December 26, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Democrats push for tax cuts they once opposed (Zachary A. Goldfarb, December 25, 2012, Washington Post)

Democrats seeking a deal to avert the year-end "fiscal cliff" are trying to etch into stone the signature economic achievement of Republican President George W. Bush by permanently extending tax cuts enacted during his tenure.

President Obama has put the extension of the tax cuts for most Americans at the top of his domestic agenda, a remarkable turnaround for Democrats, who had staunchly opposed the tax breaks when they were written into law about a decade ago.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Homes for the homeless: a smart investment in dignity (Monitor's Editorial Board, December 26, 2012, CS Monitor)

Two decades ago, a simple idea was floated in the United States: Give homeless people a home rather then temporary shelter and their sense of personal dignity will rise, opening the way for them to solve their problems. 

The idea finally spread nationwide under President George W. Bush and has been enhanced by President Obama. This has led to an amazing result: Despite the drop in personal income and a rise in poverty caused by the 2007-09 recession, homelessness has dropped in recent years, according to new data.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


FreedomWorks tea party group nearly falls apart in fight between old and new guard (Amy Gardner, December 25, 2012, Washington Post)

The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.

Richard K. Armey, the group's chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group's Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey's enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks' top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone -- with a promise of $8 million -- and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington's most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.

Stephenson, the founder of the for-profit Cancer Treatment Centers of America and a director on the FreedomWorks board, agreed to commit $400,000 per year over 20 years in exchange for Armey's agreement to leave the group.

The episode illustrates the growing role of wealthy donors in swaying the direction of FreedomWorks and other political groups, which increasingly rely on unlimited contributions from corporations and financiers for their financial livelihood. Such gifts are often sent through corporate shells or nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their donors, making it impossible for the public to know who is funding them.

In the weeks before the election, more than $12 million in donations was funneled through two Tennessee corporations to the FreedomWorks super PAC after negotiations with Stephenson over a preelection gift of the same size, according to three current and former employees with knowledge of the arrangement. The origin of the money has not previously been reported.

These and other new details about the near-meltdown at FreedomWorks were gleaned from interviews with two dozen current and past associates, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to talk freely.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Euroscepticism growing among voters, Guardian/ICM poll finds (Tom Clark, 12/26/12,

The public mood of Euroscepticism is hardening, according to an exclusive Guardian/ICM poll that finds 51% of respondents would vote to take Britain out of the EU, against just 40% who say they would vote to stay in.

They belong in NAFTA.
Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Is that Christmas Tree Kosher? (SHMUEL ROSNER, 12/25/12, NY Times)

Last week, Jewish religious authorities in Haifa issued a warning that establishments holding Christmas and New Year's celebrations would lose so-called kashrut supervision. Many Israelis won't eat in a place where food is not certified to have been prepared according to Jewish dietary laws.

"New Year's celebrations must not be held at the end of the civil calendar," the Haifa rabbinate said in a letter to local hotels and restaurants. "It will not be possible to continue our supervision for anyone who infringes our instruction."

One can't possibly expect a rabbi to be present at a place where a Christian holiday is celebrated, the rabbinate argues. In fact, it is even forbidden for "a Jew to be present in a place where idol worship is being conducted." The Christmas tree may be one such idol -- the nativity scene is, of course.

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


A German Resurgence, Feet First (NICHOLAS KULISH, 12/25/12, NY Times)

In a little more than a decade, Germany has invested nearly $1 billion in its youth programs, with academies run by professional teams and training centers overseen by the national soccer association, the Deutscher Fussball Bund, or D.F.B. The programs testify to the long-term strategic thinking and to the considerable resources that have driven Germany's rise to renewed prominence in -- and at the expense of -- a struggling continent.

"Once the Germans have decided to transform, to reform, they do it," Emmanuel Hembert, an expert in the business of soccer at the consultancy A. T. Kearney, said. "It has been the case for the labor rules; it's the case for football where they changed their model; and it's had a very positive impact."

The products of the new factory system were exhibited in striking fashion this season. Germany sent seven professional teams into European competitions, and for the first time all seven advanced to the knockout rounds beginning in the new year.

