period marked by rising civil-rights conflict is now routinely trotted out by some 2012 declinists as a Platonic baseline of American unity, centrism, and fairness against which today's America can be found so sorely wanting. That nostalgia for what never was tells us more about the roots of the current declinist panic than any of the pie charts and graphs used to track America's present statistical erosion.

The roots are, of course, just our Calvinism.  The fact that we are achingly aware that Eden lies in our past and not in our future has saved us from all kinds of utopian schemes.

But one does well not to take seriously the whingeing of folks who live in a comfort undreamt by their fathers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Overcoming Assad's dark legacy (Deutsche Welle, 7/24/12)

[I]t remains uncertain whether a rebel victory would bring better times, for Syria will have to struggle with the legacy of the regime. Assad and his father have been in power for over 40 years. They both described themselves as secular, but that did not stop them filling key political, military, and economic positions with Alevi Muslims - the same Shiite minority that they belong to.

It's true that some members of the government came from the Sunni or Christian elites, but the center of power stayed firmly in Alevi hands. And the brutality with which they defended this position is likely to have woken a thirst for revenge among the regime's many enemies. Should the Assad regime fall, it is likely that there will be a few nights of bloody reprisals.

Margret Johannsen, political scientist at the University of Hamburg's Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy (IFSH), says it is very likely that the violence will continue if and when Assad falls. She points out that the country is split along many ethnic and religious lines - a circumstance that will not be changed a successful coup.

If the Assad regime does fall, it would be crunch time for the two major opposition groups - the Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Committee (NCC). These two blocs claim that together they control over 90 percent of Assad's opponents, and both have declared they will represent all of them, regardless of ethnic or religious background, if they get to form a new government.

An SNC spokesman - who wishes to remain anonymous - said the council intends to set up a government of national unity. He added that since administrative and government experience would be essential, the SNC would work together with representatives from the old regime - as long as they are not suspected of any crimes.

"We will not make the same mistake as in Iraq, namely allowing society to fracture again," the spokesman added. "We will avoid that mistake. If we keep to this plan, we will be sure of setting up a new government."

But bringing the population to put their trust in a national unity government is such an immense task that it would require no less than a cultural revolution. 

The mistake in Iraq, though noble, was to try to prevent fracture in hopes of instant revolution.
Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Poll: Romney preferred over Obama to handle the economy (Susan Page, 7/24/12, USA TODAY)

Despite concerted Democratic attacks on his business record, Republican challenger Mitt Romney scores a significant advantage over President Obama when it comes to managing the economy, reducing the federal budget deficit and creating jobs, a national USA TODAY/Gallup Poll finds.

Shouldn't that be, "thanks to Democrats' focus on the fact he's a successful businessman, Mr. Romney scores a significant advantage on handling the economy"?

Labor braces for attack should GOP sweep in November (Michael O'Brien, 7/24/12, NBC News)

 AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says he fears that Republicans would do to labor unions at a national level what they've sought achieve in the states should Mitt Romney win the presidency and the GOP control Congress come next January.

And Labor joins in to say he'll pass reforms like the ones Wisconsin just endorsed?

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


A Parent Power Watershed : A judge lets parents pull the 'trigger' on a failing school. (WSH, 7/23/12)

 With a judge's ruling last week in Southern California, a group of parents has become the first in the country to take over their children's failing public school after pulling a "parent trigger."

California enacted this reform as an unprecedented accountability measure in 2010. It allows parents of children in persistently failing schools to force dramatic change through petition drives. If a majority of parents at a school sign a petition, they can close that school, shake up its staff, or convert it to a charter.

At least that's the idea. But implementing the law requires some minimum cooperation from the local school establishment, which in California has resisted parent trigger from day one. That's how the parents of Desert Trails Elementary School ended up in court. [...]

" As Judge Malone ruled, school officials can't disregard a trigger drive simply "because in their judgment, converting the school into a charter school is unwise, inappropriate, or unpopular with District employees or classroom teachers."

The ruling effectively hands Desert Trails to the parents, ordering the district out of their way as the judge says they can "immediately begin the process of soliciting and selecting charter school proposals." This represents a potentially revolutionary power shift. For all the PTA meetings and solemn assurances from superintendents and union leaders that parent input into public schools is sacred, the ability of parents to force change has typically been nil.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Tour de France: Are drug-free cyclists slower? (Wesley Stephenson, 7/23/12, BBC News)

Dr Tucker says you can see a marked difference between today and the bad old days when there were no tests for blood doping or drugs such as EPO.

"In the late 1990s and early 2000s if you were going to be competitive and win the Tour de France you would have to be able to cycle between 6.4 and 6.7 watts per kilogram at the end of a day's stage.

"What we are seeing now, in the last three or four years, is that the speed of the front of the peloton [of] men like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali, is about 10% down compared to that generation and now the power output at the front is about 6W/kg."

He says that they should actually be getting faster, not slower, because of advances in technology and sports science.

He thinks that what we are seeing now is a human race as opposed to the pharmaceutical races we saw in the past.

"The physiological implications of riding 6.5W/kg are for me, as a physiologist, beyond belief. What they are doing now is physiologically plausible."

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


Letterman puts on a show in Mayor's Cup opener (Steve Virgen, 7/21/12, Daily Pilot)

Many people call Carson Letterman by his nickname, "Late Night."

He certainly put on a show on Saturday, this one coming on the mound and ending just before noon. He had an all-star lineup helping him out, but he was in the spotlight.

Letterman pitched a one-hitter with 11 strikeouts to lead the Costa Mesa National Little League Majors Division All-Stars to a 1-0 victory against Costa Mesa American in the first game of the best-of-three series to win the Mayor's Cup.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Shaved Heads: Less Attractive But More Powerful: Toss the toupee: New research finds Americans associate shiny scalps with masculine dominance. (Tom Jacobs, 7/23/12, Pacific Standard)

Men: Do you want to project an aura of confidence, strength and overall masculinity? You could experiment with testosterone supplements, or study the swagger of Don Draper during a Mad Men marathon.
Or you could just shave your head.

Three newly published studies "provide consistent evidence that a shaved scalp is associated with dominance," according to Albert Mannes of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, he reports that, at least in U.S. culture, a lack of hair connotes a forceful, assertive personality.

Guys opt for the "shaved style" because "it looks sharp and intimidating," according to a style columnist for the Ask Men website. While "sharp" is in the eye of the beholder, Mannes' research suggests "intimidating" is right on the mark.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


A Surprisingly Long List of Everything Smartphones Replaced : Hundreds of dollars and as many pounds of goods supplanted, thanks to a single device. (CHRISTOPHER MIMS, July 22, 2012, Technology Review)

If you spent enough time in the dark ages before they were ubiquitous, you've probably got a sense of the sheer number of physical objects which your phone replaced. But have you ever tried listing all of them? You might be surprised at just how long that list can grow. Here's mine...

July 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


...how much more comfortable he is in his own skin than either of the guys running now.
Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


...how much more comfortable he is in his own skin than either of the guys running now.
Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


A Dark Knight for Romney? (TOM CARSON JULY 20, 2012, American Prospect)

The real joke, as Rush might have learned if he'd crammed his posterior into a theater seat before venting, is that The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most deeply conservative movies to come out of Hollywood in years.

Understand, I mean "conservative" in the traditional, more or less honorable sense that Rush and his fellow napalm-eaters have done their best to make obsolete. To a large extent, that's built right into the source material. To much grimmer effect than his rival, Superman--all that sunshine palaver about "the American way," feh--Batman has always been the guardian of a social order against chaos, with a pretty dour view of unbridled license and plenty of pessimism about humanity's prospects for improvement. That may be why the 1960s TV version boomers loved had to be campy, since presenting Batman with his dignity intact would have left Dragnet's Jack Webb looking like some damned hippie-lover. But Christopher Nolan, the director of TDKR and its two predecessors--2005's Batman Begins and 2008's mega-smash The Dark Knight--has hardly been shy about bringing out the saga's implicit political philosophy.

If The Dark Knight ended up as the ultimate pop-culture reflection of George W. Bush's Global War on Terror--and it did, from the way audiences couldn't help seeing Heath Ledger's destruction-bent Joker as Osama bin Laden to Batman's harsh "the ends justify the means" moral ambiguity--the new movie ups the ante, in a way. Lacking even the Joker's twisted charisma, Tom Hardy's Bane is about as far from a Romney stand-in as could be imagined; he's a sullen, lower-depths menace, with a musculature seldom encountered outside Soviet-era sculpture gardens. Though his ultimate plan is to blow up Gotham--c'mon, they all want to blow up Gotham--he means to torment a captive Batman first by turning the city into a stew of every conservative's worst nightmares.

It's not exactly an accident that the first place Bane wreaks havoc is the Stock Exchange. Declaring war on privilege with a rabble-rousing slogan of "Equality!," he incites mobs to throw the rich out of their fancy homes and take over. Moscow-style show trials are held to condemn anyone who objects. It's a pastiche of the French Revolution, the Paris Commune, urban rioters, Bolshevik terror, and punk nihilism, incidentally letting Nolan eat his cake and have it too: In practice, anarchy and totalitarianism haven't been known to mix well. The point is that we're seeing all of Batman's fears--not to mention those of his investment-capitalist millionaire alter ego--mashed up to demonic (and demotic) effect.

In other words, those who ought to be most offended by the movie are Occupy Wall Street's 99 percenters and their sympathizers. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


The scariest chart of the day for Democrats (Chris Cillizza, 07/23/2012, Washington Post)

Republican super PACs have brought in $228 million since January 2011 while Democratic super PACs have collected $80 million in that time. The Fix is no math major but that's roughly a three to one advantage for conservatives.

That chasm is even more consequential when you consider that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee ended June with $170 million in the bank as compared to $144 million for President Obama and the Democratic National Committee.

It's now an absolute certainty that Republicans -- from Romney's campaign to the RNC to super PACs -- will outspend the Democratic combined money efforts between now and November 6. 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Polar bears, brown bears interbred during warm periods. Is it happening again? (Wynne Parry, 7/23/12, LiveScience)

"If this trend continues, it is possible that future [polar bears] throughout most of their range may be forced to spend increasingly more time on land, perhaps even during the breeding season, and therefore come into contact with brown bears more frequently," the researchers write in results published today (July 23) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Recently, wild hybrids and even second-generation offspring have been documented in the Northern Beaufort Sea of Arctic Canada where the ranges of brown bears and [polar bears] appear to overlap, perhaps as a recent response to climatic changes," they write.

Nevermind the hash it makes of Darwinism, how can climate have ever been different than it was right before cars were introduced?  Isn't global warming man made?

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


In Fight for the House, the Trajectory Is Clear (Stuart Rothenberg, 7/19/12, Roll Call)

House races often don't start getting attention until after Labor Day. But with the presidential contest sucking the air out of the political environment and defining the electoral landscape, House candidates may find they have an even harder time than usual defining themselves and their opponents.

That means the existing trajectory of the fight for the House may be harder and harder to change as Labor Day approaches, creating a growing problem for House Democrats who continue to insist that the House is "in play."

Democratic strategists need a dramatic shift in the House playing field if they are going to have any chance of netting the 25 seats they need to regain a majority in the House of Representatives. And that outcome looks increasingly remote.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


Bo Xilai: power, death and politics : The alleged murder of Neil Heywood has brought down one of China's most powerful politicians - and exposed a power struggle that has rocked the Communist party  (Jamil Anderlini)

As the cyanide took effect, Neil Percival Heywood must have looked around at the tacky photos of trees and waterfalls on the mustard-coloured wallpaper and wondered how he ever got involved in the vicious world of Chinese politics.

The dingy room at the Lucky Holiday Hotel - a three-star hilltop resort in the Chinese metropolis of Chongqing where Heywood was found dead on November 15 last year - was a long way from his childhood in a middle-class London suburb and his education at Harrow, the elite private school attended by Winston Churchill and Lord Byron. Although he had become increasingly worried about his involvement with one of China's most powerful political families, and had seen enough to know how they dealt with those who crossed them, he thought it very unlikely they would kill a foreigner.

Heywood could not have imagined that his murder would spark the biggest Chinese political scandal in at least two decades and expose an elite power struggle that has shaken the ruling Communist party to its core. After spending nearly half his 41 years living in China, mostly working as a small-time business consultant and fixer, his death in the secluded, run-down guest house was blamed on "excessive alcohol consumption" by the Chongqing police.

His remains were quickly cremated, without an autopsy, on the authorisation of his family. According to people familiar with the matter, Heywood's Chinese wife Wang Lulu was pressured by the Chongqing authorities to agree to the quick cremation and was so distraught when she arrived in the city that she sent her brother with a British consular official to identify the body. Almost every single staff member at the Lucky Holiday Hotel was replaced over the following month and all current employees have been warned not to discuss the incident with anyone.

Back in the UK, Heywood's sister, elderly mother and friends were told he died of a heart attack, as his father Peter had in 2004 at the age of 63. At a memorial on December 19, in St Mary's Church in Battersea, London, the Heywood family was joined by many of Neil's old Harrovian schoolmates. "At least some of us were puzzled and concerned by the circumstances of Neil's death and the story that he'd died of a heart attack," says one person who attended. "Those of us that knew who he was connected to in China felt something more sinister had happened."

The Lucky Holiday Hotel was a favourite spot for Gu Kailai, wife of Bo Xilai, a member of the elite 25-member politburo of the Communist party and the man who ruled like a king over Chongqing, a city-province with a population of 33 million and a land area the size of Austria. For Heywood, virtually all of his modest success as a business consultant for British companies in China stemmed from his 15-year relationship with the Bo-Gu family and it was Gu Kailai who arranged for him to come to Chongqing and stay at the forlorn, mist-shrouded compound last November. It is here that she is alleged to have murdered him using potassium cyanide, reportedly administered in a drink with the help of a household orderly and bodyguard named Zhang Xiaojun. The government announcement on April 10 of her detention on suspicion of "intentional homicide", and her husband Bo Xilai's suspension from all his posts because of "serious discipline violations", sent shockwaves through Chinese politics.

The death of an obscure British consultant had brought down one of China's most powerful politicians, a man who had been favoured to ascend to the ruling nine-member Communist party politburo standing committee at a once-in-a-decade power transition later this autumn. While Gu and Bo remain in detention awaiting an official verdict, their downfall has also revealed a deep rift among the top echelons of the Communist party and debunked the idea that authoritarian China has managed to institutionalise an orderly succession process in the absence of democracy. But Heywood's suspicious death would have almost definitely remained a mystery and Bo would still be a rising political star if it wasn't for the actions of one man - Bo's once-loyal and fanatical chief of police in Chongqing, Wang Lijun.

...folks still want to be Kleptocrat-in-Chief.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


The Obama Campaign Is Unworthy of a Democratic President (Georges Uguex, 07/20/2012, Huffington Post)

As a Democrat and a staunch support of Barack Obama, I am completely disgusted by his campaign. Are we talking about the President of the United States? Are we talking about a principled man who has boosted our ideal for a fair and equitable America? Does this have anything to do with the American people?

1. A harassing campaign

Everybody takes turns to bombard us with e-mails, phone calls to chip in for one reason or the other. Even those of us who asked to only receive selective information.

To that "presidential" harassment one needs to add what the Democratic Party does: strangely enough they only call and e-mail to collect money. Never to tell us what are the important causes for the Party.

Last but not least, the individual candidates do the same: we have not heard from them either for the previous four years.

This creates an impression of frenetic nervousness and not the strength that we expect from the President and incumbent candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


California, look to Wisconsin : Golden State cities hoping to avoid bankruptcy should look east for ideas. (Steven Malanga
July 17, 2012, LA Times)

When Walker introduced his so-called budget repair bill in February 2011, he argued that the biggest beneficiaries of his plan would be cities, towns and school districts, which would gain the flexibility to cut costs without having to negotiate every change in compensation or work rules with local unions. His legislation specifically eliminated collective bargaining by government workers for benefits and required greater contributions from them toward pensions.

How local officials employed those changes to cut costs proved revealing. The state's teachers union, Wisconsinites learned, had used its power to collectively bargain for healthcare benefits to demand that local school districts provide coverage through a nonprofit insurer affiliated with the union. Once the state ended bargaining on healthcare, school boards began competitively bidding out their health insurance.

By the opening of the new school year in September, just two months after the budget bill went into effect, 23 districts had rebid their contracts, saving $16 million, or an average of $211 per student. The MacIver Institute, a Madison-based think tank, estimated that if all the state's districts were able to negotiate similar deals once their contracts with the union-affiliated insurer expire, schools could save $186 million.

As mayor of Milwaukee, Barrett employed Walker's reforms before he knew he'd be facing the governor in the recall election. In mid-August 2011, barely a month after the changes went into effect, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the city would save as much as $36 million in its next budget from "healthcare benefit changes it didn't have to negotiate with unions" as a result of the new state legislation. When asked whether Walker's reforms should be credited for the savings, Barrett brushed aside the question and asserted that virtually everyone was in favor of having workers contribute more to their healthcare.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Don't Jump to Conclusions About the Killer (Dave Cullen, 7/22/12, New York Times)

At every high school, college and school-safety conference I speak at, I hold up the journals left behind by the killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. The audience is shocked at what they learn. Perpetrators of mass murder are usually nothing like our conceptions of them. They are nothing like a vision of pure evil. They are complicated.

Mr. Harris kept a sort of journal for an entire year, focused largely on his plan to blow up his school and mow down survivors with high-powered rifles. Mr. Klebold kept a more traditional journal for two years, spewing a wild array of contradictory teen angst and deep depression, grappling seriously with suicide from the very first page.

Audiences are never surprised by the journal of Mr. Harris. It's hate-hate-hate all the way through. He was a coldblooded psychopath, in the clinical use of that term. He had no empathy, no regard for human suffering or even human life.

Mr. Klebold's journal is the revelation. Ten pages are consumed with drawings of giant fluffy hearts. Some fill entire pages, others dance about in happy clusters, with "I LOVE YOU" stenciled across. He was ferociously angry. He had one primary target for his anger. Not jocks, but himself. What a loathsome creature he found himself. No friends, no love, not a soul who cared about him or what became of his miserable life. None of that is objectively true. But that's what he saw.

It's a common high school malady, taken to extremes. Psychologists have a simple term for this state: depression. That surprises a lot of people. Depressives look sad, but that is the view from the outside. Of course they're sad; they've probably gone their entire day getting berated relentlessly, by the single person in the world whose opinion they hold most dear -- themselves.

Psychologists describe depression as anger turned inward. When that anger is somehow turned around, and projected outward, watch out.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Obama's Burn Rate Worries Some Democrats (PETER NICHOLAS and DANNY YADRON, 7/23/12, WSJ)

Unless fundraising picks up, the Obama campaign may enter the season's final stretch confronting hard choices: paring salaries, scaling back advertising or pulling out of swing states in a bid to control costs, these Democrats say.

The campaign of President Obama, shown above last week in Jacksonville, Fla., spent twice as much as that of Mitt Romney last month.

The president spent twice as much as Mr. Romney in June, as his campaign purchased more TV ads, paid more than twice as many employees and spent millions of dollars on public-opinion polls, federal records show.

June was the second month in a row that Mr. Obama's campaign dipped into the red, while the president was outraised by the Romney campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


How Thatcher Came to Be Euroskeptic : The Iron Lady was lukewarm on the EU before she was against it. (Charles C. W. Cooke, 7/22/12, National Review)

In her opposition to the European single currency and the ERM, history has confirmed a remarkable prescience. Mrs. Thatcher correctly predicted that a single currency could not simultaneously accommodate the likes of Germany and Greece -- countries she specifically named -- and that attempting to reconcile the two would lead to disaster for smaller nations: It will "devastate their inefficient economies," she warned a tentatively pro-euro chancellor, John Major, in 1990. Her staunch opposition within a divided party and her peremptory rejection of the views of those who disagreed with her cost her dearly politically, contributing to her downfall in 1990.

Her unilateral opposition to British involvement with the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, too, helped to end her premiership. But on this question, as on so many others, history has been kinder to her than her party was. In 1992, as she was gearing up to give a speech to the Economic Club of New York that recommended Britain leave the ERM, the ERM collapsed and Britain withdrew. This rendered her remarks a victorious post-mortem. By chance, former chancellor Nigel Lawson's memoirs were released at around the same time and were being serialized in the Times. The memoirs contained a passage explaining how Mrs. Thatcher's opposition to the ERM had contributed to her downfall. At the time of her dramatic ouster in 1990, the conventional wisdom had been that her "obstinacy" and unwillingness to accommodate the views of her colleagues on matters European had done her in. Now her "poor judgment" looks like great wisdom.

July 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM

BUT FOR 9-11...:

George W. Bush's New Cause: AIDS in Africa (Eleanor Clift, Jul 22, 2012, Daily Beast)

Together with Laura Bush, he spent the July 4th week in Africa, where he helped build a wing on a hospital and refurbish a clinic to detect and treat cervical cancer. His jeans splattered with paint and with a baseball cap shielding his eyes from the sun, the former president said his work on global-health issues is a natural outgrowth of the freedom agenda he championed in Washington, noting with his characteristic bluntness: "One aspect of freedom is for people to be free from disease."

This was Bush's second trip to Africa since leaving office (Laura's third), and his emotional ties to the continent reach back to the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that he put in place 10 years ago to help stop the transmission of the AIDS virus from mothers to children. It was transformative for Africa--and for also for Bush, who found a cause that he could take way beyond the White House, one that would become a building block in the next chapter of his life. [...]

The Clinton Global Initiative sets a very high bar for what a former president can accomplish. "He has great respect for the things Clinton does with his global initiative, the way he raises money and funds projects," says Tony Fratto, a former Bush deputy press secretary. "But he wanted to have the [Bush] institute be a laboratory and a platform for ideas in the four areas he considers really critical for the advancement of human progress--freedom, education, global health, and the economy." The interest in Africa, and in AIDS, has become a "family affair," says Fratto, noting that daughter Barbara founded a nonprofit, Global Health Corps, which focuses on Africa.

Bush presided this week over the launch of the institute's first book, The Four Percent Solution, an admittedly aspirational goal where various economists weigh in on what they would do in addition to extending the Bush tax cuts. The institute's programs carry forward Bush's signature proposals--there's a team "thoughtfully assessing, not judging" requests from states asking for waivers from No Child Left Behind. And there are the sports events that Bush holds to honor the servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The W-100" is a three-day mountain-bike ride every spring, and in October, Bush will host the second "Warrior Open," a golf tournament that recognizes the importance of golf as a rehabilitative tool. "It recognizes the war in a way that doesn't excite passion about the merits of his policies," says Pitney.

While unquestionably heartfelt on Bush's part, it avoids any re-opening of a policy debate about the wars on his watch. And that's the point. Freed of the office, Bush appears to be modeling his post-presidency after Bush 2000, the compassionate conservative, the reformer with results, the uniter and not the divider. 

Mark McKinnon, Bush's chief media adviser on that campaign, confirms Bush's return to those themes, describing him as "in a state of grace," grateful for the privilege of having served as president "and happy now to be off the radar screen and quietly doing good, meaningful, and compassionate work."

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Our Ridiculous Approach to Retirement (TERESA GHILARDUCCI, July 21, 2012, NY Times)

To maintain living standards into old age we need roughly 20 times our annual income in financial wealth. If you earn $100,000 at retirement, you need about $2 million beyond what you will receive from Social Security. If you have an income-producing partner and a paid-off house, you need less. This number is startling in light of the stone-cold fact that most people aged 50 to 64 have nothing or next to nothing in retirement accounts and thus will rely solely on Social Security.

Even for those who know their "number" and are prepared for retirement (it happens, rarely), these conversations aren't easy. At dinner one night, a friend told me how much he has in retirement assets and said he didn't think he had saved enough. I mentally calculated his mortality, figured he would die sooner than he predicted, and told him cheerfully that he shouldn't worry. ("Congratulations!") But dying early is not the basis of a retirement plan.

My plan calls for a way out that would create guaranteed retirement accounts on top of Social Security. These accounts would be required, professionally managed, come with a guaranteed rate of return and pay out annuities. This is a sensible way to get people to prepare for the future. You don't like mandates? Get real. Just as a voluntary Social Security system would have been a disaster, a voluntary retirement account plan is a disaster.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM

Robert W. Creamer, Biographer of Babe Ruth, Dies at 90 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, July 19, 2012, NY Times)

Mr. Creamer's book on Ruth, "Babe: The Legend Comes to Life" -- which came out in 1974, the year Hank Aaron broke Ruth's career home run record -- was infused with details, including Ruth's pregame meal: three hot dogs. Roger Angell, writing in The New Yorker, said Ruth had "at last found the biographer he deserves in Robert Creamer," describing his writing as "swift and clear and stamped with a confirming intelligence."

In 1984, Mr. Creamer (pronounced kreemer) followed up with "Stengel: His Life and Times," a comprehensive look at the baseball legend who played for or managed all four major league teams from New York City. Mr. Creamer presented Stengel, who was often portrayed as an idiot savant, as a nuanced personality of wit and intelligence. But he did not neglect the "old perfessor's" knack for squeezing new possibilities out of the English language in a personalized dialect called Stengelese. One gem Mr. Creamer chose: "There comes a time in every man's life at least once, and I've had plenty of them."

Jonathan Yardley, writing in The Washington Post Book World, said the Stengel book was the second-best American sports biography. The best, he said, was the Ruth book.

-ARCHIVES: Robert W. Creamer (Sports Ullustrated Vault)
-TRIBUTE: BOB CREAMER (1922-2012): A GENTLE GIANT OF JOURNALISM (Jack McCallum, July 19th, 2012)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Between the Lines : Why liberalism faces a new era of constitutional insecurity. (Paul Starr, July 13, 2012, New Republic)

FROM A HISTORICAL perspective, the ACA followed the path of least resistance to universal health insurance. Through most of the twentieth century, the model that many Democrats favored for health care was a tax-supported national program like Social Security or Medicare. They regarded private health insurance as inefficient and inequitable, and they saw Medicaid as providing only limited access to care. But after years of frustration, congressional Democrats pursued incremental reforms as a stopgap. During the 1980s, they worked with Republicans to extend Medicaid to pregnant women and young children in families with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty level. These extensions, signed into law by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, began as options for states and were soon revised and became mandates, and the states all complied in expanding coverage. In the early '90s, as a counterproposal to President Bill Clinton's health plan, many prominent Republicans also endorsed a mandate on individuals to purchase health coverage as part of federal legislation to bolster private insurance and make coverage universal.

In short, both elements at issue in the legal challenge to the ACA--the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion--had a Republican imprimatur. Serious questions had never been raised about their constitutionality. Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the ACA case is that the Court nearly overthrew the entire act on the basis of arguments that Congress had no reason to take seriously when it passed the legislation.

Strictly interpreted, the Court's new limit on the scope of the Commerce clause should not have far-reaching consequences. Bill McCollum, Florida's former attorney general, unintentionally made this point when he said after the decision, "Well, at least it's clear that they can't order you to buy broccoli"--as if anyone had proposed to do that. Under the Commerce clause, according to Roberts as well as the four right-wing justices, the federal government cannot set a minimum requirement for health insurance any more than it can require people to buy vegetables. But by arguing that the ACA's insurance mandate was a novel and radical departure in federal legislation, Roberts and the conservative dissenters appear to concede that their ruling doesn't apply to any other existing legal requirement. In fact, the only recent proposal to mandate purchase of a private product has come from conservatives who want to replace Social Security with a requirement to buy private annuities--an idea safe under Roberts's tax-powers argument. The real worry about his Commerce clause ruling is that it may only be one in a series of new and dubious lines drawn to hem in federal regulatory powers related to the economy, environment, and other concerns.

...the point is that the four justices who'd have been happy to ignore the Constitution to achieve their desired result may on other occasions be joined by the Chief and have a majority, which would give us a Brennan Court of the Right.
Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Two uncomfortable men (Robert Fulford  Jul 21, 2012, National Post)
It's not hard to figure out why the 2012 presidential election is such a downer. The economy looks bleak and global instability is more dangerous than usual, but there's something else: Neither party is running a real politician for president. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney deploys the skills of persuasion and compromise that identify someone suited for politics.

Both are talented in various ways but they know little about braiding disparate sections of society, an essential element in political leadership. We find ourselves watching two uncomfortable men trying to be what they are not. The last time the parties produced such awkwardly inadequate champions was 1976, the year of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.

...is that if Mr. Romney were to simply argue that Bain represented the ways in which modern economies have been made more efficient and made everyone more affluent, while Mr. Obama continued his attacks--based on the idea that the economy should create jobs at the expense of efficiency and wealth creation--we'd end up with the most ideologically consequential election since 1912.

This even though neither man believes in much of anything--politically--and they disagree even less.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


Art Over Biology (Adam Kirsch, July 12, 2012, New Republic) 

IT IS NO COINCIDENCE that the same era should have given birth to Darwinism and to the aesthetic cult of decadence. The iron law of Darwinian evolution is that everything that exists strives with all its power to reproduce, to extend life into the future, and that every feature of every creature can be explained as an adaptation toward this end. For the artist to deny any connection with the enterprise of life, then, is to assert his freedom from this universal imperative; to reclaim negatively the autonomy that evolution seems to deny to human beings. It is only because we can freely choose our own ends that we can decide not to live for life, but for some other value that we posit. The artist's decision to produce spiritual offspring rather than physical ones is thus allied to the monk's celibacy and the warrior's death for his country, as gestures that deny the empire of mere life.

Darwin himself recognized that the human instinct to produce and admire art posed a challenge to the law of the survival of the fittest. He addressed the subject obliquely in 1871 in The Descent of Man, the work in which he advanced the idea of sexual selection as a complement to natural selection. Sexual selection was Darwin's ingenious way of explaining features of the natural world that seemed gratuitously wasteful, in a fashion that the parsimony of evolution ought not to have permitted. The classic example is the peacock's tail: why should the bird devote so much of its energy to producing a totally nonfunctional but amazingly decorative tail? It is the kind of natural splendor that, to earlier generations, might have spoken of the generosity of a Creator. The problem plagued Darwin: "The sight of a feather in the peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick."

The discovery of sexual selection solved the problem with brilliant economy. Such displays, Darwin realized, were male animals' ways of competing for the favor of the female. By this logic, the tiniest initial preference of the female for a conspicuous male--a peacock with a patterned tail, an elk with enlarged antlers--sparked a continual competition among males to become even more conspicuous. In every generation, a more beautiful peacock would leave more offspring than a homelier one, thus passing on the genes for beauty to his offspring, who would undergo the same kind of selection.

Animals produce beauty on their bodies; humans can also produce it in their artifacts. The natural inference, then, would be that art is a human form of sexual display, a way for males to impress females with spectacularly redundant creations. There is even an animal precedent for this: the Australian bowerbird, which attracts females by building an incredibly elaborate bower out of grass and twigs, and decorating it with colorful bits and the juice of crushed berries. The bower is a perfect example of an artwork whose explicit purpose is to promote reproduction.

For Darwin, the human sense of beauty was not different in kind from the bird's. "This sense," he remarked in The Descent of Man, "has been declared to be peculiar to man," but "when we behold a male bird elaborately displaying his graceful plumes or splendid colors before the female ... it is impossible to doubt that she admires the beauty of her male partner." Still, Darwin recognized that the human sense of beauty was mediated by "complex ideas and trains of thought," which make it impossible to explain in terms as straightforward as a bird's: "When ... it is said that the lower animals have a sense of beauty, it must not be supposed that such sense is comparable with that of a cultivated man, with his multiform and complex associated ideas."

In particular, Darwin suggests that it is impossible to explain the history or the conventions of any art by the general imperatives of evolution: "Many of the faculties, which have been of inestimable service to man for his progressive advancement, such as the powers of the imagination, wonder, curiosity, an undefined sense of beauty, a tendency to imitation, and the love of excitement or novelty, could hardly fail to lead to capricious changes of customs and fashions." Such changes are "capricious" in the sense that they are unpredictable from first principles. Put more positively, one might say that any given work of art can be discussed critically and historically, but not deduced from the laws of evolution.

This sensible reticence served both art and science well enough for more than a century after Darwin's death. But with the rise of evolutionary psychology, it was only a matter of time before the attempt was made to explain art in Darwinian terms. After all, if ethics and politics can be explained by game theory and reciprocal altruism, there is no reason why aesthetics should be different: in each case, what appears to be a realm of human autonomy can be reduced to the covert expression of biological imperatives. The first popular effort in this direction was the late Denis Dutton's much-discussed book The Art Instinct, which appeared in 2009.

For Dutton, the exposure of the Darwinian origins of art was meant to build a case against the excesses of postmodernism. If human aesthetic preferences--for representation in visual art, tonality in music, and narrative in literature--are the product of hundreds of generations of evolutionary selection, then it follows that art which rejects those preferences is doomed to irrelevance. In this sense, Dutton's Darwinism was aesthetically conservative: "Darwinian aesthetics," he wrote, "can restore the vital place of beauty, skill, and pleasure as high artistic values." Dutton's argument has recently been reiterated and refined by a number of new books, which do not necessarily share his aesthetic agenda or his artistic cultivation. But their appearance suggests that Darwinian aesthetics--and its more empirical cousin, neuroaesthetics--is growing quickly in confidence and appeal.

ON ITS FACE, the notion that the human instinct to make and appreciate art can be explained by evolution seems true, even a truism. 

Mr. Kirsch has given too much of the game away. Once you acknowledge that sexual selection was just invented as a way around the refusal of Nature to obey Darwinism you're left with nothing but truisms.
Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Obama Should Head for the Fiscal Cliff (Bill Keller, 7/22/12, New York Times)

In January, two fiscal time bombs planted by Congress are due to explode. On Jan. 1, all the Bush tax cuts expire, constituting a $400-billion-plus tax hike in 2013. The next day -- unless Congress agrees on a major deficit-reduction plan -- a fiscal discipline known as sequestration will slash about $100 billion a year from federal spending, divided between defense and nondefense.

Blanket repeal of the tax cuts and across-the-board spending reductions are both pretty bad ideas. Taken together they are a kind of grotesque, automated austerity program. Lawmakers of both parties are desperately seeking ways to evade some of the consequences. Republicans are more focused on sparing the defense budget, and Democrats are pressing to preserve the middle-class tax cuts.

Republicans know that revenues have to be raised and Defense cut.  Democrats know everything else has to be cut too.  Driving over the cliff gives both what they want with plausible deniability.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Sex really does make men fall asleep (The Telegraph, 7/22/12)

Researchers from the French government took scans of men's brains during and after sex to monitor changes in their mental activity.

They found that the cerebral cortex, which governs conscious thought, switched off during orgasm.

Two other areas, the cingulate cortex and the amygdala, then sent a message to the rest of the brain telling it to remove all sexual desire, via the release of sleep-inducing chemicals including serotonin and opioids.

The findings may provide men with a helpful excuse to turn off the light and go to sleep, but they are unlikely to be welcomed by their partners who do not experience the same effect.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Muddled models (Buttonwood, 7/20/12, The Economist)

To be fair to economists, there are two reasons why their forecasts are often likely to be wrong. The first is that humans are not inanimate objects; we change our behaviour and we watch the news. If every economist forecast a recession for 2013 and the predictions were widely publicised, businesses would cancel their investment programmes and consumers would start saving, not spending, for fear of losing their jobs. The recession would occur now, not next year.

Second, the economy is a complex mechanism with many working parts. Economists cannot run real-time experiments in the same way as scientists; operating one version of the economy with high interest rates and another with low rates, as a pharmacologist can offer one patient a new drug and another a placebo. There is no way of isolating the various factors that affect growth.

But there are more fundamental questions about the nature of the subject beyond the failure of economists to make accurate forecasts. Do economists have an accurate model of human motivation? Or do they assume that our motives are entirely mercenary?

In his excellent book, "The Assumptions Economists Make" Jonathan Schlefer tries to go back to first principles. Economists, he writes, "make simplified assumptions about our world, build imaginary economies based on those assumptions - otherwise known as models - and use them to draw practical lessons." This is, as he admits, inevitable; the economy is too complex for any other approach to work. Simplified models can be manipulated mathematically to produce answers to economic problems. But it is easy to get carried away by the elegance of the model, and to forget the short cuts that were taken when the simplified assumptions were made.

Even the most basic assumptions of economics turn out to have exceptions. Take one law that most people can grasp - supply and demand. As supply rises, relative to demand, the price falls; while if demand rises, relative to supply, the price rises. But this is not true for housing; when prices are rising, demand increases as more people want to become homeowners. And it is not true of so-called Veblen goods, luxury items such as designer clothes whose appeal is driven by their higher price.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM



Jose Rodriguez spent more than thirty years with the Central Intelligence Agency, eventually serving as the director of its Counterterrorism Center. He was involved in the Agency's detention-and-interrogation program, which included holding prisoners in black sites and waterboarding them. Rodriguez wrote a book about his career, "Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives," which I've written about and discussed in a Q. & A. with Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent (and the subject of a Profile by Lawrence Wright). Rodriguez and I discussed his book and the choices he and the C.I.A. made in e-mail and phone exchanges; questions and answers are collected below, edited for length.

In your book, "Hard Measures," you write, "I cannot tell how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labelled 'torturers' by the President of the United States." That struck me and also confused me a bit. After all, your book argues that practices generally regarded as torture are necessary, and you express pride in carrying them out. Was the problem that the President used the word "torture"? Or just that he spoke openly about something you felt ought to be kept secret?

The practices the C.I.A. used were not torture. If that is the way they are "generally regarded" then the general impression is wrong. That is one of the reasons I wrote "Hard Measures." The techniques we employed were sometimes harsh, but fell well short of what is torture. My problem with what the President said had nothing to do with secrecy--it had everything to do with the fact that he, too, mischaracterized what was done by C.I.A. officers. These actions were undertaken at the request of his predecessor, judged to be legal and not torture by the Department of Justice, and briefed to appropriate members of Congress.

So if everybody else defined something as torture, but we don't, they're wrong and we're right? Does that come across as defining away torture? And why do you think that the word "torture" matters so much? If waterboarding is something that's regarded as abhorrent in a lot of the world, why does the label matter so much?

Well, because torture is illegal. Over the summer of 2002, when we knew we had to do something different to get information out of Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured a few months earlier, we worked with our lawyers to make sure that we came up with techniques that were within the law. These techniques were vetted with the Department of Justice and the White House--with the policy people and the leadership people at the White House. Then, on August 1, 2002, we received a binding legal opinion in writing from the Justice Department that said waterboarding and nine other techniques we wanted to implement were not torture. We then went to the White House and asked the N.S.C. to give us policy approval to proceed, and for the President to direct us to proceed. And they did. A month later, when the Congress came back to town, we briefed the leadership of the House and Senate committees on intelligence, both Democrats and Republicans. They had no objection.

You say it's not torture because torture would be illegal, but you were told this was legal, even though it's a technique that in the past has been called torture and that a lot of the world calls torture?

