May 31, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


With All Eyes on Fed, Prices Barely Rise (JOSH MITCHELL, 5/31/13, WSJ)

Inflation is slowing in the U.S. and elsewhere, despite central banks' historic easy-money programs that some have argued could push prices much higher.

A key gauge of inflation fell in April to its lowest level on record, a reduction that could take pressure off the Federal Reserve to wind down an $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program despite other signs of a strengthening economy. [...]

A strengthening economy should boost inflation over time as consumers demand pay raises and firms gain latitude to boost prices. But considerable slack across the economy--due to high unemployment and weak demand--have kept inflation tame during the four-year recovery.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 PM


Tesla speeds up free nationwide charging network, 20-minute quick repower (Justin Hyde, May 30, 2013, Yahoo)

If there's one nut left uncracked by Tesla Motors, it's the inherent range limits of electric vehicles. The Model S sedan can travel about 270 miles on a full charge, but the combination of lack of high-power vehicle plug-in stations and lengthy charging times keeps the Model S from being of use for a classic American road trip. Today, Tesla co-founder Elon Musk revealed the company would speed the expansion of its free Supercharger network to make a coast-to-coast journey viable within two years -- and a new charging system that would drastically shorten how long Model S sedan owners would have to wait for juice. [..]

Tesla vows that its owners can use the Superchargers for free, for life; the chargers only work with Teslas, and can handle between four and 10 cars at a time. While a full recharge at the Supercharger currently takes more than 40 minutes, Musk said Tesla would soon deploy a higher-power charging option that would restore three hours of driving time in 20 minutes, using a 120-kW charge -- about 60 times more power than a typical house uses in a day -- while not harming the Model S battery packs.

Over time, Musk says he plans for the Superchargers to be powered mostly by solar panels, with large battery packs in the chargers that store spare energy and recharge vehicles. "These stations will operate even if the entire national grid goes down," Musk said. "Even if there's a zombie apocalypse, you'll still be able to travel using the Tesla Supercharging system."

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Sequester Seems to Have Emboldened, Not Hurt, Some Republicans (ABBY D. PHILLIP, May 31, 2013, ABC News)

The sequester's barely visible economic impact combined with relatively strong economic forecasts doesn't seem to have hurt Republicans politically and may have even made them bolder.

Obama warned for months that the layoffs and pay cuts that would result from domestic and military spending cuts would slow the economy to a crawl, but few of those warnings have come to fruition since the sequester took effect on March 1.

"What's happening is really reinforcing and reinvigorating a central conservative view that many of the activities of the federal government are not core competencies and could be better performed by others," said Juleanna Glover, a Republican lobbyist and adviser to several major GOP figures such as President Bush, Vice President Cheney and former Sen. John Ashcroft. "The fact that we can see these 5 percent cuts are not really causing as much screaming and crying as we would all have expected is really invigorating to conservatives."

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 PM


What Is Reform Conservatism? (Ross Douthat, 5/30/13, NY Times)

[T]he basic "reform conservative" agenda looks something like this:

a. A tax reform that caps deductions and lowers rates, but also reduces the burden on working parents and the lower middle class, whether through an expanded child tax credit or some other means of reducing payroll tax liability. (Other measures that might improve the prospects of low-skilled men, ranging from a larger earned income tax credit to criminal justice reforms that reduce the incarceration rate, should also be part of the conversation.)

b. A repeal or revision of Obamacare that aims to ease us toward a system of near-universal catastrophic health insurance, and includes some kind of flat tax credit or voucher explicitly designed for that purpose.

c. A Medicare reform along the lines of the Wyden-Ryan premium support proposal, and a Social Security reform focused on means testing and extending work lives rather than a renewed push for private accounts.

d. An immigration reform that tilts much more toward Canadian-style recruitment of high-skilled workers, and that doesn't necessarily seek to accelerate the pace of low-skilled immigration. (Any amnesty should follow the implementation of E-Verify rather than the other way around, guest worker programs should not be expanded, etc.)

e. A "market monetarist" monetary policy as an alternative both to further fiscal stimulus and to the tight money/fiscal austerity combination advanced by many Republicans today.

f. An attack not only on explicit subsidies for powerful incumbents (farm subsidies, etc.) but also other protections and implicit guarantees, in arenas ranging from copyright law to the problem of "Too Big To Fail."

To bring things to a finer point, if reform conservatives were suddenly put in charge of the Congressional G.O.P.'s legislative agenda, the party would immediately advance Robert Stein's plan for family-friendly tax reform and champion some version of James Capretta's proposed replacement for Obamacare. It would continue to push hard for Paul Ryan's entitlement reforms, while setting more realistic targets for discretionary spending than his budget blueprints have done to date. It would try to revise the immigration reform bill along the lines suggested by Levin here, and failing that would probably push a more modest increase in high-skilled immigration, paired with more enforcement mechanisms, as an alternative to the comprehensive approach. It would become notably more sympathetic to the Brown-Vitter banking overhaul and to Derek Khanna-style proposals for copyright reform. And it would stop attacking Ben Bernanke for his supposed dovishness and recognize that if anything monetary policy has probably been too tight.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Is Religion An Essential Driver Of Economic Growth? (Jerry Bowyer, 5/30/13, Forbes)

Peter Berger is perhaps the world's most prominent living sociologist. He has written two dozen books including seminal texts in the development of the sociology of religion, the sociology of knowledge, and the sociology of modern development. He may be the most qualified person to speak with authority on matters pertaining to the relationship between religious beliefs and economic development, so I decided to ask him to explain this to me.  This interview is the result, and it's worth listening to in full. At age 84 Berger is still sharp as a tack and has a long lifetime of study and analysis behind him (and I expect quite a number ahead of him).

When I asked him what he has learned in a lifetime of studying these questions, he told me that there are certain social preconditions to economic development, and that the way a society operates is important in regards to how prosperous that society can become. This is largely a matter of culture, and for most of the world culture basically means religion. Religion drives culture; culture drives social forms; social forms drive development.

Regarding different religions and their level of conduciveness to growth, he said that they are not equally conducive. He pointed out the work of Max Weber, whose seminal work, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, argued that the lifestyle which arose from Protestantism played a decisive role in the creation of modern prosperity. For Weber, and Berger agrees, the Calvinistic lifestyle of worldly asceticism became a source of growth and capital accumulation. Worldly asceticism (Weber's phrase) upheld the virtue of productive labor in this world, as opposed to an otherworldly orientation often associated with medieval Catholicism. The focus on this life as opposed to the afterlife tends to create large income streams. But worldly asceticism looks askance at lives of excessive spending and conspicuous consumption, which are often associated with wealth. The result is a well-educated, highly skilled diligent work force and large pools of capital. Without this, or something like it, modern capitalism would not have arisen as it did.

...of taxing consumption and a social safety net of forced savings accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


The Lethality of Loneliness : We now know how it can ravage our body and brain (JUDITH SHULEVITZ, 5/16/13, New Republic)

Just as we once knew that infectious diseases killed, but didn't know that germs spread them, we've known intuitively that loneliness hastens death, but haven't been able to explain how. Psychobiologists can now show that loneliness sends misleading hormonal signals, rejiggers the molecules on genes that govern behavior, and wrenches a slew of other systems out of whack. They have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you. Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer's, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer--tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.

