October 31, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM

Titus Andronicus Get Patriotic on Civil War-Themed 'Monitor' (Kenneth Partridge, 5/16/12, Spinner)

When you write a concept album based on the Civil War, as Titus Andronicus mastermind Patrick Stickles has done with 'The Monitor,' his band's recently-released sophomore album, you're bound to face some criticism. Already, some have labeled the record pretentious and ironic, criticisms Stickler staunchly denies.

"I've read a couple of things that refer to some element of ironic patriotism in our lyrics, which is completely off the mark," Stickles tells Spinner. "I really think America is the greatest country that's ever existed."

With the War Between the States as a metaphorical backdrop, Stickles uses the 10 songs on 'The Monitor' to explore his own internal conflicts. By the end of the album -- a 65-minute mix of ramshackle punk rock and spoken-word recitations of Civil War-era speeches and poems -- the singer learns a valuable lesson: "We have to account for our own happiness." [...]

"Even though we have a lot of problems, we also have the best ideas," he says. "We still have the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and all [these] beautiful documents, and the idea that all men, or all humans, are created equal, and with work there is nothing you can't accomplish, and everyone deserves a fair shake," he says. "That is, you know, pretty much as good as it gets."

Titus Andronicus: Civil War Punk Rock (ROBERT CHRISTGAU, NPR)

The leader of Titus Andronicus, Patrick Stickles, isn't one of those cartoon punks who spell stupid with two Os. No short, snappy songs for this band -- on its debut album, his three-chord thrash was sprawling, ending with three seven-minute songs. So it's not too much of a surprise that the follow-up, The Monitor, mixes images of youthful angst with images of the Civil War. Quotations from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" even show up in "Richard II."

After college, Stickles left suburban Glen Rock, N.J., to join a girlfriend in Boston. There, he absorbed Ken Burns' The Civil War documentary and did a lot of related reading as his love life fell apart.

Such was the genesis of The Monitor. Oddly, however, the album doesn't reference either of these inspirations all that much. Instead, historical pain and personal pain combine to inspire alternately furious and dejected meditations on the moral confusion of Stickles' generational cohort, who has "never seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

Watch the full video at Baeblemusic.com
Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


David Cameron faces rebellion as Labour to vote with Tory sceptics on EU budget cut (Rowena Mason, 31 Oct 2012, Telegraph)

David Cameron is facing a serious rebellion as Labour and backbench Tories are preparing to gang up against his plans to accept a rise in the EU budget.

Mr Cameron has promised to fight the European Commission's demands for a five per cent increase, which would cost the UK an extra £10 billion over seven years - or £22,000 a minute. The Prime Minister would accept a lower rise of around two per cent in line with inflation.

This pledge is not enough for the eurosceptics, whohave tabled an amendment calling for a cut in the budget, Around 40 are officially planning to rebel and at least a dozen more expected to join them.

Labour sources said the party is planning to vote with the Tory rebels, if a vote on the amendment is allowed to go ahead.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


U.S. Workers' Compensation Rises 0.4% (ERIC MORATH And SARAH PORTLOCK, 10/31/12, )

Pay and benefits for U.S. workers continued to grow modestly from July through September, suggesting that a still-shaky labor market is holding back compensation. [...]

Soft demand for labor left workers with little bargaining power to pursue better salaries and benefits even as job creation improved during the third quarter. The unemployment rate fell to 7.8% in September, the lowest level since 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Illogical Housing Aid (YONAH FREEMARK and LAWRENCE J. VALE, 10/31/12, NY Times)

[D]emocrats shouldn't be so quick to attack any change to the mortgage interest deduction. In doing that, they're depriving themselves of a potentially powerful tool for progressive governance, one that could greatly increase funding for affordable housing. In truth, the mortgage interest tax deduction benefits the rich far more than middle-income families. A 2012 study by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that of federal tax expenditures for homeowners, more than half goes to households with annual incomes above $100,000, about twice the United States median.

Upper-income Americans take advantage of these policies to help them buy million-dollar homes, but there are relatively few federal housing dollars for extremely low-income families -- and even fewer for those in the next tier up, who earn between $20,000 and $50,000 a year. Rather than preserve the mortgage-interest deduction as it is now, progressive politicians would do better to redirect the benefits we currently provide to America's wealthiest homeowners to supporting housing for struggling and moderate-income families. [...]

Since 2000, federal assistance to the poor through long-term subsidies of public housing and Housing Choice Vouchers (Section 8) has stagnated. A third program, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, encourages the development of housing for working-class families, but the affordability of the apartments it covers is guaranteed only for a limited time.

Together, public housing and voucher programs serve roughly the same number of households as in 2000, even though the nation's population has grown by 33 million, or 12 percent, and the number of impoverished people has ballooned by 14 million, or 45 percent.

Today, the federal government spends about $40 billion annually on housing programs designed specifically for low-income households. Yet the mortgage interest deduction alone costs the Treasury some $80 billion a year. Almost $35 billion in housing aid goes to families with incomes above $200,000.

Not only would expanding the voucher program and making them more generous--but limiting them to purchases, rather than rentals--serve to stimulate the economy by bringing back housing prices and help to get the poor out of the inner cities many are trapped in, it is also a brilliant/insidious way of undermining the other social programs by building up the savings of our most marginal citizens. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Smart Meters Help Utility Speed Sandy Restoration (Martin LaMonica, October 31, 2012, Technology Review)

As power utilities work to restore electricity service to millions of people in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, at least one utility has found its investment in smart meters is making a difference.

Pepco, which serves Washington D.C. and parts of Maryland, is using these two-way meters to automatically locate where power outages on its network occurred. Once power is restored, the utility can also ping meters to verify service, rather than send out a crew or make a phone call, according to a Pepco representative. [...]

Cutting back trees near power lines is considered one of the best preventative measures. 

Smarten the meters; bury the lines.
Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


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Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Romney, GOP Suddenly Plunging Onto Democratic Turf (Thomas Beaumont and Brian Bakst, October 31, 2012, (AP) 

Mitt Romney is suddenly plunging into traditionally Democratic-leaning Minnesota and Pennsylvania, and his GOP allies are trying to put Michigan into play. It's forcing President Barack Obama to defend his own turf - he's pouring money into television ads in the states and dispatching top backers - in the campaign's final week. [...]

Former President Bill Clinton was dispatched in response on Tuesday. "Barack Obama's policies work better," he declared on the University of Minnesota campus, one of his two stops in a state that offers 10 electoral votes and hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in 1972.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


The progressive case against Obama : Bottom line: The president is complicit in creating an increasingly unequal -- and unjust -- society (MATT STOLLER, 10/27/12, Salon)

So why oppose Obama? Simply, it is the shape of the society Obama is crafting that I oppose, and I intend to hold him responsible, such as I can, for his actions in creating it. Many Democrats are disappointed in Obama. Some feel he's a good president with a bad Congress. Some feel he's a good man, trying to do the right thing, but not bold enough. Others think it's just the system, that anyone would do what he did. I will get to each of these sentiments, and pragmatic questions around the election, but I think it's important to be grounded in policy outcomes. Not, what did Obama try to do, in his heart of hearts? But what kind of America has he actually delivered? And the chart below answers the question. This chart reflects the progressive case against Obama.

The above is a chart of corporate profits against the main store of savings for most Americans who have savings -- home equity. Notice that after the crisis, after the Obama inflection point, corporate profits recovered dramatically and surpassed previous highs, whereas home equity levels have remained static. That $5-7 trillion of lost savings did not come back, whereas financial assets and corporate profits did. Also notice that this is unprecedented in postwar history. Home equity levels and corporate profits have simply never diverged in this way; what was good for GM had always, until recently, been good, if not for America, for the balance sheet of homeowners. Obama's policies severed this link, completely.

The link between the recovery of corporate profits and the decline in housing prices is direct, both were a function of the recession.  Profits just went up because excess employment was trimmed back after a thirty year social experiment.  The resulting economy, more efficient, productive and profitable, will help drive housing prices back up.

October 30, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


Pirate attacks off Somalia plummet thanks to navies, armed guards (Mike Pflanz, October 30, 2012, CS Monitor)

As many as four in five vessels motoring through the Gulf of Aden or south past Somalia's coast now contract armed guards, roll barbed wire along deck railings, and carry powerful hoses, all as anti-piracy measures.

Piracy experts reckon that it is these new tactics that have made the most significant contribution to the reduction in successful attacks off Somalia in recent years.

In 2009, one in three ships that pirates targeted were successfully seized, their crew taken hostage. Now, that figure is closer to one in 20, according to Stig Jarle Hansen, a Norwegian piracy expert.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Presidential Race Dead Even; Romney Maintains Turnout Edge (Andy Kohut, 10/30/12, Pew Research)

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Oct. 24-28 among 1,678 registered voters, including 1,495 likely voters, finds Obama holding a statistically insignificant two-point edge among registered voters: 47% to 45%. This is little different from the 46% to 46% standoff among registered voters observed in early October, in the days following the first debate.

When the sample is narrowed to likely voters, the balance of opinion shifts slightly in Romney's direction, as it did in early October. This reflects Romney's turnout advantage over Obama, which could loom larger as Election Day approaches. In both October surveys, more Republicans and Republican leaners than Democrats and Democratic leaners are predicted to be likely voters. In September, the gap was more modest.

Indeed, surveys over the past month have found Republicans becoming much more upbeat about the race and about Mitt Romney himself. More Republicans now see the campaign as interesting and informative. And compared with September, a greater proportion of Romney voters now say they are voting for him rather than against Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


Do secondhand smoke laws prevent heart attacks? (Genevra Pittman, Oct 29, 2012, Reuters)

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota found that in the 18 months before the first ordinance was enacted, the rate of heart attacks in Olmsted County was 151 for every 100,000 people. By the 18 months following the second ordinance, that fell to 101 per 100,000 people.

Dr. Richard Hurt said a few other studies, including one from Montana, have also suggested smoke-free workplace laws could impact heart attack rates.

But, he told Reuters Health, "There have been lingering doubts among some people about whether or not this was a real finding. We think we have produced the most definitive results that anyone can produce related to smoke-free laws and heart attacks."

Hurt, who led the research, said other predictors of heart attacks - including cholesterol levels, blood pressure and diabetes and obesity rates - all held steady or increased in Olmsted County over the study period.

"The only thing that really changed here was the smoke-free workplace laws," he said.

About 3,600 municipalities have laws on the books that restrict where people may smoke, according to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation, with more than 1,000 including a smoke-free provision of some kind.

According to Hurt, the findings also make sense biologically. Exposure to secondhand smoke can cause immediate changes in the lining of the aorta, and can make blood platelets stickier - so they're more likely to form a dangerous clot.

The study is in line with the Institute of Medicine, which advises the U.S. government and said in a 2009 statement that, "data consistently demonstrates that secondhand-smoke exposure increases the risk of coronary heart disease and heart attacks and that smoking bans reduce this risk."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


This Early Vote Calculation from Gallup Looks Terrible for Obama (David Weigel, Oct. 30, 2012, Slate)

As it conducted tracking polls (which have been paused for now), Gallup asked voters whether they'd cast ballots or intended to before election day.  The early voters broke 52-46 for Mitt Romney. The dawdling voters who would vote before election day were tied, 49-49. The voters waiting for November 6 broke for Romney, again, by a 6-point margin.

This would be easy to explain away if Obama had lagged in 2008's early vote. After all, this study includes votes in Georgia and Texas and other places that have broken away from Obama. But... in 2008, Obama was winning this vote. An identical Gallup study taken around the same time gave Obama a 53-43 lead with early voters and a 50-44 lead on voters who would wait for election day. 

...the Obama camp is turning out its die-hard voters early while the Romney camp is getting out the slackers.
Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM

Decorator's Dream Cookies  (Michael Knock, 10/30/12, Press Citizen)

This was the second recipe I tried. The first one tasted pretty good, but they just didn't look right. Thus, I went back to an old standby from the "King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion" book. It's a great cookbook with no photos and lots of great recipes. 

This is one of them. The dough comes out wonderfully smooth, and it rolls out like, well, like a decorator's dream. 

1 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 large egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
3½ cups flour

Cream the butter, sugar and corn syrup until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and salt. Add the egg/water mixture and beat until smooth. Divide the dough in half. Place each half in a plastic bag, and flatten slightly. Refrigerate for an hour. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

On a lightly floured countertop, roll out one of the balls of dough to a thickness of about ¼ to 1/8-inch. Cut out the dough with a 3-inch cookie cutter. Transfer the cookies to an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

When the cookies are completely cool, you can start frosting them. 

This recipe made about 34 cookies when I made them. You'll get more or less depending on how thick you roll out the dough...
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Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


The Promise of a Romney Presidency (Ramesh Ponnuru Oct 29, 2012, Bloomberg)

Romney has been disappointingly vague about his health-care plans. But if elected, he will face enormous pressure to deliver on his promise to repeal Obama's health law, and legislation to that effect is unlikely to succeed unless Romney couples it with a conservative alternative. It is easy to picture what that would look like: Its most important feature would be a change in the tax treatment of health insurance to restrain costs and increase access.

Even if Romney fails to replace the health law, he can be expected to moderate it. The Obama administration's regulation forcing almost all employers to cover contraceptives -- even those that some employers reject as abortion drugs -- would go. The U.S. would remain a country where access to contraception is easy, but also one that respects the autonomy of religious institutions.

-- The budget. Raising taxes on high earners would narrow America's future deficits a bit, while also reducing economic growth. For the most part, though, closing the fiscal gap is a question of how much to raise middle-class taxes, how much to reduce the growth of middle-class benefits, and how to go about doing both.
I would prefer to do all the work on the spending side of the budget. There's a paternalistic case for taking some money from the middle class and giving it back later. That way, nobody ends up destitute through foolish choices or bad luck. That case has a built-in limit: We shouldn't raise people's taxes in order to give them back even more money than needed to avoid poverty.

But enacting deficit reduction might require a bipartisan deal, and thus a compromise that raises taxes and cuts spending. The compromise will probably look better if Romney is president because those who want to keep taxes and spending down will have more bargaining power.

That is partly because Romney has taken the wiser position on entitlements. He believes the growth of Social Security benefit levels should be restrained, especially for affluent retirees, to match the program's revenue. He wants to let health-insurance plans compete for Medicare recipients' business on the theory that it will improve the quality of care and restrict costs. These steps may not be sufficient to the challenge of rising entitlement expenses -- the U.S. also probably needs to change benefit levels for today's Medicare recipients, something both candidates are denying -- but they would vastly improve our long-term fiscal health.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


The return of Bain Capital (ALEXANDER BURNS and MAGGIE HABERMAN | 10/29/12, Politico)

[W]ith a little over a week left in the race, several of the Democrats' top independent spenders are leaning hard into the Bain message, eschewing a pure policy message for a gut-punch reminder that the former Massachusetts governor made his fortune through controversial deals in the private-equity industry.

The late emphasis on Bain, Democratic strategists say, reflects both the potency of Bain as an attack against Romney in general...

...but you can in a week?

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


NPR Poll Finds Presidential Race Too Close To Call (RON ELVING and MARA LIASSON, 10/30/12, NPR)

The poll was the third conducted by this year's iteration of the NPR bipartisan polling team. The Republican pollster Whit Ayres of Resurgent Republic was joined in the effort by Democratic counterpart Stan Greenberg of Democracy Corps (and the firm of Greenberg, Quinlan & Rosner). Their joint report was based on interviews with 1,000 likely voters conducted from Tuesday through Thursday last week (Oct. 23-25). The margin of error for such a poll is 3 percentage points for the national sample and 4.5 percentage points for the smaller sub-sample (462 respondents) in the battleground states.

Four weeks earlier, just before the first debate in Denver, the NPR team produced a report showing the president ahead by 7 points nationally and by 6 points in the battleground. That poll included a higher-than-usual elevated number of respondents who identified themselves as Democrats (7 points more than Republicans). The current poll shows those identifying with each of the two major parties to be closer to even (4 points).

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


The president who seems not to care (Richard Cohen, October 29, 2012, Washington Post)

One of the more melancholy moments of the presidential campaign occurred for me in a screening room. The film was Rory Kennedy's documentary about her mother, Ethel -- the widow of Robert F. Kennedy. Much of it consisted of Kennedy-family home movies, but also film of RFK in Appalachia and in Mississippi among the pitifully emaciated poor. Kennedy brimmed with shock and indignation, with sorrow and sympathy, and was determined -- you could see it on his face -- to do something about it. I've never seen that look on Barack Obama's face.

Instead, I see a failure to embrace all sorts of people, even members of Congress and the business community. I see diffidence, a reluctance to close. I see a president for whom Afghanistan is not just a war but a metaphor for his approach to politics: He approved a surge but also an exit date. Heads I win, tails you lose.

I once wondered if Obama could be another RFK. The president has great political skills and a dazzling smile. He and his wife are glamorous figures. He's a black man, and that matters greatly.

At the end of the day, it's all that ever mattered.  It enabled folks like Mr. Cohen to convince themselves that Barack Obama was someone he manifestly never was.

October 29, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll: I-4 voters back Romney 51-45 (Adam C. Smith, 10/28/12, Tampa Bay Times)

It has been a fundamental rule of Florida politics for decades: Statewide campaigns are won and lost on the I-4 corridor.

Today that celebrated swing-voter swath stretching from Tampa Bay to Daytona Beach is poised to deliver Florida's 29 electoral votes to Mitt Romney.

An exclusive Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll of likely voters along the Interstate 4 corridor finds Romney leading Obama 51 percent to 45 percent, with 4 percent undecided.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Obama's independent problem (Chris Cillizza, October 28, 2012, Washington Post)

In the last three releases of the tracking poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News, Obama has trailed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney among independent voters by between 16 and 20 percentage points.

That's a striking reversal from 2008, when Obama won independent voters, who made up 29 percent of the electorate, by eight points over Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

And if Romney's large margin among independents holds, it will be a break not just from 2008 but also from 2000 and 2004. In 2000, Texas Gov. George W. Bush won independents by 47 percent to 45 percent over Vice President Al Gore. Four years later, Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts essentially split unaffiliated voters, according to exit polls -- 48 percent for Bush to 49 percent for Kerry. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader (DAVID BARBOZA, 10/25/12, NY Times)

The mother of China's prime minister was a schoolteacher in northern China. His father was ordered to tend pigs in one of Mao's political campaigns. And during childhood, "my family was extremely poor," the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said in a speech last year.

But now 90, the prime minister's mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind, she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China's ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister.

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister's relatives -- some of whom, including his wife, have a knack for aggressive deal making -- have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Mind games: Why everything you thought you knew about yourself is wrong : The decisions we make and even the memories we hold are based on delusions, according to a new book (GILLIAN ORR, 29 OCTOBER 2012, Independent)

 Based on the blog of the same name, You Are Not So Smart is not so much a self-help book as a self-hurt book. Here McRaney gives some key examples


The Misconception: Wine is a complicated elixir, full of subtle flavours only an expert can truly distinguish, and experienced tasters are impervious to deception.

The Truth: Wine experts and consumers can be fooled by altering their expectations.

An experiment in 2001 at the University of Bordeaux had wine experts taste a red and white wine, to determine which was the best. They dutifully explained what they liked about each wine but what they didn't realise was that scientists had just dyed the same white wine red and told them it was red wine. The tasters described the sorts of berries and tannins they could detect in the red wine as if it really was red. Another test had them judge a cheap bottle of wine and an expensive one. They rated the expensive wine much more highly than the cheap, with much more flattering descriptions. It was actually the same wine.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Pentagon Reopens Program Allowing Immigrants With Special Skills to Enlist (JULIA PRESTON, 10/28/12, NY Times)

Thousands of immigrants were so eager to enlist in the American military during the last two years, despite the strong odds that they could be sent to combat zones, that they signed a petition on Facebook asking the Pentagon to let them join.

Now they will have the chance. Late last month, the Pentagon reopened a program to recruit legal immigrants with special language and medical skills, which was active for a year in 2009 but was suspended in January 2010.

The program is small; it will enlist a total of 1,500 recruits each year for two years, mainly in the Army. But military officials said the yearlong pilot program brought an unusually well-educated and skilled cohort of immigrants into the armed services.

"Their qualifications were really stellar," said Naomi Verdugo, assistant deputy for recruiting for the Army. "And we have been very pleased about how these folks have been performing."

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


The Cold Math of Hurricane Sandy (Paul Vigna, 10/29/12, WSJ)

[E]conomically speaking, the clean-up is sure to generate its own visible effect on the economy. John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Grey, put it this way:

If there is any silver lining in all the destruction the storm is expected to cause, it's that such storms tend to provide a boost to the economy in their wake.  After the initial shocks to the economy related to lost output and productivity, we will probably see an employment surge in construction, skilled trades and other professions needed to help repair the damage.  There will also be an increase in business and consumer spending and companies and homeowners replace damaged equipment, household items, etc.  While much of it will be paid for with insurance money, the injection of money into the economy will be beneficial nonetheless.

Let's just say Home Depot HD -0.73% is probably going to have a very good weekend. 

So we've got a question: Why didn't we take all this wasted stimulus money and do something useful, like burying all the utility lines in the Northeast?

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Romney set to visit UM this week  (MARC CAPUTO, 10/29/12, MIAMIHERALD.COM)

To win Florida, Obama needs a big lead in Miami-Dade, where Democrats outnumber Republicans by 15 percentage points, 44-29 percent. Obama won Miami-Dade by a 16-point margin in 2008.

A Sunday Miami Herald poll, however, shows Obama is winning Miami-Dade by only 9 percentage points. As of Sunday morning, after the first day of in-person early voting, Democrats narrowly led Republicans in all 153,000 ballots (absentee and in-person) cast in Miami-Dade, 42-40 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Battleground Tracking Poll: Obama retakes lead (JAMES HOHMANN | 10/29/12, Politico)

[T]he GOP nominee maintains a potentially pivotal advantage in intensity among his supporters. Sixty percent of those who support Obama say they are "extremely likely" to vote, compared to 73 percent who back Romney. Among this group, Romney leads Obama by 9 points, 53 to 44 percent.

By any measure, the race is neck-and-neck: 43 percent say they will "definitely" vote Romney, compared to 42 percent who say the same of the president.

On the generic congressional ballot, Republicans lead Democrats, 46 to 45 percent, after trailing slightly for much of the fall.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


More People Opt Not to Work Anymore (BEN CASSELMAN, 10/29/12, WSJ)

As of September, the share of the adult population that either had a job or was trying to find one--a measure known as the labor-force participation rate--stood at 63.6%, close to a 30-year low. Other measures of job-market health, such as hiring and the unemployment rate, have shown slow but relatively steady improvement over the past two years. But labor force participation keeps falling.

Public attention on the shrinking labor force has tended to focus on unemployed workers who abandon their job searches. But such people make up a relatively small share of the millions of individuals who have left the labor force in recent years. Most of the dropouts are retirees, students or stay-at-home parents--people who wouldn't want a job even if one were available.

Indeed, sweeping demographic and societal changes were driving down the participation rate long before the recession took hold. Young people are starting work later as more of them go to college. The flood of women into the workforce, which drove the participation rate up sharply in the second half of the 20th century, has slowed. Most significantly, the population is aging. Americans over age 55 are half as likely to work as those between age 25 and 54--and the over-55 population is growing at more than three times the rate of the adult population as a whole.

Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago earlier this year estimated that such long-run trends account for close to half of the decline in the participation rate since 1999, and some experts put the figure even higher. Barclays Capital argues that fully two-thirds of the drop is due to the aging workforce and other so-called structural factors.

"We think the evidence is quite clear that the single biggest reason the labor force participation rate has been falling has been the retirement of the baby boomers," says Barclays chief U.S. economist Dean Maki. "This would have happened whether the economy was strong or weak."

The other big reason that the number is trending back towards its historical norm is that when women and blacks were first integrated into the work force they were simply added to it by white male bosses who did not make the corresponding move of reducing white male employment, so we ended up with artificially bloated job rolls.  It was only a matter of time before : (1) those older white men moved on and new management stopped protecting those jobs; and (2) economic forces put pressure on management to do away with the excess labor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


In Praise of Turncoats, Richard Nixon to John Roberts (Cass R. Sunstein, Oct 8, 2012, Bloomberg)

The parties might be at loggerheads even if (as is often the case) some members of both parties privately believe that the views of the opposing party have merit. A single turncoat, abandoning the party line, can embolden members of both sides to say what they really think -- and ultimately spur reasonable outcomes.

Turncoats also break down echo chambers. If conservatives or liberals are listening only to those on their side, they tend to become more confident, more unified and more extreme. The most serious problem with self-sorting is that it produces both error and dogmatism. It can severely impede learning -- especially because those on the other side are so easy to dismiss.

Because of their own allegiances and history, turncoats are much harder to disregard. If Nixon goes to China, and if Clinton supports welfare reform, they can make people question beliefs that have been able to persist only for one reason: Inside the echo chamber, everyone shares them.

Turncoats are often independent thinkers, and they promote independent thinking in other people. That is a public service because on hard questions it is tempting to ask not about the merits, but about the views of your fellow believers -- your party, your church, your group, your team. And some disturbing evidence shows that Republicans and Democrats are willing to suspend their own thinking, and to put aside their own independent views, after they learn about the opinions of their party. By eliminating internal unanimity, turncoats encourage people to get off automatic pilot and to think for themselves.

It is true that when Chief Justice Roberts voted to uphold the health-care law, many conservatives dismissed him as a turncoat and as a coward. But it is likely that at least some of those who admire him, and usually agree with him, have been considering the possibility that he was correct.

It goes without saying that leaders shouldn't betray their constituents or their colleagues. But in some cases, it is no betrayal, and it is neither cowardly nor a capitulation, for leaders to conclude that their constituencies and colleagues are wrong. Turncoating can be an act of exceptional bravery.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Late moderate turn carrying Mitt Romney far (Matt Viser, 10/29/12, Boston GLOBE)

If Romney's campaign comeback can be boiled down to one moment, it was on Oct. 3 during the first debate in Denver, after he walked on stage and began speaking in a new way. He was measured, he made a joke, he spoke in soothing tones about two women who were struggling economically -- "obviously," he said, "a very tender topic."

Romney's campaign recognized the importance of being able to reintroduce himself to 70 million viewers in the first debate, and he adopted an approach that was more moderate than any he had employed during the six years he had spent pursuing the Republican presidential nomination.

The shift contained echoes of the centrist version of Mitt Romney who ran for Senate against Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, and the former governor who won office in liberal Massachusetts by running in the middle in 2002.

Romney and his advisers seemed to bet that many in the audience would be viewing him for the first time, that they would be unaware that he called himself "severely conservative" during the primary, that he espoused a policy of "self-deportation" to reduce illegal immigration, or of his comment disparaging 47 percent of the country for considering themselves "victims" dependent on government aid.

"There was a presumption that he'd have a lot of baggage," Fowler said. "But the audience that he's trying to woo is looking at him for the first time." [...]

In recent weeks, Romney has softened his rhetoric on a wide range of issues, including abortion, access to contraceptives, immigration, Afghanistan, and Middle East peace. [...]

Romney's modulation should not have been entirely unexpected.

His campaign suggested in March that he would move to the middle to appeal to a general election audience, when Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom predicted an "Etch A Sketch" moment after Romney won the nomination, in which the candidate would redraw his political profile.

...is how much money Team Unicorn wasted on trying to make Bain Capital an issue when no one was paying any attention to the race.  

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


THE GOP'S HISPANIC POLITICAL MALPRACTICE (Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais 10/29/2012, New Geography)

One of the more curious developments in American politics over the last two decades is the political malpractice of Republicans in dealing with Hispanic-Americans.  Indeed, it now appears that the 2012 election may well be determined by the share of the Latino vote that Governor Mitt Romney is able to keep from falling into President Barack Obama's column.

According to the Investor's Business Daily tracking poll, Hispanics prefer Barack Obama by a greater than 2:1 margin (61% to 29% on October 25).  Hispanic-Americans have tilted toward the Democrats for decades, so it is hard to blame the Republican Party's current predicament on just the political tactics of this year's campaign.

But unlike the African-American vote since the 1960s, which has remained rock solid Democratic, history indicates that on occasion the GOP has competed for and won a significant share of the Latino vote.  Hispanics tend to be family oriented and somewhat entrepreneurial, which should make them potential Republicans.

But deliberate, conscious decisions by Republican leaders focused on the short run gains from immigrant bashing have done severe damage to the long term health of their party. Attacks on immigrants have caused Hispanics to desert the GOP in droves, particularly in the two most recent presidential elections. And, because the Latino population is relatively youthful, if this concern is not dealt with, it may become even more acute for the Republican Party in the years ahead. 

Legalizing Latino immigrants isn't just good politics and a Christian imperative, it's also economic stimulus.

October 28, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 PM


Predicting the Meaning of the Election and the Electoral College (Peter Lawler, October 28, 2012, Big Think)

Here are Ceaser's four possible scenarios of meaning for the outcome of the 2O12 presidential election:

1. The larger Obama victory, which can be called "Vindication," refers to a result in which the president wins by a margin of some 3 percentage points or more, in which the Democrats gain more than 12 seats in the House, and in which the Democrats, while losing a seat or two in the Senate, retain control of that body.

2. A narrower Obama victory, labeled "Hanging On," describes a scenario in which the president ekes out a win by under a point and perhaps captures an Electoral College victory while losing the popular vote, maybe even by a considerable margin. (This result is what many polls suggest would be the outcome if the election were held today.) Democrats pick up only a few seats in the House, under 10, while Republicans gain a tie in the Senate or, against all odds, capture a majority.

3. A narrower Romney win, "Reversal," describes a victory margin of under 2 points, a modest loss of 6 to 10 seats for the GOP in the House, and a gain of a couple Senate seats, still leaving Republicans short of a tie or an outright majority.

4. A larger Romney victory, called "Game Change," designates a scenario in which President Romney is elected by a significant margin, 3 percentage points or more, where Republicans suffer minimal losses in the House, and where the GOP captures the Senate (which, in the case of a Romney victory, requires only a tie). This result will also bring some real surprises, including victories in states that few expected and upset wins in some of the Senate contests. To put a cherry on top, the GOP could pick up a net three or four governorships.

What if the president loses the popular vote but slides by in the so-called "electoral college?"  A good number of Democratic analysts have been reduced reassuring their faithful that Romney is very likely to lose in the electoral vote, even if wins, as now seems somewhat likely, the popular vote.  That scenario is the reason that most speculators still think the odds are on the president's side, even as the polls show Romney narrowly but clearly ahead nationwide.

...we're of the opinion that the Electoral College scare is akin to the quadrennial brokered convention enthusiasm, something we trot out once the race bores us to tears.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Voting is a right, but it's not a duty (Jeff Jacoby, OCTOBER 28, 2012, Boston Globe)

As Harvard economist Greg Mankiw points out, even reliable voters who never miss an election will often skip down-ballot races about which they have little or no information.

"In practice, this means that you are relying on your fellow citizens to make the right choice," Mankiw writes. "But this can be perfectly rational. If you really don't know enough to cast an intelligent vote, you should be eager to let your more-informed neighbors make the decision." If that's the case when it comes to elections for registrar of deeds or county commissioner, why not in contests for state representative, US senator, or president? Like buying stocks or undergoing surgery, the election of government officials can have serious consequences. We don't hector Americans to make uninformed decisions about investments or medical treatment. What advantage is there in badgering people with no interest in candidates or elections to vote anyway?

"But it's your civic duty to vote!"

No, it isn't. You have the right to vote, not a duty to do so. 

...if one is uninformed, though there ought to be tests to weed them out.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Battleground-State Polls Continue to Show Close Race (Steven Shepard, October 28, 2012, National Journal)

The race is now deadlocked in Ohio, the state most likely to sit at the tipping point of the Electoral College, according to a poll from the Ohio Newspaper Association, a consortium of in-state newspapers. A new Washington Post poll of likely voters in Virginia gives Obama a narrow edge in a state he flipped to the Democratic column in 2008, some good news from the president. But a poll from the Star Tribune of Minneapolis shows a neck-and-neck race in the emerging battleground of Minnesota, where both campaigns recently purchased television advertising time, according to media reports.

Taken together, these polls, along with national surveys, show a race that could tip to either candidate in the final week of the campaign. Romney has succeeded in expanding the map to include states like Minnesota, but the electoral math still dictates that more traditional battlegrounds like Florida, Ohio and Virginia are likely to pick the next president. The polls also show a significant gender gap in excess of 20 points in each of the three states, with Romney leading among male voters and Obama ahead among females.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


House elections spell a Republican story and victory (Paul Kane and Ed O'Keefe, October 27, 2012, Washington Post)

"They called the fight. It's over. We're going to have a House next year that's going to look an awful lot like the last House," Stuart Rothenberg, the independent analyst who runs the Rothenberg Political Report, said.

The outlines of a comeback for Democrats seemed possible. From its opening act, the 112th Congress was dominated by a raucous class of House freshmen who pushed Washington to the brink of several government shutdowns and almost prompted a first-ever default on the federal debt. It became the most unpopular Congress in the history of polling and, by some measures, the least productive.

Analysts cite several factors why the Democrats haven't been able to take advantage. First was a redistricting process that made some Republicans virtually impervious to a challenge and re-election more difficult for about 10 Democrats. A few Democratic incumbents have stumbled in their first competitive races in years. And Republicans have leveraged their majority into a fund-raising operation that has out-muscled the Democrats.

That means that regardless of who wins the White House, the Republican caucus of Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) will remain a critical player in the coming showdowns over tax and spending cuts. Such a result will have defied the chorus of prognosticators who saw so many of these inexperienced freshmen as beneficiaries of blind political luck -- swept up in the 2010 wave of sentiment against Obama and presumably poised to be swept back to sea when the tide went out this November.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


The Two Polls That Have Chicago Terrified (Josh Jordan, October 27, 2012, National Review)

In 2008 Gallup found the party breakdown of the electorate to be 39 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans, and 31 percent independents. That ten-point advantage grew to twelve points when independents were asked which party they typically leaned to, with 54 percent identifying as Democrats and 42 percent Republicans.

From that sample, Gallup has predicted Democratic turnout to be ten points higher than Republicans, and that independents would break to Obama. In 2008 Democrats did outperform Republicans by a slightly smaller margin, seven points, and independents did break to Obama by eight points. So while they might have overstated Democratic support slightly, they were able to see the underlying trend which was a huge jump from 2004, an election that was just about even.

In the current tracking poll, Gallup finds the ten-point advantage for Democrats has now turned into a one-point Republican advantage. The current party breakdown is now 35 percent Democrats, 36 percent Republicans, and 29 percent independents. And just in like 2008, that one-point advantage increases when independents are asked which party they typically lean to, with 49 percent identifying as Republicans and 46 percent Democrats. That number backs up the trends in other polling showing Romney leading among independents by large margins.

To get an idea of what this shift means, I plugged the Gallup 2008 and 2012 partisan numbers into the actual results from the 2008 election. Under Gallup's breakdown, Obama would have won in 2008 by 9.8 points (he actually won by 7.2), and would eke out a victory against Romney in 2012 by eight tenths of a point.

But here's why you can feel the panic emanating from Chicago: Romney is currently doing better with independents than Obama did in 2008. Obama won independents by eight, in 2008 while Romney is currently leading by 10.6 points on average. If the independent numbers are entered in to the 2008 results, Romney would have a victory of over four points. Even if Romney does not take any more crossover votes (Democrats who vote Republican and vice versa) than McCain got in 2008, he would still win by over four points on Election Day.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Todd Akin draws closer to Claire McCaskill in Missouri Senate poll (Kevin McDermott, 10/27/12, post-dispatch.com)

The results show McCaskill leading with 45 percentage points to Akin's 43 points among likely voters. That's within the poll's 4-point margin for error, indicating a closer race than two earlier independent polls that showed McCaskill with wider leads.

How does any incumbent polling at 45% win a state where the top of the ticket is going to lose by double digits?

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Ohio Poll: Romney, Obama Tied Among Likely Voters (JANE PRENDERGAST, 10/28/12, Cincinnati Enquirer)

The race for the White House continues to be too close to call in Ohio, according to a new Cincinnati Enquirer/Ohio News Organization Poll that shows President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney each with 49 percent support from likely voters.

Obama needs Ohio, but Ohio is not so sure it needs Obama anymore (PATRICK MARTIN, 10/26/12, The Globe and Mail)

Ms. Christian, the librarian, is a quintessential Obama supporter: a black woman, under 35, with a college education. She supported Mr. Obama four years ago, but, in the face of regional hardship, even she is wavering.

Across the state, it's clear that many traditional Democratic constituencies are unhappy with the president they have elected.

It was not supposed to be like this. In 2008, Mr. Obama put together a coalition of support that included young, minority, college-educated, women and non-Southern white voters. In Ohio, it gave him a margin of victory of 4.6 percentage points.

Not now. While Mr. Obama still does well among black and Hispanic voters, he trails Mr. Romney badly among white voters, especially men and those without a college education.

Mr. Obama still enjoys relatively strong support in the northern part of the state, thanks largely to his 2009 bailout of Michigan and Ohio's cash-strapped auto industries - one out of every eight jobs in the state is linked to the production of cars. But even there, in the Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Toledo areas, where the proportion of African-Americans is highest, voting for the President is not a slam dunk.

Riding into Ohio two weeks ago, the first election signs in view concerned an appeal to preserve religious freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Obama as father figure (Delia Lloyd, October 27, 2012, Washington Post)

As we careen towards the finish line in this tumultuous electoral season, President Obama is asking voters to renew his contract as a father figure. And with his new, 11th-hour message that this election is all about "trust," I think the father-thing is going to resonate.

So the final message of the Obama presidency to women is that he's your father and you know you want to get freaky with him?  This is what comes have having no ideas.

October 27, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Evangelical support grows for Romney : Overcoming concerns about Romney's Mormon faith, conservative white Christians, buoyed by a massive outreach effort, get behind the GOP challenger. (Mitchell Landsberg, 10/25/12, Los Angeles Times)

"It's our belief that the great irony of this election will be [that] you'll have the first ticket without a Protestant on it, and that ticket will get the highest support by evangelical voters of any ticket in history," said Gary Marx, executive director of the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition. "That's going to be the great irony -- supporting a Mormon-Catholic ticket at record levels, and I think that's already showing up in the polling data."

Marx may be a bit premature. As of early October, Romney was ahead of President Obama among white evangelical Protestants, 73% to 21%, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That is the same percentage that Republican John McCain captured among white evangelicals in 2008, but below the 79% that President George W. Bush, a self-described born-again Christian, received in 2004.

However, some undecided voters will undoubtedly swing behind Romney, and the Pew poll was conducted before most of his post-debate bump in the polls. So Marx's prediction is not out of the realm of possibility. Just as important as the percentage of evangelicals who vote for Romney is the number who turn out to vote at all -- especially in key swing states where they are a significant force, such as Colorado, Iowa and Ohio.

Here again, Republicans and leading evangelicals say they are optimistic that the turnout will be high.

If so, it will be no accident.

A vast effort has gone into selling Romney to conservative evangelicals, led in part by Marx and his boss, Faith and Freedom founder Ralph Reed, and by such figures as Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, and DeMoss, an evangelical publicist who has served as an unofficial liaison between Romney and the evangelical community since before the 2008 presidential campaign.

"A number of us have been trying to shift the conversation from theology to values," DeMoss said. "I'm more interested in a candidate who shares my values than if he or she shares my theology. And indeed, as an evangelical and a conservative, I have more in common with many Mormons than I would with a liberal Southern Baptist."

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


Mitt Romney's Very Long Odds of Winning the Election (GABRIEL SNYDER, OCT 26, 2012, Slate)

[F]or the last three presidential election cycles, I've found charting out the electoral vote odds a useful way to cut through the clutter of overheated punditry and keep perspective on the state of play in an election. 

While most of the campaign coverage is dominated by familiar cliches of the race being too close to call, nail-biting, and down-to-the-wire, there is arguably a lot more known about the Nov. 6 vote than there is unknown. According to the Constitution, the presidential election is actually 51 separate races. Each of those races is a winner-takes-all contest for a certain number of votes in the Electoral College. (Note: My Atlantic colleague Chris Heller points out this is not entirely correct since Nebraska and Maine award some of their electoral votes proportionally. For the purpose of this math, I assumed those states are winner-take-all.) The presidential candidate who gets 270 or more electoral votes will be the next President. We know the outcome of the vast majority of those 51 contests: New York, California, and Hawaii, and so on, will award their electoral votes to Obama, while Wyoming, Oklahoma, Utah, etc., will award their electoral votes to Romney. In these 41 "known" races, Obama has a huge lead over Romney: 237 electoral votes to 191. [...]

In the nine remaining toss-up states -- Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida -- there are 110 electoral votes up for grabs, but because Obama needs only 33 of those votes to win re-election, he wins in the vast majority of the possible scenarios. As a mathematical exercise, Romney has just 76 paths to victory out of the 512 possible combinations.

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


The Unnatural :  : Bobby Fischer (1943-2008), from Jewish Jocks: An Unorthodox Hall of Fame. (Jonathan Safran Foer, Oct. 24, 2012, Slate)

Before 1956, Fischer was an excellent, if not particularly remarkable, chess player. His talents were real and evident, but no one would have picked him as a future world champ. But then, at the age of 13--in lieu of a bar mitzvah, one might say--he made a quantum leap, becoming not only the youngest person ever to win the U.S. Junior Championship, but one of the fiercest, most aggressive, and punishing chess players in history. The gangly, all-arms-and-legs Jewish boy didn't simply defeat or even crush his opponents, he circumcised them. (They were all men.)

While he became known for his increasingly outlandish demands--especially sums of money that didn't correspond to the world of chess--what he actually wanted held constant through his life: an ego fortified by the destruction of all other egos. In his own words, "The object is to crush the opponent's mind."

One of the most remarkable things about Fischer's chess in those early years was how often he won. For the last century, as chess has become more and more a study of past games--rather than a honing of strategies in preparation for a unique, unwinding story--the rote openings have become longer and longer, and more games end with draws. Each move sets into motion an eventuality, which is why so many players resign when they are 10 or even 20 moves from a likely loss. Fischer played a different game, the long game that left room for chance and intuition.

And rather than play for match victories--which would involve the marshaling of mental resources, and taking fewer risks--he only played for game victories.

How did he become so strong so quickly? Of course no one will ever know, but the thrill of his accelerated talent is comparable to anything any artist or scientist accomplished. Those lucky enough to witness and understand it knew the historical significance. Fischer's own explanation for his radical development: "I just got good." A year after becoming U.S. Junior Champion, he was the youngest U.S. master, then the youngest International Grandmaster. Then he beat just about everybody just about always.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


The Jazz Standards: a Guide to the Repertoire, By Ted Gioia (CLIVE DAVIS, 24 OCTOBER 2012, Independent)

As long ago as the 1980s, when he published that slim, quizzical volume, The Imperfect Art, Gioia stood out as an observer who, as a working pianist himself, possessed a rare insider's authority. A bold attempt to summarise the core repertoire, The Jazz Standards is full of characteristic touches. The witty anecdotes and terse analysis shed light on more than 250 songs, beginning with "After You've Gone" and ending with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To". Gioia writes about evergreens with the quiet passion of someone who has laboured as a journeyman armed with a so-called "fake book", one of those samizdat-style guides to the melody and chords of classic songs.

