December 8, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Months before graduation, West Point cadet quits, citing culture of overt religion (, 12/06/12)

A cadet quitting West Point less than six months before graduation says he could no longer be part of a culture that promotes prayers and religious activities and disrespects nonreligious cadets.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


How Crash Cover-Up Altered China's Succession (JONATHAN ANSFIELD, 12/04/12, NY Times)

 "Thank you. I'm well. Don't worry," read the post on a Chinese social networking site. The brief comment, published in June, appeared to come from Ling Gu, the 23-year-old son of a high-powered aide to China's president, and it helped quash reports that he had been killed in a Ferrari crash after a night of partying.

It only later emerged that the message was a sham, posted by someone under Mr. Ling's alias -- almost three months after his death.

The ploy was one of many in a tangled effort to suppress news of the crash that killed Mr. Ling and critically injured two young female passengers, one of whom later died. The outlines of the affair surfaced months ago, but it is now becoming clearer that the crash and the botched cover-up had more momentous consequences, altering the course of the Chinese Communist Party's once-in-a-decade leadership succession last month.

China's departing president, Hu Jintao, entered the summer in an apparently strong position after the disgrace of Bo Xilai, previously a rising member of a rival political network who was brought down when his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman. But Mr. Hu suffered a debilitating reversal of his own when party elders -- led by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin -- confronted him with allegations that Ling Jihua, his closest protégé and political fixer, had engineered the cover-up of his son's death.

According to current and former officials, party elites, and others, the exposure helped tip the balance of difficult negotiations, hastening Mr. Hu's decline; spurring the ascent of China's new leader, Xi Jinping; and playing into the hands of Mr. Jiang, whose associates dominate the new seven-man leadership at the expense of candidates from Mr. Hu's clique.

The case also shows how the profligate lifestyles of leaders' relatives and friends can weigh heavily in backstage power tussles, especially as party skulduggery plays out under the intensifying glare of media.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Bin Laden, Torture and Hollywood (FRANK BRUNI, 12/08/12, NY Times)

[T]he movie of the year is also the political conundrum of the year, a far, far cry from the rousing piece of pro-Obama propaganda that some conservatives feared it would be. "Zero Dark Thirty," which opens in theaters on Dec. 19 and presents itself as a quasi-journalistic account of what really happened, gives primary credit for the killing of Bin Laden to neither the Bush nor the Obama administrations but to one obsessive C.I.A. analyst whose work spans both presidencies. And it presents the kind of torture that Cheney advocated -- but that President Obama ended -- as something of an information-extracting necessity, repellent but fruitful.

Even as David Edelstein, the film critic for New York magazine, named "Zero Dark Thirty" the best movie of 2012 in a recent article, he digressed to say that it "borders on the politically and morally reprehensible," because it "makes a case for the efficacy of torture."

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Poll: Republicans think anti-tax pledge is bad idea (Natalie Jennings, December 6, 2012, Washington Post)

A large majority of registered voters, including 77 percent of Republicans, say it's a bad idea for members of Congress to sign a pledge to never raise taxes on the wealthy, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The No Good, Very Bad Outlook for the Working-Class American Man : The U.S. economy is still a powerful engine, but workers aren't seeing the benefits, less-educated men are struggling, and the rich have disconnected from everyone else. (Jonathan Rauch, December 5, 2012, National Journal)

Begin with Chart 1. It shows one of the most basic of all economic relationships, that between productivity and hourly compensation. Productivity measures the value of the output (brake pads, stock transactions) a worker produces in, say, a day; compensation is a measure of earnings that includes the value of benefits such as health insurance. The chart also shows compensation for all U.S. workers and specifically for workers in production and nonsupervisory jobs--blue-collar and clerical jobs, for example.


For decades, productivity and compensation rose in tandem. Their bond was the basis of the social compact between the economy and the public: If you work harder and better, you and your family will be better off. But in the past few decades, and especially during the past 10 years or so, the lines have diverged. This is slippage No. 1: Productivity is rising handsomely, but compensation of workers isn't keeping up.