The psychological definition of loneliness hasn't changed much since Fromm-Reichmann laid it out. "Real loneliness," as she called it, is not what the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard characterized as the "shut-upness" and solitariness of the civilized. Nor is "real loneliness" the happy solitude of the productive artist or the passing irritation of being cooped up with the flu while all your friends go off on some adventure. It's not being dissatisfied with your companion of the moment--your friend or lover or even spouse-- unless you chronically find yourself in that situation, in which case you may in fact be a lonely person. Fromm-Reichmann even distinguished "real loneliness" from mourning, since the well-adjusted eventually get over that, and from depression, which may be a symptom of loneliness but is rarely the cause. Loneliness, she said--and this will surprise no one--is the want of intimacy.

Today's psychologists accept Fromm-Reichmann's inventory of all the things that loneliness isn't and add a wrinkle she would surely have approved of. They insist that loneliness must be seen as an interior, subjective experience, not an external, objective condition. Loneliness "is not synonymous with being alone, nor does being with others guarantee protection from feelings of loneliness," writes John Cacioppo, the leading psychologist on the subject. Cacioppo privileges the emotion over the social fact because--remarkably--he's sure that it's the feeling that wreaks havoc on the body and brain. Not everyone agrees with him, of course. Another school of thought insists that loneliness is a failure of social networks. The lonely get sicker than the non-lonely, because they don't have people to take care of them; they don't have social support.

To the degree that loneliness has been treated as a matter of public concern in the past, it has generally been seen as a social problem--the product of an excessively conformist culture or of a breakdown in social norms. Nowadays, though, loneliness is a public health crisis. The standard U.S. questionnaire, the UCLA Loneliness Scale, asks 20 questions that run variations on the theme of closeness--"How often do you feel close to people?" and so on. As many as 30 percent of Americans don't feel close to people at a given time.

Loneliness varies with age and poses a particular threat to the very old, quickening the rate at which their faculties decline and cutting their lives shorter. But even among the not-so-old, loneliness is pervasive. In a survey published by the AARP in 2010, slightly more than one out of three adults 45 and over reported being chronically lonely (meaning they've been lonely for a long time). A decade earlier, only one out of five said that. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


We Think We Know What Elon Musk's Hyperloop Is, And How It Can Get You From LA To San Francisco In 30 Minutes (Jay Yarow, May 30, 2013, Business Insider)

Tesla founder Elon Musk has been teasing an exciting idea for a new form of transportation for the last year.

He calls it the "Hyperloop" and he says it's better than a bullet train. The Hyperloop would get people to Los Angeles from San Francisco in 30 minutes.

However, he's been vague about how he's going to make the Hyperloop a reality.

The closest to detail he's gotten is when he said the Hyperloop is a "cross between a Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table."

He's been so vague that it seems like what he's talking about can't possibly be real.

But it can be real.

In 1972, the Rand Corporation released a paper written by physicist R.M. Salter that detailed an underground tube system that could send people from Los Angeles to New York City in 21 minutes.

He called it the Very High Speed Transit System, or VHST. (Not nearly as catchy a name as Hyperloop.)

Salter concluded in his paper that "the technical problems associated with the VHST development are manifold and difficult -- but no scientific breakthroughs are required."

Futuristic High-Speed Tube Travel Could Take You From New York to Los Angeles in 45 Minutes (Melissa Knowles, 5/31/13, Yahoo)

Traveling across the country or the world via any modern mode of transportation is a time-consuming affair. It can also be really annoying with the long lines, crying babies, armrest hogs, cramped space, etc. Would it not be the most awesome invention ever if some new type of transportation could cut that travel time significantly?

Get ready, because it may only be a few years from becoming a reality. A company called ET3 has plans in the works for the Evacuated Tube Transport, a high-speed transportation tube that uses magnetic levitation. The ETT can travel at speeds of up to 4,000 miles per hour, and each tube seats a maximum of six people and comes with a baggage compartment. How does it go so fast? It's airless and frictionless and could have you from New York to Los Angeles in 45 minutes, as opposed to the nearly five hours a direct flight would take. It could even have you depart from New York and be in Beijing in two hours.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


George W. Bush Bikes With Injured Vets, Reflects On White House Decisions, Life After The Presidency (Jon Ward, 05/30/2013, Huffington Post)

A lot of people are mystified that Bush has withdrawn from public life so dramatically since leaving the White House. But he described being out of the spotlight, and out of power, as something of a cleansing experience.

"Fame can become very addictive. And I've had all the fame a man could want," he said.

I asked him if he had enjoyed the fame.

"Yeah, to a certain extent. I mean, it wasn't my life. It wasn't the center of my life. But I mean, when you're -- let me rephrase that. I enjoyed being president. And when you're president, you're famous. Now whether I enjoyed fame itself, I just, you know, you'd have to get the psychoanalyst on me," he said.

Bush has been loath to talk about himself since leaving office and has often mocked questions about his motivations as "navel-gazing." Even out of office, it's difficult to get him to admit weakness, because he is not second-guessing the decisions he made and doesn't want to give the impression that he is. But on his home turf, after three days of cycling, he offered a rare glimpse into how he felt the presidency had changed him and why he is glad he's no longer in office.

"I don't long for [fame]. Nor do I long for power. I've come to realize that power can be corrosive if you've had it for too long," Bush said. "It can dim your vision. And so I came to the conclusion that, you know, I don't long for fame. And really, gonna shy away from it. Not shy away from it. Avoid it. I'm not very shy. Avoid it."

It was a classic Rorschach moment. Those who hate Bush will say it shows he was an arrogant president whose power went to his head and he's just realizing it. Those who love him will say it shows a self-awareness and humility for which he was never given credit. Each side will probably be grasping different sides of the same complex soul.

He certainly has almost disappeared from public view since leaving office, especially compared to the way that former President Bill Clinton has stayed in the limelight. Clinton has been equal parts politician and philanthropist. But Bush shows no inclination to stay in the political game. He said he prefers to view events "not from the political side of things, although obviously almost everything is political."

"I tend to look at it from a historical perspective," he said.

So far his post-presidency seems to be on a track more like that of Jimmy Carter, who has largely focused on a few issues dear to his heart, only occasionally making news. Carter has worked on humanitarian causes like Habitat for Humanity and more geopolitical ones like the Middle East peace process. Bush, for his part, has focused on caring for veterans and eradicating HIV/AIDS and other diseases in Africa.

Though he hinted that he may not stay as off the radar in the future, "it's certainly what I feel like now," Bush said.

He revealed that "there's a frustration at the Bush Institute," a public policy think tank he founded in 2009, with his reluctance to speak in public on issues of the day. He said people will tell him, "You need to get out and you need to be out there, you know, opining about this and telling people about that."

"And I don't want to do that," he said.

Bush also said he didn't want to criticize President Barack Obama or the Republican Party. He said he saw Obama's second-term struggles as a result of cyclical forces in any two-term presidency.

"I'm not surprised the president is having a difficult go," Bush said. "It's just amazing how history repeats itself."

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Electric car price war shifts into high gear (Brian Thevenot, 5/31/13, Los Angeles Times)

Want to pay $7,000 for a $37,000 electric car?