The three German teams in the hypercompetitive Champions League -- Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Schalke -- all won their groups. Less noticeable but equally important is the depth and parity in the German game. Teams from the midsize cities Leverkusen (pop. 160,000) and Mönchengladbach (pop. 260,000) were among the four that advanced in the slightly less prestigious Europa League.

The German league has seized the advantage while many clubs in crisis-stricken, austerity-squeezed countries like Spain and Italy have been unable to deal with deep debts and older stadiums in poor condition. The Spanish team Valencia started the season with an unfinished stadium and no sponsor for the team's jersey, a standard moneymaker in European sports.

The German teams "are preparing for an era of European dominance," Hembert said. "The time of the German league is coming."

Where England's soccer analysts bemoan a British league brimming with foreign mercenaries but crowding out local players, German teams have improved with a rising share of domestic players. At the same time, they have overcome stereotypes of ugly but effective play and today are more likely to be compared by opponents to finely tuned Porsches than grinding Panzer tanks.

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson dies aged 83 (Alexandra Topping, 12/26/12, The Guardian)

Gerald Alexander Anderson - famous for the use of "Supermarionation", or the use of modified puppets - was born in 1929 in Hampstead, north London, and began his career as a film trainee at the Ministry of Information before starting work at Gainsborough Pictures. He later set up AP Films with some friends.

With commissions thin on the ground Anderson and his team were eager to produce their first puppet show The Adventures Of Twizzle. Others including Torchy The Battery Boy, and Supercar followed. Success continued with Fireball XL5 and Stingray. But it was Thunderbirds, filmed on the Slough Trading Estate in Berkshire and first broadcast in 1965 that made his name. With the catchphrase "Thunderbirds are go!", the programme revolved around International Rescue, a secret emergency service run by the Tracy family aided by London agent Lady Penelope and her butler, Parker.

In 1966, Thunderbirds was made into a major feature film for United Artists, Thunderbirds Are Go, which was followed by a sequel, Thunderbird 6.

Anderson moved towards live action productions in the 1970s, producing Space: 1999. In the 1980s, a burst of nostalgia for his Supermarionation series led to the commission of new productions, including a remake of Captain Scarlet. New Captain Scarlet, a CGI-animated reimagining of the 1967 series, premiered on ITV in the UK in 2005. He also worked as a consultant on a Hollywood remake of his 1969 series UFO, directed by Matthew Gratzner.

Anderson was a one-of-a kind film and television producer, who had far-reaching influence, according to his fan club dedication. "Anderson's unique style of filmmaking influenced the imaginations and careers of countless creatives that succeeded him, and his productions continue to be shown around the world to new generations of fans," it read.

Gerry Anderson, creator of Thunderbirds dies (David Millward, 26 Dec 2012, The Telegraph)

His science fiction puppet shows, which also included Captain Scarlet and Joe 90 captivated generations of children.

Characters from Parker the chauffeur to Lady Penelope and Brains - the chief engineer of International Rescue - became cult figures whose popularity outlasted the short span of the original series.

Anderson had had a varied career before going into film production, including a spell studying fibrous plastering - which he gave up because of dermatitis.

He set up the AP film company with friends and Thunderbirds, which was filmed on a trading estate in Slough, was his crowning achievement, even though other shows followed.
Thunderbirds - with the catchphrase "Thunderbirds are go" were essential viewing for children in the 1960s who not only loved the characters but the space ships and futuristic sets.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Christmas and commerce: It's not all bad (Barrett Duke, Nov 29, 2012, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission)

Let me give you some things to think about. For one thing, it's true that stores, restaurants, and a multitude of businesses enrich themselves at Christmas. But those stores employ people. They sell products by manufacturers that employ people. We need that employment to continue. The lives and wellbeing of millions of families depend on it.

And there is more up-side to the commercialization of Christmas than that. During Christmas, the gospel message is plastered across America. The very word "Christmas" reminds people of Jesus Christ. Clearly, they aren't getting the whole story, but it's better than nothing. It gives us a good starting place to talk about all that Christmas means.