He wears his learning lightly, scattering tantalising fragments of autobiography. Those of us who live in his shadow can be forgiven for groaning when we discover that the teenage Gioia learned to play the chromatic harmonica well enough to hold his own on a bandstand. More groans follow when we discover that he once played the bossa nova classic "Desafinado" with Stan Getz. Gioia has paid his dues.

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Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


"Behavior Architects" Tackle India's Social Problems (David Shaftel, October 25, 2012, Business Week)

The bureaucrats running Mumbai's suburban rail network had a problem: Commuters and people living and working close to train stations were taking shortcuts across the tracks. This reckless behavior was causing 6,000 deaths in the metropolitan area every year. The transit authorities asked FinalMile, a local marketing consultant, to find a solution. FinalMile had experience in applying behavioral economics to sell consumer goods; the city hoped it could use similar techniques to save lives. FinalMile would do the work for free.

The four founders of FinalMile, who among them have degrees in business administration, engineering, and economics, have worked with Hindustan Unilever (HUVR), Philips Electronics (PHG), Merck (MRK), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), and others. Co-founder Ram Prasad figured the best behavioral strategy was to make track trespassers less complacent by going beyond the existing warning signs to instill a deep sense of danger. So at Wadala station in central Mumbai, FinalMile hung graphic photos of a train about to run down a screaming man. FinalMile researchers also realized that approaching trains typically began to honk their horn too far away. In densely populated Mumbai, the honking blended in with the aural landscape. So Prasad persuaded the train engineers to blow their horns closer to the station in sharp bursts, making the warning stand out from the cacophony. FinalMile and M. C. Chauhan, chief electrical traction engineer with the Northern Railways, say that deaths at Wadala declined 75 percent, from 40 in 2009 to 10 in 2010.
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Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


It Stands to Reason, Skeptics Can Be Sexist Too : I spoke out about sexual harassment among atheists and scientists. Then came the rape threats. (Rebecca Watson, Oct. 24, 2012, Slate)

When I first got involved with the skeptics, I thought I had found my people--a community that enjoyed educating the public about science and critical thinking. The sense of belonging I felt was akin, I imagine, to what other people feel at church. (I wouldn't exactly know--like most skeptics, I'm an atheist.) I felt we were doing important work: making a better, more rational world and protecting people from being taken advantage of. At conventions, skeptic speakers and the audience were mostly male, but I figured that was something we could balance out with a bit of hard work and good PR.

Then women started telling me stories about sexism at skeptic events, experiences that made them uncomfortable enough to never return. At first, I wasn't able to fully understand their feelings as I had never had a problem existing in male-dominated spaces. But after a few years of blogging, podcasting, and speaking at skeptics' conferences, 

I began to get emails from strangers who detailed their sexual fantasies about me. I was occasionally grabbed and groped without consent at events. And then I made the grave mistake of responding to a fellow skeptic's YouTube video in which he stated that male circumcision was just as harmful as female genital mutilation (FGM). I replied to say that while I personally am opposed to any non-medical genital mutilation, FGM is often much, much more damaging than male circumcision.

The response from male atheists was overwhelming. This is one example:

"honestly, and i mean HONESTLY.. you deserve to be raped and tortured and killed. swear id laugh if i could"

I started checking out the social media profiles of the people sending me these messages, and learned that they were often adults who were active in the skeptic and atheist communities. They were reading the same blogs as I was and attending the same events. These were "my people," and they were the worst.

Recall the pivotal scene from the book all those guys loved most growing up:

He came in. He wore his work clothes, the dirty shirt with rolled sleeves, the trousers smeared with stone dust. He stood looking at her. There was no laughing understanding in his face. His face was drawn, austere in cruelty, ascetic in passion, the cheeks sunken, the lips pulled down, set tight. She jumped to her feet, she stood, her arms thrown back, her fingers spread apart. He did not move. She saw a vein of his neck rise, beating, and fall down again.

Then he walked to her. He held her as if his flesh had cut through hers and she felt the bones of his arms on the bones of her ribs, her legs jerked tight against his, his mouth on hers.

She did not know whether the jolt of terror shook her first and she thrust her elbows at his throat, twisting her body to escape, or whether she lay still in his arms, in the first instant, in the shock of feeling his skin against hers, the thing she had thought about, had expected, had never known to be like this, could not have known, because this was not part of living, but a thing one could not bear longer than a second.

She tried to tear herself away from him. The effort broke against his arms that had not felt it. Her fists beat against his shoulders, against his face. He moved one hand, took her two wrists, pinned them behind her, under his arm, wrenching her shoulder blades. She twisted her head back. She felt his lips on her breast. She tore herself free.

She fell back against the dressing table, she stood crouching, her hands clasping the edge behind her, her eyes wide, colorless, shapeless in terror. He was laughing. There was the movement of laughter on his face, but no sound. Perhaps he had released her intentionally. He stood, his legs apart, his arms hanging at his sides, letting her be more sharply aware of his body across the space between them than she had been in his arms. She looked at the door behind him, he saw the first hint of movement, no more than a thought of leaping toward that door. He extended his arm, not touching her, and fell back. Her shoulders moved faintly, rising. He took a step forward and her shoulders fell. She huddled lower, closer to the table. He let her wait. Then he approached. He lifted her without effort. She let her teeth sink into his hand and felt blood on the tip of her tongue. He pulled her head back and he forced her mouth open against his.

She fought like an animal. But she made no sound. She did not call for help. She heard the echoes of her blows in a gasp of his breath, and she knew that it was a gasp of pleasure. She reached for the lamp on the dressing table. He knocked the lamp out of her hand. The crystal burst to pieces in the darkness.

He had thrown her down on the bed and she felt the blood beating in her throat, in her eyes, the hatred, the helpless terror in her blood. She felt the hatred and his hands; his hands moving over her body, the hands that broke granite. She fought in a last convulsion. Then the sudden pain shot up, through her body, to her throat, and she screamed. Then she lay still.

It was an act that could be performed in tenderness, as a seal of love, or in contempt, as a symbol of humiliation and conquest. It could be the act of a lover or the act of a soldier violating an enemy woman. He did it as an act of scorn. Not as love, but as defilement. And this made her lie still and submit. One gesture of tenderness from him--and she would have remained cold, untouched by the thing done to her body. But the act of a master taking shameful, contemptuous possession of her was the kind of rapture she had wanted. Then she felt him shaking with the agony of a pleasure unbearable even to him, she knew that she had given that to him, that it came from her, from her body, and she bit her lips and she knew what he had wanted her to know.

He lay still across the bed, away from her, his head hanging back over the edge. She heard the slow, ending gasps of his breath. She lay on her back, as he had left her, not moving, her mouth open. She felt empty, light and flat.

She saw him get up. She saw his silhouette against the window. He went out, without a word or a glance at her. She noticed that, but it did not matter. She listened blankly to the sound of his steps moving away in the garden.

She lay still for a long time. Then she moved her tongue in her open mouth. She heard a sound that came from somewhere within her, and it was the dry, short, sickening sound of a sob, but she was not crying, her eyes were held paralyzed, dry and open. The sound became motion, a jolt running down her throat to her stomach. It flung her up, she stood awkwardly, bent over, her forearms pressed to her stomach. She heard the small table by the bed rattling in the darkness, and she looked at it, in empty astonishment that a table should move without reason. Then she understood that she was shaking. She was not frightened; it seemed foolish to shake like that, in short, separate jerks, like soundless hiccoughs. She thought she must take a bath. The need was unbearable, as if she had felt it for a long time. Nothing mattered, if only she would take a bath. She dragged her feet slowly to the door of her bathroom.

She turned the light on in the bathroom. She saw herself in a tall mirror. She saw the purple bruises left on her body by his mouth. She heard a moan muffled in her throat, not very loud. It was not the sight, but the sudden flash of knowledge. She knew that she would not take a bath. She knew that she wanted to keep the feeling of his body, the traces of his body on hers, knowing also what such a desire implied. She fell on her knees, clasping the edge of the bathtub. She could not make herself crawl over that edge. Her hands slipped, she lay still on the floor. The tiles were hard and cold under her body. She lay there till morning.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


In Iowa, disappointment with Obama runs deep (Ivan Couronne, 10/26/12, AFP)

Many voters who chose Obama last time around are quick to vent frustration over the discrepancy between what they had hoped from a historic Obama presidency and what actually transpired. Almost no McCain voters, meanwhile, seem ready to cast a ballot for the Democrat.

Even if Obama wins the state of Iowa and the entire election this year, the victory will be narrow and will lack the sweet taste of 2008.

Back then, Obama got 54 percent of vote in Iowa against 44 percent for McCain. But in this race, no poll gives him more than 51 percent, and Romney is only two points behind, on average.

"I don't think he pulled Congress together enough to do something. He's not a leader," said McAreavy.

"He's more worried about his reelection. It infuriates me when after what happened in Libya, he went to a fundraiser in Las Vegas."

Even the president's supporters -- and there are still legions of them -- are gloomy. Many cite Republican control of the House of Representatives and its sizeable contingent in the Senate as extenuating circumstances. All search for excuses.

"Every election it's the lesser of two evils," said Williamsburg librarian Carol Uhlmann, a 72-year-old registered Democrat.

"In Afghanistan, why can't we get out now? Why are we over there and all those little situations if we're not being directly attacked?"

Inside the Williamsburg Public Library, a woman playing with a young girl has already decided not to vote for Obama, like she did four years ago.

"I'm going to go with the change," said the woman, who would only give her first name Ann.

...is that if things aren't working out you can't just tweak a few policies: you have to go.
Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Illinois Debt Takes Toll, Study Finds (MARY WILLIAMS WALSH, October 24, 2012, NY Times)

The group, led by the former Federal Reserve chairman, Paul A. Volcker, and the former New York lieutenant governor, Richard Ravitch, recommended an overhaul of Illinois' budgeting practices, to make it harder to kite money from year to year and raid special-purpose funds. It also warned that tax increases may be in store. [...]

Nearly two-thirds of the Illinois state government's $58 billion in direct debt consists of bonds the government issued to cover retirement payments for workers, including a $10 billion pension obligation bond that broke all previous records in 2003.

Yet despite all that borrowing, Illinois' public pension system is still in tatters. In fact, its total pension shortfall is conservatively estimated at $85 billion. Recent changes that raised the retirement age for new workers and limited the pensions that future workers can earn have not reduced the existing obligations.

The task force said that further reductions in pension benefits appear inevitable, though legally difficult, because the state has promised more than it can deliver.

While many states have heavy debt burdens and unfunded pensions, the task force warned that Illinois' problems had been building for decades and were advanced. The state was "insolvent" even before the financial crisis hit in 2008, the report said, but that was hard to detect because "budget gimmicks became a standard practice."

During the 2001 recession, for instance, the state started issuing a type of short-term debt permissible only during emergencies, and within certain limits. But even after the recession, the emergency borrowing continued. The money was used to pay overdue bills.

The task force noted that Gov. Pat Quinn had inherited the insolvency from the previous governor, Rod R. Blagojevich, who is serving a prison sentence for corruption. The $10 billion pension obligation bond was issued on Mr. Blagojevich's watch, and prosecutors said at his trial that he had used the transaction to raise campaign money in a pay-to-play scheme. The state paid a total $76.3 million in issuance fees, but the pension fund ended up worse off than ever, because bondholders were promised that the state would divert its pension contributions to pay their interest.

Mr. Quinn has been trying to push through some fiscal reforms, the report said, but he was running into intense opposition at nearly every turn. In August he warned that by 2016, Illinois will be paying more for public pensions than for education, and he called back the legislature for a special pension session. But lawmakers rejected his proposals.

Time appears to be running out for a relatively painless fiscal reform, the task force said.

At some point you just have to abrogate some significant portion of the existing pension obligation.
Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


The Insane Defense of the "Castle Doctrine" Gone Wild : A tragic killing in Montana proves once again that these laws do more to encourage violence than to prevent it. (Emily Bazelon, Oct. 25, 2012, Slate)

One amazing thing about the recent spate of laws that make it easier to shoot people and get away with it is how much prosecutors hate them. "It's an abomination," one Florida prosecutor told the Sun Sentinel, referring to the state's "stand your ground" law at the center of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin. And now we're hearing from Montana's county attorneys, sheriffs, and police chiefs, all of whom oppose the 2009 law that expanded the "castle doctrine" to give homeowners more leeway to kill potential intruders. The law is "a solution that had no problem," the president of the Montana County Attorneys' Association said. And earlier this month, the prosecutor for the town of Kalispell cited the newly strengthened castle doctrine in refusing to indict Brice Harper, a man who shot and killed Dan Fredenberg, the husband of the woman Harper was having an affair with. Harper didn't kill Fredenberg at the end of a violent encounter. He killed an unarmed Fredenberg when he walked into Harper's garage.

The idea that Harper won't be charged is crazy making because he had a clear, safe choice that didn't involve shooting.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


Both Romney and Obama Avoid Talk of Climate Change (JOHN M. BRODER, 10/26/12, NY Times)

Any serious effort to address climate change will require a transformation of the nation's system for producing and consuming energy and will, at least in the medium term, mean higher prices for fuel and electricity. Powerful incumbent industries -- coal, oil, utilities -- are threatened by such changes and have mounted a well-financed long-term campaign to sow doubt about climate change. The Koch brothers and others in the oil industry have underwritten advertising campaigns and grass-roots efforts to support like-minded candidates. And the Republican Party has essentially declared climate change a nonproblem.

The two most effective ways of reducing global warming pollution -- taxing it or regulating it -- are politically toxic in a year when economic problems are paramount. After a bill died in the Senate in 2010, Mr. Obama abandoned his support for cap and trade, a market-based method to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and he has given little hint of what regulatory policies he intends to pursue if he wins a second term. Aides said that he would not propose a carbon tax or other energy tax, but that he would consider supporting one as part of a larger budget and spending deal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Fear and loathing in Athens: the rise of Golden Dawn and the far right : In austerity-ravaged Greece, neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn is on the rise. Their MPs give fascist salutes, while on the streets black-shirted vigilantes beat up immigrants. And some of their most enthusiastic supporters are in the police (Maria Margaronis, 10/26/12, The Guardian)

Standing among the citizens of Megara as Michaloliakos addresses them, I feel as if I've slipped into a parallel universe. As a Greek, I've known these people all my life: middle-aged women with coiffed hair and well-upholstered bosoms, men in clean white shirts and neatly belted trousers. They're the people who run the cafes and corner shops; who work hard every day, often at two or three jobs; who pinch children's cheeks and won't let you pay for your coffee; who were always cynical about politicians' promises. I never thought they could fall prey to fascist oratory. Yet here they are, applauding Michaloliakos as he barks and roars, floodlit against a low white building next to the petrol station. We could almost be back in the 1940s, between the Axis occupation and the civil war, when former collaborators whipped up hatred of the left resistance.

Michaloliakos has his populism down pat. His message is pride, and purity, and power. He lambasts the other parties for selling out the country, for their lies and corruption, with special attention to the left party, Syriza. Golden Dawn, he says, are the only patriots, the only ones who haven't dipped their hands in the honeypot. He praises Megara, which used to supply all of Greece, "before we started eating Egyptian potatoes, Indian onions and Chilean apples". Then he turns to "the two million illegal immigrants who are the scourge of this country", who sell heroin and weapons with impunity. "Voting for us is not enough," he says. "We want you to join the struggle for Greece. Don't rent your house to foreigners, don't employ them... We want all illegal foreigners out of our country, we want the usurers of the troika and the IMF out of our country for ever."

After the fireworks and the flares and the national anthem, Efthimia Pipili, 67, gives me her reaction. "Foreigners have come twice to my house to rob me in the night," she says. "If I didn't have my rottweiler, I'd be dead by now. I used to vote for Pasok [the Panhellenic Socialist Movement]. Last time I voted for Tsipras [the leader of Syriza] because I thought he was different. But Tsipras wants to protect the foreigners. I have €100 to last for the next three weeks. I owe €400 to the electricity company; they're going to cut me off. Why shouldn't I be for Golden Dawn, my love?"

Golden Dawn is many things: a party, a movement, a subculture; a vigilante force; a network inside the police and the judiciary. Vasilis Mastrogiannis of the Democratic Left, a former senior police officer turned politician, describes it frankly as "a criminal organisation". New Democracy MP Dimitrios Kyriazidis, who founded the Greek police union, calls it a "political excrescence". "Because of my past in the police, I know very well where these people come from," Kyriazidis says. "Most declare their profession as 'businessman'. But one has to pause at that."

The party's founder and leader, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, served time in the late 1970s for assault and illegal possession of guns and explosives. While inside, he met members of the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974, but his political views, as expressed in Golden Dawn, the magazine he started when he was released, were well to the right of theirs. Breaking the boundaries of "acceptable" rightwing nationalism, Michaloliakos published paeans to Adolf Hitler, arguing that Greece should have been at the side of the Axis in the second world war. The magazine, its covers periodically adorned with portraits of the Führer and his acolytes, served up a weird amalgam of Nazi propaganda, antisemitism, traditional nationalism and pagan fantasy. The party that now courts and counts on the Orthodox church once advocated a return to "the faith of the Aryans" - the Olympian gods - claiming that Christianity had "grafted Jewish obscurantism on to the trunk of European civilisation". In the one interview I was allowed with a Golden Dawn official, MP Panagiotis Iliopoulos told me that, as a young man, the magazine expressed his ideas completely. Have the party's views changed since then? "Not at all," he said. "There are no neo-Nazi articles in the magazine. Only historical ones."

Speaking of which, I found a nice trade paperback copy of Eric Hoffer's True Believer at a book sale the other day--if anyone's not read it I'd be happy to pass it on.  I also found a more battered edition of Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind if anyone wants it.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Jacques Barzun Dies at 104 (D. G. Myers, 10.26.2012, Commentary)

Jacques Barzun, the great cultural historian whose writing career spanned more than six decades, has died in San Antonio at the age of 104. A gifted scholar with a clear bracing style that appealed to ordinary educated readers, Barzun published formative books in an astonishingly wide variety of fields, including the humbug of race (Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, 1937), intellectual history (Darwin, Marx, Wagner, 1941), classical music (Berlioz and the Romantic Century, 1950), practical rhetoric (Simple and Direct, 1975), and cultural criticism or what he bemoaned as the "conversion of culture into industry" (The Culture We Deserve, 1989). [...]

Born in 1907 in a Parisian suburb, Barzun came to America for good at 13 and graduated from Columbia University seven years later. He stayed on in New York until he was 89, when he transplanted himself to the Republic of Texas. Although he is being described in the obituaries as a "public intellectual," he was not that. In a word, he was a humanist -- a historian, a teacher, a man of culture, a university man (who was saddened to see the loss of the university as a seat of learning), and an American envoy of the once-proud tradition of "French clarity." There will never be anyone like him again.

Barzun on intellect (D. G. Myers, 10.26.2012)

Jacques Barzun: An Appreciation : He wrote in a flawless and magisterial manner on subjects from Darwin to Marx, Wagner, Berlioz, English prose, detective fiction and intellectual life. (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 10/26/12, WSJ)

No intellectual reputation seemed quite so strong, so impeccable, so splendid as Jacques Barzun's. He wrote in a flawless and magisterial manner on a vast array of subjects: Darwin, Marx, Wagner, Berlioz, William James, French verse, English prose composition, university teaching, detective fiction, the state of intellectual life, and finally, published when he was 93, his magnum opus, "From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present." None of this writing seemed motivated by his desire to advance his career; all of it derived from genuine intellectual passion.

Although Jacques Barzun's professional life was lived almost entirely at Columbia University--where he was himself a student from undergraduate days through acquiring his Ph.D., and where he later served as provost and university professor--he never seemed entirely, or even chiefly, an academic. There was nothing academic about his prose, his person, his point of view. He and Lionel Trilling, with whom he taught the great-books course at Columbia, always seemed para-academics. Theirs was the metropolitan spirit, urban and urbane, suave and sophisticated in the best senses of those words. Jacques was for many years a literary adviser to the firm of Charles Scribner's Sons. W. H. Auden was his friend. His first wife was a Lowell. He was very much in and of the world.

I cannot claim to have been a close friend of Jacques Barzun, though he would occasionally send me a note about something I had written. His approval meant a great deal to me. He lived to 104, and his death scarcely comes as a surprise. Chiefly it is a reminder that a great model of the life of the mind has departed the planet. Not many such models left, if any.

Excerpt from: God's Country and Mine (Jacques Barzun)

People who care less for gentility manage things better. They don't bother to leave the arid city but spend their surplus there on pastimes they can enjoy without feeling cramped. They follow boxing and wrestling, burlesque and vaudeville (when available), professional football and hockey. Above all, they thrill in unison with their fellow man the country over by watching baseball. The gods decree a heavyweight match only once in a while and a national election only every four years, but there is a World Series with every revolution of the earth around the sun. And in between, what varied pleasure long drawn out!

Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game - and do it by watching first some high school or small-town teams. The big league games are too fast for the beginner and the newspapers don't help. To read them with profit you have to know a language that comes easy only after philosophy has taught you to judge practice. Here is scholarship that takes effort on the part of the outsider, but it is so bred into the native that it never becomes a dreary round of technicalities. The wonderful purging of the passions that we all experienced in the fall of 51, the despair groaned out over the fate of the Dodgers, from whom the league pennant was snatched at the last minute, give us some idea of what Greek tragedy was like. Baseball is Greek in being national, heroic, and broken up in the rivalries of city-states. How sad that Europe knows nothing like it! Its Olympics generate anger, not unity, and its interstate politics follow no rules that a people can grasp. At least Americans understand baseball, the true realm of clear ideas.

That baseball fitly expresses the powers of the nation's mind and body is a merit separate from the glory of being the most active, agile, varied, articulate, and brainy of all group games. It is of and for our century. Tennis belongs to the individualistic past - a hero, or at most a pair of friends or lovers, against the world. The idea of baseball is a team, an outfit, a section, a gang, a union, a cell, a commando squad - in short, a twentieth-century setup of opposite numbers.

Baseball takes its mystic nine and scatters them wide. A kind of individualism thereby returns, but it is limited - eternal vigilance is the price of victory. Just because they're far apart, the outfield can't dream or play she-loves-me-not with daisies. The infield is like a steel net held in the hands of the catcher. He is the psychologist and historian for the staff - or else his signals will give the opposition hits. The value of his headpiece is shown by the ironmongery worn to protect it. The pitcher, on the other hand, is the wayward man of genius, whom others will direct. They will expect nothing from him but virtuosity. He is surrounded no doubt by mere talent, unless one excepts that transplanted acrobat, the shortstop. What a brilliant invention is his role despite its exposure to ludicrous lapses! One man to each base, and then the free lance, the trouble shooter, the movable feast for the eyes, whose motion animates the whole foreground.

The rules keep pace with this imaginative creation so rich in allusions to real life. How excellent, for instance, that a foul tip muffed by the catcher gives the batter another chance. It is the recognition of Chance that knows no argument. But on the other hand, how wise and just that the third strike must not be dropped. This points to the fact that near the end of any struggle life asks for more than is needful in order to clinch success. A victory has to be won, not snatched. We find also our American innocence in calling "World Series" the annual games between the winners in each big league. The world doesn't know or care and couldn't compete if it wanted to, but since it's us children having fun, why, the world is our stage. I said baseball was Greek. Is there not a poetic symbol in the new meaning - our meaning - of "Ruth hits Homer"?

Once the crack of the bat has sent the ball skimmiting left of second between the infielder's legs, six men converge or distend their defense to keep the runner from advancing along the prescribed path. The ball is not the center of interest as in those vulgar predatory games like football, basketball, and polo. Man running is the force to be contained. His getting to first or second base starts a capitalization dreadful to think of: every hit pushes him on. Bases full and a homer make four runs, while the defenders, helpless without the magic power of the ball lying over the fence, cry out their anguish and dig up the sod with their spikes.

But fate is controlled by the rules. Opportunity swings from one side to the other because innings alternate quickly, keep up spirit in the players, interest in the beholders. So does the profusion of different acts to be performed - pitching, throwing, catching, batting, running, stealing, sliding, signaling. Blows are similarly varied. Flies, Texas Leaguers, grounders, baseline fouls - praise God the human neck is a universal joint! And there is no set pace. Under the hot sun, the minutes creep as a deliberate pitcher tries his feints and curves for three strikes called, or conversely walks a threatening batter. But the batter is not invariably a tailor's dummy. In a hundredth of a second there may be a hissing rocket down right field, a cloud of dust over first base - the bleachers all a-yell - a double play, and the other side up to bat.

Accuracy and speed, the practiced eye and hefty arm, the mind to take in and readjust to the unexpected, the possession of more than one talent and the willingness to work in harness without special orders - these are the American virtues that shine in baseball. There has never been a good player who was dumb. Beef and bulk and mere endurance count for little, judgment and daring for much. Baseball is among group games played with a ball what fencing is to games of combat. But being spread out, baseball has something sociable and friendly about it that I especially love. It is graphic and choreographic. The ball is not shuttling in a confined space, as in tennis. Nor does baseball go to the other extreme of solitary whanging and counting stopped on the brink of pointlessness, like golf. Baseball is a kind of collective chess with arms and legs in full play under sunlight.

How adaptable, too! Three kids in a back yard are enough to create the same quality of drama. All of us in our tennis days have pounded balls with a racket against a wall, for practice. But that is nothing compared with batting in an empty lot, or catching at twilight, with a fella who'll let you use his mitt when your palms get too raw. Every part of baseball equipment is inherently attractive and of a most enchanting functionalism. A man cannot have too much leather about him; and a catcher's mitt is just the right amount for one hand. It's too bad the chest protector and shinpads are so hot and at a distance so like corrugated cardboard. Otherwise, the team is elegance itself in its striped knee breeches and loose shirts, colored stockings and peaked caps. Except for brief moments of sliding, you can see them all in one eyeful, unlike the muddy hecatombs of football. To watch a football game is to be in prolonged neurotic doubt as to what you're seeing. It's more like an emergency happening at a distance than a game. I don't wonder the spectators take to drink. Who has ever seen a baseball fan drinking within the meaning of the act? He wants all his senses sharp and clear, his eyesight above all. He gulps down soda pop, which is a harmless way of replenishing his energy by the ingestion of sugar diluted in water and colored pink.

Happy the man in the bleachers.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Women who quit smoking before 30 cut risk of tobacco-related death by 97% (The Guardian, 10/26/12)

Lancet study of more than 1m UK women shows death rate three time higher for those who smoke into middle-age

Women who smoke into middle-age have three times the death rate of non-smokers and risk dying at least 10 years early, according to a definitive study of the effects of tobacco in more than a million women in the UK.

The good news, according to the study by a team of Oxford University researchers led by Sir Richard Peto, is that giving up cigarettes before the age of 40 reduces a woman's risk of smoking-related death by 90%. Quitting by 30 reduces it by 97%.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


The Incredible Shrinking President (Mark Steyn, 10/26/12, National Review)

Avoiding the economy and foreign affairs, Obama fell back on Big Bird, and binders, and bayonets, just to name the "B"s in his bonnet. At the second presidential debate, he name-checked Planned Parenthood, the General Motors of the American abortion industry, half a dozen times, desperate to preserve his so-called gender gap. Yet oddly enough, the more furiously Obama and Biden have waved their binders and talked up Sandra Fluke, the more his supposed lead among women has withered away. So now he needs to enthuse the young, who turned out in such numbers for him last time. Hence, the official campaign video (plagiarized from Vladimir Putin of all people) explaining that voting for Obama is like having sex. The saddest thing about that claim is that, for liberals, it may well be true.

Both videos -- the one faking Obamagasm and the one faking a Benghazi pretext -- exemplify the wretched shrinkage that befalls those unable to conceive of anything except in the most self-servingly political terms. Both, in different ways, exemplify why Obama and Biden are unfit for office. One video testifies to a horrible murderous lie at the heart of a head of state's most solemn responsibility, the other to the glib shallow narcissism of a pop-culture presidency, right down to the numbing relentless peer pressure: C'mon, all the cool kids are doing it; why be the last hold-out?

If voting for Obama is like the first time you have sex, it's very difficult to lose your virginity twice. A flailing, pitiful campaign has now adopted Queen Victoria's supposed wedding advice to her daughter: "Lie back and think of England." Lie back and think of America. And then get up and get dressed. Who wants to sleep with a $16 trillion broke loser twice?

But, honestly, isn't it delicious that they're closing with the sort of sexualized black man sub-text that the One's coming was supposed to banish from the Earth?

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


George Herbert Walker Obama (ANDREW FERGUSON, 11/05/12, Weekly Standard)

The news readers from NPR were mum-mum-mumbling in the background the other morning as I was putt-putt-puttering around the house when .  .  . all of a sudden .  .  . running counter to every fiber of my being .  .  . pulling against my every natural inclination .  .  . I began to pay attention! President Obama, one of the news readers said, was giving a speech in the Midwest to road-test a new theme for the campaign's final weeks: "trust."

"There's no more serious issue in a presidential campaign than trust," the president said. "Trust matters!" The Midwesterners cheered.

At these words my attention loosened and my mind, what's left of it, flew backwards in time, 20 years almost to the day, and I was sitting in a room in the White House, in 1992, huddled with two other speechwriters around a little speaker set on a table in a high-ceilinged room. We were listening to a closed-circuit transmission from a campaign rally in the Midwest. A different president was desperately seeking reelection. This was President Bush--the first President Bush, I mean, the one that Democrats hated but later pretended to like after they decided they hated his son more. 

We speechwriters were anxious that afternoon because--well, because presidential speechwriters are always anxious--but we were particularly anxious because at this rally in the Midwest, the president was going to road-test a new campaign theme. 

One issue surpassed all others, President Bush said. "It's called trust. When you get down to it, this election will be like every other. Trust matters!"

The Midwesterners cheered. We looked at each other across the tiny speaker, satisfied. We had our new theme! The president's senior staff, at their daily meeting the next morning, gave the chief speechwriter a standing ovation.

It was only over the next several days that we began to suspect that the theme wasn't working.

October 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


'Sábado Gigante' Celebrates 50 With Lots Of Variety (MANDALIT DEL BARCO,  October 26, 2012, NPR)

For half a century, Sábado Gigante has been a raucous romp, with hours and hours of musical guests and dancers. It's a variety show; it's a talk show; it's a game show. Think Price Is Right meets American Idol meets The Gong Show. Francisco has his regular sidekicks, like "La Cuatro," who gets slapped for being naughty and sings very badly, and a masked character known as "El Chacal," the jackal. Whenever there's a really awful singer, he blows his trumpet and gets the audience to boo.

The show includes cheesy skits and corny audience sing-alongs, and the risque "Miss Colita" contest, with close-up shots of women dancing around in string bikinis.

A younger generation of Sábado Gigante fans say they grew up watching the show with their families. At a street festival in Whittier, east of Los Angeles, Ray Marquez, 33, says he still tries to sneak a peek when his wife isn't looking.

"I love that show, even though I don't speak Spanish," he says with a laugh. "It's the women. ... Those dances where they had 15 girls dancing at the same time. Sorry ... I'm a dude."

When we were kids, NYC used to get two Spanish-language stations, channel 41 and channel 47.  We watched four shows--The Thunderbirds, the bull fights, Sabado Gigante, and El Show de Iris Chacon.  Likewise, all because we were male.

October 25, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Once Obama country, Colorado now razor-close (NICHOLAS RICCARDI and KRISTEN WYATT, 10/24/12,  Associated Press)

Republicans and Democrats alike agree that Colorado is a toss-up in this election. Like other battleground states, a slight Obama polling edge before October here has been transformed into a deadlock. That's because independent suburban women--the key demographic in this closely divided state--are taking a second look at Romney. Some analysts see an enthusiasm gap between Obama's supporters and his rival's. And the president's attacks on Romney's wealth may resonate less here than in blue-collar Midwestern battlegrounds like Ohio.

"He should be doing better and he isn't," said independent pollster Floyd Ciruli, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. "It's the worst (swing) state of the bunch for him; isn't that amazing? It's the place we thought he could use as a model."

Though the state has only voted for a Democratic presidential candidate once since 1968, Obama won it by 9 percentage points in 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Romney Hits the 50 Percent Mark, With a Clear Edge on the Economy (Gary Langer, 10/25/12, ABC News)

Mitt Romney has seized further advantage on economic issues at the core of the 2012 campaign, taking him to 50 percent support among likely voters vs. 47 percent for Barack Obama - Romney's highest vote-preference result of the contest to date. [...]

Romney's gains are clear especially in results on the economy. This poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, finds that likely voters now pick Romney over Obama in trust to handle the economy by 52-43 percent - the first time either candidate has held a clear lead over the other on this central issue.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The political failure of Indonesian Islamists (Neha Paliwal, October 25, 2012, Foreign Policy)

Indonesia is often cited in the West as the ideal model that emerging Arab democracies should follow. Muslims officially account for more than 85 percent of its 240 million people, making Indonesia not only the country with the largest Muslim population, but also often cited as the largest democracy among Muslim-majority nations. Some would even describe Indonesia as the "largest Muslim democracy," although this is something of a misnomer considering that Indonesia is not an Islamic state (the constitution guarantees freedom of religion) and the Islamists are not anywhere close to ruling the country.

Indonesia had its own spring fourteen years ago with the end of three decades of Suharto's authoritarian rule, which had suppressed political Islam. But even with their newfound freedom, the Islamists have been struggling to convince the majority of Muslim voters to support their causes, which range from implementing sharia to making Indonesia an Islamic state.

The lion's share of the votes in all three elections (1999, 2004, and 2009) has gone to secular and inclusive parties that campaigned on more popular issues, such as anti-corruption, economic prosperity, justice, and freedom. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Why Liberals are Misreading Mourdock (Amy Sullivan, October 25, 2012, New Republic)

Let's get one thing straight from the start. I am not defending Richard Mourdock's position on abortion, including his opposition to a rape exception. So take that twitchy finger off the "send" button. However, I do want to examine some of the outrage surrounding the latest comments of a Republican politician regarding abortion and rape.  [...]

[I]f Mourdock believes that God creates all life and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances in which a pregnancy came about. 

Take a look again at Mourdock's words: "I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And...even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen." The key word here is "it." I think it's pretty clear that Mourdock is referring to a life that is conceived by a rape. He is not arguing that rape is the something that God intended to happen. 

This is a fairly common theological belief, the understanding of God as an active, interventionist. It's also not limited to conservative Christians. There are liberal Christians who also argue that things work out the way they're supposed to. Some of them are in my own family, and I think they're wrong. But it is one way of grappling with the problem of theodicy, trying to understand why God would allow bad things to happen.

...that God hates the child so much He's okay with us killing it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Many Israeli Jews support apartheid-style state, poll suggests (PAUL KORING, 10/24/12, The Globe and Mail)

Palestinians should be denied the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank and should be required to live separately - in effect creating apartheid-style state - according to a poll published in Haaretz, the leading Israeli newspaper.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Reverting to the Norm: The Race Narrows (Stuart Rothenberg, 10/25/12, Roll Call)
With less than two weeks to go until the elections, the presidential race continues to revert to the norm, a development that can only worry the president and his top strategists.
States that historically have been competitive in presidential elections or tilted to the GOP are moving in that direction, even though just a month ago they were favoring Barack Obama. [...]

After spending the summer defining and discrediting Romney in key states and nationally, the Obama campaign now finds itself facing an opponent who, in just 90 minutes, erased much of the image that David Axelrod and David Plouffe created in a series of negative ads over the summer.

Romney's new image and positioning in the race -- moderate, reasonable and focused on problem-solving -- make him a far more acceptable alternative than he once was, and that has made it easier for voters to focus their attention during the final month of the campaign on the president and his record, which remains mixed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Consumption and the Myths of Inequality : The standard of living has increased among all income groups over the past decade. (KEVIN A. HASSETT  AND APARNA MATHUR, 10/24/12, WSJ)

Another way to look at people's standard of living over time is by their consumption. Consumption is an even more relevant metric of overall welfare than pre-tax cash income, and it will be set by consumers with an eye on their lifetime incomes. Economists, including Dirk Krueger and Fabrizio Perri of the University of Pennsylvania, have begun to explore consumption patterns, which show a different picture than research on income.

Our recent study, "A New Measure of Consumption Inequality," found that the consumption gap across income groups has remained remarkably stable over time. [...]

From 2000 to 2010, consumption has climbed 14% for individuals in the bottom fifth of households, 6% for individuals in the middle fifth, and 14.3% for individuals in the top fifth when we account for changes in U.S. population and the size of households. This despite the dire economy at the end of the decade.

What about the standard of living over those years? The Department of Energy regularly surveys Americans and asks them to report on the characteristics of their homes, including the types of devices and appliances they have. If the standard left-wing narrative is correct, then a typical poor American would trade his current circumstances for those of the past in a heartbeat.

Yet the access of low-income Americans--those earning less than $20,000 in real 2009 dollars--to devices that are part of the "good life" has increased. The percentage of low-income households with a computer rose to 47.7% from 19.8% in 2001. The percentage of low-income homes with six or more rooms (excluding bathrooms) rose to 30% from 21.9% over the same period.

Appliances? The percentage of low-income homes with air-conditioning equipment rose to 83.5% from 65.8%, with dishwashers to 30.8% from 17.6%, with a washing machine to 62.4% from 57.2%, and with a clothes dryer to 56.5% from 44.9%.

The percentage of low-income households with microwave ovens grew to 92.4% from 74.9% between 2001 and 2009. Fully 75.5% of low-income Americans now have a cell phone, and over a quarter of those have access to the Internet through their phones.

We would hazard a guess that if you were to ask a typical low-income American in 2009 if he would like to trade his house for its 2001 version, he would tell you to take a hike. How then is he worse off in 2009?
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Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Are cancer patients' hopes for chemo too high? (Reuters, October 25, 2012)

Researchers reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that 69 per cent of patients who were terminally ill with lung cancer, and 81 per cent with fatal colorectal cancer, did not understand that their chemotherapy was not at all likely to eliminate their tumours.

"Their expectations are way out of line with reality," said lead researcher Deborah Schrag of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institution in Boston, speaking to Reuters Health.

Perhaps ironically, the patients who had the nicest things to say about their doctors' ability to communicate with them were less likely to understand the purpose of their chemotherapy than patients who had a less-favourable opinion of their communication with their physicians.

"This is not about bad doctors and it's not about unintelligent patients," said Schrag. "This is a complex communication dynamic. It's hard to talk to people and tell them we can't cure your cancer."

She added that doctors find it uncomfortable to hammer home grim news and patients don't want to believe it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Obama's Blunder Was in Ceding Political Center to Romney (Clive Crook, Oct 23, 2012, Bloomberg)

In the last debate, focused mainly on foreign policy, he moved further toward moderation. He struck a conciliatory tone and found little in what Obama said to disagree with, making the encounter in one sense a nonevent. He was cautious to a fault, careful to avoid seeming recklessly hawkish, allaying concerns that under his leadership the U.S. might blunder into another war. This peacemaking Romney couldn't have won the Republican nomination. But he could very well win on Nov. 6.

The cipher to understanding this election is to ask, why didn't Obama beat Romney to it? Why didn't he deny his Republican opponent the middle ground of U.S. politics by seizing it himself?

Given economic conditions that dictate a loss, Mr. Obama had to at least try to restore his base in order to avoid a blow-out.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Deadly Dancing: Could a Nocebo Effect Explain Medieval Europe's Dancing Plagues? [Excerpt] : Science journalist Chris Berdik describes the sometimes dangerous power of expectations (Chris Berdik, 10/19/12, Scientific American)

Mass psychogenic illnesses [MPI] are fueled by stress and flow from expectations. According to John Waller, author of A Time to Dance, a Time to Die (2008), there were at least ten dancing outbreaks in towns along the Rhine and Mosel rivers, and most of them followed periods of tremendous hardship, such as the waves of crop-killing weather and famine that preceded the 1518 epidemic in Strasbourg.

A hungry and fearful populace was primed for a freak-out, but the loss of control that followed was scripted by cultural expectations. The region's pious citizens knew well the story of Saint Vitus, and some of the first of these dancing plagues began on or near June 15, Saint Vitus' Day.

Today's versions of MPI follow more modern expectations --including fears of environmental toxins and terrorist attacks. In November 1998, for example, a teacher in a Tennessee high school came down with a headache, nausea, and shortness of breath after complaining of a "gasoline-like" smell. Soon her students began to feel sick, too. Eventually more than a hundred staff and students were taken to the emergency room. The school was evacuated and closed for two days while extensive tests were done to locate the source of toxicity. Nothing was ever found. Sometime later, questionnaires revealed that people who reported symptoms were more likely to have known or seen somebody else get sick.

Certainly, MPI should be a designation of last resort. In addition to the risk of neglecting a dangerous toxin or infection, there's the unfortunate implication that those with symptoms are either lemmings or liars. In 2011, more than a dozen teenagers, mostly girls, in Le Roy, a town outside Rochester, New York, were hit with a mysterious outbreak of uncontrollable facial tics and muscle spasms. Investigations by public health authorities found no evidence of environmental or infectious causes, leading many to suspect MPI. That suspicion didn't sit well with many of the girls and their families. They took it as a suggestion that they were faking, that there was no pill they could take to get better, and there was no one to blame but themselves. It's the same stigma that's followed placebos for centuries, of course, only applied to the nocebo in this case. If the mind causes it, then it can't be real.

As we've seen, however, the brain has many ways to make good on our expectations, both good and bad. In response to a clinician's promise, the brain releases painkillers as strong as morphine. Anxiety short-circuits anticipation and the athlete's worst fears come true. The embodied expectations of looking powerful can send our hormones racing. As Ader's saccharin-slurping rats demonstrated, the immune system can be ratcheted up and down without a word being said.

We saw in Chapters 6 and 8 how readily we take cues for our own behavior from watching others. Why couldn't placebo and nocebo effects spread socially, too?

October 24, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


September surprise (Noemie Emery, 10/23/12, The Washington Examiner)

On Sept. 15, 2008, Barack Obama was behind in the polls, caught off balance by the Sarah Palin selection and in trouble for the first time since his nomination. Then the financial collapse blindsided his rival, caused a huge civil war in the Republican Party, and dropped the presidency into his lap.

It wasn't the first time blind luck seemed to help Obama. 

The problem being that when you've gotten by on nothing more than being in the right place at the right time there's nothing for you to fall back on if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Evangelists of Democracy (David Rieff, October 24, 2012, National Interest)

[D]emocracy promotion should be understood as a subset of contemporary liberalism--the only major modern ideology that denies it is an ideology at all. More precisely, it is the end state of human political organization after all the other ideologies have withered away, the future's moral default position. To hear Western democracy-promotion activists tell it, when they work to "transition" states from a totalitarian or authoritarian social order to a liberal-democratic one, they are merely hastening the inevitable. George Soros's formulation, derived from Karl Popper and serving as the ideological underpinning for his democracy-promotion entity, the Open Society Foundations, is expressed thus: "Opening up closed societies, making open societies more viable, and promoting a critical mode of thinking." In this account, it is self-evident that history is moving in one direction--toward more freedom, more openness and more democracy. Thus, democracy promotion is best understood as embodying the main premise of Francis Fukuyama's 1989 article "The End of History?," which claimed that the West's Cold War victory marked "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

There is irony in this proud assertion of openness to new ideas and dismissal of "closed," undemocratic societies on the grounds that they, as Soros once complained, "claim to be in possession of the ultimate truth." After all, this contemporary Western democratic-capitalist vision, of which the democracy-promotion and human-rights movements should be viewed as subsets, also claims a monopoly on social, ethical and political truth. Soros has reminisced that he knew communism was false because "it was a dogma." But what could be more Manichaean and philosophically primitive than the blanket division of the entire world into open and closed societies? And what could be more dogmatic than Soros's audacious claim that communism's defeat "laid the groundwork for a universal open society"? For that matter, what could be more closed-minded than Fukuyama's assertion that history's only important remaining questions were how quickly and under what circumstances universalization of Western liberal capitalism would take place?