It's not a trick question. For the first time, through the magic of subsidized leases, electric vehicles can now compete on price with comparable gas-powered cars -- indeed, they are cheaper once you factor in gas savings.

Honda announced this week that it would drop the lease on its Fit EV from $389 to $259 a month. That price includes collision and vehicle theft coverage, maintenance, roadside assistance, even a charging station at your house. Factoring in the state rebate, that's an all-in, three-year ownership cost of less than $7,000 -- maybe the cheapest $37,000 car in history.

Still, the Fit will have to compete with the recently announced $199-a-month leases on the Nissan Leaf and the Fiat 500e, among other emerging rivals.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Ms. Watanabe's Profession (Yuriko Koike, May 31, 2013, Project Syndicate)

While productivity in Japanese factories is the highest in the world, owing to robots and other types of automation, the productivity of Japan's white-collar workers is the lowest among OECD countries.

May 30, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


4 Economic Predictions Prove Doomsayers Wrong (JOSH BOAK and ERIC PIANIN, 5/30/13, The Fiscal Times)

The past few months have been brutal for economic doomsayers.

The U.S. economy has not succumbed to sequestration budget cuts, runaway inflation, or tax hikes. Potential triggers for disaster such as negotiations to increase the federal debt ceiling have been pushed off until autumn, calming down any anxiety about the possibility of a default.

The recovery from the 2008 financial crisis continues at its slow and steady pace. State governments are no longer resorting to survival mode. Federal Reserve officials are openly discussing how to unwind their quantitative easing policies that were designed to stimulate growth.
Housing prices have sustained a rebound, with prices increasing year-over-year in the Las Vegas and Phoenix markets that were the epicenter of the burst bubble, according to the Case-Shiller index.

PNC Bank chief economist Stuart Hoffman said in a client note that improvements in real estate coupled with a stock market surge "will support consumer spending this year through the wealth effect."

Things are far from perfect. Millions of Americans remain unemployed. Average wages are close to stagnant. But it might be time to get pessimistic about economic pessimism, a lesson worth considering for both Democrats and Republicans.

"Yes, but...."

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Is It Better to Walk or Run? (GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, May 29, 2013, NY Times)

[T]o eat less, run first.

But on other measures of health, new science shows that walking can be at least as valuable as running -- and in some instances, more so. A study published this month that again plumbed data from the Runners and Walkers Health Study found that both runners and walkers had equally diminished risks of developing age-related cataracts compared to sedentary people, an unexpected but excellent benefit of exercise.

And in perhaps the most comforting of the new studies, published last month in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology and again using numbers from the versatile Runners and Walkers Health Study, runners had far less risk of high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol profiles, diabetes and heart disease than their sedentary peers. But the walkers were doing even better. Runners, for instance, reduced their risk of heart disease by about 4.5 percent if they ran an hour a day. Walkers who expended the same amount of energy per day reduced their risk of heart disease by more than 9 percent.

Of course, few walkers match the energy expenditure of runners. "It's fair to say that, if you plan to expend the same energy walking as running, you have to walk about one and a half times as far and that it takes about twice as long," said Paul T. Williams, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories and the lead author of all of the studies involving the surveys of runners and walkers.

On the other hand, people who begin walking are often more unhealthy than those who start running, and so their health benefits from the exercise can be commensurately greater.

"It bears repeating that either walking or running is healthier than not doing either," Dr. Williams said, whatever your health goals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


The 5 most competitive countries in the world (CNN/Money, 5/30/13)

The United States has regained top billing in the IMD world competitiveness rankings, after losing out in 2012 to Hong Kong.

This year's strong performance was attributed to a rebounding financial sector, a wave of innovation and an improved corporate outlook.

According to business executives surveyed by IMD, doing business in America is an attractive proposition due to the dynamism of the economy, access to a skilled workforce, easy financing and a strong research and development culture.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


We Are All Internet Addicts Now--Just Don't Call It That ( Jared Keller, 5/30/13, Pacific Standard)

Having trouble shutting down your computer? Can't stop refreshing your Facebook and Twitter streams? Did you close Reddit in your browser window ... only to open Reddit right back up again? If you're concerned that your Internet use is becoming a compulsion, you're probably right: New research suggests that our uncontrollable desire to click may be deeply rooted in human evolution.
"The Internet is not addictive in the same way as pharmacological substances are," cognitive scientist Tom Stafford at the University of Sheffield in the U.K. told Tia Ghose at LiveScience "But it's compulsive; it's compelling; it's distracting."

As Stafford explains, our love for the Internet is rooted in the fact that human beings, in Ghose's words, "compulsively seek unpredictable payoffs." The cognitive-reward structure offered by services like email and social media are similar to those of a casino slot machine: "Most of it is junk, but every so often, you hit the jackpot." This is a symptom of low-risk/high-reward activities like lotteries in general. As researchers found in a 2001 article in International Gambling Studies, systems that offer a low-cost chance of winning a very large prize are more likely to attract repetitive participation and, in turn, stimulate excessive (and potentially problematic) play. Although the stimuli are different (the payoff on the Internet being juicy morsels of information and entertainment rather than money), Stafford says that the immediacy and ubiquity of Internet "play"--i.e. being able to check your tweets or emails on your phone with no major transaction cost--only increases the likelihood that someone will get sucked into a continuous cycle.

Using the DSM as a guide, Dr. Kimberly Young defines "Internet addiction" as an impulsive-control problem with four distinct subtypes: cybersexual addiction, cyber-affair/relational addiction, net compulsions, and information overload.

"The Web's unpredictable payoffs train people much in the same way Ivan Pavlov trained dogs," Ghose writes. "Over time, people link a cue (e.g., an instant-message ping or the Facebook homepage) with a pleasurable rush of feel-good brain chemicals. People become habituated to seek that social rush over and over again."

The message of Stafford's research is clear: Your brain really wants you to click on all of those cat photos. "The next time you wonder whether you're spending too much time on Facebook or BuzzFeed or whatever, just remind yourself: You're wasting time because your brain wants you to," writes my former colleague Megan Garber at The Atlantic. "The Internet's charisma is a function not just of all the great stuff that lives on it, but also of humans' carefully honed survival mechanisms--mechanisms evolved long ago, in response to vicious enemies. We can't quit our cat videos, it turns out, because of ... lions."

The machine that takes your job won't share the addiction.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Honda joins electric car pricing battle with $259 lease on Fit EV (David Undercoffler, May 30, 2013, LA Times)

Honda Motor Co. is lobbing a grenade into the ongoing electric car price war, dropping the lease payment on its compact Fit EV from $389 to $259. 

The 36-month lease deal requires no down payment and comes with unlimited mileage, along with free collision coverage, maintenance, roadside assistance and a 240-volt home charging station.  

Honda's move, announced this morning, comes after Nissan's Leaf, Chevrolet's Spark EV and Fiat's 500e recently announced lease deals of $199 a month in an effort to entice more customers into all-electric cars.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Sequester not biting District yet (Jim Tankersley, May 29, 2013, Washington Post)

In the months since the automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester took effect, the Washington area has added 40,000 jobs. Income-tax receipts have surged in Virginia, beating expectations. Few government contractors have laid off workers.

