November 12, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 PM


Republicans at a crossroads (Rod Dreher, 11/08/12, BBC)

Surveying the smoking rubble of the Republican Party's election hopes, the right-wing talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh made a declaration.

"Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It's just very difficult to beat Santa Claus."

Read those two sentences carefully, for they tell you a lot about the massive psychological problem the Republicans face - and why it will be extraordinarily difficult and painful for them to deal with reality. [...]

The Republican Party is becoming a perversely rigid sect, more concerned with being militantly correct than being pragmatic and successful. With each passing election cycle, their purity will become the purity of the desert.

There are many American liberals who counsel conservatives that all would come right for us again if only we would jettison our principles and become liberals.

No, thanks. Conservatives must be conservative, but we must also recognize that conservatism is not an ideology, but a way of approaching the world, the chief virtue of which is prudence.

As the great modern conservative Edmund Burke taught, the act of governing - indeed, "every human benefit and enjoyment" - requires compromise.

The talk-radio Jacobins and the suburban sans culottes may not like that kind of treacherous talk, but it is the essence of the conservative political temperament.

Burke once observed that "a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation."

He might have said the same thing about the Republican Party. Then again, the old boy was probably a RINO.

...can't they please stop bothering us with them?

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Cornel West: Obama A 'Republican In Blackface,' (Andrew Kirell, November 12th, 2012, Mediaite)

He explained that the election season saw a "truncated" version of political discourse with climate change being overlooked.

West then took a stab at the president: "It's very sad. I mean, I'm glad there was not a right-wing takeover, but we end up with a Republican, a Rockefeller Republican in blackface, with Barack Obama, so that our struggle with regard to poverty intensifies," he said.

"That's a pretty rough assessment of President Obama," Goodman replied.

"Oh, that's what we have. Richard Nixon is to the left of him on health care. Richard Nixon's to the left of him on guaranteed income," West followed up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


U.S. to become world's largest oil producer before 2020, IEA says (Tiffany Hsu, November 12, 2012, LA Times)

The U.S. will become the world's top producer of oil within five years, a net exporter of the fuel around 2030 and nearly self-sufficient in energy by 2035, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

It's a bold set of predictions for a nation that currently imports some 20% of its energy needs.

Recently, however, an "energy renaissance" in the U.S. has caused a boost in oil, shale gas and bio-energy production due to new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fuel efficiency has improved in the transportation sector. The clean energy industry has seen an influx of solar and wind efforts.

Typically, the Empire imports raw materials and make finished goods.  We'll be doing the opposite.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


The GOP's media cocoon : The GOP is suffering from Pauline Kaelism (JONATHAN MARTIN | 11/12/12, Politico)

"What Republicans did so successfully, starting with critiquing the media and then creating our own outlets, became a bubble onto itself," said Ross Douthat, the 32-year-old New York Times columnist.

"The right is suffering from an era of on-demand reality," is how 30-year-old old think tanker and writer Ben Domenech put it.

Citing Kael, one of the most prominent Republicans in the George W. Bush era complained: "We have become what the left was in the '70s -- insular."

In this reassuring conservative pocket universe, Rasmussen polls are gospel, the Benghazi controversy is worse than Watergate, "Fair and Balanced" isn't just marketing and Dick Morris is a political seer.

Even this past weekend, days after a convincing Obama win, it wasn't hard to find fringes of the right who are convinced he did so only because of mass voter fraud and mysteriously missing military ballots. Like a political version of "Thelma and Louise," some far-right conservatives are in such denial that they'd just as soon keep on driving off the cliff than face up to a reality they'd rather not confront.

One of the most amusing instances of this bubblewrapping is the claim that to cite a mainstream media source is to delegitimize one's argument.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Japan turns to US amid fears over China (Mure Dickie, 11/09/12, Financial Times)

Japan's defence minister has called for revision of the guidelines that govern its military co-operation with the US, amid concern in the region over China's increasingly assertive maritime policies and rapidly growing naval power.

The comments by Satoshi Morimoto, three days after Barack Obama was re-elected as US president, reflect efforts by Tokyo to strengthen the half-century-old alliance, which have been given added impetus by an island sovereignty dispute with China.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Officials Say F.B.I. Knew of Petraeus Affair in the Summer (SCOTT SHANE and CHARLIE SAVAGE, 11/12/2, NY Times)

A close friend of the Petraeus family said Sunday that the intimate relationship between Mr. Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, began after he retired from the military last year and about two months after he started as C.I.A. director. It ended about four months ago, said the friend, who did not want to be identified while discussing personal matters. In a letter to the C.I.A. work force on Friday, Mr. Petraeus acknowledged having the affair. Ms. Broadwell has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Under military regulations, adultery can be a crime. At the C.I.A., it can be a security issue, since it can make an intelligence officer vulnerable to blackmail, but it is not a crime.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