These claims may employ secular language to justify the conclusion that open societies are preferable to closed societies in large part because, again quoting Soros, "in an open society each citizen is not only allowed but required to think for himself." But that cannot obscure their uncanny resemblance to both the familiar wartime claim that God is on one's side and the Marxist idea that communism's victory was inevitable. 

...between a religion that was right and an idea that was wrong?  

The obvious difficulty with arguing that Marxism, Nazism and Islamicism are viable contenders with capitalist democratic protestantism is the results of history itself.  They just keep losing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


How Bill Clinton May Have Hurt the Obama Campaign (MATT BAI, 10/24/12, NY Times)

 In these final weeks before the election, Mr. Clinton's expert advice about how to beat Mitt Romney is starting to look suspect.

You may recall that last spring, just after Mr. Romney locked up the Republican nomination, Mr. Obama's team abruptly switched its strategy for how to define him. Up to then, the White House had been portraying Mr. Romney much as George W. Bush had gone after John Kerry in 2004 - as inauthentic and inconstant, a soulless climber who would say anything to get the job.

But it was Mr. Clinton who forcefully argued to Mr. Obama's aides that the campaign had it wrong. The best way to go after Mr. Romney, the former president said, was to publicly grant that he was the "severe conservative" he claimed to be, and then hang that unpopular ideology around his neck.

In other words, Mr. Clinton counseled that independent voters might forgive Mr. Romney for having said whatever he had to say to win his party's nomination, but they would be far more reluctant to vote for him if they thought they were getting the third term of George W. Bush. Ever since, the Obama campaign has been hammering Mr. Romney as too conservative, while essentially giving him a pass for having traveled a tortured path on issues like health care reform, abortion and gay rights.

The point of the Romney surge is that Mr. Clinton was exactly right, no one minds that Mitt ran right in the primaries so long as he can convince them that he'll govern in the middle.  Of particular value to him in this regard is that the primaries were rhetorical while he has a record of governing moderately.  It's not that Democrats shouldn't have tried to define him as an ideologue, but that they didn't and probably couldn't.
Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


President Obama's 11th-hour strategy shift (Glenn Thrush, October 24, 2012, Politico)

Obama will keep slamming Romney as the campaign comes to an end. Drawing "the contrast" as Obama's team calls it, is still the campaign's engine.

Obama officials publicly claim the plan was in the works all along and doesn't represent a major change. But many Democrats and observers see the Tuesday messaging switch as proof Obama leaned too heavily for too long on a negative "Hit Mitt" strategy, at the expense of a sustained push to convince skeptical voters the president deserves another four years.

"The Obama organization did the single best job of destroying a candidate I have ever seen in my career, from May to September," said pollster Peter Brown, who conducts the Quinnipiac University poll of battleground states.

"But that all went out the window when Romney showed people that the caricature of him as a clown was false. ... Now he's got to make the case for himself. If he was ahead now, my guess is he wouldn't have taken the chance of putting all of this out there."

The sorts of stuff a Democrat can run on and win hem him into the Republican Party.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Watch Climate of Doubt on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Plan for hunting terrorists signals U.S. intends to keep adding names to kill lists (Greg Miller, Published: October 23, 2012, Washington Post)

Over the past two years, the Obama administration has been secretly developing a new blueprint for pursuing terrorists, a next-generation targeting list called the "disposition matrix."

The matrix contains the names of terrorism suspects arrayed against an accounting of the resources being marshaled to track them down, including sealed indictments and clandestine operations. U.S. officials said the database is designed to go beyond existing kill lists, mapping plans for the "disposition" of suspects beyond the reach of American drones.

Although the matrix is a work in progress, the effort to create it reflects a reality setting in among the nation's counterterrorism ranks: The United States' conventional wars are winding down, but the government expects to continue adding names to kill or capture lists for years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Gluten-free food market is estimated at $4.2 billion this year (Tiffany Hsu, 10/24/12, Los Angeles Times)

[T]his year, nearly 2 in 10 U.S. adults are avoiding such items. Some 18% of adults are going gluten-free, according to Packaged Facts, up from 15% in 2010. [...]

A strict gluten-free regimen should be undertaken only by those diagnosed with celiac disease, which causes the small intestine to react to gluten in such a way that disrupts digestion.

Otherwise, adherents may find themselves low on fiber -- and scrapped for cash because gluten-free products tend to cost more than other products.

The National Institutes of Health says celiac disease affects about 1 in 100 people in Europe and North America. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center estimate is 1 in 133 healthy people.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


The Missing Debate (ROSS DOUTHAT, 10/23/12, NY Times)

The big secret of the Obama administration's approach to national security, which neither party has had a strong incentive to admit, is that the president's first-term policies have mostly been a continuation of policies put in place during George W. Bush's second term, when the Cheneyite maximalism of the immediate post-9/11 era was tempered by a dose of pragmatism.

Obama campaigned in 2008 as a critic of the entire Bush record, first and second term alike. But the president has mostly governed - sometimes by choice, sometimes out of necessity - as a steward of the powers Bush successfully claimed and the war-on-terror architecture that he established. What's more, in his presidency's biggest decisions about the use of force abroad - the Afghan surge, the Libya intervention, the escalated drone campaign (and the "kill list" that accompanies it), the green light on the raid to get Bin Laden - Obama has almost always erred on the side of hawkishness and expanded executive authority.

In the 2012 campaign, Romney has often talked as though this hawkish record doesn't exist, painting the president as a dove and an appeaser at every opportunity. But a closer look suggests that a Romney administration, too, would promise more continuity than change: On the issues that have earned the most press this campaign season -- from the Arab Spring to Syria's civil war to the Iranian bomb to our looming withdrawal from Afghanistan -- Romney has attacked the president in general terms while remaining deliberately vague about what exactly he would do instead.

So it was healthy for American voters to see this Bush-Obama-Romney overlap crystallized on stage Monday night.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Romney's Audacious Centrist Evolution Leaves Old Positions in the Dust (Howard Kurtz, Oct 24, 2012, Daily Beast)

Some in the pundit class may object, but here's the thing: Romney's strategy seems to be working. And he appears more comfortable in this back-to-the-future role.

Romney's advisers insist he hasn't changed, that some of the earlier nuances in his policies were simply overlooked. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the image Romney is projecting changed rather abruptly, starting with that first debate in Denver.

Only journalists and other political junkies have been obsessively following the campaign since the early days of 2011. Many Americans are like casual baseball fans who only start paying attention at World Series time. They don't know, and maybe don't much care, what Romney said during the regular season.

So if Romney has been "all over the map" on foreign policy, as Obama repeatedly charged in their final debate, that may not matter. Swing voters want to be assured that he won't start a crazy war, and Romney, with his deliberately passive performance, certainly conveyed that message. Never mind that in the past he's said he wouldn't yank U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014 without the consent of military leaders; he now says he's pulling out, period.

All candidates gravitate to the center in a general election; you don't hear Obama talking much about gay marriage these days. But Romney's abrupt evolution has been so audacious that it must be a feat of mental gymnastics to keep in his head all the past statements and current iterations.

October 23, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 PM


Blue States are from Scandinavia, Red States are from Guatemala : A theory of a divided nation. (Jonathan Cohn, October 5, 2012, New Republic)

The borders of the United States contain two different forms of government, based on two different visions of the social contract. In blue America, state government costs more--and it spends more to ensure that everybody can pay for basic necessities such as food, housing, and health care. It invests more heavily in the long-term welfare of its population, with better-funded public schools, subsidized day care, and support for people with disabilities. In some cases, in fact, state lawmakers have decided that the social contract provided by the federal government is not generous enough. It was a blue state that first established universal health insurance and, today, it is a handful of blue states that offer paid family and medical leave.

In the red states, government is cheaper, which means the people who live there pay lower taxes. But they also get a lot less in return. The unemployment checks run out more quickly and the schools generally aren't as good. Assistance with health care, child care, and housing is skimpier, if it exists at all. The result of this divergence is that one half of the country looks more and more like Scandinavia, while the other increasingly resembles a social Darwinist's paradise.

Of course, Scandinavia is an increasingly "Darwinist paradise."

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


US may soon become world's top oil producer (AP, October 23, 2012)

U.S. oil output is surging so fast that the United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest producer.

Driven by high prices and new drilling methods, U.S. production of crude and other liquid hydrocarbons is on track to rise 7 percent this year to an average of 10.9 million barrels per day. This will be the fourth straight year of crude increases and the biggest single-year gain since 1951.

The boom has surprised even the experts.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Working With the Muslim Brotherhood (ROGER COHEN, 10/23/12, NY Times)

The United States tried Middle Eastern repression in the name of stability for decades: What it got was terrorism-breeding societies of frustrated Arabs under tyrants. (Mohammed Atta came from Cairo.) The Brotherhood narrowly won a free and fair election. If they fail, throw them out next time. That's democracy.

It is time to overcome the "fundamental lack of understanding and communication" of which General Sobhi wrote. That can only happen through working with the real forces of Arab societies rather than "Green Zone" fantasies.

Mitt Romney thinks Obama has been "passive" with the Islamists; aid could be slashed. But when aid is cut off, and American attention turns elsewhere, and future generals start getting their training in Saudi Arabia rather than Kansas, we know the result: Pakistan. That is not where the United States wants Egypt to end up. Turkey is a far better, if imperfect, model, and it is to Turkey and its governing Justice and Development Party that the Brotherhood is looking.

Morsi, who studied in California and breaks into English when impatient with his interpreters, has reached out to the United States from early in the transition -- with trade requests, investment plans, vows to root out corruption, pleas to help get tourism back, and of course requests that aid be maintained. Even with little strategic alternative, America has leverage. It should be used to prod Morsi out of his Brotherhood roots toward the middle where the new Egypt must be forged. He appears ready to compromise.

America's radical policy turnabout in Cairo poses an important question: Why is this engagement with political Islam, even in Salafist form, confined to Egypt? If Washington has discovered by engaging that the long reviled Brotherhood, or at least large swathes of it, may have evolved into centrist pragmatists, what other such discoveries may be made through dialogue rather than confrontation?
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Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM

Trampled By Turtles On Mountain Stage (NPR, October 22, 2012)

The frenetic Minnesota band plays songs from its recent sixth album, Stars and Satellites, in concert. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


The Real Stimulus: Low-Cost Natural Gas : The impact of the U.S. energy revolution is only beginning. It is already providing a foundation for a domestic renaissance in manufacturing. (DANIEL YERGIN, 10/23/12, WSJ)

An unconventional oil and gas revolution is under way in the United States, but its full ramifications are only beginning to be understood. The basic facts are clear enough. Half a decade ago, it was assumed that the U.S. would become a large importer of liquefied natural gas; now the domestic natural gas market is oversupplied, thanks to the ability to produce shale gas through hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies. [...]The increase in domestic oil production over the past five years will reduce our oil-import bill this year by about $75 billion. The growth of shale gas will save the U.S. from spending $100 billion a year on imported LNG, which was the likely prospect five years ago.

There is also a geopolitical dimension. The increase in U.S. oil production since 2008 is equivalent to almost 80% of what was Iran's export level before the imposition of sanctions on the Tehran regime. Without the additional oil coming from the surge in U.S. oil output, the Iranian oil sanctions could not have worked as well as they have.

Domestically, growing natural gas supplies provide a foundation for a manufacturing renaissance, at least for industries for which energy is an important feedstock or where energy costs are significant. Chemical companies have been leaving the U.S. for years in the search for lower-cost countries in which to operate. Now they are planning to invest billions of dollars in new factories in this country because of inexpensive and relatively stable natural gas prices. The price of natural gas, which averaged $2.66 per thousand cubic feet in the first nine months of this year, is less than half of what it was five years ago.

This holds out a tantalizing prospect that the U.S. could regain market share among the world's manufacturing exporters. That prospect preoccupies companies around the world, from Europe to China. When I was in China recently I heard much talk about how China's historical advantage in cheap labor (which is becoming less cheap) could in the years ahead be offset by cheap energy in the U.S.

We're also beginning to hear a debate about the U.S. role as an exporter of liquefied natural gas. LNG exports to countries with which the U.S. has free-trade agreements require no government approval. Approvals are needed, however, for exports to a long list of countries with which we have no such agreements, including Japan, Britain, India and many others. But an investment in building export facilities for this trade won't make sense unless producers have the flexibility to ship to diverse destinations as markets change.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


A Bandwidth Breakthrough (DAVID TALBOT, October 23, 2012, Technology Review)

Academic researchers have improved wireless bandwidth by an order of magnitude--not by adding base stations, tapping more spectrum, or cranking up transmitter wattage, but by using algebra to banish the network-clogging task of resending dropped packets.

By providing new ways for mobile devices to solve for missing data, the technology not only eliminates this wasteful process but also can seamlessly weave data streams from Wi-Fi and LTE--a leap forward from other approaches that toggle back and forth. "Any IP network will benefit from this technology," says Sheau Ng, vice president for research and development at NBC Universal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


George W. Bush Won This Debate (Peter Beinart Oct 23, 2012, Daily Beast)

Barack Obama didn't win tonight's foreign policy debate. Neither did Mitt Romney. George W. Bush did. [...]

Obama, Romney and Bob Schieffer discussed foreign policy almost exclusively through the Bush prism. The focus was on countries where the United States is already at war, or soon could be.

To be sure, Obama and Romney don't want to approach those countries in the same way that Bush did in his first term. We no longer have the money or will to launch ground wars. Today, the preferred options are military training and aid (Afghanistan, Syria), drone strikes (Pakistan, Yemen) and perhaps a full-fledged air war (Iran). But the "war on terror" still largely defined which countries received attention. And as a result, the candidates spent an inordinate amount of time talking about weak, dysfunctional countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria and barely any time talking about fast-growing, increasingly powerful ones like India, Turkey, and Brazil. 

...that W forged binding relationships with India, Indonesia, Brazil, etc. as part of his war effort.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Romney Passed the Test (FRED BARNES, 10/23/12, Weekly Standard)

As the challenger, Romney didn't need to "win" the debate--he only needed to hold his own against Obama's deeper knowledgeable, sharp criticism, and occasional irritation.  And he did.

Romney made a point of not bickering with Obama. He didn't quibble about the administration's failure to give a consistent explanation of the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September. His disagreements with Obama on Syria, Afghanistan, terrorism, Egypt, and China were either slight or non-existent.

Putting distance between himself and Obama on policy wasn't his game. Nor was his approach to Monday night's debate especially combative, though he was critical of Obama's "leadership." It was to put himself in the best possible light by offering plans of his own and specific details on every issue.

October 22, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Eating Cooked Food Made Us Human : Raw food takes too long to digest and offers too few calories to grow a human brain. Cooking it is the key. (Rebecca Boyle, 10.22.2012, Popular Science)

Gathered around a blazing fire, our ancient ancestors probably huddled to pass the archaic kebab, munching cooked meat and figuring out how they might share it and plan to get more of it. Eating cooked food allowed these early hominids to spend less time gnawing on raw material and digesting it, providing time--and energy--to do other things instead, like socialize. The strenuous cognitive demands of communicating and socializing forced human ancestors to develop more powerful brains, which required more calories--calories that cooked food provided. Cooking, in other words, allowed us to become human.

A new paper examines the metabolic restrictions of a raw diet, and suggests that our primate cousins are limited by their inability to heat their dinners. It bolsters the cooking hypothesis of Richard Wrangham, a primatologist and professor of biological anthropology at Harvard who believes cooking is our legacy. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


It's (Almost) Morning in America : A surging economy is great news. Especially for the next president. (Michael Tomasky Oct 22, 2012, Daily Beast)

The winner may very well go down in history as the man who led the country out of the greatest economic crisis in eight decades.

If it's Obama, that validates the stimulus, the deficit--even Obamacare, which revolutionizes one sixth of the economy. That old-time FDR religion, Democrats could claim, still works. "Which party sent this country to the brink of ruin in 2008, and which party pulled our chestnuts out of the fire?" could be a Democratic rallying cry until about the 2040s.

And if it's Romney? Well, that'll be one lucky man. He'll brag, of course, that it was all about his policies. The party that made the mess will spend the next few years or decades--and they're pretty good at this sort of thing--hammering home the argument that they sorted it all out as soon as Obama got out of the way.

So the improving economy raises the stakes in a huge way. In case they weren't high enough for you already.

This is the fourth important election of the past 100 years, not because of the choice of candidates in themselves, but because it will determine which party gets credit for the Peace Dividend.  In 1920, the GOP won back Washington after WWI and got itself the Roaring '20's, though it screwed the pooch by adopting limitations on immigration and trade.  In 1948, Truman fended off Tom Dewey and kept the Democrats relevant for another couple generations.  With the party finally on the ropes, after the GOP won the Cold War, Bill Clinton got o George H. W. Bush's right and Democrats managed to get part of the credit for the 1990's boom.  Comes the end of the WoT, which combines with the transition to a Third Way social safety net, and the party that gets credit for this boom and transition--if it gets sole credit--stands to dominate our national politics for a number of decades, as Republicans did after the Civil War and Democrats did after the Depression.

So, while the differences between the candidates and parties are trivial, the stakes are potentially massive.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Josh's CMJ 2012 Day 5: Tallahassee, Ace Reporter, Hippy, Black Wing Hallo, Automatic Children (Josh S. Johnson, 10/21/12, Deli)

First up at the Legion in Brooklyn was a very cool band from Boston called Tallahassee, whom I covered for the Deli's New England blog. Each member of the band had a beard on his face and a mic at his mouth. At first glance, it seemed that the audition process for Tallahassee consisted of two parts: can you sing, and can you grow copious amounts of facial hair? But once the band started playing, they became a rock n' roll monster. The vocals soared and the guitar solos were blistering. The drummer was especially all kinds of awesome, which particularly came to light when part of his kit fell over, so he played it on his side.

All four members of Tallahassee sang, so it was interesting to watch them switch off and on vocals and particular parts of the song. No matter who sang, though, the harmonies were always on point. Basically, Tallahassee was a dirtier, more electric Fleet Foxes, or, if you will, a Fleet Foxes-Lynyrd Skynyrd mash up. Either way, they put on a fantastic performance for the small crowd that was lucky enough to watch one of today's most talented bands. [...]

My favorite acts of the week (in no particular order): Wilsen, Blonds, The Nightmare River Band, Local H, Field Mouse, The Bengsons, Tallahassee, MS MR, Sewing Machines, Linfinity

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Battleground Tracking Poll: Mitt Romney takes lead (JAMES HOHMANN | 10/22/12, Politico)

Mitt Romney has taken a narrow national lead, tightened the gender gap and expanded his edge over President Barack Obama on who would best grow the economy.

A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll of 1,000 likely voters -- taken from Sunday through Thursday of last week -- shows Romney ahead of Obama by 2 percentage points, 49 percent to 47 percent. That represents a 3-point swing in the GOP nominee's direction from a week ago but is still within the margin of error.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


Do we make too much fuss about breasts? : It's good to raise awareness of breast cancer, but an agenda driven by popular opinion can get in the way of science (Max Pemberton, 22 Oct 2012, The Telegraph)

I think the reason this study made the headlines was because it focused on two things that we, as a society, are obsessed with: breasts and cancer. Although the breast cancer findings were the ones that were widely reported on, the study looked at a host of other cancers too, including prostate, bowel, lung and all cancers combined. But it was the breast cancer component that got picked up.

There can be no subject that ignites the public interest as much as breasts do. I don't mean this flippantly. It's fascinating the way that these two mounds of flesh seem to eclipse all other organs. I am baffled that some newspapers still feel it acceptable to serve up pictures of topless women as daily ''news". But our interest in breasts is pervasive and means that breast cancer, for example, gets far more publicity than, say, bowel cancer.

This is a double-edged sword. While it means it's easier to raise awareness - and money for research - in breast cancer, it can also unnecessarily worry women, and it skews and impacts on what is studied and how. Of all the organs, the breast is the most political. There are support and advocacy groups for women with breast cancer - it's something that people run marathons to raise money for, and wear pink ribbons to show their support. It receives a tremendous amount of attention and resonates deep within our collective consciousness, more so than probably any other disease.

The American researcher and physician Deborah Rhodes argues that all this attention can, if not tempered, lead to as many problems as it solves, as the agenda is driven by public opinion rather than the science. She cites the perpetual debate about routine mammography as an example, arguing that because of the vocal advocacy for routine screening programmes, despite some medics questioning their value, considerable time and money has been diverted into debating a small, relatively unimportant area.

This, she says, has cost millions and taken up years of research time, for little benefit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Comedy Isn't Pretty : The religulous journey of Bill Maher. (CHARLOTTE ALLEN, 10/22/12, Weekly Standard)

Bill Maher's fans worship him. Some 4.1 million of them faithfully watch his Real Time with Bill Maher, whether at its 10 p.m. Friday time slot on HBO or in its on-demand and digital-recorder formats. Those are niche numbers compared with the weekly 14 million or so for ABC's Dancing with the Stars but still fairly impressive considering that Maher's show is on premium cable. Also, he aims for an audience that considers itself many cuts in sophistication above the "mouth-breathers," one of his favorite synonyms for the "rednecks" (another Maher bon mot) who take in mass-market network fare--and who vote Republican and go to church on Sunday, two other things that Maher can't stand.

Indeed, HBO has renewed Real Time, which wound up its tenth season in June, for another two years. Its season opener in August drew 1.9 million viewers when you count a replay at 11 p.m. (The numbers aren't in yet for Maher's Oct. 5 post-presidential-debate show, where he declared that Barack Obama had "sucked.") Studio audience members go crazy during Maher's hour-long combination of pundit and celebrity interviews, panel spar-offs, and monologues that veer between conventional standup and lengthy political editorials. They hoot, they cheer, they clap, they roar with appreciation.

But there is one thing that they almost never do: laugh. [...]

At some point in the history of standup comedy--and maybe it began with Maher's hero, George Carlin--certain comedians who had once been genuinely funny, as Carlin was early in his career, decided that the point of their routines was not to generate laughs but to vent political rage to the like-minded. The Carlin curse has afflicted an entire generation of liberal-activist comics, rendering them deadly: Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, Margaret Cho, to name a few. Their "humor" goes by the sobriquet "edgy," which is a shorthand way of saying "preaching to the leftist choir." 

Maher likes to tell the story of how, when he was 13, his father stopped taking the family to Sunday Mass because he didn't like the Catholic church's position on birth control. There is an irony there because in some ways Maher is a Catholic priest manqué. Like Catholic priests, he has taken a vow never to marry, and he uses his stage appearances essentially as a pulpit, except that the sermons rail not against sin but against conservatives, the evils of religion, or whatever else.

In Maher's church, as in all churches, you'll see plenty of devoted and enthusiastic worshippers. But you won't hear many laughs.

Thanks to Friend Driscoll for this one. For easily comprehensible political reasons, you can eith/er by liberal or funny, not both.
Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Sorry, U.S. Recoveries Really Aren't Different (Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff Oct 15, 2012, Bloomberg)

Why is our interpretation of the data so different than those of these recent commentators? Is the U.S. different?

Part of the confusion may be attributed to a failure to distinguish systemic financial crises from more minor ones and from regular business cycles. A systemic financial crisis affects a large share of a country's financial system. Such occurrences are quite distinct from events that clearly fall short of a full-blown systemic meltdown, and are referred to in the academic literature as "borderline" crises.

The distinction between a systemic and a borderline event is well established by widely accepted criteria long used by many scholars, and detailed in our 2009 book.
Indeed, in our initial published study on this topic, in 2008, we showed that systemic financial crises across advanced economies had far more serious economic consequences than borderline ones. Our paper, written nine months before the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008, showed that by 2007, the U.S. already displayed many of the crucial recurring precursors of a systemic financial crisis: a real estate bubble, high levels of debt, chronically large current-account deficits and signs of slowing economic activity.

Today, there can be little doubt that the U.S. has experienced a systemic crisis -- in fact, its first since the Great Depression. Before that, notable systemic post-Civil War financial crises occurred in 1873, 1893 and 1907.

It is also important to define how a recovery is measured, and how success is defined. The recent op-eds focus on GDP growth immediately after the trough (usually four quarters). For a normal recession, the restoration of positive growth is typically a signal event. In a V-shaped recovery, the old peak level of GDP is quickly reached, and the economy returns to trend within a year or two.

Our book examined both levels and rates of change of per capita GDP; recovery is defined by the time it takes for per capita GDP to return to its pre-crisis peak level. For post- World War II systemic crises, it took about four and a half years to regain lost ground; in 14 Great Depression episodes around the world (including the U.S.) it took 10 years on average. A focus on levels, rather than percentages, is a more robust way to capture the trajectory of an economy where the recovery is more U- or L-shaped than V-shaped.
It also is a way to avoid exaggerating the strength of the recovery when a deep recession is followed by a large cumulative decline in the level GDP. An 8 percent decline followed by an 8 percent increase doesn't bring the economy back to its starting point.

Taylor, for example, appears to show the recovery from the Great Depression as the strongest in U.S. history, even though it took about a decade to reach the same level of per capita income as at its starting point in 1929.

Working with long historical series, we have stressed per- capita measures because U.S. population growth has fallen from 2 percent a year in the late 1800s to less than 1 percent in more recent times. Put differently, in the early 1900s, a year with 2 percent real GDP growth left the average person's income unchanged; in the modern context, 2 percent annual GDP growth means an increase of slightly more than 1 percent in real income per person. The impact of cumulative population growth even within an individual crisis episode is significant, as the recovery process usually spans four to 10 years.

Even allowing for all the above doesn't seem to entirely account for the differences between our interpretation and the conclusions of the Hassett-Hubbard, Bordo and Taylor op-eds.

Take the Panic of 1907, which fits the standard criteria of a systemic crisis (and one with a global dimension at that). We certainly would count that one. The narrative in the Bordo- Haubrich paper emphasizes that "the 1907-1908 recession was followed by vigorous recovery." Yet, as we show below, the level of real GDP per capita in the U.S. didn't return to its pre- crisis peak of 1906 until 1912. Is that a vigorous recovery? The unemployment rate (which we routinely include in our comparisons but the Bordo-Haubrich study doesn't consider) was 1.7 percent in 1906, climbed to 8 percent in 1908, and didn't return to the pre-crisis low until 1918.

The aftermath of the systemic banking crisis of 1893 is worse than the period after the 1907 episode, and the Depression of the 1930s is worse still. According to our 2009 metrics, the aftermath of the most recent U.S. financial crisis has been quite typical of systemic financial crises around the globe in the postwar era. If one really wants to focus just on U.S. systemic financial crises, then the recent recovery looks positively brisk. [...] 

So how many years did it take for per-capita GDP to return to its peak at the onset of the crisis? For the 1873 and 1893 (peak is 1892) crises, it was five years; for the Panic of 1907 (peak is 1906), it was six years; for the Depression, it took 11 years. In output per capita timelines, at least, it is difficult to argue that "the U.S. is different." It can hardly be said to have enjoyed vigorous output per capita recoveries from past systemic financial crises.

The notion that the U.S. exhibits rapid recovery from systemic financial crises doesn't emerge from the unemployment data, either. That data only begin in 1890, eliminating the 1873 crisis from the pool. [...]

The 2007 crisis is associated with significantly lower unemployment rates than both the Depression of the 1930s and the depression of the 1890s; it is more in line with the unemployment increases observed after the Panic of 1907.

It's remarkable how often analyses of the recent credit crunch conflate GDP with employment, even this one which begins by arguing that GDP per capita is the important indicator, but then switches to a focus on employment rates.  Let us consider only the question that the authors ask: So how many years did it take for per-capita GDP to return to its peak at the onset of the crisis? The answer--within a year from the trough--would seem to either dispel the notion that there was a systemic crisis or demonstrate that the crisis was met so effectively as to be sui generis.  Thanks, W.

Of course, the failure of employment to respond in similar fashion--even as GDP per capita surged back above pre-Recession levels--suggests that there is something wrong with those numbers.  The most obvious conclusion, though folks are reluctant to accept it, is that pre-Recession employment was artificially high and what we've been seeing is a market correction in employment.

October 21, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


NBC/WSJ poll: Presidential contest now tied ( Mark Murray, 10/21/12, NBC News)

Obama and Romney both get 47 percent among likely voters in the latest edition of the poll, conducted entirely in the aftermath of the second presidential debate last Monday. In the previous national NBC/WSJ poll, which was conducted before debate season began, the president held a narrow, three-point lead over his GOP challenger, 49 percent to 46 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


The growing hysteria of the administration's posture on Cambodia seems to me to reflect a determined refusal to consider what the fall of  the existing government in Phnom Penh would actually mean.... We should be able to see that the kind of government which would succeed Lon Nol's forces would most likely be a government ... run by some of the best-educated, most able intellectuals in Cambodia. 
        -Senator George McGovern

Whatever else may be true of the life and work of George McGovern, the one unavoidable tragedy of his career is that he wanted a world in which we befriended the USSR, helping them to maintain the Iron Curtain in exchange for "peace".

One can't help but recall the line from Robert D. Kaplan's assessment of Henry Kissinger: "In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite -- notably excepting the scholar and former head of the State Department's policy-planning staff George Kennan, the Harvard historian Richard Pipes, the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan."

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


US home sales dip 1.7 percent on tight inventory (Associated Press, 10/21/12)

The inventory of homes for sale fell in September to 2.32 million. It would take 5.9 months to exhaust the supply at the current sales pace, the lowest sales-to-inventory ratio since March 2006.

The virtuous cycle requires importing a heck of a lot more immigrants to build the houses we require who in turn will require houses.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Libya Attack: CIA Found Militant Links 1 Day After U.S. Consulate Killings (KIMBERLY DOZIER, 10/19/2012, AP)

The CIA station chief in Libya reported to Washington within 24 hours of last month's deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate that there was evidence it was carried out by militants, not a spontaneous mob upset about an American-made video ridiculing Islam's Prophet Muhammad, U.S. officials have told The Associated Press. [...]

The two U.S. officials said the CIA station chief in Libya compiled intelligence reports from eyewitnesses within 24 hours of the assault on the consulate that indicated militants launched the violence, using the pretext of demonstrations against U.S. facilities in Egypt against the film to cover their intent. The report from the station chief was written late Wednesday, Sept. 12, and reached intelligence agencies in Washington the next day, intelligence officials said.

Yet, on Saturday of that week, briefing points sent by the CIA to Congress said "demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault."

The briefing points, obtained by the AP, added: "There are indications that extremists participated in the violent demonstrations" but did not mention eyewitness accounts that blamed militants alone.

Such raw intelligence reports by the CIA on the ground would normally be sent first to analysts at the headquarters in Langley, Va., for vetting and comparing against other intelligence derived from eavesdropping drones and satellite images. Only then would such intelligence generally be shared with the White House and later, Congress, a process that can take hours, or days if the intelligence is coming from only one or two sources who may or may not be trusted.

Keeping "intelligence" secret is always a mistake.
Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


CBO Lowers Estimated TARP Costs by 25% (Michelle Smith, 10/12/12, Moneynews)

The massive bailouts of 2008 are still a contentious issue, but those critics who point to the costs seem to have a little less ammunition, as the Congressional Business Office (CBO) now estimates that Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will cost $24 billion, 25 percent less than previously expected.

TARP was initially positioned to purchase troubled mortgage assets from banks, but was ultimately used to inject capital directly into financial institutions in return for preferred equity stakes, according to Forbes. 

The initial losses will not come from that first round of spending, as all of the initial bank investments have been repaid, Forbes added.

The main danger of TARP was always that it would work too well and offer temptation in the future.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Poll: Romney gaining ground in Ohio (Jennifer Martinez, 10/20/12, The Hill)

The poll found Obama now has a 49-to-48-percent advantage over Romney among likely voters in the battleground state.

PPP said Romney was able to tighten the gap in Ohio due to his seven-percentage-point lead over Obama among independents and a boost in Republican voters reporting that they plan to vote for the former Massachusetts governor. Roughly 90 percent of the Ohio Republican base said they would support Romney, up from 85 percent who gave the same answer a week ago.

The president also lost his advantages over Romney on two top issues: the economy and Libya. Romney leads Obama in Ohio on the economy by four percentage points. On Libya, Romney's lead was two percentage points. 

Half of Ohioans disapproved of Obama's job performance, compared with 48 percent who said they approved of it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Once-listless presidential race attracts intensity in closing weeks (Justin Sink, 10/21/12, The Hill)

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says the change in enthusiasm can be simplified down to one simple change: voters actually believe Romney can win the election.

"Americans like winners," O'Connell said. "There is no better cure for a lack of enthusiasm than instilling the belief in voters that a candidate can win."

The candidates also seem more engaged, showing a new willingness to mix it up on the campaign trail and aggressively target their opponents. On Friday, Obama debuted a new line of attack, mocking his opponent as suffering from "Romnesia" and suggesting he was abandoning the positions he staked out in the Republican primary.

...Mitt might nearly tie him for the female vote and get to 40% with Latinos.
Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Difference Engine: End of the electric car? (The Economist, Oct 15th 2012)

[T]he question becomes whether there is a more efficient way of packaging electricity for use in vehicles, other than charging batteries or making hydrogen by electrolysis of water?

A growing body of opinion seems to think liquid air is the answer (or, more specifically, the nitrogen component that makes up 78% of air). It is not exactly a new idea. Air was first liquefied in 1883, using essentially the same process as today--ie, compressing it to 200 atmospheres, cooling it to -190ºC, and then letting it suddenly expand and condense. The process turns 1,000 litres of transparent gas into 1.4 litres of light blue liquid.

As long as its storage container is well insulated, liquid air can be kept at atmospheric pressure for long periods. But on exposure to room temperature, it will instantly boil and revert back to its gaseous state. In the process, it expands 700-fold--providing the wherewithal to operate a piston engine or a turbine.

Liquid nitrogen does an even better job. Being considerably denser than liquid air, it can store more energy per unit volume, allowing cars to travel further on a tankful of the stuff. Weight for weight, liquid nitrogen packs much the same energy as the lithium-ion batteries used in laptops, mobile phones and electric cars. In terms of performance and range, then, a nitrogen vehicle is similar to an electric vehicle rather than a conventional one.

The big difference is that a liquid-nitrogen car is likely to be considerably cheaper to build than an electric vehicle. For one thing, its engine does not have to cope with high temperatures--and could therefore be fabricated out of cheap alloys or even plastics.

For another, because it needs no bulky traction batteries, it would be lighter and cheaper still than an electric vehicle. At present, lithium-ion battery packs for electric vehicles cost between $500 and $600 a kilowatt-hour. The Nissan Leaf has 24 kilowatt-hours of capacity. At around $13,200, the batteries account for more than a third of the car's $35,200 basic price. A nitrogen car with comparable range and performance could therefore sell for little more than half the price of an electric car.

A third advantage is that liquid nitrogen is a by-product of the industrial process for making liquid oxygen. Because there is four times as much nitrogen as oxygen in air, there is inevitably a glut of the stuff--so much so, liquid nitrogen sells in America for a tenth of the price of milk.

Finally, a breakthrough in engine design has made liquid nitrogen an even more attractive alternative than the lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars. An invention made by an independent British engineer called Peter Dearman dispenses with the costly heat exchanger that is needed to vaporise the liquid nitrogen quickly. Instead, a small amount of water and anti-freeze (eg, methanol) is injected into the cylinder just as the liquid nitrogen is drawn in, causing it to boil and expand rapidly--thereby forcing the piston down inside the the cylinder. "Without that," says Mr Dearman, "you had to have a multi-stage engine, which is cumbersome, inefficient and expensive."

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, the leading standards-setting and registration body for the profession, was so impressed with the Dearman Engine Company's developments that it has now established a working group comprising engineers, academics, government officials and industry leaders, to explore ways of exploiting liquid-nitrogen technology.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Making a moral case for capitalism (Arthur C. Brooks, 10/20/12, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Earlier this month in the first presidential debate, Mitt Romney made an unusual argument by modern political standards: that long-term deficit spending is not just an economic issue, but a moral one. "I think it's . . . not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation."

...against deficit spending, only a moral/aesthetic one.

October 20, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 PM


Romney as a Manager: Unhurried and Socratic (MICHAEL BARBARO, SHERYL GAY STOLBERG and MICHAEL WINES, 10/19/12, NY Times)

Mr. Romney's bid for the White House largely hinges on his own narrowly drawn image of himself as a chief executive: the data-splicing, cost-cutting turnaround expert. But dozens of interviews with those who have worked for him over the past 30 years -- in the Mormon Church, business, the Olympics and state government -- offer a far more textured portrait of the management style that he might bring to the presidency.

A serial chief executive, the Republican presidential nominee is steeped in management theory and eschews gut instincts. He is not so much a micromanager as a microprocessor, wading deeply into the raw data usually left to junior aides. He entrusts advisers with responsibility, but keeps them on a short leash, monitoring them through a flurry of progress reports and review sessions. Mr. Romney is, colleagues said, "conflict-avoidant." His decision-making process is unhurried and Socratic, his instinct to exhaustively debate and prod.

"He was not somebody who forced decisions to be made before they needed to," said Geoffrey Rehnert, a longtime executive at Bain Capital.

In his approach, there are intriguing echoes of and departures from presidents past. His intensely hands-on style sets him apart from George W. Bush, the self-styled chairman of the board, and Ronald Reagan, who cared only for the big picture and left dirt-under-the-fingernails policy work to his staff. His tendency to immerse himself in the details recalls Lyndon B. Johnson, who closeted himself with Pentagon brass to personally choose targets for American bombers during the Vietnam War. His passion for mastering policy and deliberative decision-making evokes the man he wishes to replace, Barack Obama.

Each president's style resonated across his administration, establishing how staff members functioned and how the public assessed them. "Everything flows from that Oval Office," said Mack McLarty, the chief of staff to Bill Clinton during his first term. "Everyone else, the chief of staff, cabinet members, really start to adapt and work with that."

The president's management, he said, "is the epicenter."

Mr. Romney has shown a genuine talent for recruiting disparate teams (luring top-flight business people into the governor's office), molding a workplace culture from scratch (as the founder of Bain Capital) and establishing priorities (as chief executive of the Olympics, he wrote down and distributed a list of "Five Guiding Principles.")

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 PM


Republicans find new hope in Pennsylvania (Manu Raju, October 20, 2012, Politico)

[E]ven if the conventional wisdom is that Pennsylvania still leans Democrat on the presidential and Senate map, the state was important enough for vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan to stump here Saturday, making a pit stop at an airport hangar to 800 cheering supporters brandishing signs bearing the words, "Pennsylvania believes."

Polls have shown there's a reason for Republicans to believe they have some hope here. Two public polls in the past 10 days have suggested that Smith's ad campaign -- where he's dubbed Casey as an "invisible senator" -- has erased the Democrat's double-digit lead, dropping his lead down to single digits, with an Allentown Morning Call poll even putting the Democrat's advantage at 2 points. According to a Quinnipiac poll, Romney has sliced Obama's 12-point lead down to 4, while a GOP poll released Friday even put Romney ahead by 4 points here, and Smith up by 2.

On top of that, Smith pulled off a rarity for a challenger against an incumbent senator, narrowly outraising Casey in the last quarter by pulling in $1.6 million from private donations.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


A power nap may be a productive time for your brain, study finds (AFP, October 20, 2012)

In a small study presented Wednesday at an annual meeting of neuroscientists, researchers found that when subjects rested, the two sides of the brain worked differently. The right side communicated busily with itself, while the left side remained relatively quiet. This was true regardless of whether the subject was right- or left-handed.

The right hemisphere "is doing important things in the resting state that we don't yet understand," says Andrei Medvedev, PhD, an assistant professor in the Centre for Functional and Molecular Imaging at Georgetown University in the US. "The brain could be doing some helpful housecleaning, classifying data, consolidating memories," Medvedev says. "That could explain the power of napping."

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Obama outspent Romney in September (T.W. Farnam, October 20, 2012, Washington Post)

President Obama is pressing his financial advantage over Republican Mitt Romney, spending more than twice as much money in September, according to new federal disclosure documents.

Obama's campaign spent $111 million last month compared to $55 million by Romney. Combined with their parties, Obama and the Democratic National Committee spent $139 million, while Romney and the Republican National Committee spent $103 million.

Money doesn't matter.
Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


U.S. Officials Say Iran Has Agreed to Nuclear Talks (HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER, 10/20/12, NY Times)

There is still a chance the initiative could fall through, even if Mr. Obama is re-elected. Iran has a long history of using the promise of diplomacy to ease international pressure on it. In this case, American officials said they were uncertain whether Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had signed off on the effort. The American understandings have been reached with senior Iranian officials who report to him, an administration official said.

Even if the two sides sit down, American officials worry that Iran could prolong the negotiations to try to forestall military action and enable it to complete critical elements of its nuclear program, particularly at underground sites. Some American officials would like to limit the talks to Iran's nuclear program, one official said, while Iran has indicated that it wants to broaden the agenda to include Syria, Bahrain and other issues that have bedeviled relations between Iran and the United States since the American hostage crisis in 1979.

"We've always seen the nuclear issue as independent," the administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter. "We're not going to allow them to draw a linkage."

The question of how best to deal with Iran has political ramifications for Mr. Romney as well. While he has accused Mr. Obama of weakness, he has given few specifics about what he would do differently.

Moreover, the prospect of one-on-one negotiations could put Mr. Romney in an awkward spot, since he has opposed allowing Iran to enrich uranium to any level -- a concession that experts say will probably figure in any deal on the nuclear program.

Beyond that, how Mr. Romney responds could signal how he would act if he becomes commander in chief. The danger of opposing such a diplomatic initiative is that it could make him look as if he is willing to risk another American war in the Middle East without exhausting alternatives.

It's an easy call for Mr. Romney, one he can use to torque up the pressure on the Ayatollah--just say that he welcomes the opportunity to travel to Tehran, as Ronald Reagan traveled to Moscow; to sit down with Mr. Khamenei himself; and to discuss the shared Iranian-American interests in normalized relations, democracy and self-determination for all the Shi'a of the Middle East and a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Braking, now steering: Is Nissan driving for us? (Richard Read,  20, 2012, CS Monitor)

We've all been in situations where we've been forced to hit the brakes because traffic has suddenly come to a stop or because a slower driver has jumped into our lane. Occasionally, we've even had to swerve to the side of the road or into another lane to avoid rear-ending the car in front of us. These are terrifying, life-flashing-before-your-eyes kind of moments.

Nissan's Autonomous Emergency Steering System doesn't make such situations any less harrowing, but it can handle all that braking and steering on its own. And since the system can never be distracted by text messages or spills of hot coffee, it's always on the lookout for danger -- meaning that it may notice problems earlier and bring your car to a more gentle stop.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Young Blood Reverses the Signs of Aging (ADAM CLARK ESTES, OCT 17, 2012, Atlantic)

The world has long been fascinated with the idea that the blood of young people could have rejuvenating qualities, like a glorious fountain of youth, only horrifying. Turns out the world is sort of right. 