It's too early to be certain, but initial indications are that the damage from the sequester has been modest and slow to develop.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Obama to name ex-Bush aide to head FBI (NEDRA PICKLER, 5/30/13, AP) 

President Barack Obama is prepared to nominate James Comey, a former Bush administration official with bipartisan credentials, as the next FBI director. [...]

Comey was general counsel to Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates from 2010 until earlier this year and now lectures at Columbia Law School.

May 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Study: World War II Soldiers Relied on Prayer, Not Returning Home to Loved Ones, for Motivation (JASON KOEBLER, May 28, 2013, US News)

American soldiers in World War II increasingly found motivation through prayer and less often found motivation by the thought of returning home to their loved ones as the war went on, a new analysis of government data has found.

Originally administered in the immediate aftermath of World War II, The American Soldier studies were conducted by the Army's Information and Education Division. An upcoming analysis of that data, to be published in the Journal of Religion and Health, finds when soldiers reported that battles became "more frightening," as many as 72 percent of them turned to prayer as their primary source of motivation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Taliban No. 2 said killed in Pakistan by US drone (ASIF SHAZHAD and RASOOL DAWAR May 29, 2013, AP)

A suspected US drone strike killed the No. 2 commander of the Pakistani Taliban on Wednesday, Pakistani intelligence officials said, although the militant group denied he was killed.

If confirmed, the death of Waliur Rehman would be a strong blow to the militant group responsible for hundreds of bombings and shootings across Pakistan. The United States has a $5 million bounty out on Rehman, who Washington has accused of involvement in the 2009 suicide attack on a US base in Afghanistan that killed seven Americans working for the CIA.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


At High Speed, on the Road to a Driverless Future (JOHN MARKOFF, 5/27/13, NY Times)

Last month, on a freeway from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, I sat in the driver's seat of an Audi A7 while software connected to a video camera on the windshield drove the car at speeds up to 65 miles an hour -- making a singular statement about the rapid progress in the development of self-driving cars.

While the widely publicized Google car and other autonomous vehicles are festooned with cameras, radar and the laser range finders called lidars, this one is distinctive because of the simplicity and the relatively low cost of its system -- just a few hundred dollars' worth of materials. "The idea is to get the best out of camera-only autonomous driving," said Gaby Hayon, senior vice president for research and development at Mobileye Vision Technologies, the Israeli company that created the system in the Audi.

The Mobileye car does not offer the autonomy achieved by Google's engineers. The Google car, which has been tested for more than 500,000 miles in California traffic, will merge onto freeways, drive safely through intersections, make left and right turns, and pass slower vehicles.

By contrast, the Mobileye vehicle is capable only of driving in a single lane at freeway speeds, as well as identifying traffic lights and automatically slowing, stopping and then returning to highway speeds.

But by blending advanced computer vision techniques with low-cost video cameras, the company is demonstrating how quickly autonomous driving can be commercialized. "You cannot have a car with $70,000 of equipment," said Amnon Shashua, a computer scientist at Hebrew University and a founder of Mobileye, referring to Google's lidar system, "and imagine that it will go into mass production."

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


A New Jobs Agenda (Michael R. Strain, 5/27/13, National Review)

One simple reform would make life easier for employers who don't want to fire anyone but need to reduce their expenditures. If a firm wants to cut its wage costs by 20 percent, it can fire one-fifth of its workers, or it can tell all its workers to stay home on Fridays without pay. In the latter case, under an option called work-sharing that is available in many places but remains little used, workers would be eligible to receive one-fifth of their unemployment-insurance (UI) benefit. The cost to taxpayers would be the same under the two scenarios. In most cases, the UI benefit would be less than the lost wages, typically around half, so work-sharing would amount to a pay cut (in this case, one of around 10 percent), but workers would stay employed and retain their benefits.

Work-sharing reduces what economists call "inefficient separations." It allows firms to weather a lull in demand without losing the firm-specific expertise present in their existing work forces; it spares firms the time and expense of hiring and training new workers when demand picks back up; and it prevents workers from losing or failing to acquire skills during a period of unemployment. Unfortunately, in many cases employers do not even consider work-sharing because they have never heard of it. A limited but active program to keep Americans working might include expanding, supporting, and publicizing work-sharing UI programs.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


The White House and the IRS: A Carteresque Fiasco (Bob Shrum, May 28, 2013, Daily Beast)

This is not a case of Nixonian indifference to the Constitution, the law, and the president's oath of office. But it does look like a reprise of Cartersque incompetence, increasingly so as we learn more about how the White House staff handled--or mishandled--a crisis they knew was coming.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Women could 'evolve' out of menopause and bear children later, says scientist (Rosa Silverman, 29 May 2013, The Telegraph)

Dr Aarathi Prasad said the menopause dated from a time when generations of women were competing over scarce resources and it was not ideal for them all to be bearing children at the same time.

But in an age when resources are plentiful, life expectancies are longer and women remain healthier for longer, it was no longer necessary, she argued.

Everyone believes evolution is a function of intelligent choice.

May 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


The Hidden Costs of Tax Compliance (Jason J. Fichtner, Jacob Feldman | May 20, 2013)

Americans spend an estimated between $67 billion and $378 billion annually in accounting costs related to filing taxes. Americans spent more than 6 billion hours (2011) complying with the tax code. This represents an annual workforce of 3.4 million--a population that could be the third largest city in the United States, surpassing Chicago (2,707,120), Houston (2,145,146), and Philadelphia (1,536,471), and larger than the population of 21 states. A workforce equivalent to that employed by the four largest US companies--Walmart, IBM, McDonald's and Target--combined.

Economic Costs

The impact of taxes on the economy extends beyond the revenue taken by the government. The compliance burden results in estimates of foregone economic growth from $148 billion to $609 billion annually.

Lobbying Costs

While an estimate for tax lobbying specifically, is not available, lobbyists spent nearly $28 billion petitioning federal, state, and local governments for policy preferences between 2002 and 2011.

Lost Revenue

The United States has a tax-reporting compliance rate of 85.5 percent--leaving a 2012 revenue gap of $452 billion in unreported taxes, some of which is can be attributed to complexities in the tax code.

May 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM

20's PLENTY:

Step Backward, Step Forward : Walkers used to own the streets. Now they're looking to reclaim expropriated property. (Wayne Curtis, 5/15/13, Smart Set)

Streets were more or less nondenominational spaces for several decades after the cars first appeared. Different religions of movement were each given the freedom to practice as they saw fit. It wasn't always utopian practice, of course -- cities had a staggeringly high number of pedestrian deaths from the get-go. (In the 1906 video clip, you'll see a couple of pedestrians leaping out of the way of bullying cars.)

The growing carnage was perversely and slyly used to by "automobilists" to gradually take control of the streets -- all in the name of public safety, of course. The automobile sect, following the dictates of the AAA club Vatican, soon controlled all the lanes, and installed traffic engineers in city halls as archbishops. The conversion was complete. (This history is told in Peter Norton's oddly engaging 2008 book, Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.)

Walking advocates didn't roll over immediately -- many loudly and brashly attacked cars as the "modern Moloch." (Definition: "a Canaanite idol to whom children were sacrificed"). But like heretics everywhere, they were ultimately dismissed and ignored by the ruling automotive church.