The waterboarding that our critics and many others who do not know or do not understand--the waterboarding that they refer to is torture. They're talking the waterboarding that was used by the Japanese in World War Two, for example, or by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, or even by the Spanish in the Inquisition, which was torture. But our waterboarding technique was different. It came from a U.S. program called S.E.R.E., a military training program, and under that program, tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen have been waterboarded.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Blowing Up the King David Hotel: Sunday marks the anniversary of the 1946 attack on the British. My 91-year-old grandfather helped carry it out. (Niv Elis, July 19, 2012, The Tablet)

There were a handful of Jewish resistance groups, but the Etzel was the only one actively fighting the British. The other groups did not want to divert British resources from fighting the Nazis. "The British at that time were worse than the Germans," my grandfather says. "If a ship of Jews managed to get past the Germans, the British would turn them around and send them back." Despite the violence of the Arab revolt, it was the British who truly stood in the way of establishing a Jewish state, making them the main strategic target.

At first, he was not involved in substantial operations, but after a few years of intermittent participation in the group, he took on a more active role, raiding British weapons store-houses, building explosives, and securing funds through any means possible. He was given the code name "Chaim Toit," combining the Hebrew word for life with the Yiddish word for death, during an explosives training course in 1943. He opened up a front store on 83 Hertzel Street, and went to work assembling grenades and other weapons in the backroom.

Around the start of 1945, his commander Eitan Livni (father of former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni) approached him with a task. The Etzel, he explained, had found a family living over on Bashan Street that was willing to shelter a wounded or wanted soldier in their house, and a hiding place needed to be built for such an eventuality. The apartment, he was told, was small, and an elderly grandmother was ailing in the second room. "Keep the door closed, because if you disturb the suffering old woman she is bound to die," Livni told him.

When he knocked on the apartment door, a cheerful woman with thick glasses answered, baby in arms, and let them in. Careful not to disturb the dying old woman in the next room, my grandfather and his friend Shlomo scouted the apartment out for a suitable hiding place. The house, they discovered, was built in such a way that left ample space between the ceiling and the roof. They could build a faux laundry closet in the corner and put a ladder inside leading to the rafters, which they would reinforce to allow a fugitive to hide for a few days. The plan was perfect, and they went to work.

One day, as they were working, a wind blew open the door to the sick old lady's room. Before its occupant could shut it, my grandfather caught a glimpse of a bearded figure, and his heart skipped a beat. He would have recognized that face anywhere. Even though he'd only seen him once, giving a speech years earlier, he knew it was Menachem Begin, the leader of the Etzel and, at that time, a wanted fugitive from the British. Instead of delight, however, my grandfather was overcome with trepidation at learning a secret he was clearly not meant to know.

Begin, realizing he had been "discovered," decided it was no use keeping the door closed and invited the two Etzel men into his room for tea, taking the opportunity to get some information on the outside world. My grandfather earned his favor by finding him a short-wave radio to keep abreast of the news from the outside.

Not long after meeting Begin, my grandfather's partner-in-crime at the weapons factory was captured by the British. My grandfather quickly closed the store and relocated to Jerusalem. There he began a new role scouting out possible British targets and determining whether they were penetrable. Among them was the King David Hotel, the luxury building that housed both the British military headquarters and various foreign dignitaries, who would dance along with wealthy Arabs at "La Regance," the hotel's café and lounge. A wanted man, my grandfather had to disguise himself carefully before scouting the area.

The plan was hatched one day when he noticed a truck making a delivery for the café. Every day at noon, Arabs would bring vegetables, food, and canisters of milk to the kitchen. The milk canisters, he thought, would be perfect containers for explosives, but he wasn't sure if the kitchen had an easy connection to the café, which was right below the military headquarters in the hotel's southern wing.

To find out for sure, he'd have to go into enemy territory. Dressed as Arabs, he and a friend, accompanied by two Etzel women, walked right into the café one Friday night. Though the hotel was heavily guarded, and arrest by the British could mean prison, torture, or even hanging, my grandfather had to be sure of his plan. At one point, the ladies were sent to the bathroom, and my grandfather went wandering down the "wrong" hall. At the end of a lengthy corridor, a large Sudanese guard opened a door and boomed a menacing "What are you doing here?" at my grandfather. He replied that he was looking for his friend in the women's bathroom, to which the guard gruffly escorted him, where his date was conveniently waiting for him. The story checked out, and the guard let them go. But my grandfather had already gotten what he needed: He spied a kitchen in the doorway from which the guard emerged. The plan would work.

My grandfather went to work training the operatives who would carry out the operation. On July 22, 1946, 250 kg of TNT in seven milk crates placed along the support columns in the basement went off, demolishing the Southern wing of the hotel and killing 91 people along with it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Are athletic records reaching their limits? (AFP, July 22, 2012)

[S]ome scientists say sporting records are starting to flatline and one day will become near impossible to beat without drugs, gene splicing or futuristic technology.

The men's long-jump world record was set in 1991, the men's pole vault record remains unbroken since 1994 and short-distance swimming's achievements have actually reversed since the drag-reducing bodysuit was banned in 2010.

"In all sports, what you see is a levelling off," says Steve Haake, director of Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Sports Engineering Research.

Records continue to be broken in many sports, but the margins are getting smaller and smaller, he explained.

Geoffroy Berthelot with the INSEP sports institute in Paris looked at a history of Olympic records since the modern Games began in 1896.

He calculates that athletes have reached 99 per cent of what is possible within the limits of natural human physiology.

By 2027, half of all 147 sporting events studied will have reached their estimated limits and will not be improved upon by more than 0.05 per cent after that, according to Berthelot's mathematical estimate.

"Sports performances are reaching a physiological plateau," he said.

Reza Noubary of Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania projects that the men's 100-metre sprint, seen as the benchmark measure of human acceleration and speed, can only have a top time of 9.4 seconds.

The "data suggests that human speed increases are decelerating and will eventually stop completely," said Noubary.

But, he cautioned, this prediction is based only on mathematics.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


'Who's On First?' The Sign Language Version (CHRIS BENDEREV, 7/22/12, Weekend Edition Sunday)

After Jerry Seinfeld broke down the classic skit on the MLB Network recently, NPR's Mike Pesca wound up with a peculiar email in his inbox.

It was a link to an American Sign Language (ASL) version of the skit, sent by a friend. It was amazing, Pesca says.

"There are parts where you don't really understand what's going on, but if you know the routine, you can pretty much tell what they're talking about," Pesca tells Weekend Edition Sunday guest host Linda Wertheimer.

"Then there are certain instances where you know exactly what they're saying [and] it gets huge laughs from the audience," he says.

The fact that the routine survives without spoken words is a testament to its brilliance, Pesca says. "It's math. It really is musical, and it works really well."

...inevitably going to be even funnier when you throw in deafness?
Enhanced by Zemanta

July 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Syria Is a Battle for Entire Mideast (Jonathan Freedland, 7/21/12, The Guardian)

 Its fall will obviously transform Syria, a country that has lived under the boot-heel of that clan for four decades. But it will also radically affect the wider region. Syria, which borders Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey and Israel, does not keep itself to itself. As one former Obama official says: "Syria won't implode; it will explode." Put simply, the battle for Syria is a battle for the entire Middle East.

Take the most probable consequence of Assad's removal, a round of revenge killings perpetrated by Syria's Sunni majority on Assad's Alawite community and their Christian allies. They will be seeking vengeance, not only for the thousands slain in the current uprising, but for a history of brutality that includes the slaughter of up to 20,000 in Hama in 1982, the last time an Assad faced popular protest.

If that kind of sectarian violence erupts, don't expect it to stay confined to Syria. Even if the killing does not spill over the borders, then Syrians themselves will, joining the 125,000 who have already fled as refugees. And that's without Syria becoming the site of an all-out proxy war, with Saudi Arabia backing the rebels and Iran lining up behind the pro-Assad forces.

The west will not stay aloof for long. (Some say it is already involved, tacitly backing Saudi and Qatari arms shipments to the rebels.) Strikingly, the talk in the last 48 hours has shifted from direct intervention "" for which there were few takers "" to an international peacekeeping force to be dispatched after Assad's exit. Former CIA official Bruce Reidel, who led President Obama's 2010 review of US policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan, today proposed just such a force, noting the paradox that one of its first tasks would "be to protect the Alawite community and its allies from vengeance". 

Did we learn nothing in Iraq?  Purge prevents the need for Surge.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


The Original Godless Terrorists (George J. Marlin, 7/11/12, Catholic Thing)

One witness, a British subject, wrote this description of a Festival of Reason held in the French countryside:

A delegate arrives some days in advance, accompanied by a goddess, if the town itself cannot supply a suitable one. She is attired in a Roman tunic of white satin, usually taken from a theatrical wardrobe, and wears a red cap trimmed with oak leaves. Her left arm rests on a plough, in her right hand she holds a lance.. . . .Installed on an altar. . .she addresses the people who in return pay her homage. . . .Wherever possible a priest is procured to abjure his Faith in public and to declare that Christianity is nothing but a fraud. The festival ends with a bonfire in which prayer-books, saints' images, confessionals, and other pieces of church furniture are burnt. Most of those present stand looking on in silence, struck dumb with horror and amazement; others, either drunk or paid. . .dance around. . .

To complete their hold over the nation, the Jacobins eliminated elections and established the first modern dictatorship; the first police state. "The Republic," Danton said, "was established fifty years before opinion was ready for it. . .free elections would be incompatible with its maintenance."

They commenced a reign of terror that they believed was the only way to eliminate with lightning speed the forces of selfishness and corruption, i.e., the Church (among others). The Jacobin's guiding principle was expressed by Saint-Just: "Until the will of the sovereign people represses the monarchist minority and reigns by the right of conquest. . . .You have to punish not only the traitors but also the different; you have to punish whoever is passive in the Republic and does nothing for it. . . .Those who cannot be ruled by justice must be ruled by the sword."

Tens of thousands were arrested on mere suspicion. The accused were found guilty in groups. Presenting defense arguments was not permitted and prisoners were forbidden to speak in their own behalf. At least 30,000, most of whom were innocent, lost their lives at the guillotine.

In an infamous episode in the Vendée, the executioners decided the guillotine was too slow (though they managed to kill tens of thousands) and over 2,000 victims - Catholic counter-revolutionaries - were summarily drowned. The ex-Oratorian student Joseph Fouché massacred thousands at Lyons. Historian R.R. Palmer observes, "Those men inflicted death with a holy glee!"

The result of their reconstruction of society based on ideological abstractions: two-hundred years of political and social instability and unrest. Ten years after the storming of the Bastille, France had been ruled by six different governments. Since 1799, a dictator, two emperors, two kings, a rump Vichy government, and five republics have governed the nation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD: A new era of strength competitions tests the limits of the human body. (Burkhard Bilger, JULY 23, 2012, The New Yorker)

Brian Shaw; Strongmen; Weightlifters; World's Strongest Man; Arnold Strongman Classic; Arnold Schwarzenegger; Derek Poundstone
The giant of Fort Lupton was born, like a cowbird's chick, to parents of ordinary size. His father, Jay Shaw, a lineman for a local power company, was six feet tall; his mother, Bonnie, was an inch or so shorter. At the age of three months, Brian weighed seventeen pounds. At two years, he could grab his Sit 'n Spin and toss it nearly across the room. In photographs of his grade-school classes, he always looked out of place, his grinning, elephant-eared face floating like a parade balloon above the other kids in line. They used to pile on his back during recess, his mother told me--not because they didn't like him but because they wanted to see how many of them he could carry. "I just think Brian has been blessed," she said. "He has been blessed with size."

Fort Lupton is a city of eight thousand on the dry plains north of Denver. In a bigger place, Shaw might have been corralled into peewee football at eight or nine, and found his way among other oversized boys. But the local teams were lousy and, aside from a few Punt, Pass & Kick contests--which he won with discouraging ease--Shaw stuck to basketball. By seventh grade, he was six feet tall and weighed more than two hundred pounds. When he went in for a dunk on his hoop at home, he snapped off the pole, leaving a jagged stump in the driveway. By his late teens, his bulk had become a menace. One player knocked himself out running into Shaw's chest; another met with his elbow coming down with a rebound, and was carried off with a broken nose and shattered facial bones. "It was bad," Shaw told me. "One guy, we dove for a ball together, and I literally broke his back. It wasn't that I was a dirty player. I wasn't even trying to do it hard."

Like other very large men, Shaw has a surprisingly sweet nature. His voice is higher and smaller than you'd expect, and he tends to inflect it with question marks. His face has the bulbous charm of a potato carving. "He's almost overly friendly," Terry Todd, a former champion weight lifter and an instructor at the University of Texas, told me. "It's like he thinks that if he's not you'll be frightened of him and run away." At six feet eight and four hundred and thirty pounds, Shaw has such a massive build that most men don't bother trying to measure up. His torso is three feet wide at the shoulders; his biceps are nearly two feet around. His neck is thicker than other men's thighs. "I know I'm big," he told me. "I've been big my whole life. I've never had to prove how tough I am."

In the summer of 2005, when Shaw was twenty-three, he went to Las Vegas for a strength-and-conditioning convention. He was feeling a little adrift. He had a degree in wellness management from Black Hills State University, in South Dakota, and was due to start a master's program at Arizona State that fall. But after moving to Tempe, a few weeks earlier, and working out with the football team, he was beginning to have second thoughts. "This was a big Division I, Pac-10 school, but I was a little surprised, to be honest," he told me. "I was so much stronger than all of them." One day at the convention, Shaw came upon a booth run by Sorinex, a company that has designed weight-lifting systems for the Denver Broncos and other football programs. The founder, Richard Sorin, liked to collect equipment used by old-time strongmen and had set out a few items for passersby to try. There were some kettle bells lying around, like cannonballs with handles attached, and a clumsy-looking thing called a Thomas Inch dumbbell.

Inch was an early-twentieth-century British strongman famous for his grip. His dumbbell, made of cast iron, weighed a hundred and seventy-two pounds and had a handle as thick as a tin can, difficult to grasp. In his stage shows, Inch would offer a prize of more than twenty thousand dollars in today's currency to anyone who could lift the dumbbell off the floor with one hand. For more than fifty years, no one but Inch managed it, and only a few dozen have done so in the half century since. "A thousand people will try to lift it in a weekend, and a thousand won't lift it," Sorin told me. "A lot of strong people have left with their tails between their legs." It came as something of a shock, therefore, to see Shaw reach over and pick up the dumbbell as if it were a paperweight. "He was just standing there with a blank look on his face," Sorin said. "It was, like, What's so very hard about this?"

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Jazz Organ's Excitable Child (LARRY BLUMENFELD, 7/18/12, WSJ)

Beneath his black turban, above his long white beard, Dr. Lonnie Smith's eyes grew large and his grin wide earlier this month at Manhattan's Jazz Standard. It was his 70th birthday, which he celebrated by doing what he's done for nearly a half-century: Building and then deconstructing hard-swinging grooves; reveling in the sonic possibilities of a Hammond B-3 organ; surprising listeners and bandmates with sudden rhythmic and dynamic shifts; and easing into ballads with disarming sweetness and absorbing soul. The listeners who packed the room traced Mr. Smith's moods, growing silent at some points and erupting with applause and even laughter at others. [...]

He found his true calling at a local music store where he'd sit until closing time most afternoons, he said. "One day the owner, Art Kubera, asked what I was doing. I told him, 'Sir, if I had an instrument, I could make a living.'" In particular, he coveted a Hammond B-3 organ. That evening he went home with the organ in the back of his brother's pickup truck, a gift from Kubera. "But I still had to figure out how to play that beast," he said.

He was a quick study, and his career ascended just as fast. Within months, he was performing in local clubs. He sat in one night at the Pine Grill with members of organist Jack McDuff's group, which featured Mr. Benson. He and Mr. Benson felt an instant connection. Around that same time, he passed up a chance to record with guitarist Grant Green, a heady opportunity for any young musician. "I hadn't been playing a good year then," he said. "I wasn't ready."

Several months later, when Mr. Benson needed an organist, Mr. Smith jumped at the chance. He played on Mr. Benson's 1966 Columbia debut; Mr. Benson returned the favor on "Finger Lickin' Good." Even then, Mr. Smith's playing sounded radical. "I really was thinking Jimmy Smith," he said of his early hero, "but it just always came out different."

Both he and Mr. Benson attained greater visibility after playing on "Alligator Boogaloo," alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson's 1967 surprise hit album for Blue Note. "The groove in that group was so automatic," Mr. Smith said. "It felt like we'd been doing it forever." Between 1968 and 1970, he had four successful Blue Note releases of his own.

Mr. Smith, who won't discuss precisely what his turban signifies, easily grows animated in conversation about nearly anything else and exudes a childlike wonder. He's the same way onstage. Drummer Herlin Riley, who played on Mr. Smith's brilliant 2009 CD "Rise Up!" said, "Lonnie's playing is so free, it liberates you if you can let go."

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


The Kids Are Not Really Alright: It's worse to be raised by a single mother, even if you're not poor. (W. Bradford Wilcox, July 20, 2012, Slate)

Take two contemporary social problems: teenage pregnancy and the incarceration of young males. Research by Sara McLanahan at Princeton University suggests that boys are significantly more likely to end up in jail or prison by the time they turn 30 if they are raised by a single mother. Specifically, McLanahan and a colleague found that boys raised in a single-parent household were more than twice as likely to be incarcerated, compared with boys raised in an intact, married home, even after controlling for differences in parental income, education, race, and ethnicity. Research on young men suggests they are less likely to engage in delinquent or illegal behavior when they have the affection, attention, and monitoring of their own mother and father.

But daughters depend on dads as well. One study by Bruce Ellis of the University of Arizona found that about one-third of girls whose fathers left the home before they turned 6 ended up pregnant as teenagers, compared with just 5 percent of girls whose fathers were there throughout their childhood. This dramatic divide was narrowed a bit when Ellis controlled for parents' socioeconomic background--but only by a few percentage points. The research on this topic suggests that girls raised by single mothers are less likely to be supervised, more likely to engage in early sex, and to end up pregnant compared with girls raised by their own married parents.
It's true that poorer families are more likely to be headed by single mothers. But even factoring out class shows a clear difference. Research by the Economic Mobility Project at Pew suggests that children from intact families are also more likely to rise up the income ladder if they were raised in a low-income family, and less likely to fall into poverty if they were raised in a wealthy family. For instance, according to Pew's analysis, 54 percent of today's young adults who grew up in an intact two-parent home in the top-third of household income have remained in the top-third as adults, compared with just 37 percent of today's young adults who grew up in a wealthy (top-third) but divorced family.

Why is this? Single mothers, even from wealthier families, have less time. They are less likely to be able to monitor their kids. They do not have a partner who can relieve them when they are tired or frustrated or angry with their kids. This isn't just a question of taking kids to the array of pampered extracurricular activities that many affluent, two-parent families turn to; it's about the ways in which two sets of hands, ears, and eyes generally make parenting easier. 

This recognition that it is easier to parent, and that kids are more likely to thrive, in a two-parent home might  be one reason why the divorce bug seems to be on the wane in progressive enclaves like Park Slope and Seattle, according to the New York Times. After the turmoil of the divorce revolution of the 1970s and early 1980s, a marriage mindset has reasserted itself among college-educated Americans. (Barack and Michelle Obama embody the new mindset; Newt Gingrich and his three wives embody the '70s mindset.) Today, college-educated Americans are divorcing less, steering clear of nonmarital childbearing, and enjoying relatively high-quality marriages. By contrast, as I recently pointed out in When Marriage Disappears, Americans without college degrees are divorcing at high rates, witnessing dramatic increases in nonmarital childbearing, and seeing their marital quality deteriorate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Dreaming of a World With No Intellectuals (Russell Jacoby, Chronicle Review)

A new book, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats) (Encounter), by David Gelernter, a professor of computer science at Yale, affords an occasion to revisit the issue: Do contemporary American conservatives scapegoat intellectuals and teachers? If so, they can claim an all-American pedigree.

William F. Buckley Jr. began his career in 1951 with God and Man at Yale, which lambasted his professors for their godlessness and socialism. Past and present American intellectuals on the right generally disdain economic or social analyses of political dislocations. They attribute socialism's appeal, for example, not to the condition of society but to the influence of nefarious professors and subversive writers.

Or consider feminism. Have women entered the work force and--as some conservatives say--abandoned the family? Does that have to do with the realities of war, say, in which men leave their jobs and women replace them? Or with the imperative of supporting a family when one paycheck no longer suffices? "A superficial explanation through economic changes is to be avoided," wrote Richard M. Weaver in one of the ur-texts of American conservatism. "The economic cause is a cause that has a cause," he declared in his 1948 book, Ideas Have Consequences. "The ultimate reason lies in the world picture, for once woman has been degraded in that picture--and putting her on a level with the male is more truly a degradation than an elevation--she is more at the mercy of economic circumstances."

To their suspicion of economic analyses of social issues, American conservatives add a suspicion of intellectuals as elitists. The aristocratic Buckley famously remarked that he would prefer to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard. To Buckley, a random collection of Bostonians would prove wiser than liberal, overeducated professors. This position drew upon several features of an American ethos that prizes equality, no-nonsense religion, business, practicality, and self-help, all of which Richard Hofstadter analyzed in his classic work, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963).

Buckley was hardly alone in deriding intellectuals as out-of-touch elitists, an attitude that can easily slide into a wholesale denunciation of knowledge and education itself. What does schooling bring aside from an undermining of Christian truths?

That mind-set came to a head in the 1925 Scopes trial, in which a Tennessee high-school teacher was charged with teaching evolution. William Jennings Bryan, the special prosecutor, saw the issue as religion versus the intellectuals, whom he dubbed a "scientific soviet." The "little irresponsible oligarchy of self-styled 'intellectuals,'" he said, forces science and rationalism on solid Christian folk. "Parents have a right to say that no teacher paid by their money shall rob their children of faith in God and send them back to their homes, skeptical, infidels, or agnostics, or atheists."

For Hofstadter, the Scopes trial "greatly quickened the pulse of anti-intellectualism. For the first time in the 20th century, intellectuals and experts were denounced as enemies." Hofstadter also noted--remember, he was writing in the early 1960s--that for many today, the evolution controversy is "as remote as the Homeric era."

No longer. Tennessee just passed a law protecting teachers who want to challenge evolution--and global warming. As one of the bill's supporters stated, the teaching of evolution was "extremely unbalanced." In other words, it was taught as true. The old battles are not over; indeed, the situation seems to be getting worse. For conservatives, conventional morality and religion are waning. Sexuality no longer seems contained or constrained. Men are marrying men. What's next? Interspecies marriage?

If the ills of modernity are intensifying, conservatives know why. They rarely mention hyperconsumerism or advertising or a rigidifying class structure--the byproducts of advanced capitalism. Rather, they dwell on the presumably corrosive ideas of the educated, especially the professoriate.

To put this as simply as possible, the difference between conservative thinkers is that they agree with Mr. Weaver that a "cause is a cause that has a cause."  On the other hand, intellectuals believe they can recreate reality such that the causes will have no other cause but the pure power of their own intellects.

Or, as we tried to explain our review of Richard Hofstadter's oft-cited but little read text:

[Mr.] Hofstadter has great difficulty defining intellectualism, but he does contrast it with intelligence:

    [I]ntelligence is an excellence of mind that is employed within a fairly narrow, immediate, an 
    predictable range... Intelligence works within the framework of limited but clearly stated goals, and 
    may be quick to shear away questions of thought that do not seem to help in reaching them.

    ... Intellect, on the other hand, is the critical, creative, and contemplative side of mind. Whereas 
    intelligence seeks to grasp, manipulate, re-order, adjust, intellect examines, ponders, wonders, 
    theorizes, criticizes, imagines.

His fuzziness is such that while he acknowledges the American love affair with inventors and other men of practical intelligence, he quite mistakenly groups scientists generally into the category of Intellectuals.  In fact, there is a fairly simple definition of the term intellectual that will clear up much of the confusion:  an "intellectual" is someone who deals in pure ideas, that is ideas untested by reality.  The term "Intellectual" in turn has come to denote anyone who believes that these untested ideas should be tried out upon society.  Once we accept these fairly simple definitions, it becomes pretty obvious why America has an anti-intellectual tradition and why members of the American Left are so troubled by it.

As even his own feeble definition provides, it is the nature of "intellect" to oppose the existing order.  But in a democracy, it is the great public majority which determines that order in the first place; those who wish to "manipulate, re-order, adjust" are seeking to impose the ideas of an elite few on a system that has been founded, built and maintained by the many.  The very structure of the government bequeathed to us in the Constitution is intended to thwart just such manipulations.  The carefully wrought system of checks and balances was put in place in order to make it as difficult as possible to make the types of changes that Intellectuals tend to dream up.

It was Hofstadter's misfortune to be writing at a time when it mistakenly looked like this historic truth was changing. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Feds take ailing boy to NM from tough Mexican city (Russell Contreras, Associated Press)

A 9-year-old boy with a massive tumor was whisked from a dangerous neighborhood in Mexico in an armored vehicle by U.S. agents and taken across the border for treatment in New Mexico, his family said.

The boy and his parents were snatched Thursday from the gang-infested neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez -- one of the deadliest cities in the world -- after members of a New Mexico Baptist church saw him near an orphanage and sought help. [...]

Si Budagher, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rio Rancho, N.M., said church members spotted the boy while doing missionary work and felt compelled to help him.

"He just came up to us and offered to carry groceries," Budagher said. "The Lord put him in front of us."

Church members only recently resumed missionary work in the border city after suspending visits due to the violence between competing drug cartels. The violence has claimed thousands of lives.

Denise Gutierrez, a victim assistance coordinator for Homeland Security Investigations, said she felt compelled to help as soon as she saw photos of Jose.

"I refused to believe that there was nothing we could do for this boy," she said.

July 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Britain 'appalled' as Russia and China block UN resolution on Syria (Alex Spillius, 19 Jul 2012, The Telegraph)

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the UN, said the Government was "appalled by the decision to block a resolution at bringing and end to the bloodshed in Syria".

Russia and China, he said, "are failing in their responsibilities as permanent members, they are failing the people of Syria," adding that 14,000 Syrians had died since the two powers first used their veto last October.
"The effect of their actions is to protect a brutal regime. "

"Of course the PRC wants to save this evil regime, because it is one and it can hear the footsteps of its own people closing in. It may not fall next, but soon."

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Questioning Surgery for Early Prostate Cancer (TARA PARKER-POPE, 7/19/12, The New York Times)

A new study shows that prostate cancer surgery, which often leaves men impotent or incontinent, does not appear to save the lives of men with early-stage disease, who account for most cases, and many of these men would do just as well to choose no treatment at all.

The findings were based on the largest-ever clinical trial comparing surgical removal of the prostate with a strategy known as "watchful waiting." They add to growing concerns that prostate cancer detection and treatment efforts over the past 25 years, particularly in the United States, have been woefully misguided, rendering millions of men impotent, incontinent and saddled with fear about a disease that was unlikely ever to kill them in the first place. About 100,000 to 120,000 radical prostatectomy surgeries are performed in the United States each year.

"I think this is game-changing," said Dr. Leonard Marks, a professor of urology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study. "What this study does is call attention to the fact that there are a lot of prostate cancers that are diagnosed today that are not dangerous."

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


U.S. Speeds Its Selloff of Bailout Securities (GREGORY ZUCKERMAN and SERENA NG, 7/20/12, WSJ)

The government says it has already made a profit on the emergency funds injected into banks at the time of the financial-industry bailout, and the Fed has fully recouped money spent on acquiring toxic assets from troubled companies.

The Treasury, which invested $245 billion in more than 700 banks, has so far collected $264.7 billion from its bank programs.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, meanwhile, has fully recouped $72.7 billion in loans that were used to buy toxic assets, and has reaped gains of over $5.2 billion so far.

In coming months, the government is expected to sell or be repaid on securities with a total face value of roughly $29 billion, according to government officials and investors. The assets are likely to generate more than $10 billion for taxpayers. The government had purchased some of the securities below face value.

By stepping up its efforts and telegraphing that it aims to conduct bulk sales, the government may risk driving down prices. But prices for auctions in recent weeks have been strong, and many hedge funds and other investors have built large piles of cash to invest in these kinds of assets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM

THEY CAN GO HIGHER (via The Mother Judd)

A book lover's lament : Why can't we read books as fast as we buy them? (Jeff Jacoby, 7/18/12, Boston  GLOBE)

With disposable income, however, the world changed. I realized that the pleasure of reading books was amazingly enhanced by the pleasure of owning books. I liked seeing around me books I had already read; I found it gratifying that my encounter with a book continued even after I'd finished reading it.

But above all there was the delight of anticipation. I snapped up books that intrigued me, that I thought would be good reads, that got great reviews. Alas, I was like a kid whose eyes are too big for his stomach: I kept helping myself to more than I could possibly finish. It didn't help that the older I got, the less time there was for pleasure reading. Or that my ability to acquire books faster than ever -- hello, 1-Click! -- didn't come with the ability to read them any faster.

Ah, if only I could read books as fast as I acquire them! Even half as fast would be a blessing. Even a quarter as fast.

In my life, books increasingly seem to play the role of those falling geometric shapes in Tetris. [...]

I suppose it's time I faced reality: I'll never catch up on my must-read list. How can I, when they keep publishing books I'm so impatient to read?

William F. Buckley Jr. once described the experience of entering a well-appointed home in which something seemed out of order. It took him a few moments to realize the problem: There were no books. It was jarring, Buckley wrote, to be confronted with the fact that there are people in whose lives books play no role whatsoever.

In my life, by contrast, books increasingly seem to play the role of those falling geometric shapes in Tetris. That's the classic video game in which you either clear out the shapes efficiently as they fall, or they stack up so high that no space is left -- and you lose.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Paving the Way for Driverless Cars (CLIFFORD WINSTON, 7/17/12, WSJ)

Most highways in major metropolitan areas operate under congested conditions during much of the day. Yet highways are designed around standards based on higher free-flow travel speeds that call for wider but fewer lanes. Driverless cars don't need the same wide lanes, which would allow highway authorities to reconfigure roads to allow travel speeds to be raised during peak travel periods. All that is needed would be illuminated lane dividers that can increase the number of lanes available. Driverless cars could take advantage of the extra lane capacity to reduce congestion and delays.

Another design flaw is that highways have been built in terms of width and thickness to accommodate both cars and trucks. The smaller volume of trucks should be handled with one or two wide lanes with a road surface about a foot thick, to withstand trucks' weight and axle pressure. But the much larger volume of cars--which apply much less axle pressure that damages pavement--need more and narrower lanes that are only a few inches thick.

Building highways that separate cars and trucks by directing them to lanes with the appropriate thickness would save taxpayers a bundle. It would also favor the technology of driverless cars because they would not have to distinguish between cars and trucks and to adjust speeds and positions accordingly.

Traffic management also suffers from obsolete technology that could hinder implementing the driverless car. On local streets, signal timing contributes to hundreds of millions of vehicle hours of annual delay because it is based on out-of-date historical data that inaccurately measure relative traffic volumes at intersections. Without signals based on real-time traffic flows, driverless vehicles may not be able to accurately align their speeds with them.

The future also holds the promise of new communications technologies that could let road authorities use electronic tolls to charge motorists for their contribution to congestion, based on actual traffic conditions, and thus encourage them to travel during off-peak periods, use alternate routes, or switch to public transit. Driverless cars would significantly help motorists respond to congestion tolls because their technology can balance the cost of a toll with its travel time savings to optimize motorists' route choices.

The driverless car represents one of the most amazing breakthroughs in safety and quality of life in recent history.

July 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Jimmy Cliff, 'Rebirth' (Steve Morse, 7/17/12, GLOBE)
Credit the Clash's Joe Strummer for getting this album in motion. Joe told reggae pioneer Jimmy Cliff that he should one day work with Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, and the result is a refreshing return to form. Armstrong loved Cliff's early work, back to the heyday of "The Harder They Come" soundtrack, so he and Cliff set out with vintage studio gear (including the organ from the soundtrack sessions) to create "Rebirth," arguably Cliff's best work since then. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


DEATHS IN DAMASCUS (Steve Coll, 7/18/12, The New Yorker)

On Wednesday, an apparent suicide bomber in Damascus attacked a meeting of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's war cabinet, killing Daoud Rajha, Syria's defense minister, and Asef Shawkat, who was the President's brother-in-law. The attack was the most striking in a series of signs that Syria's uprising has tipped into a full-blown civil war, as the Red Cross has now labelled it, with the war's momentum now favoring the rebels. (The intelligence and access required for an attack to succeed against a crisis-cabinet meeting suggests that the rebels are running sources inside Assad's security apparatus.) Other recent signals include sustained fighting around Damascus; the reported withdrawal of Syrian forces from the Golan Heights to combat the revolt; the spread of persistent violence to most of the country's provinces, drawing in virtually every unit of the Syrian security services; and significant, accelerating defections of diplomats and military officers.

Assad is finished.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Zimmerman: Trayvon's death was "God's plan" (FRANCES ROBLES, 7/19/12, MIAMIHERALD.COM)

Asked if he regretted getting out of the car that night or owning a gun, Zimmerman said no. Asked if he would do anything differently, Zimmerman said no a third time, and added that Trayvon's death was "God's plan." [...]

In a statement after the show, Tracy Martin, Trayvon's father, said: "We must worship a different God, because there's no way my God would have wanted George Zimmerman to kill my son."

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM

Great Lake Swimmers On Mountain Stage (NPR, July 19, 2012)

Early in this show, fellow guest Tim O'Brien joked that the Ontario-based Great Lake Swimmers "had better get started" if they hoped to make it to the show on time. They didn't actually swim - but it was still great to have the Toronto band on an episode of Mountain Stage recorded on the shore of Lake Superior in Grand Marais, Minn. Fronted by singer and songwriter Tony Dekker, the group's evocative, folk-pop sound has earned praise from the likes of Robert Plant, Bela Fleck, and Feist. The album Lost Channels was recorded in various locations in the Thousand Islands area along the Saint Lawrence River.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Tapping Technology to Keep Lid on Tuition (DAVID WESSEL, 7/19/12,  WSJ)

With less fanfare, there is something else going on: the marriage of in-person teaching and online instruction in building-block courses such as statistics, intro physics and basic economics. In these hybrids, students meet the teacher perhaps once a week for an hour; the rest of the learning is done online.

"There's been a convergence of the power of the software with knowledge we've gained from cognitive sciences about how people learn," says William Kirwan, chancellor of the University of Maryland, which has 12,000 students enrolled in 40 or so of these hybrid courses. "And there is the potential for cost savings. We have got to find lower-cost ways of delivering high-quality education."

Some praise technology in the classroom as a cure-all; others label it a sure way to destroy all that is good in education. There have been lots of assertions, but little evidence. Until now.

In a carefully crafted, foundation-funded experiment that has received less attention than it deserves, Ithaka S+R, a higher-education think tank, enticed 605 undergraduates at six public-university campuses in New York and Maryland to agree to be assigned randomly to one of two courses. Half took a conventional introductory statistics course that met three hours a week. The other half took a computer-assisted course that met once a week and relied on an interactive, online statistics course developed by Carnegie Mellon University's Online Learning Initiative.

To compare outcomes, researchers had students take a standardized statistics test and a final exam that had some of the same questions.

The statistically sound result: Students in the online course did just as well as those who took the conventional course. No better, no worse.

"The most important single result of our study: It calls into question the position of the skeptic who says, 'I don't want to try this because it will hurt my students,' " says one of the study's architects, William Bowen, a former president of Princeton University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The eurozone's religious faultline (Chris Bowlby, 7/18/12, BBC Radio 4)

Following the last European summit in Brussels there was much talk of defeat for Chancellor Merkel by what was described as a "new Latin Alliance" of Italy and Spain backed by France.

Many Germans protested that too much had been conceded by their government - and it might not be too far-fetched to see this as just the latest Protestant criticism of the Latin approach to matters monetary, which has deep roots in German culture, shaped by religious belief.

Churchgoing has been in decline in Germany as elsewhere as secularisation has spread, but religious ideas still shape the way Germans talk and think about money. The German word for debt - schuld - is the same as the word for "guilt" or "sin".

Talk of thrift and responsible budgeting comes instinctively to Angela Merkel, daughter of a Protestant pastor.

Merkel's frequent assertion that "there is no alternative" to austerity policies (while reminiscent to Britons of Margaret Thatcher) has been likened to the famous stubborn statement by German Reformation leader Martin Luther: "Here I stand. I can do no other".

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Assad reported to be in coastal town of Latakia, day after Damascus comes under fire (TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF and AP July 19, 2012, Times of Israel))

Wednesday's attack killed Defense Minister Dawoud Rajha, the highest-ranking Christian in the regime; Assef Shawkat, the president's brother-in-law and deputy commander of the military; and Hassan Turkmani, military adviser to the foreign minister.

Their deaths were seen as a major blow to Assad's regime, which has been beset by defections since the uprising began.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


The Incredible Bain Jobs Machine : In a competitive economy, $5,000 computers become $500 tablets. Consumers get to spend the difference elsewhere in the economy. (ANDY KESSLER, 7/17/12, WSJ)

It is now four years after the wheels fell off our financial system. The government has tried every gimmick to revive the economy: fiscal stimulus, monetary easing, loan write-downs, foreclosure modifications--all duds. It seems like no one remembers how an economy creates jobs anymore. The right answer, in fact the only answer, for jobs and better living standards, is productivity.

Economists define productivity as output per worker hour. But ramping up the output of trolleys or 8-track tapes won't increase living standards. It is not just technical efficiency that matters, it is also effectiveness--that is, producing what the economy really needs and consumers will pay for.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


GM's OnStar Car Owners Now Able to Rent Out Their Vehicles (Andrew G. Simpson | July 17, 2012, Insurance Journal)

General Motors is joining the sharing economy.

General Motors announced that its OnStar subscribers can now rent out their idle vehicles through the RelayRides car sharing service, leveraging OnStar connectivity already active in their vehicles to potentially earn money to offset the cost of owning a vehicle.

RelayRides' renters can unlock reserved OnStar-enabled cars by using their smart phones.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Controversial Spewed Iron Experiment Succeeds as Carbon Sink : Dumping iron into the ocean stimulates blooms of diatoms that pull down carbon dioxide in the atmosphere--but only under the right conditions (David Biello  | July 18, 2012, Scientific American)

Fertilizing the ocean with iron could help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, according to newly released findings of a research cruise. Why? In a word, diatoms.

A hunger for iron rules the microscopic sea life of the Southern Ocean surrounding ice-covered Antarctica. Cut off from most continental dirt and dust, the plankton, diatoms and other life that make up the broad bottom of the food chain there can't get enough iron to grow. And that's why some scientists think that artificially fertilizing such waters with the metal could promote blooms that suck CO2 out of the air. Then, when these microscopic creatures die, they would sink to the bottom of the ocean and take the carbon with them.

Such blooms occur naturally, of course, so the first part of the hypothesis is not controversial. What remained questionable until now is whether such blooms in fact sequestered much carbon or if it was being quickly recycled back into the atmosphere. The problem for scientists is that oceanic waters tend to mix, which makes monitoring and delineating an experiment in the ocean challenging.