A new study by researchers at Stanford University shows that injections of young blood can reverse the signs of aging in mice. The experiment is as simple as it sounds. Give an old mouse a syringe full of blood from a young mouse, and run some tests. Leader of the research team Saul Villeda and his team found that the boost of youth improved learning and memory in the older mice.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


America's Housing Market Is Shedding Dead Weight (Alex Klein, Oct 19, 2012, Daily Beast)

[A]ccording to new data from JP Morgan Chase, Americans may be shrugging off the foreclosure yoke once and for all.

Shadow Inventory

The chart shows that the number of delinquent mortgages is finally down to pre-2008 levels. The number of foreclosed real-estate units has also shrunk dramatically in the last couple of quarters. And the number of foreclosed homes repossessed by lenders (REO) is also down. As that colorful mountain of housing pain levels off, housing faces far fewer headwinds.

There are a few reasons for this. First, Americans are generally doing a better job keeping up with all sorts of financial obligations, thanks to the improving jobs market and changing consumer habits. Delinquency rates on credit cards, car loans, and mortgages have fallen to pre-crisis levels. That means fewer foreclosures and repossessions.

the ease with which Americans shed their credit puts paid to the notion that the 2008 crisis was credit driven.  It was just a matter of derivative fraud.
Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Obama's Stump Speech Boils Down to One Word (MARK LANDLER, 10/18/12, NY Times)

"I want your vote," the president said, in case anyone missed the point. "I am not too proud to beg. I want you to vote."

Asking supporters to vote might seem obvious, but in an election that looks as though it will hinge on turnout, it is all the more crucial. For the Obama campaign, the challenge is to overcome a decline in voter enthusiasm from 2008 that has existed throughout the year and has been aggravated by Mr. Obama's lackluster performance in the first presidential debate two weeks ago. [...]

The president's trip to New Hampshire underlines the importance of the state's four electoral votes. Along with Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nevada, New Hampshire is viewed as something of a firewall for the Obama campaign. If he carries New Hampshire, he could withstand losses in Florida, Colorado and Virginia.

There's one group you can guarantee will turn out--and that's bad news for Mr. Obama--the 6% of Nevadans who are Mormon.
Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Romney is winning the white vote -- by a lot (Aaron Blake, October 18, 2012, Washington Post)

[E]ven if Romney sustains a huge loss on the Latino vote, he could very well offset that (and much more) by out-performing his Republican predecessors when it comes to white voters, which are still about seven times as much of the electorate as Latinos. Indeed, it's not unreasonable to think that Romney could win 60 percent or more of white voters this year.

The most recent national polls from four pollsters -- Gallup, Monmouth University, Fox News and the Pew Research Center -- all show Romney winning the white vote by more than 20 points. That's something no GOP presidential candidate has done since Reagan's landslide 1984 reelection win.

Now imagine if he makes "immigration reform" a priority.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Liberalism's shrinking agenda (Michael Gerson, October 18, 2012, Washington Post)

Obama has largely set out to protect past ambitions, not project new ones.

This may be the fate of any political liberal during a fiscal crisis. It is hard to be Lyndon Johnson with a trillion-dollar deficit. But the Obama agenda also reflects a broader shift in American liberalism, which has become reactive. Liberals often defend unreformed, unsustainable health entitlements -- even though these commitments place increasing burdens on the young to benefit those who are older and better off. They often defend the unrestricted right to abortion -- even though it represents a contraction of the circle of social inclusion and protection. They often defend the educational status quo -- even though it is one of the nation's main sources of racial and economic injustice.

Others have termed this "reactionary liberalism." It is more the protection of accumulated interests than the application of creative reform to new problems. In the place of idealism, there is often anger. When Obama failed in his first debate, liberals were generally not critical that he lacked idealism. They were angry that he wasn't sufficiently angry. The fondest hopes and dreams of many on the left were apparently fulfilled in Joe Biden's sneer.

As a conservative, I can't endorse every policy of the Great Society -- some were essential, others counterproductive. But America was better off because liberals called attention to those in the dawn, the twilight and the shadows of life. And U.S. politics is worse off because liberalism has become a shadow of its former self.

The problem is that the task of making Great Society liberalism sustainable is now essentially the domain of Third Way conservatives, like Paul Ryan.  This should be a cause that moderate Democrats can embrace, but because it identifies them too closely with Republicans they are generally unable to do so.  It is only those figures who lead parties of the Left back from the wilderness by running on such reforms who can get away with this sort of moderation--Tony Blair & Bill Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Mitt Romney pushes into battle ground states of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire weeks before presidential election (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 10/20/12,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

The Republicans forged into the swing states of Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, which the GOP had previously appeared resigned to ceding to President Obama.

Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, ripped Obama's energy policy to a crowd at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

"Gas prices are more than double what they were four years ago - who knows what they're going to be if he got four more years," Ryan said. "Not only are these policies wrong, they...cost us jobs."

The GOP also bought ad time on Boston television stations, which broadcast into the state directly north.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Obama's Hope Fades in Virginia (ROBERT STACY MCCAIN, 10.18.12, RCP)

As recently as Oct. 2, a Roanoke College poll reported President Obama leading by 8 points in Virginia, but in the past two weeks, the Old Dominion has shifted sharply toward the GOP challenger. Romney has led five of the seven most recent polls and, although the RCP average for Virginia still shows Obama with razor-thin lead, the Republicans here sense a strong enough momentum to carry them to victory on Nov. 6.

Anyone driving through this part of the state would notice the proliferation of yard signs for Romney, his running mate Paul Ryan and Allen's Senate campaign, while signs for Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the Democrat Senate hopeful, Tim Kaine, are surprisingly rare. Albemarle County is anchored by the liberal enclave at the UVA campus -- where the faculty probably has more Marxists than Republicans -- and thus leans toward Democrats at election time. Even in 2004, a high-water year for the GOP, Democrat John Kerry eked out a 51-48 percent win in this county over President Bush, who carried Virginia 54-46 percent. But what happened here in 2008 -- when Obama became the first Democrat to win Virginia since Lyndon Johnson did it in 1964 -- was a wipeout that crushed Republicans. Boosted by student enthusiasm, Obama won Albemarle County by a 19-point margin, with some 7,000 more votes than Kerry got in 2004, part of a statewide wave that helped the Democrat win Virginia by more than 200,000 votes, 53-47 percent.

This year, however, the shiny newness that made Obama such a historical phenomenon four years ago has worn off, as Hope and Change have given way to economic stagnation and political gridlock. Nearly all the excitement now -- in Virginia, as across the country -- is on the Republican side and, with less than three weeks remaining until Election Day, it appears unlikely the Obama campaign can close the "enthusiasm gap" that has broken wide open since Romney's decisive win in the first debate. Although the grassroots core of the Democratic Party was somewhat encouraged by Biden's performance in last week's vice-presidential debate and Obama's showing in Tuesday's town-hall debate, neither of those seemed to have the impact of Romney's stunning Oct. 3 breakthrough. The Gallup tracking poll released Wednesday showed Romney surging to a six-point lead nationally -- with the GOP challenger clearing the critical 50-percent threshold -- and there are now clear indicators that even Obama's campaign leadership knows the president's re-election chances are dwindling.

The Democrats are evidently shrinking their Electoral College map, in what looks like a defensive "triage" strategy to win just enough states to hold on to the White House. Team Obama already appears to have written off North Carolina, which the president narrowly won in 2008, but which he hasn't visited since the Democratic convention in Charlotte early last month. In a remarkable interview with National Journal's Major Garrett, top Obama strategist David Plouffe suggested that the Democrat is prepared to fall back to a last-ditch defense of just four battleground states -- Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, and New Hampshire -- that would provide enough of an Electoral College cushion for Obama to squeak past to re-election. That would mean ceding not only North Carolina but also Colorado, Florida, and Virginia to Romney, and might permit the Republican turnout operation to maximize its margins in those states without the battering "headwind" of Democrat attack ads. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


After Romney Gains, Should Obama Concede Florida? (NATE SILVER, 10/20/12, NY Times)

[F]lorida has been polled so densely that the overall trend has become clear: Mr. Romney has made larger-than-average gains in the state since the Denver debate, and has now become a definitive favorite there.

According to the FiveThirtyEight "now-cast" on Friday, Mr. Romney would be a 78 percent favorite to win Florida in an election held today. Projecting forward to Nov. 6 introduces a bit more uncertainty, but he's now a 69 percent favorite to carry the state on Election Day, according to the model.

Mr. Romney's gains in Florida call into question how vigorously the campaigns should be contesting it over the final two weeks of the campaign. Mr. Romney might consider relaxing his efforts there, while Mr. Obama's campaign might consider de-emphasizing the state.

...what swing state is the UR likely to hold onto?  Isn't this just a matter of FL being a state where the polling is especially good?

October 19, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


America needs a turnaround, which is why I'm voting Romney (Lee Iacocca, 10/19/20, Detroit News)

I've seen a lot of situations that needed a turnaround in my time, and I know one when I see one. Trust me, America needs a turnaround.

America is in deep trouble. After four years, economic growth is still anemic, our annual deficits were not cut in half as promised, and our staggering $16 trillion federal debt hangs over us and our kids like the plague. Our people are hurting, they can't find jobs, they have lost a major part of their net worth, the number of Americans living in poverty is at unacceptable levels, and we just aren't doing the things that would get our country back on the right track.

Like any turnaround it must begin by honestly facing our problems; hope and speeches won't get our people back to work. It will require experienced leadership that can create and lead policy change that will enable a more robust and competitive America. We need leadership that understands that government, just like American families, can't continue to spend beyond its means. We must find leadership that won't pander to the people, but rather will speak honestly to them about our situation, explaining in simple terms what we have to do to get back on the right track. And we need leadership that can bring us together in a sense of shared responsibility so that we can move forward as a team. All of us. As Americans.

Mitt Romney has successfully led both public and private sector turnarounds.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


U.S. description of Benghazi attacks, at first cautious, changed after 3 days (Hannah Allam and Jonathan S. Landay,  McClatchy Newspapers)

 In the first 48 hours after the deadly Sept. 11 attacks on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya, senior Obama administration officials strongly alluded to a terrorist assault and repeatedly declined to link it to an anti-Muslim video that drew protests elsewhere in the region, transcripts of briefings show.

The administration's initial accounts, however, changed dramatically in the following days, according to a review of briefing transcripts and administration statements, with a new narrative emerging Sept. 16 when U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice asserted in a series of TV appearances that the best information available indicated that the attack had spun off from a protest over the video. [...]

[T]he administration's statements offer an ironic twist on the "fog-of-war" phenomenon: They apparently were more accurate on the day after the attacks than they were when Rice made her TV appearances four days later. Administration officials so far have provided no detailed explanation for the change.

...is the delicious spectacle of the Right backtracking on their own accusations and defending the innocent Arab Street.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Ford's quirky Flex station wagon finds niche in California (Jerry Hirsch, October 19, 2012, LA Times)

This is an odd vehicle - kind of a 1950s' Woody meets a 1970s Ford Country Squire station wagon. [...]

 "The Flex reminds people of the old Woody wagons and the beach lifestyle that went with them, which is very closely linked to the California lifestyle," said Alan Mulally, Ford's chief executive.  The Flex's versatility, or 'flexibility' in terms of space for family, friends, equipment and more, is very appealing for buyers who want that capability but do not want a minivan."

They have to sell more per capita in NH.  It's the ideal Hockey Dad car.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Transcript, video: Mitt Romney jokes at the Alfred E. Smith dinner (Craig Newman, October 18, 2012, Chicago Sun-Times)

I'm pleased to once again have the chance to see Governor Cuomo who's already being talked about for higher office. A very impressive fellow, but he may be getting a little ahead of himself. I mean, let me get this straight, the man has put in one term as a governor. He has a father who happened to be a governor, and he thinks that's enough to run for president.

Of course we're down to the final months of the president's term, as presidents...


...as President Obama surveys the Waldorf banquet room with everyone in white tie and refinery, you have to wonder what he's thinking. So little time, so much to redistribute.


And don't be surprised if the president mentions this evening the monthly jobs report where there was a slight improvement in the numbers. He knows how to seize the moment, this president. And already has a compelling new campaign slogan, "You're better off now than you were four weeks ago."


You know, with or without all the dignitaries that are here, the Al Smith dinner surely lives up to its billing. Usually when I get invited to gatherings like this, it's just to be the designated driver.


Your kind hospitality here tonight gives me a chance to convey my deep and long held respect for the Catholic church. I have special admiration for the Apostle St. Peter, to whom it is said, "Upon this rock, I will build my church." The story is all the more inspiring when you consider that he had so many skeptics and scoffers at the time who were heard to say, "If you've got a church, you didn't build that."

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


Obama invents new condition: 'Romnesia' (Jerry Markon, October 19, 2012, Washington Post)

President Obama fired up nearly 10,000 supporters in Virginia on Friday by debuting a new line of attack on Mitt Romney, accusing him of having "Romnesia" for changing his positions and trying to move to the political center.

The Romney strategy is based on spending the closing weeks of the campaign reminding swing voters that his career--as opposed to his primary rhetoric--demonstrates that he's a moderate to liberal Republican.  Help from the Obama camp in driving that point home can only be welcome. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


Our pick for president: Romney (Orlando Sentinel, 10/19/12)

With Obama in charge, the federal government came perilously close to a default last year. Now it's lurching toward another crisis with the impending arrival of massive tax hikes and spending cuts on Jan. 1.

The next president is likely to be dealing with a Congress where at least one, if not both, chambers are controlled by Republicans. It verges on magical thinking to expect Obama to get different results in the next four years.

Two years ago, a bipartisan panel the president appointed recommended a 10-year, $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan. Rather than embrace it and sell it to the American people, Obama took his own, less ambitious plan to Congress, where it was largely ignored by both parties.

Now the president and his supporters are attacking Romney because his long-term budget blueprint calls for money-saving reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, three of the biggest drivers of deficit spending. Obama would be more credible in critiquing the proposal if he had a serious alternative for bringing entitlement spending under control. He doesn't.

Romney is not our ideal candidate for president. We've been turned off by his appeals to social conservatives and immigration extremists. Like most presidential hopefuls, including Obama four years ago, Romney faces a steep learning curve on foreign policy.

But the core of Romney's campaign platform, his five-point plan, at least shows he understands that reviving the economy and repairing the government's balance sheet are imperative -- now, not four years in the future.

Romney has a strong record of leadership to run on. He built a successful business. He rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics from scandal and mismanagement. As governor of Massachusetts, he worked with a Democrat-dominated legislature to close a $3billion budget deficit without borrowing or raising taxes, and pass the health plan that became a national model.

This is Romney's time to lead, again.

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


Obama spinning toward a loss (A.B. Stoddard, 10/18/12, The Hill)
President Obama is losing. So says the latest Gallup poll, and so do those swelling numbers in key states like Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia and Ohio. [...]

Obama can expect, even if he wins another debate on Oct. 22, that this will remain a tight race or that Romney will begin to break away at the end. Obama's September surge resulted from an increase in Democratic enthusiasm, which is waning. As Romney has hardened his support among Republicans, he is also winning over new voters, leaving Obama with the task of exciting his base of Latinos, women, African-Americans and young voters. Without enough of them he loses. With less than three weeks to go it's hard to see where he finds that excitement.

...the UR has to try to gin up the base, in a way that's necessarily broadly divisive, just to try to prevent a total blow-out.

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Romney all but erases Obama's polling lead on foreign policy (Julian Pecquet, 10/18/12, Hotline)
Mitt Romney has all but erased President Obama's lead on foreign policy issues in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, according to a Pew poll released Thursday. [...]

A separate Pew poll taken last week, also released Thursday, found that a large chunk of independent voters disapprove of Obama's handling of the Libya situation, possibly helping Romney with a bloc of voters that could decide the election.

The second poll found that while the general public was split evenly on Obama's handling of the attack, independents were more likely to disapprove of the president's handling of the situation, 40 percent to 28 percent. 

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Posted by orrinj at 5:36 AM


Poll: Romney takes lead over Obama in Pa. (Myles Snyde, 10/18/12, WHTM)

The poll conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research on behalf of the Republican State Committee of Pennsylvania found that 49 percent of likely voters now support Romney while 45 percent plan to vote for Obama. [...]

Romney has a strong lock on the GOP vote, winning Republicans by an 86-9 margin, while still gathering 18 percent of the Democratic vote and leading by 12 points among registered Independents, 47-35 percent, according to the poll.

The poll also found that Republican Senate candidate Tom Smith now leads Democratic U.S. Senator Bob Casey, 48-46 percent. Casey led Smith 48-45 percent in an SP&R poll conducted October 12-14.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


For Obama and Romney, small New Hampshire could have a big impact (Dan Balz, October 18, 2012, Washington Post)

Recent public polls have produced conflicting portraits of the state of play here. One showed Obama with a six-point lead, while others show the race statistically tied. Obama campaign advisers say they hold the lead now and are confident they can keep it. Romney campaign officials say the race is a tossup. Democrats not working directly for the president's campaign say they see a tie. In fact, they say that every top race in the state is tight.

"You could put a piece of paper between the two candidates right now," Nick Clemons, a Democratic strategist with long ties to New Hampshire politics, said of the presidential race. "Both congressional races are very tight. The governor's race is neck-and-neck. It's a classic New Hampshire election."

...Mitt will carry in Ovide Lamontaigne as governor and defend both House seats.
Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


Republicans point to early vote gains in Ohio (Peter Hamby, 10/18/12, CNN)

Since early and absentee voting began on October 2, more than 1.4 million Ohio voters have voted or requested an absentee ballot. Almost a third of Ohio voted early in 2008, and Democrats expect that number to be even higher in 2012.

But Republicans have polished their early vote operation since 2008.

Four years ago, Democrats made up about 42% of the early and absentee vote while Republicans made up 22% - a dismal 20-point deficit that contributed to Sen. John McCain's defeat in Ohio.

Through Wednesday, however, the margin has narrowed: Democrats account for 36% of the early and absentee vote while Republicans make up for 29%.

Republicans are outperforming their voter registration in several of the state's biggest counties.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Barack Obama and the Perilous Politics of Progress (Carson Holloway, October 15th, 2012, Public Discourse)

While the president's vanity shows itself in his thinking that he is better at ordinary politics than he really is, his grandiosity is manifested in his desire to transcend ordinary politics, to do really big and memorable things. President Obama's ambition is not merely to execute the office of the presidency in a dignified and competent manner, but to enact policy changes that will vault him into the ranks of the few lastingly consequential presidents.

It is safe to conclude that this grandiosity is an authentic expression of his character, since he reveals it in both public and private arenas. He has told the world that he wants to "fundamentally transform" America and even that he hopes his presidency will allow the "planet" to begin to "heal." In private he has told his Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, that a presidential legacy of preventing a second Great Depression is "not enough for me."

It would be unfair to deny that there is something impressive in the president's grandiosity, that it is nobler than the petty aims of the ordinary politician who seems ambitious mainly to enjoy the honor and power that accompanies high office. Nevertheless, this grandiosity has also carried serious costs for the president himself, for his party, and for the country. He wants to do big things; but big things are difficult and therefore of necessity controversial. Thus his ambitions have turned out to be self-frustrating. He wanted to be, and promised to be, a unifying figure; yet the ambitious character of his legislative program has made him among the more polarizing presidents in our history. His presidency has strained considerably the bonds of civic friendship among Americans and made political cooperation more difficult at a time when it is all the more demanded by looming fiscal problems.

...think of how little his presidency will have achieved--extending W's War on Terror, appointing two rather moderate justices, and passing the mandate that Republican health care reforms require.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Behind Closed Doors, Romney at Peace as Vote Nears (Scott Conroy, October 18, 2012, Real Clear Politics)

"A couple weeks ago, everybody was talking about the campaign in such negative terms, and I think in many ways that totally clarified for the governor why he was running and what was at stake and the importance of the election," Madden said. "It really focused him. It really did."

Madden said that Romney has "found real comfort" in his political career's rapidly approaching D-Day, and has conveyed privately that he is now considering more seriously the tall task that will greet him should everything goes as hoped for on Election Day.

"He seems to be more inclined to think about how he's going to govern," Madden said. "He has said in some conversations that he recognizes what an enormous challenge it's going to be because it is going to be a very close election, and he sort of welcomes that."

Romney advisers emphasized that the GOP standard-bearer is by nature too disciplined and focused to dwell at length on his potential transition into the White House. But several added that Romney has been buoyed visibly by the palpable surge in enthusiasm surrounding his campaign the last couple of weeks.

The former Massachusetts governor was able to secure his party's nomination in no small part because he convinced enough Republican partisans that he is the candidate best able to defeat President Obama, even if he wasn't able to elicit the loudest cheers from supporters.

But now Romney is being greeted regularly by crowds that are both large and boisterous. Senior adviser Ron Kaufman traveled regularly with the candidate four years ago when Romney typically held four or five events a day but rarely drew more than a couple hundred people to them. That sleepy dynamic has changed dramatically, and the new one is rubbing off on Romney's psyche.

"I've never seen a Republican candidate -- even an incumbent, other than Reagan -- getting the crowds that Mitt's getting today," Kaufman said. "We were in Ohio last weekend and literally, over three days, every crowd was 8-, 9-, 10,000 people. It pumps you up, you know."

It is a political cliché that every campaign is a reflection of the candidate, but the sense of calm optimism is indeed seen in those who surround Romney. The members of his inner circle acknowledge that the race is essentially a tossup according to the polls, but each of them is buoyed by their faith in Romney's ability to pull it out in the end.

It's a special moment in a campaign when you reach that point of peace.
Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


For Democrats, It's Not 2008 Any More : With Romney ahead of Obama nationally, 2004 is more instructive in assessing the House. (Josh Kraushaar, October 18, 2012, National Journal)

One of House Democrats' favorite talking points this cycle has dwelled on one statistic: the number of Republicans holding seats in districts that President Obama carried in 2008 and the newly created seats that the president won (66).  It's a reminder of the days of yore, intended to demonstrate that the midterm wave in 2010 was something of a fluke. But the real revelation this year - and why House Democrats aren't close to netting the 25 seats to take back the majority - is how far the president's standing has fallen from four years ago.

With Mitt Romney running ahead of Obama nationally, 2004 is shaping up to be a much more instructive baseline for the upcoming elections than Obama's historic win in 2008. Indeed, only eight House Republicans hold districts that John Kerry won in 2004. That, more than anything, explains how the Democratic expectation of being within striking distance of the majority is falling far short of reality. 

October 18, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Obama Won the Debate but Is Losing the Argument : On the essential question of who would be better at handling the economy, CNN found Mitt Romney ahead by 58% to 40%. (KARL ROVE, 10/18/12, WSJ)

The president and his advisers have been so intent on disqualifying Mr. Romney that they have done a miserable job defending the president's record and virtually nothing to frame a second-term agenda. Meanwhile, according to Pew Research Center polls conducted in mid-September and early October, the president's favorability ratings among all voters have declined to 49% from 55%.

The apparent boomerang of the attack ads may explain the sudden disappearance this week of the Obama television ads smashing Mr. Romney. They've been replaced with gauzy spots heralding Mr. Obama's great success in restoring prosperity and jobs. These claims are so at odds with reality that even Morgan Freeman's sonorous voice-over can't rescue these "Morning in America" wannabe ads.

Gallup reported on Sept. 9 that only 30% of the public is "satisfied" with the condition of the country. The Oct. 13 Washington Post/ABC poll found that 56% think the country is "off on the wrong track." The rates of unemployment, second-quarter GDP growth and labor-force participation are all worse than they were three weeks before any modern presidential re-election. Mr. Obama's status-quo, stay-the-course campaign will be a hard sell with a public that wants change.

That's reflected in polling data. Mr. Obama led 49.1% to 45% in an average of national polls conducted about one week before the candidates' first debate. In national surveys taken since then, Mr. Romney averages 47.4% to Mr. Obama's 46.9%. The Republican candidate continues to lead among independent voters. In eight recent national polls, an average 49% of the likely independent voters say they support Mr. Romney, while 37% favor Mr. Obama.

On Monday Mr. Romney reached 50% in Gallup's daily tracking of likely voters--something Mr. Obama has not yet been able to do. No other presidential candidate has been at 50% or higher at this point in the race in this survey and lost.

The movement in the race is reflected by rising poll numbers for Mr. Romney in at least 20 states, including the battlegrounds of Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, Ohio, Nevada, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania. Mr. Romney is now ahead in the first three.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Will Conservatives Keep Tolerating Mitt's New Moderation? (Alec MacGillis, October 17, 2012, New Republic)

1. Talking up the taxpayer-funded scholarship program he oversaw in Massachusetts and vowing to increase Pell Grants (a reversal of Romney's campaign plank to cut less needy students from the grant rolls): "When I was governor of Massachusetts, to get a high school degree, you had to pass an exam. If you graduated in the top quarter of your class, we gave you a John and Abigail Adams scholarship, four years tuition free in the college of your choice in Massachusetts, it's a public institution. I want to make sure we keep our Pell grant program growing."

2. Talking up the affirmative action he practiced as governor. "And--and so we--we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks,' and they brought us whole binders full of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America." Leave aside the comedic potential of "binders full of women," or the fact that Romney did not in fact go to the women's groups, as he describes (they came to him)--what he was doing in this riff is giving a full-throated endorsement of the sort of diversity-in-the-workplace policies many conservatives deride.

3. Framing his stance in the contraception debate defensively, without the "war on religion" line from earlier in the campaign: "I'd just note that I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives. And the president's statement of my policy is completely and totally wrong."

4. Seeming to endorse something along the lines of the American Dream Act for young people in the country illegally: "The kids of those that came here illegally, those kids, I think, should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States and military service, for instance, is one way they would have that kind of pathway to become a permanent resident." In the past, Romney has held out this pathway only for people in the military; here, he stated it much more broadly.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Housing industry recovering faster than many economists expected (Alejandro Lazo and Jim Puzzanghera, 10/17/12, Los Angeles Times)

Housing is snapping back faster than many economists had expected, with home builders stepping up production of new homes nationally and fresh foreclosures in California falling to their lowest level since the early days of the bust.

Demand for housing has surged as interest rates have plummeted and home prices in many markets appear to have bottomed, particularly in states such as California where inventories of foreclosures and other lower-priced homes have sunk. The turnaround in prices and record-low supply of newly built homes also are luring builders back after six years of pain.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Moore's Law: The rule that really matters in tech : In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore foresaw an inexorable rise in chip power that eventually delivered the computer to your pocket. While long in the tooth, Moore's prediction still has plenty of life in it. Here's why. (Stephen Shankland  October 15, 2012, C-Net)

[M]oore's Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, who 47 years ago predicted a steady, two-year cadence of chip improvements, keeps defying the pessimists because a brigade of materials scientists like Mayberry continue to find ways of stretching today's silicon transistor technology even as they dig into alternatives. (Such as, for instance, super-thin sheets of carbon graphene.)

Oh, and don't forget the money that's driving that hunt for improvement. IDC predicts chip sales will rise from $315 billion this year to $380 billion in 2016. For decades, that revenue has successfully drawn semiconductor research out of academia, through factories, and into chips that have powered everything from a 1960s mainframe to a 2012 iPhone 5.

The result: Moore's Law has long passed being mere prognostication. It's the marching order for a vast, well-funded industry with a record of overcoming naysayers' doubts. Researchers keep finding ways to maintain a tradition that two generations ago would have been science fiction: That computers will continue to get smaller even as they get more powerful.

"If you're only using the same technology, then in principle you run into limits. The truth is we've been modifying the technology every five or seven years for 40 years, and there's no end in sight for being able to do that," said Mayberry, vice president of Intel's Technology and Manufacturing Group.

Better machines. More wealth. Less work.
Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Demographic Dead End? Barack Obama's Single Nation (Joel Kotkin Oct 18, 2012, Daily Beast)

[E]ven as the president has slipped in the polls, the fast-growing Single Nation has stayed behind him. Unmarried women prefer Obama by nearly 20 points (56 to 39 percent), according to Gallup, while those who are married prefer Romney by a similarly large margin. 

Unmarried women (along with ethnic minorities, the poor and the workers in the public bureaucracy) are rapidly becoming a core constituency of the Democratic party, in a sense replacing the ethnic white working class.

And while single women have long been ignored (or at least not courted directly) by national politicians, Democrats are now taking direct aim--as in the Life of Julia campaign, where every milestone in her life is marked by the government benefit she'd receive under President Obama's hubby state. Democratic strategists such as Stanley Greenberg also urge targeting singles, particularly "single women," whom he calls "the largest progressive voting bloc in the country."

They aren't progressive, just dependent.  Sadly, the future of the Second Way depends on keeping them that way.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Romney Following Reagan's Lead: Two Down, One To Go For The Presidency (Thomas Del Beccaro, 10/17/2012, Forbes)

For a challenger to win, most often, at least two and preferably three things must occur:

people must believe the current conditions, economic or otherwise, are not good enough (a must),

the challenger must appear voter friendly and up to the job (nearly a must), and

the challenger should provide a viable alternative to the incumbent (preferably so, especially if the challenger wants a mandate).

In this election, the public believes the current situation is not good enough by a wide margin. [...]

Romney then used the first two debate just as Reagan did in his only debate appearance with Carter in 1980. Reagan was likeable, confident, in command and proved he belonged on the stage. Romney has done the same.  In other words, Romney completed two out of the three key steps Reagan took to beat an incumbent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Moderate Mitt wins conservatives' blessings (Dana Milbank, October 17, 2012, Washington Post)

Key to the success of Romney's Etch a Sketch movement has been the cooperation of conservatives, who have been unusually docile in the face of the candidate's heresies: pledging not to enact a tax cut that adds to the deficit, promising not to decrease the share of taxes paid by the wealthy, vowing not to slash education funding, praising financial regulations, insisting that he would make health insurers cover preexisting conditions and disavowing his earlier claim that 47 percent of Americans are parasites living off of the government.

At Tuesday night's debate, Romney continued his sprint to the center. He took pains to say he is "so different" from George W. Bush. He asserted that "every woman in America should have access to contraceptives," and, on immigration, he said the children of illegal immigrants "should have a pathway to become a permanent resident of the United States." After a primary battle in which GOP candidates tried to out-tough each other on immigration, Romney said that he was in agreement with President Obama and that "I'm not in favor of rounding up people."

October 17, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Obama, Romney have similar basic views on education (Howard Blume, 10/12/12, Los Angeles Times)

When it comes to fundamental education issues, in fact, the presidential candidates have similar positions:

Both support an overhaul in how teachers are evaluated, calling for students' standardized test scores as one measure of teachers' effectiveness.

Both back the growth of publicly funded charter schools, most of which are non-union and operate independently of school district control.

Both want to make it more difficult for instructors to earn and retain tenure, in an effort to more easily dismiss teachers. And when budget crises force districts to shed teachers, the two candidates want to end layoffs that are based on seniority and instead dismiss low-performing teachers first.

Both also support paying more to effective teachers, a move that unions mostly decry as unsuccessful and divisive.

"There's not much difference between the two candidates on education," said author Paul Tough, who has written about trends in school reform. Many of those proposals that "started as Republican ideas have become accepted Democratic ideas now. There is now a kind of orthodoxy, and it is surprising how much it's been embraced by the Obama administration."

Or it would be surprising were he not orthodox.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Ari Mendelson's fine satire of modern academia, Bias Incident, is up for Book of the Month at the Freedom Book Club--vote early, vote often....

And John Fonte, who contributed to our Sovereignty book, just won the 2012 Henry Paolucci/Walter Bagehot Book Award for his book, Sovereignty or Submission: Will Americans Rule Themselves or be Ruled by Others?

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Flemish nationalism: a new landscape : The results of Belgium's local elections has brought victory in the northern Flanders region to the conservative and nationalist but democratic New Flemish Alliance. This represents the transformation of Flemish nationalism (Cas Mudde, 10/15/12, OpenDemocracy)

Insofar as the international press took any interest in Belgium's local elections on 14 October 2012, the story it found there was about the rise of separatism. The Washington Post got in early with a headline the previous day: "As EU basks in Peace Prize glory, separatists from Belgium to Spain are on the march" (nationalists tend never to be "on the rise" but ever "on the march"). And like virtually all other media, the Huffington Post summarised the local elections as follows: "Big separatist gains in local Belgian elections."

But rather than the rise of Flemish nationalism, the local elections were about the transformation of Flemish nationalism. [...]

The VB is not dead yet, as VB chairman Bruno Valkeniers declared with a degree of pathos as the results came in; but the party is (for the moment) no longer relevant in Flemish politics. This also means that Flemish nationalism is now squarely back in the conservative, but liberal-democratic, camp. Paradoxically, this makes it actually more threatening to the Belgian state. Because while radical-right Flemish nationalism could be contained by a cordon sanitaire, conservative Flemish nationalism cannot.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Britain Losing Allegiance to the EU (Ralf Neukirch, Christoph Pauly, Christoph Scheuermann and Christoph Schult, 10/16/12, Der Spiegel)
David Cameron knows that if there is one thing that pleases his fellow party members, it's a rant against Brussels. At last week's Tory party conference in Birmingham, it didn't take long before the British prime minister had his audience in high spirits.

Cameron reminded his listeners of the negotiations with other European Union member states over the fiscal pact last December. "There were 25 people in the room, urging me to sign," he said proudly. "And still I said no." The reaction was predictable, with the delegates applauding enthusiastically.
The Tories had understood the message Cameron was trying to convey, namely that the government in London no longer has much in common with Europe. The British want to have no part of further integration on the continent, and they also want to withdraw from many areas of policy in which they have been involved in Brussels so far.

The new approach has sweeping consequences for the European Union. Cameron's stance has already prompted the Germans to rethink their approach. Chancellor Angela Merkel had long hoped that a permanent division of the EU could be avoided. She had repeatedly said privately that one should not give the British the feeling that they are no longer part of Europe, and that the door must be kept open for London.

Those hopes have now been dashed. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Chelsea Clinton steps up to fight diarrhea deaths in Nigeria (Julie Steenhuysen, 16 Oct, 2012, Reuters)

Chelsea Clinton is taking on the discomforting issue of diarrhea, throwing her family's philanthropic heft behind a sweeping effort in Nigeria to prevent the deaths of 1 million mothers and children each year from preventable causes, including 100,000 deaths from diarrhea.

The 32-year-old daughter of President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Nigerian officials, the prime minister of Norway and other leaders on Tuesday in promoting expanded access to zinc and oral rehydration solutions or ORS, a treatment that could prevent more than 90 percent of diarrhea-related deaths in the country.

"It is unconscionable that in the 21st century, children still die of diarrhea," Clinton told Reuters in an exclusive interview by phone from Abuja, Nigeria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Let's Be Less Productive (TIM JACKSON, May 26, 2012, NY Times)

Productivity -- the amount of output delivered per hour of work in the economy -- is often viewed as the engine of progress in modern capitalist economies. Output is everything. Time is money. The quest for increased productivity occupies reams of academic literature and haunts the waking hours of C.E.O.'s and finance ministers. Perhaps forgivably so: our ability to generate more output with fewer people has lifted our lives out of drudgery and delivered us a cornucopia of material wealth.

But the relentless drive for productivity may also have some natural limits. [...] If more is possible each passing year with each working hour, then either output has to increase or else there is less work to go around. 

Only in America could we consider it a problem that we create ever more wealth with ever less work.  Oddly, people seem to be convincing themselves that the point of a national economy is to create the latter rather than the former.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Romney 50%, Obama 46% Among Likely Voters ( Lydia Saad, 10/16/12, Gallup)

Half of likely voters now prefer Mitt Romney for president and 46% back President Barack Obama in Gallup interviewing through Monday.

The thing to remember is that W was basically at 50% all Fall in 2004 and never more that the margin of error away from that magic number.

2004 Presidential Trial Heats

Compare that with Mr. Obama, who can't get to 50.  Folks don't suddenly change their minds about incumbents.

Can Romney Expand the Map? (Dick Morris, October 17, 2012, RCP)

[H]is campaign and the PACs supporting him could find it easier to win some states not initially designated as swing or battleground states than some of those that have been in the campaign cross hairs all along. In these new states -- like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and even New Jersey -- Romney does not have the high negatives Obama's ads have given him in states like Ohio, New Hampshire and Nevada. Their voters' main impression of Romney comes from a very good convention speech and a spectacular performance in the first debate.

The Romney campaign and the PACs supporting the Republican should raise their sights and put major efforts and funding into these new swing states. It is entirely possible, for example, that Romney could lose Ohio and carry Michigan or Wisconsin, thereby winning the election anyway.

In Michigan, for example, a private statewide poll conducted on Oct. 4 showed Obama ahead by 46-40. A follow-up poll by the same firm on Oct. 13 showed him ahead by only 44-43. A poll by McLaughlin and Associates -- a very reputable Republican firm -- showed Romney leading in Pennsylvania 49-46, and Tom Smith, the Republican Senate candidate, only 2 points behind Democratic incumbent Bob Casey Jr. (46-44). Another private poll shows Romney only 4 points behind Obama in Minnesota. All three of these polls offer encouraging evidence that broadening the campaign's sights to include these new swing states could be a very effective strategy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


Obama Wins Second Debate, But Romney Scores With Centrist, Likable Storyline (Peter Beinart Oct 17, 2012, Daily Beast)

[I]t's possible this race is no longer about Barack Obama. For days I've struggled to figure out why the first debate so dramatically shifted the polls. I don't think it's mostly because Obama was lousy. After all, most Americans have seen Obama speak well dozens of times; they know he just had an off night. The first debate moved the polls because Obama, through his passivity, allowed Romney to shine. Romney came across as competent, moderate and normal, something he hadn't managed all summer.

And I suspect--or should I say, fear--that the reason the polls moved so much is that there were a lot of voters who had tuned Obama out as a result of the bad economy. They were ready to vote against him so long as Romney passed a reasonable threshold, which he did. We've seen this before in presidential campaigns: In 1980, Americans were looking for an excuse to vote against the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, and so what mattered most in the debates was that Reagan didn't look like a right-wing maniac. In 2008, Americans were looking for an excuse to vote against the de facto incumbent, John McCain, and so what mattered most in the debates was that Obama didn't look like a novice. If the debates are really about people disillusioned with Obama becoming comfortable with Romney, it doesn't really matter that Obama did better than Romney tonight because Romney did well enough. He again and again reminded Americans that the economy is worse than Obama said it would be, and he offered some kind of plan to make it better.

Mildly backwards, in that re-election campaigns never have much to do with the challenger.

October 16, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Study Shows Higher Costs for Seniors with Premium Support (MERRILL GOOZNER, 10/16/12, The Fiscal Times)

Nearly six out of ten seniors on Medicare would have paid higher out-of-pocket costs for insurance had the government adopted the premium support plan offered last year by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and endorsed by Republican nominee Mitt Romney, a new study shows.

The Kaiser Family Foundation used the third and most generous premium-support proposal offered by the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate, which was co-authored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Under premium support, the government gives seniors a fixed amount of cash to buy insurance policies on the private market.

Making consumers pay out of pocket is the whole point.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


How Obama bungled the Syrian revolution (Jackson Diehl, 10/14/12, Washington Post)

[H]is serial miscalculations have had the consistent if unintended effect of enabling Syria's Bashar al-Assad -- first to avoid international isolation, then to go on slaughtering his own population with impunity.

Obama's Syria policy began in 2009 with the misguided idea of reaching out to the dictator. Within a month of his inauguration, Obama reversed the Bush administration's approach of isolating Assad. He later reopened the U.S. Embassy and dispatched senior envoys, such as George Mitchell.

The problem with this policy was not just the distasteful courting of a rogue regime but the willful disregard of the lessons absorbed by George W. Bush, who also tried reaching out to Assad, only to learn the hard way that he was an irredeemable thug. Yet Obama insisted on reversing Bush's policy of distancing the United States from strongmen like Assad and Hosni Mubarak -- a monumental miscalculation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Moderate Mitt's Rise and Conservatives' Cognitive Dissonance (John Avlon, Oct 16, 2012, Daily Beast)

It's a conundrum for conservatives--Mitt Romney couldn't get traction while he was playing to the base with his vice-presidential selection or his convention speech.  But once he broke out the big Etch A Sketch in his first debate against President Obama, Mitt started soaring in the polls.

Of course, the reaction is not really a mystery--it's a tried-and-true lesson of American politics: a more centrist candidate moves swing voters into his column, while a more extreme candidate alienates them. Mitt's gains among moderates, the middle class, and women voters since the first debate are a direct result of this self-conscious re-centering of his presidential campaign.

Republicans are the grown up party, which is why we always nominate moderates instead of ideologues.  The governors win.  The Senators, whose records can call their moderation into doubt, lose.

October 15, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Yesterday My Daughter Emigrated (CARLOS M. DUARTE, 10/08/12, Huffington Post)

Yesterday I said goodbye to my daughter. She emigrated in search of a future she couldn't find in her country and that society, or her parents, didn't know how to give her.

It is extraordinarily frustrating for a father to watch his children leave -- but keeping them close is no longer an option, because it would mean trapping them in a situation with no future.

Living abroad is not new to her, nor does it intimidate her. In the past five years, she lived and worked in Canada, France, and England, though all those times it was about developing her professional credentials. Now it's about rebelling against those who refer to her generation as the "lost generation." Leaving has cost her her partner, the hushed sobbing that I heard last night from my bedroom made the situation even more bitter.

Like many young people her age, my daughter was caught by surprise upon completion of her professional training. In the spring she returned to Spain with the intention of looking for a job here -- it didn't really matter what, as long as she could "do her thing." She got a few interviews, but the conditions that were offered to her always seemed to be abusive: a mere salary, 400 € a month, for a person with a bachelor's and a master's degree, who speaks four languages, and who has worked abroad. Such salaries aren't enough to eat or rent a room in the cities where they're offered. She would have needed help from her parents -- something we were willing to do. But our daughter didn't want to keep being dependent on us -- as this support would in fact subsidize the same employers that are taking advantage of our young people.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


He hated Britain and excused Stalin's genocide. But was hero of the BBC and the Guardian, Eric Hobsbawm a TRAITOR too? (A N WILSON, 2 October 2012, DailyMail)

The tens of millions dead, the hundreds of millions enslaved, the sheer evil falsity of the ideology which bore down with such horror on the peoples of Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Germany, never occurred to this man. 

He went on believing that a few mistakes had been made, and that Stalinism was 'disillusioning' - but that, in general, it would have been wonderful if Stalin had succeeded.

Any barmy old fool is, thank goodness, entitled to their point of view in our country. Unlike Stalin's Soviet Union or Hitler's Germany, Britain is a country where you can more or less say or think what you like.

What is disgraceful about the life of Hobsbawm is not so much that he believed this poisonous codswallop, and propagated it in his lousy books, but that such a huge swathe of our country's intelligentsia - the supposedly respectable media and chattering classes - bowed down before him and made him their guru. Made him our 'greatest historian'.

The truth is that, far from being a great historian who sometimes made mistakes, Hobsbawm deliberately falsified history.