So urban byways steadily morphed from being spaces of complex relationships where lives were lived to, essentially, traffic sewers, administered like utilities by municipal bureaucrats interested solely in mechanical efficiency and speed. Social space was sacrificed. "The old common law rule that every person, whether on foot or driving, has equal rights in all parts of the roadway," wrote Miller McClintock, then a 29-year old graduate student and soon to be a pioneering traffic engineer, "must give way before the requirements of modern transportation." City streets started to lose their humanity, and new construction across huge swaths of the country -- suburbs, strip malls, major arterials -- followed the new mandates and were designed without any accommodations for the exiled walker.

"The day of the hero with the long careless stride is over," wrote Elizabeth Onativia in the New York Times in 1929. "The more careless it is the quicker it is over. Pedestrianism in city streets today involves executive ability, planning, and foresight, specialized knowledge and concentration." The article was entitled "Pedestrian lot not a happy one."

But slowly, block-by-block, pedestrians are starting to take back the streets. Beachheads include a stretch of Broadway in New York, scattered parklets in San Francisco, and better sidewalks and intersections in smaller cities like Raleigh, N.C., which adopted a progressive city plan that promotes design for walking. In England, the "20's Plenty" movement now has some two hundred campaigns in cities across the island, encouraging municipalities to make 20 miles per hour the default speed limit.

The saint of the modern pedestrian revival is the late Hans Monderman. Faced with a small budget and a request that he make streets safer in part of a Dutch village called Oudehaske, Monderman did the unthinkable: He removed curbs and signs and let cars, bikes and pedestrians come together and sort it out on their own.

It worked: The more nuanced environment slowed down drivers, and the intermingling demanded communication using body language and eye contact. Accidents decreased, traffic moved steadily. The concept -- called "naked streets" or "shared space" -- has been expanding across Europe, and is slowly, tentatively, making its way to American shores. It's like 1910 all over again.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Yes, Lady Gaga's Songs Contribute to GDP (OSAGIE IMASOGIE And THADDEUS J. KOBYLARZ, 5/27/13, WSJ)

Until this change, as Wellesley economist Daniel Sichel recently told NPR, "If Lady Gaga did a concert and sold concert tickets, the concert tickets would count as GDP," but the money she spent writing and recording an album wouldn't. That didn't make sense, because as Mr. Sichel pointed out, the money an artist invests in a film or song is "really quite analogous to a factory investing in a new machine." The same is clearly true of money invested in R&D for new drugs or smartphones.

Taken together, these new revisions are even more significant than the 1999 revision that added expenditures for computer software to the national accounts. Why? First, by expanding the list of intellectual-property investments used to calculate GDP to include R&D and the arts and entertainment industry, the present U.S. economy is shown to be roughly 3%--or $400 billion--larger than thought. (That doesn't mean we'll see a dramatic increase in GDP after July; the GDP figures going back to 1929 will also be adjusted, lessening the impact of the change on current growth rates.)

Second, the revision reflects the economy's quiet transformation from one based principally on industry to one decidedly based on knowledge and information. Third, this revision opens the door to further changes in the GDP calculation methodology, since the Bureau of Economic Analysis has in essence conceded that the GDP indicator, as now defined, has fallen behind today's economic realities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Who Owns This Land? In Greece, Who Knows? (SUZANNE DALEY, 5/26/13, NY Times)

Not long ago Leonidas Hamodrakas, a lawyer in Athens, decided to pay closer attention to his family's land holdings -- some fields, a scattering of buildings and a massive stone tower -- in Mani, a rural region in southern Greece.

But property ownership in Greece is often less than clear cut. So Mr. Hamodrakas put a padlock on his gate and waited to see what would happen. Soon enough, he heard from neighbors. Three of them claimed that they, too, had title to parts of the property.

In this age of satellite imagery, digital records and the instantaneous exchange of information, most of Greece's land transaction records are still handwritten in ledgers, logged in by last names. No lot numbers. No clarity on boundaries or zoning. No obvious way to tell whether two people, or 10, have registered ownership of the same property.

As Greece tries to claw its way out of an economic crisis of historic proportions, one that has left 60 percent of young people without jobs, many experts cite the lack of a proper land registry as one of the biggest impediments to progress. It scares off foreign investors; makes it hard for the state to privatize its assets, as it has promised to do in exchange for bailout money; and makes it virtually impossible to collect property taxes.

...that Jefferson should have gone with property, instead of happiness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM

The National On World Cafe (DAVID DYE, May 21, 2013, World Cafe)

The National's rise has been slow and steady, to match the growth and evolution of its dour but beautiful rock sound. In this installment of World Cafe, the band tells host David Dye how sleep deprivation led its members to craft more straightforward songs on their new album, Trouble Will Find Me.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


East Coasters Drive Down Gasoline Demand (LIAM DENNING, 5/27/13, WSJ)

On a 12-month rolling average, U.S. gasoline demand peaked in September 2007 at almost 9.3 million barrels a day. By this February, that had dropped 6.5% to just under 8.7 million barrels a day.

The decline has been uneven. Gasoline demand stayed flat in states bordering the Gulf of Mexico or in the Rockies. But on the East Coast, it has slipped 10% below its peak level. Indeed, while that region represented just over a third of U.S. demand at the peak, it has accounted for half the overall drop since then.

One reason: East Coasters seem to buy more hybrids and fewer trucks. Excluding luxury vehicles and fleets, hybrids accounted for 4.3% of new registrations in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., in the first quarter, according to Tom Libby, an analyst at Polk. That is higher than the 3.8% elsewhere and has been rising the past three years. Meanwhile, half-ton pickups account for just 3.7% of vehicle sales overall in those five cities against 9.7% in the rest of the country.

The more striking trend: East Coasters are simply driving less. Vehicle miles traveled in Northeast and South Atlantic states in the year ended in March were 4.2% lower than in the same period ended in September 2007. In the rest of the U.S., they are down just 0.5%.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


At the Wounded Warrior 100K, How George W. Bush Really Rolls (Mark McKinnon, May 26, 2013, Daily Beast)

And there were 19 other stories just like DeWitt's. Men who had suffered, survived, and come to Crawford, Texas, to join their brothers in fellowship for Memorial Day weekend for the third-annual Wounded Warrior 100K Ride, sponsored by former President George W. Bush.

It's easy for critics to make partisan remarks, like "George Bush should be riding with wounded warriors, 'cause he caused their wounds." But most would withhold such cheap shots if they'd ever observed the countless meetings he has held over the years with families of the fallen and wounded vets--and purposefully never publicized. He carries a profound respect for our military men and women and understands and appreciates more than anyone the sacrifices they have made. And he is determined, through the Military Services Initiative of the Bush Institute, to find ways to help veterans with jobs, housing, education, their families, and women's issues.

"We have two goals. One is to continually remind the country about the importance of supporting vets," Bush said at the ride. "You can help a veteran find a job, you can help a veteran who is homeless, you can feed a veteran, you can love a veteran. Second: we are going to analyze what works and what doesn't work among the organizations helping veterans. Our first focus is on helping vets find jobs. We are aiming to make sure that the outpouring of support that is so predominant in our country is channeled in an effective way."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


The unflagging spirit of Moore, Okla.: 'It's about hope' (Carol Morello, May 24, 2013, Washington Post)

The first thing Kevin Gibson did after returning to his house, torn apart by a powerful tornado Monday, was pull an American flag and a temporary flagpole from the corner of his partially standing garage.