The solution, devised by biological oceanographer Victor Smetacek of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany and his colleagues, was to use an eddy. Such swirling currents can be remarkably self-contained. In fact, the new research to be published in Nature on July 19 shows that less than 10 percent of the eddy's waters mixed with the surrounding ocean.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Syria on the brink of liberty? { So many nations - notably Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Russia - claim interests in Syria. It's easy to forget what still drives the civil war there: the seed of freedom planted even before the Arab Spring. (CS Monitor's Editorial Board / July 18, 2012)

The report predicted an izdihar (blossoming) of fundamental rights and freedoms, based in part on a survey of Arab culture - its folk songs, novels, poetry, and siras (life stories). Its affirmation that Arabs do not want to be left out of history's drive toward democracy helped set the mental climate that seeded the Arab Spring in 2011.

In the face of stereotypes about Arabs not being ready for liberty, the scholars stated a simple truth: "The individual is free only in a free society within a free nation."

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Inflation index is flat in June as energy prices drop (Tim Mullaney, 7/18/12, USA TODAY)

The consumer price index was unchanged for the month, the Labor Department reported this morning. That includes a 1.4% drop in the cost of energy and a 0.2% rise in food prices. The rest of the index, known as the core inflation rate, rose 0.2%. Core inflation for the last 12 months was 2.2%, the department said.

July 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 PM


With eye on Latino vote, Romney ad talks immigration (Lucy Madison, 7/18/12, CBS News) 

On the heels of a recent poll showing a dip in support for President Obama among Latino voters, the Romney campaign is out with a new Spanish-language ad pledging the candidate's commitment to finding a long-term, bipartisan solution to the nation's immigration challenges.

"As president, Mitt Romney will work with Republicans and Democrats to fix our immigration system, which is broken," says Craig Romney, Mitt Romney's son, in the ad, entitled "Nation of Immigrants."

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 PM


Governors Told Health Care Cost Reduction Demands A System Overhaul (John Celock, 07/14/2012, Huffington Post)

During a meeting of the association's health committee here Saturday, health care experts said that the system must shift its focus from treating illness to preventative care and that doctors should be allowed to spend more time with the sickest patients. Jeffrey Brenner, executive director of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers in New Jersey, told the committee that he and other primary care doctors see how the current system makes it financially tempting for them to focus on minor illnesses.

"Ironically, in my office I make more money when I treat head colds than complex patients. I can charge slightly more treating a complex patient, but in seeing head colds I can treat more patients," Brenner said. "That doesn't make any sense. We have a distortion in the marketplace in health care."

Brenner said the overall delivery model for health care, as distinguished from pharmaceuticals and medical devices, remains stuck in the last century.

"In the past 100 years, our country has become wealthy because we are innovative," Brenner said. "Health care is not innovative. Health care has not changed in 100 years."

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


How the Dark Knight Rises reveals Batman's Conservative soul (Robert Colvile, 7/17/12, The Telegraph)

Imagine that you are a child billionaire, orphaned in a mugging that goes terribly wrong. You decide to devote yourself to making sure that no one else will suffer as you did. But how? Do you open a series of outreach centres, hire probation workers, sponsor rehabilitation schemes? Or do you put on a rubber suit and prowl the streets at night, clobbering members of the underclass until they promise to stop breaking the law?

The answer goes to the heart of Batman's most terrible secret - not his true identity as Bruce Wayne, playboy industrialist, but the fact that he's secretly, wonderfully Right-wing. And it's a secret that is now being exposed by one of the year's biggest movies. In The Dark Knight Rises, British director Christopher Nolan explicitly casts Batman as the plutocrats' champion, forced to defend his city against the impoverished victims of depression and globalisation. 
The ostensible villain may be Tom Hardy's hulking, monstrous Bane, but the uprising he inspires is essentially Occupy Gotham City, if the "99 Per Cent" used shotguns rather than megaphones.

For some, it may come as a surprise that the Caped Crusader turns out to be a Caped Conservative. But Nolan's played these tricks before. In his previous Batman film, The Dark Knight, he confronted the people of Gotham with a terrorist threat - Heath Ledger's Joker - that, like al-Qaeda, could not be predicted or reasoned with. In the process, Batman wrestled with the same quandaries as President Bush. Can it be right to torture a prisoner to obtain vital information? The film's answer, like the president's, was an unequivocal yes. Can total electronic surveillance be justified to catch one or two bad apples? In this case, Nolan's answer was more liberal: Batman hands control of his all-powerful spying device to that unwavering moral arbiter Morgan Freeman, the closest thing to St Augustine that our fallen age can muster.

You could say that Nolan is just reading things into the character. Yet it's not just that Batman is a standing reproof to the liberality of the justice system, forced to pick up the pieces when lily-livered judges and incompetent guards release the bad guys to kill again. From the moment of his creation, as the comic-book writer and superhero historian Grant Morrison argues, "Batman was the ultimate capitalist hero... a millionaire who vented his childlike fury on the criminal classes of the lower orders" in his "obsessive, impossible quest to punch crime into extinction, one b------ at a time".

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 PM


Charge the Criminals, Not the Companies : Regulation is best delivered by setting clear, broad rules and punishing those who break them (EAMONN BUTLER, 7/17/12, WSJ)

Fining companies for malpractice is not enough. Fraud and incompetence undermines the whole market system. And it damages real people, like the pensioners robbed of interest by the low Libor number and cities like Baltimore that lost millions on interest-rate swaps.

Wrongdoing should be investigated: not by regulators, or panels of posturing politicians, or costly and long-winded public inquiries--but by the police and the Serious Fraud Office. And if it turns out that junior executives acted fraudulently and senior executives let them, or if regulators and politicians actually encouraged it, offenders should face fines and long-term disqualification.

Where fines are levied, it is generally on corporations rather than individuals, which means that shareholders and customers (and indeed taxpayers) end up paying instead of those actually responsible.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Are Warnings About the Side Effects of Drugs Making Us Sick? (Steve Silberman, July 16, 2012, Plos)

[A] provocative new report by Winfried Häuser, Ernil Hansen, and Paul Enck in the journal of the German Medical Association suggests that the side effects of some drugs, and the discomfort of certain medical procedures, may be inadvertently intensified by doctors and nurses trying to keep patients fully informed of the consequences of their medical care. The culprit behind this phenomenon is the nocebo effect.

You can think of the nocebo effect as the evil twin of the placebo effect -- the body's healing response to the act of taking a pill or receiving medical care, even if the pill itself is inert. The most familiar example of the placebo effect is what happens in trials of experimental drugs. One group of volunteers is randomly assigned to take the drug in question; another group is assigned to take placebo -- a fake drug designed to look just like the real one. Neither the volunteers nor the staff know which group is which. If the drug group improves significantly more than the placebo group, the drug is judged to be effective. This kind of test -- the double-blind, placebo-controlled trial -- has been the gold standard of drug development in medicine for half a century.

In real life, gauging the effectiveness of a new medication is not quite that easy. In 2009, I wrote a widely-circulated article in Wired magazine about a mysterious increase in placebo effects in trials in recent years that is making it harder for Big Pharma to bring new drugs to market. I explored some of the reasons that might be happening in the article.

A placebo, you might say, is an ersatz drug that makes you feel better, while a nocebo is a fake drug that makes you feel worse. Of course, in both cases, it's not the pill that's doing the work; it's your own body, responding to the social context in which you take the pill. If a skilled doctor with kindly bedside manner tells you that drug X will reduce the inflammation of a minor injury, it often will -- even if the drug itself is nothing but a capsule full of lactose, milk sugar. One of the astonishing things we've discovered about the placebo effect in recent years is how wide a range of ailments can be ameliorated by it, at least temporarily -- from chronic pain, to high blood pressure, to inflammation, to depression and anxiety, to sexual dysfunction, to the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that the nocebo effect is equally capable of making you feel more miserable, in a similarly broad range of ways.

One of the most interesting findings in the new report from Germany is about the underappreciated -- and under-studied -- role of nocebo effects in clinical trials.

If you tell a group of trial volunteers that they're testing a new drug that may relieve the pain of migraines, a significant number of volunteers will experience pain relief after taking the drug -- even if they've been randomly assigned to the placebo group and are receiving nothing but sugar pills. The placebo effect in action.

But here's where it gets interesting.  If you tell the volunteers that the side effects of this new medicine may include dry mouth, tingling in the hands and feet, and slight dizziness, some volunteers will experience precisely these side effects -- in both groups. In fact, some volunteers who are taking nothing but sugar pills will be made so uncomfortable by these symptoms that they will choose to drop out of the trial early.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


How to Save Our Kids From Poverty in Old Age : The case for American Stakeholder Accounts. (Phillip Longman, July/August 2012, Washington Monthly)

The federal government spends more than $500 billion a year on policies designed to help individuals acquire or build assets. The three most expensive of these policies--the mortgage interest deduction, the property tax deduction, and preferential rates on capital gains and dividends--together deliver 45 percent of their benefits to households with average income exceeding $1 million. "Put another way," concludes a report commissioned by the Federal Reserve, "the poorest fifth of Americans get, on average, $3 in benefits from these policies, while the wealthiest one percent enjoy, on average, $57,673."

What if we re-crafted our wealth accumulation policies so that they primarily helped average Americans build assets? Nothing could be more American. It's what the Homestead Act did. It's what the GI Bill did. And here's another example of how it could be done for the next generation of Americans.

Every child born in the U.S. gets a Social Security number. Going forward, every child should get at the same time what could be called an American Stakeholder Account. Parents, grandparents, and anyone else who cared to could contribute funds to a child's stakeholder account, as could children themselves. Children whose families qualify for the federal child tax credit would have up to $500 added to their accounts each year by the government. Contributions from all sources would be capped at $2,000 per year.

When an account holder reached eighteen, he or she could begin withdrawing a portion of the accumulating funds, but only for the purpose of pursuing post-secondary education and training. At age twenty-five, the account holder could use a portion toward buying a first home or starting a business. But a substantial remainder would be earmarked for retirement.

Now let's add another important feature. Throughout their working lives, members of the next generation of Americans would be required to contribute 4 percent of their earned income to their stakeholder accounts. Their employers would have the option of contributing another 2 percent. Low- and middle-income households would be eligible for up to $500 per year in government matching funds. Upon retirement, the balance built up in these accounts would be automatically converted into an annuity--a stream of monthly benefits that would flow for the rest of the account holder's life.

The conservative welfare state just defines the contribution instead of the benefit.

July 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Israeli political constellation realigns as Kadima quits government (Uriel Heilman, July 17, 2012, JTA)

For Netanyahu, the coalition deal was a way both to hobble the opposition and give him more leeway in formulating a new military draft law. In February, Israel's Supreme Court struck down the current draft regulation, called the Tal Law, which excuses haredi Orthodox from universal mandatory military service for Israeli Jews. The court ordered that a new law be enacted by Aug. 1 or else all Israeli Jews would be subject to the draft.

Netanyahu's other coalition partners include haredi Orthodox parties that oppose drafting large numbers of haredi men or subjecting them to national service. 

The debate over the new draft law has roiled Israel in recent weeks. Many Israelis long have resented what they see as the free ride given to haredi Israelis, who are not required to serve in the army but are still eligible for state welfare benefits.

In the end it was Kadima that quit the government in protest over proposed reforms that it said did not go far enough.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


T. E. Lawrence's Prescient Warning about Syria (Franz-Stefan Gady | July 17, 2012, National Journal)

Prior to the establishment of the modern state of Syria under a French protectorate following the First World War, the term Syria denoted the entire Levant, including Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon. However, Lawrence in his work especially singled out the Syrian cities of Damascus, Homs, Hama and Aleppo when describing the political issues of Syria. He also focused on the Yarmuk Valley, running along today's Syrian-Jordan border; Hauran, a volcanic plateau and people in today's Southwestern Syria; and Daraa, also located in Southwestern Syria, which he saw as "the critical centre of Syria in all ages."

It's just a continuing devolution towards its constituent nations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Inflation Hawks Like Me Got It Wrong in 2009 (Timothy B. Lee, 7/17/12, Forbes)

The inflation rate has been falling steadily since last year. Prices rose just 1.7 percent between June 2011 and June 2012--below the Fed's 2 percent inflation target. "Core" inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, has been remarkably stable; prices rose 2.2 percent between June 2011 and June 2012.

This isn't what we inflation hawks expected. For example, in late 2009 economists Bob Murphy and David Henderson made a bet about inflation between then and 2013. Murphy, the hawk, bet that a year-over-year price increase of more than 10 percent would occur before January 2013. It's theoretically possible that Murphy will be vindicated by a last-minute inflation surge over the next six months, but I doubt even Murphy is expecting to win the bet at this point.

When the world fails to behave the way you expected, that's a good reason to (in Ayn Rand's words) check your premises. Personally, I've become much more sympathetic to the market monetarist views of people like Scott Sumner over the last year. Sumner was one of the few observers who understood in 2009 that monetary policy was too tight. We should have listened to him in 2009, and we should be listening to him today.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Your Laptop Can Now Analyze Big Data : New software makes it possible to do in minutes on a small computer what used to be done by large clusters of computers. (JOHN PAVLUS, July 17, 2012, Technology Review)

Computer scientists from Carnegie Mellon University have devised a framework for running large-scale computations for tasks such as social network or Web search analysis efficiently on a single personal computer.

The software could help developers working on many modern tasks: for example, designing a new recommendation engine using social network connections. In order to make effective recommendations--"your friends liked this movie, so here is another movie that you haven't seen yet, but you will probably like"--the software has to be able to analyze the connections between the members of a social network. This type of task is called graph computation, and it is increasingly common. But working with large-scale data sets (such as online social networks) usually requires the processing horsepower of many computers clustered together, such as those offered by Amazon's cloud-based EC2 service.

The new software, called GraphChi, exploits the capacious hard drives that are becoming ever more common in personal computers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


The Capitalism Debate (DAVID BROOKS, July 16, 2012, NY Times)

Over the years of his presidency, Obama has not been a critic of globalization. There's no real evidence that, when he's off the campaign trail, he has any problem with outsourcing and offshoring. He has lavishly praised people like Steve Jobs who were prominent practitioners. He has hired people like Jeffrey Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric, whose company embodies the upsides of globalization. His economic advisers have generally touted the benefits of globalization even as they worked to help those who are hurt by its downsides.

But, politically, this aggressive tactic has worked. It has shifted the focus of the race from being about big government, which Obama represents, to being about capitalism, which Romney represents. [...]

As Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute has said again and again, it's not enough to say that capitalism will make you money. You can't fight what is essentially a moral critique with economics.

Romney is going to have to define a vision of modern capitalism. He's going to have to separate his vision from the scandals and excesses we've seen over the last few years. He needs to define the kind of capitalist he is and why the country needs his virtues.

Let's face it, he's not a heroic entrepreneur. He's an efficiency expert. It has been the business of his life to take companies that were mediocre and sclerotic and try to make them efficient and dynamic. It has been his job to be the corporate version of a personal trainer: take people who are puffy and self-indulgent and whip them into shape.

That's his selling point: rigor and productivity. If he can build a capitalist vision around that, he'll thrive. 

The problem for both sides is that they haven't processed the reality of modern economics, which is that we're going to become vastly wealthier as we work substantially less.  We don't have a jobs problem, just a wealth redistribution question.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


'Encyclopedia Brown' Author Donald Sobol Dies At 87 (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/16/12)

His series featured amateur investigator Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown, who would unravel local mysteries with the help of his encyclopedic knowledge of facts great and small. The books, first published in the early 1960s, became staples in classrooms and libraries nationwide. They were translated into 12 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide.

"Thanks to Donald, generations of children have learned to read and solve mysteries alongside Encyclopedia Brown, one of the most iconic characters in children's literature," said Don Weisberg, president of Penguin Young Readers Group, which publishes Sobol's books.

The Encyclopedia Brown books also featured Brown's friend and detective partner, the tough and athletic Sally Kimball. John Sobol said his dad was ahead of his times in creating a strong female character.

"That was groundbreaking back in 1963, when the series was first published," the son said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


The Arab Spring is bearing fruit in Saudi Arabia (David Meyers, 7/17/12, Times of Israel)

Fifty years ago, during the proxy war between Egypt and Saudi Arabia in Yemen, President Kennedy told the Saudis that internal reforms were the best way to ensure the regime's survival. In the ensuing years, many viewed Kennedy's statement as absurd; they believed Riyadh would continue to rule with an iron fist, and that the Saudi people would never rise up and demand their freedom.

This conventional wisdom overlooked the universal principle that all people long to be free and control their destiny. And although the Saudi monarchy has remained in power for the last 50 years, the reasons for its success are disappearing. The Saudi people now have access to outside information and media outlets, they have the ability to mass communicate, they no longer accept the subservient role of women, and, thanks to the Arab Spring, they realize they have the power to effect change.

After seeing the downfall of autocrats in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya, the Saudis have also realized that an iron fist will no longer be enough to maintain power, and they have started making incremental reforms. Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud put it bluntly when he said, "The revolution that took place around us was a wake-up call. No one will say it, but it was the catalyst."

Saudi Arabia held local elections in 2011, and announced that women would be allowed to participate in all elections beginning in 2015. Leaders who are open to reform have recently been promoted in the Saudi hierarchy. Other hopeful signs include the addition of women as voting members of the Shura Council, and a new mortgage law passed this month after a ten-year delay. The law will allow more lower- and middle-class Saudis to become homeowners, and this growing middle-class will continue to demand even more change.

The move to send female athletes to the Olympics is one of the most drastic changes yet. While the decision may have come in response to international pressure, its consequences will be long-lasting. The Saudis are implicitly recognizing the rights and value of women, and that women have been playing sports for years, despite the country's lack of physical education for girls and a ban on official female athletic competition (that may not survive for long).

July 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


A major-league scout takes us through his process at a New Orleans Zephyrs game (Bob Fortus, 7/16/12, The Times-Picayune)

It didn't take the scout long to spot a nuance in the delivery of Oklahoma City RedHawks left-hander Brett Oberholtzer. Before Oberholtzer let go of the ball when throwing a pitch in the second inning in a recent game against the New Orleans Zephyrs, the scout was expecting to see a curveball.

"He slows his delivery down," said the scout, who was watching from a seat behind the plate at Zephyr Field. "You can pick up the breaking ball when he slows his delivery down. It's not quite the same delivery he has on his fastball."

The Zephyrs' Donnie Murphy hit Oberholtzer's next curveball for a hard double to left.

Henceforth, the scout will be identified as Scout. He agreed to be accompanied to a game under the condition that his name and big-league organization not be revealed. [...]

Scout said he might see a particular team play 10 games in a season. Because a player can go through stretches of unusual success or failure, a scout has to wary of forming the wrong impression.

"If you're in at the wrong time, it can really make a difference," Scout said. "A month ago, Wade LeBlanc was different from a week ago. He made some adjustments."

On June 10, LeBlanc, a left-handed pitcher, was knocked out in the fourth inning in a start for the Zephyrs. He was effective in his next three starts, and the Marlins called him up as a reliever. In his first three appearances for Miami, he pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

For each position player, Scout assigns grades on five tools -- throwing arm, fielding ability, speed, hitting ability and power. The scale is 20 to 80; 50 is average.
"The two things that you wait on the longest are power and speed," Scout said.

Zephyrs outfielder Kevin Mattison is an 80 runner, he said. "People will keep giving him opportunities," he said. Oklahoma City first baseman Mike Hessman, because of exceptional power, has had opportunities in the majors and might get more, Scout said. At age 34, Hessman leads the PCL in homers at 27 through Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Confessions of an Ex-Mormon: A personal history of America's most misunderstood religion. (Walter Kirn, July 13, 2012, New Republic)

The story of how the Mormons came was this: Headed home from a job-hunting trip to Blackfoot, Idaho, while changing planes in Salt Lake City, my father suffered a breakdown in the terminal. His haunted mind attacked itself, nearly paralyzing him at the gate. He pulled himself together and boarded his flight, where he found himself seated beside a handsome young couple that radiated serenity and calm. They sensed his despair and started talking to him about their church, the center of their lives, and about their belief that the family is eternal, a permanently bonded sacred unit. (One reason he listened to them, he later told me, is that there had just been a terrible flood in Idaho--the deadly Teton Dam disaster--and he'd heard stories of how thousands of Mormons had immediately dropped what they were doing and convoyed in from states across the West to perform acts of cleanup and reclamation.) The next morning, in his bed at home, he woke up thrashing from a nightmare. My mother threatened to leave him; she'd had enough. Flashing back to the couple on the plane, he opened the phone book, found a number, dialed it, and said he needed help. This minute. Now.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints must have been used to fielding such distress calls. They dispatched a rescue party instantly: another couple, retired, in their seventies. Within an hour, they were at my father's side. They talked to him all morning behind closed doors and convinced him to go to church with them that Sunday. The service soothed him, lightening his mood. My mother saw this, grew hopeful, and didn't leave him. The bicycle-riding missionaries showed up a few nights later.

"Dear Heavenly Father," their prayers began. They sat hip to hip on our sagging, old blue sofa and milky beads of talcum-powder sweat ran down their temples and their cheeks. They blessed our family, our home. They blessed the lemonade. They asked that we hear their message with open minds. On the first night, they showed us a movie about a boy, Joseph Smith, who, one day in 1820, prayed in the woods behind his parents' farm and found himself face to face with God and Jesus. The lessons that followed described what happened next, from Smith's translation of a golden scripture that he found buried in a hillside, to the trials of his early disciples. Seeking peace to practice their new faith, they traveled west from settlement to settlement, harassed by mobs of brutal vigilantes who finally murdered Smith in Illinois. His people stayed strong, though. Under a brave new leader, Brigham Young, they undertook a 1,000-mile trek that brought them to Utah, their Zion in the wilderness.

The missionaries kept coming for six weeks, always at night, always hungry for our cookies. On Sundays, they sat next to us at services, one on each side of us, like gate posts. And then it was time; they told us we were ready. Standing in a pool of waist-deep water, dressed in white robes, we held our hands together as if to pray, let the missionaries clasp our wrists, leaned back, leaned back farther, and joined the Mormon Church.

LAST WINTER, I SAT drinking coffee in my living room, watching Mitt Romney speak on television after narrowly winning the Michigan primary. The speech was standard Republican stuff, all about shrinking the federal government and restoring American greatness, but I wasn't concentrating on Romney's rhetoric. I was examining his face, his manner, and trying--if such a thing is possible--to peer into his soul. I was trying to see the Mormon in him.

My motives were personal, not political. I'd never been a good Mormon, as you'll soon learn (indeed, I'm not a Mormon at all these days), but the talk of religion spurred by Romney's run had aroused in me feelings of surprising intensity. Attacks on Mormonism by liberal wits and their unlikely partners in ridicule, conservative evangelical Christians, instantly filled me with resentment, particularly when they made mention of "magic underwear" and other supposedly spooky, cultish aspects of Mormon doctrine and theology. On the other hand, legitimate reminders of the Church hierarchy's decisive support for Proposition 8, the California gay marriage ban, disgusted me. Deeper, trickier emotions surfaced whenever I came across the media's favorite visual emblem of the faith: a young male missionary in a shirt and tie with a black plastic name-badge pinned to his vest pocket. The image suggested that Mormons were squares and robots, a naïve, brainwashed army of the out-of-touch. That hurt a bit. It also tugged me back to a sad, frightened moment in my youth when these figures of fun were all my family had.

As for Romney himself, the man, the person, I empathized with him and his predicament. He no more stood for Mormonism than I did, but he was often presumed to stand for it by journalists who knew little about his faith, let alone the culture surrounding it, other than that some Americans distrusted it and certain others despised it outright. When a writer for The New York Times, Charles Blow, urged Romney to "stick that in your magic underwear!" I half hoped that Romney would lose his banker's cool and tell the bigoted anti-Mormon twits to stick something else somewhere else, until it hurt. I further hoped he'd sit his critics down and thoughtfully explain that Mormonism is more than a ceremonial endeavor; it constitutes our country's longest experiment with communitarian idealism, promoting an ethic of frontier-era burden-sharing that has been lost in contemporary America, with increasingly dire social consequences. Instead, Romney showed restraint, which disappointed me. I no longer practiced Mormonism, true, but it was still a part of me, apparently, and a bigger part than I'd appreciated.

Sometimes a person doesn't know what he's made of until strangers try to tear it down. [...]

I never served my Mormon mission. Decision time came when I was 17, the year I left Mormonism altogether and began my college education rather than postponing it to proselytize. The disenchantments of the bus tour had savaged my testimony but spared my spirit, allowing me to rebuild my faith around elemental principles of love and forgiveness, charity and sharing. What finally separated me from the Church was a loss of nerve, not a crisis of belief. My time in the ward had shown me at close range that God doesn't work in mysterious ways at all, but by enlisting assistants on the ground. I saw sick people healed through the laying on of hands, not suddenly and magically, but gradually, from the comfort that comes of feeling the group's concern. I'd heard inspired messages spoken in common English, sometimes from my own excited lips. This proximity to the sacred scared me off. Too much responsibility, it felt like. Too much pressure to side with the miraculous, which places demands on a busy, modern person. You sit down on a plane beside a gloomy lawyer who's cursing himself under his breath, and instead of ignoring him and reading a book, you have to ask his name and offer solace.

My stated excuse for sneaking away from Mormonism was skepticism about its doctrines, but I'd learned that most Mormons don't grasp all the teachings of Joseph Smith--nor do they credit all the ones they do grasp. After the bus trip to Eden, holy Missouri never came up again in conversation. As for the future temple in Independence, I found out that the spot where Smith said it would rise belonged to a Mormon splinter sect with a U.S. membership of about 1,000. The "sacred underwear"? It was underwear. Everyone wears it, so why not make it sacred? Why not make everything sacred? It is, in some ways. And most sacred of all are people, not wondrous stories, whose job is to help people feel their sacredness. Sometimes the stories don't work, or they stop working. Forget about them; find others. Revise. Refocus. A church is the people in it, and their errors. The errors they make while striving to get things right.

But I didn't have the patience, or the humility. I wasn't a son of stubborn pioneers. I was the son of the lawyer on the plane who'd suffered the breakdown I thought I could avoid. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Top Democrat: We won't budge on Bush-era tax cuts (Lucy Madison, 7/16/12, CBS News)

Sen. Patty Murray (Credit: Elaine Thompson) (CBS News) With Congress preparing to tackle a series of controversial tax and budget issues this fall, Democrat Sen. Patty Murray is warning Republicans that Democrats are not planning to stand down in the ongoing battle over extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.
Murray, speaking to the Brookings Institute Monday, warned Republicans that she and others in her party are prepared to let tax cuts for all Americans expire if Republicans don't work with them on a deal to end Bush-era tax cuts for wealthy Americans. [...]

In addition to the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts, January 1, 2013 marks the day when $1.2 trillion worth of budget cuts spread across domestic and defense programs begin to go into effect unless Congress can reach a deal to offset them. Those automatic "sequester" cuts, spread over 10 years, are the result of the failure of the congressional "super committee" to reach an agreement to reduce the deficit as mandated by the deal last August to raise the debt ceiling. Also set to expire January 1 are some unemployment benefits and a deferment of payment cuts to Medicare physicians.

So in exchange for setting taxes where the Gingrich Congress had them--during the late 90s boom--we get over a trillion dollars in spending cuts?  There is no downside.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 AM


Welcome to the new world of American energy (Edward Luce, 7/15/12, Financial Times)

High quality global journalism requires investment. Please share this article with others using the link below, do not cut & paste the article. See our Ts&Cs and Copyright Policy for more detail. Email ftsales.support@ft.com to buy additional rights. http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3f86b2fc-cce4-11e1-9960-00144feabdc0.html#ixzz20mKOo0DK

The first, and least foreseen, development since 2008, is that America is rapidly turning from a consumer into a producer nation. On economic grounds, its expanding energy horizons are manna from heaven. When Mr Obama was elected, the US was importing almost two-thirds of its oil. That number is down to below almost half and falling. In 2008, King Coal still dominated US electricity production. Last month natural gas supplanted coal as the largest source of US power supply.

So dramatic are America's finds, analysts talk of the US turning into the world's new Saudi Arabia by 2020, with up to 15m barrels a day of liquid energy production (against the desert kingdom's 11m b/d this year). Most of the credit goes to private sector innovators, who took their cue from the high oil prices in the last decade to devise ways of tapping previously uneconomic underground reserves of "tight oil" and shale gas. And some of it is down to plain luck. Far from reaching its final frontier, America has discovered new ones under the ground.

The second is political. Even without a deep recession and the subsequent weak recovery, America's new energy abundance would have altered the mood. But the combination of the two has killed off talk of tackling climate change (barring Mr Obama's brief aside to Rolling Stone). In 2008, John McCain, the Republican candidate, had a cap-and-trade plan to curb carbon emissions. In 2012, Mr Romney avoids the subject altogether.
Both positions capture the temper of their times. So too does Mr Obama's altered language. Fate has offered him a windfall. According to IHS Cera, the energy research group, hydraulic fracturing alone has created 600,000 jobs in the US - almost exactly as many employees as have been shed by state and local governments since 2009. Think of how much worse the jobs picture would be without the energy boom.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


What Has Obama Cost Blacks? A Columbia Professor Asks Hard Questions : When President Obama ran, blacks overwhelmingly supported him and expected their issues to be addressed, but they haven't been. Now a Columbia University professor is asking what his presidency has cost American blacks. (Mansfield Frazier, 7/15/12, Daily Beast)

Have blacks been giving President Obama a pass on his shortcomings? That's the argument of Columbia University professor Fredrick C. Harris's new book, The Price of the Ticket: Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics. Harris takes an unvarnished, unflinching--and some would say unflattering--look at the current state of black politics in America through the lens of Obama's ascendancy to the White House.

The book is bound to be controversial, particularly in the black community, where any criticism of President Obama--especially from a black author--is deemed heresy at best and blasphemous at worst. But this tendency by blacks to go easy on the president over his shortcomings is essentially at the core of this book.

The "ticket" in the title of the book is what gained Obama admission to the White House; the "price" is what it cost blacks in terms of being able to move their political, economic, and criminal justice agendas forward. The core of Harris's argument is that, while Obama's win was (and still is) a source of great pride for blacks, it's much more symbolic than substantive; that he has done no more to address core concerns and issues facing black Americans than any other Democratic president before him, and, indeed, for a number of reasons falling under the umbrella of political expediency, has done far less.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Henry Moore sundial sculpture stolen from museum garden (Press Association/guardian.co.uk, 13 July 2012)

Sundial 1965 was taken late on Tuesday or early on Wednesday from the garden at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire.

As yet it is not known whether the 22in (56cm) sundial, which is made up of two interlocking bronze crescents, was stolen by someone wanting to sell it as a work of art or for its scrap value.
Enhanced by Zemanta

July 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


Two Classes, Divided by 'I Do' (JASON DePARLE, 7/14/12, NY Times)

Jessica Schairer has so much in common with her boss, Chris Faulkner, that a visitor to the day care center they run might get them confused.

They are both friendly white women from modest Midwestern backgrounds who left for college with conventional hopes of marriage, motherhood and career. They both have children in elementary school. They pass their days in similar ways: juggling toddlers, coaching teachers and swapping small secrets that mark them as friends. They even got tattoos together. Though Ms. Faulkner, as the boss, earns more money, the difference is a gap, not a chasm.

But a friendship that evokes parity by day becomes a study of inequality at night and a testament to the way family structure deepens class divides. Ms. Faulkner is married and living on two paychecks, while Ms. Schairer is raising her children by herself. That gives the Faulkner family a profound advantage in income and nurturing time, and makes their children statistically more likely to finish college, find good jobs and form stable marriages.

Ms. Faulkner goes home to a trim subdivision and weekends crowded with children's events. Ms. Schairer's rent consumes more than half her income, and she scrapes by on food stamps.

"I see Chris's kids -- they're in swimming and karate and baseball and Boy Scouts, and it seems like it's always her or her husband who's able to make it there," Ms. Schairer said. "That's something I wish I could do for my kids. But number one, that stuff costs a lot of money and, two, I just don't have the time."

The economic storms of recent years have raised concerns about growing inequality and questions about a core national faith, that even Americans of humble backgrounds have a good chance of getting ahead. Most of the discussion has focused on labor market forces like falling blue-collar wages and lavish Wall Street pay.

But striking changes in family structure have also broadened income gaps and posed new barriers to upward mobility. College-educated Americans like the Faulkners are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay. Less-educated women like Ms. Schairer, who left college without finishing her degree, are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns -- as opposed to changes in individual earnings -- may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality. Long a nation of economic extremes, the United States is also becoming a society of family haves and family have-nots, with marriage and its rewards evermore confined to the fortunate classes.

"It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged," said Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


The New Tug of War Over Medicaid (TYLER COWEN, July 14, 2012, NY Times)

Unfortunately, Medicaid has some of the worst features of single-payer systems. Typically, a single-payer system will bargain down medical prices, thus adding to affordability, but at the risk of having long lines of patients waiting for care. As it stands now, though, the low reimbursement rates of Medicaid already lead to long lines, or an inability to find a good doctor altogether, while the higher reimbursement rates of Medicare and private insurance keep health care costs high.

Along another possible path, the subsidized private insurance market -- a central feature of the new law -- will gradually displace Medicaid. And, eventually, another feature of the law will grow more important: the excise tax on employer-supplied health insurance, which will cover increasing numbers of employer-based plans over time. This could be accompanied by a gradual migration out of workplace-based coverage. Over time, the system might evolve toward means-tested private insurance vouchers, with the insurance sold on exchanges rather than tied to employment.

That would have the unfortunate effect of channeling people into what will be the most expensive segment of health care coverage. That's because the new law offers insurance subsidies to eligible incomes up to 400 percent of the current poverty line, a fiscal burden that would be unsustainable if it replaced Medicaid, which, with all its problems, is now the cheapest way to provide basic insurance coverage.

There is one way this might work: by limiting the subsidies for insurance. Note that the law itself mandates cuts if those subsidies exceed a certain percentage of gross domestic product by 2018. Most likely, the reform could not stop there, because the insurance cost burden for many Americans would feel intolerably high without the subsidies.

The next step, therefore, would lower costs by limiting the mandate to covering catastrophic conditions. Yet a further step would remove the mandate for noncatastrophic coverage, thus giving people more control over how much they want to spend on health care versus other priorities.

We would then have government-subsidized and mandated catastrophic insurance, and a freer market for other health care expenditures. We might even return to a health savings account approach on the noncatastrophic side.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM

Lucero On World Cafe (World Cafe, July 5, 2012)

Lucero -- bright star in Spanish -- has been creating quality punk-inflected country since the late '90s. Hailing from Memphis, frontman Ben Nichols gives the act a gruff Southern twang with both his voice and his guitar. Since the release of 2001's eponymous debut, Lucero has recorded five more studio albums and plays an impressive 200 shows a year in the U.S. and Canada.

Lucero's new album Women & Work was released this March to much praise. This is the group's second record to include a horn section -- an addition that allows the band to fully flush out its sound. As a further exploration of its members' Memphis roots, Lucero enlisted a women's gospel choir for the track "Go Easy," adding a soulful feel.


Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


How Alice Got to Wonderland (Ted Gioia, Conceptual Fiction)

Those tracing the history of this now famous work 
typically focus on the catalytic role of the young real-
life Alice, ten year old Alice Liddell, in inspiring the 
story. But I have a different opinion, and see the other 
adult, the forgotten Reverend Duckworth--a talented 
singer, who was then a fellow at my alma mater Trinity
College, Oxford--playing the decisive role in shaping 
the peculiar character of Alice in Wonderland. In 
Duckworth's account of the day, he provides these 
important details:  "I rowed stroke and he rowed 
bow...and the story was actually composed and spoken 
over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell."

And why is this important?  This unusual setting for 
literary invention helps us understand why Carroll's 
narrative has the distinct flavor of a tale aimed 
simultaneously at children and adults. As readers of
this classic are aware (and even more so, readers of 
Martin Gardner's marvelous annotated version of the 
work), this book is much more than an amusing story 
for young children, but a multilayered work filled with 
many things--allusions, puns, philosophical specu-
lation and humorous asides--far more suited to an 
audience of grownups.  These coexist with the fantastic
fairy tale elements that no doubt delighted the Liddell 
sisters.  So give the fine Reverend his due for forcing 
his friend to extemporize in a manner suited to both 
young and old.

Carroll was neither the first nor the last to instill adult 
concerns into stories for children--other bearers of 
tales, from Aesop to Lemony Snicket have done the 
same.  But Carroll is the preeminent master of this 
distinctive breed of fictive multivalence, mixing in 
wildly different elements in a provocative manner that 
anticipates postmodern narrative techniques, even
while understanding the demands of composing stories 
for younger readers.  This balancing act, never easy, 
would be beyond many celebrated authors who write 
with skill and success for either adults or children, but 
would be flummoxed trying to do both at the same time.

The memorable characters--the Queen of Hearts, the 
Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and 
others--provide much of the magic here.  They are the 
parts of this story most often remembered and 
discussed...and most easily transferred to other media 
via the book's numerous adaptations.  Of these, there 
are no shortage: Carroll's work has inspired films, 
cartoons, video games, graphic novels, stage 
productions, operas, radio broadcasts, and theme park 
rides.  But the real essence of Carroll's achievement, 
namely his unique mixture of the playful, profound
and paradoxical, is far less easy to transplant into other
formats.  For this reason, even those who think they
are intimately familiar with the story of Alice from 
these adaptations are likely to be surprised and 
delighted when they first encounter Carroll's book.   

This in itself offers a valuable lesson.  In our day and 
age, many are inclined to see a story on the printed
page as one-dimensional, as inevitably falling short of 
the technologically-enhanced tales shown on the
screen, turbocharged with special effects, 3D, and
all the other advances that Carroll--himself a devoted 
photographer fascinated with the visual image--could 
never have anticipated.  Yet with this particular story 
the roles are reversed.  When grappling with Alice in 
Wonderland, the movie or computer screen is the flat, 
undifferentiated surface, while the printed page takes on 
extraordinary depth, conveying a plenitude of meanings
and marvels that cannot be "enhanced" or even 
replicated by the most advanced digital tools.

And that may be the greatest wonder of Wonderland.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


CATCH ME IF YOU CAN: When Robert Wood Jr. disappeared in a densely forested Virginia park, searchers faced the challenge of a lifetime. The eight-year-old boy was autistic and nonverbal, and from his perspective the largest manhunt in state history probably looked like something else: the ultimate game of hide-and-seek. (DEAN KING, August 2012, Outside)

Because of his autism, Robert probably didn't know that he was lost. If he heard people coming through the woods, he might well have taken cover from them, thinking it was a game of hide-and-seek. Or he might not have wanted to be found by a stranger, even one calling out his name. This made efforts to locate him extremely difficult, and it's how Robert managed to elude what would soon become one of the largest search-and-rescue operations in Virginia history.

WHEN HE DISAPPEARED that day, Robert began an unlikely adventure that placed him at the center of the newest concern in the search-and-rescue (SAR) world: lost autistic children. Why autistic kids have the tendency to run off is not known, but the urge is strong in half of all children diagnosed with the disorder. [...]