In his book The Age Of Extreme, published in 1994, he quite deliberately underplayed the Soviet Union's attack on Finland in 1939-40, saying it was merely an attempt to push the Russian border a little further away from Leningrad. He also omits any mention of the massacre of 20,000 Polish soldiers by Russian Secret Police at Katyn.

In the same book, he dismisses the appallingly violent suppression by the Nazis of the Polish resistance in the 1944 Warsaw uprising - when a complacent Soviet army ignored desperate pleas to come to the Poles' aid - as 'the penalty of a premature uprising'.

These are not mistakes - they are wicked lies.

In his 1997 book On History, he wrote the following: 'Fragile as the communist systems turned out to be, only a limited, even minimal, use of force was necessary to maintain them from 1957 until 1989.' 

This again is a blatant lie. A huge and ever-growing Soviet armaments industry ensured there was continued violence in most of the major trouble-spots of the world through those years before Communism collapsed.

Thanks to the provision of Soviet support, weapons and armour, there was continued violence in Africa and, closer to home, in Ireland, where the IRA used Soviet arms. 

Ask the inhabitants of Prague, where Soviet tanks rolled into the streets in 1968, if they agreed with Hobsbawm that this was 'minimal use of force'. 

Ask the millions of people who were taken from their homes by KGB thugs and forced to live, often for decades, in prison-camps throughout the Gulag, whether force had been 'minimal'.

Nor were Hobsbawm's rewards merely the sycophantic praise heaped on him by Lefty academics and silly chatterers at London dinners. Having cultivated his group of Left-wing protégés at Birkbeck College in London, where he dominated the history department and went on to become President, he was showered with accolades by academics of the Left.

...believe that Stalinism did work?  Otherwise, what were they defending?

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Swing States poll: Women push Romney into lead (Susan Page, 10/15/12, USA TODAY)

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


A Prescription for Health Care? : THE SOURCE: "Growth of Consumer-Directed Health Plans to One-Half of All Employer-Sponsored Insurance Could Save $57 Billion Annually" by Amelia M. Haviland, M. Susan Marquis, Roland D. McDevitt, and Neeraj Sood, in Health Affairs, May 2012. (Wilson Quarterly)
Health care costs are sucking the country dry. One remedy gaining support is consumer-directed health insurance plans, in which individuals accept high deductibles in return for relatively low monthly premiums. Many variants offer health care savings accounts that allow plan holders to store money tax-free to help pay for the increased out-of-pocket medical expenses. Enrollment in such plans expanded from four percent of employer-sponsored enrollment in 2006 to 13 percent in 2010. Big savings could be in the offing if the trend continues, report Carnegie Mellon University public policy and statistics professor Amelia M. Haviland and her coauthors.

Consumer-directed plans could eventually constitute 50 percent of employer-sponsored enrollment, in part because the 2010 Affordable Care Act encourages their growth. Haviland and her colleagues looked at the recent experience of plan users to estimate the effect. What they found will thrill budget hawks: Such a shift would reduce health care spending $57 billion per year. That's equal to seven percent of all costs for the employer-sponsored population.

Because the insured have more "skin in the game" due to their high deductibles, they are more likely to evaluate their options closely and are less likely to seek out unnecessary care, Haviland and colleagues say. "About two-thirds of the savings would result from fewer episodes of care and about one-third from lower spending per episode," they note. 

Now just tweak the law to universalize HSAs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


What the Islamists Get Right : It's time to admit that banning Mein Kampf while allowing anti-Islam cartoons is a double-standard (Michael Moynihan|October 15, 2012, The Tablet)

There are clear differences between denying a historical event like the Holocaust and mocking religious prophets, but the Islamists who see a free-speech double standard in Europe are correct. In Germany and Russia, for example, the printing and selling of Mein Kampf is banned (though Germany has recently considered publishing a version of the book annotated by historians). Holocaust deniers can be prosecuted in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Romanian, Poland, and Luxembourg. Other European states don't explicitly outlaw denial but often prosecute offenders on other statutes, like inciting racial hatred. In all these countries, though, the mocking of religious belief--be it Islam or Christianity--is protected speech. And perhaps more important, these laws, while well-intentioned, have had little effect on the distribution or consumption of offensive material. By forbidding it, these governments may actually be creating interest where there was previously none.

Despite a lack of evidence that such laws are effective, some feel that given the horrors of recent European history, restricting offensive speech is justified and necessary. Speaking alongside novelist Salman Rushdie in 2010, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel defended the principles of free speech against those who demanded religious exemptions, with one significant exception: "Holocaust denial today--what it does to the children of survivors--I believe [it] should be illegal."

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


U.S. families' debt loads decline to pre-recession levels (Don Lee, 10/15/12, Los Angeles Times)

Overall, households today are paying less than 16% of after-tax income to cover debt payments and lease obligations, the smallest share since 1984, Federal Reserve data show. [...]

A massive number of foreclosures and a new frugality on the part of many households have helped reduce liabilities. Now the long process of shedding debt seems about over, and that alone should benefit the economy.

With less debt weighing them down, consumers are feeling more upbeat today than they have in five years, according to the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey of consumers this month. And that could translate into a little more spending and risk-taking.

The trivial nature of the "credit binge" is illustrated by how easily the debt was wound down.
Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Skilled factory worker shortage could multiply by 10 by 2020 (Tiffany Hsu, October 15, 2012, LA Times)

[B]y the end of the decade, the shortage could balloon to 875,000 highly skilled workers from a shortfall of 80,000 to 100,000 now, according to the study.

Today, the deficit of workers represents less than 1% of the 11.5 million total factory workers in the country, or less than 8% of the 1.4 million highly skilled employees. Employers are looking to fill positions for welders, machinists, industrial machinery mechanics and more.

Kids would start seeking that training if we stopped sending them to college.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Global warming stopped 16 years ago, reveals Met Office report quietly released... and here is the chart to prove it (DAVID ROSE, 13 October 2012, Daily Mail)
The world stopped getting warmer almost 16 years ago, according to new data released last week. 

The figures, which have triggered debate among climate scientists, reveal that from the beginning of 1997 until August 2012, there was no discernible rise in aggregate global temperatures.

This means that the 'plateau' or 'pause' in global warming has now lasted for about the same time as the previous period when temperatures rose, 1980 to 1996. Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for about 40 years.

Only the Brights believe that climate should remain absolutely static.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM


Romney Follows Obama's Foreign Policy Script (Peter Beinart Oct 15, 2012, Daily Beast)

Good for Martha Raddatz. In last Thursday's vice-presidential debate, she served up the first serious, widely watched discussion of the foreign-policy differences between this year's Democratic and Republican tickets. And in so doing, she revealed what foreign-policy wonks already know. There aren't as many differences as the two sides would have you believe.

October 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Who's 'Politicizing' Benghazi?  : It was Obama who chose to blame a national humiliation on an obscure YouTube video. (Mark Steyn, 10/14/12, National Review)

'The entire reason that this has become the political topic it is is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan."

Thus, Stephanie Cutter, President Obama's deputy campaign manager, speaking on CNN about an armed attack on the 9/11 anniversary that left a U.S. consulate a smoking ruin and killed four diplomatic staff, including the first American ambassador to be murdered in a third of a century. To discuss this event is apparently to "politicize" it and to distract from the real issues the American people are concerned about. For example, Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki, speaking on board Air Force One on Thursday: "There's only one candidate in this race who is going to continue to fight for Big Bird and Elmo, and he is riding on this plane."

She's right! The United States is the first nation in history whose democracy has evolved to the point where its leader is provided with a wide-body transatlantic jet in order to campaign on the vital issue of public funding for sock puppets. Sure, Caligula put his horse in the senate, but it was a real horse. At Ohio State University, the rapper will.i.am introduced the president by playing the Sesame Street theme tune, which oddly enough seems more apt presidential-walk-on music for the Obama era than "Hail to the Chief."

Obviously, Miss Cutter is right: A healthy mature democracy should spend its quadrennial election on critical issues like the Republican party's war on puppets rather than attempting to "politicize" the debate by dragging in stuff like foreign policy, national security, the economy, and other obscure peripheral subjects.

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


What Women Comedians Want (Allison Yarrow, Oct 14, 2012, Daily Beast)

To be funny, like men.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Q&A : The Price of Politics: When Bob Woodward Went Looking for a Leader : Bob Woodward went looking for leadership on fiscal issues. He didn't find it. (Billy House, October 11, 2012, National Journal)

NJ The book mentions that, deep down, the president's got a "Blue Dog" streak--that he's kind of a moderate who is locked politically into a fiscal philosophy that really is not his.

WOODWARD Yeah. I thought of calling this book The Divided Man because he's very smart and absorbs the arguments on both sides. Obama understands that we've got to cut things but also is a progressive Democrat, so the Divided Man looms large. And, so you see, he is trying to fix these things in negotiations. But he never carries it over the finish line.

NJ Is that a lack of will or a lack of needed support from the Democratic side of the aisle?

WOODWARD I talked to [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell about this, and he's saying on the super committee that the leader of the Democratic Party is not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid; it's the president. And the president just stayed away from the super committee. They should have worked that out, and he presumably could have used his leverage. Now, he didn't. He called [committee Chairs] Patty Murray once, and he called Jeb Hensarling once.

NJ Throughout these fiscal discussions, Obama's intensity would vary?

WOODWARD He never kind of called everyone in and said, "We've got to do this. We've got to do something here." It was kind of Nicorettes and merlot with Boehner. But if a president insists on getting something done, it generally will get done. Look at Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Boehner and the Republicans are also responsible. They didn't work with one voice, to say the least. Just like Obama couldn't control Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


'We're ready to walk out on Europe': Prime Minister's closest ally Michael Gove sparks EU furore with dramatic admission (SIMON WALTERS, 13 October 2012, Daily Mail)

Education Secretary Michael Gove has told friends that, if there was a referendum today on whether the UK should cut its ties with Brussels, he would vote to leave.

He wants Britain to give other EU nations an ultimatum: 'Give us back our sovereignty or we will walk out.' 

Mr Gove insists the UK could thrive as a free trading nation on its own, like other non-EU nations in Europe such as Norway and Switzerland. He has changed his view partly as a result of his fury at Brussels meddling which has held up his school reforms.

Mr Gove, one of the Prime Minister's closest confidants, has discussed his views in detail with Mr Cameron. In an anti-EU pincer movement by the two Tory allies, Mr Cameron will formally announce later this month the first major step towards grabbing back powers from Brussels.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Tocquevillean Moment . . . and Ours (Wilfred M. McClay, Summer 2012, Wilson Quarterly)

The Tocquevillean moment involves the ways in which we come to terms, not only as individuals but also as citizens and societies, with whatever fatal circle our times and conditions have drawn around us.

How did Tocqueville believe that the Americans of his day managed to counter the dangerous aspects of democracy and create a free and vibrant society? He located a number of factors. He credited the pervasive influence of religion in American life, noting to his astonishment the ways  in which religion served to support democratic values and free institutions. He applauded Americans for their talent in forming voluntary associations, and for their decentralized federal institutions, both of which tended to disperse power and encourage the involvement of citizens in the activity of governing themselves.

But more than anything else, Tocqueville praised Americans for their embrace of the principle of self-interest rightly understood. It was a foregone conclusion, in his view, that self-interest had replaced virtue as the chief force driving human action. To tell an American to do virtuous things for virtue's sake, or at the authoritative direction of priests, prelates, or princes, was futile. But the same request would readily be granted if real benefits could be shown to flow from it. The challenge of moral philosophy in such an environment was to demonstrate how "private interest and public interest meet and amalgamate," and how one's devotion to the general good could also promote one's personal advantage. Belief in that conjunction--that one could do well by doing good--was exactly what was meant by the "right understanding" of self-interest.

Hence, it was imperative to educate democratic citizens in this understanding, to teach them how to reason their own way to acceptance of the greater good. The American example made Tocqueville hopeful that the modern principle of self-interest could be so channeled, hedged about, habituated, and clothed as to produce public order and public good, even in the absence of "aristocratic" sources of authority. But it would not happen of its own accord.

"Enlighten them, therefore, at any price." Or, as another translation expresses it, "Educate them, then." Whatever else we may believe about the applicability of Tocqueville's ideas to the present day, we can be in no doubt that he was right in his emphasis upon education. But not just any kind of education.  He was talking about what we call liberal education, in the strictest sense of the term, an education that makes men and women capable of the exercise of liberty, and equips them for the task of rational self-governance. And the future of that ideal of education is today very much in doubt.

...and why it has nothing to do with preparing kids for jobs.  


Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Inequality and Its Perils : Emerging research suggests that the growing gap between rich and poor harms the U.S. economy by creating instability and suppressing growth. (Jonathan Rauch, September 28, 2012, National Journal)

Different economists suggest different pathways by which inequality at the microeconomic level might cause macroeconomic problems. What follows is a composite story based on common elements.

As with supply-side, the case starts with the two extreme ends of a curve. Supply-siders pointed out that two tax rates produce no revenue: zero percent and 100 percent. Inequality traces an analogous curve. At both extremes of inequality--either perfect inequality, where a single person receives all the income, or perfect equality, where rewards and incentives cannot exist--an economy won't function. So, Moss said, "the question is: Where are the break points in between?"

Suppose various changes (globalization, technology, increased demand for skills, deregulation, financial innovation, the rising premium on superstar talent--take your pick) drove most of the economy's income gains to the few people at the top. The rich save--that is, invest--15 to 25 percent of their income, Stiglitz writes, whereas those on the lower rungs consume most or all of their income and save little or nothing. As the country's earnings migrate toward the highest reaches of the income distribution, therefore, you would expect to see the economy's mix of activity tip away from spending (demand) and toward investment.

That is fine up to a point, but beyond that, imbalances may arise. As Christopher Brown, an economist at Arkansas State University, put it in a pioneering 2004 paper, "Income inequality can exert a significant drag on effective demand." Looking back on the two decades before 1986, Brown found that if the gap between rich and poor hadn't grown wider, consumption spending would have been almost 12 percent higher than it actually was. That was a big enough number to have produced a noticeable macroeconomic impact. Stiglitz, in his book, argues that an inequality-driven shift away from consumption accounts for "the entire shortfall in aggregate demand--and hence in the U.S. economy--today."

True, saving and spending should eventually re-equilibrate. But "eventually" can be a long time. Meanwhile, extreme and growing inequality might depress demand enough to deepen and prolong a downturn, perhaps even turning it into a lost decade--or two.

So inequality might suppress growth. It might also cause instability.

Which is why the Third Way, which defines contributions instead of benefits, and Neoconomics seek to turn even the poor into savers/investors.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen (Robert R. Reilly, October 2012, Crisis)

I already knew that Lauridsen was articulate because I had interviewed him by phone several years ago about the stunningly beautiful Hyperion CD of his Lux Aeterna and other choral works.  When he wrote this piece in 1997, Lauridsen was facing his mother's impending death. He told me, "I purposely chose those texts that had the recurring symbol of light." Lux Aeterna is not a liturgical work, strictly speaking, but it is the sacred in sound because beauty of this sort is sacramental.  In style, Lauridsen was inspired by Renaissance master Josquin des Pres.  He not only draws upon Renaissance forms, he remains true to them, albeit with some modern harmonies. "I did try to create a very beautiful piece," he said.  "We try to get to that point beyond words."

Also on this CD is an exquisitely beautiful and moving Ave Maria. I have seldom encountered anything so suffused with love for Mary.  When I asked Lauridsen, a Protestant, about this, he responded, "I don't have to belong to the Catholic Church to be in love with Mary."

In the Wall Street Journal, Lauridsen stated something else that I cherish. He explained what he was trying to achieve in his sublime choral work, O Magnum Mysterium, also contained on the Hyperion CD.  "In composing music to these inspirational words about Christ's birth and the veneration of the Virgin Mary," he said, "I sought to impart ... a transforming spiritual experience within what I call 'a quiet song of profound inner joy.' I wanted this piece to resonate immediately and deeply into the core of the listener, to illumine through sound."  As St. Augustine said, only the lover sings such songs.  If you want to hear what St. Augustine meant, you might also listen to this music.

You also might--no, must--see Shining Night
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Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


What Should Children Read? (Russell Kirk, 1979, Crisis)

Were I compelled to name just one book that all children must read, I should reply, Pinocchio--which Collodi (whose real name was Lorenzini) wrote just a century ago. It is readily available in inexpensive editions. Some children will have had this read to them when they were quite small, but it will do them good to read it afresh for themselves at age six or seven. The malicious Fox and Cat are many children's first lesson about evil--and, in our bent world, ignorance of evil is not bliss in this year of Our Lord.

Were I asked what children's books have charmed me longest, I should answer, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll is as wondrously comical now as he was in Victoria's reign, and his miniature theater of the absurd, so impossible, nevertheless somehow introduces a child to firm knowledge of reality.

Were you to inquire of me what author of children's literature moves me most as an adult, I would tell you, "George MacDonald." He immensely influenced G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, among many others. Don't fail to give your children At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdle, The Golden Key, and MacDonald's other books for the young, all of which also teach adults.

Were the question put to me, 'What children's author of our century has had the healthiest influence upon the rising generation?" I should tell you, "C.S. Lewis." Get his Chronicles of Narnia, seven volumes, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ending with The Last Battle. These make up a children's parable of the Christian understanding of the human condition. Incidentally, most of the better books for children have been written by people who ordinarily write for adults.

Should you want to know how to teach courage and fidelity to children through literature, I would commend to you some very old books and some very new ones. Among the old, I would have you turn to the legends of King Arthur and his Table Round, in Sidney Lanier's version or Howard Pyle's.  (And don't forget Pyle's own Book of Pirates and his Jack Ballister's Fortunes).  Among the new books there stand eminent Tolkien's fantasies, beginning with The Hobbit: Frodo does live. Older boys, and some girls, will be ready for Tolkien's three-volume Lord of the Rings, with all its sorcery and derring-do in Middle Earth. When I was in the sixth grade, I took for my models of manliness the heroes of Stevenson's Treasure Island and Kidnapped. The anti-hero may dominate adult fiction in our time, but the hero still strides triumphant in children's books.

Am I forgetting girls? Perish that thought! Our daughters' favorite book, I find, is Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden--which I never encountered until my own little girls introduced me to that convincing tale of pathos and triumph in the policies of an English country house. It is written with strong tenderness, and it teaches us how to rise above our vices, especially the ugly vice of self-pity. Another especial favorite with our Monica, Cecilia, Felicia, and Andrea (aged, at this writing, eleven, ten, eight, and three years) is Maurice Maeterlinck's Blue Bird, still available either as a play or a narrative, from which even small children learn that we must find our own ways to happiness, usually by brightening the corner where we are. (It is a pleasure to act out The Blue Bird, with tiny dolls and the Palace of Night constructed of building-blocks: your children will love you always if you work out that play with them).

Am I omitting American authors? Well, let me start with Nathaniel Hawthorne, especially commending for this age-level his Wonder Book and his Tanglewood Tales, which are ancient myths delightfully retold. As for Mark Twain, boys and girls will like The Prince and the Pauper and Tom Sawyer; Huckleberry Finn, grim in part, is not fully appreciated until later years. For a touch of this land south of Mason's and Dixon's line, take Emma Speed Sampson's Miss Minerva and William Green Hill, and its companion volumes; and, of course, Joel Chandler Harris' narratives told by Uncle Remus.

Do I seem too old fangled? Then permit me to offer you some very recent writers. Late did I myself discover the persuasive realism of Mary Norton's The Borrowers (four volumes, and would that there were forty!), all about a race of tiny human folk who live under floors, in old shoes, and behind lath-and-plaster partitions. (Swift's Gulliver's Travels, by the way, distinctly is a mordant work for adults, except in expurgated editions; but Mistress Masham's Repose, by T. H. White of The Once and Future King, gives us twentieth-century descendants of the Lilliputians). Young readers will enjoy Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach; adults, incidentally, will take to his collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. The more advanced sixth-graders will understand well Madeleine L'Engle's trilogy (influenced by C. S. Lewis) A Wrinkle in Time, Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet--science-fiction, but more than science-fiction, for young folk with developing awareness of the marvelous intricacy of existence. Most of Ray Bradbury's readers are in high school or college, but some of our present age-group will relish a number of Bradbury's short stories and his Martian Chronicles.

Am I jumbling together writers of strangely different approaches and times? I must admit that impeachment; but then, all lively children do that in their highly miscellaneous reading. 

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Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


The Greatest Fake-Art Scam in History? : One of his forgeries hung in a show at the Met. Steve Martin bought another of his fake paintings. Still others have sold at auction for multi-million-dollar prices. So how did a self-described German hippie pull off one of the biggest, most lucrative cons in art-world history? And how did he get nailed? (Joshua Hammer, October 2012, Vanity Fair)

Helene Beltracchi tells me that she discovered the truth about Wolfgang's secret career "the first or second day" of their relationship. They were at his home in Viersen, and she noticed the paintings of a number of famous 20th-century artists hanging on the walls. "I asked him, 'Are these all actually real?' . . . . And he said, 'They're all mine . . . I made them.' I said, 'So you're an art counterfeiter?' And he said, 'Exactly. That's my work. That's my métier.'"

Shortly after the revelation, Wolfgang asked Helene to become his accomplice. It was 1992, and after three years of art-market stagnation, prices were rising again, fueled by an influx of money from Japan. Wolfgang had decided to sell some fakes, and--having fallen out "over business matters" with his former partner Schulte-Kellinghaus--he needed a new go-between. "My husband said to me, 'Do you want to do something?'" Helene recalls. "I thought, Wow. Let me think about it. I knew what it was, that it was illegal." But she said yes. Soon afterward, she notified Lempertz, a high-end auction house in Cologne, that she had a painting for sale by the early-20th-century French Cubist Georges Valmier. "It was hanging on the wall [in Viersen], and they sent their expert," Helene remembers. "She looked for a few minutes, said it was wonderful, and then asked 'How much do you want for it?'" They settled on 20,000 deutsch marks. It was a modest amount, but as the art market heated up, the Beltracchis watched the pseudo-Valmier's value soar; a few years later it sold at auction in New York for $1 million.

Helene found her foray to the dark side exciting, and craved more. "The first time, it was like being in a movie," she says. "It was like it had nothing to do with me. It was another person--an art dealer, whom I was playing." She couldn't believe how easy it had been to dupe the auction house. "Normally, a person would think that these experts would study the painting and look for proof of its provenance. [The authenticator] asked two or three questions. She was gone in 10 minutes." (An attorney for Lempertz disputes Helene's version of events, but confirms that the auction house did indeed sell the painting.

Three years later, Helene introduced the art world to the "collection" she claimed to have inherited from her recently deceased industrialist grandfather, Werner Jägers, who had been born in Belgium but made his fortune in Cologne. Jägers was indeed Helene's maternal grandfather; he had abandoned her grandmother after World War II, Helene says, and she had only a single brief encounter with him, shortly before his death in 1992 at age 80. The story she told gallery owners and collectors was that one of Jägers's friends in the 1920s and 30s had been a well-known Jewish art dealer and collector named Alfred Flechtheim. In 1933, months after Adolf Hitler came to power, Flechtheim fled into exile in Paris, and the Nazis seized his galleries in Düsseldorf and Berlin. But just before this, according to Helene, Flechtheim sold many works at bargain-basement prices to Jägers, who hid them in his country home in the Eifel mountains, near Cologne, safe from Nazi plundering.

In fact, though Jägers and Flechtheim were prewar neighbors in Cologne, their paths almost certainly never crossed; Jägers was 34 years younger than Flechtheim and would have been just out of his teens when he allegedly amassed his art collection; moreover, according to Helene, he was a member of the Nazi Party in the 1930s and was thus unlikely to have been an admirer of "degenerate" art and good friends with a Jewish art dealer. But those details were never questioned by art-world experts. Helene says that she came up with the fake history on the spot after a Christie's expert asked her to explain the provenance of Girl with Swan, purportedly by Heinrich Campendonk. "I hadn't planned anything," she insists. But the Jägers story "made sense. My grandfather had his business in Cologne. Flechtheim had a gallery in Cologne. My grandfather lived in Krefeld, and so did the artist. So I could easily say they were all connected." To lend her account credibility, Wolfgang staged a black-and-white photograph of Helene impersonating her grandmother, Josefine Jägers. Wearing a black dress and a strand of pearls, "Josefine" posed in front of several paintings from the "Jägers collection." The photo was slightly out of focus, and printed on prewar developing paper.

Girl with Swan featured prominently in a Christie's auction of German and Austrian art in October 1995. In the catalogue, Campendonk expert Andrea Firmenich praised the artist's use of color and Christie's notified its customers that Firmenich had confirmed the work's authenticity. To bolster his hoax, Wolfgang Beltracchi had pasted on the back of the frame, for the first time, a label from the "Sammlung Flechtheim"--the Flechtheim Collection. The label displayed a caricature of Alfred Flechtheim, the Jewish collector who had supposedly provided Jägers with so many paintings. Christie's dutifully identified in its auction catalogue the provenance of Girl with Swan as "Alfred Flechtheim, Düsseldorf; Werner Jägers, Cologne." It was sold for £67,500--at the time, more than $100,000. "This was a highly unusal case," Christie's responded when asked about this incident and the Beltracchi case more broadly, adding "We have taken all appropriate steps to resolve this matter."'

In 1995, the past threatened to catch up to Wolfgang Beltracchi. As subsequently reported in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, a scientific investigation initiated in Munich by the buyer of a purported Molzahn called Erigone und Maira had determined that that painting, and two others, were counterfeit; one, called Linear Color Composition, supposedly painted in the early 1920s, contained a pigment invented only in 1957. Police suspected that Beltracchi and Schulte-Kellinghaus had been involved in selling those fraudulent works. Because the five-year statute of limitations had run out, however, they could summon them only as material witnesses in an investigation that focused instead on the Berlin art dealer who had handled the sales of the bogus Molzahns. In mid-1996, the police brought Schulte-Kellinghaus in for questioning, and began looking for Beltracchi.

That July, the Beltracchis abruptly sold their house in Viersen for $1.7 million, purchased a Winnebago, repainted the interior pink and turquoise, and headed for Spain, then the South of France. Years later, Wolfgang claimed he'd made the move because he and Helene's then two-year-old daughter, Franziska, was ailing and needed a change of air. "We weren't running away," he tells me, although conveniently, they informed hardly anyone of their final destination. A neighbor in Viersen told the police only that they had gone "to travel around the world." As far as the German police were concerned, Beltracchi had vanished.

The Beltracchis parked their Winnebago at a campground in Marseillan, beside the Bay of Thau, famed for its oyster beds, and quickly drew around them a circle of artists, writers, and other creative types. Michel Torres, a teacher in Marseillan, met Wolfgang for the first time at the local school. "He showed up in an enormous camping car, and he said, 'My son doesn't speak a word of French. Can you help him out?'" Torres recalls. "I knew all the painters in the area, and I started introducing him around." Two years later, Beltracchi purchased a dilapidated 1858 farmhouse and hired Pierre Malbos, a carpenter, blacksmith, and furniture restorer, to make doors and windows. Malbos was entranced by Wolfgang's roguish charm. "He had a hat and a flowery shirt and long flowing blond hair. . . . He told me stories about smoking dope, riding around on a Harley, hanging out with the U.S. troops," Malbos says. "He struck me as a person who had always lived . . . on the borderline."

The Beltracchis clearly had a lot of money, though they remained vague about its origins. They spent much of their time browsing in local galleries and antique shops, landscaping their garden, and entertaining in restaurants or on the terrace of their villa. "I think his attitude was, I don't want to work too hard, but I want to be rich," says Malbos. "They knew how to live well, and they were generous. . . . We would take weekend trips to Barcelona, visit museums, buy antique furniture." Michel Torres sometimes joined the family on vacations--including a stay in an 18-room rented villa with an Olympic-size swimming pool, nestled on the slopes of a jungle-covered mountain overlooking the sea, on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The Beltracchis remained there for six months, says Torres, sailing, scuba diving, and sunning themselves on the beach.

Their French estate, Domaine des Rivettes, became the Beltracchis' passion. On a windswept February afternoon, Torres took me around the property, in the heart of the wine country of Languedoc. We wandered through neatly planted rows of cypress trees, vineyards, and olive groves--and stopped to admire a sculpture garden and a pond filled with Japanese koi. "When they moved in here, this was all a swamp, a big mess," Torres said. Beltracchi had installed a small mausoleum on the property because, he told his friend Pierre, "I want to be buried here." We entered the main house through a cobblestone courtyard and walked into the couple's sunlit master bedroom, tiled with pink and beige Burgundian sandstone. Nothing had been disturbed since the Beltracchis' last visit, in the summer of 2010, with German translations of Patricia Highsmith, a Led Zeppelin CD, and DVDs of Ice Age and Ocean's 13 strewn across nightstands beside a four-poster bed. On the walls hung large, colorful canvases by a local artist named André Cervera, whom Beltracchi had helped promote. Two flights up was Beltracchi's atelier, where he painted his forgeries. "I never saw him do any of them," Torres insisted. The wood-beamed studio was dominated by a work in progress, signed by Beltracchi himself: The Fall of the Angels, reminiscent of bad underground comic-book art, which depicted a blood-soaked seraph plummeting to Earth, against a sea of tortured faces. "It's an enormous project; it took him two years to do this," Torres told me, gazing with admiration. I found the painting almost impossible to look at.

The Beltracchis lived like country squires at the Domaine des Rivettes. The art market was booming, and Wolfgang needed to sell only two or three forgeries a year to support the couple's extravagant lifestyle (though sometimes, in a burst of activity, he would dash off five paintings in a week). Beltracchi would typically spend a couple of hours on a painting, he told me; sometimes "two days," if it was a large canvas. Then Helene, her sister, Jeanette Spurzem, or Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, who had rejoined his old friend, would deliver the paintings to Christie's, Sotheby's, Lempertz, and other houses for the spring and fall auctions.

Wolfgang, says his wife, had an almost "autistic" sense of how to imitate an artist's technique. But he also, she insists, prepared himself. "He reads about the artist, travels to where he lived, steeps himself in the literature. He's like an actor." Wolfgang explains: "You have to know about the artist's past, present, and future. You have to know how the painter moved and how much time it took him to complete a work." However, it seems that Beltracchi sometimes employed a simpler method. Aya Soika, a Berlin-based specialist in the German Expressionist Max Pechstein, says that Beltracchi used a projector to cast images of Pechstein watercolors and ink drawings onto canvas, then traced larger copies, using oil paint. (Beltracchi disputes her claim.) "He altered the size, but the proportions were exactly the same," says Soika, who examined two fake Pechsteins, Seine Bridge with Freight Barges and Reclining Nude with Cat.

By the early 2000s, Beltracchi's fakes were selling at auction to collectors for the high six figures, sometimes more. Steve Martin paid $860,000 in 2004 for a counterfeit Campendonk called Landscape with Horses, then sold it through Christie's 18 months later at a $240,000 loss, still unaware that he'd been in possession of a fake. In 2007, a French gallery sold Portrait of a Woman with Hat, a semi-nude allegedly by the Dutch Fauvist painter Kees van Dongen, to a wealthy Dutch collector, Willem Cordia, for $3.8 million. Other forgeries wound up in the hands of galleries, museums, and private collectors in places as far flung as Tokyo and Montevideo, Uruguay. In addition to imitating the works of second-tier Expressionists and Cubists such as Louis Marcoussis, Oskar Moll, and Moïse Kisling Laurencin, Beltracchi embarked on a more dangerous business: forging the works of great artists such as Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, and Max Ernst. While they would command higher prices, these paintings also ran the risk of inviting closer scrutiny. Beltracchi says he was especially drawn to Ernst, because "physically, he resembled my father."

Despite the higher stakes, or perhaps because of them, art experts eagerly jumped on the bandwagon. Indeed, the Beltracchis often prophylactically secured statements of authenticity from leading authorities to quell potential doubts before offering the paintings to auction houses and galleries. Werner Spies, now 75, the former director of the modern-art museum at the Pompidou Center in Paris and the world's leading Max Ernst authority, made a pilgrimage to Domaine des Rivettes in early 2004 to inspect The Forest (2). The large canvas depicted a sun of concentric circles of red, blue, white, and yellow, rising over a coppice of cypress trees. Beltracchi had painted the large work in two days, employing the same method that Ernst often used: rubbing a spatula over blocks of rough wood, seashells, and other found objects that he had placed beneath the painted canvas. With Wolfgang making himself scarce--he never revealed himself to potential buyers or experts, he says--Helene escorted Spies into the couple's bedroom. The phony Ernst hung on the wall behind the bed. "Spies came in, took one look, and was overcome with excitement," Helene says. He declared that there was no doubt The Forest (2) was authentic.

Spies--who did not return e-mails or phone calls asking for comment--quickly put Helene in touch with a Swiss art dealer, who triumphantly sold Max Ernst's long-lost The Forest (2) to a company called Salomon Trading, for about €1.8 million, or $2.3 million. The painting passed to a Paris gallery, Cazeau-Béraudière, which sold it in 2006 to Daniel Filipacchi for $7 million. "The widow of Max Ernst [Dorothea Tanning, who died this past January] saw the painting and said that it was the most beautiful picture that Max Ernst had ever painted," Helene gloats today. She and Wolfgang were amazed by the gullibility of those they had duped, says Helene. "We're still laughing about it."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Castles in Space : Much more than mere escape (Michael Dirda, American Scholar)

The other day, while roaming through the book-sale room at a local library, I spotted eight or nine issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. All of them were from the early 1960s, with the muted, matte covers of that era, most of them with illustrations by the late Ed Emsh (whose wife, Carol Emshwiller, is one of the greatest living writers of fantasy and sf). Each digest originally cost 40 cents, but now--50 years later--they were only a quarter apiece, and I bought them all.

For me, such magazines resemble Proust's madeleines: they are vehicles of sweet memory, bibliophilic time machines. An old joke goes: What is the golden age of science fiction? Answer: 12. Back in 1960, when the earliest of these newly acquired issues of F&SF first appeared, I would have been 12.

The early 1960s weren't just the heyday of science fiction digests. Corner drugstore racks were crowded with weekly or monthly issues of Life, True, Mad, 16, The Saturday Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Modern Romance, True Confessions, Reader's Digest, Popular Mechanics, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, among many others. People read a lot of periodicals in those days. Not anymore. For genre fiction these are especially tough times, even though the short story has always been its best showcase.

Presented for your consideration, as Rod Serling used to say in his introduction to that era's The Twilight Zone, these eight issues of F&SF. I count at least four modern classics: Theodore Sturgeon's novella "When You Care, When You Love," Avram Davidson's "The Sources of the Nile," Ray Bradbury's "Death and the Maiden," and Joanna Russ's "My Dear Emily." The incomparable John Collier--best known for his collection Fancies and Goodnights, currently available as a New York Review Books paperback--is represented by a novelette "Man Overboard" and Robert Sheckley--whose funniest and most imaginative stories are also available in a volume from NYRB--contributes "The Girls and Nugent Miller."

There are also science articles by Dr. Isaac Asimov, book reviews from Damon Knight and Alfred Bester (author of that most seminal of modern sf novels, The Stars My Destination), even some examples of light verse by Brian Aldiss, not to overlook the silly punning stories of "Ferdinand Feghoot." Yet there are lots of real surprises here too. In the September 1960 issue appears "Goodbye," described as the first published story of Burton Raffel. Raffel would make his name not as a pulp fictioneer but as one of the most versatile and admired translators in the world, with a special interest in epic works such as The Nibelungenlied, The Divine Comedy, and Don Quixote.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Africa next: With investment outpacing aid, is this a new golden age for the poorest continent? (GEOFFREY YORK, 9/22/12, The Globe and Mail)

As investors and traders pour in, some of the poorest corners of the continent are being transformed. "Tomorrow's Africa is going to be an economic force," says a report from Goldman Sachs. KPMG trumpets the Africa story as "the rise of the phoenix."

Many factors have made this possible. After decades of stagnation, in recent years most African countries began to reform their economies. Wars, coups, political instability and disease have declined since the late 1990s. And rising commodity prices have lured investment in African resources.

Mobile technology is leapfrogging ahead (Africa has become one of the fastest-growing markets for Canadian firm Research in Motion's BlackBerry) and a new consumer class has been born. Multinational retailers are leaping in, and even Wal-Mart recently acquired a chain with nearly 300 stores in 14 African countries.

The prosperity of China has been a particular spark, with about 2,000 Chinese companies investing $32-billion in Africa by the end of 2010. Beijing's trade with Africa has soared from $2-billion to an incredible $166-billion in the past dozen years.

But what is the truth behind the hype? The Globe and Mail has spent months investigating the African boom, journeying from Congo and Burkina Faso to Liberia and Botswana, talking to everyone from miners and farmers to factory owners and chief executives.

The rise of Africa is an issue with huge ramifications for Canada, since it could affect how we tailor our foreign aid, how our mining and energy companies choose their next targets and where our manufacturers will find their future markets. Yet the realities are obscured by lingering clichés about Africa and an unwillingness to consider the social costs.

As foreign investment mounts, it often brings with it traumatic social dislocation and a distorted economy. The money often disappears into the pockets of a corrupt elite, while ordinary Africans see fewer benefits. Oil-rich countries such as Nigeria and Angola are the most extreme examples, where billions of dollars in oil revenue have gone into the foreign bank accounts of top officials, leaving most of their citizens poorer than ever.

It does not have to be this way. A few African countries, such as Botswana and Ghana, have carefully managed their resource revenue and transformed themselves into middle-income countries. Botswana has capitalized on its diamond mines by creating a fledgling industry in diamond sorting and processing, and it is increasingly seen as a model for the continent.

The small West African nation of Sierra Leone is seeing both the best and worst of the trend. Just a decade removed from an era of brutal warlords and blood diamonds, it is seeing its hopes rise dramatically. But, as in even the best-performing African countries, the boom threatens to create two solitudes, between the Sierra Leoneans who will be on the winning side and those who risk losing hold of what little security they already had.

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries on Earth. Most of its six million people survive on less than a dollar a day. Founded by British traders and freed colonial slaves in the 18th century, its capital, Freetown, is filled with vast slums built on the edge of huge smouldering garbage dumps. Children dodge among the smoke and flash fires to collect metal and plastic scraps for recycling.

Visitors to Freetown's beach restaurants are mobbed by war amputees who beg for a living. The city is plagued by power shortages. To reach it from the airport, visitors must take a rickety speedboat or an overcrowded ferry across an estuary. (Politicians keep promising a bridge and a new airport; nobody knows when they will be built.)

Yet Sierra Leone is also one of the world's fastest-rising economies. Its growth rate is projected to be a world-leading 34 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Romney's Go-To Economist (DAVID SEGAL, 10/12/12, NY Times)

Mr. Hubbard received his master's and Ph.D. at Harvard and became a hugely productive scholar with a wide range of interests. Fellow conservatives view his work with pure reverence. From the left, you hear grudging caveats like, "He'll never win the Nobel Prize." He is best known for research in tax policy and government spending programs. One influential study quantified the major role that cash flow plays in driving corporations to invest.

"The lesson," says James Poterba, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an admirer of Mr. Hubbard, "is that if someone is looking for policy instruments that might raise investment, then lower corporate rates could do it because you change the current availability of cash for firms."

On behalf of the Romney campaign, Mr. Hubbard has argued that the Obama administration has "stuck the economy in a slow growth trap," as it was put in a recent position paper, "The Romney Program for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs," of which he was a co-author.

The way out of this trap, he and his co-authors wrote, is to reduce federal spending, cut marginal income tax rates by 20 percent across the board and gradually reduce the growth in Social Security and Medicare benefits for more affluent seniors. He would also like to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial legislation and the Affordable Care Act.

That paper, of course, is a campaign document, but if Mr. Hubbard has any differences with Mr. Romney on economic matters, he won't name them. "I support Governor Romney's economic program," he wrote when asked if his candidate had any taken positions he does not support.

If Mr. Hubbard becomes Treasury secretary, cutting taxes would very likely be his highest priority. Altering the tax code to encourage savings and bolster investment has been one of his favorite causes. While serving under President Bush as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, he pushed to reduce dividend taxes to zero. (Ultimately, the top tax rate on dividends was cut by more than half, to 15 percent.)

While Mitt Romney is hardly a revolutionary, a transition from taxing income/investment to taxing consumption, so that you force the sort of savings that enable you to reduce social welfare spending, would continue the revolution that W began.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Prince Roy of Sealand (The Telegraph, 10/11/12)

Prince Roy of Sealand, who has died aged 91, was plain Roy Bates until, on Christmas Eve 1966, he established his own micro-nation on an abandoned wartime sea fort off the Suffolk coast and declared himself head of state.

A year earlier, on the nearby Knock John fortified tower in the North Sea, Bates had established Radio Essex, claiming it as Britain's first 24-hour pirate pop station, only to see it swiftly closed down by the Labour government.

After taking legal advice, Bates bought HM Fort Roughs, another derelict artillery installation, anchored to a sandbar just outside British territorial waters; but before he could revive his radio transmissions, the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act of 1967 outlawed the employment of British citizens by pirate stations. Embracing the ancient legal doctrine of jus gentium, Bates declared independence. Henceforth, he announced, he would be known as Prince Roy and his principality would be Sealand. He refurbished the platform, abandoned by the British military in the 1950s, and moved there with his wife and two children.

It was not long, however, before his bleak windswept hulk, with its twin towers of steel-reinforced concrete spanned by a 5,920 sq ft rusting iron platform some seven miles off Felixstowe, became not only res derelicta but terra nullius -- effectively disputed territory. When the rival Radio Caroline claimed the platform for itself, Bates and his crew repelled a boarding party with Molotov cocktails and warning shots.

In 1967 government ministers sent the military to destroy several other wartime forts that had been abandoned in international waters. Bates and his family watched as explosions sent the huge structures cartwheeling hundreds of feet in the air. Helicopters carrying explosives buzzed overhead, and from a Royal Navy tug carrying a demolition squad came shouts of "You're next!"

A year later, when the Royal Maritime auxiliary vessel Golden Eye passed close by, three warning shots were fired across her bow before she turned and raced for the shore. Bates was summonsed under the Firearms Act and in November 1968 appeared in the dock at Essex Assizes.

Amid much legal argument, statutes dating from the 17th century were cited. Summing up, the judge at Chelmsford remarked on "this swashbuckling incident perhaps more akin to the time of Sir Francis Drake", but decided that, since Sealand lay outside British territorial waters, the courts had no jurisdiction. As far as Bates was concerned, this was Sealand's first de facto recognition.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Ohio Now Up for Grabs as Romney Closes the Gap (SAM YOUNGMAN, 10/14/12, Reuters)
Despite pundits and pollsters dismissing Romney's chances in the state in late September, the Republican is now either tied or just barely trailing Obama in Ohio ahead of the next presidential debate on Tuesday night. At an event with thousands of Ohioans on Friday night, Romney boasted of "a growing crescendo of enthusiasm." He has spoken to several large audiences in Ohio this week.

"(Obama's) campaign is about smaller and smaller things, and our campaign is about bigger and bigger crowds fighting for a bright future," he said on Saturday.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. Romney looks determined to put the state in his win column in the November 6 election after it appeared nearly out of reach last month.

If he were to pick up the same number of seats that Reagan did, the GOP would be very close to the 60 necessary in the modern Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


That Blurry Line Between Makers and Takers (TYLER COWEN, 10/13/12, NY Times)

People tend to think that they have justice on their side, whether it comes to making or taking.