Neighbors forlornly picking through the rubbish of their lives stopped to watch Gibson's nephew, Sean Pontius, stick the pole into the ground and hoist the Stars and Stripes.

The flag-raising seemed to hearten the neighbors, as if assuring them that they would emerge triumphant from this disaster.

With the remnants of their lives lying around them, Gibson recalled, the neighbors began applauding and chanting: "Yes, sir! Raise that flag!"

"It means we are still united, whatever happens," he said, the flag flapping in the wind as his family helped him pore through the wreckage for salvageable possessions.

In many ravaged neighborhoods in this Oklahoma City suburb, where Monday's tornado was its fiercest, American flags have been popping up amid the ruins. They are hung from skeletal trees denuded of leaves and bark, stuck in the doors of cars turned upside down and draped over pieces of twisted metal embedded in the ground.

The shot of red, white and blue flying in a landscape of ashen brown is startling and powerfully defiant, seeming to embody the mettle of the national anthem. 

The Vietnam Memorial, which you'd expect, but then the Star-Spangled Banner display at the Smithsonian, which produced an unexpectedly hushed reverence.  
Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Global inflation slide stirs the bogeyman (Rediff, May 27, 2013)
It wasn't supposed to happen this way. When central banks around the world started their quantitative easing programs, monetary theory said that the newly created funds could be dangerously inflationary. Instead, inflation rates are declining. In the United States, the current 1.1 per cent is far below the Federal Reserve's 2 per cent target. Policymakers now have to start worrying about their ultimate bogeyman - deflation.

If this fearsome enemy joins the field, the battle is hard to win. As the Japanese authorities have discovered, conventional weapons don't stop prices from falling, and the force of extraordinary ones remains uncertain.

Ben Bernanke and his Fed colleagues think the monster will stay on the leash. They chalk up the slowing pace of inflation to temporary factors, most notably falling energy prices, and they study expectations for future inflation which have not moved far from 2 percent.

That may be optimistic. In the United States and the euro zone, inflation rates have been heading downhill for more than a year. Japan, meanwhile, has been stuck with outright price declines since 2012. In theory, faster GDP growth could cause prices to reverse course, but the growth is elusive and the theory uncertain.

Moreover, the Fed's faith in inflation expectations may be excessive. Opinions can change quickly - they did in 2010 - and if commodity prices fall further, consumers might just start to expect overall declines - and then accept flat or falling wages.

Here are just three of the main downward pressures on prices: demographic, technological, and trade-driven. 

Posted by Orrin Judd at 3:03 AM


For the Union Dead (Robert Lowell)

Relinquunt Ommia Servare Rem Publicam.

The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.

Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the crowded, compliant fish.

My hand draws back. I often sign still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized

fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.

Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
a girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,

shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens' shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage's earthquake.

Two months after marching through Boston,
half of the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.

Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city's throat.
Its Colonel is a lean
as a compass-needle.

He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound's gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.

He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man's lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die-
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.

On a thousand small town New England greens
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic

The stone statutes of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year-
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns...

Shaw's father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son's body was thrown
and lost with his 'niggers.'

The ditch is nearer.
There are no statutes for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling

over a Mosler Safe, the 'Rock of Ages'
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
when I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.

Colonel Shaw
is riding on his bubble,
he waits
for the blessed break.

The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 AM


Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Fathers, Sons and the Lessons of War (Frank Schaeffer, May 30, 2005, LA Times)

I never served in the military. Before my son unexpectedly volunteered for the Marines, I was busy writing my novels and raising my family, and giving little thought to the men and women who guard us. My attitude has changed. I did not choose to change. I was forced to.

When my son was at war in Iraq I felt anger toward my circle of oldest friends -- mostly well-off, well-educated people. I didn't know one other parent with a son or daughter in harm's way or even in the military. And no leaders were asking Americans outside the military to make any sacrifices. Were we all in this together or not?

My son, Marine Sgt. John Schaeffer, recently came home alive from two back-to-back combat tours in the Middle East. [...]

There are Americans on their knees next to fresh graves from Arlington to Bozeman, from Tampa to Fargo. There are young men and women learning to walk again and receiving skin grafts for horrible burns.

Before my son went to war I never would have shed tears for them. My son humbled me. My son connected me to my country. He taught me that our men and women in uniform are not the "other."

They are our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters. Sometimes shedding tears for strangers is a sacred duty. Sometimes it's all we can do.

[originally posted: 5/30/05]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


Remarks by the President at National World War II Memorial Dedication (George W. Bush, National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.)

In the history books, the Second World War can appear as a series of crises and conflicts, following an inevitable course -- from Pearl Harbor to the Coast of Normandy to the deck of the Missouri. Yet, on the day the war began, and on many hard days that followed, the outcome was far from certain.

There was a time, in the years before the war, when many earnest and educated people believed that democracy was finished. Men who considered themselves learned and civilized came to believe that free institutions must give way to the severe doctrines and stern discipline of a regimented society. Ideas first whispered in the secret councils of a remote empire, or shouted in the beer halls of Munich, became mass movements. And those movements became armies. And those armies moved mercilessly forward -- until the world saw Hitler strutting in Paris, and U.S. Navy ships burning in their own port. Across the world, from a hiding place in Holland to prison camps of Luzon, the captives awaited their liberators.

Those liberators would come, but the enterprise would require the commitment and effort of our entire nation. As World War II began, after a decade of economic depression, the United States was not a rich country. Far from being a great power, we had only the 17th largest army in the world. To fight and win on two fronts, Americans had to work and save and ration and sacrifice as never before. War production plants operated shifts around the clock. Across the country, families planted victory gardens -- 20 million of them, producing 40 percent of the nation's vegetables in backyards and on rooftops. Two out of every three citizens put money into war bonds. As Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby said, "This was a people's war, and everyone was in it."

Laura Bush and Former First Lady Barbara Bush stand during the National Anthem at the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall, Saturday, May 29, 2004. White House photo by Eric Draper. As life changed in America, so did the way that Americans saw our own country and its place in the world. The bombs at Pearl Harbor destroyed the very idea that America could live in isolation from the plots of aggressive powers. The scenes of the concentration camps, the heaps of bodies and ghostly survivors, confirmed forever America's calling to oppose the ideologies of death.

As we defended our ideals, we began to see that America is stronger when those ideals are fully implemented. America gained strength because women labored for victory and factory jobs, cared for the wounded and wore the uniform, themselves. America gained strength because African Americans and Japanese Americans and others fought for their country, which wasn't always fair to them. In time, these contributions became expectations of equality, and the advances for justice in post-war America made us a better country.

With all our flaws, Americans at that time had never been more united. And together we began and completed the largest single task in our history. At the height of conflict, America would have ships on every ocean, and armies on five continents. And on the most crucial of days, would move the equivalent of a major city across the English Channel.