The Americanness of the American Revolution : Why the Founders succeeded (MYRON MAGNET, Autumn 2012, City Journal)

A key reason the revolution succeeded was its strictly limited scope. The Founders sought only liberty, not equality or fraternity. They aimed to make a political revolution, not a social or an economic one. Their Lockean social-contract political philosophy taught them that the preservation of individual liberty was the goal of politics. Its basis was the surrender of a portion of man's original, natural freedom to a government that would protect the large remainder of it better than any individual could do on his own--the freedom to make your own fate and think your own thoughts without fear of bodily harm, unjust imprisonment, or robbery. The Founders' study of history taught them that the British constitution under which they had lived--"originally and essentially free," as Boston preacher Jonathan Mayhew described it--was the ideal embodiment of such a contract. It was "the most perfect combination of human powers in society," John Adams wrote in 1766, "for the preservation of liberty and the production of happiness"--until George III began to violate it. So Americans didn't take up arms to create a new world order according to some abstract theory. They sought only to restore the political liberty they had actually experienced for 150 years, and they constructed their new government to preserve it.

The Protestantism of the Founding Fathers also helped the Revolution succeed. Their Protestant worldview placed an intense value on the individual--his conscience, the state of his soul, his understanding of Scripture, his personal relation to God, his salvation. It was an easy step for them to assume that, as each man was endowed by his Creator with an immortal soul immediately related to God, so he was similarly endowed with rights that are "not the Donation of Law," as Constitution signer William Livingston put it, but "prior to all political Institution" and "resulting from the Nature of Man." It was easy for them to assume, therefore, that the individual, not the state, took center stage in the human drama. They saw the state as merely instrumental to the fate of the individual.

But their Protestantism also gave them a history that helps explain why the colonists didn't need or want a social revolution. The many non-Anglican dissenters among them had already had such a revolution: they had been forced to uproot themselves from their relatives and friends, from "the fair cities, villages, and delightful fields of Britain," fleeing religious persecution into "the arms of savages and barbarians" in pursuit of liberty of conscience, as Mayhew put it in 1763. The Plymouth Pilgrims, who wrote a literal social compact in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, were only the first wave of a tide of such immigrants fleeing persecution: English and Scottish Presbyterians, Baptists, and Quakers; German pietists; French Huguenots; and others followed. In the eighteenth century, their offspring--John Jay, for example, who descended from New York's huge contingent of Huguenot refugees from Catholic oppression, and Livingston, whose Presbyterian great-grandfather had fled Scotland for Holland after the Stuart restoration--had as lively a sense of lucky escape from the Old Country's murderous religious tyranny as American Jews whose forebears had escaped Russian pogroms and the Nazi Holocaust had in the twentieth century. They had as acute a sense of having had to start their lives over again in a land that afforded them almost providential religious and political freedom, safety, and opportunity. [...]

So when, after 150 years of letting Americans run their own affairs, the British government began to meddle malignly with their liberty once 22-year-old George III became king in 1760, following the death of his grandfather, George II, the colonists unsurprisingly responded to the interference with outrage. After decreeing new colonial customs duties and stricter enforcement in 1764, London imposed its first direct levy on the colonies in 1765 in the Stamp Act, taxing every colonial newspaper, journal, legal document, almanac, playing card, and other paper product, in flagrant contravention of the "standing Maxim of English Liberty," as Livingston had quoted it more than a decade earlier, " 'that no Man shall be taxed, but with his own Consent.' " As Washington wrote to a friend, "I think the Parliament of Great Britain hath no more Right to put their hands into my Pocket, without my consent, than I have to put my hands into your's, for money." Property doesn't belong to the government, and the social contract gives government no right to tell you what to do with your own.

The American Revolution, then, was doubly limited in its aims: limited to making only a political change without altering social or economic arrangements, and determined to set strict limits to its new government, fearful that any governmental power beyond the barest minimum necessary to protect liberty too easily could become a threat to liberty itself. So apprehensive were the Founders on this score that the governmental structure they erected after the Declaration of Independence proved too weak to perform its essential function of protecting their lives, liberties, and properties adequately, prolonging the Revolutionary War and increasing the hardships of the men who fought it. With great misgivings, the Founders had to create a new constitution to give government the necessary powers, but their most urgent concern was to make those powers limited and enumerated, hedged around with every check and balance they could think of to prevent tyrannical abuse.

With similar prudence and modesty, when they wrote the new constitution, the Founders nursed no grandiose illusions that they were going to change human nature by altering the structure of government. Except for Thomas Jefferson, they didn't believe in human perfectibility, as did some of the French philosophes whose worldview Jefferson had absorbed in his years in Paris as well as from his voluminous reading. The Founders certainly didn't aspire to create something like the New Soviet Man. They had a very clear-eyed assessment of human nature. After all, their social-contract theory rested on a psychology that acknowledged what Patrick Henry called, conventionally enough, "the depravity of human nature," with its lusts, aggression, and greed no less inborn than its rights. They tried to create a republic that would flourish with human nature as it is, with all its cross-grained passions and interests. They never forgot, as Alexander Hamilton cautioned, "that men are ambitious, vindictive, and rapacious."