True, compensation is still rising, on average. But the improvements are spotty. Production and nonsupervisory workers--factory, retail, and clerical workers, for example--saw productivity gains disappear from their paychecks much earlier and got hit harder than did supervisors and professionals. Over the past 30 years or so, their compensation has hardly risen at all.

"This is something that has been happening and building for years and is now really rooted in the economy, and it's vicious," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington. "There's a remarkable disconnect. The problem isn't a lack of the economy producing sufficient income to make everybody's living standards improve--it's that the economy is structured so that the majority don't benefit." Or, to state the point more cautiously, the majority doesn't benefit from productivity gains very much--certainly, less than our parents and grandparents did.
Notice that recessions and expansions barely register in the trend lines. Long-term, gradual forces, rather than short-term jitters, are at work. Charts 2 and 3 hint at what those might be. Chart 2 shows how much wages (not compensation, this time) have grown for workers in different income brackets. The higher you stood on the income ladder, the better you did; the highest-paid 1 percent of earners soared above and away from everyone else, practically occupying an economy of their own. By contrast, the bottom 90 percent of earners--which is to say, almost everyone--saw barely any increase, and much of what they did see came in the boom years of the late 1990s.

So, productivity is rising, but it isn't being evenly allocated; the top is effectively disconnected from the rest of the spectrum--slippage No. 2. One reason, especially pronounced in the past decade or so, is that fewer of the productivity gains are flowing to workers, and more are flowing to investors. Chart 3 shows what happened. From the end of World War II through about 1980, almost two-thirds of every dollar of income generated by the economy flowed to workers in the form of wages and benefits. Beginning around 1980, workers' share began to slide and, in the past decade or so, has nose-dived, to about 58 percent. The difference went to shareholders and other investors--who provide capital rather than labor--in the form of higher returns on their holdings.

Why would workers be receiving a smaller share of output, and why would the share they do receive be skewed toward the top? No one is sure, but Sonecom's Shapiro tells a plausible story. First, globalization has reduced American companies' ability to raise prices, and thus to increase their workers' pay, without losing competitiveness against companies in, say, China and India. Second, a smaller share of the value that companies produce today comes from the physical goods made by people like factory workers, and a larger share comes from ideas and intangible innovations that people like software designers and marketers develop. Between the early 1980s and the mid-2000s, Shapiro says, the share of a big business's book value accounted for by its physical assets fell by half, from 75 percent to only 36 percent.

"So the basis for value shifts," Shapiro explains. "This is the full flowering of the idea-based economy." Which is great if you are a brain worker or an investor; otherwise, not so much.

Mr. Rauch, like so many others, misses the obvious: it is not compensation that has been disconnected from productivity but labor.    The idea workers and the technology they've produced have made much of the physical labor force superfluous and any skills they may once have had irrelevant.  That's why we could turn jobs into social payoffs at home and ship them abroad to the undeveloped world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Neoliberalism in the American military and its impact on civilians (JENNIFER MITTELSTADT, 7 December 2012, OpenDemocracy)

Folded into the current military spending cuts is a neoliberal agenda to privatize and outsource the retirement and health care benefits of military personnel and their families. Americans may consider these proposals of minimal concern, and of interest only to military personnel, veterans, and their families. But their implications reach far wider: they are part of a comprehensive neoliberal plan to privatize virtually all government social welfare programs and entitlements.

Promulgated by free-market advocates at the Heritage Foundation, corporate interests on the Defense Department's Defense Business Board, and the private Business Executives for National Security, current military health and retirement proposals seek to replace existing government programs with privately-held, market-based healthcare and pension programs. They closely mirror free-market proposals for Social Security, pension privatization, and health care privatization in the civilian sector.