Once Robert Wood was off and running, he was quickly lost, too. Dashing up and over trenches, through thickets of mountain laurel and briars, he caught spiderwebs in the face and picked up ticks and chiggers as he ran. The forest floor was littered with large trees, branches, and piles of deadfall caused by recent hurricanes and tropical storms. Robert likely moved from one thing that provoked his curiosity to the next--boulders to climb, trees to examine, the allure of a train-whistle blast. If it weren't for the profusion of copperheads, black snakes, and corn snakes, it would have been the ideal place to play paintball or hide-and-seek.

Over the age of four, normal children recognize that they are lost and will look for their parents. Their spatial maps are flawed, but they will devise strategies to get found. "The biggest difference," according to SAR expert Robert Koester, is that nonautistic kids are "a lot less likely to be evasive. Once they get hungry or cold, they will call out to searchers."

But Robert doesn't feel pain the way normal children do. He could sprain an ankle or suffer cold and dampness without complaint. The pangs of hunger wouldn't make him cry. He'd harbor no fear of the dark or the bogeyman and wouldn't dread solitude, so he wouldn't get panicky at dusk.

He is also in possession of a healthy dose of determination. One educator called him "a very tough kid," "a very resilient kid," and "resourceful, in his own way."

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM

OBITUARY: Campbell Whalley (The Telegraph, 7/13/12)

After working briefly in the deepest gold mine in South Africa, Whalley joined a team of geologists in Tanganyika employed by the maverick Canadian millionaire Jack Williamson, who was challenging De Beers' monopoly of the African diamond trade. Tiring of plodding around five-mile squares prospecting for diamond pipes, he persuaded Williamson to allow him to continue his work on foot along the exact route of Speke's historic journey to Lake Victoria in the early 1860s. In many villages he walked through, no white man had been seen since Speke's time (years later, in recognition of this feat, Whalley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society).

He was then recruited by the Tanganyikan government as a game warden just as independence approached in 1961 and its wildlife service faced an upsurge in poaching.

One of his first tasks was to look after a young woman, Jane Goodall, who had arrived from England to study chimpanzees. He drew her attention at Gombe Stream to the way one chimp was using blades of grass to "fish" for termites in their mounds . Indeed, Whalley soon won such a reputation as an expert wildlife observer that he was asked to escort celebrated visitors around the country's game reserves, among them Hemingway, the explorer Wilfred Thesiger and film stars such as John Wayne, James Stewart and Elsa Martinelli.

He was entrusted too with battling poachers and once, when escorting Prince Bernhardt of the Netherlands, who had just launched the World Wildlife Fund, they came across three Dutch missionaries illegally shooting game. When the unshaven Prince remonstrated with them, one said: "Who do you think you are? Prince Bernhardt?" "As a matter of fact, I am," he replied -- and ordered that they should be deported the next day.

Having befriended George and Joy Adamson, Whalley took a similarly stern line when Mrs Adamson, at his invitation, arrived to release into the wild in the Serengeti the three orphaned cubs of Elsa the lioness. She brought with her a rifle and proceeded to shoot game to feed the cubs. Telling her that this was no way to teach them to fend for themselves, Whalley confiscated her gun and was rewarded by her reference to him in her book Living Free as "an obnoxious game warden" (although she sent him an affectionately signed copy).

In 1962 Whalley was struck down with bilharzia. Obliged to return to England, he flew to Bombay with a Swedish doctor so that they could drive back overland via Iran and Iraq, where Whalley was arrested for bribing his way into the country with Scotch and cigarettes. After four days in a Baghdad prison, they were told they had 12 hours to reach the Jordanian border or they would be put on trial.

On his arrival in England Whalley weighed seven stone, and was rushed to the London School of Tropical Medicine. It was suggested that he should regain his fitness by working at the Outward Bound School in the Lake District, where he soon became a much-respected instructor and met his wife Judy. Then, after some years teaching PE at Bedales, in 1971 Whalley emigrated with his family to Australia, where for the next three decades he became a much loved teacher at some of the country's leading schools, ending (1984-99) at Pembroke in Adelaide.

In the 1980s he began taking groups of Pembroke pupils into the desert north of Adelaide, and it was there that he became increasingly involved with Aboriginal communities, particularly one centred on the former railway town of Marree. On his retirement in 1999 he began teaching Aboriginal children at Marree school, telling them the stories their parents had forgotten and bringing alive for them an awareness of the natural world around them.

He was known for his affinity with the camels introduced to that region by 19th-century Afghan railway builders, for his storytelling and playful humour, and for teaching both his white and Aboriginal pupils to make teddy bears, more than 4,500 of which have now been given as a source of comfort to those in need, from cancer patients to impoverished children as far away as Haiti and Zimbabwe.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


The chief justice's contribution to tax reform (Tim Fernholz JULY 11, 2012, Reuters)

According to the Roberts opinion, the healthcare mandate is really a tax incurred when an individual fails to purchase health insurance. While legal scholars tussle over whether taxing inactivity is a new doctrine, taxpayers are already facing such impositions with every break in the code they don't take advantage of.

Consider the home mortgage tax deduction: Everyone who doesn't own a home is paying more taxes than they otherwise would to subsidize all the homeowners enjoying their break. The same goes for the "charitable" deductions, by which we all pay more than we otherwise would to cover everything from the country's churches to its super PACs, and the child tax credit, effectively a tax on those of us without progeny. Every deduction that you don't take advantage of is essentially a tax on your inactivity. We don't complain about that because many, though not all - I'm looking at you, mortgage deduction - of those tax breaks serve a social function we value.

Taxes are often used as a vehicle to encourage or discourage various kinds of behaviors, and tax reformers - including the next president, whoever he is - should learn from healthcare's lessons about what kind of incentives to adopt. In the case of the healthcare tax/mandate, the idea is that getting everyone health insurance is going to save us all money in the long run, same as giving parents a tax break and subsiding civil society do-gooders. All of this contributes to a happy, growing society.

The key policy distinction between healthcare and home mortgage tax breaks, however, is that there is evidence that purchasing health insurance benefits the public - which no longer has to subsidize your emergency room visits - while subsidies for housing seem to have far fewer (and indeed many worse) consequences. If tax reform is discussed next year, it will be about controlling wild corporate lobbying and messy deals, but it will also be about how Congress can maximize the good tax breaks while eliminating the bad ones.

Economists tell us that the best tax regimes penalize negative actions - like not having healthcare insurance or buying cigarettes - while keeping the burden light on positive actions, like earning income or purchasing necessities. The healthcare tax isn't quite a traditional consumption tax, but it comes from a similar impulse to tax bad things rather than good ones. As Mankiw puts it in a manifesto favoring these taxes [PDF], "individuals can be charged for the external costs they impose on others." It could be an argument for the Obamacare mandate.

These kinds of taxes aren't necessarily politically popular; they often target both entrenched interests and the populace at large. The best-known examples are the gas tax, which exists, and the carbon tax, a broader tax on fossil fuels that, in the U.S. at least, is but a flicker in the imagination of policy wonks. The Democrats' aborted effort to create a cap-and-trade system to fight air pollution in 2009 was essentially a roundabout way of implementing a tax on pollution, but it failed in a gridlocked Congress, while facing intense opposition from the energy industry.

But in the future, consumption taxes are likely to be more popular than either jacked-up income tax rates or massive cuts to social spending. 

We are all Pigovians now.
Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


How should liberal democracies deal with China and Russia? (Michael Ignatieff, JULY 12, 2012, Reuters)

Isaiah Berlin did not live to see these new tyrannies arise in Russia and China, and he would have trouble recognizing the world we now inhabit - post 9/11, post-meltdown, post-liberal in so many ways - but he did know a lot about living beside barbarians. His Cold War liberalism has much to teach us still.

The first lesson, as the 19th century Russian writer Alexander Herzen said and Berlin liked to repeat, is that history has no libretto. We should not assume there is any historical inevitability to liberal society, anymore than it made sense to predict in 1950, say, that both Chinese and Russian totalitarianism were doomed to crumble. Since no one predicted the direction these societies have taken, no one can be sure that either will evolve toward anything remotely like a liberal democratic order.

To say that history has no libretto is not a counsel of pessimism. Berlin's historical humility was always paired with a strong belief in the efficacy of freedom. Leadership, he knew, could bend the arc of history, if not always toward justice, at least away from tyranny.

If this is true, then in our dealings with the Chinese and Russians, it matters to give help to those who campaign for the rule of law, not the rule of men, who want poor villagers to be fairly compensated for expropriations of their land, who want ordinary people to have the right to read anything they want on the Internet, who want free and fair elections and an end to the rule of billionaire oligarchs.

History is not necessarily on the side of these liberal values, but fighting for them remains a moral duty. We do this because history is on nobody's side, and freedom needs all the help it can get.

If this seems a defiant stance toward the new tyrannies in China and Russia, and it is, then we need to learn from Berlin how to balance resolution toward tyranny with openness toward what these societies can teach us. This balance between firmness and openness is the equilibrium the liberal temperament is always seeking and a liberal foreign policy should always aim for.

While liberal tolerance can look a lot like appeasement, Berlin shows us how it is possible to combine tolerance with firmness. The true pairing of tolerance should be with curiosity, with an appetite to learn from beliefs we cannot share.

The larger point is that Berlin thought it was dangerous to organize one's mind into fixed and immovable categories of "us" and "them", still worse to believe that without a "them" there can be no "us".

Liberals refuse to treat opponents as enemies. They see their antagonists differently, as persons who must sometimes be opposed, and with force if necessary, but also as persons who might be persuaded to change their minds, and who, in any case, must be lived with, if they cannot be changed.

Of course, those persons who can not be changed included those living in Burma, the Arab World, Eastern Europe, etc...  This is a world view--Realism--that depends on the bizarre notion that some races are so different that they do not share the otherwise universal desire for liberty.  It's a view that always turns out to be wrong when put to the test.   

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Medicare Tries to Cut the Cost of Its Most Complex Patients (JANET ADAMY, 7/06/12, WSJ)

Health care outside of Medicare follows a similar pattern, with research showing that the majority of U.S. spending also highly concentrated on a small group of high-cost patients. These typically include people with one or more chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, arthritis and cancer, said Steven B. Cohen, a director at the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The majority of that spending is unavoidable, but research shows a large portion isn't. Of the $2.5 trillion the U.S. spent on health care in 2009, $765 billion was waste, according to a study by the Institute of Medicine, an independent body that advises the federal government on health policy. That includes $210 billion on unnecessary services.

Health-policy experts say another way to tackle that problem is to give patients a better sense of their survival odds once they get really sick. Some are pushing for private insurers and hospitals to release data that would help them create better statistics on how long patients survived after long hospitalizations or with particular ailments.

"If you knew to say, 'I'd like to see how the last people who were relatively similar to my mother did,' think how important that would be," said Joanne Lynn, a director at the Altarum Institute, a nonprofit health-systems research organization, who has worked for the agency that runs Medicare and Medicaid. "Right now, the doctors are going on hunches."

Many experts say the key is to get patients to plan with doctors and their family for how much care they want when they approach the end of their life. Medicare doesn't currently reimburse doctors for visits devoted to that since the change was labeled a "death panel" and struck from the health-overhaul law. The cultural aversion to talking about your own death also hinders such planning.

"In this death-panels nonsense we have lost the ability to talk about a very important matter," said Donald Berwick, a pediatrician who ran Medicare and Medicaid until last year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


BOOK REVIEW: PRICELESS: CURING THE HEALTH CARE CRISIS By John C. Goodman (David Hogberg, 7/11/12, The Washington Times)

[I]n the context of the current election, "Priceless"proves most useful in explaining why our private health care markets don't work properly and how to fix them. Because of federal tax law, health insurance provided by an employer is tax-free. This, Mr. Goodman, notes, has "favored third-party insurance against individual self-insurance." Because health insurance is tax-free and wages are taxed at the marginal rate, employees have an incentive to put as many dollars of benefits as possible into health insurance. This has led to the notion of "ideal heath insurance," which Mr. Goodman says is insurance "with no deductible or co-payment, making medical care essentially free at the point of delivery."

But if health insurance pays for all of a patient's health expenses, the patient has an incentive "to overuse the system, essentially consuming health care until the last amount obtained has a value that approaches zero." If patients aren't paying more of their health expenses with their own money, "they're not likely to shop around for the best buy."

When patients don't shop around, health care "providers will not compete for patients based on price. They will have no economic incentive to keep costs low the way producers do in other markets." Rather, with an insurance company - i.e., a third-party payer - paying their bills, "the incentive of providers will be to maximize against the payment formulas in order to enhance their incomes."

That, in turn, incentivizes insurance companies to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship in an effort to restrain the amount of care that is used. Ideally, they are able to eliminate primarily unnecessary care. In practice, they go after low-hanging fruit that may or may be not be necessary care. In the process, insurance companies anger both doctors and patients.

To get out of this mess, Mr. Goodman says no change in public policy is "more important than giving patients more control over health care dollars." But will Republicans follow this principle? Mitt Romney does not inspire confidence. He wants to give individuals the same tax break for health insurance that employees get for buying it through their employer. That only will encourage individuals to buy more insurance than they need, putting more of their dollars under the control of a third-party insurer. In short, it will only exacerbate the problems with the current system.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Poles honor Reagan, John Paul II with new statue (VANESSA GERA, 7/14/12, Associated Press)

Polish officials unveiled a statue of former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II on Saturday, honoring two men widely credited in this Eastern European country with helping to topple communism 23 years ago.

The statue was unveiled in Gdansk, the birthplace of Lech Walesa's Solidarity movement, in the presence of about 120 former Solidarity activists, many of whom were imprisoned in the 1980s for their roles in organizing or taking part in strikes against the communist regime.

The bronze statue, erected in the lush seaside President Ronald Reagan Park, is a slightly larger-than-life rendering of the two late leaders. It was inspired by an Associated Press photograph taken in 1987 on John Paul's second pontifical visit to the U.S.

People look at a new statue of former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II that was unveiled in Gdansk, Poland, on Saturday, July 14, 2012. The statue honors the two men whom many Poles credit with helping to topple communism. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)People look at a new statue of ...FILE - This Sept. 10, 1987 file photo shows President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II talking as they walk during a visit by the pope to the United States. Polish officials have unveiled a statue of former President Ronald Reagan and John Paul II, honoring two men whom many Poles credit with helping to topple communism in Gdansk on Saturday July 14, 2012. The bronze statue, is a slightly larger than life rendering of the two late leaders. It is based on this Associated Press photograph taken in 1987 on John Paul's second pontifical visit to the U.S. (AP Photo/Scott Stewart, File)
Enhanced by Zemanta

July 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


George Shultz: Memo to Romney -- Expand the Pie : George Shultz, the former secretary of state and Treasury says America's current problems are large, and its power in the world is diminished. But the policies for revival are obvious with the right leadership. (ROBERT L. POLLOCK, 7/14/12, WSJ)

[M]r. Shultz is confident that if we get the policies right again, America can regain its footing: "When Ronald Reagan took office, inflation was in the teens, the prime rate was in the 20s, and the economy was going nowhere. We still had the remnants of wage and price controls, particularly in oil and gas. And Jimmy Carter said we were in 'malaise.' It was a bad time. I'm convinced the economy can be turned around because I watched Ronald Reagan do it."

"It took long-term thinking," Mr. Shultz emphasizes. "I'll give you an example. [Reagan] knew and we all advised him you can't have a decent economy with the kind of inflation we've got. . . . The political people would come in and say 'You've got to be careful, Mr. President. There's gonna be a recession [if the Federal Reserve tightens the money supply]. You're gonna lose seats in the midterm election.'

"And he basically said, 'If not us who? If not now when?' And he held a political umbrella over [Fed Chairman] Paul Volcker, and Paul did what needed to be done. And by late '82 early '83, inflation was under control, the tax changes that he made were kicking in, and the economy took off. But it took a politician with an ability to take a short-term hit in order to get the long-run results that we needed."

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Newk's Picks: Sonny Rollins chooses 10 must-hear tenor cuts (Jazz Times, 07/10/12)

Yesterday we published the all-time top 50 tenor saxophone recordings as chosen by an elite group of artists and critics. Today we turn the floor over to Mr. Sonny Rollins, who knows a thing or two about tenor.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM

Mariachi El Bronx On World Cafe (World Cafe, July 12, 2012, NPR)

Los Angeles-based Mariachi El Bronx started out as a punk band called The Bronx, but that was before its members discovered a collective love for Mexican folk music. The group fell hard for mariachi, and when faced with playing an acoustic punk rock set for a TV show, they decided to fully embrace that new direction and start a Mexican-flavored side project. Since that fateful day, there have been two eponymous Mariachi El Bronx albums, and a third LP is in the works.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Israeli coalition split by demands to make ultra-Orthodox Jews serve in army (Phoebe Greenwood, 7/14/12, guardian.co.uk)

Proposals to draft ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army, ending an exemption that has lasted for 64 years, are bitterly dividing prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition government ahead of a crucial debate on Monday.

A new bill allowing the draft is due to be submitted for its first reading in the Knesset, following a ruling by the country's supreme court that the Tal Law, exempting Haredi Jews from military service, was unconstitutional. That law is due to expire on 1 August, but what will replace it has become the subject of ferocious argument over one of the most sensitive issues in Israeli society.

As Netanyahu faced a weekend of crisis talks with his deputy and political rival, Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz, senior government sources conceded that their chances of reaching a solution to save their coalition were slim. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Rereading: Up in the Old Hotel, by Joseph Mitchell: Joseph Mitchell is celebrated for his meticulous New Yorker profiles of Manhattan outcasts and eccentrics. His attentiveness to his subjects was not so much a technique as a moral principle (William Fiennes, 6/22/12, guardian.co.uk)

Joseph Mitchell was born in 1908, in Fairmont, North Carolina, where his father was a farmer who traded in cotton and tobacco. He began submitting newspaper stories as a student at the University of North Carolina, and moved to New York in 1929 with the idea of writing about politics. He got a job as a "district man" on the Herald Tribune, "hoofing after dime-a-dozen murders" in Brooklyn and Harlem. The latter, especially, left a deep impression. "Until I came to New York City," Mitchell would write in an introduction to My Ears Are Bent (1938), a collection of his early newspaper stories, "I had never lived in a town with a population of more than 2,699, and I was alternately delighted and frightened out of my wits by what I saw at night in Harlem." By the time his stint there was over, Mitchell was "so fascinated by the melodrama of the metropolis at night" that he forgot his ambition to be a political reporter.

Instead, he went to sea, working on a freighter shipping heavy machinery to Leningrad. Returning to New York, Mitchell found a job at the World-Telegram, writing features and interviews. He wrote about strippers, Eleanor Roosevelt, lady prize-fighters, Noël Coward, pickpockets, Tallulah Bankhead and George Bernard Shaw, and he began contributing short pieces to the New Yorker, which had been founded by Harold Ross in 1925. Mitchell joined the staff in 1938, and the magazine immediately gave him two great gifts.

The first was a form. The profile - a portrait of an individual drawn from interviews, observations and background research - is now a journalistic commonplace, but in the 1930s it was an innovation, conceived and developed at the New Yorker by Ross and writers such as Alva Johnston, Meyer Berger and St Clair McKelway. The profile, according to Ross, showed that it was possible "to write history about living people". Mitchell would become its greatest exponent.

The second gift was time. Released from the ticking-clock schedules of newspaper reporting, Mitchell now had the freedom to immerse himself in his stories, spending weeks or even months with his subjects, watching and listening. "There was this anomaly," he would say, much later. "You can write something and every sentence in it will be a fact, you can pile up facts, but it won't be true. Inside a fact is another fact, and inside that is another fact. You've got to get to the true facts. When I got [to the New Yorker], I said to myself I don't give a damn what happens, I am going to take my time."

Mitchell on Gould is just awesome psychodrama. Was he writing about himself to begin with, or did he too stop writing out of guilt at exposing his subject?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


THE GASLIGHT ANTHEM PERFORMS IN THE CURRENT STUDIOS (Mary Lucia, 7/12/12, Minnesota Public Radio )

Handwritten, the band's fourth studio album (and their first with Mercury Records), will be released on July 24. While in town to perform at the Fine Line Music Cafe, frontman Brian Fallon stopped by The Current studios to talk with Mary Lucia about the difference between performing at venues and music festivals, busking on the street and, of course, Bruce Springsteen.

Songs performed: "45," "American Slang" and "Here's Lookin at You Kid."

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


In the Age of Anxiety, are we all mentally ill? (Reuters, July 14, 2012)

When Cynthia Craig was diagnosed with postpartum depression eight years ago, she told her family doctor she felt anxious about motherhood. She wondered whether she had made a catastrophic mistake by quitting her job, whether she could cope with the long, lonely hours stay-at-home mothers face -- and even whether she should have had children.

"Anxiety is something I have always had, especially during times of change," said Craig, 40, who lives in Scotland, Ontario. "But I was never worried about the level of anxiety, and it never prevented me from leaving the house, driving, socializing or even speaking in front of people."

Her doctor referred her to an anxiety clinic, where a nurse asked Craig dozens of yes-or-no questions -- are you afraid of snakes? do you hear voices? do you vomit from anxiety? -- and made a diagnosis. "She said, 'Let's call it Generalised Anxiety Disorder with a touch of social phobia,'" Craig said.

The easier life gets the more time you have for drug abuse.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Audio Exclusive: The Speech That Landed Condi On Romney's List (McKay Coppins, 7/13/12, Buzzfeed)

Rice's forceful and surprisingly partisan 13-minute address -- audio of which has been obtained by BuzzFeed -- won her two standing ovations from the gathering of big-money donors and GOP elite. It was widely considered the highlight of the weekend, several people present told BuzzFeed.

The standout performance took several people in Romney's orbit by surprise. One surrogate said he was surprised by the red meat rhetoric employed by Rice, who has largely eschewed the political arena in recent years, devoting her time instead to an academic career at Stanford.

"She's either very worried about a socialist threat to America, or she wants to be Vice President," the surrogate said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM

Judith Wallerstein, psychologist who pioneered research on divorce, dies at 90 (Elaine Woo, 7/06/12, Washington Post)

In 1970, preschool teachers asked Marin County, Calif., psychologist Judith Wallerstein how to deal with a rash of children who couldn't sleep, cried constantly or were too aggressive with playmates. The common denominator, the teachers said, was that the parents were divorcing.

Dr. Wallerstein looked for research on the issue and, finding nothing useful, decided to conduct her own. She launched what would become a 25-year investigation, producing alarming findings that made her, a long-married grandmother of five, a polarizing figure in a contentious national debate. [...]

When Dr. Wallerstein began looking at the effects of divorce, she thought the children's difficulties would be fleeting. Instead, she found that for half of the 131 children she studied, time did not heal their wounds but allowed them to fester, creating "worried, under-achieving, self-deprecating and sometimes angry young men and women" who, not surprisingly, struggled considerably with romantic relationships.

In light of this delayed effect, Dr. Wallerstein came to a controversial conclusion: If parents could swallow their misery, they should stay together for their kids.

"What in many instances may be the best thing for the parents may by no means be the best thing for the children," she told Newsday in 1994. "It is a real moral problem."

She wrote about the consequences of divorce in several books, including "Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade After Divorce" (1989) and "The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce" (2000). Co-authored by Sandra Blakeslee, the books made headlines, put Dr. Wallerstein on talk shows and magazine covers and became bestsellers.

-REVIEW: of The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce : The 25 Year Landmark Study (2000) 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Red or dead. : a review of Memoirs of a Revolutionary by Victor Serge (JOHN GRAY, 27 JUNE 2012, New Statesman)

"We revolutionaries, who aimed to create a new society, 'the broadest democracy of the workers', had unwittingly, with our own hands, constructed the most terrifying state machine conceivable: and when, with revulsion, we realised this truth, this machine, driven by our friends and comrades, turned on us and crushed us." The Russian revolutionary Victor Serge's assessment of the role that he and his comrades played in building the machine that would destroy them is striking in its candour. Virtually all of his friends who managed to survive the dictatorship that was installed in the revolution of October 1917 blamed the totalitarian repression that ensued on factors - the Russian civil war, foreign intervention, Russian backwardness - for which the Bolshevik regime was not responsible.

Refusing to acknowledge his part in constructing and using the machinery of repression, Leon Trotsky pinned most of the blame on Joseph Stalin - a single human being. Here, Serge was more clear-sighted. Trotsky, he wrote, "refused to admit that in the terrible Kronstadt episode of 1921 the responsibilities of the Bolshevik central committee had been simply enormous, that the subsequent repression had been needlessly barbarous, and that the establishment of the Cheka (later the GPU) with its techniques of secret inquisition had been a grievous error on the part of the revolutionary leadership, and one incompatible with any socialist philosophy". [...]

Though he does not put himself at the centre of this extraordinary story, the strand that links everything together is Serge himself - a courageous and generous man who was loyal to his vision of how revolution could usher in a new era in human history. In moral terms, there can be no doubt that he was on a higher plane than the Bolshevik leaders.

At the same time, possibly for that very reason, Serge was consistently deluded about how the revolution would develop. Lenin and Trotsky knew that revolution is by nature a ruthlessly violent and inherently undemocratic business. Without firing squads, mass imprisonment, the use of family members as hostages (a technique pioneered by Trotsky to secure the loyalty of the Red Army in the civil war) and the routine use of torture by the Cheka, the Soviet regime would have been overthrown soon after it came to power."

Had Gorbachev realized that glasnost would unleash the Sergian insight--that the Revolution was rotten from the start--he never would have allowed it.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Electric Car Breaks 500 Mile Barrier (Karsten Strauss, 7/13/12, Forbes)

The arguments against an electric car are growing fewer. A vehicle in development by ECOmove - a consortium of Danish car builders - has unveiled a car that can travel 500 miles without refueling. Once a sticking point for electric vehicles, distance could be ticked off the list of grievances the driving populace has with electrics. Fuel prices have moved drivers to turn to hybrid and clean diesel but advances in electric technology could signal the rise of electrics as a space for entrepreneurs and established companies alike.

July 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Guys who like My Little Pony gather for 'BronyCon' (DAVE COLLINS, 7/01/12, Associated Press)

Dale Fjordbotten is a proud "My Little Pony" fan, with the shiny blue body suit and yellow lightning bolt, blue wings and blue tail to prove it.

Like many "Bronies" -- boys and men who like the cartoon "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic"-- the 25-year-old college student turned out over the weekend for "BronyCon Summer 2012" at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, which drew 4,000 men, women, boys and girls, many in colorful wigs and costumes.

"I thought about what people would say. 'It's creepy. It's weird. It's a ... show for little girls,'" said Fjordbotten, from Staten Island, N.Y. "It's just a great show ... the story line, the plot, the beautiful animation."
Bronies say they're a misunderstood lot who've gotten a bad rap from the media. They're all about the show, friendship, love and tolerance, and they have no bad intentions, they say.

"I discovered that there's nothing to be ashamed of being a Brony," said 19-year-old James Penna of Mastic in Long Island, N.Y. "People are into what they're into."

Outside the convention center, young men danced and sang along with songs from My Little Pony cartoon that blasted from loud speakers as a video screen on a large truck showed the show's characters. One observer said it almost felt like a Grateful Dead concert.

One hopes this too is a product of drugs.

Enhanced by Zemanta

July 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM


Is Condoleezza Rice Really Mitt's Veep Choice? (CONNOR SIMPSON, 7/12/12, Atlantic Wire)

Matt Drudge is reporting the Romney campaign's narrowed their choices for Vice President down to a carefully vetted handful, and that the front runner is none other than former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Matt Drudge reports a VP announcement will happen in the "coming weeks," but for now the Romney campaign has a list of a handful of choices, and Rice is at the top. If true, pundits will point to Romney's big Park City donor retreat as the turning point for Rice. She gave a speech on American foreign policy that wowed everyone there. At the time, Politico said Rice's speech "was praised by several attendees. It, too, focused on foreign policy, and she chastised the president -- sometimes by name -- for failing to lead on the global stage." Two guests who declined to be named described Rice's speech to ABC News, saying it was "an 'impassioned plea' for the country to 'stand up and take charge.'" 

Ann Romney was the first to leak that a woman was part of the potential VP list, but Condoleezza Rice wasn't even on our radar then. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM

First Listen: The Very Best, 'MTMTMK' (ANN POWERS, 7/08/12, NPR)

The Very Best's official debut, Warm Heart of Africa, cemented the then-trio's position at the forefront of a new phase in the development of African-rooted music. It included cameos from hip time-zone trippers Ezra Koenig and M.I.A., and complemented the nearly psychedelic explorations of bands like Animal Collective.

Out July 17, MTMTMK is an altogether different effort, both catchier and more intense. Its songs, with lyrics written by Mwamwaya in English and the Malawian national language, Chewa, revel in the power of African sounds to shape a vision as wide as the world. (The Very Best has fun doing this: Check out the video for "Yoshua Alikuti," which parodies Lil Wayne's "A Milli," was filmed in Nairobi, and highlights a song protesting the regime of the now-deceased Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika.) Mwamwaya's beefy wail communicates passion, humor and conviction, no matter what language he's using at the moment.

MTMTMK features many highly danceable earworms that could start any party and sound great on the radio. Renowned musical ambassadors K'Naan, Baaba Maal and Amadou & Mariam all make appearances. "Rumbae" even includes a hook which resulted from collaborations with "Dynamite" hitmaker Taio Cruz. Yet the focus and craft Hugo and Mwamwaya bring to MTMTMK only makes the music richer: "Rudeboy" and "We OK" (co-written with Bruno Mars) revive the spirit of new-wave genre-busters like The English Beat, whose pretty choruses were wrapped around sharp-edged stories of cultural collision and change.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Romney's NAACP Gamble Pays Off (Tim Alberta, July 11, 2012, National Journal)

Mitt Romney isn't going to win the African-American vote over President Obama this November. Knowing that, it would have been understandable if Romney declined the NAACP's invitation to visit Houston on Wednesday and address the group's annual convention. The prospect of speaking to a crowd that overwhelmingly supports your opponent is not only politically risky; it's personally intimidating. In such settings, and under such an intense microscope, one small misstep can snowball into a news-dominating disaster. The Romney campaign, known for being risk-averse, easily could have determined the risks outweighed the rewards and avoided the event, opting instead to have their candidate address the conference via video message.

But Romney showed up. With the critical eyes of the political world resting squarely upon him, Romney marched defiantly into the lion's den and delivered a speech that was direct, assertive and dispassionate. Undaunted, the man seeking to unseat the nation's first African-American president stood calmly before a group of his most fervent supporters and informed them that he, not Obama, is the one they've been waiting for.

"If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him," Romney told the crowd, pausing for added emphasis. As scattered boos echoed throughout the audience, Romney offered an unscripted -- and uncharacteristic -- display of bravado. "You take a look," he nodded.

The reaction to the speech from the Left reminds of Michael Halberstam's novel, The Wanting of Levine, where, if memory serves, the Jewish nominee is served feces at a dinner with an NAACP-type organization but is the first Democrat to refuse to eat it.  Folks seem mostly upset that Mitt didn't grovel and gobble.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


American Voters Say Health Care Law Is A Tax Hike, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds (Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, 7/12/12)

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a tax hike, American voters say 55 - 36 percent... [...]

"President Barack Obama has worked mightily to avoid the 'T' word, but most American voters say the ACA is in effect a tax hike," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Federal tax rates at lowest level in 30 years (Star Telegram, Jul. 11, 2012)

[A]t the very moment anti-tax protesters were emerging as the most powerful force in American politics, handing Republicans landslide control of the U.S. House, the data show that people were sending the smallest portion of their income to the federal government since 1979.

During Obama's first year in office, the average tax rate paid by all households fell to 17.4 percent, down from 19.9 percent in 2007, according to the CBO. The 2009 rate was significantly lower than the previous low of 19.4 percent in 2003 and well below the 30-year average of 21 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


The U.S. Housing Bust Is Over (DAVID WESSEL, 7/11/12, WSJ)

The U.S. finally has moved beyond attention-grabbing predictions from housing "experts" that housing is bottoming. The numbers are now convincing.

Nearly seven years after the housing bubble burst, most indexes of house prices are bending up. "We finally saw some rising home prices," S&P's David Blitzer said a few weeks ago as he reported the first monthly increase in the slow-moving S&P/Case-Shiller house-price data after seven months of declines.

Nearly 10% more existing homes were sold in May than in the same month a year earlier, many purchased by investors who plan to rent them for now and sell them later, an important sign of an inflection point. In something of a surprise, the inventory of existing homes for sale has fallen close to the normal level of six months' worth despite all the foreclosed homes that lenders own. The fraction of homes that are vacant is at its lowest level since 2006.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Tree-rings prove climate was WARMER in Roman and Medieval times than it is now - and world has been cooling for 2,000 years (ROB WAUGH, 11 July 2012, Daily Mail)

Measurements stretching back to 138BC prove that the Earth is slowly cooling due to changes in the distance between the Earth and the sun.

["Professor Dr. Jan Esper's group at the Institute of Geography at JGU used tree-ring density measurements from sub-fossil pine trees originating from Finnish Lapland to produce a reconstruction reaching back to 138 BC."]

The finding may force scientists to rethink current theories of the impact of global warming.

It is the first time that researchers have been able to accurately measure trends in global temperature over the last two millennia.

Over that time, the world has been getting cooler - and previous estimates, used as the basis for current climate science, are wrong. 

Their findings demonstrate that this trend involves a cooling of -0.3°C per millennium due to gradual changes to the position of the sun and an increase in the distance between the Earth and the sun. 

'This figure we calculated may not seem particularly significant,' says Esper, 'however, it is also not negligible when compared to global warming, which up to now has been less than 1°C. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


To Topple Assad, Unleash the CIA: Turkey and even Iraq's Kurds would help Syria's rebels if the U.S. showed it is serious. (REUEL MARC GERECHT, 7/11/12, WSJ)

Syria is predominantly Sunni Arab, with substantial rebellious Sunni communities throughout the country. Assad, who depends upon his Shiite Alawite minority (roughly 10%-15% of the population) for his military muscle, does not have the manpower for a multiple-front counterinsurgency.

A coordinated, CIA-led effort to pour anti-tank, antiaircraft, and anti-personnel weaponry through gaping holes in the regime's border security wouldn't be hard. The regime's lack of manpower and Syria's geography--low-rising mountains, arid steppes and forbidding deserts--would likely make it vulnerable to the opposition, if the opposition had enough firepower. [...]

This Syrian action would not be a massive undertaking. Even when the CIA ramped up its aid to Afghan anti-Soviet forces in 1986-87, the numbers involved (overseas and in Washington) were small, at roughly two dozen. An aggressive operation in Syria would probably require more CIA manpower than that, but likely still fewer than 50 U.S. officers working with allied services.

Most importantly, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has irreversibly broken with Assad. He has allowed the Syrian opposition increasing freedom of maneuver over the border, including the shipment of small amounts of weaponry. Mr. Erdogan may not require much White House suasion to support a larger, American-led paramilitary program, but he'll want to know whether Mr. Obama is "all in." In Jordan, where the CIA has its most intimate Arab liaison relationship and King Abdullah (with Saudi backing) has turned against Damascus, the U.S. would find a helpful partner.

And Iraqi Kurdistan, always eager for more U.S. officials on its soil, would likely give the CIA considerable leeway provided Washington promised to stand by the Kurds in any dispute with Baghdad and Tehran. Given the Kurds' concern about American staying power, this is a significant hurdle. Iraqi Kurds don't want their Syrian brothers, who have so far been hammered less than Syria's rebelling Sunni Arabs, to invite the wrath of Damascus if they lack the weaponry to defend themselves.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Rise of the Saxophone (WILL FRIEDWALD, 7/12/12, WSJ)

Doc Cheatham, though best known as one of jazz's most enduring trumpeters, doubled on soprano saxophone at the start of his career. I once asked him why he didn't keep up with the instrument, and he told me, "The 1920s wasn't the time for the sax--seemed like nobody was playing it back then." The first great saxophonist was Coleman Hawkins, a musician from Missouri only a year older than Cheatham. At the time Hawkins made his first recording, at age 16 in 1921, there was no role model for him on the instrument. Yet by the time he recorded his landmark solo on "Body and Soul" 17 years later, Hawkins had altered the landscape of jazz and American vernacular music. He had almost single-handedly transformed the sax from an orphan horn into the very symbol of jazz itself.

And that wasn't even the half of it: "Classic Coleman Hawkins Sessions 1922-1947," a new boxed set from Mosaic Records, shows that Hawkins's greatest accomplishment was in perfecting the very concept of harmonic improvisation. The first great improvisers had shown that solo improvisations could be played with drama, personality and even a kind of movie-star charisma. But Hawkins took it a step further: Finding that playing variations on a song's melody could get you only so far, he also improvised on the chord changes.

With harmonic progression as his starting point, Hawkins showed how he could extend an improvisation almost indefinitely. Not only were all saxophonists in his debt, but so were Art Tatum, Django Reinhardt and nearly every musician of the 1940s and '50s. Not until the '60s did jazzmen begin to look beyond chord changes for inspiration.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Obama Sinks to Historic Lows Among Blue-Collar Men (Ronald Brownstein, July 11, 2012, National Journal)

Though pollsters at each organization caution that the margins of error are substantial when looking at subgroups such as this, each poll shows erosion within that margin of error for Obama with these working-class white men. The new Quinnipiac poll shows Obama attracting just 29 percent of non-college white men, down from 32 percent in their most recent national survey in April, according to figures provided by Douglas Schwartz, April Radocchio and Ralph Hansen of Quinnipiac. The ABC/Washington Post survey found Obama drawing just 28 percent of non-college white men, down from 34 percent in their May survey, according to figures provided by ABC Pollster Gary Langer. Romney drew 56 percent of the non-college white men in Quinnipiac and 65 percent in the ABC/Washington Post survey.

No one expects Obama to win these blue-collar men, who are now among the most reliably Republican segments of the electorate. But even so, these numbers, if sustained through Election Day, would represent a modern nadir for Democrats. Since 1980, the worst performance for any Democratic nominee among these working-class white men was the 31 percent Walter Mondale managed against Ronald Reagan in 1984; the meager 39 percent Obama drew in 2008 was actually the party's best showing over that period.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Misdiagnosing Romney's campaign (E.J. Dionne Jr., July 11, 2012, Washington Post)

Could it be that Mitt Romney is correct from a strategic point of view to tell us little about what he'd do as president?

...no candidate has ridden that strategy to office since 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


GE's Novel Battery to Bolster the Grid (KEVIN BULLIS, , July 12, 2012, Technology Review)

Yesterday GE officially opened a sprawling, $100 million battery factory in Schenectady, New York, with a dramatic battery-powered show of lights, music, and pyrotechnics. The factory, which will eventually employ 450 people, makes a new kind of battery--based on sodium and nickel. GE says the technology, which is more durable and charges more quickly than lead-acid batteries, will make off-grid power generation more efficient and help utilities integrate power from a wide range of sources, including intermittent ones such as wind and solar power.

While GE will have strong competition for new grid battery technologies from companies such as Aquion Energy and Liquid Metal Battery, the manufacturing giant clearly has high ambitions for its technology, recently forming a new business unit to commercialize the battery technology. Indeed, at the factory opening, the company announced an additional $70 million investment to increase its capacity to help meet a backlog of orders. "The cost of electricity over time is going to go down because [GE's battery] is going to give utilities the ability to use a multitude of different technologies at the same time," GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt told a group of reporters at the plant opening.