For example, millions of homeowners have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the premise that the tax deduction for mortgages will be continued. If they support a continuation of that deduction they hardly feel like brigands, even though a bipartisan consensus of economists doubts the efficiency of this tax break.

As years and decades pass, recipients of this deduction and other benefits start to see them as deeply and richly deserved. Furthermore, almost all of us reap one or more of these benefits, so few individuals are consistently opposed to all government transfers.

It becomes difficult for a politician to articulate exactly what is wrong with this arrangement when the audience itself is in on the game and perhaps does not want to hear about its own takings.

Tea partiers didn't oppose government spending, just spending on others which might threaten their own welfare checks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Lenders granting more second mortgages as home values rise ( Kenneth R. Harney, October 14, 2012, LA Times)

If you have a pressing need to raise some cash, here's some good news: Rising home values are encouraging lenders to revive a product that imploded during the housing bust years -- second mortgages.

Researchers at Equifax, one of the three national credit bureaus, say total outstanding balances of second home mortgages at banks rose in the latest month for the first time in nearly five years. Though the blip was relatively small -- about three-tenths of a percent -- analysts say any increase in the amount of second mortgages is a bellwether event, indicating that major lenders are showing growing confidence that the real estate market has finally made the turn to recovery. The Federal Reserve recently reported that American homeowners' equity stakes rose $406 billion in the second quarter, a 5.9% increase over the previous quarter and the highest it has been since 2008.

October 13, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


A Nobel winner's moral achievement (William Saletan, 10/11/2012, Pioneer Press)

Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist at Kyoto University, loved stem-cell research. But he didn't want to destroy embryos. So he figured out a way around the problem. In a paper published five years ago in Cell, Yamanaka and six colleagues showed how "induced pluripotent stem cells" could be derived from adult cells and potentially substituted, in research and therapy, for embryonic stem cells. This week, that discovery earned him a Nobel Prize, shared with British scientist John Gurdon. But the prize announcement and much of the media coverage missed half the story. Yamanaka's venture wasn't just an experiment. It was a moral project.

In the introduction to their Cell paper, Yamanaka and his colleagues outlined their reasons for seeking an alternative to conventional embryonic stem-cell research. "Ethical controversies" came first in their analysis. Technical reasons -- the difficulty of making patient-specific embryonic stem cells -- came second. After the paper's publication, Yamanaka told a personal story, related by The New York Times:

Inspiration can appear in unexpected places. Dr. Shinya Yamanaka found it while looking through a microscope at a friend's fertility clinic. ... (H)e looked down the microscope at one of the human embryos stored at the clinic. The glimpse changed his scientific career. "When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters," said Dr. Yamanaka. ... "I thought, we can't keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way."
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Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


PBS Frontline has just done its quadrennial show on the election choice facing America and, as always, it's terrific. The takeaway is that Barack Obama is deeply unsuited to the presidency, while Mitt Romney is so driven by goals and so fixated on the goal of repairing the economy that he could potentially be a successful president:  

Watch The Choice 2012 on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


At last, Cameron gets the Right message across : The Prime Minister and Mitt Romney now make similar claims: we want to extend wealth, not protect the wealthy (Janet Daley, 10/13/12, The Telegraph)

Mr Cameron and Mitt Romney now have a remarkably similar message: we do not want to protect the wealthy, we want to extend wealth. Whereas, the parties of the Left in the US, Britain and Europe say they want to protect the poor but what they are really doing is extending poverty.

As my great hero, the economist Arthur Laffer, has said: "If you pay people to be poor, you will get more and more poor people." Here are Mr Cameron's words, but they could have come from Mr Romney or his running mate: "The mission for this Government is to build an aspiration nation... to unleash and unlock the promise in all our people. And for us as Conservatives, this is not just an economic mission - it's also a moral one."

We have arrived at the era of Postmodern Conservatism. What will it take to fulfil the promise of what may (or may not) have been the most important, game-changing speech of Mr Cameron's leadership? Political nerve and rigorous argument. This is only a beginning: the Tories have just stepped up to the crease - or in American terms, come out of the dugout. It will be a hard and dirty fight against the assumptions of an overwhelmingly Left-wing intellectual establishment.

But there is a coherent position to be defended here, which is not alien to an earlier incarnation of Cameron Conservatism: economic liberalism - the belief in the liberating power of free-market capitalism - is consistent with social liberalism.

...is if two conservatives in the Anglosphere had divergent messages.
Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Cracking the Quantum Safe (ADAM FRANK, 10/13/12, NY Times)

Classical computers use "bits" of information that can be either 0 or 1. But quantum-information technologies let scientists consider "qubits," quantum bits of information that are both 0 and 1 at the same time. Logic circuits, made of qubits directly harnessing the weirdness of superpositions, allow a quantum computer to calculate vastly faster than anything existing today. A quantum machine using no more than 300 qubits would be a million, trillion, trillion, trillion times faster than the most modern supercomputer.

Going even further is the seemingly science-fiction possibility of "quantum teleportation." Based on experiments going on today with simple quantum systems, it is at least a theoretical possibility that one day objects could be reconstituted -- beamed -- across a space without ever crossing the distance.

When a revolution in science yields powerful new technologies, its effect on human culture is multiplied exponentially. Think of the relation between thermodynamics, steam engines and the onset of the industrial era. Quantum information could well be the thermodynamics of the next technological revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


The Edge of Panic (Rick Wilson, Oct 12, 2012, Ricochet)

Last night's performance by Biden - capering, giggling, near-maniacal opera buffa - was targeted in one place: a dispirited, demoralized Democratic base on the edge of panic.

Paul Ryan was businesslike, steady, and on-point. He hit solid doubles all night, and that's all he needed to do. If he'd been as amped and manic as Biden, it would have been a political and imaging disaster.

Biden aimed to throw the Obama base a lifeline. He fed the Kos Kidz desperate need to see some fight, but at the cost of his remaining (and mostly notional) dignity. If you want a gibbering, snorting, mumbling clown with a rictus-grin locked on his mug a heartbeat away from controlling America's nuclear arsenal, Joe Biden's your guy.

Ryan aimed to meet the standard of gravitas and presence, to demonstrate to the fabled female/suburban/swing/moderate voters that he's not a scary granny-killing Terminator sent from the future to throw seniors into the snowbank. He had to demonstrate steadiness, stature and knowledge. Done and done.

...the election is already lost.  At that point you're just trying to salvage seats downticket.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


The United States Wins, But There Is No Joy in Mudville : When does a huge win feel a bit like a deflating loss? When everybody on the team is left wondering why the U.S.' dramatic 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda had to be so difficult. (JOHN GODFREY, OCTOBER 13, 2012, ASN)

At the end of most soccer matches it's easy to distinguish the winners from the losers. One group of players tends to hang their heads in a defeated posture, or perhaps stare around with a glazed expression thinking about what they could have done differently.

As the final whistle blew on the United States' 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Antigua and Barbuda, all 22 players on the pitch looked as if they had lost.

Jurgen Klinsmann may or may not be a decent coach, but his team selection is always awful.  

Anyone can pick a better team, here's just one, with some emphasis on the younger players who might actually be in their prime for the next World Cup instead of the last one:

Goal-Bill Hamid

Central Defense--Omar Gonzalez and Stephen McCarthy

Fullbacks: Michael Parkhurst and Eric Lichaj

Central Midfielders: Michael Bradley and Geoff Cameron

Attacking Midfielders: Graham Zusi and Diego Fagundez

Forwards: Jozy Altidore and Chris Wondoloski

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Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Nobel Committee Gives Peace Prize to European Union (ALAN COWELL and NICHOLAS KULISH, 10/12/12, NY Times)

By naming the European Union the recipient of the 2012 peace prize on Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee made an unconventional choice that celebrated the bloc's postwar integration even as a financial crisis and political infighting threaten to tear it apart.

Members of the Nobel committee lauded six decades of reconciliation among enemies who fought Europe's bloodiest wars while simultaneously warning against the hazards of the present. The decision sounded at times like a plea to support the endangered institution at a difficult hour.

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Mitt Romney would honor Obama administration's illegal immigrant work permits (Allison Sherry, 10/12/12, The Denver Post)

Young illegal immigrants who receive temporary work permits to stay in the United States under an executive order issued by President Barack Obama would not be deported under a Mitt Romney administration, the GOP presidential hopeful told The Denver Post Monday.

"The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I'm not going to take something that they've purchased," Romney said.

Exclusive poll: Obama's support among Hispanic voters eroding (Holly Gregory, October 13, 2012, Bay News 9)


The Romney stimulus plan should be blanket amnesty as his first act in office.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Barbra Streisand supporters didn't have to go through metal detectors at Barclays Center, but Jay-Z fans did (RICH CALDER, October 13, 2012, NY Post)

It looks like the Barclays Center thinks Jay-Z fans are more likely to cause 99 problems than the upper-crust Barbra Streisand set.

The arena forced the crowd at the rapper's recent concert series to herd through its new airport-style metal detectors -- while fans of the legendary diva were spared the same indignity at her show on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Staggering Idiocy : Panicky progressives struggle for reasons to support Obama (ANDREW FERGUSON, 120/22/12, Weekly Standard)

"We are three months away from the presidential election," [Dave Eggers] wrote, "and there is a stunning lack of energy displayed by likely Obama voters." His solution: Each day, for the 90 days before the election, a different contributor--a writer, a singer, an artist, an activist, all members in good standing of the counterestablishment--would write an essay offering a pithy reason why Obama should be reelected. "Obama cares about women's health." "Obama repealed Don't Ask Don't Tell." "President Obama Supports Women's Right to Choose." "Obama is on the right side of land use and transportation policy." Some reasons are pithier than others.

The essays themselves show all the magic of political discourse in the Internet age--the freewheeling energy, the unconventional lines of argument, the damn-the-torpedoes prose--which is another way of saying that Eggers really needs to hire a copy editor. [...]

For the counterestablishmentarians, "program" and "funding" are words with talismanic power. President Obama will "fund programs" or "not cut programs" that will rescue the environment or curb domestic violence or teach civility or help the disabled or train the jobless. The proper program can do everything but play canasta. And it can be advocated without wondering how it might work or whether it would work or what other programs would not be funded so it could be.

As they've piled up on the website the last couple months, I've found this kind of Reason oddly dispiriting, precisely because it's so conventional--it's the kind of thing you might even hear from a Republican. From a counter-establishment, I expect more reasoning like Jamaica Kincaid's (Vermont). "I am a woman," she writes. "From the time I was 14 years of age until I was 57 years of age, every twenty-eight days or so, I had a menstrual period." She concludes, after several long paragraphs of logic-chopping, that Obama's "simple, firm, clear support for a woman's right to choose .  .  . is what makes me committed to his reelection." QED.

But such arguments are increasingly the exception on 90days-90reasons.com. What a strangely conventional thing Eggers's hipster counterestablishment turns out to be! Why, in my day, sonny, a lead singer for a band with a name like Death Cab for Cutie wouldn't be caught dead endorsing a Democrat, especially one who's busy convincing the country of his pragmatism and moderation. Counterestablishments simply lived outside categories like right and left and Democrat and Republican. And they were never suckered by White House commissions and federal initiatives.

No longer, apparently. Whether the counterestablishment has taken over the Democratic party or the Democratic party has overtaken the counterestablishment, I don't know. But it's clear they'll be very happy together.

The Daughter offered the best reason: "He still owes me a pony."

October 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM


When Job-Creation Engines Stop at Just One (CATHERINE RAMPELL, 10/05/12, NY Times)

For more than a decade, start-ups have been getting leaner and meaner. In 1999, the typical new business had 7.7 employees; its counterpart in 2011 had 4.7, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by E. J. Reedy at the Kauffman Foundation, a research organization focused on entrepreneurship.

The lean model bodes well for companies like Leap2 that hope to become power players with much less manpower. With a work force of contractors, Mr. Farmer said Leap2 could "dial it up and dial it down" as business demanded without having to spend money unless it was necessary, improving the company's chances of survival.

But the implications for the American work force are worrisome, and may help explain why economic output is growing much faster than employers are adding jobs. 

...of whether you think companies should create wealth or jobs.  Is their function primarily economic or primarily social?

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


VP Debate: Body Language Expert Sees Big Contrast (ABBY D. PHILLIP, Oct. 12, 2012, ABC News)

If Vice President Joe Biden channeled his inner pit bull, Rep. Paul Ryan brought his inner puppy to the debate stage, according to facial expression expert Chris Kowal.

"I kind of call it the bulldog vs. the puppy," Kowal told ABC News.

"[Paul Ryan's] looks of surprise and the smile that he has...he comes across as very cute and likable," Kowal said. "When you pair it up with the more aggressive bull dog type of Joe Biden, people are going to become more protective of their candidate as a result."

Having gone in with such high negatives, going on the attack could only confirm Americans' dislike of the VP.
Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


A new housing boom (Chris Isidore, 10/12/12, CNNMoney)

Barclays Capital put out a report recently forecasting that home prices, which fell by more than a third after the housing bubble burst in 2007, could be back to peak levels as soon as 2015.

"In our view, the housing market had undergone a dramatic over-correction during the prior five years, resulting in pent-up demand for housing purchases that would spark a rapid rise in housing starts," said Stephen Kim, an analyst with Barclays, in a note to clients.

In addition to what Kim sees as a big rebound in building, he's bullish on home prices, expecting rises of 5% to 7.5% a year.

Construction is expected to be even stronger, with numerous experts forecasting home construction to grow by at least 20% a year for each of the next two years. Some believe building could be back near the pre-bubble average of about 1.5 million new homes a year by 2016, about double the 750,000 homes expected this year.

"We think the recovery is for real this time around," said Rick Palacios, senior analyst with John Burns Real Estate Consulting. "If you look across the U.S. economy right now, there are only a handful of industries looking at 20-30% growth over the next 4-5 years, and housing is one of those."

The actual crisis is our shortage of housing stock vis-a-vis our demographics, which is why the credit crunch would not have occurred absent derivative fraud. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Big Banks Hide Risk Transforming Collateral for Traders (Bradley Keoun, Sep 11, 2012, Bloomberg)

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Bank of America Corp. are helping clients find an extra $2.6 trillion to back derivatives trades amid signs that a shortage of quality collateral will erode efforts to safeguard the financial system.

Starting next year, new rules designed to prevent another meltdown will force traders to post U.S. Treasury bonds or other top-rated holdings to guarantee more of their bets. The change takes effect as the $10.8 trillion market for Treasuries is already stretched thin by banks rebuilding balance sheets and investors seeking safety, leaving fewer bonds available to backstop the $648 trillion derivatives market.

The solution: At least seven banks plan to let customers swap lower-rated securities that don't meet standards in return for a loan of Treasuries or similar holdings that do qualify, a process dubbed "collateral transformation." That's raising concerns among investors, bank executives and academics that measures intended to avert risk are hiding it instead.
"The dealers look after their own interests, and they won't necessarily look after the systemic risks that are associated with this," said Darrell Duffie, a finance professor at Stanford University who has studied the derivatives and securities-lending markets. "Regulators are probably going to become aware of it once the practice gets big enough."

Adding to the concern is the reaction of central clearinghouses, which collect from losers on derivatives trades and pay off winners. Some have responded to the collateral shortage by lowering standards, with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange accepting bonds rated four levels above junk.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


To Find an Honest Person, Assess Guilt-Proneness (Daniel Akst, 10/12/12, WSJ)

Is there a way to predict who is more likely to lie, cheat, steal or be a louse generally? Try assessing guilt proneness.

That's the message of a new paper  by a trio of social scientists reporting on research in this arena. It turns out that some people are considerably more prone to guilt than others, and their behavior is constrained by this predisposition to feel bad if they do something wrong--even when nobody else knows about the wrongdoing.

Guilt-proneness is measured using the 16 point Guilt and Shame Proneness (yes, GASP) scale, which you can try for yourself (scroll down through the link).  Questions 1, 9, 14, 16 appear to focus specifically on proneness to guilt.

The researchers find that 30% to 40% of adults are highly guilt-prone, and these tend to be nice folks. Guilt-proneness correlates to all kinds of positive traits, including sincerity, fairness, modesty, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

October 11, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Scientists discover 500 MILLION year old bug brain fossil that could revolutionise understanding of insect evolution (DAMIEN GAYLE, 10 October 2012, Daily Mail)
A 500million year old insect brain fossil is the oldest of its kind ever discovered by scientists.

Hailing the find a 'transformative discovery', experts said the 3in long fossil shows that insects evolved to have complex brains much earlier than previously thought.

The specimen, which was unearthed in Yunnan Province, China, provides a 'missing link' that sheds light on the evolutionary history of arthropods, the ancient ancestors of crustaceans, spiders and insects, researchers said.

A transformative discovery: This 3-inch long fossil shows that insects evolved to have complex brains much earlier than previously thought and could revolutionise our understanding of their evolution

The report's author Nicholas Strausfeld, a neurobiologist at the University of Arizona, said: 'No one expected such an advanced brain would have evolved so early in the history of multicellular animals.' [...]
The discovery, which is reported in the October edition of the journal Nature, suggests insect brains evolved from a previously complex structure to a more simple one, rather than the other way round, researchers said.

Rather, it revolutionizes the lack of understanding of evolution, which, in this case, began evolved and then devolved.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Romney's Pivot to the Center Hasn't Worked. (But It Didn't Need To.) (JOHN SIDES,  OCTOBER 11, 2012, ny tIMES)

[P]erhaps most importantly, Romney may not have needed this pivot to the center anyway.  Even though he is perceived as more conservative than the average voter--and increasingly so--he is still closer to the average voter than is Obama. This belies the notion that Romney's conservative positions in the primary have damaged him in the general election. Romney's struggles up until his debate win were not about ideology.  And if this debate has a long-term effect on the race, it may not involve making voters see him as more moderate.  In fact, although Romney's embrace of conservatism has attracted more commentary, Obama's perceived liberalism could prove the bigger liability in November.

The key to governing is flexibility and the capacity to compromise, a willingness to accept some of what you want even if it means the other guys get some of what they want. The average voter may already be roughly as conservative as Mitt, but it has to be helpful for them to see him as someone who is not so ideological that he won't be able to govern..  

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


Obama officials' spin on Benghazi attack mirrors Bin Laden raid untruths : In a familiar pattern, White House claims about what motivated the killing of the US ambassador in Libya are now contradicted (Glenn Greenwald, 10/11/12, guardian.co.uk)

The White House's initial statements about what happened, false though they turned out to be, forever shaped perceptions of that event. Many people are unwilling to change their minds even in the wake of new evidence, while many others hear only of the initial claims made when news coverage is at its peak and never become aware of subsequent corrections. Combine that with the generalized "Look Forward, Not Backward" mentality popularized by President Obama - as embodied by John Kerry's "shut up and move on" decree to those asking questions about what really happened in the Bin Laden raid - and those initial White House falsehoods did the trick.

We now see exactly the same pattern emerging with the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the killing of the US ambassador. For a full week now, administration officials have categorically insisted that the prime, if not only, cause of the attack was spontaneous anger over the anti-Muhammad film, The Innocence of Muslims.

Last week, White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted that "these protests, were in reaction to a video that had spread to the region." On Friday, he claimed:

"'This is a fairly volatile situation, and it is in response not to US policy, not to, obviously, the administration, not to the American people. It is in response to a video - a film - that we have judged to be reprehensive and disgusting. That in no way justifies any violent reaction to it. But this is not a case of protests directed at the United States, writ large, or at US policy. This is in response to a video that is offensive and - to Muslims.'"

On Sunday, UN ambassador Susan Rice, when asked about the impetus for the attack, said that "this began as, it was a spontaneous - not a premeditated - response to what had transpired in Cairo," and added: "In Cairo, as you know, a few hours earlier, there was a violent protest that was undertaken in reaction to this very offensive video that was disseminated." In other interviews, she insisted that the Benghazi violence was a "spontaneous" reaction to the film.

Predictably, and by design, most media accounts from the day after the Benghazi attack repeated the White House line as though it were fact, just as they did for the Bin Laden killing. Said NPR on 12 September: "The US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi by protesters angry over a film that ridiculed Islam's Prophet Muhammad." The Daily Beast reported that the ambassador "died in a rocket attack on the embassy amid violent protests over a US-produced film deemed insulting to Islam." To date, numerous people believe - as though there were no dispute about it - that Muslims attacked the consulate and killed the US ambassador "because they were angry about a film".

As it turns out, this claim is almost certainly false. And now, a week later, even the US government is acknowledging that, as McClatchy reports this morning [my emphasis]:

"The Obama administration acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that last week's assault on the US consulate compound in Benghazi that left the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans dead was a 'terrorist attack' apparently launched by local Islamic militants and foreigners linked to al-Qaida's leadership or regional allies.

"'I would say they were killed in the course of a terrorist attack,' said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, told the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

"It was the first time that a senior administration official had said the attack was not the result of a demonstration over an anti-Islam video that has been cited as the spark for protests in dozens of countries over the past week .'The picture that is emerging is one where a number of different individuals were involved,' Olsen said." [My emphasis]

Worse, it isn't as though there had been no evidence of more accurate information before Wednesday. To the contrary, most evidence from the start strongly suggested that the White House's claims - that this attack was motivated by anger over a film - were false. From McClatchy:

"The head of Libya's interim government, key US lawmakers and experts contend that the attack appeared long-planned, complex and well-coordinated, matching descriptions given to McClatchy last week by the consulate's landlord and a wounded security guard, who denied there was a protest at the time and said the attackers carried the banner of Ansar al-Shariah, an Islamist militia."

Indeed, Libya's president has spent the week publicly announcing that there is "no doubt" the attack was planned well in advance and had nothing to do with the video.

CBS News reported Thursday morning that there was no anti-video protest at all at the consulate. Witnesses insist, said CBS, "that there was never an anti-American protest outside of the consulate. Instead, they say, it came under planned attack." That, noted the network, "is in direct contradiction to the administration's account of the incident." The report concluded: "What's clear is that the public won't get a detailed account of what happened until after the election."

The Obama White House's interest in spreading this falsehood is multi-fold and obvious...
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Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM

...ALL MEN...:

Faith and Freedom: Why Liberty Requires Christianity (Joseph Pearce, 10/05/12, Crisis)

One of the truths of Christendom which lays the very foundations of freedom is the Christian insistence on the mystical equality of all people in the eyes of God and the insistence on the dignity of the human person that follows logically, inexorably and inescapably from such an insistence. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God, it doesn't matter if people are black or white, healthy or sick, able-bodied or handicapped, or whether babies are inside the womb or out of it. It doesn't matter that people are different, in terms of race, age or innate abilities; they are all equal in the eyes of God, and therefore, of necessity, in the eyes of Man also. This is the priceless inheritance of Christendom with which our freedoms are established and maintained. If everyone is equal in the eyes of God and Man, everyone must also be equal in the eyes of the law.

If, however, the equality of man is denied, freedom is imperiled. The belief of Nietzsche, adopted by the Nazis, that humanity consists of übermenschen and untermenschen, the "over-men" and the "under-men," led to people being treated as subhuman, worthy of extermination and victims of genocide. The progressivist belief of Hegel, adopted by Marx and his legion of disciples, that a rationalist dialectic, mechanistically determined, governs the progress of humanity, led to the deterministic inhumanity of communism and the slaughter of those deemed to be enemies of "progress." The French Revolution, an earlier incarnation of atheistic progressivism and the progenitor of communism, had led to the invention of the guillotine as the efficient and effective instrument of the Great Terror and its rivers of blood. The gas chamber, the Gulag and the guillotine are the direct consequence of the failure to uphold the Christian concept of human equality and the freedom it enshrines. In our own time, the same failure to accept and uphold human equality has led to babies in the womb being declared subhuman, or untermenschen, without any protection in law from their being killed at the whim of their mothers.

Apart from the connection between freedom and equality, the other aspect of freedom enshrined by Christianity is the freedom of the will and the consequences attached to it. If we are free to act and are not merely slaves to instinct as the materialists claim, we have to accept that we are responsible for our choices and for their consequences.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


The Wrong Way to Help the Poor (GARY E. MacDOUGAL, October 10, 2012, NY Times)

[F]or now, let's use that $1 trillion figure to ask a broader question: Are we spending this money in truly the best way to help the poor?

Consider a thought experiment: Divide $1 trillion by 46 million and you get around $21,700 for each American in poverty, or nearly $87,000 for a family of four. That's almost four times the $23,050 per year federal poverty line for that family. It's intriguing to think about converting all of this to a cash payment that would instantly lift everyone in poverty up to the middle class.

For a variety of reasons, of course, that's not possible, either logistically or politically. But a middle path might resemble what Mr. Ryan has proposed for Medicaid -- converting the behemoth program to block grants for each state, an idea that in some ways parallels the successful welfare reform plan of the Clinton era.

Put a portion of that into their personal SS, HSA, unemployment, etc. accounts and then a chunk of cash. 
Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


Even After the Housing Bust, Americans Still Love the Suburbs (Jed Kolko, 10/10/12, New Geography)

Knowing that we couldn't use these Census data, we decided to tackle this question another way. Using U.S. Postal Service data on occupied addresses receiving mail, we calculated household growth in every ZIP code from September 2011 to September 2012. (A previous Trulia Trends post explains in more detail how these data are collected.) Consistent with earlier studies of city versus suburb growth, we compared the growth in a metro area's biggest city with the growth in the rest of the metropolitan area, across America's 50 largest metros.

By this measure, there was essentially no difference between city and suburban growth. When we looked at all 50 metros together, household growth was 0.536% in the metros' biggest cities and 0.546% in the rest of the metro area over the past year - which means that suburbs grew ever so slightly faster than big cities. The biggest city grew faster than the suburbs in 24 of those metros, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia; the suburbs grew faster than the biggest city in the other 26 metros, including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix.

But comparing the biggest city with the rest of the metro area misses some of the action. In most metros, there are neighborhoods outside the biggest city that are more urban than some neighborhoods in the biggest city (as measured by density). For example, Hoboken NJ, just across the river from New York City, is denser and feels more urban than much of Staten Island, which is part of New York City. Central Square in Cambridge, next to Boston, feels more urban than West Roxbury and Hyde Park, two quiet neighborhoods within the City of Boston. In southern California, Santa Monica and Pasadena - which are outside the Los Angeles city boundary - feel more urban than Sylmar, Chatsworth and other outlying neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley that are technically part of the City of Los Angeles.

Therefore, we took a new approach. We compared growth in neighborhoods based on whether they actually are more urban or suburban based on their density, regardless of whether those neighborhoods happen to be inside or outside the boundary of a metro area's biggest city. Within each metro area, we ranked every neighborhood - as defined by ZIP codes -- by household density. Neighborhoods with higher density than the metro area average are "more urban"; neighborhoods with lower density than the metro area average are "more suburban." (See "the fine print" at end of this post.)

By defining "urban" and "suburban" in this way, suburban growth is clearly outpacing urban growth. Growth in the "more suburban" neighborhoods was 0.73% in the past year, more than twice as high as in the "more urban" neighborhoods, where growth was just 0.35%. In fact, urban neighborhoods grew faster than suburban neighborhoods in only 5 of the 50 largest metros: Memphis, New York, Chicago, San Jose and Pittsburgh - and often by a really small margin. In the other 45 large metros, the suburbs grew faster than the more urban neighborhoods.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 AM


Romney shifts to more moderate stances on taxes, immigration, health care, education (Karen Tumulty, October 10, 2012, Washington Post)

At a rally in Las Vegas, former president Bill Clinton mocked Romney's shifts, saying they were evident in last week's presidential debate, which was almost universally regarded as a win for the Republican.

"I had a different reaction to that first debate than a lot of people did," he said, laying it on with his buttery Arkansas drawl. "I thought: 'Wow, here's old moderate Mitt. Where ya been, boy? I miss you all these last two years.' "

Clinton added: "It was like one of these Bain Capital deals, you know, where he's the closer. So he shows up, doesn't really know much about the deal and says, 'Tell me what I'm supposed to say to close.' Now, the problem with this deal is the deal was made by severe-conservative Mitt."

Of course, a second-half pivot is a time-honored maneuver in the political playbook. In a primary campaign, a candidate must play to the passions of the base; as he moves toward the general election, the sensibilities of swing voters become paramount.

Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom telegraphed as much in an instantly famous interview on CNN in March, when he said: "I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."

But Romney did not begin making those moves until shortly before the first debate, when polls suggested that victory might be slipping out of his reach.

Obama's campaign strategists say they have suspected all along that Romney would try to dis­entangle himself from the more strident positions he has taken since starting his first presidential campaign in 2007. 

Voters love flip-floppers, because it means they aren't ideologues.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 AM


Foreclosures fall to 5-year low (Les Christie, October 11, 2012, CNNMoney) 

The wave of foreclosures hitting the nation's housing market has been much less severe than anticipated, with foreclosure filings at their lowest level in five years last month, according to a report out Thursday.

October 10, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 PM


The Key Question the State Department Won't Answer on Libya (JOHN HUDSON, 10/10/12, The Atlantic)

The investigation surrounding the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Libya is not so much about what happend in the war-torn country, but why it took the Obama administration so long to tell the truth about what happened. Today, a hearing at the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee attempted to wring an answer out of State Department officials on that issue, but failed to elicit a robust answer.

By now, everyone admits that the State Department and the White House disseminated inaccurate information in the aftermath of the deadly attack. They said the attack derived from a demonstration outside the U.S. compound in Benghazi that devolved into a deadly assault on the building. Now officials say it was a pre-planned attack with probable ties to Al Qaeda. What's more, they also say there was never a demonstration outside the U.S. compound. That makes this question very simple: Who created the myth that a demonstration ever existed? 

Last night, we came closer to that answer when senior State Department officials told reporters that State was not responsible for creating the bogus intelligence. "That was not our conclusion," the officials said. "That is the question you'd have to ask others."

If the intelligence didn't come from the State Department, who did it come from? 

...if a Republican president had tried blaming a terrorist attack on average Arabs protesting US policies?

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Romney up huge with independents (Christian Neinze, 10/09/12, The Hill)

Fueling his current polling surge, Mitt Romney's numbers with indies are just getting remarkably good. 

a. IBD/ITP poll released today: Romney 52% Obama 34%.

b. Pew poll, released yesterday: Romney 46% Obama 42%. 

c. Politico/GW poll, released yesterday: Romney 51% Obama 35%.

d. CNN, released last week: Romney 49% Obama 41%.

e. National Journal, released October 3: Romney 49% Obama 41%.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Barry Trails Off . . . (MAUREEN DOWD, 10/10/12, NY Times)

When he speaks at rallies, he doesn't want the stage cluttered with other officeholders. When he rides in his limo, he isn't prone to give local pols a lift. He wants to feel that he doesn't owe his ascension to anyone else -- not a rich daddy, not a spouse or father who was president, not even those who helped at pivotal moments. He believes he could do any job in his White House or campaign, from speechwriter to policy director, better than those holding the jobs.

October 9, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Is There Life After Mitt? (MATT BAI, October 9, 2012, NY Times Magazine)

Not long ago, David Winston, a leading pollster in the Republican Party, listed for me some of the empirical reasons that Mitt Romney should be winning the election. In the past 64 years, Winston said, only six presidents had run for re-election at a time when the unemployment rate was above 6 percent, and five of them lost. (The exception was Ronald Reagan, whose unemployment rate, while over 7 percent, had dropped almost three full points since his election.) Since 1948, when the government started keeping such statistics, the country experienced a total of 82 months with an unemployment rate of more than 8 percent, and 43 of those months came under President Obama -- more than the previous 11 administrations combined. George H. W. Bush's economy grew at triple the rate of Obama's during his last quarter before the election, and he never stood a chance.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


How Racist Are We? Ask Google (SETH STEPHENS-DAVIDOWITZ, 6/09/12, NY Times)

Can we really quantify racial prejudice in different parts of the country based solely on how often certain words are used on Google? Not perfectly, but remarkably well. Google, aggregating information from billions of searches, has an uncanny ability to reveal meaningful social patterns. "God" is Googled more often in the Bible Belt, "Lakers" in Los Angeles.

The conditions under which people use Google -- online, most likely alone, not participating in an official survey -- are ideal for capturing what they are really thinking and feeling. [...]

The state with the highest racially charged search rate in the country was West Virginia. Other areas with high percentages included western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York and southern Mississippi.

Once I figured out which parts of the country had the highest racially charged search rates, I could test whether Mr. Obama underperformed in these areas. I predicted how many votes Mr. Obama should have received based on how many votes John Kerry received in 2004 plus the average gain achieved by other 2008 Democratic Congressional candidates. The results were striking: The higher the racially charged search rate in an area, the worse Mr. Obama did.

Consider two media markets, Denver and Wheeling (which is a market evenly split between Ohio and West Virginia). Mr. Kerry received roughly 50 percent of the votes in both markets. Based on the large gains for Democrats in 2008, Mr. Obama should have received about 57 percent of votes in both Denver and Wheeling. Denver and Wheeling, though, exhibit different racial attitudes. Denver had the fourth lowest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won 57 percent of the vote there, just as predicted. Wheeling had the seventh highest racially charged search rate in the country. Mr. Obama won less than 48 percent of the Wheeling vote.

Add up the totals throughout the country, and racial animus cost Mr. Obama three to five percentage points of the popular vote. In other words, racial prejudice gave John McCain the equivalent of a home-state advantage nationally.

Barring some decisive screw-up, like the House Republicans refusing to help bail out the credit system, there's no way the President can get to 49%.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Opened to prove a point, UFT's charter school could be closed (Philissa Cramer and Geoff Decker, 10/08/12, Gotham Schools)

The city teachers union could face a school closure this year that hits uncomfortably close to home.

A decade ago, the early success of some charter schools became a case in point for a larger argument: The absence of a union contract in the schools enabled them to succeed with high-need students, proving that the presence of unions was holding other schools back, charter school advocates said.

Randi Weingarten, then the president of the United Federation of Teachers, opened the UFT Charter School in 2005 to pierce that argument. By posting higher scores, the school would "dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success," she said at the time. [...]

But seven years into its existence, the nation's first union-run school is one of the lowest-performing schools in the city. Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.

On the school's most recent progress report, released last week, the Department of Education ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


A dereliction of debating (Dennis Byrne, October 9, 2012, Chicago Tribune)

[O]bama's fatal flaw is not just his policies (as bad as they are), but the fact that he isn't and never was cut out to be president. He's not up to it. He's the kid who got thrown into the pool without knowing how to swim. He lacks the experience, composure and certain qualities of leadership required of a president -- qualities that Romney put on display. The pro schools the neophyte.

Bob Woodward described it in his new best-seller, "The Price of Politics," which detailed the collapse last year of the "grand bargain" on spending and debt. While Woodward found fault with both parties, he held Obama's insufficiencies mostly responsible for leaving America heading for the fiscal cliff it now faces. Woodward's book describes an arrogant, withdrawn, indecisive and uncompromising president. These are dispositions that would doom Obama to failure as a private sector boss. And ought to in the public sector.

All signs of adolescence, I would say.

Obama's presidency was based purely on hope, change and hot air. Never did he demonstrate executive ability or leadership. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Obama 'believed he had BEATEN Romney' in Denver debate - after ignoring advice of top aides on preparation (TOBY HARNDEN, 9 October 201, Daily Mail)
When President Barack Obama stepped off the stage in Denver last week the 60 million Americans watching the debate against Mitt Romney already knew it had been a disaster for him.
But what nobody knew, until now, was that Obama believed he had actually won.

In an extraordinary insight into the events leading up to the 90 minute showdown which changed the face of the election, a Democrat close to the Obama campaign today reveals that the President also did not take his debate preparation seriously, ignored the advice of senior aides and ignored one-liners that had been prepared to wound Romney.

...when the staff starts trying to avoid any blame for the loss.  The notion that they had these lethal one-liners all set to go is particularly amusing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Barack Obama, Supportable and Inscrutable (Nicholas Lemann, October 5, 2012, New Republic)

The many details that Maraniss has unearthed about Obama fall into two main categories: first, Obama's childhood circumstances were more emotionally difficult than he has made them out to be; second, his narrative of finding a comfortable, lasting cultural identity by embracing his African Americanness seems too pat. Barack Obama, Sr., though brilliant and magnetic, comes across as a real horror-show in Maraniss's account. Although he and the president's mother were officially married for a few years, it sounds as if they never lived together as husband and wife. When Barack Sr. was still in Hawaii after his son was born, he didn't even acknowledge to his friends that he had started a new family. (He already had a family back in Kenya, whom he hadn't told his wife in Hawaii about.) He may have been unfaithful to and physically abusive of Stanley Ann Dunham, as he was with his next wife, Ruth. He made no effort to provide for his Hawaiian son in any way, and when he returned to Kenya his life was a series of disasters because he was a deeply unreliable alcoholic. The auto accident that killed him in 1982, at about the same age the president was when he was elected, was merely the last in a long string of drunk-driving incidents.

The grandparents who mainly raised Obama were drinkers--in his interview with Maraniss, Obama casually refers to the grandmother who was the rock of his childhood as an alcoholic. Stanley Dunham, his grandfather, whom he strikingly resembles physically, was a salesman who had gone from mainly ebullient to mainly defeated by the time Obama was a teenager. Obama's mother was a remarkably determined and independent person who, under difficult circumstances, built a significant life for herself as an anthropologist in Indonesia, but Maraniss insistently points out what Obama himself was too diplomatic to say outright in Dreams from My Father: she consistently decided, from the time he was about ten, to structure her life so that she spent almost no time with him, and there is some evidence that he sensed this and resented it deeply. 

You can't help but feel sorry for the guy.  He's spent his whole life seeking the love and approval denied him as a child, and seemed to have gotten it from the American electorate, but now we're structuring American life around spending no time with him either.  He's going to resent us even more than he did her. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Nobel-winning stem cell work helps curtail embryonic research (Carl Bunderson, 10/08/12,  CNA/EWTN News)

Moral theologian Father Thomas Berg is praising the work of Shinya Yamanaka, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in medicine, for helping to "put human embryonic stem cell research largely out of business."

Yamanaka and John B. Gurdon, researchers in cell biology, were awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discoveries about the generation of stem cells.

"Yamanaka will be remembered in history as the man who put human embryonic stem cell research largely out of business, motivated by reflection on the fact that his own daughters were once human embryos," Fr. Berg, professor of moral theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, N.Y. told CNA Oct. 8.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN THE NORDIC MODEL (Nima Sanandaji, 09/20/2012, New Geography)

So how come the Nordic nations are so prosperous? A key reason is that they, particularly since the 1980s, have compensated for high tax regimes by implementing a range of market reforms. These reforms range from Flexicurity -- a combination of strategies to provide flexibility for employers and security for workers -- in the Danish labor market, to partial abolition of rent-control in Finland, to school vouchers and partial privatization of the pension system in Sweden. Indeed, the Nordic nations have risen sharply in both the Heritage/WSJ and the Frasier Institute indexes of economic freedom over the years.

It is also important to realize exactly why the Nordic nations have been able to implement large welfare states, and what the benefits have been. The cultural and economic systems in the Protestant Nordic nations have historically given rise to very strong norms related to work and responsibility. Coupled with uniquely homogeneous societies, these norms made it possible to implement larger welfare states in the Nordic nations than those in other industrialized countries. Since the norms relating to work and responsibility were so firmly rooted, Nordic citizens were not as likely as other Europeans or Americans to try to avoid taxes or misuse generous public support systems. Also, the "one-solution-fits-all" systems of the welfare state are typically less disruptive in a strongly homogeneous social environment, since most of the population has similar norms, preferences, and income levels.

However, with time the norms have evolved. In the World Value Survey of 1981-84, almost 82 percent of Swedes responded that "claiming government benefits to which you are not entitled is never justifiable", but in the survey of 1999-2004, only 55 percent held the same belief. It is no coincidence that much of the public policy debate in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland has focused on curbing overutilization of welfare systems.

Many of the favorable social outcomes in the Nordic nations relate to our unique culture, and the policies cannot simply be copied. In1950, long before the high-tax welfare state, Swedes lived 2.6 years longer than Americans. Today the difference is 2.7 years. The two researchers Jesper Roine and Daniel Waldenström have similarly shown in a new study that "most of the decrease [in economic inequality in Sweden] takes place before the expansion of the welfare state", occurring during the period when the nation was characterized by low taxes, a small state and a flexible labor market.

Clearly, the social success in the Nordic countries is not simply a result of welfare policies, but related to cultural and demographic factors.

Not coincidentally, changing attitudes towards and reforms of the generous welfare state have followed mass immigration into these countries.
Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Obama's Drone Dilemma : The killings probably aren't legal--not that they'll stop. (Eric Posner, Oct. 8, 2012, Slate)

The U.N. Charter permits countries to use military force abroad only with the approval of the U.N. Security Council, in self-defense, or with the permission of the country in which military force is to be used. The U.N. Security Council never authorized the drone war in Pakistan. Self-defense, traditionally defined to mean the use of force against an "imminent" armed attack by a nation-state, does not apply either, because no one thinks that Pakistan plans to invade the United States. That leaves consent as the only possible legal theory.

Except, of course, that the UN, as its name implies, is premised on relations between sovereign nations and the legal theory of sovereignty holds that a nation is only sovereign where it exercises political control over territory.  Pakistan wields no such authority over the territory where terrorists operate freely.  If it claimed to, then it would be answerable for their actions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


The Imaginary Teacher Shortage : Forty years and a million more teachers later, student performance is unchanged. Yet Obama and Romney both say schools need more staff. (JAY P. GREENE, 10/08/12, WSJ)

Hiring hundreds of thousands of additional teachers won't improve student achievement. It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.

Yet math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress. The federal estimate of high-school graduation rates also shows no progress (with about 75% of students completing high school then and now). Unless the next teacher-hiring binge produces something that the last several couldn't, there is no reason to expect it to contribute to student outcomes.

Most people expect that more individualized attention from teachers should help students learn. The problem is that expanding the number of hires means dipping deeper into the potential teacher labor pool. That means additional teachers are likely to be weaker than current ones.

...that way you broaden the pool, avoid burnout, lower wage bills, and skip pensions and benefits almost entirely.

October 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Updated election forecasting model still points to Romney win, University of Colorado study says (University of Colorado, October 4, 2012)

An update to an election forecasting model announced by two University of Colorado professors in August continues to project that Mitt Romney will win the 2012 presidential election.

According to their updated analysis, Romney is projected to receive 330 of the total 538 Electoral College votes. President Barack Obama is expected to receive 208 votes -- down five votes from their initial prediction -- and short of the 270 needed to win.

The new forecast by political science professors Kenneth Bickers of CU-Boulder and Michael Berry of CU Denver is based on more recent economic data than their original Aug. 22 prediction. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


The Simplest Way To End Poverty Might Be To Just Give Money Away : Conditional cash transfer programs--which give cash rewards for things like getting vaccinations or enrolling kids in school--might sound like free money, but evidence is mounting about their effectiveness. (MICHAEL J. COREN, 10/08/12, Co.Exist)

For centuries, it was anathema to give money to the poor for fear of creating dependency. The welfare state, particularly in the United States, was derided as ineffective and pernicious to liberty.

Yet it may a far smaller problem that we once thought. The New America Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy institute, has released a new report showing that conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs are driving down poverty around the world by addressing the dominant "institutional, environmental, historical, racial, and social" causes of extreme poverty, rather than merely avoiding the risk of individual freeloaders.