Instead of using the current government-contracted HMO/PPO model, called TriCare, military personnel and their families would receive health care vouchers allowing them to either purchase whatever health care plan they chose from an array of private sector providers. Instead of earning defined retirement benefits - pensions - soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines would each pay into privately held 401K programs - or simply take a lump sum of cash. In a win-win for corporate advocates, cuts to what they call the "excessive" and "burdensome" human side of the military will simultaneously fund greater spending on expensive weapons and communications systems. And under the pretext of providing "choice" to military personnel, the programs decrease total benefits and increase private sector access to government funds and the money of military personnel. [...]

While Friedman and his acolytes failed to transfer military services to the private sector in the 1970s and the 1980s, free market advocates in the 1990s succeeded. Members of the Defense Science Board and the Business Executives for National Security - the same groups proposing current privatization of military pensions - used the occasion of the post Cold War drawdown and the slumping economy to introduce corporate boardroom practices such as cutting overheads, increasing efficiencies, and improving "quality" as budgetary coping mechanisms for a sharply reduced spending regime.

Vice President Al Gore's "Reinvention of Government" pushed these further, introducing widespread outsourcing practices throughout federal agencies. President Clinton then appointed Wall Street financiers like Joshua Gotbaum from investment firm Lazard Frères to lead a special outsourcing office in the Pentagon. Together, the policies of the Clinton era resulted in a historically unprecedented transfer of military support services from the public to the private sector. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Morsi's decree cancelled, constitution referendum to take place on time (Ahram Online, 9 Dec 2012)

Islamic scholar Selim El-Awa, a member of Egypt's National Dialogue, announced that president Mohamed Morsi had called off the controversial constitutional declaration he issued last month. [...]

However, El-Awa said the referendum on the new draft constitution, slated for 15 December, will go ahead as scheduled, defying the demonstrators who believe the proposed national chart does not fulfill the aspirations of Egyptians.

"If the people voted no to the referendum, a new Constituent Assembly will be formed within three months via general elections, after which it will write a new constitution within six months," El-Awa read out one of the articles of the new constitutional declaration.

The decree was only needed so the constitution could be written without interference from regime holdovers.  

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Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Exhilaration Gap (Joe Posnanski, 12/08/12)

Here, then, are the Top 10 sports by Exhilaration Gap. I even put a little score by each sport: +100 means the sport is boundlessly better live, -100 means the sport is boundlessly better on TV. And, you should know, these numbers were carefully calculated and recalculated in the time when I wasn't checking to see if any baseball news was breaking at the winter meetings.

1. Hockey (+77 EG)

The obvious choice. The thing is, live hockey is not just a better sport to watch and consume, it's really a DIFFERENT sport. Hockey on television has actually gotten much better (this would have been 100 EG before high-def and better camera work made hockey on TV an improved viewing experience). But there seems no way for hockey on TV to capture the speed and force and openness of the game. Especially the openness. The rink is much bigger than television can capture, and the players are skating much faster, and while television (for obvious reasons) must follow the puck, when you are a live participant the eye scans the entire landscape, seeing the open man before the puck gets there, anticipating the breakaway before it happens, observing just how fast these players are moving BEFORE the collision.* Television, for all its wonders, can't quite get at the stuff that makes hockey so much fun to watch.

A general formula: The volume of how much someone does not like hockey corresponds precisely to how few times that person has seen a live hockey game. [...]

9. Pro football (minus-16 EG)

In my mind, pro football is superior on television in almost every way. No, television cannot quite convey how loud the stadium gets, the passion (or anger) of the fans, the dimensions of the field. But to me, it more than makes up for these things with amazing replays, numerous angles, in-game updates, interesting announcing (when you can get it) and cameras that almost put you on the field. I've also heard from many, many people that the pro football live experience is becoming less and less fun, there's so much rage, so many fights or near fights, it's no place to bring your kids. I used to be an NFL season-ticket holder, and I thought it was getting awfully chippy even four or five years ago. People tell me it's even worse now. For all this and more, I'd much rather watch the games on television.

...the game is over in under two hours.  An NFL game in person is not just boring but interminable.