July 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Move over : Falling labour mobility in America may reflect a more efficient market (The Economist, Jul 7th 2012)

Reduced mobility largely reflects two shifts in the nature of economic activity.

The first is that the mix of jobs offered in different parts of America has become more uniform. The authors compute an index of occupational segregation, which compares the composition of employment in individual places with the national profile. Over time, their figures show, employment in individual markets has come to resemble more closely that in the nation as a whole.

This homogenisation reflects the rising importance of "non-tradable" work. As the name suggests, non-tradable goods and services are not traded across long distances. Californian dentists tend not to clean Floridian teeth; every city has its own dentists. Cars, by contrast, are tradable, so not every state has its own car plant. Recent research by Michael Spence and Sandile Hlatshwayo of New York University's Stern School of Business found that 98% of employment growth between 1990 and 2008 occurred in non-tradable industries. Education and health-care jobs now account for 15% of employment, up from less than 10% in 1990. With more of the country's employment mix present in each state, it is less necessary to move to find work.

Yet a more uniform job distribution alone cannot account for falling mobility. As Messrs Kaplan and Schulhofer-Wohl point out, mobility has fallen for manufacturers, where jobs are more dispersed, as well as for service-sector workers. What is more, if workers know that they can find jobs they want in different places, they may become more willing to move for other reasons--to be by the coast, for example, or to savour a particular music scene. Yet survey data reveal that moves for these other reasons have not risen. The authors suggest another force is also reducing migration: the plummeting cost of information.

Young workers in particular used to have to move to gather information: to see whether they could stand a Boston winter, say, or cared enough about the Californian climate to pay Californian rents. In recent decades, however, it has become much easier to learn about places without moving house. Deregulated airlines and innovative online-travel services have slashed travel costs, allowing people to visit and assess different markets without moving. The web makes it vastly easier to study every aspect of a potential new home, from the quality of its apartment stock to the surliness of its baristas, all without leaving home. Falling mobility isn't simply caused by labour-market homogenisation, the authors argue, but also by greater efficiency. People are able to find the right job in the ideal city in fewer hops than before.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


In Defense of John Roberts (Carson Holloway, July 11, 2012, Public Discourse)

One need not agree with what Roberts did to find this line of criticism vastly overblown. Moreover, to allow the criticism to go unchallenged is to allow the undermining of the conservative movement's credibility in calling for a non-political judiciary. [...]

What, then, of Roberts's vote and opinion in the health-care case? While one need not agree with it, and while the conservative disappointment over it is certainly understandable, it is not the sorry performance that Roberts's most rabid critics pretend. That is, despite the rage of the conservative commentariat, Roberts's argument is one that could have been made by a conservative jurist seeking to adhere to a properly deferential posture toward the elected branches of government.

Considerable ire has been directed at Roberts not only because of what he did, but because of the way he did it. He concluded, to the approval of conservatives, that the individual mandate was unconstitutionally in excess of the commerce power, but then turned around and argued that it could be upheld under the taxing power of the federal government. Thus, his critics complain, he authorized the provision under the auspices of one power when the government had justified it principally under the auspices of another power. But what of that? Are conservatives--who claim to favor judicial restraint and deference to the elected branches out of respect for democratic self-government--to commit themselves to the position that the Court should strike down laws that are within the government's authority merely because the government invoked the wrong grant of power when it wrote or defended the law? Perhaps this would be justifiable in some cases, but declining to do so is hardly outside the bounds of judicial restraint traditionally understood.

In The Civil Rights Cases (1883), the Supreme Court struck down some provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. The provisions in question prohibited racial discrimination in "public accommodations"--theaters, inns, and the like. The Court found the law unconstitutional because it had been passed pursuant to Congress's authority to enforce the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, but, the Court noted, the Fourteenth Amendment only prohibits racial discrimination carried on by states, not private businesses. In his dissenting opinion, John Marshall Harlan pointed out that the Court might have upheld at least those parts of the act that regulated interstate commerce. He asked: "Has it ever been held that the judiciary should overturn a statute because the legislative department did not accurately recite therein the particular provision of the constitution authorizing its enactment?" In acting much like Harlan, Roberts may have erred, but he surely was not on totally indefensible ground.  Indeed, as Joel Alicea just noted in Public Discourse, until recently many conservatives would have taken Harlan as a model of commendable judicial restraint.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


A Life-Death Predictor Adds to a Cancer's Strain (Gina Kolata, 7/10/12,  The New York Times)

Doctors try to give survival odds based on a tumor's appearance and size, but often that is just an educated guess.

But Ms. Caton had a new option, something that became possible only in this new genetic age. She could have a genetic test of her tumor that could reveal her prognosis with uncanny precision. The test identifies one of two gene patterns in eye melanomas. Almost everyone in Class 1 -- roughly half of patients -- is cured when the tumor is removed. As for those in Class 2, 70 to 80 percent will die within five years. Their cancers will re-emerge as growths in the liver. For them, there is no cure and no way to slow the disease.

No test has ever been so accurate in predicting cancer outcomes, researchers said.

The data from studies of the test are "unbelievably impressive," said Dr. Michael Birrer, an ovarian cancer specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. "I would die to have something like that in ovarian cancer."

While for now the ocular melanoma test is in a class by itself, cancer researchers say it is a taste of what may be coming as they continue to investigate the genes of cancer cells. Similar tests, not always as definitive but nonetheless able to give prognostic information, are under development or starting to be used for other cancers, like cancers of the blood.

Having a prognosis allows people to plan their lives, but most do not want to know if they have a gene for an incurable, fatal illness, like Huntington's disease or early onset Alzheimer's.

The eye test raises a similar choice, with an added twist. This is not a test offered to healthy people, but to patients who have just gotten the news that they have cancer. The results will either give them reassurance that they will survive the cancer -- or near certainty that they will die from it.

Can patients in the throes of getting this terrifying news really make an informed choice about whether they want the test? Are they able to understand at such a fraught time that, for now at least, there is nothing that can save them if they get the bad prognosis?

Some doctors do not offer the test, reasoning that there is little to be gained.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Rob Portman: Comprehensive tax reform, not Bush-era tax cuts, should be focus of debate (Felicia Sonmez, 07/10/2012, Washington Post)

In a speech to the Associated Builders and Contractors legislative conference in Washington on Tuesday, Portman said that the debate ought to be focused on comprehensive tax reform rather than on the Bush-era tax cuts.
The speech came as President Obama, speaking at a campaign event in Iowa, renewed his call for Congress to extend the tax cuts on income of $250,000 and less.

"Look, I think we ought to reform the whole tax code," Portman said, according to a transcript of the speech. "We shouldn't be debating whether to deal with the current code by allowing it to be extended or not. We should have a president who shows leadership and comes to Congress and says: 'You know what? We need to reform this whole tax code.' "

He also told the crowd: "The tax code is now nine times longer than the Bible, and not nearly as interesting."

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Firms Sustain Investment in U.S. (NEIL SHAH, 7/10/12, WSJ)

Companies around the world are on track to increase their investments in the U.S. during 2012, according to a report Thursday by the United Nations. [...]

[T]he U.S.--the world's most popular destination for capital--is becoming more appealing relative to other economies. Foreign investment into China--the second-most-popular destination--grew around 8% in 2011 from the previous year, to $124 billion, compared with the U.S.'s 15% gain.

"The prospects for the U.S. are much better," says James Zhan, team leader of UNCTAD's World Investment Report. "The U.S. economy is still much better than other developed economies, so it's still attractive. We have seen a lot of FDI also into the manufacturing sector."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Despite Bain Attacks, Obama Still Struggling (Josh Kraushaar, July 10, 2012, National Journal)

For all the attention paid to the effectiveness of President Obama's Bain-themed attacks, it's remarkable how Obama has been stuck right around 47 percent for a very long time.  As the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza documented, the president's team has handily outspent Romney and his allied super PACs, pouring in $91 million into eight swing states in an early spending barrage intended to make Romney seem an unacceptable challenger.  But for all that effort, the numbers haven't moved much at all: The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll out today shows the race deadlocked at 47 percent. Yesterday's USA Today/Gallup swing state poll showed Obama statistically tied with Romney, the exact same result the survey showed one month ago. 

...the bigger problem is that you're wasting time and money to explain a scandal that isn't one, 4 Pinocchios for Obama's newest anti-Romney ad (Glenn Kessler at 06:00 AM ET, 06/21/2012, Washington Post):

 The phrase "corporate raider" has a particular meaning in the world of finance. Here's the definition on Investopedia:

"An investor who buys a large number of shares in a corporation whose assets appear to be undervalued. The large share purchase would give the corporate raider significant voting rights, which could then be used to push changes in the company's leadership  and management. This would increase share value and thus generate a massive return for the raider."

In other words, this is generally an adversarial stance, in which an investor sees an undervalued asset and forces management to spin off assets, take the company private or break it up.

 In a previous life, The Fact Checker covered renowned corporate raiders such as Carl Icahn and his ilk. We also have closely studied Bain Capital and can find no examples that come close to this situation; its deals were done in close association with management. Indeed, Bain generally held onto its investments for four or five years, in contrast to the quick bust-em-ups of real corporate raiders. So calling Romney a "corporate raider" is a real stretch.

 So how does the Obama campaign justify this phrase? It cites a single Reuters story from last August, about a campaign stop in New Hampshire, written by a stringer. Buried in the article is a reference to Romney as a "former corporate raider."

 "Reuters typically refers to Romney as a 'former private equity executive' or something along those lines," said Ros Krasny, the Boston bureau chief.  "Of the hundreds of times we have referenced Romney over the past year or more, honestly, that example from [the stringer] must have just slipped through the net -- 10 months ago.

 A better source for Romney's behavior as an investor might be someone who actually worked on Wall Street, such as former Obama auto czar Steven Rattner. "Bain Capital is not now, nor has it ever been, some kind of Gordon Gekko-like, fire-breathing corporate raider that slashed and burned companies, immolating jobs wherever they appear in its path," Rattner wrote in Politico this year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Armor on the Field: The NFL's Headlong Race to Build the Unbreakable Linebacker (Sean Conboy, July 9, 2012, Wired)

Rob Vito stood at the front of a hotel conference room in Phoenix one day last August, a custom Kevlar vest strapped over his blue dress shirt. Vito is a large man, and the shiny black suit of armor strained to cover his belly. But he wasn't concerned about fashion, or even looking good. He had a point to make, and wanted to make it with flair.

He raised a carbon-fiber hockey stick over his head, looked out over the 150 or so members of the Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society gathered before him and challenged any one of them to whack him with it.

A murmur went through the crowd. People looked at each other. These were professional trainers, and they knew what a shot to the gut could do to a man. But Vito had just spent 10 minutes telling anyone in shouting distance that Kevlar is a miracle material capable of stopping a .44 caliber bullet. Finally, two members of the Edmonton Oilers training staff took the bait.

"Are you serious?" one of them asked from the middle of the room.

"Dead serious," Vito replied, waving the stick as if to taunt them. "I want you to hit me with this hockey stick as hard as you can."

One of the men stepped up and hit Vito with a tepid cross-check. Vito didn't flinch. "Come on," he barked. "Harder." The trainer obliged, hitting Vito so hard the stick nearly snapped in two. Vito's belly shook and quaked as he doubled over. The crowd gasped. But after hamming it up a moment, Vito stood up and roared with laughter.

"Is that all you've got?" he asked the trainer. "No wonder you guys lose so much."

The room erupted with laughter, but the trainers from Edmonton were all business. They placed an order for Vito's Kevlar pads on the spot.

Vito has been taking a lot of orders lately. He's the charismatic CEO of Unequal Technologies, a Philadelphia company that manufactures military-grade Kevlar padding for sports equipment. Since 2010, Vito has been touting Kevlar as the best shock-suppression material in the world and boasting that his patented "EXO Skeleton CRT" -- CRT for "concussion reduction technology" -- absorbs as much as a quarter of the force a player takes to the head or chest, significantly reducing the risk of injury.

"If Kevlar can stop a bullet, it can damn sure stop a blitz," Vito told Wired.

Over the past year, his pitch has convinced more than 20 NFL and NHL teams to use his pads in their equipment. Two dozen professional players are using EXO Skeleton CRT pads in their helmets, and more than 100 are wearing it in shoulder pads, elbow pads and other gear. As the NHL and NFL grapple with an epidemic of concussions, Kevlar-reinforced helmets are increasingly viewed as a magic bullet. The technology is proving particularly attractive to players who have sustained head trauma and desperately want to keep playing. And later this summer, Vito plans to take his product mainstream, unveiling a multi-million dollar advertising campaign aimed at the hundreds of thousands of youth league players around the U.S.

But in the rush to make their players unbreakable, pro teams aren't asking many questions of Vito beyond how quickly he can do the job. Neurologists intimately familiar with sports-related concussions warn that there is no scientific evidence that Kevlar can reduce the risk of head trauma. Worse, they fear the pads could make the problem worse by masking symptoms. The leagues have yet to independently test the effects of Kevlar, and neurologists - including one who has treated many concussed NFL and NHL players -- expressed surprise when told it was being installed in helmets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


China's Achilles heel : A comparison with America reveals a deep flaw in China's model of growth (The Economist, Apr 21st 2012)

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


CBS broadcaster Visser aiming to guide her wurst to first (Bob Wolfley, 7/10/12,  Journal Sentinel)

Some dream of running with the bulls in Pamplona.

Others, like CBS Sports broadcaster Lesley Visser, dream of running with the sausages in Miller Park.

We don't know if Visser  is bullish about a Pamplona run, but we do know she is relishing her role in the sausage race Friday at Miller Park in the wurst way.

"I'm going to be one of the racing sausages!" Visser said in an e-mail. "Yes, do you have your breath back? Staggering for me."

Last January Visser was the keynote speaker at the annual Red Smith Banquet in Appleton. Brewers general manager Doug Melvin was on the dais with Visser and the two got to talking about, as Visser put it, "the giddy glory of the sausages." Melvin said maybe there was a date that would work out.

Friday is Visser's dog day. 

July 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


How the West shaped China's hidden battle of ideas (Mukul Devichand, 7/09/12, BBC News)

[T]he main schools of intellectual thought in China have one thing in common - their leading thinkers have often spent time in Western universities.

That means that for Westerners, who may struggle with China's very different language or food, Chinese policy debates are split along strikingly familiar lines.

Zhang counts himself on the classically liberal "right" wing. He supports free markets and political reform.

"I would love to see the country become more similar in its general system to that of the UK or United States," he says.

This camp - sometimes called China's New Right - have been most successful in economics. They influenced China's liberalisation in the 1980s and since.

"They often studied economics in places like Chicago or Oxford University," says Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations, author of What does China think?

"They came of age in the 1980s, a time when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in the UK, Ronald Reagan in the United States, and they became firm believers in the power of the market."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


DAVID AND GOLIATH (Nicholas Thompson, 7/09/12, New Yorker)

Underdogs, Gladwell wrote, win far more often than you might think; and they do so particularly when they replace ability with effort and figure out new ways to play the game. [...]

Little Brown has just announced that next year it will publish Gladwell's new book, "David and Goliath," on, as he says, the "art and science of the underdog."

...are never the underdogs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 AM


The End Of China's Economic Miracle : China has prospered From double-digit growth--but the bubble is about to burst. (Minxin Pei, 7/09/12, Newsweek)

To put it differently, if not starkly, the recent deceleration means the end of the so-called Chinese economic miracle. The era of rapid economic growth driven by investments and exports is over for China.

To many veteran China watchers, China's economic slow-down is all but inevitable. For the past decade, liberal economists, international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, and China's major trading partners have been urging China to change its state-led development model that has relied excessively on fixed- asset investment and export for growth, at the expense of household consumption. They have repeatedly warned that channeling resources to projects favored by the state would crowd out the private sector and waste precious capital, while squeezing the income for average households and reducing their capacity for consumption. In addition, such a strategy was almost certain to raise trade tensions with the West since rapid growth in investment, by creating industrial overcapacity, would force Chinese companies to dump their excess production on the global markets.

Sadly, for many years, such warnings fell on deaf ears in Beijing. Giddy with the apparent success of the much-touted "Chinese model" and unwilling to undertake the reforms that would make growth more balanced and sustainable, Chinese leaders paid mostly lip-service to rebalancing the Chinese economy. Macroeconomic indicators for the past decade show worsening domestic imbalances, with investment rates consistently in excess of 40 percent of GDP since 2004 and household consumption falling to around 35 percent of GDP in the same period, the lowest for a major economy (by comparison, household consumption accounts for 70 percent of GDP in the U.S.). In the meantime, China's external imbalances, reflected mainly in huge trade surpluses, have grown as well. In 2007 and 2008, China's trade surpluses reached an astonishing 8 to 9 percent of GDP. In the last three years, as Western demand for Chinese goods fell and labor and material costs rose, China's trade surpluses have dropped below 2 percent of GDP.

The deterioration in growth could not have come at a worse time for Beijing. The ruling Chinese Communist Party is in the middle of a leadership transition. Contrary to the popular perception of a decisive leadership, the jockeying for power inside this political oligarchy typically paralyzes policymaking. Outgoing leaders may want to revive economic growth at any cost in order to strengthen their hands in picking successors and save their reputations. But incoming leaders fear that their predecessors' policy may lead to wasteful investments and a build-up of bad loans in the banking sector, a financial mess they do not want to inherit.

A significant part of the problem with the Chinese economy today originated in Beijing's outsized stimulus package in 2009-2010. In response to the global financial crisis in late 2008, the Chinese government stimulated the economy with 4 trillion yuan ($600 billion) in fiscal spending and about 12 trillion yuan ($1.9 trillion) in new bank lending. Altogether, the injection of 16 trillion yuan into the economy, equivalent to 35 percent of GDP over two years, lifted the Chinese economy and earned Beijing plaudits around the world at the time. But most of the money went into fixed- asset investments and real estate, fueling a property bubble, causing inflation, and creating a mountain of bad loans in the banks. In the meantime, Chinese households did not benefit. Their consumption level has barely budged.

Because of the botched stimulus package four years ago, China today faces an excruciating choice. It can certainly make the same mistake again by using a combination of fiscal spending and government-directed loans to inflate growth through more investments. Such a strategy would provide enormous relief to state-owned enterprises (SOEs), local governments, and well-connected real-estate developers sitting on unsold property. SOEs can use the free money from Beijing to expand their empires, local governments can build more white elephants, and real-estate developers can roll over old debts and avoid liquidation. The costs of this option are obvious. While growth in the short term can be raised artificially, it is bound to crash again. Worse still, China's financial system will be saddled with even more nonperforming loans. At present, the government's total debts, both explicit and implicit, are estimated to be around 70 to 80 percent of GDP. As a middle-income country with a per capita of $5,000 but a rapidly aging population, China does not have much room to take on more sovereign debt.

July 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Will It Be Portman? : The Ohio senator's presser feeds the buzz. (Robert Costa, 7/09/12, National Review)

 It took Rob Portman five years to graduate from Dartmouth College. He switched majors twice, and he was rarely a habitué of Baker Memorial Library. Instead, Portman was a devoted outdoorsman. He spent hours on the slopes and even more on the water. For the skinny, long-haired teenager from Cincinnati, the Connecticut River's strong currents were a refreshing diversion from Ivy League academia. The river's rapids were also a training course. By 1977, Portman's third year, he and some friends won a grant to kayak the entire length of the Rio Grande, from its source in southern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico. They packed their bags, left Hanover, N.H., and headed west. For the next six months, Portman paddled, huddled with locals in off-the-grid Texas towns, and generally lived the life of a frugal nomad. He also perfected his Spanish, which he still speaks fluently. Portman eventually graduated in 1979 with a bachelor's degree in anthropology, but as he told me earlier this year, his best times were on a boat.

Portman, now a freshman Republican senator from Ohio, returned to the Connecticut River this past Saturday. He spent much of the day in a canoe, gliding past his old haunts. The official reason for the summer visit to his alma mater was familial: His 17-year-old daughter, Sally, was taking a tour of the school, one of four colleges she visited over the weekend. Yet this afternoon on the river was more than a jaunt down memory lane. It was, as ever, a fresh-air escape, this time from another sort of stuffiness: the vice-presidential sweepstakes. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


The Post-Employee Economy: Why Sky-High Profits Are Here to Stay : The end of the age of consumption and the decreasing need for labor are more related than you think (Conor Sen, 7/09/12, The Atlantic)

The role of the duel forces of capital and technology is to make us more productive, to allow us to do things that labor alone can't do, or to do them more efficiently. And they've done a good job. Since 1975, in the US manufacturing sector, hours worked have fallen by 30% (blue line, left axis) while output has risen by 170% (red line, right axis).

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The New Textualists' Finest Hour? : The New Textualists found a receptive audience in the separate opinion authored by Justice Ginsburg and joined, mostly, by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. (Michael M. Rosen, June 28, 2012, American)

Philosophically, to grossly oversimplify, Originalists hew closely to the meaning of constitutional and statutory provisions as understood when written into law, while Living Constitutionalists believe our founding document must adapt with the times and accommodate contemporary developments, while remaining true to its spirit.

In baseball terms, Originalists are National Leaguers who insist on the tradition of pitchers picking up a bat, while Living Constitutionalists prefer the American League and its designated-hitter rule, which complies more fully with the current slugging-happy zeitgeist.

Yet, as Originalists came to dominate the conversation, at least in constitutional terms, a new school of liberal legal thinking began to emerge. After all, folks like Amar and Balkin reasoned, if legal conservatives could unearth and embrace, say, the rationale underlying passage of the Second Amendment in the service of enforcing gun owners' rights, why couldn't legal liberals do the same for, say, the Fourteenth Amendment and affirmative action?

"That's a ground on which political liberals can proudly stand," Amar says, "precisely because nearly every patch of constitutional text came from four generational spurts in which [members of] the prevailing group were the liberal nationalist egalitarians of their day: the Founders, the Reconstruction Republicans, the early twentieth-century progressives, and the 1960s racial reformers."

Amar, in particular, revived the spirit of liberal Justice Hugo Black, one of the original Originalists, albeit from the Left, in an effort to reclaim text-faithful interpretations from the conservatives.

This tendency was on fine display in the ObamaCare debate, where Amar--fictionally standing in for Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who argued the case before the Court on behalf of the administration--urged the justices to consult the Constitution's "text, its history, and its structure as glossed by subsequent practice and precedent." Responding to the conservative argument that a mandate to purchase health insurance could result in a mandate to eat broccoli, Amar cited an older mandate to buy... muskets: "The Militia Act of 1792 had a similar mandate, obliging Founding-era Americans to privately procure muskets, ammo, pouches, and so on," Amar observed. "George Washington signed onto that law. And no one at the time said that mandates such as this were somehow intrinsically improper regulatory tools."

Similarly, Elhauge, in a Daily Beast piece entitled "Don't Blame Verrilli for Supreme Court Stumble," urged legal liberals to more "squarely attack the challengers' framing of the case," citing a 1790 law "requiring shipowners to buy medical insurance for seamen" and a 1798 statute "requiring seamen to buy hospital insurance for themselves." Root the arguments in precedent, Elhauge contended, and you might just convince a few of the swing justices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


July 4th Question, Part III: Americans Revolt Billions of Times a Day (Jerry Bowyer, 7/08/12, Forbes)

Alexis De Tocqueville once said that the limits placed on the central power in the new world are different from the limits placed on national power in the old world. In the New World, the national government has jurisdiction in certain specific areas. It is prohibited by law and custom from transgressing the boundaries of its jurisdiction. In that sense its power is severely limited. But within those boundaries it is sovereign and almost completely beyond challenge. If something such as war or taxing power  is deemed a 'federal matter,' challenges to that power, for example the Whiskey Rebellion, were historically rare and suppressed mercilessly when they did occur.

On the other hand, Tocqueville says, the Old World functioned quite differently. The monarchs tended to be in constant conflict with other political powers regarding proper jurisdiction. The crown and the aristocracy and the colonies and provinces were engaged in an eternal game of tug of war, with each citing their own interpretation of law and custom to attempt to limit the jurisdiction of the others. Tocqueville observed that the limits to the powers of the central government in that case were largely imposed by the practical limits of enforcement. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Europe Burns Coal Fastest Since 2006 in Boost for U.S. (Rakteem Katakey, Rajesh Kumar Singh and Rachel Morison, July 03, 2012, Business Week)

Europe is burning coal at the fastest pace since 2006, as surging imports from U.S. producers such as Arch Coal Inc. (ACI) (ACI) helped cut prices 26 percent in a year and benefited European power companies including EON AG.

Demand for coal, the dirtiest fuel for making electricity, grew 3.3 percent last year in Europe while sales of less- polluting natural gas fell 2.1 percent, the steepest drop since 2009, according to a BP Plc report. Germany's EON and RWE AG (RWE), the biggest utilities in Europe's largest power market, are considering shutting unprofitable gas-fired plants even as Chancellor Angela Merkel promotes gas to replace nuclear energy.

Europe's higher coal use defies its policies to penalize carbon emissions and is based on profit margins climbing to a two-and-a-half year high for coal-burning power stations, data compiled by Bloomberg Industries show. Cheaper coal was made possible partly by a 49 percent jump in first-quarter imports from the U.S., Energy Information Administration data show.

"Coal will continue to remain on the money in Europe because it's more competitive to burn than gas," said Trevor Sikorski, an analyst at Barclays Plc in London. "More and more of the coal to Europe will come from the U.S. where just the opposite is happening."

Thanks to the explosion of shale drilling, natural gas futures have fallen about 34 percent in 12 months in New York, pushing utilities to combust more gas and rely less on coal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Saudi Arabia's policy shift toward India helps nab terror suspects (Rama Lakshmi, 7/06/12, Washington Post)

Last week, Saudi Arabia deported an Indian accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166 people, including six Americans. At the same time, news came that Riyadh is likely to deport another accused terrorist to India in the next few weeks.

The shift in Saudi policy toward India is part of the kingdom's broader foreign policy makeover since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, analysts say.

"This deportation is really a first, and it signals Saudi Arabia's changing attitude toward India as much as it also signals the internal changes in Saudi society," said K.C. Singh, a former Indian diplomat. "It coincides with India aligning itself with American interests and India's cautious distancing from Iran."

Saudi Arabia also gives India a gateway to the entire Arab region, where it has little influence, compared with Pakistan. Saudi Arabia can assist India in its quest for energy in the region, improve its access to trading partners and help it address radicalism among Indian Muslims who migrate to the Middle East for lucrative work.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Is crazy the new normal? : We are at risk of turning everyday struggles into illnesses, according to prominent U.S. psychiatrist, Allen Frances. (Ola Jachtorowicz, 7/09/12, Cosmos Online)

The extraordinarily popular DSM-III was revised in 1987. But, by the late 80s, enough new data had been accumulated that a new version was needed. Dr Allen Frances, then chair of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine in the US, was chosen to head the DSM-IV task force. The six-year effort involved over 1000 individuals, required extensive review of existing research and field trials of any changes before being published in 1994. But today Frances wonders whether these measures were enough. Rates of mental illness, particularly ADHD and autism, have skyrocketed since the 1990s and Frances believes that the DSM-IV - which has become one of the most widely used texts in psychiatry - is party to blame.

Instead of inadequately treating those who most need assistance, he wonders, are we now spending time and resources treating those who don't need help at all?

THERE HAVE BEEN SEVERAL studies showing rapid increases in diagnoses worldwide, explains Frances, now an emeritus professor at Duke. A 2010 study reported in Psychological Medicine, for example, followed a cohort from Dunedin, New Zealand, and found that half reported at least one anxiety disorder by the age of 32.

A similar study done by Frances' colleagues at Duke University, epidemiologists E. Jane Costello and Adrian Angold, and published in 2011 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, tested young people for symptoms several times between the ages of 9 and 21. They found that 83% of participants had met criteria for a disorder by 21.

"Either the criteria are way too loose and we're including people who have the normal aches and pains of growing up," says Frances, "or everyone's real sick."

Frances outlines the rapid cycling of diagnostic fads in psychiatry, his own view being that while labels and labellers may change, human nature doesn't. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


China approaches a defining moment (Rogier Creemers, 6 July 2012, OpenDemocracy)

The problem facing the Party now is that different aspects of this model seem to be running out of steam. China's economic growth, for example, has been fuelled by export and investment. Enormous quantities of money have been shifted from private wealth, particularly savings, to large, mostly State-owned enterprises, in an effort to cushion the impact of market liberalization. This has avoided the economic catastrophe that happened after the Russian "shock therapy", but also created a new class of officials and SOE managers that grew tremendously wealthy off graft and corruption. As a result, Chinese household wealth remains relatively low, and the nearly non-existent social safety net further reduced incentives to spend. As the ongoing economic malaise in the United States and Europe dampens demand for Chinese products, it is clear that further growth needs to be fuelled by increase in domestic consumption.

Also, China is faced by economic challenges it created itself, in terms of inflationary pressure on commodities, but also matters such as environmental pollution. The voracious appetite of the Chinese economic machine has raised commodity prices across the board, causing inflation inside the country. The increasing use of cars causes traffic gridlock and severe environmental pollution in the larger cities, which themselves grow at breakneck pace. Growing meat consumption is straining Chinese agriculture. The speed at which new infrastructure is constructed, and the concomitant corruption, has led to quality and safety issues. There are significant amounts of bad investments, aimed at artificially boosting GDP numbers and local employment.

Most importantly, maintaining high levels of growth itself is becoming more difficult. While China's double-digit performance is hailed as an economic miracle, it is easy to forget that China started from an extremely low base, which was to no small extent caused by the disastrous economic policies that were implemented between 1949 and 1979. Enormous gains could be made with simple measures, such as permitting farmers to sell some of their surplus produce on open markets, introducing financial incentive systems into enterprises and permitting foreign trade. The establishment of basic legal and regulatory structures went relatively rapidly in the beginning, but there's a difference between recognizing the necessity of a patent system to incentivize innovative activities, and dealing with the enormous technological and legal complexities that operating a patent system in the twenty-first century entails. Also, the external conditions for Chinese growth were beneficial. Particularly after the end of the Cold War, the new impetus for international trade enabled China to grow swiftly through exports to the developed world, which at that time had the capacity to absorb this influx of cheaper goods. Now, China will need new consumers to support further growth of their manufacturing capacity, either at home or abroad. In other words, the low-hanging fruits for China's economic development have been picked, and further economic development will become more arduous and less susceptible to centralized policy-making.

At the same time, the political model advocated by Deng is showing cracks as well. First and foremost, the next generation of leaders will be the first not to have been hand-picked by revolutionary Communists. Hu Jintao's ascendancy was marked as Deng ensured a place for him on the Standing Committee of the Politburo in 1992, as the second youngest member ever. Hu had come to Deng's eye because of his managerial skills, but also his determined actions in putting down an uprising in Tibet, where he was party secretary, a few months before the Tiananmen incident. This new generation lacks that blessing, and the resulting political strife. Second, Deng's model of collective leadership is threatened by economic diversification. In the Nineties it was possible to have the rising tides lift all boats, as the economy was much more homogenous, meaning that simpler policies could have broader effects. Now, economic policymaking, by necessity, is becoming more of a balancing exercise between different interests. China's goal to move up the value chain, for example, is now pushing lower value-added manufacturing into other Asian countries. However, these tend to be labour-intensive industries, and their departure may have a significant impact on employment. Inflation is an ever-present threat, with strong political repercussions in a country where most people rely on personal savings for pensions, in the absence of a stronger social safety net.

As a result, Chinese society is rapidly becoming more pluralized, as far as economic interests go, but this pluralisation is not reflected in politics. The enormous popularity of the recently ousted Bo Xilai, indicates that Chinese citizens might welcome a more open political debate. However, pluralized politics would strike against the very notion of collective leadership. Third, Deng advocated control over the public debate in order to maintain social stability. The Internet, however, has vastly increased the potential for citizens to communicate and organize outside of the official purview, raising the stakes in the control game. The Chinese government itself has spent enormous resources in policing the Internet, but has increasingly made websites and other service providers responsible for content inspection. This in turn greatly inhibits the development of commercial Internet activities, and may be a brake on further economic development. Development is a complex affair, and it may be true that the recipes that brought China to the position where it is now, may effectively be hindering its future path, something that is called the "middle income trap".

Resistance to democracy, capitalism and protestantism is not avoidance.

July 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


So, it turns out that when The Wife announces she's taking the kids to the Cape to visit her parents for 5 days, one of these is not on the acceptable response list:

(A) God, I'll miss you guys.
(B) I really wish I could go to.
(C) I don't know what I'll do without you for that long.
(D) Thank you!

Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


Obama then and now (Dan Balz, 7/08/12, Washington Post)

Four years ago, Obama used themes of hope and change to suggest that he could bring a new politics to Washington. He was open to the idea that, as he sometimes put it, the solutions to the country's problems were somewhere between the rhetoric and visions of both parties. His goal, he said, was to help guide the country, through his leadership, to that imagined golden mean while sticking to his principles.

Today, the battle-scarred president who has met almost uniform resistance from the Republicans sees the world differently, or so it seems from the way he talked in Ohio and Pennsylvania. At nearly every stop, he made it clear that he sees November in the starkest of terms and that there can be but one winner.

...but it's hard to believe he genuinely sees any difference between himself and Mitt.
Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Why Conservatives Are Happier Than Liberals (Arthur Brooks, 7/08/12, New York Times)

[M]ost conservatives are married; most liberals are not. (The percentages are 53 percent to 33 percent, according to my calculations using data from the 2004 General Social Survey, and almost none of the gap is due to the fact that liberals tend to be younger than conservatives.) Marriage and happiness go together. If two people are demographically the same but one is married and the other is not, the married person will be 18 percentage points more likely to say he or she is very happy than the unmarried person.

The story on religion is much the same. According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, conservatives who practice a faith outnumber religious liberals in America nearly four to one. And the link to happiness? You guessed it. Religious participants are nearly twice as likely to say they are very happy about their lives as are secularists (43 percent to 23 percent). The differences don't depend on education, race, sex or age; the happiness difference exists even when you account for income.

Whether religion and marriage should make people happy is a question you have to answer for yourself. But consider this: Fifty-two percent of married, religious, politically conservative people (with kids) are very happy -- versus only 14 percent of single, secular, liberal people without kids.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Dismantling the new atheism : A new book by a leading philosopher argues that there is a deep compatibility between science and religion and a hidden incompatibility between science and naturalism. (Christopher O. Tollefsen, 2 July 2012, MercatorNet)

But can't the new atheists simply help themselves to the premise that science is the only source of knowledge? We might wonder on what basis they could: surely it is not a claim of science that science is the only source of knowledge. But this, as we will see, is only one way in which extreme naturalism threatens to be its own worst enemy.

In the third part of the book, Plantinga turns to the question of whether in fact theism might be in concord with contemporary science, rather than in conflict. After looking at, and giving a fairly weak endorsement to, some arguments in support of intelligent design and fine-tuning, Plantinga argues that in fact the theistic worldview is as a whole deeply consonant with the goals and successes of contemporary science.

This is because theism holds, as atheistic naturalism denies, that God has created us in his image, as rational beings. But as rational, yet finite, beings, we are truth-seekers, and for the theist it makes perfectly good sense to think that God has also created a world that is available to us to know: "God created both us and our world in such a way that there is a certain fit or match between the world and our cognitive faculties."

Plantinga then identifies a number of features of our world, and our cognitive relationship to that world, that are much more likely, and make much more sense, on a theistic than on an atheistic picture: the reliability and regularity of nature, and its working in accordance with law; the role of mathematics in the understanding of nature; the possibility of induction; the appropriateness of theoretical virtues such as simplicity; and even the empirical nature of science, which Plantinga argues is underwritten by the contingency of divine creation. In all these respects modern science is deeply compatible with theism, a fact that renders unsurprising the further fact that all the great founders of modern science were theists, working from a deeply Christian background.

So the conflict between science and religion is, Plantinga shows, largely bogus (and I have only scratched the surface of his arguments here). But things are even worse from the standpoint of naturalism, for on the naturalist account, there is no good reason to think that our cognitive faculties are truth-tracking. After all, it is not because those faculties contribute to true beliefs that they are selected for in the Darwinian account; it is because they are likely to contribute to survival.

Can the naturalist expect, as the theist clearly can, that her cognitive faculties are reliable, i.e., that they lead to true beliefs? Since natural selection does not select for truth, or truth-tracking faculties, but for other unrelated properties, we have no reason to expect so given naturalism. Of course, we have very good reason to think our beliefs are reliable; so this claim should not bother most people. And non-naturalistic theists will believe that even if evolution is true, God has overseen evolution with a view to the reliability of our cognitive faculties. The naturalist cannot rely on any such claim.

But since the inability to rely on cognitive faculties as reliably truth-tracking is a defeater for any belief whatsoever, it is a defeater also for naturalism; accordingly naturalism turns out, on Plantinga's argument, to be self-defeating, and cannot be rationally accepted.

The Long War was ultimately just the playing out of the conflict between the English-speaking who understood Hume and the continentals who were fooled by Descartes, the latter's fundamental error being that they failed to comprehend that naturalism is incoherent not on religious terms but on its own.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


The Spark That Caused the Big Bang : There's a reason the newly discovered Higgs boson is called the 'God particle.' It started it all. (MICHIO KAKU, 7/05/12, WSJ)

For the past 50 years, this expensive process of smashing beams of particles has yielded an embarrassingly large zoo of hundreds of subatomic particles, which can be tediously reassembled like a jigsaw puzzle called the Standard Model of particles. More than 20 Nobel Prizes have been awarded to physicists who have pieced together parts of the Standard Model. All the particles of the Standard Model had been found, except the last, central piece of the jigsaw puzzle--the Higgs boson. That is why so much was resting on finding the Higgs particle. (If it had not been found, many physicists, I imagine, would have had a heart attack.)

The press has dubbed the Higgs boson the "God particle," a nickname that makes many physicists cringe. But there is some logic to it. According to the Bible, God set the universe into motion as he proclaimed "Let there be light!" In physics, the universe started off with a cosmic explosion, the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, which sent the stars and galaxies hurtling in all directions. But the key question is left unanswered: Why did it bang? The big-bang theory says nothing about how and why it banged in the first place.

To put it another way, what was the match that set off the initial cosmic explosion? What put the "bang" in the Big Bang? In quantum physics, it was a Higgs-like particle that sparked the cosmic explosion. In other words, everything we see around us, including galaxies, stars, planets and us, owes its existence to the Higgs boson.

Although, the interesting question is what sorts of particles subatomic particles are made of, and what those particles are made of....

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


The Sources of the Next American Boom : Nanotech, 3-D printing and other innovations point to a coming golden era, if we can unleash the animal spirits of the market. (MICHAEL S. MALONE, 7/05/12, WSJ)

[W]aiting in the wings for when we get our economic policies in order are a mounting number of stunning discoveries, inventions and technological breakthroughs that could set off a burst of growth and wealth creation as big as any in living memory.