Vitally, by demanding of fellow Englishmen that we be treated as Englishmen we drained them of the will to fight us.  Our cause was too much their cause for a total war.
Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Online Courses Put Pressure on Third-World Universities : How a teacher in El Salvador became an advocate of massive open online courses, and why hardly anyone listens to him yet. (Antonio Regalado, November 12, 2012, Technology Review)

The University of El Salvador, located in San Salvador, is the only public university in the country. It spends $60 million a year to teach 50,000 students, and its budget is so limited that it can only accept about one-third of applicants. (By comparison, the University of Michigan, which has a similar number of students, spends $1.3 billion.) Protests over the shortage of spots regularly shut down the campus. Semesters don't end on time. U.S. News & World Report ranks it 68th in Latin America.

Martinez says the arrival of MOOCs is adding to an already "huge pressure" to improve the university. And early data on the new Web classes suggest they may have similar impacts elsewhere. Coursera, the largest MOOC company, reported in August that of its first million users, 62 percent were from outside the U.S., led by students in Brazil, India, China, and Canada.

So far, students are coalescing around such classes in ways that are improvised and ad hoc. Some are using online bulletin boards to arrange study groups at caf├ęs in cities like Shanghai and Madrid. "We do hope that people grab these classes and build on them," says Anant Agarwal, the head of edX and the teacher whose voice is heard narrating the electronics class. He even imagines overseas "educational dormitories" springing up, where some entrepreneur might charge for food and a bed and perhaps supply a teaching assistant to help with classwork.

In several cases, enterprising teachers have taken the lead. A U.S. graduate student, Tony Hyun Kim, used edX last spring to teach high school students in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. A dozen passed the course. After hearing about it, the National University of Mongolia sent several deans on a mission to visit Agarwal at edX's offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While MOOCs could be an opportunity to improve education in poor regions, they're also profoundly threatening to bad professors and to weak institutions. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Mr. Hamilton's Growth Strategy (THOMAS K. McCRAW, 11/11/12, NY Times)

The face value of federal and state debts was about $74 million, including $12 million owed to Dutch banks. Federal income for 1790 amounted to just $1.6 million -- a debt-to-income ratio of 46 to 1. (Today that same ratio is about 6.5 to 1.)

Hamilton first paid off the foreign debt by rolling it over through new loans from abroad. Determined to establish the nation's creditworthiness and avoid default, he then consolidated the remaining debts at their par, or face, value, which was higher than their market value -- a move opposed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who said it would reward speculators.

Meanwhile, he temporarily ignored Jefferson and Madison's idea of repaying the principal of the domestic debt. Instead, he persuaded Congress to authorize new bonds to replace existing obligations, while reducing the interest rate to 4 percent from 6 percent. He then announced that all interest would be paid in gold, and that receipts from import duties would be earmarked for these payments -- reasoning that bondholders would rather get 4 percent in gold than 6 percent of nothing.

Hamilton then established the Bank of the United States as a private, profit-making institution. Shares in the bank soon rose, and it would eventually have branches in all major cities -- at a time when only three small banks existed in the entire country, and when Jefferson and other founders opposed the very existence of banks. The bank, together with funding of the debt, vastly increased liquidity in the country, much as the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, has tried to do today. [...]

By 1794, four years after his plan went into effect, the federal debt had increased a bit, but revenues had risen more than threefold. The debt-to-income ratio had shrunk to 15 to 1 from 46 to 1; by 1800, it was 8 to 1.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


To Slow Warming, Tax Carbon (DIETER HELM, 11/12/12, NY Times)

America has only the crudest energy policy. And yet its carbon emissions have been falling sharply. Why? Because the United States is switching from coal to gas. At the same time, Europe is moving from gas, which is expensive there, to much more polluting coal -- especially in Germany, which is phasing out its nuclear plants following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Europe's "answer" to global warming is wind farms and other current renewables. But the numbers won't ever add up. It just isn't possible to reduce carbon emissions much with small-scale disaggregated wind turbines. There isn't enough land for biofuels, even if corn-based ethanol were a good idea (a questionable proposition). Current renewable-energy sources cannot bridge the gap if we are to move away from carbon-intensive energy production. So we will need new technologies while in the meantime slowing the coal juggernaut.

There are three sensible ways to do this: tax carbon consumption (including imports); accelerate the switch from coal to gas; and support and finance new technologies rather than pouring so much money into wind and biofuels.

Putting a price on carbon is fundamental. If consumers and businesses do not bear the cost of their carbon pollution, they won't do much about it. This carbon price should not discriminate between locations: global warming is global. If China does not put a price on carbon, and Europe does, then China will effectively receive a huge export subsidy.