And it's not only the "Merry Christmas" signs and advertisements that help us with our work of evangelism. There is also all that Christmas music. Some of it, to be sure, is pretty unengaging, like Frosty the Snowman. But I'll take Frosty the Snowman when the playlist includes a song like Silent Night, with its captivating reminder of the miracle of the virgin birth.

Then, there's the whole Christmas spirit the stores help us promote. I understand that many of these store owners just want to get us in the spending mood. But there is a benefit in that mood-altering activity. Most people are just in a better mood at Christmas. They smile more, they think more about the people in their lives. They are moved to generosity and compassion toward the less fortunate. At least for a while, there is a little more peace on earth in some people's lives and across the nation.

We also cannot overlook the impact of nostalgia. Christmas reminds us of simpler times, before all the hardships of life, the bad decisions, the disappointments. It reminds us of a faith that once stirred in our hearts. Such reflection is a seedbed for evangelism. Christmas offers us a perfect opportunity to remind people that it is possible to get a new start. And for those without memories of better days, it gives us opportunity to tell them the Jesus of Christmas can give them a better present and future, that through Jesus, they can escape the chains of their past. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Don't Fear That Expired Food (DAN CHARLES, December 26, 201, NPR)

Here's the short answer: Those "sell-by" dates are there to protect the reputation of the food. They have very little to do with food safety. If you're worried whether food is still OK to eat, just smell it.

[T]hese dates don't really tell you anything about whether food is safe.

According to Ruff, most products are safe to eat long after their expiration date. In fact, even meat or milk that's clearly starting to spoil is not necessarily dangerous. "Very often, you won't eat it because of the smell, and you probably won't like the taste, but in a lot of cases, it's unlikely to cause you illness," he says.

That's because it's not the food that sat on the shelf too long that makes you sick, Ruff says. It's the food that got contaminated with Salmonella or Listeria bacteria, or disease-causing strains of E. coli. And that food might not smell bad as it might have arrived in the store only yesterday.

"In 40 years, in eight countries, if I think of major product recalls and food poisoning outbreaks, I can't think of [one] that was driven by a shelf-life issue," Ruff says.

Canned food, in particular, can stay safe for a really long time. In 1974, scientists at the National Food Processors Association in Washington, D.C., got their hands on several old cans of food.

Janet Dudek, now semi-retired and living in Vienna, Va., was among the scientists who analyzed this old food. Her assignment was a can of corn, vintage 1934, that was found in someone's basement in California.

When they opened the can, Dudek says, the contents looked and smelled pretty much like ordinary canned corn. Analysis showed that it had most of the usual complement of nutrients -- although there were lower levels of a few, such as vitamin C.

Results were similar for century-old canned oysters, tomatoes, and red peppers in cans recovered from a sunken steamboat, buried in river silt near Omaha, Neb.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


A cost savings everyone should endorse (Ruth Marcus, December 25, 2012, Washington Post)

The difficulty -- and the money-saving opportunity -- arises because, in the view of most economists, the current method of calculating changes in the CPI overstates the inflation rate.

It fails to account for what economists call upper-level substitution bias, and what my mother would call plain common sense: If the price rises for a certain commodity in the basket of goods used to measure inflation, consumers will choose a cheaper alternative. In my house, when the price of beef soars, we substitute chicken.

The CPI doesn't and, as a result, taxpayers are undercharged and beneficiaries are overpaid -- a lot. The overestimate is small -- less than 0.3 percentage points annually -- but, much like compound interest, it adds up over time.

Changing the inflation measure to what is called chained CPI would save $225 billion over the next decade.

Of that, $95 billion would come from increased tax revenue, $80 billion from Social Security (assuming built-in protections for the very old and very poor, about which more later) and the rest from other programs. Because of the compounding effect, the savings in later years would be even larger.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Why 2012 was the best year ever : Never in the history of the world has there been less hunger, less disease and more prosperity (The Spectator 15 December 2012)

It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world. [...]

Take global poverty. In 1990, the UN announced Millennium Development Goals, the first of which was to halve the number of people in extreme poverty by 2015. It emerged this year that the target was met in 2008. Yet the achievement did not merit an official announcement, presumably because it was not achieved by any government scheme but by the pace of global capitalism. Buying cheap plastic toys made in China really is helping to make poverty history. And global inequality? This, too, is lower now than any point in modern times. Globalisation means the world's not just getting richer, but fairer too.