The fracking technology that is making available vast new sources of recoverable oil and natural gas in North America is one such breakthrough. But all across the commercial and industrial landscape, there are exciting developments:

• Nanoculture: One of the truths of tech is that revolutions take longer than predicted, but they arrive sooner than we are prepared for them. That is the case with nanotechnology, the hot new science story of a decade ago.

Though it has largely disappeared from the front pages, nanotech is only now coming into its own. Breakthrough medicines; genetic research; new materials such as graphene (a lattice-sheet form of carbon used for everything from filters to computer chips); molecular electronics (extreme miniaturization, thus super-small sensors and other devices); and quantum computing (small, superfast supercomputers) have all been announced in recent months. Indeed, the range of emerging applications for nano materials is so wide-ranging and important that, together, they suggest an impending turning point in high tech as important as silicon and integrated circuitry were half a century ago.

• Cloud Crowd: In the world of information technology, the big story these days is the shift of data management from largely in-house computing centers to rented, easily scalable computing and storage from anonymous servers located somewhere out in the Internet. Much of this shift, driven by leading providers such as Amazon, is already well under way, rapidly driving down costs and making information management much more affordable both for industry and, increasingly, consumers.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


Battling for every Iowa vote (JENNIFER JACOBS, 7/08/12, Des Moines Register)

Some of the once-euphoric Iowans who inspired the nation to embrace Barack Obama in 2008 are experiencing a deep-seated buyer's remorse over their role in delivering the White House to a candidate they think has let them down.

Take longtime Democrat Debbie Smith. Four years ago, she wore the Obama T-shirts, went to his rallies, made her first campaign contribution and caucused for the first time.

"I wish to have my vote back," said Smith, 51, a small business owner from Clive. "I feel completely responsible, and I feel like I need to tell people this."

A sense of betrayal shows up in Iowa polling conducted by rival Mitt Romney's campaign, said its pollster, Neil Newhouse.

It's a discomfiting hurdle for Obama in a state he professes to have strong emotional ties with, that he won by a landslide four years ago, and that could prove pivotal this year for him or for Romney. [...]

It's a fusillade of campaigning in a state that was not high on team Romney's target list for the general election just a few months ago. After all, Obama won Iowa in 2008 by a decisive 9.54 percentage points. Today, the race in Iowa is too close to call, a rolling average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com shows.

When polling showed Obama struggling here, and when his re-election campaign started dumping money and its top stars into the Hawkeye State, the Republican campaign didn't need any more clues that Iowa is up for grabs.

"We know how to hunt where the ducks are," said Romney political director Rich Beeson in an interview at the campaign's national headquarters in Boston.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


The Man Who Rescued the German Economy (Raymond Zhong, 7/08/12, Wall Street Journal)

'Reform yourselves, and ye will grow out of your debt." So goes Germany's unwritten mantra for the European crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel is urging Greece, Spain, Italy and the rest to shape up their economies and pay down their obligations--and withholding German money until they do.

The Berlin road to economic righteousness is no mere sermonizing. Germany itself has gone down it and grown stronger. Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, was German chancellor from 1998 to 2005, and during his second term his government lowered taxes, revamped unemployment benefits and streamlined labor laws. Mr. Schröder's shakedown of the welfare state--dubbed Agenda 2010 when it was launched in 2003--has been credited with insulating Germany against the debt mess that would later befall Southern Europe. [...]

Circumstance forced economic reform onto Gerhard Schröder's agenda as chancellor. When he took office in 1998, Germany's unemployment rate was 11% and economic growth was close to nil.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Another Thing Immigrants Do for the Economy: Invent Cool Things (Elizabeth Dwoskin, July 01, 2012, )

Each year the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office awards about 200,000 patents to inventors. Last year a Stanford student built a camera that lets users change what's in focus after snapping a shot; Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers invented a tiny, foldable car; and a patent was awarded for devising a metal that is as strong as steel but can be molded like plastic.

Some of these patents are just cool. Others may turn out to have enormous economic value: This year, Microsoft (MSFT) paid $1.1 billion to buy AOL's (AOL) patent portfolio, which comes to about $1.2 million per patent. All of the patents above have one thing in common: They represent the work of immigrants to the U.S.

Which is why policy makers should flag a recent study that found more than three-quarters of patents from America's top ten patent-producing universities, including MIT, Stanford, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, were the result of breakthroughs by immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


The 5 myths of the great financial meltdown (Allan Sloan, June 13, 2012, Fortune)

Myth No. 1: The government should have done nothing.

There's an idea gaining currency that everything the government did, from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (the now infamous TARP) to the Federal Reserve's innovative lending programs and rate cutting, just made the problem worse. And that we should have simply let markets do their thing.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! During the dark days of 2008-09, when giant institutions like Washington Mutual and Wachovia and Lehman Brothers failed and the likes of Citigroup (C), Bank of America (BAC), AIG (AIG), GE Capital (GE), Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley (MS), Goldman Sachs (GS), and huge European banks were near collapse, letting them all go under would have brought on the financial apocalypse. We could well have ended up with a downturn worse than the Great Depression, which was the previous time that failures in the financial system (rather than the Federal Reserve raising rates) begat a U.S. economic slowdown.

You want to let big institutions fail? Okay, look at what happened when Lehman was allowed to go under in September 2008. (The Treasury and Fed insist there was no way to save the firm, though I wonder if they would have devised one had they not gotten tons of grief six months earlier for not letting Bear Stearns collapse.)

Lehman's collapse froze short-term money markets, making normal finance impossible. A run on money-market funds began when the Reserve Primary Fund, an industry pioneer, said it was "breaking the buck" because of losses on Lehman paper. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley were about to fail because hedge funds and other "prime brokerage" customers began yanking their cash in response to prime brokerage assets at Lehman's London branch being frozen.

The federal government (including the Fed) had to front trillions of dollars and guarantee trillions of obligations -- a total I calculated last year (see "Surprise! The Big Bad Bailout Is Paying Off") at more than $14 trillion -- to stop the panic.

Lehman was a beta test for letting markets take care of problems themselves -- and it failed miserably.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


For China, It's All About America (Michael Auslin, July 6, 2012, The Diplomat)

Ultimately, as one European diplomat put it to me, when it comes to China's foreign policy, it's all about the United States.  This monofocus on America tells us a great deal about China's worldview, but it also reveals the degree to which Washington is hampered in forging a better working relationship with Beijing.

Unlike the United States, which has had a complex, yet robust set of alliances and more informal partnerships in Asia since the 1950s, China has not formed deep ties with any Asian state.  There is no analogue in Chinese foreign policy to America's relationship with Japan or its initiatives with Singapore.  While there is always skepticism abroad about Washington's true intentions towards it's Asian partners, and a resignation about the inherently unequal power relationship between America and any of its smaller allies, there is also recognition that the United States usually seeks some type of mutually-beneficial status.  Although a superpower (or perhaps because of it), American diplomats have a basic predisposition towards equality in their negotiations and agreements.  The U.S. military, for its part, has spent decades helping to train foreign armed forces, provide humanitarian aid, and of course serve as an ultimate guarantor of regional stability, at least theoretically.

China's foreign policy, at least today, is far different.  Once it may have seen itself as a co-leader of the global Communist bloc, or as the center of a Sinic grouping of nations up to the nineteenth century.  Now, its foreign gaze is centered squarely on its relationship with the United States. 

The reality is that they should be obsessed with us, while we can ignore them. All they are is cheap labor and there's always cheaper elsewhere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Why Women Still Can't Have It All : It's time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here's what has to change. (ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, July/August 2012, The Atlantic)

Last spring, I flew to Oxford to give a public lecture. At the request of a young Rhodes Scholar I know, I'd agreed to talk to the Rhodes community about "work-family balance." I ended up speaking to a group of about 40 men and women in their mid-20s. What poured out of me was a set of very frank reflections on how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children (even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion's share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington). I concluded by saying that my time in office had convinced me that further government service would be very unlikely while my sons were still at home. The audience was rapt, and asked many thoughtful questions. One of the first was from a young woman who began by thanking me for "not giving just one more fatuous 'You can have it all' talk." Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way. But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.

The striking gap between the responses I heard from those young women (and others like them) and the responses I heard from my peers and associates prompted me to write this article. Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating "you can have it all" is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.

I still strongly believe that women can "have it all" (and that men can too). I believe that we can "have it all at the same time." But not today, not with the way America's economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged--and quickly changed.

BEFORE MY SERVICE in government, I'd spent my career in academia: as a law professor and then as the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Both were demanding jobs, but I had the ability to set my own schedule most of the time. I could be with my kids when I needed to be, and still get the work done. I had to travel frequently, but I found I could make up for that with an extended period at home or a family vacation.

I knew that I was lucky in my career choice, but I had no idea how lucky until I spent two years in Washington within a rigid bureaucracy, even with bosses as understanding as Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. My workweek started at 4:20 on Monday morning, when I got up to get the 5:30 train from Trenton to Washington. It ended late on Friday, with the train home. In between, the days were crammed with meetings, and when the meetings stopped, the writing work began--a never-ending stream of memos, reports, and comments on other people's drafts. For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children's sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls. I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month. And I had it better than many of my peers in D.C.; Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families (although of course she worked earlier and later, from home).

In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else's schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be--at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office--at least not for very long.

I am hardly alone in this realization. Michèle Flournoy stepped down after three years as undersecretary of defense for policy, the third-highest job in the department, to spend more time at home with her three children, two of whom are teenagers. Karen Hughes left her position as the counselor to President George W. Bush after a year and a half in Washington to go home to Texas for the sake of her family. Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters, wrote: "Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work."

Yet the decision to step down from a position of power--to value family over professional advancement, even for a time--is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States. One phrase says it all about current attitudes toward work and family, particularly among elites. In Washington, "leaving to spend time with your family" is a euphemism for being fired. This understanding is so ingrained that when Flournoy announced her resignation last December, TheNew York Times covered her decision as follows:

Ms. Flournoy's announcement surprised friends and a number of Pentagon officials, but all said they took her reason for resignation at face value and not as a standard Washington excuse for an official who has in reality been forced out. "I can absolutely and unequivocally state that her decision to step down has nothing to do with anything other than her commitment to her family," said Doug Wilson, a top Pentagon spokesman. "She has loved this job and people here love her.

Think about what this "standard Washington excuse" implies: it is so unthinkable that an official would actually step down to spend time with his or her family that this must be a cover for something else. How could anyone voluntarily leave the circles of power for the responsibilities of parenthood? Depending on one's vantage point, it is either ironic or maddening that this view abides in the nation's capital, despite the ritual commitments to "family values" that are part of every political campaign. Regardless, this sentiment makes true work-life balance exceptionally difficult. But it cannot change unless top women speak out.

Only recently have I begun to appreciate the extent to which many young professional women feel under assault by women my age and older. After I gave a recent speech in New York, several women in their late 60s or early 70s came up to tell me how glad and proud they were to see me speaking as a foreign-policy expert. A couple of them went on, however, to contrast my career with the path being traveled by "younger women today." One expressed dismay that many younger women "are just not willing to get out there and do it." Said another, unaware of the circumstances of my recent job change: "They think they have to choose between having a career and having a family."

A similar assumption underlies Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's widely publicized 2011 commencement speech at Barnard, and her earlier TED talk, in which she lamented the dismally small number of women at the top and advised young women not to "leave before you leave." When a woman starts thinking about having children, Sandberg said, "she doesn't raise her hand anymore ... She starts leaning back." Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg's exhortation contains more than a note of reproach. We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: "What's the matter with you?"

They have an answer that we don't want to hear. After the speech I gave in New York, I went to dinner with a group of 30-somethings. I sat across from two vibrant women, one of whom worked at the UN and the other at a big New York law firm. As nearly always happens in these situations, they soon began asking me about work-life balance. When I told them I was writing this article, the lawyer said, "I look for role models and can't find any." She said the women in her firm who had become partners and taken on management positions had made tremendous sacrifices, "many of which they don't even seem to realize ... They take two years off when their kids are young but then work like crazy to get back on track professionally, which means that they see their kids when they are toddlers but not teenagers, or really barely at all." Her friend nodded, mentioning the top professional women she knew, all of whom essentially relied on round-the-clock nannies. Both were very clear that they did not want that life, but could not figure out how to combine professional success and satisfaction with a real commitment to family.

...the jobs were mainly makework in the first place.  The return to traditional family roles will not disrupt the economy at all.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Pricing Experiments You Might Not Know, But Can Learn From (Conversion XL, 10/31/11)

Offering 3 options

The old truth about offering 3 pricing options holds water. Here's a pricing experiment in selling beer - again from W. Poundstone's amazing book Priceless.

People were offered 2 kinds of beer: premium beer for $2.50 and bargain beer for $1.80. Around 80% chose the more expensive beer.

Now a third beer was introduced, a super bargain beer for $1.60 in addition to the previous two. Now 80% bought the $1.80 beer and the rest $2.50 beer. Nobody bought the cheapest option.

Third time around, they removed the $1.60 beer and replaced with a super premium $3.40 beer. Most people chose the $2.50 beer, a small number $1.80 beer and arounf 10% opted for the most expensive $3.40 beer. Some people will always buy the most expensive option, no matter the price.

You can influence people's choice by offering different options. Old school sales people also say that offering different price point options will make people choose between your plans, instead of choosing whether to buy your product or not.

How to test it: Try offering 3 packages, and if there is something you really want to sell, make it the middle option.

The Daughter Judd (racing into the kitchen) : "Mom, Dad's using horse shampoo!"

The Wife : "Oh, don't worry, honey, it was probably just the cheapest one he could find."

Me : "The biggest bottle at the Dollar Store!  32 ounces for a buck."

The Daughter : "If they have to tell you on the bottle that it's safe for human use it means humans shouldn't be using it...."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The most important chart of the 2012 election (Chris Cillizza, 07/06/2012, Washington Post)

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


A Big Deal: Canada and Mexico Join the Pacific Trade Pact (Claude Barfield, June 26, 2012, American)

Accounts of the G-20 summit in Mexico largely miss the most significant development.

The most significant development during the G-20 summit in Mexico occurred on the sidelines and was largely buried in media reports: The decision to invite Canada and Mexico to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). Adding Mexico and Canada to the current nine-member TPP will result--if negotiations are successful--in a free trade area covering some 658 million people and about $20.5 trillion in economic activity.

Further, many trade analysts predict that the move by Canada and Mexico will produce a domino effect, beginning with the addition of Japan and South Korea within the next year. That would produce a free trade area encompassing more than 700 million people with a combined GDP of some $26 trillion. It is this prospect that gives substance to the claim that, in an otherwise lackluster and frustrating G-20 summit, such a breakthrough is potentially a really big deal.

For most of their history, the TPP negotiations have been conducted beneath the radar of publicity or media attention. They began with four small nations--Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, and Chile (P-4)--aiming for a high standard, U.S.-model Free Trade Agreement, with the goal of providing a pathway to an inclusive, trans-Pacific trade and investment open market. Subsequently, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, and Malaysia signed on, but the transforming event came with the Bush administration's decision to start the process for membership in its last months in office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


China lifts ban on lesbians giving blood (Molly Gray, July 6, 2012, CNN) 

The Chinese Ministry of Health has lifted a 14-year-old ban on lesbians donating blood in effect as of July 1.

The ban still applies to men who are sexually active with other men, but celibate homosexuals are permitted to give blood, according to the Ministry of Health's website.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Study Says 'Stand Your Ground' Laws Increase Homicides (http://blogs.wsj.com/law/2012/06/11/study-says-stand-your-ground-laws-increase-homicides/Joe Palazzolo, 6/11/12, WSJ)

In a new study, an economics professor and a PhD student at Texas A&M University take a broader look at the laws' effect. The authors, Professor Mark Hoekstra and Cheng Cheng, use state-level crime data from 2000 to 2009 to determine whether the laws deter crime.

The answer, they conclude, is no. In fact, the evidence suggests the laws have led to an increase in homicides.

From the study:

Results indicate that the prospect of facing additional self-defense does not deter crime.  Specifically, we find no evidence of deterrence effects on burglary, robbery, or aggravated assault.  Moreover, our estimates are sufficiently precise as to rule out meaningful deterrence effects.

In contrast, we find significant evidence that the laws increase homicides. Suggestive but inconclusive evidence indicates that castle doctrine laws increase the narrowly defined category of justifiable homicides by private citizens by 17 to 50 percent, which translates into as many as 50 additional justifiable homicides per year nationally due to castle doctrine. More significantly, we find the laws increase murder and manslaughter by a statistically significant 7 to 9 percent, which translates into an additional 500 to 700 homicides per year nationally across the states that adopted castle doctrine.

Thus, by lowering the expected costs associated with using lethal force, castle doctrine laws induce more of it. This increase in homicides could be due either to the increased use of lethal force in self-defense situations, or to the escalation of violence in otherwise non-lethal conflicts. We suspect that self-defense situations are unlikely to explain all of the increase, as we also find that murder alone is increased by a statistically significant 6 to 11 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Number of German births hit post-war low (Elisa Oddone, Jul 3, 2012, Reuters)

The number of births in Germany fell to a post-war low last year despite government incentives meant to reverse a population decline in the European Union's biggest economy... [...]

A third of all babies born in Germany, still the EU's most populous member state, came from immigrant families, the analysts said, noting that without them the overall figure would have been much lower.

The preliminary data released by Germany's Federal Statistics Office showed 663,000 children were born in 2011, down from 678,000 in 2010.

"As in every year since 1972, the number of people who died was greater than the number of children born. In 2011 the difference amounted to 190,000 people and in 2010 to 181,000," the office said in a report.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Obituary: Fred Perry, 1909 - 1995 (The Telegraph)

Perry was the first player to win all four Grand Slam championships - of Wimbledon, the United States, France and Australia. He also played a key part in Britain's four Davis Cup triumphs between 1933 and 1936.

Especially memorable was the decisive final rubber against France, in Paris in 1933. Perry, who had taken five sets to beat Henri Cochet on the opening day, recovered from losing the first set and being two set points down in the second set to beat Andre Merlin 4-6, 8-6, 6-2, 7-5.

It was Britain's first success since 1912, and ended six years of French domination.

When the team arrived at Dover, they received a telegram of congratulation from King George V. A crowd of 10,000 greeted the train when it reached Victoria.

Perry competed in a total of 20 Davis Cup matches, winning 34 of his 38 rubbers in singles, and 11 out of 14 in doubles. Since then, Britain has reached the final once.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Something's rotten in Paris : Moves by the new socialist government are setting the country up to become the next major victim of the European financial crisis. (Cyrus Sanati, 7/06/12, Fortune)

On Monday, an independent audit of the French economy, ordered by the new government, spooked the markets as it showed that France was on course to run a budget deficit equivalent to around 5.2% of its output, up sharply from earlier estimates. The budget gap grew after the new government announced plans to roll back a number unpopular austerity measures passed by the former conservative government. The deficit also expanded as the government finally got real about its economic situation, forcing it to adjust its overoptimistic economic growth forecasts. The government now projects the French economy will grow at 0.3% in 2012, down from the rosier 0.7%. They also lowered their 2013 forecast, projecting a 1.2% growth, down from 1.75%.

The Socialist Party ran on a platform that envisioned lowering France's budget deficit to zero by 2017. To do that, it would need to achieve a budget deficit equivalent of 4.5% of GDP in 2012 and 3% in 2013. Achieving those targets now with the revised data means that the government will need to cut spending or raise revenue in 2012 by an additional 6 billion to 10 billion euros than what they had originally anticipated. The gap is then expected to explode to as much as 33 billion euros in 2013.

To close the chasm in the budget, the government is focusing on the revenue side of the equation by imposing a number of one-time and permanent tax hikes. The new taxes will focus mainly on investors, large businesses and the wealthy. In its revised budget, the government is aiming to raise an additional 7.2 billion euros in taxes for 2012. This massive tax hike comes through a number of sources, including controversial plans to raise the national tax rate for the wealthy French citizens, which according to the French government is anyone pulling over 1 million euros a year, to an astounding 75%.

The government projects its new wealth tax will bring in an additional $2.3 billion to the nation's coffers. That is, of course, assuming that many "wealthy" Frenchman and businesses simply won't flee France to a more friendly tax jurisdiction. The European Union's law of free movement of peoples makes it easy to pack up and establish residency in a neighboring country to avoid higher taxation in their own country. It is unclear how many of Frenchmen will make an effort to avoid the new tax, but the French government was livid last month when David Cameron, the United Kingdom's Prime Minister, said he would, "roll out the red carpet," for French businesses seeking to essentially dodge the tax hike.

July 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


...a perfect illustration of the rule that comedy is always conservative.

For, once we understand that Groucho thinks life is tragic, then we can only be even more amused that he made a living of off poking fun at it.  This laugh being at his own expense. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Rate rigging scandal: Just the start? (Irene Chapple, 7/05/12, CNN)

E-mails revealed as part of the rate fixing investigation showed traders were seeking beneficial rates for their trading positions.

During the credit crisis of 2007 and 2008, Barclays high Libor postings came under scrutiny and the bank, concerned about "unfounded negative perceptions," lowered its Libor submissions, according to Barclays notes to the Treasury Committee.

Regulators investigating Libor manipulation last month fined the bank more than $450 million. A report from the UK's Financial Services Authority concluded the issues were of the "utmost seriousness" owing to the prevalence of rates references throughout the markets.

But Barclays is unlikely to be the only bank facing financial penalties. Several additional banks are cited but not named in documents made public as part of Barclays settlement with the FSA.
Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, Credit Suisse, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and UBS are among the banks that are acknowledged as being investigated by regulators.

Libor, or the London Interbank Offered Rate, is the benchmark rate which is set every morning by banks posting the rate at which they are willing to borrow with the British Bankers' Association.
The BBA publishes Libor as a result of this, and the rate is then used to fix the borrowings of credit cards, mortgages, car leases and more.

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Pleased To Meet Me Turns 25 (Timothy Bracy And Elizabeth Bracy, 7/06/12, Stereogum)

As is the case with any impassioned faith-based group, opinion amongst ardent Replacements fans regarding what constitutes their best work is vocal and fractious. Many contend that the 'Mats never improved upon their seminal 1984 indie swan song Let It Be, while others believe that despite slipshod production and faintly ridiculous artwork, Paul Westerberg never put together a better group of songs than on the band's 1985 major label debut Tim. Certainly no one would be wrong by asserting either of those classics as the finest record the band ever made. But for a small minority of diehards, the patented formula of big hooks, boozy raunch, and lonely midnight-hour laments never got better than on Pleased To Meet Me, released on 7/7/1987, 25 years ago.

Seemingly by design, every single year was an ordeal for the Replacements, but even by their established standard of practiced professional incompetence, the period leading up to Pleased To Meet Me was a mess. Having made the jump to the big leagues, the 'Mats proceeded to demolish commercial ambitions with the same studied attention to detail that their contemporaries R.E.M. impeccably used to build a mass audience. Despite its slow-building brilliance, Tim received only a lukewarm commercial reception, while the band introduced themselves to mainstream America with a not-atypically addled performance on Saturday Night Live. Founding member and lead guitarist Bob Stinson was fired by Westerberg and Stinson's own younger brother Tommy. The explanation that Bob had simply become too unreliable in his excesses seemed at once plausible and ironic. Stinson WAS unreliable -- he could show up at gigs too drunk to play, or miss them altogether, leaving the roadie to play his parts. But then, it wasn't like this was Barney Gumble stumbling into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers -- Bob had always been the wildcard in a band filled with jokers. For years after Bob was dismissed, and until the band's final rueful end, they were never much more then a 50/50 proposition in terms of a live act. Catch them on the right night and you might never see a better show. Catch them on the wrong one and it was difficult to imagine these individuals had ever played together. No one even seemed to know the songs. Intoxicants were a factor.

For many, the band would never be the same minus Bob Stinson's sad clown act and over-the-top lead playing, which often pushed Westerberg's soaring anthems into the ecstatic. Clearly, though, the Replacements were heading ostensibly in a more refined direction. For their follow-up, they decamped to a kind of spiritual home base: Ardent Studios in Memphis, where they would record with legendary producer Jim Dickinson, who in the previous decade had produced the three classic albums by Westerberg's heroes Big Star. It is seems fair to say that the affinity the Replacements felt for Big Star was a product not only of musical admiration, but a sense of living through the same thing trajectory. It had begun to seem that their surpassingly great music would never quite be the fashion of the time, and that the delicate, diffident nature of the personalities involved might be the final blow to any chance of being genuine hit makers.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM

JD MCPHERSON PERFORMS IN THE CURRENT STUDIOS (Steve Seel, 7/07/12, Minnesota Public Radio)

Signs and Signifiers, the debut record from bluesy, rockabilly artist JD McPherson, was rereleased by Rounder Records earlier this year. The wider release gives music fans a second chance to discover a quickly rising talent in McPherson. [...]

Songs performed: "North Side Gal," "Farmer John," "Signs & Signifiers," and "Dimes For Nickles."

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


This Could Be Amazin': For the Mets, 2012 was supposed to be a lost year. Now another miracle seems possible. (Will Leitch Published Jul 6, 2012, New York)

I know this isn't the type of thing people like to hear around these parts, but honestly: This city has been absolutely spoiled by success. The Yankees won a World Series just three years ago, and already there's talk of a Bronx championship drought. The Giants won two ­Super Bowls in five years­--in the most dramatic ways imaginable, I might add--and all anyone wants to talk about the summer afterward is whether the quarterbacks of the freaking Jets are going to be friends. We're handed the most organically thrilling sports story of the year in Linsanity, and just a few months later, we're complaining about the guy wanting too much money. (Already.) In a couple of months, this town is getting a whole new team. Amazing things are always happening here. Forgive Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Seattle for not having much pity for us.

But there's one sports story I think might top them all. The Jets might have more years between them and their last title--44 and counting, heading into this season--but I can't imagine anything bigger in this city than the New York Mets' winning a World Series this year, their 50th anniversary of existence. It would be the most unlikely, ludicrous, transcendent bit of sports business this city has seen in a generation. It would make the 1969 Miracle Mets look like the sun coming up in the east; it would make Mr. Met's head pop off. It would be the most jaw-dropping baseball story in a decade.

No one's talking about this, because this is the Mets, and fans, quite justifiably, have been through enough the past few years. The Mets' success heading into the All-Star break--they are among the top contenders for one of the two wild-card spots and, lo and behold, are leaving those hated Phillies in the dust--has been applauded, but cautiously so, like a parent whose child gets his or her first base hit after a whole season of strikeouts: We're happy for the kid, but that was a lot of strikeouts. Nobody wants to make this harder on everybody than it has to be. The shoe has to drop soon, right? Protect ourselves while we can.

But this season is more than half over, and the Mets have shown no signs of fading. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Local wars blur al Qaeda's threat to West (William Maclean, 7/05/12, Reuters)

Spinoff groups from al Qaeda have become increasingly engrossed in insurgencies in Africa and the Middle East, inflicting death and mayhem on local communities. But this emphasis on the pursuit of the enemy nearby has cast doubt on their commitment, in practice, to bin Laden's war on the "far enemy" - the West and the United States in particular.

More than a year after U.S. forces killed bin Laden, some groups such as the Yemeni-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) undoubtedly remain a menace to the West.

Turmoil in Syria, Somalia and parts of Libya, Mali, Iraq and Nigeria has also allowed Islamist militias to recruit, train, arm and organise. And yet their targets have been overwhelmingly close at hand, rather than in Europe or the United States.

"Al Qaeda has become a useful label for any group that essentially pursues local aims but wishes to exaggerate its reach and sophistication," said Richard Barrett, Coordinator of the Al-Qaida-Taliban Monitoring Team at the United Nations.

"Al Qaeda has lost much of its reputation as the vanguard of a global cause, and as the activities of its affiliates result in more and more death and destruction for local communities, this process will accelerate," he told Reuters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Some Health Care For All, but not Too Much (Josh Barro, Jul 6, 2012, Bloomberg)

Tyler Cowen caught a lot of flak recently for saying something that is clearly correct. A lot of the flak has come from people who have misunderstood the implications of what he wrote.

Here's the relevant passage:

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....  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.

Cowen is right. As both inequality and health-care costs rise, it becomes more difficult to equalize health-care consumption through transfer payments. The size of the transfers eventually becomes untenable. They also become wasteful: You end up providing hugely expensive health-care transfers to people with low incomes who would be better off with cash, housing or something else. Even if it meant they wouldn't live as long, at least the quality of their lives would be higher.

Partly right, partly wrong.  In the first place, modern nutrition, sanitation, hygiene and vaccinations mean that even the poor just don't die much from being poor anymore.  On the other hand, modern health care consumption doesn't have much to do with avoiding//postponing death.  It's mainly cosmetic.  Ideal health reform, therefore, seeks to move towards equalized consumption by driving down consumption generally--by making people pay out of their own pockets--and towards increasing the wealth of the poor--by transferring money to a savings account, instead of to the health care/insurance industries.  

The most important point missed though is that we're a Christian country, so we';re not going to let the poor die for lack of health care.  The onl;y question is whether we care for them via a defined contribution system or a defined benefit one.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Controversy over draft law breeds culture war : Tension between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis reaches a crescendo as leaders struggle to reach a consensus on alternative to Tal Law (AP, 7/07/12)

For their supporters, seminary students are preserving a tradition that has served as the very bedrock of Judaism for thousands of years.

"Jews need to study the Bible. That is what makes us unique as a people," Yerach Tucker, a 30-year-old spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox community, said proudly as he guided a visitor through the Mir Yeshiva. "It is the essence of our lives."

But polls show the vast majority of Israelis, who risk their lives and put their careers on hold while serving in the military, object strongly to the arrangement, and many see it as the essence of everything that is wrong with their country.

This resentment has fueled a broader high-decibel culture war. In recent months, secular activists have rebelled against what they consider growing religious coercion by the ultra-Orthodox, such as attempts to enforce gender segregation on buses and public places, and a religious backlash by ultra-Orthodox who feel unfairly persecuted.

"It is something so ethical, so basic, that we have all grown up upon: service, giving to the state. Everyone here has to give something to society because we are one society," said Boaz Nol, a reserve officer who is among those planning a massive protest in Tel Aviv this weekend against the continued exemptions.

The Supreme Court earlier this year ruled the draft exemptions illegal and gave the government until Aug. 1 to figure out a new, fairer system. That is proving far more difficult than expected.

Last week, the deep divisions between religious and secular parties inside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government led to the collapse of a special committee formed to draft new legislation.

Netanyahu's largest governing partner, the centrist Kadima Party, is now threatening to quit the government, just two months after joining the coalition with the goal of reforming the draft. Netanyahu has vowed to find a compromise.

A glimpse into the world of the ultra-Orthodox shows just how intractable the issue has become. The draft exemptions date back to the time of Israel's independence in 1948, when founding father David Ben-Gurion exempted 400 exemplary seminary students to help rebuild great schools of Jewish learning destroyed in the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were murdered.

As ultra-Orthodox parties became power brokers, the numbers mounted. Ultra-Orthodox officials now estimate there are about 100,000 full-time Torah learners of draft age.

The pattern has lasting ramifications. The heavy emphasis on religious study, begun early on in a separate system of elementary schools, has pushed many ultra-Orthodox men to shun the work world, relying on welfare as they spend their days immersed in holy texts. The ultra-Orthodox make up about 10 percent of Israel's 8 million citizens.

Steep unemployment, believed to hover around 50 percent, coupled with a high birthrate has fueled deep poverty in the ultra-Orthodox sector. With families of eight to 10 children commonplace, more than a quarter of all Israeli first graders today are ultra-Orthodox. Experts say if these trends continue, Israel's long-term economic prospects are in danger.

But changing the ways of the ultra-Orthodox will not be easy. Leaders speak proudly of centuries-old traditions of prayer and learning that they believe has allowed the Jewish people to survive such tragedies as the Spanish Inquisition, European pogroms and the Holocaust. Study in Yeshiva seminaries, they say, is no less important than military strength in protecting the country from modern threats in a hostile region.

"You have to understand, we are part of the Jewish army," said Aharon Grossman, a 30-year-old student at Mir Yeshiva. "Some people serve in tanks. We serve in yeshiva."

Ultra-Orthodox leaders insist they will never be forced to serve in the military.

Oliver Cromwell studied the Bible.

July 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


In Defending His Health Care Plan, Romney Often Called Its Mandate a Tax (MICHAEL D. SHEAR and ASHLEY PARKER, 7/06/12, NY Times)

Four months before Mitt Romney signed his health care plan into law in Massachusetts in 2006, he told a conservative group that the state's tax code would be the hammer that would make the plan work.

For those who refused to comply with the state's mandate to buy health insurance, he said in remarks to the Heritage Foundation, "they are going to lose their personal tax exemption."

"We will withhold any of their tax refund," he said.

As the Massachusetts governor and then as a presidential candidate, Mr. Romney spent the next six years describing in a variety of different ways the possible punishments for ignoring the Massachusetts mandate: as "free-rider surcharges," "tax penalties," "tax incentives" and sometimes just as "penalties."

But regardless of the terms he used, his intentions were clear: Massachusetts residents who chose not to buy health insurance would see their state income taxes go up.

Heck, Heritage midwifed the tax, before Democrat use of it convinced them it must be anticonstitutional, if not the mark of the Anti-Christ...

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Why Health-Spending Trend Matters (David Wessel, 7/06/12, WSJ)

Americans made about 160 million doctors visits per quarter in the mid-2000s, but around 2009 they cut back to around 140 million, and, at least through 2011, haven't gone back to the old level, Kaiser and IMS Institute for Healthcare Infomatics estimate. Citigroup Global Markets surveys find year-over-year declines in hospital admissions for nearly every quarter since the beginning of 2008. The Congressional Budget Office has been scaling back Medicare projections because spending has been lower than it anticipated.

The big question now: Will spending on health bounce back when the U.S. economy does or is this change longer lasting?

Adjusted for inflation, U.S. per-person spending on health care grew at an annual average rate of 2.1% between 2005 and 2010 compared with 4.3% in the five previous years and 3.2% in the five years before that. Government actuaries predict that spending will grow slowly for another couple of years, and then bounce back. Over the next five years, they see per-person spending climbing 3.3% a year, driven in part by the expansion of coverage under Mr. Obama's Affordable Care Act. But they're basically making educated guess. The health system has so many moving parts that accurate predictions are impossible. Take prescription-drug spending. It's below projections because so many brand-name drugs are going off patent, which means patients are using cheaper generics, while pharmaceutical firms haven't found many new blockbusters. In March, CBO shaved $100 billion over 10 years for its Medicare prescription-drug spending estimate.

Because so much of health care is just consumer goods and so little is medically necessary it will respond predictably to applied economic pressures.  The trick is to build those pressures into the reform of Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


The powerful pull of assimilation (Juliette Kayyem, 7/06/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

The uniqueness of our American identity is that it is, above all, contagious. While critics of immigration are quick to claim that new arrivals "don't want to be American" or "are weakening our common identity," Tufts political scientist Deborah Schildkraut's new book, Americanism in the Twenty-First Century, finds something much more benign, even graceful, in the American narrative. A nationwide survey validated a fact that is rather obvious to most Americans: Immigrants and those born in the country share similar views of what it means to be an American.

Regarding those great American notions of economic and political freedom, there is barely a distinction. Better still, Schildkraut told me, "This is not just about rights, but also about obligations and being engaged through this notion of civic republicanism." Immigrants and those born here believe in giving as much as they do in taking.

Schildkraut's book eviscerates misconceptions about a struggle for America's soul, fears that have lingered since our independence. Benjamin Franklin lamented an influx of Germans into colonial life. Present policy debates aside, the fear of America's identity being overwhelmed has affected a broad range of groups: the Irish Catholics in the 1840s; the Chinese in the 1880s; the Japanese in the 1940s.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Freedom Unleashed: In the late 1980s, a brief flowering of Russian truth-telling exploded myths and revealed the depredations of Soviet rule. (EDWARD LUCAS, 7/02/12, WSJ)

The greatest target was Stalinism--a taboo subject since the failed Khrushchev thaw of the mid-1950s and early 1960s. Even if the Soviet Union had been an economic, cultural and social success story, it could scarcely have survived the revelation that it was based on the murder by shooting and starvation of millions of innocent people, and the enslavement of tens of millions. As Mr. Aron recounts, secret archives were opened and firsthand accounts by former prisoners were aired. "In the November 27, 1988, issue of Moskovskie novosti . . . Marxist historian and former dissident Roy Medvedev for the first time in the Soviet press" estimated the number of arrested, imprisoned or executed under Stalin before 1937--"no less than" 10 million died.

Mr. Aron also captures well the sensational 1989 revelation of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact of 1939. The public emergence of the pact's details destroyed the great myth of Soviet wartime history: that Stalin's deal with Hitler was a wise tactical ruse to buy time for the Soviet war machine, when in truth it was a sincere and disastrous miscalculation. The valor of the Soviet Union's soldiers was the only aspect of the war, Mr. Aron says, that did not come "under assault by the glasnost mythslayers."

On top of all the historical truth-telling came public soul-searching about the corrosive effects of the modern Soviet system on morals and behavior. As Maya Ganina wrote in Literaturnaya gazeta in 1988: "Let's find out at what point in our lives bribery, thievery, lies, humiliation of the powerless and servility towards the powers that be have become more than just a deviation from the norm."

Mr. Aron writes: "The most urgent concern was not the economy itself but rather what it did to the men and women who worked in it: their ideas, their views of themselves, their conscience--their 'souls.' Surrounded by waste and negligence, poverty and neglect, arbitrariness and incompetence of all-powerful bureaucracies implementing myriad irrational laws and regulation, men and women were found to have lost much of what was needed to make their country free and prosperous."

The catastrophe for the Communist leadership in general, and Mikhail Gorbachev in particular, was that the greatest target was Lenin.  The difference is that Stalin might have been viewed as an aberation who corrupted the revolution, but the attack on Lenin delegitamized the entire Soviet project.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Will democracy take root in Myanmar? (Joshua Kurlantzick, Jun 23, 2012, The National)

The changes at University Avenue are symbolic of the dramatic shifts that have occurred over the past two years in Myanmar, which outside of North Korea was probably the most repressive and isolated country in the world, ruled for five decades by a military regime. Under the watchful eye of a new president, Thein Sein, Myanmar's military officially ended its rule, handing power to a civilian parliament. Thein Sein then inaugurated rapid reforms: he freed many of the country's political prisoners, launched efforts to achieve permanent peace with many insurgent armies, began opening up the media and the economy, and publicly called for exiles to return and rebuild the country, a tacit admission that years of military rule had impoverished what was once a promising economy. In April, Suu Kyi's party was allowed to compete in by-elections for a handful of parliamentary seats, for the first time since 1990. The party dominated the voting, winning 44 out of 46 seats. Suu Kyi herself took one seat, and now sits in parliament, a shocking development given that only two years ago she was locked in her home.