CCTs transfer cash directly to recipients who fulfill certain criteria such as enrolling their children in school, finding regular medical care, vaccinations, and other programs. Families can use the program to escape their day-to-day survival mode precluding any significant investment in the future.

New America has identified about 90 cash transfer programs in 45 countries that cover half a billion beneficiaries. Programs such as Mexico's Oportunidades (formerly known as PROGRESA) was reportedly associated with "a 30% reduction in the poverty gap" and raised the average (age-adjusted) height of children receiving benefits by 1 centimeter. Combining these programs with modern technology linking almost anyone to the formal financial services, promises to drive radical reductions in poverty.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Hugo Chávez's Final Act : Why his victory means Venezuela will get much worse before it gets better. (William J. Dobson, Oct. 8, 2012, Slate)

When I met Henrique Capriles in 2009, he was already being touted as the man most likely to challenge Hugo Chávez in the 2012 presidential elections. You could quickly understand why. Even though the refurbished elementary school holding the rally on that Sunday afternoon was in Chávez territory, Capriles' arrival was met with the cheers, screams, and dancing that you'd expect for a rock star, not a governor. The charismatic young opposition leader felt comfortable in his skin and his informal style exuded confidence. Though he was three years from that presidential race, he already knew how to deliver the lines that made Venezuelans from this hardscrabble corner of the countryside roar. Capriles opened by recounting a story of a worker who had recently told him that, "I love Chávez, but I love you, too." Capriles explained that was OK. "Sometimes a man falls in love with two or three women or a woman falls in love with two or three men. It's all right--it's part of life." It's OK if you gave your heart to Chávez; my arms are wide open. The crowd swooned.

But on Sunday there still wasn't enough love for the handsome 40-year-old governor. Hugo Chávez won his fourth bid for Miraflores, the presidential palace, with 54 percent of the vote to Capriles's 45 percent. Capriles did make inroads. Chávez, for example, only added 135,000 votes from his 2006 election total, while the opposition won nearly 1.9 million more votes than last time.

Time is on Mr. Capriles side.
Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Does Obama Even Want to Win the Election? (Michael Tomasky Oct 7, 2012, Daily Beast)

[M]ainly it's that the reality of his term is undoubtedly so different, and so much worse, than the presidency he envisioned for himself. There's no doubt that he did envision himself as transformational. Almost everything that had happened in his life before becoming president--succeeding at everything, often leaving observers in awe of him--clearly suggested to him that he'd conquer the presidency.

Actually, the reality is that he's never succeeded at anything, only been successful at getting the promotion to the next stepping stone.  But the presidency isn't a stepping stone to anywhere, just a tough job that requires skills, experience, and the right personality, none of which he'd ever developed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


Mending, Not Ending Is Conservative And Post-Partisan (Pete Spiliakos, October 7, 2012, First Things)

The real Romney managed a mostly articulate defense of premium support Medicare, which would be the most "conservative" policy reform since... well I don't know when. I think a lot of what we think off as ideological politics is actually drawing lines between politically engaged teams. Mocking Obama, threatening to torture Obamacare to death on your first day in office and constantly complaining about socialism are all forms of showing what team you are on. They are also partisan in the sense that the "teams" tend to think of themselves as ideological first and party members second. So when Romney (or Ryan) explains how a policy will benefit the general public, it doesn't seem especially ideological or partisan - even if the policy proposal is a much bigger change than merely undoing the works of the Obama administration.

And the essence of partisanship is that the Right would prefer an ideologue and a second Obama term.  Purity is more important than politics for the true believer.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


With Foreign Policy Speech, Romney Runs for Obama's Second Term (Spencer Ackerman, October 8, 2012, Wired)

Mitt Romney thinks Barack Obama is a terrible president. When Romney looks at Obama's foreign policies, he sees a president who projects "passivity" in a dangerous world, as he argues in a big speech on Monday, leaving allies and enemies confused about where America stands. Which makes it curious that the policies Romney outlines in his speech differ, at most, superficially from Obama's.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM

Watch Radiohead on PBS. See more from Austin City Limits.

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


With Biden Up Next to Debate, Obama's Aides Plot Comeback (PETER BAKER and TRIP GABRIEL, 10/07/12, NY Times)

Mr. Obama does not like debates to begin with, aides have long said, viewing them as media-driven gamesmanship. He did not do all that well in 2008 but benefited from Senator John McCain's grumpy performances. Mr. Obama made clear to advisers that he was not happy about debating Mr. Romney, whom he views with disdain. It was something to endure, rather than an opportunity, aides said.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts was recruited to play Mr. Romney. The preparation team was kept small. The most important players were Mr. Axelrod; David Plouffe, the president's senior adviser; and Anita Dunn, a former White House communications director. Others included Joel Benenson, the president's pollster; Ronald A. Klain, Mr. Biden's former chief of staff; and Robert Barnett, a longtime Democratic debate coach.

By the time Mr. Obama retreated to Nevada for a final couple days of practice, the debate prep team was getting by on as little as three hours of sleep a night as they crafted answers and attack lines. Mr. Kerry played a range of Mr. Romneys -- aggressive, laid back, hard-edge conservative -- and got in the president's face, according to people in the room. Mr. Obama's alternating performances left aides walking off Air Force One in Denver looking worried.

On stage, Mr. Obama seemed thrown off as Mr. Romney emphasized elements of his agenda that seemed more moderate and was surprised that the moderator, Jim Lehrer of PBS, did not pose more pointed questions. The president's team had decided in advance not to raise Mr. Romney's tenure at Bain Capital, aides said, but Mr. Obama held back on other attack lines they had intended to use. The base wanted him "to gut Romney," one adviser said, but swing voters hate that and he was seeking a balance. Few thought he found it.

Bain is to the Left what Ayers was to the Right.
Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Why I'm Voting for Mitt Romney : After the president's debate performance in Denver, this lifelong Democrat has made a difficult decision: he's given up on Barack Obama. Even if his own wife doesn't approve. (Buzz Bissinger Oct 8, 2012, Daily Beast)

I grew up on the Upper West Side of New York, arguably the country's nexus of liberalogy, where it wouldn't have surprised me in the least as a child to discover that my parents, along with all the other attendees in some garret reminiscent of the French Resistance, had thrown eggs at Abbie Hoffman at a political get-together because he wasn't liberal enough.

Voting for a president is based on a combination of factual and emotional perception. The tipping point was last week's debate in Denver. Romney finally did what he should have done all along instead of his balky cha cha with the old white men of the conservative Republican wing: he acted as the moderate he is, for the first time running as himself, not against himself, embracing his record as governor of Massachusetts.

I have never seen a performance worse than Obama's, distracted, his head dipped into the podium as if avoiding the smell of something rotten, acting above the very idea that a debate does provide a pivotal referendum on his first term as it has for all incumbent presidents, whipsawed by the legion of usual advisers telling him to play defense when his own intuition should have told him that he needed to go on the offensive as Romney slapped him around.

But there was more than the entitlement of entitlement. He struck me as burnt out, tired of selling his message although he has always been terrible at selling his message when it veers from idealism into the practical.

By instinct I still cling to my Democrat roots. But I admit that as I get older, on the cusp of 58, I am moving more to the center or even tweaking right, or at least not tied to any ideology. Those making more than $250,000 should pay more taxes, and that does include me. But I also am tired of Obama's constant demonization, of those he spits out as "millionaires and billionaires," as pariahs. Romney's comments at a fundraiser were stupid, but 47 percent of Americans do not pay federal income taxes. Yes, a majority are poor and seniors. But millions do not pay such taxes with incomes of more than $50,000, and whether it's as little as $10, every American should contribute both as a patriotic obligation and skin in the game. This is our country, not our country club.

Come on in, the water's fine...

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Disruption? (Jonathan Marks, 10/05/12, Inside Higher Ed)

As a politics professor, I feel I should know something about health policy, but it is mostly dread that made me sign up for Ezekiel Emanuel's class, Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act, through Coursera. Word is that higher education is about to be disrupted by online providers, like Coursera and Udacity, and their MOOCs (massive open online courses). If students can take political philosophy with Harvard's Michael Sandel for free, why will they pay to take it with me?

 Have you seen Professor Sandel's course? I bet I am not alone in wanting to take his more than I want to take mine. Sebastian Thrun, co-founder of Udacity, predicts that in 50 years there will be no more than 10 higher education institutions. Thrun isn't quietly waiting for his prediction to pan out, either. Pearson VUE recently contracted to administer proctored final exams for some of Udacity's courses, an important step toward offering credit that most colleges will find hard to reject.

But the "college credit monopoly" may have been the only thing protecting me from Sandel. Dean Dad explains that students who can get college credits for free will have more incentive than ever to max out the transfer credits they are allowed and less incentive than ever to buy my college's expensive products, including, I cannot help emphasizing, me.  It is just my luck that, amid what some are calling a great stagnation, one of the few big advances in the offing wants to eat my job. I signed up for Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act, then, half-hoping for a bad experience.

But at first, the course seemed alarmingly good. Emanuel, as health policy adviser to the director of the OMB, helped craft the Affordable Care Act. An oncologist, author and food critic, he is disgustingly accomplished. No wonder that over 30,000 students wanted to be in a virtual room with Emanuel, now a vice-provost and professor at the University of Pennsylvania. A wry and engaging lecturer, Emanuel delivered. Though he did not hide his affection for the Affordable Care Act, he also revealed some of the cynical calculations that went into the law.

Had we paid any money, we would have gotten our money's worth: an insider's account of the challenges the American health care system faces, of how the Affordable Care Act seeks to meet them, and of obstacles to the new law's success. Professor Emanuel's lectures were supplemented by informative readings that covered in depth the very topics, like malpractice reform, cost control, and innovation, that a health policy novice wants to know more about.

After completing the eight-week course, however, I am optimistic that this kind of MOOC will not eat my job because it and I are not really in the same business. At Ursinus College, where I teach, the faculty and administration work individually and collectively to help our students cultivate judgment, the capacity to decide what to think or how to act in areas, like health policy, where no formula can generate the right answer. While we cannot help our students without demanding that they take an active role in their education, we also assume that they do not come in with their judgments already cultivated. College should be a transformative experience for them, and they will need guidance.

For all its virtues, Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act offered almost no guidance, and I now think, as I will explain later, that this absence of guidance is not a temporary defect that tweaks will soon correct, but rather a built-in feature of the Coursera model.

It's a quaint theory, but if we cared about educating kids we wouldn't send so many ineducable ones to college.  Instead, higher education exists to give job applicants diplomas like the ones those hiring them have.  They're just stars to differentiate us from the other sneeches.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


A Moral Flip-Flop? Defining a War (Paul Starobin, 10/07/12, NY Times)

HAROLD HONGJU KOH, the former dean of the Yale Law School, has been one of the country's foremost defenders of the notion that the president of the United States can't wage wars without the approval of Congress. During the Bush administration, he was legendary for his piercing criticisms of "executive muscle flexing" in the White House's pursuit of the so-called war on terror.

Even more, he was described by those who knew him as the inspiration for a generation of human rights activists and lawyers passionately committed to a vision of a post-imperial America as a model of constitutional restraint. His colleagues viewed him as not only a brilliant scholar but a "liberal icon."

Suddenly, though, Mr. Koh seems to be a different person.

Just over two years ago, he became legal adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton's State Department, and in that job, he has become the administration's defender of the right to stay engaged in a conflict against Libya without Congressional approval. He argues that the president can proceed because the country is not actually engaging in "hostilities." Because "hostilities" is "an ambiguous standard," he has argued, the president need not withdraw forces to meet the resolution's requirement of an automatic pull-out, 60 days after "hostilities" begin, absent express Congressional approval for the war. The conflict is in its fourth month, and no such consent has been given.

Mr. Koh's allies, speaking more in sorrow than in anger, are mystified and disheartened to see their hero engaging in legalistic "word play." To them, it's as if he has torn off his team jersey, midgame, and put on the other side's. 

The middle of the game was the election that put his side in power.  He'll flip flop back as soon as the GOP is governing again.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 AM


Colombia at Peace? (Shlomo Ben Ami, 8 October 2012, The ISN Blog)

The Framework Agreement for the End of the Armed Conflict in Colombia that has just been announced by President Juan Manuel Santos is a historic landmark for his country and all of Latin America. [...]

This momentous shift reflects the decimation of the FARC following long years of struggle, the resilience of Colombian society, and, perhaps most important, Santos's brilliant regional policy. By weakening the so-called Bolivarian Axis (Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia), the FARC guerrillas were left without a supportive regional environment.

As with peace processes in the Middle East and Central America following the Cold War's end, regional changes created the conditions for the start of the Colombian process.

Greenlighting Uribe and treating FARC as just another segment of the WoT worked.
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October 7, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


A Fantasy Election, an Imaginary Man : Barack Obama has always been less real than dream--a media dream. (ANDREW KLAVAN, 5 October 2012, City Journal)

Even before his inauguration, Barack Obama was an imaginary man, the creation of his admirers. Think back to the 2008 Time magazine cover depicting him as FDR, the Newsweek cover of the same year on which he was shown casting Lincoln's shadow, or the $1.4 million Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples"--this in 2009, less than a year after he had taken office. It was not that Obama had done nothing to deserve these outsized comparisons and honors--it was not just that he had done nothing--it was that he seemed for all the world to be a blank screen on which such hysterical fantasies could too easily be projected, a two-dimensional paper doll just waiting to be dressed in leftist dreams.

This weird quality of emptiness incited the imaginations of his opponents as well. Among the more paranoid on the right, he's been called several kinds of Manchurian Candidate: a radical disguised as a moderate, a Muslim disguised as a Christian, a foreigner disguised as an American, and so on. The idea was that his hollow identity was his own insidious creation, the result of sealed college records, votes of "present" in the Illinois state senate, and a supra-partisan persona carefully crafted after a scuttled lifetime of revolutionary ferocity.

If nothing else, the last four years have been hilarious, as we've gotten to watch the two wings try and inflate this quintessentially empty suit into a world historical figure.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Is Obama More Puritanical Than Romney? (Peter Lawler, October 7, 2012, Big Think)

My own more fair-and-balanced judgment is that being puritanical is an indispensable component of being American. It can be both good and bad, and it's mainly good when properly checked by our devotion to personal or individual liberty. If it weren't for our puritanical streak, we Americans would be too libertarian, too indifferent to the well-being of our fellow citizens and fellow creatures.

If it weren't for our libertarian streak, we'd be too intrusive and meddlesome; we wouldn't leave each other alone in peace and freedom at all. 

We don't want to be as sexually repressive as the Puritans, who wanted to punish adultery with death and even make kissing in public illegal.  

Seems reasonable.
Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


High-yield bonds worth the risk, fund manager says : Jim Keenan, who manages the $9.3-billion BlackRock High Yield Bond Fund, says such bonds provide equity-like returns with lower risk. (Stuart Pfeifer, 10/05/12, Los Angeles Times)

[W]here's an income-hungry investor to turn? One option is high-yield bonds, which are paying about 6% but carry risk that issuing companies may default, eroding the bonds' value.

Jim Keenan, who manages the $9.3-billion BlackRock High Yield Bond Fund, said bonds issued by companies with less-than-perfect credit ratings are a good investment because they provide equity-like returns with lower risk. His fund has a yield of about 5.9%.

"Today, if you're cautious and want to protect your wealth you're going to get a real negative result if you sit in cash," Keenan said. "The value of the dollar is 2% to 3% less every year. Sitting in cash is to some degree a destruction of the value of your currency."

High-yield bonds, typically referred to as junk bonds, are from companies with troubled credit ratings. In order to attract investors, these companies offer higher interest rates to bond holders.

Keenan, 36, supervises a team at BlackRock's New York office that searches for bargains in these beaten-down brands. The fund returned 17% for the first three quarters of 2012, if dividends were reinvested in the security.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


The Shield Cracks: Obama Is Now In Real Trouble (Rick Wilson, 10/06/12, Ricochet)

When the hermetic, perfect world created in 2008 came into being, the Lightbringer at its center was protected from the moment of his nomination in a kind of numinous cloud of cultural, media and elite opinion protection.

Jokes about Obama, well...they just weren't funny. "It's hard to make fun of Obama in general because he's a cool character," said Jimmy Kimmel. Noah Rothman called it "Obama's prohibitive coolness."

Criticism of his policies and politics were obviously racist in nature...what other explanation could possibly obtain? Mockery of his pomposity, his flagrant sense of personal grandeur, his Administration-as-personality-cult was a product of Republican sour grapes (and, duh, racism).

Even the mild comedic hits on Obama in popular culture were anodyne, bloodless things and mostly along the themes of his coolness, his intellect, his perfection. He was the straight man to the GOP foil.  He was the cool kid in the room full of conservative dorks.  One famous incident of self-editing to protect the image of President Cool was a spiked SNL skit.

What strikes me about the New Yorker cover is that it not only clearly takes Obama down several pegs, but references the Eastwood moment of the RNC convention, which we were assured by our betters for several weeks was a disaster for the Romney campaign. Think about it: the New Yorker is mocking Barack Obama using an image from a gag from the Republican National Convention.

It's a singularity of irony, they just don't know it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Does Barack Obama really want to be president? (Melinda Henneberger on October 5, 2012, Washington Post)

Seeing our president hanging out at podiums in Charlotte and now Denver, his famous competitiveness nowhere to be seen, has left me with a question I wish I didn't have: Does Barack Obama really want to be president?

He wanted to have been president, he just had nothing he wanted to do as president.  

October 6, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


The Cuban Missile Crisis as Intelligence Failure : Fifty years of reluctance to draw an unwelcome conclusion (Amy Zegart, 10/02/12, Policy Review)

The cuban missile crisis marks its 50th anniversary this year as the most studied event of the nuclear age. Scholars and policymakers alike have been dissecting virtually every aspect of that terrifying nuclear showdown. Digging through documents in Soviet and American archives, and attending conferences from Havana to Harvard, generations of researchers have labored to distill what happened in 1962 -- all with an eye toward improving U.S. foreign policy.

Yet after half a century, we have learned the wrong intelligence lessons from the crisis. In some sense, this result should not be surprising. Typically, learning is envisioned as a straight-line trajectory where time only makes things better. But time often makes things worse. Organizations (and individuals) frequently forget what they should remember and remember what they should forget.

One of the most widely accepted lessons of that frightening time -- that the discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba constituted a stunning American intelligence success -- needs to be challenged. An equally stunning intelligence-warning failure has been downplayed in Cuban missile crisis scholarship since the 1960s. Shifting the analytic lens from intelligence success to failure, moreover, reveals surprising and important organizational deficiencies at work. Ever since Graham Allison penned Essence of Decision in 1971, a great deal of research has focused on the pitfalls of individual perception and cognition as well as organizational weaknesses in the policymaking process. Surprisingly little work, however, has examined the crucial role of organizational weaknesses in intelligence analysis. Many of these same problems still afflict U.S. intelligence agencies today.

The far greater failure was inflating the potential nuclear threat from the USSR and imaging we were in a standoff.  The Crisis actually presented us with an opportunity to both topple the Castro regime and demonstrate that the Soviet Union was not a military peer.  Squandering it left millions of people under communist rule for decades.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


BB King at 87: the last of the great bluesmen : BB King, who has just turned 87, has returned home to Mississippi to play to family and friends. In the experience of a lifetime, Ed Vulliamy joins him and hears from the maestro about his rise from the cotton fields to international stardom (Ed Vulliamy, 10/06/12, The Observer)

Backed now by a lilac glow in the western sky - and looking east towards the village of Itta Bena, where he was born - BB sits down and starts up the show. He reaches "Key to the Highway", and there it is: that one long and trembling note, hanging there in the wafts of barbecue smoke, like only BB King can play it. He rolls his eyes, raises his eyebrows, then stares out into the crowd - and there's a collective gasp, a ripple of applause, and a mutual bond of affection.

This is a huddle, not a crowd, really. The town has come to hear its famous son: mostly black people - in families, many with a picnic - plus a few whites with ponytails, ZZ Top beards or other gestures of nonconformity. There are people here like Alfred Knox - one of 11 children with eight of his own (and 21 grandchildren) - who left Mississippi for Milwaukee when he was 19, the sound of Honeyboy Edwards playing juke joints ringing in his ears, and has now come back with his nephew Gervis to hear BB, to hear and talk blues, talk politics. The usual jocks and suits who wave bottles of Bud and shout at tourist clubs like BB King's own franchise in Memphis are not here for this annual homecoming concert - oddly, but thank God.

Nor, indeed, are some of Indianola's good citizens. Latunya and her friend were in the post office earlier, and said how "We're real excited BB's coming back. Gee, I'd lo-o-ove to go see him play. But I go out Fridays. I don't go out Wednesdays, I only go out Fridays". This is also the town in which the White Citizens Council was formed, political wing of the Ku Klux Klan; and the founders' heirs are probably elsewhere tonight.

The maestro's sonority on guitar is as inimitably perfect as ever. After one long, searing note during "The Thrill is Gone", BB King darts the stare of a clown right into the front rows, as though to say: "How about that!?" But it is BB's voice on the warm breeze that stops a heartbeat - that feeling behind and between the words that is the quintessence of the blues.
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Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


John Muir's Yosemite : The father of the conservation movement found his calling on a visit to the California wilderness (Tony Perrottet, July 2008, Smithsonian magazine)

"There are an amazing number of misconceptions about John Muir," says Scott Gediman, the park's public affairs officer. "People think he discovered Yosemite or started the national park system. Others assume he lived here all his life." In fact, says Gediman, Muir lived in Yosemite off and on for only a short but intense period from 1868 to 1874, an experience that transformed him into a successor to Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Later in life, Muir would return to Yosemite on shorter trips, burdened with his own celebrity and the responsibilities of family and work. But it was during the happy period of his relative youth, when he was free to amble around Yosemite, that Muir's ideas were shaped. Some of his most famous adventures, recounted in his books The Yosemite and Our National Parks, were from this time.

"As a young man, Muir felt he was a student in what he called the 'University of the Wilderness,'" Gisel said. "Yosemite was his graduate course. This is where he decided who he was, what he wanted to say and how he was going to say it."

When he first strode into Yosemite in the spring of 1868, Muir was a scruffy Midwestern vagabond wandering the wilderness fringes of post-bellum America, taking odd jobs where he could. In retrospect, visiting Yosemite might seem an inevitable stop on his life's journey. But his later recollections reveal a young man plagued with self-doubt and uncertainty, often lonely and confused about the future. "I was tormented with soul hunger," he wrote of his meandering youth. "I was on the world. But was I in it?" [...]

Muir left Yosemite abruptly in late 1870; some scholars suspect he was fleeing the romantic interest of Lady Yelverton, who had long been separated from a caddish husband. A short time later, in January 1871, Muir returned to Yosemite, where he would spend the next 22 months--his longest stint. On Sunday excursions away from the sawmill, he made detailed studies of the valley's geology, plants and animals, including the water ouzel, or dipper, a songbird that dives into swift streams in search of insects. He camped out on high ledges where he was doused by freezing waterfalls, lowered himself by ropes into "the womb" of a remote glacier and once "rode" an avalanche down a canyon. ("Elijah's flight in a chariot of fire could hardly have been more gloriously exciting," he said of the experience.)

This refreshingly reckless manner, as if he were drunk on nature, is what many fans like to remember about him today. "There has never been a wilderness advocate with the kind of hands-on experience of Muir," says Lee Stetson, editor of an anthology of Muir's outdoor adventure writing and an actor who has portrayed him in one-man shows in Yosemite for the past 25 years. "People tend to think of him as a remote philosopher-king, but there's probably not a single part of this park that he didn't visit himself." Not surprisingly, Native Americans, whom Muir regarded as "dirty," tend to be less enthusiastic about him. "I think Muir has been given entirely too much credit," says Yosemite park ranger Ben Cunningham-Summerfield, a member of the Maidu tribe of Northern California.

In early 1871, Muir had been obliged to leave his idyllic creek-side cabin, which Hutchings wanted to use for his relatives. With his usual inventiveness, Muir built a small study in the sawmill under a gable reachable only by ladder, which he called his "hang-nest." There, surrounded by the many plant specimens he'd gathered on his rambles, he filled journal after journal with his observations of nature and geology, sometimes writing with sequoia sap for added effect. Thanks to Jeanne Carr, who had moved to Oakland and hobnobbed with California's literati, Muir was beginning to develop a reputation as a self-taught genius. The noted scientist Joseph LeConte was so impressed with one of his theories--that the Yosemite Valley had been formed by glacial activity rather than a prehistoric cataclysm, as was widely, and incorrectly, thought--that he encouraged Muir to publish his first article, which appeared in the New York Tribune in late 1871. Ralph Waldo Emerson, by then elderly, spent days with Muir peppering him with botanical questions. (The pair went to Mariposa Grove, but much to Muir's disappointment, Emerson was too frail to camp overnight.)

By the end of 1872, Muir was making occasional appearances in the salons of San Francisco and Oakland, where Carr introduced him as "the wild man of the woods." Writing for outdoor magazines, Muir was able to put his ideas about nature into the vernacular, but he wrestled not only with the act of writing but with the demands of activism. Part of him wanted to simply return to the park and revel in nature. But by the fall of 1874, having visited the valley after a nine-month absence, he concluded that that option was no longer open to him. He had a calling, to protect the wilderness, which required his presence in the wider world. "This chapter of my life is done," he wrote to Carr from Yosemite. "I feel I am a stranger here." Muir, 36, returned to San Francisco.

"Yosemite had been his sanctuary," says Gisel. "The question was now how to protect it. By leaving, he was accepting his new responsibility. He had been a guide for individuals. Now he would be a guide for humanity."

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Reality: How can we know it exists? (Mike Holderness, 10/01/12, New Scientist)

[T]he question "what exists?" reduces, for what in philosophy passes for practical purposes, to questions such as "what do we mean by 'know'?"

Plato had a go at it 2400 years ago, defining "knowledge" as "justified true belief". But testing the justification or the truth of beliefs traces back to our perceptions, and we know these can deceive us.  [...]

Quite separately, rigorous logicians such as Harvard's Willard Van Orman Quine abandoned the search for a foundation of reality and took "coherentist" positions. Let go of the notion of a pyramid of knowledge, they argued: think instead of a raft built out of our beliefs, a seaweedy web of statements about perceptions and statements about statements, not "grounded" in anything but hanging together and solid enough to set sail upon. Or even, possibly, to be a universe.

This idea is circular, and it's cheating, say critics of a more foundationist bent. It leads back to the suspicion that there actually is no reality independent of our observations. But if there is - how can we know?

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Dueling scenarios helped shape Trayvon story in epic media battle (Hal Boedeker and Martin E. Comas, 9/29/12, Orlando Sentinel)

The key ingredient helping the story gain traction was Zimmerman's call to a dispatcher who told him to back off before Martin was killed, Rosenstiel said.

"It was after that tape was released that the story became much larger," Rosenstiel said. "That was one of the propulsive elements along with social media."

But both sides also used traditional media. Benjamin Crump and Natalie Jackson, lawyers for the Martin family, became frequent TV guests on morning programs, cable news and local newscasts.

At a March 16 news conference, Crump said, "Thank God for the media, because I'm not sure we ever would have gotten the truth out." Crump even flew to London with Martin's parents for a hoodie march.

"Most lawyers prefer to try their cases in the courtroom," Crump said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. "But in my experience, in civil-rights cases, if you don't present your case in the court of public opinion and get media coverage, there's no guarantee -- no matter how egregious the facts are -- you'll be able to present your case in a court of law."

In his 17 years of practicing law, Crump has become well known for taking on cases of poor minorities -- and presenting them to the media before they reach the courtroom.

Crump took the case after several requests from those in the Martin camp, including Tracy Martin. He sees a societal benefit in his TV appearances with Martin's parents.

"It kept mushrooming to the point that people started talking about it with their children," Crump said. "It became a debated issue at dinner tables around America. It was a phenomenon in every sense of the word." [...]

The Martin side relied on publicist Ryan Julison, who volunteered to help the family and who had worked with Natalie Jackson before.

"I never engaged in any racial conversation," Julison said. "To me, the story was a Neighborhood Watch vigilante carrying a gun who shot an unarmed teenager and wasn't arrested."

But Crump said the case highlighted a double standard on race and crime. What if Martin were white and Zimmerman black?

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


In Biggest Protest, Jordan Islamists Demand Change (Reuters, 10/06/12)

Thousands of Jordanian Islamists marched on Friday in the largest demonstration since Arab Spring-inspired protests erupted last year, calling on King Abdullah to accelerate democratic reforms.

At least 15,000 protesters from across the country flocked to the main street leading to the Husseini mosque in downtown Amman after Friday prayers and chanted: "Listen Abdullah, our demands are legitimate" and "People want to reform the regime."

Hundreds of young bearded men also chanted: "We are free men, not slaves" and "Freedom...Freedom", while others carried placards or banners denouncing corruption and the pervasive role of the security apparatus in daily life.

The "Friday to Rescue the Nation" rally was called by the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party, to push for broader representation and a more democratic parliament.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


The Real Debate: The Good Father vs. The Abandoned Son (Roger L Simon, 10/06/12, PJ Media)    

What we have before us in these debates is an almost archetypal confrontation - between a man who was and is an exceptionally good father and a man who was deserted by his.

Good fathering is the story of Mitt Romney's life. He has five sons who are, by all accounts, devoted to him and vice-versa. These boys grew up with a father who, although wealthy and successful, worked like a demon, doted on them, and apparently devoted an extraordinary amount of time to charitable work, in which he also involved them. Indeed, I've never heard of a politician who did anything quite like it.

Almost the polar opposite, Barack Obama's father abandoned him twice and then ended up an irresponsible drunken victim of multiple car crashes. This sad behavior precipitated a search by Obama that brought him in contact with several father surrogates, notably Frank Marshall Davis and Jeremiah Wright, that it would be hard to brand as anywhere near satisfactory. (Davis was a pornographer and about Wright the less said the better.) No Mitt Romneys there.

...but the absence of any sort of parental love is most clearly reflected, not in the UR's debate performance, but in his refusal to stand for anything, so that he can be all things to all people, in order that they might love the image of him they create in their own heads.  Sadly for him, after four years even his inactions have created new images.  And folks don't love what they now see.  The clothes, it turns out, have no emperor.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


U.S. Unease Over Drone Strikes : Obama Administration Charts Delicate Legal Path Defending Controversial Weapons (ADAM ENTOUS, SIOBHAN GORMAN and EVAN PEREZ, 9/26/12, WSJ)

About once a month, the Central Intelligence Agency sends a fax to a general at Pakistan's intelligence service outlining broad areas where the U.S. intends to conduct strikes with drone aircraft, according to U.S. officials. The Pakistanis, who in public oppose the program, don't respond.

On this basis, plus the fact that Pakistan continues to clear airspace in the targeted areas, the U.S. government concludes it has tacit consent to conduct strikes within the borders of a sovereign nation, according to officials familiar with the program.

...the strikes either occur in territory over which Pakistan can not exert its authority in, meaning they aren't sovereign, or else Pakistan is an enemy of the United States, willingly harboring the targets.  In either case, the strikes are permissible under any sovereignty theory.
Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


An Unspinnable Debate : How Romney won a clear victory in Denver. (JAMES W. CEASER, 10/15/12, The Weekly Standard)

The plain fact is that many of the voters who are undecided at this point are the very ones who are sick of deadlock and partisan conflict. Partisans and "big idea" people may think what they will, but this feeling in the electorate was a significant reason for Obama's appeal in 2008. Romney captured the postpartisan mantle from Obama at the point where the president brought out what he thought was his trump card, commending Mitt Romney for initiating Romneycare. Romney took the compliment, insisted on some of the differences with Obama-care, and then showed how he had passed his program in Massachusetts working with a legislature that was 87 percent Democratic. The Frank Luntz focus group of independents found this to be one of the most appealing moments in the debate. Romney's supposed Achilles' heel, after his political ACL surgery, has turned into one of his greatest strengths.  

These two themes--a leader whose empathy comes from strength and conviction and a person whose bold plans are not in tension with a temperament conducive to bipartisanship--are the "takeaways" from last week that can put Mitt Romney on the path to victory.

While the twenty percent on either wing still imagine themselves locked in a twilight struggle between the 1st Way and the 2nd, the other 60% are just choosing which party should be managing the Third Way transition.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM



From the days of high tariffs and giant land grants to the railroads, business and government have always been tightly intertwined in this country. But, in recent decades, what you could call the corporate welfare state has become bigger. Energy companies lease almost forty million acres of onshore land in the U.S. and more than forty million offshore, and keep the lion's share of the profits from the oil and natural gas that they pump out. In theory, this is O.K., because we get paid for the leases and we get royalties on what they sell, but in practice it often works differently. In 1996, for instance, the government temporarily lowered royalties on oil pumped in the Gulf of Mexico as a way of encouraging more drilling at a time of low oil prices. But this royalty relief wasn't rescinded when oil prices started to rise, which gave the oil companies a windfall of billions of dollars. Something similar happened in the telecom industry in the late nineties, when the government, in order to encourage the transition to high-def TV, simply gave local broadcasters swathes of the digital spectrum worth tens of billions of dollars. In the mining industry, meanwhile, thanks to a law that was passed in 1872 and never rewritten, companies can lease federal land for a mere five dollars an acre, and then keep all the gold, silver, or uranium they find; we, the people, get no royalty payments at all. Metal prices have soared in the last decade, but the only beneficiaries have been the mine owners.

In other cases, the government offers direct subsidies, like those which have helped keep many renewable-energy projects afloat. Farmers, despite food prices at record highs, still get almost five billion dollars annually in direct payments, along with billions more in crop insurance and drought aid. U.S. sugar companies benefit from the sweetest boondoggle in business: an import quota keeps American sugar prices roughly twice as high as they otherwise would be, handing the industry guaranteed profits.

The tax code, too, is a useful tool for helping businesses. Domestic manufacturers collectively get a tax break of around twenty billion dollars a year. State and local governments give away seventy billion dollars annually in tax breaks and subsidies in order to lure (or keep) companies. The strategies make sense for local communities keen to generate new jobs, but, from a national perspective, since they usually just reward companies moving from one state to another, they're simply giveaways.

More subtly, government boosts business profits via regulation. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


How Hugo Chávez Became Irrelevant (FRANCISCO TORO, 10/05/12, NY Times)

Brazil's remarkable success in reducing poverty speaks for itself. Building on a foundation of macroeconomic stability and stable democratic institutions, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was Brazil's president from 2003 to 2010, oversaw the most remarkable period of social mobility in Latin America's living memory.

As millions of Brazilians rose into the middle class, Mr. Chávez's autocratic excesses came to look unnecessary and inexcusable to Venezuelans. Mr. da Silva and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, have shown that a country does not need to stack the courts, purge the army and politicize the central bank to fight poverty. Brazil proves that point, quietly, day in and day out.

It isn't just democratic institutions that have suffered from Mr. Chávez's radicalism; it's the economy, too. Venezuela's traditional dependence on oil exports has deepened, with 96 percent of export revenue now coming from the oil industry, up from 67 percent just before Mr. Chávez took office. Nationalized steel mills produce a fraction of the steel they're designed for, forcing the state to import the difference. And nationalized electric utilities plunge most of the country into darkness several times a week. The contrast with Brazil's high-tech, entrepreneurial, export-oriented economy couldn't be more stark.

For all of Mr. Chávez's talk of radical transformation, Venezuela's child mortality and adult literacy statistics have not improved any faster under his government than they did over the several decades before he rose to power.

With oversight institutions neutered, the president now runs the country as a personal fief: expropriating businesses on a whim and deciding who goes to jail. Judges who rule against the government's wishes are routinely fired, and one has even been jailed. Chávez-style socialism looks like the worst of both worlds: both more authoritarian and less effective at reducing poverty than the Brazilian alternative.

And the region has noticed. The key moment came in April 2011, when Ollanta Humala won the Peruvian presidency. Long seen as the most radical of Latin America's new breed of leaders, Mr. Humala had run on a Chávez-style platform in 2006 and lost. By last year, he'd seen the way the wind was blowing and remade himself into a Brazilian-style moderate, won and proceeded to govern -- so far, successfully -- in the Brazilian mold.

Now, in a final indignity, Mr. Chávez is facing a tight re-election race against Henrique Capriles Radonski, a 40-year-old progressive state governor who extols the virtues of the Brazilian model.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The Things They Carried: At The National Wife-Carrying Championships : In which the author learns the Estonian Carry, meets America's foremost competitors in one of the world's weirdest sports, and nearly dies. (DAVID WANCZYK, 10/04/12, The Classical)

Wife-Carrying is, honestly, mostly Estonian. If only because The Estonian Carry is the sport's answer to the Fosbury Flop: both stylistic signature and agreed-upon best practice. There is no official technique in wife-carrying--Piggybacks, Fireman's Carries, and Honeymoon Threshold Lifts are all legal. But every champion has used the Estonian Carry, most notably the Estonian Uusorg brothers, the most decorated spouse-hauling athletes, and rivals of Miettenen's for international supremacy. At the farthest opposite end of the prestige spectrum, I also would need to master this Baltic carry for my own turn on the Wife-Carrying Championship course.

Since the North American Championship was my first attempt at extreme sports with my wife--they'd given us a wild card entry--I wasn't sure I could convince her to dangle near my rear as I traversed a slippery ski hill. She'd agreed to participate because I'd made some claim about Immersion Journalism, but we'd yet to get to the touchy subject of head-ass-ground proximity. I turned to the Castros for advice.

"Tell her, 'Look, you might be a little dizzy, but just hold on'," Lacey said. "Go right into the Estonian."

Dave added: "You'll put her on your back. She might not like it at first. But it'll be good."

I was convinced, but I was not really the one who needed convincing. Megan and I needed to practice, so before the competition, we took to the field between our apartment and the public library. It was dark. I popped her up on my shoulders and chugged up a hill. Right then, the local book club let out and we were bathed in the accusing glare of a dozen pairs of headlights.

October 5, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


Hugo Chavez Might Actually Lose His Election on Sunday (Francisco Toro, October 5, 2012, New Republic)

The 40-year old state governor[, Henrique Capriles, ] has run a nearly flawless campaign: sidelining the opposition's reactionary wing in favor of a much more moderate Social Democratic stance. Young, nimble and energetic, Capriles has spoken to working class Venezuelans in less urban parts of the country in their own language--certainly much more so than the more conservative leaders who led the opposition before him. Running on a record of achievement in his home state of Miranda, Capriles has capitalized on people's growing day-to-day frustration with the dysfunctional chavista state, promising to keep its popular social programs while radically cracking down on the runaway waste, corruption and political sectarianism that hobble every chavista initiative.

It's been a brilliantly executed campaign against a government that, for all its oil billions, has made one blunder after another on the trail. Chávez legendary common touch has been nowhere in sight. Instead he's been campaigning on a platform top-heavy with distant abstractions about "building Bolivarian socialism of the 21st century in Venezuela as an alternative to destructive and savage capitalism," "achieving equilibrium in the universe and guaranteeing planetary peace" and "preserving life on the planet and saving the human species."

Why a single mom in the barrio dealing with constant power outages and water service interruptions, double-digit inflation and out of control crime is meant to care about universal equilibrium is never quite spelled out. Fourteen years on, he has little to say about "the concerns of people like you," to use the hoary old polling cliché. Political power has clearly robbed him of his populist touch.

But the bigger problem for Chávez is that, while he remains personally well liked by most Venezuelans and fanatically adored by a not inconsiderable minority, even his most die-hard supporters realize his government stinks.

The government Chávez has built is a monumental fiasco. Corrupt, bureaucratic, opaque and wedded to unworkable ideological certainties, the chavista state is top-heavy with cronies and arbitrageurs who talk about the beauty of socialism all morning and siphon off the profits of crooked deals into off-shore bank accounts all afternoon. Today, it amounts to a sprawling bureaucracy that simply doesn't have the resources to make good on the ideological checks the president spends his days writing.

The result is a paradox: to many Venezuelans, the emotional bond with the first leader that ever spoke directly to the barrio remains strong. But it coexists with a no-longer-concealed realization that he's not particularly good at his job.

Worse yet, he may not be around that much longer. An unspecified type of cancer that first struck him in the summer of 2011 recurred earlier this year. The President claims to be cured--but he sure doesn't look cured. He lumbers around slowly and visibly bloated, reportedly a side-effect of the steroids administered to keep him in fighting shape through the campaign season. The contrast with the nimble Capriles, an amateur marathon runner nicknamed "Skinny", couldn't be greater.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 PM

1980 AGAIN:

Presidential Debate Drew More Than 70 Million Viewers (BRIAN STELTER, 10/04/12, NY Times)

The first of three presidential debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney reached more than 70 million viewers on Wednesday night.

Nielsen, a television measurement company, said 67.2 million viewers watched on television at home -- the highest number for a first debate since 1980. That year, 80.6 million watched the only debate between President Jimmy Carter and the Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan.

Before you vote the bum out you have to make sure the new guy is viable.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


As Iran's Currency Keeps Tumbling, Anxiety Is Rising (THOMAS ERDBRINK, 10/05/12, NY Times)

For months, since the imposition of harsh, American-led sanctions over Iran's nuclear program, the country's leaders have sworn they would never succumb to Western pressures, and they scoffed at the idea that the measures were having any serious impact. But after a week in which the Iranian currency, the rial, fell by a shocking 40 percent and protests began to rumble through the capital, no one is making light of the mounting costs of confrontation.

In the Iranian capital, all anyone can talk about is the rial, and how lives have been turned upside down in one terrible week. Every elevator ride, office visit or quick run to the supermarket brings new gossip about the currency's drop and a swirl of speculation about who is to blame.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 PM


Obama pays price for ducking the questions (Dana Milbank, Published: October 4, 2012, Washington Post)

In the hours after the Republican challenger Mitt Romney embarrassed the incumbent in their first meeting, Obama loyalists expressed puzzlement that the incumbent had done badly. But Obama has only himself to blame, because he set himself up for Wednesday's emperor-has-no-clothes moment. For the past four years, he has worked assiduously to avoid being questioned, maintaining a regal detachment from the media and other sources of dissent and skeptical inquiry.

Obama has set a modern record for refusal to be quizzed by the media, taking questions from reporters far less often than Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush. Though his opponent in 2008 promised to take questions from lawmakers like the British prime minister does, Obama has shied from mixing it up with members of Congress, too. And, especially since Rahm Emanuel's departure, Obama is surrounded by a large number of yes men who aren't likely to get in his face.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Why are folks all whacked out about the job numbers today?  It's too late for them to help the UR.  Remember the numbers GHWB's economy was posting in '92?

Didn't do a lick of good.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Reality: How does consciousness fit in? (Michael Brooks, 10/03/12, New Scientist)

According to prevailing wisdom, a quantum particle such as an electron or photon can only be properly described as a mathematical entity known as a wave function. Wave functions can exist as "superpositions" of many states at once. A photon, for instance, can circulate in two different directions around an optical fibre; or an electron can simultaneously spin clockwise and anticlockwise or be in two positions at once.

When any attempt is made to observe these simultaneous existences, however, something odd happens: we see only one. How do many possibilities become one physical reality?

This is the central question in quantum mechanics, and has spawned a plethora of proposals, or interpretations. The most popular is the Copenhagen interpretation, which says nothing is real until it is observed, or measured. Observing a wave function causes the superposition to collapse.