The doom-mongers will tell you that we cannot sustain worldwide economic growth without ruining our environment. But while the rich world's economies grew by 6 per cent over the last seven years, fossil fuel consumption in those countries fell by 4 per cent. This remarkable (and, again, unreported) achievement has nothing to do with green taxes or wind farms. It is down to consumer demand for more efficient cars and factories.

And what about the concerns that the oil would run out? Ministers have spent years thinking of improbable new power sources. As it turns out, engineers in America have found new ways of mining fossil fuel. The amazing breakthroughs in 'fracking' technology mean that, in spite of the world's escalating population -- from one billion to seven billion over the last two centuries -- we live in an age of energy abundance.

Advances in medicine and technology mean that people across the world are living longer. The average life expectancy in Africa reached 55 this year. Ten years ago, it was 50. The number of people dying from Aids has been in decline for the last eight years. Deaths from malaria have fallen by a fifth in half a decade.

Nature can still wreak havoc. The storms which lashed America's East Coast in October proved that. But the speed of New York City's recovery shows a no-less-spectacular resilience. Man cannot control the weather, but as countries grow richer, they can better guard against devastation. The average windstorm kills about 2,000 in Bangladesh but fewer than 20 in America. It's not that America's storms are mild; but that it has the money to cope. As developing countries become richer, we can expect the death toll from natural disasters to diminish -- and the same UN extrapolations that predict such threatening sea-level rises for Bangladesh also say that, in two or three generations' time, it will be as rich as Britain.

War has historically been humanity's biggest killer. But in most of the world today, a generation is growing up that knows little of it. The Peace Research Institute in Oslo says there have been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century. Whether we are living through an anomalous period of peace, or whether the risk of nuclear apocalypse has proved an effective deterrent, mankind seems no longer to be its own worst enemy. We must bear in mind that things can fall apart, and quickly. Germany was perhaps the most civilised nation in the world in the 1920s. For now, though, it is worth remembering that, in relative terms, we have peace in our time.

...that the singular piece of bad news for conservatives is that, because we ran a wek candidate, voters chose a Republican Democrat over a Democratic Republican, so we'll have to share credit for the peace dividend-driven recovery just as we did in the Clinton-Gingrich boom.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The great books Spectator writers and others hate (The Spectator, 21 December 2012)

Find out which books PD James, Sam Leith, Susan Hill, Mark Amory, Barry Humphries and many more hate, then tell us about yours in the comments section. [...]

Susan Hill

It could easily have been War and Peace or The Brothers Karamazov but I plan to have another bash at those so I'm keeping them in reserve. Since I was 18 I have been told I should read Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu by people who knew all seven volumes by heart and loved every line. You cannot, it seems, be lukewarm about Proust. Knowing that love of it is a badge of honour, and mark of a finely attuned and appreciative literary mind, I have tried eversomany times to get beyond Book One. Indeed, I have probably read Book One more often than I have read Great Expectations, which is saying something. I have even plucked Volume Three or Seven, off the shelf and tried to start there, so please don't judge me, or tell me I haven't given it a chance. It's no good. I find the endless sentences distancing, the people without interest. I cannot care about upper-class French people of the 19th century. Mea culpa, of course. My loss too. But if I have not managed to find the key by the age of 70, I guess I never will. I am denied any enjoyment of Proust's great novel and there it is. I tried to find one word to sum up how it seems to me. The word is 'anaemic'. [...]

Jonathan Meades

If you can't get beyond half a dozen pages of On The Road at the age of 18 it's unlikely that you will later in life. I have, however, on a couple of occasions punished myself by pressing on and coming to the benevolent conclusion that it must possess some sort of sociological importance that is extra-literary. 'It defines a generation' -- that sort of tosh. Of course it doesn't. Like all of the beats, with the exception of Burroughs, Jack Kerouac was an artless, undisciplined, unfunny solipsist wrapped in a mantle of cosy outsiderness, comforting self-pity and snug alienation.
Enhanced by Zemanta