In response to this surprising shift, most western nations are re-engaging with the country. The US, European Union, Australia and Japan have already dropped some economic sanctions, and many companies are laying plans to invest heavily in Myanmar. Coca-Cola, General Electric and other big multinationals have already launched exploratory plans to get into Myanmar. In April, David Cameron, the British prime minister, became the first major western leader to visit the country in two decades. And yet, the pace of reform after so many years of repression, and the absence of any public explanation for why the military now decided to cede power, has left some citizens, and outside observers, both wary and thrilled.

If Myanmar could change so rapidly, what lessons might it offer for the world's other most repressive nations, countries with seemingly intractable problems and dictatorial rulers like North Korea, Uzbekistan, or Eritrea? Or, perhaps this Myanmar spring is as false as other brief periods of hope the country enjoyed. After all, despite the dramatic changes some nagging questions remain. Why has the military maintained the right to step back into power if need be? Why is the country seemingly intent on building a nuclear and missile programme? Why, as politics opens up has the military stepped up its war against several ethnic militias, leading to a refugee outflow from the country's north?

[E]ven the most astute observers in Myanmar are left wondering why these changes have occurred. No country was likely to invade Myanmar, the regime was sitting on piles of cash, and with Suu Kyi ageing, the NLD's leadership had been shattered by years of repression. What's more, the previous economic and financial sanctions imposed by the West had achieved little. Yet several Myanmar officials suggest that world events did have an impact, that the generals realised that, by working with Suu Kyi, they could avoid a troublesome fate.

"The events around the world [the Arab uprisings], the generals saw this," said Priscilla Clapp, a former US diplomat in Myanmar. In fact, by overseeing a managed transition, the generals could keep the vast wealth they had amassed illegally, and often deposited overseas - a lesson, potentially, for other dictatorships like Syria, where leaders are very reluctant to leave the scene. "We may want a process of justice and accountability [for the former military leaders] in Burma [Myanmar]," said one senior US official, "but they may feel they just want to move beyond the past."

Indeed, the generals seem to have made a wise move. Suu Kyi herself, despite her credentials as a critic of the regime, has reciprocated their trust. In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, she played down the idea of severe punishment for the military rulers' past abuses, and called for forgiveness for their crimes, including those perpetrated against her.

In addition, the world around Myanmar began to change, helping, in a backwards kind of way, to create political change in the country - and perhaps in other long-standing dictatorships in Asia as well.

For nearly two decades, Myanmar had been dependent on China, even though many senior generals actually had little love for Beijing. Over time, as China became Myanmar's largest trading partner, and hundreds of thousands of migrants moved to Myanmar for business, average citizens also started to have second thoughts about that relationship. When I travelled through Mandalay, a city whose central business district is now dominated by Chinese guesthouses, Chinese-built malls, and Chinese vendors, I found resentment running very high. Some locals accused the Chinese of dumping products on the Myanmar market, or pushing locals out of flats and office spaces; others angrily complained that big Chinese companies were exploiting Myanmar's resources.

Beijing has also shed its hands-off foreign policy and adopted a much tougher approach. In the 2000s, China, still trying to win the friendship of its neighbours, lavished aid on countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and others in the region, all the while insisting that China, unlike the bad old western powers, would respect other countries' concerns.

In a book of the same title, I called this winning Chinese diplomacy of the 2000s a "charm offensive". But, by the late 2000s and early 2010s, that charm had begun to fade. With the West reeling from economic downturn, China was no longer willing to simply play the noninterventionist card. Instead, it began to claim larger areas of disputed waters in South East Asia, to jostle with India over borders, to build dams on the upper portions of rivers that flowed into other countries, and to demand greater fealty from friends, asking that the Myanmar government crack down on cross-border refugee flows and drugs, offer China more favourable trade deals, and essentially carry China's water in regional organisations.

Increasingly worried about being so dependent on China, Myanmar's regime began to open up in order to court the West as a counter balance to Beijing. In a strange way then, since sanctions pushed the Myanmar government into the hands of China, and then the generals tired of their relationship, sanctions began to foster a rapprochement with western nations. Across Asia, the US government has taken advantage of countries' concerns about a rising, increasingly aggressive China, and the White House has used that fear to build stronger relationships with Vietnam, the Philippines and Singapore. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


Democracy is Inevitable (Jimmy Carter, 7/03/12, Asharq Alawasat)

Transitions to genuine democracy can be difficult and time-consuming, and they don't always move forward in straight lines. Egypt and the Egyptian people still have a way to go to complete the transition. Many questions still have to be answered. But based on what has happened already, and on the Egyptians' collective ability to resolve those issues not only peacefully, but successfully, I have much confidence in the future of your great country. I believe that you will continue to do right and to demand a democratic society that respects human rights and enables broad participation in political affairs. I believe the trend toward democracy in Egypt is inevitable.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


John Roberts, a Conservative Liberals Can Love (Noah Feldman Jul 2, 2012, Bloomberg)

Roberts's opinion will not have the dramatic conservative effects that are being claimed for it. In this case, the first headlines were correct: Roberts actually exercised judicial restraint -- and the decision is a victory for anyone who believes that such restraint is a good thing.

The first topic of revisionism is Roberts's statement that Congress lacked authority to enact the ACA under the Commerce Clause, because the health-care-reform law regulates inaction (failure to buy insurance) rather than action. Roberts, writing only for himself, essentially bought the broccoli argument: If Congress can require you to buy health insurance, what is to stop it from making you buy (and eat) your vegetables?

On the surface, this looks like a win for conservatives and a restriction on Congress' commerce power. It isn't. The reason isn't that the four conservatives, including Justice Anthony Kennedy, deliberately chose not to join Roberts's opinion (maybe because they were angry at him for breaking ranks). It is that in the real world, as opposed to the realm of legal theory, there is no meaningful difference between action and inaction. In the future, Congress can simply phrase Commerce Clause commands in the affirmative.

Consider the Civil Rights Act: Does it require public businesses to serve customers regardless of race? Or does it prohibit them from refusing to serve customers on the basis of race? See the difference? Oh yes, there isn't one.
If that weren't enough, there is also Congress's power to tax, on which Roberts relied. If Congress wants to penalize you for not doing something in the future, it can impose a tax. And as Roberts's ACA decision affirmed explicitly, Congress doesn't even have to call it a tax. In short, in practical terms, Congress has no less power than it had prior to the decision.

We have been down this road of pseudo-limitations on the commerce power before. In the 1990s, the Supreme Court twice struck down laws for exceeding the commerce power, once in the case of the Gun Free School Zones Act and once concerning a provision of the Violence Against Women Act. Constitutional lawyers sweated over whether the extensive commerce power had been meaningfully restrained. In practice, they concluded, it had not. Congress could find ways to do what it needed -- and it still can.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM


Organic food - it's a religion (David Leyonhjelm , 6 July 2012, Online Opinion)
No intelligent person would choose organic food over conventional food on objective grounds. Its support is based on a number of false assumptions.

For example, it is assumed that conventional food usually contains pesticide residues. Overall, this is not true. As confirmed by repeated surveys, most food is almost completely free of pesticide residues.

It is also assumed that tiny residues of pesticides are harmful. This is similarly false except for rare individuals with specific allergies. All pesticides are scrutinised in exhaustive detail before they may be sold and there are huge safety margins built into their use rates. Some of them are certainly dangerous straight out of the container, but so is laundry bleach and swimming pool chlorine. Legal pesticide residues do not cause acute or chronic illness.

It is assumed that organic food is free of pesticides. In fact, certain pesticides are permitted under the various organic codes and many organically grown plants produce endogenous pesticides that are chemically similar to manmade pesticides. And there are also occasional organic farmers who are forced to apply pesticides to save their crops. Not surprisingly, they don't talk about that much.

It is assumed that organic production is better for the environment. That this is false is shown by the approach to controlling weeds. A conventional farmer will use herbicides to kill weeds and avoid disturbing the soil to conserve moisture, minimise erosion and preserve topsoil organic matter. Organic farmers are not permitted to use herbicides, so they have to use cultivation.

The assumption that pesticides wipe out bees and other beneficial insects is also false. Modern insecticides are highly selective and increasingly used in conjunction with beneficial insects in integrated pest management programs. Hypocritically, none of the organic codes recognise genetically-modified crops in spite of their need for little or no pesticides.

And it is assumed that organic production is a viable alternative to conventional agriculture, and the world would be better off it was adopted globally. In fact, organic methods are significantly less productive that conventional agriculture, producing on average 20% lower yields. More land is needed to produce the same amount of food using organic production methods, meaning higher prices or less set aside for conservation. The poor farmers who clear the rainforests in Indonesia and Brazil typically do not use pesticides.

July 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


The Garden of Our Neglect:  How Humans Shape the Evolution of Other Species: As humans have come to dominate the planet, they have modified not only their own evolutionary course but also that of fellow species. (Rob Dunn, July 5, 2012, Scientific American)

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


The Most Sensible Tax of All (YORAM BAUMAN and SHI-LING HSU, July 4, 2012, NY Times)

ON Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia's carbon tax -- a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province -- increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.

This was good news not only for the environment but for nearly everyone who pays taxes in British Columbia, because the carbon tax is used to reduce taxes for individuals and businesses. Thanks to this tax swap, British Columbia has lowered its corporate income tax rate to 10 percent from 12 percent, a rate that is among the lowest in the Group of 8 wealthy nations. Personal income taxes for people earning less than $119,000 per year are now the lowest in Canada, and there are targeted rebates for low-income and rural households.

The only bad news is that this is the last increase scheduled in British Columbia. In our view, the reason is simple: the province is waiting for the rest of North America to catch up so that its tax system will not become unbalanced or put energy-intensive industries at a competitive disadvantage.

The United States should jump at the chance to adopt a similar revenue-neutral tax swap. It's an opportunity to reduce existing taxes, clean up the environment and increase personal freedom and energy security.

Let's start with the economics. Substituting a carbon tax for some of our current taxes -- on payroll, on investment, on businesses and on workers -- is a no-brainer. Why tax good things when you can tax bad things, like emissions? The idea has support from economists across the political spectrum, from Arthur B. Laffer and N. Gregory Mankiw on the right to Peter Orszag and Joseph E. Stiglitz on the left. That's because economists know that a carbon tax swap can reduce the economic drag created by our current tax system and increase long-run growth by nudging the economy away from consumption and borrowing and toward saving and investment. [...]

What would a British Columbia-style carbon tax look like in the United States? According to our calculations, a British Columbia-style $30 carbon tax would generate about $145 billion a year in the United States. That could be used to reduce individual and corporate income taxes by 10 percent, and afterward there would still be $35 billion left over.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


The 'Busy' Trap (TIM KREIDER, 6/29/12, NY Times)

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I once knew a woman who interned at a magazine where she wasn't allowed to take lunch hours out, lest she be urgently needed for some reason. This was an entertainment magazine whose raison d'être was obviated when "menu" buttons appeared on remotes, so it's hard to see this pretense of indispensability as anything other than a form of institutional self-delusion. More and more people in this country no longer make or do anything tangible; if your job wasn't performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book I'm not sure I believe it's necessary. I can't help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn't a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn't matter.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Why Americans should work less - the way Germans do: There is a solution to unemployment: if we worked the same shorter hours as Germany, we'd eliminate joblessness overnight (Dean Baker, 3 July 2012, The Guardian)

The most important point to realize is that the problem facing wealthy countries at the moment is not that we are poor, as the stern proponents of austerity insist. The problem is that we are wealthy. We have tens of millions of people unemployed precisely because we can meet current demand without needing their labor.

This was the incredible absurdity of the misery that we and other countries endured during the Great Depression, and which Keynes sought to explain in The General Theory. The world did not suddenly turn poor in 1929, following the collapse of the stock market. Our workers had the ability to produce just as many goods and services the day after the collapse as the day before; the problem was that after the crash, there was a lack of demand for these goods and services.

The result of this lack of demand was a decade of double-digit unemployment in the United States. The spending programs of the New Deal helped to alleviate the impact of the downturn, but because of the deficit hawks of that era, Roosevelt never could spend enough to bring the economy back to full employment - at least until the second world war made deficits irrelevant.

This is the same story we face today. The US and European economies were close to full employment in 2007 due to demand created by housing bubbles in the United States and across much of Europe. These bubbles then burst, substantially reducing demand. As Krugman and Layard point out in their statement, one remedy for this loss of demand is for government to fill the gap. If the private sector is not prepared to spend enough to bring the economy to full employment, then the government can engage in deficit spending to make up the shortfall.

But there is another dimension to this issue. It's great for the government to generate demand insofar as it can productively employ people. This means either providing immediate services, like healthcare and education, or in investing in areas that will provide future dividends, such as modernizing the infrastructure or retrofitting buildings to increase their energy efficiency.

However, it can also employ people by encouraging employers to divide work among more workers. There is nothing natural about the length of the average work week or work year and there are, in fact, large variations across countries. The average worker in Germany and the Netherlands puts in 20% fewer hours in a year than the average worker in the United States. This means that if the US adopted Germany's work patterns tomorrow, it would immediately eliminate unemployment.

Given that we know that people are only productive for about two hours of their workday, the question is why we would only cut the workday to 6 hours.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


America: Number One In Wealth, Richer Than The Next Four Nations Combined (ELEAZAR DAVID MELÉNDEZ, July 3, 2012, IB Times)

Here's something to stoke some patriotism ahead of Independence Day. America remains the world's richest country, with more wealth than the combined treasures of the next four richest nations -- Japan, China, Germany and the UK. And most of its wealth comes from the potential of its people.

While that might sound like the kind of platitude a politician might claim behind a flag-draped podium this Fourth of July, it's actuallys the assessment of a recent United Nations study. The 336-page "Inclusive Wealth Report," put together by the U.N. University and the U.N. Environmental Programme, tabulated the wealth of nations by including not just the economic output potential and asset capital bases of various countries, but also their mineral wealth and human capital. The report, which applied the methodology to dozens of countries, also looked at other hard-to-measure assets that are rarely taken into account when the national riches are considered, like quality of ecosystems and water resources.

It tabulated the "inclusive wealth index" of the U.S at around $117.8 trillion in 2008. That number exceeds the combined figures for Japan, China, Germany and the UK, ranked respectively at $55.1 trillion, $19.9 trillion, $19.5 trillion and $13.4 trillion. It fell just shy of also being able to incorporate the wealth of the next-richest country, France's $12.9 trillion. About 75 percent of America's wealth was deemed as coming from its "human capital," a high percentage that was exceeded only by a few highly developed European nations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


A Tax Is a Tax Is a Tax (STEPHEN F. HAYES, 7/03/12, Weekly Standard)
One of the few bright spots in last week's Supreme Court ruling on President Obama's health care overhaul was a political one: The opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts argues that Obamacare is constitutional under the taxing powers of Congress. The Obama administration's advocate before the Court, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, made this case during oral arguments, and Roberts bought it. The decision, in a sense, formalized what many conservatives had long argued: The Obamacare tax is a tax.

IRS Geared Up For Obamacare Individual Mandate Tax (Jim Kouri, July 3, 2012, Eurasia Review)

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obamacare's individual mandate on Thursday -- and in fact dubbed it a tax in spite of the Obama administration's denials -- no one was more jubilant this past weekend than the recently hired agents at the Internal Revenue Service who get to keep their jobs, according to a law enforcement official in Washington, D.C. Their jobs are now safe and secure.

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama's minions swarmed the Sunday morning news shows arguing that Americans were not going to be taxed to raise money for Obamacare, yet reporters failed to point out that it will be tax collectors, who will be responsible for gathering the cash to pay for the largest government expansion in U.S. history, according to economists and political strategists.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) executives are witnessing the largest manpower expansion -- at least since withholding taxes were first introduced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II -- to enforce the new tax mandates and penalties included in the health care law, according to Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX).

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 AM


Andy Griffith: 'It Was All About Love': Mourning the loss of an American icon, and remembering why we all want to live in Mayberry. (Frank Smith, 7/4/2012, Christianity Today)

Why do we so desperately long to live in Mayberry? Why do we listen, ponder, laugh and even shed a few tears over episodes we've seen so many times before?

Perhaps the simplest and best answer comes from Griffith himself, given several years ago at the unveiling of a statue of Andy and Opie in Mount Airy, North Carolina, the actor's home town. When asked why TAGS remained so popular for so many years, and why it served as a vehicle of blessing to so many still, Griffith replied, "It was all about love."

True words. Mayberry was a collection of oddballs and homebodies, little old lady bootleggers and bluegrass playing farmers and a frantic deputy who kept his one bullet in his shirt pocket. There was the barber who couldn't see straight and the rock-throwing wild man whose sidelines included escaping jail and reciting poetry. Aunt Bee made pickles of such pungent renown that their nickname, "kerosene cucumbers," has essentially entered into the public domain. Gomer the gas station jockey was as sweet as a five-year-old, and just about as gullible. And his cousin Goober had, if anything, even less worldly wisdom than Gomer.

Yet as offbeat as these characters were, they were human. They were never shorn of their dignity, never ridiculed or made fun of. Other sitcoms of the time--and all too many today--have contempt for their characters, sometimes thinly veiled, often not. We laugh at them from the height of our supposed superiority, or mock them for their failures or excesses. But in Mayberry, we are made privy to a more intimate understanding of these beloved characters.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Inside the Bureaucracy That Crippled Microsoft (Rebecca Greenfield, 7/03/12, Atlantic)

The once dominant tech company is just now playing catch-up to the hip forward-thinking Apple and now we know what took it so long: bureaucracy. In company emails obtained by Vanity Fair's Kurt Eichenwald, he details the top-down culture called "stack ranking" that not only stifled overall innovation, but killed both an early 1998 tablet, e-reader deal and a pre-Facebook social network. Under this "stack ranking" system, which this Vanity Fair preview of Eichenwald's article describes as "a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor," employees were more concerned with impressing bosses than creating things. So we get situations where people like former Microsoft engineer Brian Cody have no incentive to innovate. "It was always much less about how I could become a better engineer and much more about my need to improve my visibility among other managers," Cody told Eichenwald.

July 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


And The Indie Song Of The Summer 2012 Is... (Stereogum, 7/04/12)

Which songs are on yours this Summer?
Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Wolfeboro Abuzz Over Romney, Fourth of July Parade (Emily Friedman, 7/04/12, ABC News)

 Mitt Romney and his family will march today in the Wolfeboro Fourth of July Parade  and possible running mate  Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her family are expected to join him along the route.

The parade, set to begin at 10 a.m., which will go right through Main Street of the town known as "The Oldest Summer Resort in America." Romney is expected to give brief remarks at the end of the parade route. This is the first public campaign event for Romney since last Thursday when he gave his statement in response to the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare.

The parade is the topic of conversation everywhere from the docks to the restaurants to the long line for the famous Bailey's Bubbles ice cream stand. On Main Street Tuesday, residents were bragging to one another about their place in the parade, making sure everyone knew they'd be marching in the same parade as Mitt Romney. Hotel receptionists greeting newcomers with the anxious question: "Are you here for the Romneys?"

...the buzz from residents is about the cost and inconvenience.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:42 AM


The Inalienable Right to Dignity (Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D., 7/04/11, Catholic Exchange)

Fireworks. Baseball games. Picnics. This is what the Fourth of July means to most Americans today. But July 4, 1776, was a very solemn day for the 55 men who affixed their signatures to the Declaration of Independence. For in so doing, they were risking their lives and fortunes to defend the proposition that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Liberty was a corollary of human dignity, and to safeguard human dignity was the reason for their war of independence.

So what does the Fourth of July have to do with the teaching of the Catholic Church? [...]

The Second Vatican Council does nothing but draw out the implications of this biblical witness.

It bases the right to freedom of religion on human dignity. It teaches that morality can never just be imposed from without, as so many rules and regulations, but must be internalized in a sanctuary called conscience. It teaches that not just a select few, but all, are called to the heights of holiness, regardless of their state in life or occupation. It teaches that if all are created in God's image and likeness, then all are equal in dignity, whether man or woman, adult or child, born, or unborn, cleric or lay. It teaches that societies must strive to bring about living conditions that correspond to human dignity.

Enhanced by Zemanta

[originally posted: 7/04/11]

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 AM


MORE: The Folksy TV Sheriff From Mayberry (DOUGLAS MARTIN, July 3, 2012, NY Times)
Mr. Griffith was already a star -- on Broadway in "No Time for Sergeants" and in Hollywood in Elia Kazan's film "A Face in the Crowd" -- when "The Andy Griffith Show" made its debut in the fall of 1960. And he delighted a later generation of television viewers in the 1980s and '90s in the title role of the courtroom drama "Matlock."

But his fame was never as great as it was in the 1960s, when he starred for eight years as Andy Taylor, the sagacious sheriff of the make-believe town of Mayberry, N.C. Every week he rode herd on a collection of eccentrics, among them his high-strung deputy, Barney Fife, and the simple-minded gas station attendant Gomer Pyle. Meanwhile, as a widower, Andy raised a young son, Opie, and often went fishing with him. "The Andy Griffith Show," seen Monday nights on CBS, was No. 4 in the Nielsen ratings its first year and never fell below the Top 10. It was No. 1 in 1968, its last season. After the run ended with Episode No. 249, the show lived on in spinoff series, endless reruns and even Sunday school classes organized around its rustic moral lessons.

The show imagined a reassuring world of fishin' holes, ice cream socials and rock-hard family values during a decade that grew progressively tumultuous. Its vision of rural simplicity (captured in its memorable theme song, whistled over the opening credits) was part of a TV trend that began with "The Real McCoys" on ABC in 1957 and later included "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Petticoat Junction," "Green Acres" and "Hee Haw."

But by the late 1960s, the younger viewers networks prized were spurning corn pone, and Mr. Griffith had decided to leave after the 1966-67 season to make movies. CBS made a lucrative offer for him to do one more season, and "The Andy Griffith Show" became the No. 1 series in the 1967-68 season. [...]

[T]he show's 35 million viewers would have been reassured to learn that even at the peak of his popularity, Mr. Griffith drove a Ford station wagon and bought his suits off the rack. He said his favorite honor was having a stretch of a North Carolina highway named after him in 2002. (That was before President George W. Bush presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.)

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 AM


What to Know About Lake Winnipesaukee (Meghan Kiesel, 7/03/12, ABC News)

The Romneys aren't the only interesting thing about Wolfeboro, N.H. or Lake Winnipesaukee, however. There's plenty to know about this quiet little lakefront town:

"Winnipesaukee," a Native American word, means "smile of the great spirit" or "beautiful water in a high place," both of which seem fitting names for this idyllic town.

The population of Wolfeboro is a mere 6,296, and the town's largest single employer is the local school district.

Dr. Leo Marvin's ruined family vacation in "What About Bob" is set in Lake Winnipesaukee, but those portions of the film were actually shot in Virginia, not New Hampshire.

Lake Winnipesaukee is also referenced in the beginning of Thornton Wilder's play, "Our Town." -- While not set there, some scenes from "On the Golden Pond" were shot on Lake Winnipesaukee. Ernest Thompson, the author of the play that inspired the movie, now lives there.

Jimmy Fallon has mentioned on his show, "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," that he has vacationed in the area.

...and she asks him if he's staying with the neighbors.  He says: "Yes, they're my in-laws."  So she says, "Feel free to use the trampoline then."

She comes back in the house and the younger folk have to explain to her who Jimmy Fallon is. 

July 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Amnesty For Illegal Migrants Symbolizes Poland's Shift From Emigration Source To Economic Power (PALASH R. GHOSH, July 3, 2012, IB Times)

Polish authorities have provided amnesty benefits to more than 8,500 illegal immigrants, granting them the right to live and work in one of Europe's most robust economies for a period of two years.

The program, originally announced in January, principally benefits migrants who have lived continuously in Poland for at least four years, but those who were refused refugee status prior to January 2010 are also eligible.

"Persons who have been living illegally in Poland for four years will finally be able to work legally, send their children to school, have a fixed address and will no longer be victims of abuse," Warsaw regional governor Jacek Kozlowski told local reporters.

Posted by orrinj at 12:32 PM


General Motors June US Car Sales Rocket 16% (IB Times, July 3, 2012)

All four GM brands, Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac, reported double-digit sales growth, with Cadillac leading the pack at 26.8 percent growth. Overall, GM sold 248,710 vehicles in June and projected a seasonally adjusted annual rate of sales of 14 million for June, in line with the high end of analyst expectations.

Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte To Join Romney In New Hampshire On July 4 (Michael Falcone, 7/03/12, ABC News)

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte plans to march with Mitt Romney in Wednesday's Fourth of July parade in Wolfeboro, N.H., GOP sources tell ABC News.

Ayotte will be the first vice presidential short-lister to appear publicly with the presumptive Republican nominee during his week-long vacation at his Lake Winnipesaukee retreat. Her appearance also gives Romney the chance to meet with Ayotte privately at his home.

Romney arrived at his lakefront home in the small New Hampshire town last week to begin his annual family vacation, which includes such activities as the  "Romney Olympics," but there has been heightened speculation about whether Romney would use the time away from the political spotlight to meet with potential vice presidential contenders.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


How to Replace Obamacare (JAMES C. CAPRETTA and ROBERT E. MOFFIT, Spring 2012, National Affairs)

To be credible, the replacement for Obamacare must address in a plausible way the genuine problems with our system of financing health care. Pre-eminent among these are the explosion in costs, the rising numbers of uninsured, and the challenge of covering Americans with pre-existing conditions.

The good news for Obamacare opponents is that much of the work of building such a plan has already been done. A small but persistent band of reformers and economists has spent many years promoting and refining the elements of a market-based approach to remedying what ails American health care. These ideas have animated scores of plans released by various organizations, including some proposed after Obamacare's enactment. And while these plans differ in their details, they share a core set of seven principles that should form the basis of any proposal for replacing Obamacare.

The first crucial component of any serious reform must be a "defined contribution" approach to the public financing of health care -- the essential prerequisite for a functioning marketplace that imposes cost and quality discipline. In most sectors of our economy, the normal dynamics of supply and demand keep costs in check and reward suppliers that find innovative ways to deliver more for less. As described above, however, this is not the case in the health-care sector, principally because the federal government has completely distorted consumer incentives.

For market forces to work, consumers must be cost-conscious. Those who decide to consume goods or services must face tradeoffs that require them to prioritize the various uses of their money. In the health sector, there is virtually no cost consciousness on the part of consumers: The vast majority of Americans get their insurance through their employers or through Medicare or Medicaid. In each case, as noted above, the federal subsidy grows as the cost of insurance grows, thereby undermining the incentive to keep costs low. When an employer decides to provide a more generous health-benefit plan to his employees, the U.S. Treasury pays for a good portion of the added costs, because health insurance is a tax-free fringe benefit for workers. When a doctor orders more tests or procedures of dubious clinical value for a patient enrolled in Medicare, it is mainly taxpayers who pick up the tab. And when states pile more people into Medicaid, it is again taxpayers -- federal and state -- who shoulder the cost. With this kind of subsidy structure, it is not at all surprising that cost escalation throughout the health system has been rapid.

A replacement program for Obamacare must therefore move American health care away from open-ended government subsidies and tax breaks, and toward a defined-contribution system. Under this approach, health coverage would be provided through competing insurance plans; government's involvement would come through the provision of a fixed financial contribution toward the purchase of insurance by each beneficiary. That subsidy would not vary based on a person's insurance plan, giving Americans every incentive to shop for good value in their health coverage and to get the most for their defined-contribution dollars.

In the context of employer plans, this approach would mean moving away from the unlimited tax break that is conferred on employer-paid premiums, and instead providing directly to workers a fixed tax credit that would offset the cost of enrollment in the private insurance plans of their choice. Workers selecting more expensive insurance plans would pay for the added premiums out of their own pockets. Those choosing low-premium, high-value plans would pocket the savings, enabling them to offset additional health expenses if they wished to do so. This system would not only be more efficient: It would also be a far more equitable way to provide health benefits through the tax code. American taxpayers would get a break for health coverage as individuals, irrespective of their employment status or the generosity of the health plan provided by their employers.

In the context of Medicare and Medicaid, meanwhile, the government would similarly provide a fixed (though of course far more generous) level of support, sometimes called "premium support," that would guarantee insurance coverage to beneficiaries but would allow them to choose among competing options and encourage them to seek out the best value for their money (as discussed at greater length below).

The second pillar of reform should be personal responsibility and continuous-coverage protection. Obamacare attempts to address the challenge of covering people with pre-existing conditions with heavy-handed mandates, especially the requirement that all Americans enroll in government-approved insurance plans (the so-called "individual mandate"). A replacement program for Obamacare should come at the problem from the opposite direction, with government forsaking coercion and instead extending a new commitment to the American people: If you stay continuously enrolled in health insurance, with at least catastrophic coverage, you will never again face the prospect of high premiums associated with developing a costly health condition.

For this commitment to become a reality, some changes would have to be made to both federal law and state insurance regulation. (These proposed changes are discussed in more detail in "How to Cover Pre-existing Conditions," by James Capretta and Tom Miller, published in the Summer 2010 issue of National Affairs.) To begin, the federal government would need to close the gaps in protection that emerge when people move from employer-sponsored plans to the individual market regulated by the states. This problem could be remedied by amending the 1996 HIPAA law to allow workers to move directly from group to individual insurance without first having to pay out of pocket for the (lengthy) extension of their employer-based plans through so-called "COBRA" coverage. In 1985, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (or COBRA) allowed workers who lose their jobs to remain on their employers' health-insurance plans for months, provided they pay the full premium cost themselves (usually a significant expense). HIPAA then required workers eligible for this COBRA option to exercise it before they could be given any protection in the individual insurance markets regulated by the states. Since hardly any workers follow this prescribed course, they enter the individual market with no protections from pre-existing condition exclusions. That would change if workers were protected when they moved directly from group to individual insurance plans.

Next, states would need to amend their regulations of the individual and small-business insurance markets to require insurers to sell coverage to customers who have remained continuously covered. These new regulations would also have to require that such coverage be made available at standard rates -- that is, at rates that apply without regard to differences in health status (age and geographic adjustments would be permitted).

Because some workers who leave job-based plans for the individual market could be quite sick, a credible Obamacare replacement plan would also need to include a new approach to covering the high insurance costs for these Americans. Different proposals have offered different mechanisms, but all would move the burden away from the sick patients themselves to a larger and broader pool of people, either through regulation or through a direct government program such as a high-risk pool. For people who have not been continuously insured, these protections generally would not apply. States could continue to allow insurers to charge higher premiums to these individuals based on their respective health risks. There would thus be a very strong incentive for all Americans to remain continuously covered. (At the time of enactment, it would make sense to give those Americans who were not in continuous coverage the opportunity to come into the new system without penalty and to secure this new protection.)

This approach would achieve the goal of providing realistic and affordable options for people with pre-existing conditions, but without imposing the misguided, overbearing, and counter-productive architecture of Obamacare -- and in a way that encourages a competitive insurance market and an innovative health sector rather than undermining them.

The third pillar of reform must be a genuine partnership with the states. Under Obamacare, states are treated as mere functionaries in a new centrally planned and federally managed system. The law gives state officials a take-it-or-leave-it choice: They can implement and administer the new policies under Obamacare -- such as state-level insurance exchanges -- to the letter, without any deviation or adjustment, incurring the extra costs of these new programs along the way. Or state governments can refuse this managerial responsibility and instead have the federal government come in and operate the exchanges and other new components of the law on the states' behalf. But in neither case are the states afforded any independence or flexibility, any room to adapt the requirements imposed by Obamacare to the particular circumstances of their populations, or to innovate to achieve greater quality or efficiency.

A replacement plan must be true to the Constitution and reflect a genuine federalist philosophy. Any program to address the problems in American health care will entail some degree of national policy, but it can still leave ample room for state initiative and encourage state-level solutions. There is good reason to allow such discretion: States vary significantly in their demographics, their economic profiles, their infrastructure, their levels of employment and poverty, their Medicaid enrollments, and their numbers of uninsured. There is wide disparity among states in the costs of uncompensated care, the scope of employment-based health insurance, and the condition of individual health-insurance markets. States differ markedly in the range of their health-care problems and in their capacities to cope with them.

Moreover, states can be powerful engines of policy innovation and experimentation in health-care reform, insurance-market reform, and tort and medical-malpractice reform, as well as in the financing and delivery of care in safety-net programs. In recent decades, a number of states have attempted their own solutions to our health-care financing crisis. But because that financing crisis is driven by deformed federal policies, all that these states have been able to do is try to mitigate the effects of Washington's mistakes. A reform that addressed those mistakes directly at the national level could then free the states to address the problems of health-care financing in the ways that best suit their needs.

To respect federalism and reap its benefits, nothing in an Obamacare replacement agenda should compel state adoption, instead leaving the participation of state governments completely voluntary. Those states that do participate in any federal initiative should be given meaningful control over the most important components of regulation, especially the power to design and operate their own health-insurance markets (within minimal federal standards). Such deference to state authority would mean allowing states to retain full control over matters like what coverage to require in health insurance and how to facilitate consumer enrollment in qualified plans. Crucially, no Obamacare replacement program should include a federal requirement that states set up health-insurance exchanges that could later become instruments of excessive regulatory control. Rather, states should be given two tasks: informing consumers of their insurance options, and easing their enrollment into the plans they choose by cooperating with the federal government to facilitate the payment of credits and vouchers directly to private insurers. How states perform these critical tasks should be left entirely up to them.

Defined-contribution financial support, protection for Americans who remain continuously enrolled in insurance plans, and genuine federalism are the essential overall concepts that must define any serious health-care reform. But policymakers will also need to apply these principles to the transformation of today's funding and financing mechanisms: the tax exclusion for employer-provided health coverage, and the Medicaid and Medicare systems.


The fourth pillar of a real reform agenda would therefore address the tax treatment of employer-sponsored plans. Today's arrangement is somewhat counterintuitive: Because the tax exclusion for health-care premiums is open-ended, workers and employers have an incentive to make health benefits a disproportionately large share of total compensation. And because employers obtain and manage health plans for their workers, there is far too much distance between those who purchase care and those who consume it. The key decisions in American health care thus rest not with patients and doctors, but rather with employers, managed-care executives, and government officials -- a structure that has prevented the emergence of a properly functioning marketplace. Individuals and families rarely have a property right in their health-insurance policies and rarely control the terms and conditions of coverage (as they do with auto, life, or home owner's insurance). Health insurance is rarely portable in any real sense of the term, as workers cannot remain enrolled in the same insurance plans when they switch jobs.

Federal tax policy is at the root of these market malfunctions, and has caused a host of related problems. These include higher health-care costs, the absence of continuous and secure coverage, a lack of transparency in health-care financing, discrimination against lower-income workers and favoritism toward higher-income workers, and a playing field tilted decidedly in favor of group health insurance and against individually purchased coverage. Among economists, including some of President Obama's advisors, there is an overwhelming consensus that reform of health-insurance markets must begin with a major change in the federal tax treatment of health insurance.

The most plausible way to implement such a change would be to transform today's tax exclusion for employer-provided insurance into a standard tax credit that would extend to all Americans, regardless of employment status, which they could then use to purchase the private coverage of their choice. As to how such a consumer-controlled federal tax credit would be designed, policymakers have a variety of options from which to choose. For instance, in its 2011 "Saving the American Dream" plan, the Heritage Foundation proposed replacing today's unlimited tax break with a new, non-refundable tax credit that would be phased out for the wealthiest citizens. Another approach would be to limit the credit to some pre-determined level of insurance coverage. Because the credit amount would not be increased for workers selecting more expensive insurance plans, those choosing such plans would pay the difference while those opting for plans with lower premiums would not be penalized (with a diminished tax benefit) for economizing.

One such proposal was offered during the 2008 presidential campaign by Senator John McCain, who suggested a universal program of refundable tax credits that would be payable to all households. In 2007, President George W. Bush proposed replacing today's tax treatment of insurance with a universal deduction for health-insurance premiums that would be available to people in employer-sponsored plans, as well as to those in the individual market. In both cases, the value of these credits and deductions would increase over time by some measure of inflation -- ensuring that they would keep pace with fluctuations in the cost of living, while also ensuring that government's costs would remain predictable and manageable.

In all of these formulations, the essential common element is a move toward consumer control. Individuals would become active, cost-conscious consumers looking for value in the health-care marketplace. This shift would, in turn, create tremendous incentives for those delivering medical services to find better and less expensive ways of caring for patients and keeping them well.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


What Happens To Clean Technology Innovation If Oil Prices Drop?: Cheaper gas might be nice for your wallet in the short term, but if oil prices plummet (and it looks like they might) what will that do to the quest for renewable energy? (Ariel Schwartz, 7/02, Co.Exist)
Peak oil, the point where world oil production reaches an apex and then begins an inexorable decline, was a cult concept until the end of the last decade, when concern about a downward spiral in oil supplies--heightened by high oil prices--reached a fever pitch and the idea that we might run out of oil reached the mainstream. In many ways, this was a good thing; it created a space for alternative energy innovation to grow.

But surprisingly, a new report (PDF) from Leonard Maugeri, a former oil executive and current fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, warns: "oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption. This could lead to a glut of overproduction and a steep dip in oil prices." That dip in oil prices would mean cheaper gas, certainly, but it could put a serious damper on how far we've come in the search for non-fossil-fuel-based energy solutions.

The U.S. could be the second biggest oil producer after Saudi Arabia by 2020.
It's all thanks to technology and investment in exploration by oil companies, who are increasingly using "unconventional" oil extraction techniques in shale oil fields, tight oil fields (oil fields that only make sense to drill when advanced techniques like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are used), and tar sands.

In fact, says Maugeri, these techniques might allow the U.S. to be the second biggest oil producer after Saudi Arabia by 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


U.S.-Born Are Half as Likely to Start Businesses as Immigrants (Harvard Business Review, 7/02/12)

Native-born Americans are half as likely to start new businesses as immigrants, and among U.S. natives, whites are the only major demographic group to show a decline in its share of all new entrepreneurs from 1996-2011, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


A Century-Old Technology To Extract Power From Smokestacks (Michael J. Coren, 7/02/12, Co.Exist)

Between 20% to 50% of U.S. industrial energy input is lost as heat, much of it vented to the atmosphere in polluting exhaust gasses.

Now, a new use for an old technology, the Stirling engine, is converting this waste into usable electricity and boosting the efficiency of conventional power plants by making industrial exhaust into a power source. The physics are deceptively simple. Stirling engines, although vastly more efficient than when they were first invented in 1816, still work on the same basic principle: The difference between hot and cold fluids can generate mechanical motion. A heat source vaporizes and expands a fluid that pushes against a piston. When the fluid condenses as it cools, the cycle repeats.

For decades, the engines haven't been used much because they don't operate well at temperatures under about 1,200 degrees, making use cases few and far between. But a new company, CoolEnergy, backed by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and private equity investors, is deploying its first heat engines that can fire even at "very low" temperatures (about 200 to 500 degrees).
Enhanced by Zemanta

July 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


AFTER AMERICA: Will civil war hit Afghanistan when the U.S. leaves? (Dexter Filkins, JULY 9, 2012, The New Yorker)

The ethnic battle lines in Afghanistan have not changed. Pashtuns, who dominate both the government and the Taliban, are from the south; the ethnic minorities--Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and many others--live mainly in the north. The capital, Kabul, is multiethnic and the focal point of all political and military ambition.