However, Copenhagen says nothing about what exactly constitutes an observation. John von Neumann broke this silence and suggested that observation is the action of a conscious mind. It's an idea also put forward by Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory, who said in 1931, "I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness."
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October 4, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 PM


Egypt's hardline Islamist party unravels (MAGGIE MICHAEL, 10/04/12, Associated Press) 

Internal feuds are threatening to unravel the political party of Egypt's ultraconservative Islamist Salafis, as pragmatists try to shake off the control of hardline clerics who reject any compromise in their stark, puritanical version of Islam.

The fight for leadership could paralyze the Al-Nour Party, which rocketed out of nowhere to become Egypt's second most powerful political force, behind the Muslim Brotherhood. Together, the Brotherhood and Al-Nour embodied the rise of Islamists to prominence after last year's fall of Hosni Mubarak.

It also underlines the key dilemma in the project of political Islam -- what to do when the maneuverings of democratic politics collide with demands for strict purity of religious ideology, particularly the unbending, black-and-white doctrine of the Salafis. Infighting among the Salafis could discredit their aims of radical Islamization of Egypt in the eyes of some Egyptians who saw the movement as pious and uncorrupt, calling for strict adherence to the Quran and the ways of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The party is exploding from inside," Mohammed Habib, who was once a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood, said of Al-Nour. "In the street, it has lost its credibility. People see clerics who they used to see as men of God engaging in earthy disputes. They used to trust them. This will have a negative impact not only on Al-Nour or Salafis but on all Islamists in politics."

Ranting is easy.  Governing is hard.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Yaz's Triple Crown: Work, Resolve, Concentration (ROBERT PINSKY, 10/04/12, NY Times)

Yastrzemski, I noticed, was 27 -- and so was I. In a certain way, you never feel older than you do at 27. Youth is about to end, and what have you done? The dentists and lawyers of your age cohort have reasons to feel better about this pressure: they have entered their career groove in a good way. And how, you might ask yourself, are you making out in yours? For artists as for athletes, the answer isn't always reassuring.

In the Boston Globe sports pages, stories began to appear about Yastrzemski's fierce concentration on improving and maintaining his skills. Certain left-handed relief pitchers gave him trouble; so he asked to practice against stand-ins who had a similar delivery. With his strong, accurate throwing arm, he worked hard, regularly, on playing wall caroms off the Green Monster, setting a model of perfectionism for the team's younger outfielders. I particularly remember a story (could it have been written by the young Peter Gammons?) about Yaz working on a little defect in his large, fluid, dynamic swing: he had a clubhouse guy throw a ball of wadded athletic socks to him, over and over, till he could hit the fluffy things consistently with the barrel of the bat.

When I was a child, the qualities of boldness, daring and speed were embodied for me by Jackie Robinson on the basepaths. (Jackie Robinson in life, embodying greater qualities, was mostly beyond me.) In my late 20s, Yastrzemski embodied qualities that were now more important to me: work, resolve and concentration. Against bitter, powerful opposition, Robinson demanded and won respect. Against his own weaknesses, Yastrzemski attained an inward respect for his own gifts, overcoming his early tendency to coast with them -- a lesser but considerable achievement. It wouldn't be quite right to say that I looked up to him: but I looked to him, as an example of focus. In that way, he was a useful hero.

In the context of Boston's academic snobbery, I and many others enjoyed Yastrzemski's distinctly non-Harvard style: here was a local sports hero who came from a Long Island potato farm and Notre Dame, which he attended as a business major on a basketball scholarship.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


The Tragedy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans von Dohnanyi (Elisabeth Sifton and Fritz Stern, 10/25/12, NY Review of Books)

To oppose such a regime was rare, and to do so in order to protect the sanctity of law and faith was rarer still. We are concerned here with two exceptional men who from the start of the Third Reich opposed the Nazi outrages: the scarcely known lawyer Hans von Dohnanyi and his brother-in-law, the well-known pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dohnanyi recorded Nazi crimes, helped victims, did his best to sabotage Nazi policies, and eventually helped plot Hitler's removal; Bonhoeffer fought the Nazis' efforts to control the German Protestant churches. For both men the regime's treatment of Jews was of singular importance. Holocaust literature is vast and the literature on German resistance scant, yet the lives and deaths of the two men show us important links between them.

Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer became close friends, especially after Dohnanyi drew his brother-in-law into active resistance against the regime. And their remarkable family deserves recognition, too, since its principled support was indispensable to their efforts. But Dohnanyi and Bonhoeffer ended in defeat: they were arrested in April 1943 and then murdered, on Hitler's express orders, just weeks before Hitler's suicide and Germany's surrender.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


A Guy, a Girl, and 366 Straight Days at Disneyland : A recessionary tale. (T.A. Frank, September 14, 2012, New Republic)

IF, LIKE Jeff Reitz and Tonya Mickesh, you go to Disneyland often--very often--you know that asking for a roast beef melt made without horseradish, as opposed to a roast beef melt with horseradish removed after the fact, will require a ten-minute wait at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café. You know that, if conditions are right, you may ride in the wheelhouse of the Mark Twain Riverboat and help steer. You know that if you want to see records of the number of times you've entered the park you must visit Disneyland City Hall. Because you do want to see those records.

"Sometimes it's fun to pull something out of your pocket," Reitz told me. "It was the two of us and one of our other friends one day, and I'm like, 'What you do you guys wanna do?' 'I don't know.' 'Okay. I'll pick the first attraction, and then you guys get to pick.' I said, 'Follow me,' and I led them right through the castle, and there's a walkthrough in the castle, it's a diorama-type setting of Sleeping Beauty's castle, and they're like, 'Hold on a second, this isn't a ride.' I said, 'It's an attraction.' And it is. Most of the rides here in Disneyland are attractions. There are only two actual rides. Like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."

That is something else you know.

Reitz and Mickesh are friends, not a couple, who go to Disneyland every day. They do it because, at the end of 2011, both received holiday gifts of a $649 annual pass to the park, and both had no job. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Obama in Wisconsin After Lackluster Debate (Ruth Conniff, October 4, 2012, The Progressive)

The most ominous part is not even his failure to score some obvious rhetorical points on Romney (to mention the 47% comment, for example, or attack to the Paul Ryan budget plan).

The most ominous part is in the details of what the President and Romney only briefly referred to when they both embraced the Simpson Bowles plan.

The Simpson Bowles commission, appointed by President Obama, has proposed a deficit-reducing program that would undermine to Social Security and Medicare, as economist Paul Krugman has warned.

In the Senate, Democrats and Republicans are working on a bipartisan compromise, with the President's blessing, that would take Simpson Bowles as a starting point and make "changes to Social Security, broad cuts in federal programs and actions that would lower tax rates over all but eliminate or pare enough deductions and credits to yield as much as $2 trillion in additional revenue," The New York Times reports.

In other words, in order to steer clear of the "fiscal cliff" and automatic tax hikes and budget cuts that take effect January 1, Obama may--after winning the election because voters want him to defend Medicare and Social Security and protect the poor and middle class--sign off on a deficit-reduction deal that undermines Medicare and Social Security, makes deep cuts in other programs that help the non-rich , and pushes lower income Americans right over the edge.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Real October Surprise Is Obama and Romney Agree (Ezra Klein Oct 3, 2012, Bloomberg)

I don't mean to play down the very real differences between the two campaigns. How much we spend, what we spend it on and who pays for it are all very consequential. But American politics operate atop a fairly firm and broad understanding about the proper scope of the state. Partisanship often obscures that fact, in part because the party out of power has reason to exaggerate disagreements with the governing party. Yet behind the boisterous partisan stage is a quieter arena where broad consensus reigns. Whether it's a good consensus is, of course, another question.

...is that one has failed at being president, while the other hasn't had his chance yet.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


What Happened Last Night (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 10/04/12, American Interest)

A good performance in a debate with a sitting president is always going to help a challenger. Simply by holding his own, the challenger suggests to millions of voters that he is a plausible president.

But for a Republican in our era of polarized media, there's much more. Most Americans learn about candidates these days from the media: from news stories, commentary from talking heads and pundits, and paid advertisements. Without accusing the press of deliberate dishonesty, it's pretty clear that Democratic candidates in general get better press than their GOP rivals. With every lame comment, every inept decision, every gaffe and kerfluffle chewed over, mocked and thoroughly aired by the mainstream media, Republican candidates generally do better when voters see them without the intervening filter.

Debates may offer more opportunities for Republican presidential candidates than for Democratic ones; it is a chance not only to replace the negative media portrait with something more positive, but to challenge the veracity of the media itself. Bemused liberals used to wonder why Ronald Reagan was the Teflon president; a big reason was that the contrast between the president as portrayed in the press and the president as seen directly by voters was so large that voters stopped believing anything the media had to say about President Reagan. They discounted negative stories to take account of what they assumed was an inveterate, unchanging bias; the more the media howled, the more many voters thought Reagan must be doing something right.

Romney's strong performance in the debate will further undermine public confidence that the media is telling the truth about the ex-governor. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Obama the debater: Making Jimmy Carter look awesome (Charles Hurt, October 3, 2012, Washington Times)

Bewildered and lost without his teleprompter, President Obama flailed all around the debate stage last night. He was stuttering, nervous and petulant. It was like he had been called in front of the principal after goofing around for four years and blowing off all his homework.

Not since Jimmy Carter faced Ronald Reagan has the U.S. presidency been so embarrassingly represented in public. Actually, that's an insult to Jimmy Carter.

The split screen was most devastating. Mitt Romney spoke forthrightly, with carefully studied facts and details at the ready. He looked right at the president and accused him of being miles out of his depth.

Mr. Obama? His eyes were glued to his lectern, looking guilty and angry and impatient with all the vagaries of Democracy. This debate was seriously chafing him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Khaled Mishal the "Zionist agent"! (Tariq Alhomayed, 10/04/12, Asharq Alawasat)

On the 14th January 2009, I wrote an article entitled "Hamas in Gaza and Damascus", in which I said that there was a big difference between Hamas in Gaza and in Damascus, and a clear contrast in attitudes and statements. This enraged Hamas sympathizers at the time, but what about now? Why am I returning to this story in 2012? The reason is simple, and important. Today, Hamas has acknowledged that there are differences within the Hamas leadership in Gaza, and especially with regards to Khaled Mishal. In fact, matters have now reached the point where it is not possible for Mishal to continue in his position, and it is necessary for him to step down! This is not all, for the same entities that used to defend Mishal, whether Hezbollah, Iran or the al-Assad regime, and published "The list of shame" in order to support him and portray his critics as those trading in the blood of the Gaza people, have returned in 2012 to say that Khaled Mishal is a Zionist agent, exploiting the resistance, and a member of the so-called "band of drummers", an expression that denotes shame and disgrace.

Syrian state television in Damascus launched a massive attack on Mishal, telling him to remember when he first sought refuge from his surroundings, and arrived at mercy of al-Sham [Damascus]. As for the Iranian newspaper "Kayhan", issued directly from the office of the Iranian Supreme Leader, it said that Mishal had forgotten the years he had been living under Syrian protection during his residence and work in Damascus, and was acting like a Zionist agent. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


What Losers Look Like : On Wednesday night, they looked like Democratic strategists and spin doctors. (David Weigel, Oct. 4, 2012, Slate)

This is what losing looks like: five stoic strategists for the Obama campaign camped out in the spin room. They do not deny that Mitt Romney just beat the president on all the points that count in TV debates. How can they, when even the foreign press, heavy in accent and fond of existential questions, keeps asking why the president blew it? In one corner stands David Plouffe, the president's chief strategist, fielding question after question about optics.

"Why wasn't the president more aggressive?" asks a dark-suited man with a Swedish accent.

"The president did exactly what he had to do," says Plouffe. "He talked in very deep specifics about the economy, about jobs, about Medicare. That's why he had a good debate tonight." 

"Would you agree that he was too low-key?" asks a Japanese reporter.

"No!" says Plouffe. "I would not agree with that at all! He did what he had to do. He had a very clear message to the American people." 

Somebody asks Plouffe if tonight was a "decisive" debate. "We don't believe in decisive moments," says the man whose candidate rose to power on the strength of speeches that were sold as collector's item DVDs.

This would sound ridiculous anywhere. In the big dumb swirl of a spin room, where men of clout and class walk around next to popsicle-looking sticks bearing their names, it's positively Dali-esque. This is an atmosphere where a reporter can yell, "Was tonight a game-changer?" at David Axelrod, and nobody will laugh. 

But for the first time in 12 years, Democrats have to take a debate that they lost on optics and convince voters that they won on facts. 

...is that this undercuts the carefully manufactured myth of his intelligence and eloquence.  It's the first moment where everyone sees him for who he is.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Romney's Big Night : The first presidential debate was Mitt Romney's best moment so far. Will it last? (John Dickerson, Oct. 4, 2012, Slate)

When Barack Obama entered the debate hall at the University of Denver Wednesday night, the air was clear and warm. When he left, the winds where whipping and the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. Coincidentally, that was also the same number of undecided voters who thought the president had a good debate.

In two different polls of undecided voters by CNN and CBS, Obama received grim reviews. In the CBS poll, 46 percent thought Romney had done the better job. Only 22 percent thought Obama prevailed. In the CNN poll, 67 percent thought Romney had performed well. Only 25 percent could say the same of Obama.  In another poll conducted with a group of "Wal-Mart Moms" in Las Vegas, Romney also scored high. His image climbed 20 points, while Obama's moved just 5. Many of the women had "somewhat tuned out Mitt Romney," according to the findings reported by a bipartisan polling team. "After seeing him this evening several are now re-engaged and want to learn more about him. They were somewhat disappointed with President Obama's performance. They do not believe he made the case for how another four years will be different or better."

...would be for Mitt to disappear until Election Night.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


You Found Your 13-Year-Old's Porn Stash. What Should You Do? (Katie Roiphe, Oct. 4, 2012, Slate)

Let's say you find history of porn searches on your 13-year-old's computer, and let's say it's not weird or violent porn, but just run-of-the-mill, mildly off-putting porn. What should you do? I'd say nothing, but maybe I'm wrong.

There was much ado Tuesday on the Internet about one dad's rather sweet solution to this scenario. He wrote a note to his son saying that he wouldn't tell the kid's mom, and that he did the same thing as a kid, and that there were sites safer for computers, which he listed. He basically said, "I won't make a big deal or any-sized deal about it," though he did go pretty deeply and somewhat creatively into the dangers of pornography to computers.  

It is a quandary. What should you do in this garden-variety situation? The most sensible thing I have ever heard on this topic came from the internet scholar Danah Boyd. She pointed out very sanely and sensibly that this isolated moment should be part of an ongoing, larger conversation with your child. One shouldn't view this discovery as an event in itself, but more a part of the dialogue that has been going on for years about sex, body image, and all of that.

...they had a school project to Google their own name.  He was appalled both by the things say about his fellow "Orrin Judd" and by his name being associated with "The Tittie Box." 

Nowadays, wouldn't most parents just be psyched that the kid was straight?

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


The audacity of Romney (Matt Miller, October 4, 2012, Washington Post)

You only needed to look at the faces of MSNBC's pundits or Democratic officials in the spin room to know what everyone professionally involved in politics believes -- Mitt Romney won big in this first debate. We'll see how the public digests it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the polls draw close in the next week and that thereafter this race -- as was always likely -- goes down to the wire.

I'll let others assess in detail Romney's assertive presence and demeanor, and the obvious toll it took on the president, who, in split screen shots when he wasn't speaking, often looked irked or working a bit to suppress frustration or anger.

What interests me most is Mitt's audacity. Wednesday night at long last came the full-throated return of the Rockefeller Republican many suspect is Romney's true political nature, if indeed he has one. With one fatal exception I'll note in a moment, on taxes, health care, education, regulation and more, Romney came across as deeply informed, experienced and reasonable, and as a powerful and articulate critic of the economy's weaknesses on Obama's watch.

For a challenger the debate consists exclusively of seeming a plausible alternative.  When Reagan dis so that race ended too.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Is Romney Smarter, Better Informed, and More Spontaneously Eloquent Than the President? (Peter Lawler, October 4, 2012, Big Think)

Well, if all you had to go by is tonight's debate, you'd have to say yes.

Romney's presentations were clearer, tighter, more incisive, more eloquent, more factually detailed, and more savvy and nimble than those of the president.  He certainly didn't looked stiff or overprogrammed, and he had the confidence of a leader.  It seemed he was really enjoying himself.

Bill Maher on Obama's performance:  "I hate to say it, but he's looking like he really does need a teleprompter."  The president's comments were often halting, vague, somewhat inarticulate, and distracted and perfunctory.  Even his closing statement was flat and pretty empty.

I'll leave it to others to flesh out the details.  But even MSBNC's Chris Matthews admitted than Romney won big, as did famous Obamaite bloggers such as Andrew Sullivan.  I'll add, of course, the verdict of the registered voters in the CNN poll: Romney won 67% to 25%.

Here's THE HUGE HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS DEBATE:  This is, as far as I'm concerned, the first time a Republican presidential candidate decisively won a debate according to the objective standards by which any expert would judge a debate. 

October 3, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


The Rockabilly Queen (MARC MYERS, 10/02/12, WSJ)

Today, Ms. Jackson, 74, is one of the last original female rockabilly stars still performing and recording. Her twangy cap-gun voice and feisty confidence haven't dimmed much since her early television appearances, now posted on YouTube. But the raven-haired singer--dressed for her interview in a lipstick-red sequined top and black slacks--is no hayseed. Over the past year, she has been rediscovered by a new generation of rockers and fans curious about the music's roots.

On Tuesday, Ms. Jackson will release "Unfinished Business" (Sugar Hill), her 31st studio album, produced by folk-country musician Justin Townes Earle. It follows "The Party Ain't Over," her 2011 album produced by blues-rock guitarist Jack White. Last year she opened for Adele in North America, and Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello have hailed Ms. Jackson's sizzly voice and rock-history importance.

"In '55, most country songs were about hard times and adult life," said Ms. Jackson, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009. "Rockabilly was a new wind. The electric guitar replaced the fiddle, and the music was about the back beat and the excitement of being young."
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Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Why Long Lectures Are Ineffective : If students can only focus for 15-minute intervals, shouldn't we devote precious class time to something more engaging? (SALMAN KHAN | October 2, 2012, TIME)

In 1996, in a journal called the National Teaching & Learning Forum, two professors from Indiana University -- Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish -- described how research on human attention and retention speaks against the value of long lectures. They cited a 1976 study that detailed the ebbs and flows of students' focus during a typical class period. Breaking the session down minute-by-minute, the study's authors determined that students needed a three- to five-minute period of settling down, which would be followed by 10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus. Then -- no matter how good the teacher or how compelling the subject matter -- there would come a lapse. In the vernacular, the students would "lose it." Attention would eventually return, but in ever briefer packets, falling "to three- or four-minute [spurts] towards the end of a standard lecture," according to the report. This study focused on college students, and of course it was done before the age of texting and tweeting; presumably, the attention spans of younger people today have become even shorter, or certainly more challenged by distractions.

Middendorf and Kalish also cited a study from 1985 which tested students on their recall of facts contained in a 20-minute presentation. While you might expect that recall of the final section of the presentation would be greatest-- the part heard most recently -- in fact the result was strikingly opposite. Students remembered far more of what they'd heard at the very beginning of the lecture. By the 15-minute mark, they'd mostly zoned out. Yet these findings -- which were quite dramatic, consistent and conclusive, and have never yet been refuted -- went largely unapplied in the real world.

...that the average worker is only productive for about two hours a day.  We do stuff the way we do because that's the way we've done the stuff we do. No one cares whether it's effective or not.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


U.S. Automakers Cut Retirees Loose (Keith Naughton on June 27, 2012, Business Week)

GM and rival Ford Motor (F), rebounding from their near-death experiences during the financial crisis, are eager to rid their balance sheets of the huge pension obligations that Wall Street views as onerous debts weighing on their credit ratings and stock prices. So this spring they came up with an ambitious solution: buy out the lifetime pension payments due 140,000 salaried retirees. With both carmakers suddenly flush with profits--GM and Ford made $9.2 billion and $20.2 billion, respectively, in 2011--it seems like a smart way to remove decades of uncertainty from their finances. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


Has Democracy Died? : The author of After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy explains why he believes democracy is misunderstood, over-hyped, and underwhelming. (Carl E. Olson, 10/02/12, Catholic World Report)

CWR: As you demonstrate, it wasn't that long ago that democracy was considered impractical if not impossible. What changed? How did democracy become such a central notion--or even sacred belief--in the West? Why are we so enamored with "Democracy"?

Williamson: Democracy became a central--and, as you say, actually a sacred--notion when modern democrats lost touch with metaphysical reality to the point where they could no longer apprehend the reality of the human condition. When God "died," and human beings discovered themselves, as they think, capable of realizing the Christian God's plan for His Creation without His help and strictly by their own efforts (meaning scientific and pseudo-scientific means, like sociology)--that is when "Democracy" became, for them, a fully realizable goal.

...when the democratic Anglosphere won the Long War, instead?  Had Bonapartism, socialism, communism, Nazism, Maoism, Baathism, Salafism, or any of the other isms succeeded the rout wouldn't be quite so thorough.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Morsi, Obama, and the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship (Fouad Ajami, Oct 1, 2012, Daily Beast)

For America, the irony of the rise of Mohamed Morsi is that this colorless functionary of the Muslim Brotherhood is the first Egyptian ruler steeped in American ways. His doctorate in engineering comes from the University of Southern California, which he earned in 1982. A village boy from the impoverished delta, he had made his way to the United States, courtesy of a government scholarship. In hindsight, he claims that he was shaped by America only "scientifically." But he hadn't been eager to leave the United States after completing his degree. He stayed on as a faculty member at California State University at Northridge.

This big American republic is suffused with contradictions: it was in Los Angeles that Morsi's wife was pulled into the orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood. Two of Morsi's sons were born in the United States. The American net had pulled Egypt along. It shaped and helped countless Egyptians, and, with this, comes the free-floating anti-Americanism now at play in Egypt.

Barack Obama had been cavalier about Egypt. We need only recall what he and his devotees had taken to be his finest hour on distant shores: the speech he gave in Cairo, in June of 2009. He was a newly elected leader, the herald of change. He had the power and the prestige of the United States, but he could address the Egyptians--and Muslims beyond--as the first American leader who had an intimate knowledge of Islam, perhaps, some claim, to the faith. He had Muslim relatives, he had lived in a Muslim country, he was a student of history, he said, and he knew the pain and hurt that Western colonialism had inflicted on his audience.

This was a flawed history, and modernist Egyptians know that. It was the coming of the West--most dramatically, the arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte's military expedition off the coast of Alexandria in 1798--that had pulled Egypt out of its destitution and lethargy. Bonaparte had come with his celebrated team of savants. They brought with them curiosity, studied the flora and the fauna of Egypt, and their monumental work, Description de L'Égypte, volumes of inquiry, gave Egyptians the full measure of their history.

Sure enough, colonialism, direct and indirect, humiliated Egyptians, and for decades they were outcasts in their own country. But colonialism (much as it did in that singular encounter between England and India) had invented modern Egypt. The British may have been brutes in that Suez Canal zone when they dominated it, but European finance had built the Suez Canal.

Mohamed Morsi may want to flatter himself that it was solely the teachings of the Muslim Brotherhood that shaped him, but this fifth president of Egypt after the fall of the monarchy is the first civilian, and the first to receive a coveted American doctorate. The Brotherhood may have always railed against America, but leading technocrats from the Brotherhood rose to professional success and prominence through American degrees, and the years in America took them beyond the cloistered world from which they hailed.

Morsi and the collective leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood know the terms of Egypt's relationship with the United States. They are in need of American financial assistance--theirs is a country that is the world's top importer of wheat, a burdened country with a budget deficit of 11 percent of GDP. Governance in Egypt is tethered to feeding and subsidizing a huge and rebellious population. Rulers have leeway in that crowded country, but food riots have been the nightmare of rulers. Washington's help is crucial, and the Brotherhood knows when purity has to yield to necessity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


Providing Free Eye Exams And Glasses To Those Who Need Them Would Save $202 Billion Annually (Clay Dillow, 10.03.2012, Popular Science)

The economic costs of vision impairment are many, and in the developing world they are rampant. Refractive errors in vision make it difficult to read (and thus become educated), to drive or operate machinery, and to be productive in the workplace and in society in general. Limited mobility caused by visual impairments can also lead to other physical and mental health problems.

All said, the costs associated with these byproducts of refractive error are high--more than $200 billion per year globally. A study coming out of the Australia's Brien Holden Vision Institute and Johns Hopkins University says that with an initial investment of just $28 billion globally, authorities could train up 47,000 clinical eye car providers to provide exams and prescriptions as well as 18,000 optical dispensers to create those glasses. That would set up the program for five years, the study says, over which time nearly a trillion dollars in global economic benefits would be generated.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 AM


Spanish Prisoners (RICARD GONZÁLEZ and JAUME CLOTET, 10/02/12, NY Times)

The region accounts for about one-fourth of Spain's exports. But for every euro Catalans pay in taxes, only 57 cents is spent in the region. Before taxes, Catalonia is the fourth richest of Spain's 17 autonomous regions. After taxes, it drops to ninth -- a form of forced redistribution unparalleled in contemporary Europe.

For a society suffering the acute pain of budget cuts and a deep recession, the burden of fiscal transfers, which cripple the Catalan economy's ability to compete globally, is unacceptable. Unable to draw on its own tax base, the Catalan government recently went through the humiliation of being forced to ask Madrid for a bailout. Americans know well that an unfair taxation system can easily ignite calls for independence.

But money isn't the only cause of secessionist sentiment. We Catalans have long been attached to our distinct identity and never accepted the loss of national sovereignty after being defeated by the Spanish monarchy in 1714. For three centuries, Catalonia has striven to regain its independence. Most attempts to establish a state were put down by force. The "Catalan question" was a major catalyst of the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and Gen. Francisco Franco's dictatorship harshly repressed Catalan culture.

At the core of Catalonia's unique identity is the Catalan language, which is distinct from Spanish. Since the re-establishment of Spain's democracy in 1977 and Catalonia's autonomy in 1979, Catalan has been revived in the region's schools. However, a recent ruling by Spain's Constitutional Court threatens this policy. To most Catalans, our language is a red line. If the current system of autonomy can't guarantee protection of it, independence is the only solution.

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Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


Missing in Africa : How Obama Failed to Engage an Increasingly Important Continent (Todd Moss, October 1, 2012, Foreign Affairs)

 The president's Kenyan heritage inspired unreasonably high hopes for a robust Africa policy; but his administration has failed to meet even the lowest of expectations. Even Obama's most vocal supporters quietly admit that he has done much less with Africa than previous presidents have.

Compare Obama's approach to Africa with that of his predecessors. President Bill Clinton exuded enthusiasm for the continent. His Africa policy was defined by the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which reduced trade barriers on more than 1,800 products exported from the continent to the United States. Partly as a result of the act, trade between the U.S. and Africa has more than tripled since 2000 to more than $90 billion. More important, Clinton approached Africa as a partner, not just as a receiver of goodwill.

President George W. Bush went further. He launched the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the President's Malaria Initiative, and the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. These programs have had a major effect. The MCC developed compacts with 13 well-governed African countries to jointly implement business projects and boost economic growth. The malaria effort targeted 15 African countries and contributed to steep declines in child mortality. PEPFAR has been invaluable in the fight against HIV/AIDS, directly saving the lives of 2.4 million people via treatment and preventing infection for millions more. And these programs did not emerge under Bush by accident, but, rather, because of high-level engagement and the president's personal commitment.

In contrast, most of Obama's high-profile efforts have been washouts.

October 2, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 AM


The Great Disconnect : a review of I AM THE CHANGE : Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism By Charles R. Kesler (MARK LILLA, 9/30/12, NY Times Book Review)

Whenever conservatives talk to me about Barack Obama, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. But what exactly? The anger, the suspicion, the freestyle fantasizing have no perceptible object in the space-time continuum that centrist Democrats like me inhabit. What are we missing? Seen from our perspective, the country elected a moderate and cautious straight shooter committed to getting things right and giving the United States its self-­respect back after the Bush-Cheney years. Unlike the crybabies at MSNBC and Harper's Magazine, we never bought into the campaign's hollow "hope and change" rhetoric, so aren't crushed that, well, life got in the way. At most we hoped for a sensible health care program to end the scandal of America's uninsured, and were relieved that Obama proposed no other grand schemes of Nixonian scale. We liked him for his political liberalism and instinctual conservatism. And we still like him.

But more than a few of our fellow citizens are loathing themselves blind over Barack Obama. Why? I need a level-headed conservative to explain this to me, and Charles R. Kesler seems an excellent candidate. An amiable Harvard-­educated disciple of the conservative philosopher Leo Strauss, an admirer of Cicero and the founding fathers and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan, he teaches at Claremont ­McKenna College and is the editor of The Claremont Review of Books, one of the better conservative publications. It is put out by the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy, an increasingly influential research group that also runs educational programs for young conservatives of a Tea Party bent. The Claremont Review doesn't like Obama one bit. But it has usually taken the slightly higher road in criticizing him, and when Kesler begins his book by dismissing those who portray the president as "a third-world daddy's boy, Alinskyist agitator, deep-cover Muslim or undocumented alien" the reader is relieved to know that "I Am the Change" won't be another cheap, deflationary ­takedown.

Instead, it is that rarest of things, a cheap inflationary takedown -- a book that so exaggerates the historical significance of this four-year senator from Illinois, who's been at his new job even less time, that he becomes both Alien and Predator. Granted, there is something about Obama that invites psychological projection, notably by Scandinavians bearing gifts. But Kesler outdoes the Nobel Prize committee by raising the Obama presidency to world-historical significance, constructing a fanciful genealogy of modern liberalism that begins just after the French Revolution in the works of the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel; passes through Karl Marx and Charles Darwin and Oswald Spengler; and culminates in . . . "The Audacity of Hope" and 2,000-plus pages of technical jargon in the Affordable Care Act.

It's some performance, and actually quite helpful. A sense of proportion, once the conservative virtue, is considered treasonous on the right today, and Kesler cannot be accused of harboring one. But his systematic exaggerations demonstrate that the right's rage against Obama, which has seeped out into the general public, has very little to do with anything the president has or hasn't done. It's really directed against the historical process they believe has made America what it is today. The conservative mind, a repository of fresh ideas just two decades ago, is now little more than a click-click slide projector holding a tray of apocalyptic images of modern life that keeps spinning around, raising the viewer's fever with every rotation.

...is that Mr. Lilla himself has just argued both that the UR is virtually indistinguishable from W and a radical departure from him, a likewise inflationary tonedown.    The truth of the matter is that just as conservatives would defend Mr. Obama if he were a Republican, so too would Mr. Lilla adore W if he'd been a Democrat.  
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Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Walt Disney, Biography (Just Disney)

Close to the Disney family farm, there were Santa Fe Railroad tracks that crossed the countryside. Often Walt would put his ear against the tracks, to listen for approaching trains. Walt's uncle, Mike Martin, was a train engineer who worked the route between Fort Madison, Iowa, and Marceline. Walt later worked a summer job with the railroad, selling newspapers, popcorn, and sodas to travelers.

During his life Walt would often try to recapture the freedom he felt when aboard those trains, by building his own miniature train set. Then building a 1/8-scale backyard railroad, the Carolwood Pacific or Lilly Bell.
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October 1, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Eric Hobsbawm: A believer in the Red utopia to the very end : The grotesque facts never got in the way of Eric Hobsbawm's devotion to communism (Michael Burleigh, 10/01/12, The Telegraph)

Throughout, there was a dogmatic refusal to accept that the Bolshevik Revolution had been a murderous failure. Asked by the Canadian academic and politician Michael Ignatieff on television whether the deaths of 20 million people in the USSR - not to mention the 55 to 65 million victims of Mao's Great Leap Forward - might have been justified if this Red utopia had been realised, Hobsbawm muttered in the affirmative.

Everything Hobsbawm wrote deceitfully downplayed the grim role of the Communists in Spain in the Thirties or the forcible nature of the coups the Soviets carried out in Eastern Europe after 1945. Such a cosmopolitan thinker had ironically become imprisoned within a deeply provincial ideological ghetto, knowing or caring nothing for the brave Czechs or Poles who resisted Stalin's stooges, while being manifestly nonplussed by the democratic transformations of Central Europe since 1989-90. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Couples who share the housework are more likely to divorce, study finds (Henry Samuel, 27 Sep 2012, The Telegraph)

Divorce rates are far higher among "modern" couples who share the housework than in those where the woman does the lion's share of the chores, a Norwegian study has found.

The report found the divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work. 

In what appears to be a slap in the face for gender equality, the report found the divorce rate among couples who shared housework equally was around 50 per cent higher than among those where the woman did most of the work.

"What we've seen is that sharing equal responsibility for work in the home doesn't necessarily contribute to contentment," said Thomas Hansen, co-author of the study entitled "Equality in the Home". [...]

"One would think that break-ups would occur more often in families with less equality at home, but our statistics show the opposite," he said.

The figures clearly show that "the more a man does in the home, the higher the divorce rate," he went on.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM

Mumford & Sons On World Cafe (World Cafe, September 28, 2012)

In this session of World Cafe, David Dye talks to Mumford & Sons' members about how they achieved success. And, of course, they perform songs from Babel.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


The Last House in Randolph (THOM BASSETT, 10/01/12, NY Times)

Col. C.C. Walcutt of the 46th Ohio Volunteers had his orders. In response to an attack by Southern guerrillas on the unarmed ship Eugene, bound for Memphis from St. Louis, Walcutt was to take a regiment and unit of artillery to Randolph, Tenn., about 30 miles north of Memphis along the river, near where the ship had been fired on. Once there, Walcutt and his men, in the words of his commander, William Tecumseh Sherman, were to "destroy the town, leaving one house to mark the place."

Sherman had instructed Walcutt to "let the people know and feel that we deeply deplore the necessity of such destruction." Despite this regret, and even though he was sure that those actually responsible for the attack were already beyond the reach of Union forces, Sherman declared in his orders that "the cowardly firing upon boats filled with women and children and merchandise must be severely punished."

Walcutt's troops did their work well. The next day, Sept. 25, 1862, Sherman could write in his official report that "the regiment has returned and Randolph is gone."

There's no doubt the destruction of Randolph was a harsh response. However, given Sherman's reputation as an unrelenting scourge of Southerners in the last year of the war, it's easy to overlook that such collective punishment of civilians for guerrilla activity was largely accepted by the leading legal authorities of his time. In fact, both Union and Confederate commanders punished civilians in similar ways throughout the Civil War.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Is The United States Violating Pakistan's Sovereignty? (Art Keller, 10/01/12, Forbes)

In the USA's schizophrenic relationship with Pakistan, one accusation frequently flung at the U.S. is that our "kinetic" activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan violate Pakistani sovereignty. This view is held most strongly by those Pakistanis who don't live in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (aka FATA), and who don't have to endure the tyranny of armed militants controlling their lives.

While it is true that Pakistan's Army does maintain military outposts in the tribal areas, and those forces sometimes violently clash with militants, the Army does not now and never has had sovereign control as modern nation-states define the concept.

...then we'd be justified in attacking the rest of the country. It is only because Pakistan can not control the portions of territory where we are at war that we are not at war with the central state.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 AM


Let's start the foodie backlash : Food is the new sex, drugs and religion. Cookery dominates the bestseller lists and TV schedules. Celebrity chefs have become lifestyle gurus and cooking is referred to as a high art. Steven Poole has had his fill of foodism (Steven Poole, 9/29/12, The Guardian)

It is not in our day considered a sign of serious emotional derangement to announce publicly that "chocolate mousse remains the thing I feel most strongly about", or to boast that dining with celebrities on the last night of Ferran Adrià's restaurant elBulli, in Spain, "made me cry". It is, rather, the mark of a Yahoo not to be able and ready at any social gathering to converse in excruciating detail and at interminable length about food. Food is not only a safe "passion" (in the tellingly etiolated modern sense of "passion" that just means liking something a lot); it has become an obligatory one. The unexamined meal, as a pair of pioneer modern "foodies" wrote in the 1980s, is not worth eating. Most cannily, the department of philosophy at the University of North Texas announced in 2011 its "Philosophy of Food Project", no doubt having noticed which way the wind was blowing, and presumably hoping that it would be able to trick food-obsessives into hard thinking about other topics. One can of course think philosophically about food, as about anything at all, but that is not what is going on in our mainstream gastroculture.

Where will it all end? Is there any communication or entertainment or social format that has not yet been commandeered by the ravenous gastrimarge for his own gluttonous purpose? Does our cultural "food madness", as the New York Times columnist Frank Rich suggests, tip into "food psychosis"? Might it not, after all, be a good idea to worry more about what we put into our minds than what we put into our mouths?

People with an overweening interest in food have been calling themselves "foodies" since a Harper's & Queen article entitled "Cuisine Poseur" in 1982, one of whose editors then co-wrote the semi-satirical The Official Foodie Handbook of 1984. The OED's very first citation of "foodie" is from 1980, an oozing New York Times magazine celebration of the mistress of a Parisian restaurant and her "devotees, serious foodies". "Foodie" has now pretty much everywhere replaced "gourmet", perhaps because the latter more strongly evokes privilege and a snobbish claim to uncommon sensory discrimination - even though those qualities are rampant among the "foodies" themselves. The word "foodie", it is true, lays claim to a kind of cloying, infantile cuteness which is in a way appropriate to its subject; but one should not allow them the rhetorical claim of harmless innocence implied. The Official Foodie Handbook spoke of the "foodism" worldview; I propose to call its adherents foodists.

The term "foodist" is actually much older, used from the late 19th century for hucksters selling fad diets (which is quite apt); and as late as 1987 one New York Times writer proposed it semi-seriously as a positive description, to replace the unlovely "gastronaut": "In the tradition of nudist, philanthropist and Buddhist, may I suggest 'foodist', one who is enthusiastic about good eating?" The writer's joking offer of "nudist" as an analogy is telling. I like "foodist" precisely for its taint of an -ism. Like a racist or a sexist, a foodist operates under the prejudices of a governing ideology, viewing the whole world through the grease-smeared lenses of a militant eater.

Everywhere in the ideology of foodism we see a yearning for food to be able to fill a spiritual void. Food is about "spirituality" and "expressing our identity", claims modern food-knight Michael Pollan. His celebrated catechism of modern foodism, The Omnivore's Dilemma, speaks of eating with a "full consciousness", and claims that every meal has its "karmic price"; it ends with the declaration that "what we're eating is never anything more or less than the body of the world". And so chewing on pork products becomes a sublime union of self with planet, a Gaian eucharist.

Note, too, how many manuals of eating are termed "bibles": in the cult of "nutritionism" we have Patrick Holford's Optimum Nutrition Bible and Gillian McKeith's Food Bible, and there also exist a Baby Food Bible, a Whole Food Bible, a Gluten-Free Bible, a Party Food Bible, a Spicy Food Lover's Bible, and so on ad nauseam or perhaps ad astra. If you don't want the Judeo-Christian overtones that come with biblical foodism, you can instead attain communion with the druids, a possibility noted by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in the late 1990s: "I suspect the fact that wild mushrooms (and the pursuit of them) have become popular alongside the burgeoning interest in New Age spiritualism may not be entirely coincidental."

Food, then, is considered the appropriate sustenance for all kinds of spiritual snackishness. But to suppose that eating can nourish the spirit looks like a category mistake: just the sort of category mistake that led the early church to define "gluttony" as a sin. (Man does not live by bread alone.) Gluttony, on the original understanding, wasn't necessarily a matter of eating too much; it was the problem of being excessively interested in food, whatever one's actual intake of it. Gluttony was, as Francine Prose (author of a pert monograph, Gluttony) puts it, all about the "inordinate desire" for food, which makes us "depart from the path of reason". (That diagnoses the figure of "loathsome Gluttony" in Spenser's The Faerie Queene, "Whose mind in meat and drinke was drowned so".) And the theologian Thomas Aquinas agreed with Pope Gregory that gluttony can be committed in five different ways, among which are seeking more "sumptuous foods" or wanting foods that are "prepared more meticulously". In this sense (whether we agree with it or not), all modern foodists, as the Atlantic writer BR Myers argues in his incisive "Moral Crusade Against Foodies", are certainly gluttons.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Carmakers Find Ways to Make Cheaper Hybrids : The fuel-sipping cars have typically been pricier than conventional counterparts, but technological advances are changing that. (KEVIN BULLIS, October 1, 2012, Technology Review)

Automakers have grown more enthusiastic about hybrids because the cost of making them has plummeted. Several years ago, Toyota's Prius hybrid cost the consumer about $6,000 more than an equivalent conventional car--and even at that price, the company was losing money on every one it sold. The difference is now $2,500, and the car is profitable, says Mike Omotoso, an analyst with LMC Automotive. The drop in cost is due to an accumulation of incremental technology improvements, along with economies of scale. And advances going forward--better batteries, electric motors, and power electronics and transmissions--could cut costs by another 50 percent.

At Toyota, for example, the company shifted from a 500-volt electrical system to a 650-volt one, a decision that produced "a host of benefits," says Justin Ward, advanced power-train program manager at the Toyota Technical Center. The company was able to reduce the cost and weight of copper wiring, use cheaper power transistors in the electronics that control the hybrid system, and make the electric motor cheaper and smaller.

Although other automakers have shifted to lithium-ion batteries, Toyota has stayed with nickel-metal hydride. But it's made improvements to these batteries, such as shifting from cylindrical cells to flat ones to save space and modifying the cases to improve battery cooling. Simple changes like moving connectors from one side of a circuit board to the other can have big implications in terms of manufacturing, Ward says, making it possible, for example, to replace a worker with a robot for an assembly step.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 AM


End the Health Care Tax Break: Reduce Coverage? (MERRILL GOOZNER, 10/01/12,The Fiscal Times)

Health care insurance benefits have been excluded from taxable income since 1943, when the National War Labor Board ruled employers, who were offering health plans as a way to attract workers without violating wartime wage-and-price controls, could deduct their cost as an expense without reporting their value as income for workers.  As a result, employees get the benefit of the insurance without paying taxes on its value.
Workers weren't the only ones who benefited from the ruling. Neither employers nor workers had to pay their half of the Social Security (and later Medicare) payroll taxes that would have been assessed at a higher rate, had it been paid as straight wages.

Today, the ever-growing cost of health care has turned that little loophole into a subsidy program that costs the Treasury an estimated $240 billion a year. It is the single largest tax expenditure in the federal tax code.

Economists across the political spectrum are united in their analysis of its impact. It allows employers to spend more on health insurance than they otherwise would. It leads workers, especially if they are unionized and have voice in how any wage increases are allocated, to fight for lower co-pays and deductibles since those are paid with after-tax dollars. The two factors working in tandem encourage overuse of health care services, which drives up spending and eventually premiums.

"It turns into a vicious cycle," said Paul Fronstin, an analyst at the Employee Benefits Research Institute.

The exclusion is also unfair in the same way that any tax expenditure becomes unfair under a progressive income tax code. A person in the 30 percent tax bracket who gets a $15,000 family plan at work gets twice the subsidy as someone in the 15 percent bracket that belongs to the same plan.