And all these vast movements of men and armor were directed by one man who could not walk on his own strength. President Roosevelt brought his own advantages to the job. His resolve was stronger than the will of any dictator. His belief in democracy was absolute. He possessed a daring that kept the enemy guessing. He spoke to Americans with an optimism that lightened their task. And one of the saddest days of the war came just as it was ending, when the casualty notice in the morning paper began with the name, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Commander-in-Chief.

Across the years, we still know his voice. And from his words, we know that he understood the character of the American people. Dictators and their generals had dismissed Americans as no match for a master race. FDR answered them. In one of his radio addresses, he said, "We have been described as a nation of weaklings, playboys. Let them tell that to General McArthur and his men. Let them tell that to the boys in the flying fortresses. Let them tell that to the Marines."

In all, more than 16 million Americans would put on the uniform of the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the Marine, the Coast Guardsman or the Merchant Mariner. They came from city streets and prairie towns, from public high schools and West Point. They were a modest bunch, and still are. The ranks were filled with men like Army Private Joe Sakato. In heavy fighting in France, he saw a good friend killed, and charged up a hill determined to shoot the ones who did it. Private Sakato ran straight into enemy fire, killing 12, wounding two, capturing four, and inspiring his whole unit to take the hill and destroy the enemy. (Applause.) Looking back on it 55 years later, Joe Sakato said, "I'm not a hero. Nowadays they call what I did 'road rage.'" (Laughter.)

This man's conduct that day gained him the Medal of Honor, one of 464 awarded for actions in World War II. Americans in uniform served bravely, fought fiercely and kept their honor -- even under the worst of conditions. Yet they were not warriors by nature. All they wanted was to finish the job and make it home. One soldier in the 58th Armor Field Artillery was known to have the best-kept rifle in the unit. He told his buddies he had plans for that weapon after the war. He said, "I want to take it home, cover it in salt, hang it on a wall in my living room so I can watch it rust."

These were the modest sons of a peaceful country, and millions of us are very proud to call them Dad. They gave the best years of their lives to the greatest mission their country ever accepted. (Applause.) They faced the most extreme danger, which took some and spared others, for reasons only known to God. And wherever they advanced or touched ground, they are remembered for their goodness and their decency. A Polish man recalls being marched through the German countryside in the last weeks of the war, when American forces suddenly appeared. He said, "Our two guards ran away. And this soldier with little blonde hair jumps off his tank. 'You're free,' he shouts at us. We started hugging each other, crying and screaming, 'God sent angels down to pick us up out of this hell place.'"

Well, our boys weren't exactly angels. They were flesh and blood, with all the limits and fears of flesh and blood. That only makes the achievement more remarkable -- the courage they showed, in a conflict that claimed more than 400,000 American lives, leaving so many orphans and widows and Gold Star Mothers.

The soldiers' story was best told by the great Ernie Pyle, who shared their lives and died among them. In his book, "Here Is Your War," he described World War II as many veterans now remember it. It is a picture, he wrote, "of tired and dirty soldiers, who are alive and don't want to die; of long, darkened convoys in the middle of the night; of shocked, silent men wandering back down the hill from battle; of Jeeps and petrol dumps and smelly bedding roles and C-rations; and blown bridges and dead mules and hospital tents and shirt collars greasy-black from months of wearing; and of laughter, too, and anger, and wine, and lovely flowers and constant cussing. All these, it is composed of; and of graves and graves and graves."

On this Memorial Day weekend, the graves will be visited, and decorated with flowers and flags. Men whose step has slowed are thinking of boys they knew when they were boys together. And women who watched the train leave, and the years pass, can still see the handsome face of their young sweetheart. America will not forget them, either.

At this place, at this Memorial, we acknowledge a debt of long-standing to an entire generation of Americans: those who died; those who fought and worked and grieved and went on. They saved our country, and thereby saved the liberty of mankind. And now I ask every man and woman who saw and lived World War II -- every member of that generation -- to please rise as you are able, and receive the thanks of our great nation.

May God bless you.

[Originally posted: 6/01/04]

May 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


The Kurdish momentum in the Middle East (OFRA BENGIO, 05/26/2013, Jerusalem Post)

Writing in the aftermath of the 1990 Gulf war about the Kurds of Iraq, Turkey and Iran, David McDowall was quite pessimistic about the prospects of Kurdish nationalism, saying: "One must doubt whether Kurdish nationalism can ever prevail against three hostile governments willing to apply ruthless methods to contain the challenge." [...]

In the 20th century the Kurdish issue was considered a domestic problem in which the international community and international organizations were reluctant to interfere. However, by the beginning of the 21st century this taboo was broken. In Iraq, for example, many countries are developing relations with the KRG against the will of Baghdad.

With regard to Turkey the solution of the Kurdish domestic issue became part and parcel of the EU's condition for accepting Turkey into its fold. In other words there formed a Gordian knot between Turkey's relations with the EU and the Kurdish domestic issue. In Syria too the PYD, the leading Kurdish party, which controls the autonomous region, had managed to publicize the Kurdish cause in Europe where its leaders are personae grate in many capitals. Interestingly, unlike the PKK, its mentor, the PYD is not considered a terrorist organization either by the EU or the US.

Another important development was that at the turn of the century the international community no longer upheld the notion of the sanctity of borders.

Thus, between 1990 and 2010 the number of states in the world grew from 151 to 192, most of which arose through secession. Thus, it is possible to say that in the 21st century there has been legitimization of new entities and states.

The main trigger for the change was the coming of the Americans to the region in 2003, namely the war on Iraq, and their departure at the end of 2011.

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Man with 'Walking Corpse Syndrome' believes he is dead (Ben Bryant, 26 May 2013, The Telegraph)

May 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Cooling Coffee Prices Hit a 3½-Year Low (Leslie Josephs, 5/23/13, WSJ)

Coffee for July delivery on the ICE Futures U.S. exchange fell 2.8 cents, or 2.2%, to $1.2725 a pound on Friday, the lowest settlement for the most actively traded contract since Oct. 1, 2009. While prices have been falling for much of the year as global supplies have exceeded demand, the latest leg of the drop comes as farmers in Brazil are harvesting new coffee beans even as they haven't finished selling last season's supplies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


President Ruthless : Don't be fooled by Obama's speech. On executive power, he's just like Bush. (Eric Posner|, May 23, 2013, Slate)

When the Bush administration was at the bench press, the left managed to create a narrative, largely accepted by the media, that the president was lawless. Now that it's Obama's turn, has the story changed? Friedersdorf takes the both-are-lawless path, and gets points for consistency, but he is tilting at windmills--both parties and mainstream public opinion support a president who can forcefully counter threats. Harold Koh, by contrast, argued in a recent speech that Obama is different and better than Bush was. He said that a "critical difference between this Administration and its predecessor is the Obama Administration's determination not to address Al Qaeda and the Taliban solely through the tools of war." Also:

"The Obama Administration has not treated the post-9/11 conflict as a Global War on Terror to which no law applies, in which the United States is authorized to use force anywhere, against anyone. Instead, it has acknowledged that its authority under domestic law derives from Acts of Congress, not just the President's vague constitutional powers." (I have added the emphases.)

