February 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Avoiding the Curse of the Oil-Rich Nations (TINA ROSENBERG, 2/14/13, NY Times)

Oil-dependent countries, writes the Stanford professor Terry Karl, "eventually become among the most economically troubled, the most authoritarian, and the most conflict-ridden in the world." This phenomenon is called the resource curse. [...]

Petro-dependence also leads to conflict. The conventional wisdom used to be that grievances were the cause of conflict, but that ended after the economists Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler found in a series of ground-breaking studies that more important was the opportunity to grab oil or other commodity resources. They showed that if a third or more of a country's G.D.P. came from the export of primary commodities, the likelihood of conflict was 22 percent. Similar countries that did not export commodities had a 1 percent chance.

If a government can finance itself through the profits on oil, it needn't collect taxes. Let me suggest that this is not a good thing. Taxes create accountability -- citizens want to know how the government is spending their money. Substituting oil revenues decouples government from the people. The list of the world's worst-governed countries today features many that are dependent on the production of oil: Nigeria, Angola, Chad, Venezuela, Libya, Equatorial Guinea.

Am I my brother's keeper?

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Getting Married in Israel: Why It So Often Means Hiring a Detective (Daniel Estrin, 2 FEB 13 2013, The Atlantic)

One drizzly fall night two years ago, the Israeli detective Shimon Har-Shalom stepped off a plane in Moscow clutching a briefcase full of clues. After hurrying through a crowd of fur coats, he ducked into the last car of the downtown express train and removed his cap, revealing a black yarmulke and short, wispy silvery side locks of hair. He slid a file folder from his briefcase and shuffled its contents: a century-old marriage contract, certificates stamped with the hammer-and-sickle of the Soviet Union, and hazy family photographs.

The case Har-Shalom was working that night had bedeviled him for some time. Back in Jerusalem, he'd been hired by a Russian émigrée who was planning for her daughter's eventual wedding and needed Har-Shalom for a crucial ingredient -- proof that her child was Jewish.

Marriage in Israel is controlled by state religious authorities; there are virtually no civil weddings in the country. Jews who want a marriage license must first prove they are Jewish in accordance with Orthodox tradition, which means they need to have been born to an uninterrupted line of Jewish mothers. Such a pedigree can be difficult to prove, especially for the children of Israel's largest immigrant community, the former denizens of the Soviet Union, many of whom spent years obscuring their Jewish roots to avoid discrimination. Enticed by lax immigration policies, these émigrés flooded Israel two decades ago and gave birth to children who now are beginning to seek marriage.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Mixed Messages in Obama's State of the Union (Matthew Rothschild, February 13, 2013, The Progressive)

And appallingly, he defended his drone warfare and assassination policy. "Where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans," he said. And in the very next sentence, he had the chutzpah to add: "As we do, we must enlist our values in the fight."

He said his Administration "has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations." But is it "legal" just because he and his Justice Department say it is?

He also said, in a bald-faced lie, that "throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts." Try running that past Sen. Ron Wyden, who for months has been trying to get his questions answered on the Administration's assassination doctrine.

He also sang from the hymnal of American exceptionalism. "America must remain a beacon to all who seek freedom during this period of historic change," he said. "In the Middle East, we will stand with citizens as they demand their universal rights." Tell that to the people of Bahrain.

This was neither Obama's most eloquent defense of an affirmative role for government, nor was it close to his most honest discussion of U.S. foreign policy.

Instead, it was lukewarm liberalism at home coupled with Bush-league justifications for lawlessness and hypocrisy abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


Hatchet Job of the Year goes to assault on Rachel Cusk (Alison Flood, 2/12/13, guardian.co.uk)

Camilla Long's comprehensive shredding of Rachel Cusk's memoir of her divorce, Aftermath, has won her the Hatchet Job of the Year award for the best worst review of the last 12 months.

Cusk took 160 pages to detail the end of her marriage, and how her life fell apart "like a jigsaw dismantled into a heap of broken-edged pieces". Long, in a review for the Sunday Times, takes just over 1,000 words to pull Cusk's memoir to bits, writing the novelist off as "a brittle little  and peerless narcissist who exploits her husband and her marriage with relish", and who "describes her grief in expert, whinnying detail".

Judges Lynn Barber, John Walsh and Francis Wheen chose Long's write-up ahead of Zoë Heller's dire review of Salman Rushdie's memoir Joseph Anton - "an unembarrassed sense of what he is owed as an embattled, literary immortal-in-waiting pervades his book", wrote Heller - and Craig Brown's rejection of Richard Bradford's The Odd Couple as "a triumph of 'cut and paste'" as their winner.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Pyongyang's Nuclear Logic : Sometimes a Test is Just a Test (Jennifer Lind, Keir A. Lieber, and Daryl G. Press, February 14, 2013, Foreign Affairs)

Like the United States during the Cold War, North Korea has apparently decided that nuclear weapons are central to its national security strategy. With few friends, its conventional military forces outgunned, an economy in tatters, and facing off against a superpower prone to deposing dictatorships across the globe, the Kim regime set about building an operational nuclear arsenal. And just as NATO planned to thwart a Soviet invasion by striking targets in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, North Korea presumably plans to defend itself, should war erupt on the peninsula, by threatening U.S. regional allies and targets in the United States.

North Korea's mission requires small, lightweight warheads, and missiles that work -- and the only way to know that they work is to test them. So far, the weapons have proved unspectacular. The country's first nuclear test, conducted in 2006, was an embarrassment. Pyongyang had told the Chinese that the device would generate four kilotons of explosive power, but it ended up producing less than one. The second test in 2009 fared slightly better, producing between one and eight kilotons, although it is not known what size of a blast the North Koreans had sought. Moreover, Pyongyang has much more work to do before it can boast weapons that will actually fit on its missiles (which have been, themselves, a series of humiliating failures).

Observers in the West who presume that North Korea's behavior must be about signaling should remember NATO and the United States' own experience during the Cold War. The United States understood then that the ability to conduct nuclear operations was the very foundation of a credible deterrence strategy. Today, a sound strategy for dealing with North Korea should not ascribe ulterior motives to acts that the United States once considered rational and routine.

..which is that this explosion once again demonstrated that North Korea has no nuclear capacity.  They've essentially greenlighted a pre-emptive strike on our part, which would be our best way to establish that we're serious about deterrence.
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Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


European Union and U.S. to pursue transatlantic free-trade deal (Associated Press, February 14, 2013)

The European Union and the United States announced that they will pursue talks aimed at achieving an overarching transatlantic free-trade deal.

The 27-country EU said Wednesday that such an agreement, first announced in the State of the Union address by President Obama, would be the biggest bilateral trade deal ever negotiated. Any agreement could boost economic output in the EU by 0.5% and in the U.S. by 0.7%, according to some estimates. That would be a highly desirable outcome when the EU and the U.S. are both struggling with slow growth, high unemployment and high levels of debt.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


401(k) balances at record high (Melanie Hicken, February 14, 201, CNNMoney)

401(k) balances reached record highs in 2012, as a strong stock market and increased contributions helped retirement savers continue to recover from recession losses. [...]

"It is very encouraging to see that the retirement balances have completely bounced back from where they were during the height of the downturn and that participants have continued to have faith in the 401(k)," said Jeanne Thompson, Fidelity's vice president for retirement insights.