In April, I drove to Khanabad, a rural district near the city of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan. It's only in the past few months that a Westerner could venture there without protection. Three years ago, the area around Kunduz fell under the control of the Taliban, who collected taxes, maintained law and order, and adjudicated disputes. A panel of Taliban imams held trials in a local mosque. There was an Afghan government in the area, with a governor and a police force, but the locals regarded it as ineffectual and corrupt.

In the fall of 2009, the Americans stepped up their efforts to reinforce the Afghan government. American commandos swooped into villages almost every night, killing or carrying away insurgents. Local Taliban leaders--"shadow governors"--began disappearing. "Most of the Taliban governors lasted only a few weeks," a Khanabad resident, Ghulam Siddiq, told me. "We never got to know their names."

The most effective weapon against the Taliban were people like Mohammad Omar, the commander of a local militia. In late 2008, Omar was asked by agents with the National Directorate of Security (N.D.S.)--the Afghan intelligence agency--if he could raise a militia. It wasn't hard to do. Omar's brother Habibullah had been a lieutenant for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, one of the leading commanders in the war against the Soviets, and a warlord who helped destroy Kabul during the civil war. The Taliban had killed Habibullah in 1999, and Omar jumped at the opportunity to take revenge. Using his brother's old contacts, he raised an army of volunteers from around Khanabad and began attacking the Taliban. He set up forces in a string of villages on the southern bank of the Khanabad River. "We pushed all the Taliban out," he told me.

The Taliban are gone from Khanabad now, but Omar and his fighters are not. Indeed, Omar's militia appears to be the only effective government on the south side of the Khanabad River. "Without Omar, we could never defeat the Taliban," a local police chief, Mohammad Sharif, said. "I've got two hundred men. Omar has four thousand."

The N.D.S. and American Special Forces have set up armed neighborhood groups like Omar's across Afghanistan. Some groups, like the Afghanistan Local Police, have official supervision, but others, like Omar's, are on their own. Omar insists that he and his men are not being paid by either the Americans or the Afghan government, but he appears to enjoy the support of both. His stack of business cards includes that of Brigadier General Edward Reeder, an American in charge of Special Forces in Afghanistan in 2009, when the Americans began counterattacking in Kunduz.

The militias established or tolerated by the Afghan and American governments constitute a reversal of the efforts made in the early years of the war to disarm such groups, which were blamed for destroying the country during the civil war. At the time, American officials wanted to insure that the government in Kabul had a monopoly on the use of force.

Kunduz Province is divided into fiefdoms, each controlled by one of the new militias. In Khanabad district alone, I counted nine armed groups. Omar's is among the biggest; another is led by a rival, on the northern bank of the Khanabad River, named Mir Alam. Like Omar, Alam was a commander during the civil war. He was a member of Jamiat-e-Islami. Alam and his men, who declined to speak to me, are said to be paid by the Afghan government.

As in the nineties, the militias around Kunduz have begun fighting each other for territory. They also steal, tax, and rape. "I have to give ten per cent of my crops to Mir Alam's men," a villager named Mohammad Omar said. (He is unrelated to the militia commander.) "That is the only tax I pay. The government is not strong enough to collect taxes." When I accompanied the warlord Omar to Jannat Bagh, one of the villages under his control, his fighters told me that Mir Alam's men were just a few hundred yards away. "We fight them whenever they try to move into our village," one of Omar's men said.

None of the militias I encountered appeared to be under any government supervision. In Aliabad, a town in the south of the province, a group of about a hundred men called the Critical Infrastructure Protection force had set up a string of checkpoints. Their commander, Amanullah Terling, another former Jamiat commander, said that his men were protecting roads and development projects. His checkpoints flew the flag of Jamiat-e-Islami. Terling's group--like dozens of other such units around the country--is an American creation. It appears to receive lots of cash but little direct supervision. "Once a month, an American drives out here in his Humvee with a bag of money," Terling said.

Together, the militias set up to fight the Taliban in Kunduz are stronger than the government itself. Local officials said that there were about a thousand Afghan Army soldiers in the province--I didn't see any--and about three thousand police, of whom I saw a handful. Some police officers praised the militias for helping bring order to Kunduz; others worried that the government had been eclipsed. "We created these groups, and now they are out of control," Nizamuddin Nashir, the governor of Khanabad, said. "The government does not collect taxes, but these groups do, because they are the men with the guns."

The confrontations between government forces and militias usually end with the government giving way. When riots broke out in February after the burning of Korans by American soldiers, an Afghan Army unit dispatched to the scene was blocked by Mir Alam's men. "I cannot count on the Army or the police here," Nashir said. "The police and most of the soldiers are cowards." He was echoing a refrain I heard often around the country. "They cannot fight."

Much of the violence and disorder in Kunduz, as elsewhere in Afghanistan, takes place beyond the vision of American soldiers and diplomats. German, Norwegian, and American soldiers are stationed in Kunduz, but, in the three days I spent there, I saw only one American patrol. The American diplomats responsible for Kunduz are stationed seventy-five miles away, in a heavily fortified base in Mazar-e-Sharif. When I met a U.S. official and mentioned the reconstituted militias once commanded by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, the official did not know the name. "Keep in mind," he said, "I'm not a Central Asian expert."

Largely prohibited from venturing outside their compounds, many American officials exhibit little knowledge of events beyond the barricades. They often appear to occupy themselves with irrelevant activities such as filling out paperwork and writing cables to their superiors in the United States. Some of them send tweets--in English, in a largely illiterate country, with limited Internet usage. "Captain America ran the half marathon," a recent Embassy tweet said, referring to a sporting event that took place within the Embassy's protected area. In the early years of the war, diplomats were encouraged to leave their compounds and meet ordinary Afghans. In recent years, personal safety has come to overshadow all other concerns. On April 15th, when a group of Taliban guerrillas seized buildings in Kabul and started firing on embassies, the U.S. Embassy sent out an e-mail saying that the compound was "in lockdown." "The State Department has marginalized itself," an American civilian working for the military said.

The more knowledgeable American officials say they have a plan to deal with the militias: as the U.S. withdraws, the militias will be folded into the Afghan national-security forces or shut down. But exactly when and how this will happen is unclear, especially since the Afghan security forces are almost certain to shrink. "That is an Afghan government solution that the coming years will have to determine," Lieutenant General Daniel P. Bolger, the head of the NATO training mission, said.

Many Afghans fear that NATO has lost the will to control the militias, and that the warlords are reëmerging as formidable local forces. Nashir, the Khanabad governor, who is the scion of a prominent family, said that the rise of the warlords was just the latest in a series of ominous developments in a country where government officials exercise virtually no independent authority. "These people do not change, they are the same bandits," he said. "Everything here, when the Americans leave, will be looted."

Nashir grew increasingly vehement. "Mark my words, the moment the Americans leave, the civil war will begin," he said. "This country will be divided into twenty-five or thirty fiefdoms, each with its own government."

And drones to keep each regime in line.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


The Economics of the Health Insurance Mandate (Mark Thoma, 7/02/2012, Forbes)

Under adverse selection, relatively healthy people drop out of insurance pools because they expect their health costs to be less than they would have to pay for insurance. As the relatively healthy people drop out, it raises the average cost of covering people (since the relatively healthy are no longer in the pool), which causes more people to drop out (the ones with expected costs that are now less than the higher premiums), which raises the price again, which causes more people to drop out, and so on until the market breaks down entirely.

But even healthy people have some chance of catastrophic illness, illness that could be deathly for example, so why wouldn't they purchase insurance in case this happens?

People know we are a compassionate society, and if they come down with a life threatening disease we will take care of them even if they don't have insurance, i.e. even if moral hazard causes them to shirk the personal responsibility conservatives hold so dear. Thus, relatively healthy people can take a chance and go without insurance secure in the knowledge that they will be treated if something awful happens. Broken bones, catastrophic illness and so on will be covered. But covered by whom? In many cases, the individual will not have sufficient resources to pay for the medical care, it would bankrupt them, so there is no choice but for all of the rest of us to pick up the bill.

A mandate stops this from happening. It forces those who would take a chance and go without care, those who are relying on all of the rest of us to insure them against large, unavoidable medical costs, to insure themselves against this. That is, it stops this moral hazard behavior. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


An Authoritarian Axis Rising? (William C. Martel, 6/29/12, The Diplomat)

Who are the members of this group? Today, it includes China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela.

Why does it exist? Fundamentally, this new axis signals growing anxiety on the part of its members that they are "behind the curve" of history. Simply put, these states are on the wrong side of history, politics and economics - and they know it.

It's almost embarrassing to have such feeble enemies, but that's no reason not to put them out of their misery..  
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Jindal's Louisiana Vouchers Face Growing Legal Backlash (CASEY MICHEL JULY 2, 2012, TPM)

The voucher program Louisiana is slated to employ is much broader than other states. The vouchers, worth up to $8,800 annually, will be offered to students of families making under $60,000 and who are currently enrolled in a public school in which at least 25 percent of students test below grade level. So far, about 6,000 students have applied to the approximately 5,000 slots currently available in the approved private schools across the state, according to The Shreveport Times.

The following school year, however, will see the implementation of "mini-vouchers," in which all students at the aforementioned schools, regardless of their family's income, will be eligible for a $1,300 stipend to pay for private-school classes and apprenticeships. The voucher system would thus open up to nearly half of the state's public school students. Since the public schools will lose commensurate funding every time one of their students opt for a voucher, the state's public school system could by some estimates lose up to $3.3 billion annually once the program is fully implemented.

With 70.9 percent of its students receiving high school degrees, Louisiana has one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


FLASHBACK: Romney Acknowledged His Massachusetts Healthcare Plan Imposed A Tax (Michael Falcone, 6/29/12, ABC News)

In what is now a well-known exchange from ABC News' January 2008 Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, Mitt Romney declared "I like mandates" when asked by moderator Charlie Gibson about his approach to health care reform in Massachusetts.

But there's another moment from the debate that's getting more traction after yesterday's Supreme Court ruling -- on in which Romney says "yes," when asked is the health reform law he ushered in as governor constituted a tax.

GIBSON: "Governor ... you imposed tax penalties in Massachusetts?"

ROMNEY: "Yes, we said, look, if people can afford to buy it, either buy the insurance or pay your own way; don't be free-riders."

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


CNN Poll: Health care ruling has not impacted race for White House, so far (CNN Political Unit, 7/02/12)

About a third of all Americans live in states that are not considered safe Republican or safe Democratic strongholds, including toss-ups states (like Florida and Ohio) as well as states that lean toward one presidential candidate but could ultimately wind up voting for his rival. In those 15 "battleground states," the poll indicates that Romney currently has a 51%-43% advantage over the president among registered voters, if the election were held today.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Copland's 'Lincoln Portrait': Honest Abe's Oratory, Tailored For Orchestra (TOM HUIZENGA, 7/02/12, NPR)

Lincoln Portrait was commissioned by conductor Andre Kostelanetz in 1942. It was soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and Copland meant for it to boost spirits during that difficult time. You might recognize a couple of American songs embedded in the music: Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races" and the folk song "Springfield Mountain."

This special new performance (at the top of this page), produced by NPR Music, features the U.S. Marine Band, also known as "The President's Own," conducted by Col. Michael J. Colburn. The narrator, who begins about halfway through, is Broadway star Brian Stokes Mitchell.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


When 'Local Sourcing' Means Aisle 12 (JEFF GORDINIER, July 2, 2012, NY Times)

Ask around, and it's rare that you'll find a leading light in the culinary world who doesn't have a semi-secret fondness for at least one of these supermarket stalwarts, whether Hellmann's mayonnaise or Skippy peanut butter, Premium saltines or Oreos or Cheerios, American cheese or generic ice-cream sandwiches.

"There is something to be said about all those things," said Dan Kluger, the chef at ABC Kitchen, whose Web site proclaims that the New York restaurant is "passionately committed to offering the freshest organic and local ingredients possible."

A lot of grocery-store staples "may not be organic," he added. "They may not be the best products in terms of our environment and GMOs and all those kinds of things, but we kind of grew up with them, and you can't help but revert back to them in a pinch."

Besides, said Wylie Dufresne, the chef at WD-50 in New York: "It's actually a fuller life to try all that stuff. I would rather not be pious about things."

He should know. While creating his playfully surreal reinterpretations of American cuisine, Mr. Dufresne powers himself through a day in the kitchen by dipping into a ready stockpile of American cheese slices.

"I like all cheese, but my guiltiest pleasure is definitely American cheese," he said. "We have it in the restaurant all the time. The guys know that they need to stock Land O'Lakes American, or Chef will not be pleased. I've got probably four five-pound blocks of it in my walk-in right now. I'm constantly snacking on it."

Years ago, while working for the chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, he would fold a slice in half and spoon in a smear of steak tartare. "American cheese is the perfect soft taco," Mr. Dufresne said.

His habit might sound like one iconoclastic chef's personal quirk. It turns out, though, that top chefs across the country -- in Atlanta and Boston and even the high-minded precincts of Portlandia -- are more than willing to own up to a particular corporate-food crush.

And the only foam any of them eat at home is Reddi-whip.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Obama campaign call affirms money anxiety (Emily Heil, 7/02/12, Washington Post)

Such fundraising pitches aren't unusual, since candidates seek to keep donors from feeling complacent, and Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt characterized the conference call as "routine." But it echoes the urgent tone the Obama campaign has struck in recent appeals, which have raised the specter of Romney holding a significant cash advantage over Obama. "I will be outspent," read the subject line of a Tuesday e-mail Obama sent his supporters.

The call from Air Force One, which apparently ran afoul of no laws governing the separation of official and campaign business, came just hours before the Saturday deadline for reporting June donations.

And it was on the heels of what turned out to be a fundraising boon for Romney: the former Massachusetts governor's campaign claims to have taken in $4.6 million during the 24 hours after the Supreme Court's decision on Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The Obama campaign claims that it, too, raked in money after the decision, though the campaignhas not revealed how much.

Obama has benefited from Democratic super PACs, but they have trailed their GOP counterparts in amassing funds.

The Romney campaign raised more than Obama in May and a senior Obama official predicted to reporters two weeks ago that Romney could raise $100 million in June.

For a campaign that had the luxury of vastly outspending Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) four years ago, the prospect of being on the other side of a torrent of money has become the second-biggest worry, after the state of the economy -- which is expected to be voters' No. 1 concern.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Prices of Raw Goods Plunge on Slowdown (CAROLYN CUI, 7/01/12, WSJ)

The sudden economic downdraft has caused one of the biggest and broadest declines in commodities prices since the financial crisis, surprising producers and creating a glut of raw materials around the world.

From crude oil to copper to cotton, prices were down an average of 9% since late February, based on the Dow Jones-UBS Commodity Index.

Crude-oil prices, well above $100 a barrel just two months ago, now fetch $84.96 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


New law could shift employee health benefits to private market: The Affordable Care Act could entice companies to give employees a fixed amount to buy their own insurance. (Chad Terhune, 7/01/12, Los Angeles Times)

One of the more popular ideas being discussed is to give workers a lump sum, or defined contribution, and then let them use that money to buy their own individual health plan.

The approach resembles existing 401(k) retirement plans in which employers put a fixed amount of tax-deferred dollars into employees' retirement accounts and leave it to the workers to manage the money. In the case of health benefits, employers gain more control over their spending and avoid the hassle of picking plans for their workforce.

The idea comes at a time when employers are eager for new options as medical costs and insurance premiums keep climbing. The average family premium for employer coverage in the U.S. has increased 113% in the last decade, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Big companies are unlikely to give up their conventional healthcare role in the near term. And even smaller firms, especially in technology, may want to keep benefits in-house to compete for the best talent. But experts say companies in retail, hospitality and other service sectors with lots of lower-wage workers may find this alternative appealing.

"Some companies will look for new approaches like defined contributions, vouchers and exchanges," said David Lansky, chief executive of the Pacific Business Group on Health. "Maybe that all gets a boost now."

Now just give them exactly enough to buy an HSA/catastrophic plan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 AM


America's Generation Y not driven to drive (Reuters, July 01, 2012)

In her reluctance to drive or own a car, Gurian-Sherman is typical of a certain segment of Generation Y, the coveted marketing demographic encompassing the 80 million U.S. residents between the ages of 16 and 34.

Bigger than the post-World War Two baby-boom generation but without the middle-class expansion that drove the earlier group's consumer habits, Generation Y includes an increasing number of people for whom driving is less an American rite of passage than an unnecessary chore.

"That moment of realising that you're a grown-up - for my generation, that was when you got your driver's license or car," said Tony Dudzik, a senior policy analyst of the Frontier Group, a California-based think tank that has studied this phenomenon. "For young people now, that moment comes when you get your first cellphone."

US residents started driving less around the turn of the 21st century, and young people have propelled this trend, according to the federal government's National Household Travel Survey.

From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by people ages 16-34 dropped 23 per cent, from 10,300 to 7,900, the survey found. Gen Y-ers, also known as Millennials, tend to ride bicycles, take public transit and rely on virtual media.

More than a quarter of Millennials - 26 per cent - lacked a driver's license in 2010, up 5 per centage points from 2000, the Federal Highway Administration reported.

July 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


The Return of the Protectionist Illusion: Trade barriers once again threaten the global economy, and the U.S. isn't helping. (DOUGLAS A. IRWIN, 7/01/12, WSJ)

Global Trade Alert, a monitoring service run by Simon Evenett at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, points out that the G-20 countries themselves have been most responsible for the protectionist creep. Many trade measures enacted by G-20 members exploit loopholes in WTO rules.

Unfortunately, President Obama has provided no leadership in trying to keep world markets open for trade. Out of fear of offending labor unions and other domestic constituencies, his administration long delayed submitting free trade agreements with Korea, Colombia and Panama for congressional approval. Instead of seeking to reinvigorate the languishing Doha round of trade negotiations at the WTO, it has been almost completely passive and allowed world-trade policies to drift.

Congress has also done little to help. Senate Republicans and Democrats teamed up late last month to maintain import restrictions for the sugar industry, defeating an amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.) that would have gradually eliminated them. Keeping domestic sugar prices at twice the world level helps a few sugar-cane and beet farmers at the expense of consumers and taxpayers, while leading to job losses in sugar-using industries, such as candy and confectionary manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Congress and the administration continue to flirt with new "Buy American" provisions, drawing the ire of Canada and other trade partners. Yet economists Laura Baughman and Joseph Francois calculated that if foreign retaliation led U.S. companies to lose just 1% of the potential sales opportunities created by foreign stimulus programs, U.S. exporters would lose over 200,000 jobs. This would far exceed the 43,000 jobs supposedly created by the "Buy American" preferences included in the 2009 stimulus bill.

Any serious march backward toward protectionism would constitute a major failure of economic policy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


GOP sees down-ballot gold in Supreme Court decision (CHARLES MAHTESIAN, 6/29/12, Politico)

With Thursday's defeat, Republicans were handed a powerful tool for motivating their base and a fresh ammo clip for use in House and Senate races across the map. It removed one arrow from the Democratic quiver -- the prospect of an outraged and highly motivated base -- and provided a new one to the GOP by defining the mandate as a tax.

Some version or another of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's floor remarks Thursday in response to the ruling is undoubtedly already being scripted, soon to appear in 30 and 60-second spots in competitive House and Senate races across the map.

"The Supreme Court has spoken," McConnell said. "This law is a tax. The bill was sold to the American people on a deception."

While much attention was paid Thursday to how the decision plays into the narrative of the matchup between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the stakes are just as high for Democrats in the House and particularly the Senate. And Michigan GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, a former congressman, said the effect of the court decision will resonate up and down the ballot in November.

"I believe it will ignite a firestorm of protest and activity from people across the country who took comfort and security that the Supreme Court would protect them from the federal government," he said. "It's a one-two punch -- taxes and Obamacare plus the economy."

The cautious and measured statements from Democratic House and Senate candidates Thursday reflected the unease about renewing a debate that ended badly for the party in November 2010.

...try to portray Mitt Romney as a tax hiker and get to his right, just as the '08 ads portrayed John McCain as someone who'd raise health care taxes.    All the money they've spent on that meme is now wasted.  Obamacare dwarfs any tax hike since Reagan.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Obamacare 'Tax Increase' Debate Heats Up Sunday Morning News Shows (IB Times, 7/01/12)

Across rival networks, on NBC's "Meet the Press," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also pushed the line on host David Gregory, who had kicked off the show by saying the debate was "all anyone's talking about in Washington."

"It's a penalty that comes under the tax code for the 1 percent of the population who might decide they want to be free riders," Pelosi said, adding that "middle-income families get, on average, $4,000 in tax breaks and tax credits" as a result of the law.

"What we're saying is those that take responsibility get the benefits, those that decide to be free riders get the penalty," Pelosi added.

How can you not love Nancy Pelosi climbing into bed with Antonin Scalia?

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


Chinese president heckled amid Hong Kong protests (Associated Press,  1 July 2012)

A pro-democracy protester interrupted a speech by the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, at the swearing in of Hong Kong's new leader, while thousands of residents marched to demonstrate against Chinese rule on the 15th anniversary of its return to Beijing's control.

The outpouring of discontent underscored rising tensions between the communist mainland and the city of 7 million, which was returned to China in 1997 after more than a century of British rule.

While much of the discontent revolves around growing economic inequality and stunted democratic development, residents are also upset over what they see as arrogant Chinese behaviour as wealthy mainlanders take over retail outlets during lavish shopping trips, for example, or even the choice of language during Sunday's swearing-in ceremony - Beijing-accented Mandarin instead of the Cantonese dialect spoken locally.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Film Highlights Islamic Art's Contribution to World Culture (David Byrd, June 28, 2012, Voice of America)
The film is not an exhaustive treatment of Islamic art - though it's high-definition video and interviews with scholars are more than a taste of the subject. Through compelling visuals and narration, the film breaks Islamic art up into several categories: The Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water. Each category is used to illustrate how Muslim artists of the past 1,400 years have used various art forms to express their faith.

The film explores the motive behind the beauty of Arabic calligraphy - including quotes from the Quran - something Michael Wolfe says was a driving force in much of the art featured.

"You know, the language - the written language of Arabic arrived on the scene about the same time as the Quran," said Wolfe. "The codification of the Quran became the inspiration for developing a written language. So it comes from a very spiritual place. And very early on in the development of the written language people tried to make it beautiful."

Islamic Art also features several striking examples of Islamic architecture. The Alhambra Palace, the great mosques of Damascus and Cordoba, the Shaykh Lutfallah mosque and the Taj Mahal highlight the film with their use of geometric, zoomorphic, and floral designs, their striking colors, and their intricate patterns.

Producer Michael Wolfe says he hoped to show how Muslim artists thought design and beauty were important in all objects - from grand buildings to everyday items like bowls or plates.

"So you might say that the language of art in Islamic culture is purveyed through just about every daily and minor and tiny and vast expression you can think of," he said. "It makes for a wonderful kind of variety and diversity in the work."

The film also touches on the use of geometric patterns in Islamic art, and the importance of geometry to the faithful - from orienting a mosque towards Mecca, to navigation in the desert and on the sea, to its use in designing and creating elaborate interior courtyards, domes, and ceilings meant to evoke a vision of paradise.

That vision of paradise carries through the film's discussion of color, ornament and water as well. Viewers are shown artisans weaving elaborate textiles and making delicate pietra dura ornaments. Also, they are taken to lush gardens stimulating the senses with fruit trees, shrubbery, fountains, water channels and flowers.

Even the mud bricks and scaffolding of the great mosque at Djenné in Mali - with long shadows cast across its exterior - evoke a sense of a place set aside for a unique experience with the numinous.
The film airs on PBS on July 6th, but we've seen a sneak preview and it's lovely. Members of The Box (we have some invitations available) can also check out The Hidden Art of Islam, which focuses on older Islamic works that depicted humans, and Paradise Found - Islamic Architecture and Arts, hosted by the wonderful art presenter Waldemar Januszczak.
Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


EU: New Tory battle lines drawn: David Cameron has opened the door to a historic referendum on Britain's future relationship with the European Union -- declaring that voters need a "real choice". (Patrick Hennessy, 6/30/12, The Telegraph)

The Prime Minister uses an article in The Sunday Telegraph to say that Britain is in danger of getting swamped by EU legislation and bureaucracy which he would like to see scrapped. He makes clear for the first time that changes will need the "full-hearted support of the British people" down the line and adds: "For me the two words 'Europe' and 'referendum' can go together."

Mr Cameron's landmark move comes as Liam Fox, the former defence secretary, prepares to up the stakes by calling for an immediate renegotiation of Britain's relationship with the EU. If other member states fail to back this solution, Dr Fox believes, there should be a referendum with the government recommending pulling the UK out of the EU.

This newspaper has learned that Dr Fox, the standard bearer of the Tory right, will tell activists tomorrow: "For my own part, life outside the EU holds no terror. We have not moved the goalposts. But they have been moved nevertheless. We must now respond."
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Israel's Best Friends: Human Rights Watchdogs Are Best Defense Against Isolation (Naomi Chazan, June 18, 2012, Forward)

[B]efore we shrug our shoulders and turn away from this latest example of doublethink, let's look more closely at how the norms of international law are affecting even Israel's intransigent leadership.

Netanyahu's remarks were made in the middle of a political maelstrom. He opposed legislation that would have retroactively legalized construction on private Palestinian land -- most notably in the Ulpana neighborhood of the Beit El settlement -- and thereby would have nullified a firm decision of Israel's high court to vacate these units. Despite a wave of protest from the settlers and their political representatives, the prime minister imposed coalition discipline; the proposed bill was soundly defeated.

Many commentators saw politics at play, and indeed that was a huge factor. With a governing coalition of 94 Knesset members, Netanyahu can afford, at least for the time being, to anger his extreme right flank. But news reports about the process leading up to the bill cited another reason: The prime minister knew that if a high court decision protecting Palestinian property rights was nullified, then not only would the government be undermining the rule of law inside Israel, but its leaders could also face legal action under international law. Specifically, according to the opinion of the attorney general, if this legislation had passed, Israeli officials could face criminal indictment at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

For those aware of the past three years of attacks on Israel's human rights community, such sensitivity to international human rights law is no small thing. Since this government came to power, official attempts to penalize and defund human rights groups have advanced without shame or pretense. Human rights activists have been threatened more than once with parliamentary investigations and have been denounced as anti-Zionist or worse. Unfortunately, the politicians leading these campaigns have significant public support. A survey of Jewish Israelis in 2010 showed that more than half agreed that human rights organizations that expose improper conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely.

As president of the largest private funder of human rights groups in Israel, I am deeply concerned about these issues. And it is hard to explain to Americans, for whom the free operation of civil society is a given, just how contentious the arguments in favor of human rights are in Israel. For some time, Israeli democratic norms have been threatened by a tyranny of the majority. If that majority believes that citing human rights law against Israeli policy is troublesome, then silencing those who inconveniently monitor, investigate and report human rights violations appears to be the appropriate answer.

Yet the prime minister seems to have recognized Israel's legal jeopardy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


NYC Churches Win Right to Hold Weekend Services in Public Schools (Stoyan Zaimov, 6/29/12, Christian Post)

The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) won on Friday a permanent injunction in the 17-year legal battle involving the Bronx Household of Faith and the NYC Board of Education. Religious groups will now be allowed to meet freely for worship services in public school facilities.

"Churches that have been helping communities for years can continue to offer the hope that empty buildings can't," expressed ADF Senior Counsel Jordan Lorence in a statement. "The court's order allows churches and other religious groups to meet for worship services in empty school buildings on weekends on the same terms as other groups. ADF will continue to defend this constitutionally protected right if the city chooses to continue using taxpayer money to evict the very groups that are selflessly helping the city's communities, including the public schools themselves."

The ADF had argued against claims that allowing congregations to come on Sundays to worship at public schools would be seen as government endorsement of religion, and insisted that churches would not be doing anything that religious groups at school are not already allowed to do.

If you really want to ban churches you have to ban everyone.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


States may opt out of Medicaid expansion: Court ruling made refusal local decision (Brian MacQuarrie, June 30, 2012, Boston Globe)

The benefits and burdens of the Medicaid expansion are particularly great in states with the greatest number of low-income uninsured residents.

In Texas, the expansion would add 1.2 million people to Medicaid in the first year and cost the state $27 billion over 10 years, said Stephanie Goodman, spokeswoman for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

In Indiana, Republican Governor Mitch Daniels has decided to defer a decision about the Medicaid program to the next governor and Legislature. Expanding the program in Indiana, he said, would add 500,000 people to the rolls and cost the state $2 billion over 10 years.

Although states face a financial burden if they do participate in the program, low-income residents face living without insurance if the states do not. In those states that opt out, residents could be uninsured if their income falls below 100 percent of the federal poverty level but is greater than the state's threshold for Medicaid benefits, Salo said. In New Hampshire, that bar is 66 percent of the federal poverty standard.

For people whose income falls between 100 and 133 of the federal poverty figure, Salo said, subsidies under the health care act should be available to buy insurance on new exchanges in each state.

Restuccia said he foresees a gradually forming consensus in state capitals that Medicaid expansion is acceptable.

Initially, he said, "some states that have strong Republican governors and legislatures are not going to cooperate." But by 2019, Restuccia predicted, "we will see every state in the country having Medicaid expansion."

The benefits will begin to be seen as all stakeholders work to control costs, just as they are in Massachusetts, he said.

"It's hard to do this kind of work, but if one has the motivation and persists with it, it has a tremendously positive effect both on costs and quality," Restuccia said.

...are the easiest to put into HSAs, but we should just fund that at the federal level.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


1 Million Defense Jobs at Risk by 2014 (Stacy Curtin, Jun 27, 2012, Yahoo! Daily Ticker)

[L]ittle discussion has been given to the direct impact on jobs, particularly in the defense sector, which will suffer from half of the budget cuts. The $500 billion cut to defense spending would be phased in over 10 years with $55 billion to take effect next year.

A recent study by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), a lobbying and advocacy group, found that more than 1 million private sector jobs could be lost by 2014 due to fiscal constraints. The proposed job cuts would increase the national unemployment rate by 0.7 percent and decrease Gross Domestic Product by nearly 1 percent, according to NAM.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) recently warned that the majority of its 100,000-plus workforce is at risk of being laid off due to the federal budget cuts to defense; however, the defense contractor said it would ultimately reduce just a small percentage of its workforce after the cuts took effect. Other defense companies will likely follow suit in cutting back on labor costs.

Remember, if you're on the Right, government checks to government employees are a waste of money, but government checks to defense employees are vital, and vice versa for the Left.

The argument here, that defense is nothing more than a jobs boondoggle, is too honest for its own good.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


The Medication Generation: Many young people today have now spent most of their lives on antidepressants. Have the drugs made them 'emotionally illiterate'? (Katherine Sharpe, 6/30/12, WSJ)

When I started using antidepressants, I didn't know anyone else my age who was taking them. Within a few years, I felt hard-pressed at times to find someone who wasn't. Antidepressants and other psychiatric medications went mainstream in the 1990s and 2000s, and my generation became the first to use these drugs in significant numbers as adolescents and young adults.

Young people are medicated even more aggressively now, and intervention often starts younger. In children, as in adults, antidepressants and medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are often used continuously for years. These trends have produced a novel but fast-growing group--young people who have known themselves longer on medication than off it.

The National Center for Health Statistics says that 5% of American 12- to 19-year-olds use antidepressants, and another 6% of the same age group use medication for ADHD--in total, about four million teenagers. Around 6% of adults aged 18 to 39 use an antidepressant. Usage often becomes long term. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 62% of Americans aged 12 and over who take antidepressants have done so for two years or longer; 14% have taken them for 10 years or longer. Not all are well supervised. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that fewer than a third of patients of all ages who take an antidepressant have seen a mental-health professional within the past year.

Drugging children was largely a function of having two working parents, a problem that competition and productivity gains are ameliorating.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


The Battle for New Hampshire (David Shribman - July 1, 2012, RCP)

A generation ago, no one would have thought that New Hampshire, with its sturdy Republican tradition, could possibly be a presidential battleground once the candidates, like characters in "Brigadoon," a summer-stock favorite here for nearly a half century, packed up their dial telephones, index cards and metal buttons and moved on to the next stage. Between Franklin Roosevelt's last campaign in 1944 and Bill Clinton's first in 1992, New Hampshire voted Republican every time but in the 1964 Lyndon Johnson landslide. Even then this county went for Barry Goldwater, the only one in New England to do so.

But since then this state, once resolutely red, has turned purple, which by a sort of perverse poetic justice is the very color of the sky in Cole's Chocorua oil landscape. Clinton won the state in 1992 by a hair, and then Gov. George W. Bush seized it by just as slim a margin -- but would have lost both the state, and the 2000 election, had not Ralph Nader taken about 22,000 votes, almost all of them from Vice President Al Gore.

John Harrigan, a veteran North Country newspaperman, has described New Hampshire as "a jumbled geography of mountains, valleys and ridges, more than 90 percent woods and water, peopled by relatively few individuals, mostly unposted and open to all." It is the openness that defines the place, even though its people are famously closed -- to outside fashions and frippery.

Now it is open to changing colors, from red to blue and then back again twice, and the irony is that this year's election is between two men who were defeated in primary fights here in 2008 and left for dead, only to recover, Obama later that year and Romney in four years' time.

The velocity of the change in staid old New Hampshire has been stunning, which is why Romney's forces believe they will prevail here -- a notion that has prompted Obama to intensify his organizational efforts.

Two years ago, Democrats controlled the state House (224-176) and the state Senate (14-10), only to become the victims of a stunning GOP surge that gave the Republicans overpowering margins in both, 293-104 in the House and 19-5 in the Senate. Meanwhile, the Republicans took back two congressional seats, elected a senator to an open seat and overturned a 3-2 disadvantage on the Executive Council, an institution with colonial antecedents and functions so peculiar and inscrutable that no other state has copied it, and now have a 5-0 margin there.

Travelling downstate nowadays is like going to Massachusetts.  Thus the county border rule.
Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


What would replacing Obamacare look like? (Kevin Ferris, 7/01/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

To do away with the costly, intrusive, tax-increasing Obamacare, now blessed by the Supreme Court, means dealing with the issues -- among them costs, the uninsured, covering preexisting conditions -- that inspired the push for reform.

The authors note that scores of plans offer a market-based approach to health care -- the only way to control costs and make coverage both affordable and accessible -- but they all share seven core "pillars." (I'll give highlights, but read the whole article at www.nationalaffairs.com; look under "archives" for either author's name.)

One, "move American health care away from open-ended government subsidies and tax breaks, and toward a defined-contribution system." Health coverage would come from competing insurance plans, and government would make a fixed contribution toward each person's insurance purchase -- tax credits for most taxpayers, and more generous subsidies for those on Medicaid and Medicare. Pick a plan more expensive than the contribution, and you make up the difference. A cheaper one allows you to keep the savings. Though a new health-care tax break would go to individuals, employers would still be able to deduct their coverage costs

Just as Democrats couldn't open;y call the mandate a tax, the GOP won't openly call it a mandate anymore.

Of course, the key to bringing market forces to bear on health costs is to not subsidize coverage generally, which forces people into less expensive HSAs/catastrophic coverage.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


The 1934 Dinner Party That May Have Helped Save Obamacare (Jonathan Alter, Jul 1, 2012, Daily Beast)

In late 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been in office more than a year and decided to move forward on what would become his greatest domestic achievement: Social Security. He assigned his secretary of labor, Frances Perkins, the first woman ever to serve in the Cabinet, to lead the way on designing the program.

But Perkins was worried. The Supreme Court was moving toward a narrow interpretation of the Commerce Clause that would invalidate many of the great achievements of the New Deal. Soon that would include the National Recovery Act, the capstone of FDR's famous First Hundred Days in 1933.

(It would be another four years before Justice Owen Roberts--no relation--would famously switch sides and the Court would begin reversing itself, partly in response to FDR's 1937 "court packing" scheme.)

Perkins went to dinner at the home of someone lost to history and recalls in her memoirs that she bumped into Justice Harlan Fiske Stone there.

When Perkins expressed worry about whether an old-age and survivors insurance program would pass constitutional muster, Stone, a Republican appointee to the court and future chief justice, replied: "The taxing power of the federal government, my dear; the taxing power is sufficient for everything you want and need."

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Why Romney Is a Foreign Policy Lightweight : His ideas range from vague to ill-informed to downright dangerous. (Fred Kaplan, June 29, 2012, Slate)

This gets to the main point: Romney doesn't seem to understand--nor do some of his advisers--the extent to which the world has changed since the end of the Cold War. International politics were never as cut and dried as that era's image suggested--two superpowers, each dominating its sphere of the globe and competing for influence at the margins of the other's domain.

Still, the superpowers did tend to view the politics of "strategic regions" in that broader framework, and the leaders within those regions often acceded to the interests of one superpower, in order to stave off the other, or tried to play the two off each other.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the demise of the Cold War system, this wedge of entry is no longer open. This is not to say that the United States is a "declining power." By every traditional measure of national power, the United States still dominates the rest of the world. But because the world has changed, those measures no longer translate so directly into influence. Or, to put it another way, the rules of the game, the dimensions of the playing field, have changed. The tokens of strength in the old game don't have the same potency in the new one.

Obama seems to understand this (though, for obvious political reasons, he can't say so directly); Romney and his people seem not to. In April, one of Romney's top surrogates, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, told reporters that Obama was "withdrawing in leading the free world," leaving us open to "huge new vulnerabilities." Asked to cite an example, Lehman said, "We are seeing the Soviets pushing into the Arctic with no response from us."

The entire globe is, as it has always been, our strategic region.  All that the toppling of the USSR did was accelerate our influence.  Where the Right is wrong in perceiving "new" vulnerabilities, as they were about the old ones, the Left is wrong in trying to get out of the historic Anglospheric leadership role in aiding the spread of democracy, capitalism, and protestantism globally.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


India, Republic of Korea, Japan hold a trilateral meet; discuss South China Sea (PTI,  Jun 29, 2012)

Asserting that India, Japan and Republic of Korea depend heavily on the Sea Lanes of Communications (SLOCs) for their energy security which are also the mainstay for trade and connectivity, Sanjay Singh, Secretary (East) in Ministry of External Affairs, said "there is indeed a compelling case for us to cooperate on maritime security."

"India has a valued geostrategic location straddling the SLOCs. The Indian Ocean Rim is characterized by large Exclusive Economic Zones and unexplored and untapped marine resources. Similar potential exists for example in the South China Sea which today is witnessing competing claims.

"Our common objective is to see that the seas and oceans become regions of co-operation instead of competition particularly as our energy security and trade depends on them. The primacy of our efforts must be to maintain maritime trade, energy and economic security in the seas around us. There is indeed a compelling case for us to cooperate on maritime security," he said while inaugurating the India-Japan-ROK Trilateral Dialogue.

Singh said as "leading" democracies of the world, the shared values provide them similar perspectives and perceptions of the fast evolving regional and global environment.

"Similarly, our strategic interests also coincide. We seek a peaceful and secure Asia free from the threats of terrorism, proliferation, piracy and conflict between states. There is common commitment to maintaining freedom of the seas, combating terrorism and promoting inclusive economic growth," he said.

There are no vulnerabilities, only opportunities.