But as national security law expert Ben Wittes points out, these statements are false. Bush did not solely use the tools of war; he also used civilian law enforcement, for example, by prosecuting Jose Padilla--indeed, more than Obama has. Bush did not just rely on presidential powers; he also relied on domestic law, just as Obama has. Similarities between the two presidents in overall legal approach dwarf the differences in rhetoric, atmospherics, and a few narrow legal questions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Men are more than twice as likely as women to be the primary griller in the household, according to the survey. Only 19 percent of households report that it's women who are taking charge of grill duties.

And statistically, that hasn't budged since the group started collecting data on this topic a few decades ago.

The grill "is the one and only male-dominated appliance in America," says Harry Balzer of NPD Group. One reason? Grilling can feel like a form of recreation.

"Grilling is awesome," my colleague Uri Berliner told me over a casual water-cooler chat. "All you have to do is stand there and drink beer while you watch the meat cook."

May 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Uncle Sam Embraces Hybrids (Daniel Gross, May 13, 2013, Daily Beast)

In April, the GSA announced the federal government will buy up to 10,000 new hybrid vehicles.

That's good news for tree-huggers, auto manufacturers, and deficit hawks--and given the changes in the auto manufacturing world, it's likely to raise far fewer hackles than it would have a few years ago.

Hybrid cars are hardly an embryonic technology. They're tried and tested products, with millions of units sold globally. In April, according to, more than 42,000 hybrids were sold in the U.S. alone.

The knock on hybrids has been that they tend to cost more than similar models that run only on gasoline. And even with the price of gas pushing $4.00 per gallon, it takes a long time (or a lot of driving) for a purchaser to earn back the higher price paid through lower gas consumption. Buying a hybrid may make moral and environmental sense from day one. But in order for it to produce economic benefits, you've got to hold on to the car for several years and drive it a lot. Which is why the most enthusiastic purchasers of hybrids (aside from the bienpensant of Boulder and Berkeley) have been the sort of owners who view vehicle ownership as a long-term business proposition. It's common to see hybrids in taxi and corporate delivery fleets.

By the same logic, hybrids would seem to be a no-brainer for governments, who tend to hold onto vehicles for a long time and pool them in fleets

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Real Immigration Reform Requires Free Markets (ROSS KAMINSKY, 5.24.13, American Spectator)

The legislation would be anti-capitalist enough if its quotas were sufficiently high to allow most of the likely demand for foreign labor by American employers. But this is a bill that limits visas for construction workers to 15,000 per year and those for "qualified immigrants seeking to enter the United States for the purpose of creating new businesses" to 10,000 per year. These are just two of the measure's various "not to exceed" limitations, which fly in the face of economic liberty and historical commonsense.

To wit, when the demand for unskilled or semi-skilled workers exceeds government quotas, the laborers find a way to come here illegally. And when government prevents investors and high-skilled workers--who are presumably less likely to violate the law because they have more to lose--from putting their capital and talent to work here, they will simply create jobs elsewhere, and Americans will find a way to "offshore" at least some of the work they need done.

Quotas proposed by the Gang of Eight bill represent small fractions of the actual demand for labor across the American economy. If a key goal of immigration reform is to decrease the number of attempts by would-be workers to cross our borders illegally and instead to give a legal path to work here (separate from any question of a path to citizenship), this bill simply cannot succeed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Online tool cut inappropriate tests from 22 percent to 6 percent (Trevor Stokes, 5/23/13, Reuters Health) 

A web-based decision-making tool that alerts heart doctors when diagnostic tests would not be useful for a specific patient can curb wasteful procedures, according to a new study.

"This educational tool helps doctors determine the best test for any particular patient," said lead author Dr. James Min, director of cardiac imaging research at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Material That Sorts Molecules by Shape Could Lower the Price of Gas (Kevin Bullis, May 23, 2013, Technology Review)

A new material that sorts hydrocarbon molecules by shape could lower the cost of gasoline and also make the fuel safer by reducing the need for certain additives that have been linked to cancer, according to a paper in the next issue of the journal Science.

Refiners typically use a material that can sort molecules by size during a key step in the refining process. To achieve a desired octane rating, this step has to be supplemented with energy-intensive distillation steps, or by the use of additives. The new material, which sorts molecules by shape rather than by size, can better differentiate between different types of hydrocarbon molecules, eliminating the distillation steps and the need for octane-enhancing additives.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


A Populist Argument For Eliminating The Corporate Tax (Harvey Golub, 5/22/13, Forbes)

Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion about reforming the corporate tax code as one way of encouraging economic growth. Most economists, job creators and even liberal politicians believe that our corporate tax system is uncompetitive with other nations in a number of ways, and thereby holds back investment and job growth in this country.

First, U.S. marginal corporate tax rates are the highest in the developed world.  (Japan's used to be higher than the U.S., but has recently been lowered.) Since corporate taxes can be an avoidable cost of doing business in the U.S. in some cases, high rates encourage businesses to locate outside our country, do as much business as possible in lower tax jurisdictions, and to keep capital abroad.

Second, the U.S. corporate tax code is replete with special deductions and other provisions that reduce average effective tax rates well below the high marginal tax rates for the politically connected businesses or industries that can successfully influence the policy-making process in Washington. For a largely U.S. domestic, non-capital intensive company, the effective rates are very close to the highest marginal rate, and they need to be high to make up for the deductions granted to the more favored enterprises.

Third, this combination of high nominal rates, which affect decisions at the margin, result in excess costs and complexity in running businesses.  The high rates discourage investment projects and require large administrative overhead. Perhaps most importantly, they encourage rent seeking and competitive advantage through the tax code rather than by producing better products. For all these reasons, most corporations have large tax departments and Washington lobbyists whose mandates are to find ways of lowering their corporate tax burden.

Most people believe that corporations pay taxes. They are wrong.  Every economist will tell you that corporations are not people and that the people who own corporate equities ultimately bear whatever part of the tax cannot be passed on to others. The true incidence of the tax on owners of capitol is likely far from dollar for dollar since higher corporate taxes to some extent can be passed to consumers through higher prices and employees through lower wages. There is some argument as to the size of each in the mix, but no argument as to these elements.

It would seem fairly straightforward that we want business to maximize its efficiency, to maximize profits, so that shareholders (who will be all of us as SS and health care are reformed) maximize their capital gains and build up enough wealth to fund their own social safety nets.

An ideal tax code then would be one that encourages business efficiency and profitability and individual savings.  Tax consumption.

May 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


In Drone Speech, Obama Gets Slippery on Killing U.S. Citizens (Matthew Rothschild, May 23, 2013, The Progressive)

President Obama has an eerie and alarming ability to detach himself from his own dubious actions.

This character trait was on full display in his speech on Thursday at the National Defense University.

When he talked about the need to shut down Guantanamo, he said: "Look at the current situation, where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that something that our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children?"

Wise words, but hollow ones.

Hollow, because he could have closed Guantanamo on day one in his first term, as he promised. [...]

Similarly, Obama tried to detach himself from his own Justice Department's grabbing of the phone records of more than 100 AP reporters and the claim by the Justice Department that Fox News's James Rosen was a "co-conspirator" in violating the Espionage Act of 1917.

"I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds governments accountable," Obama said.

Then fire Eric Holder, for God's sake. [...]

Most slippery was Obama on the subject of killing U.S. citizens.

"For the record," he said, "I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen--with a drone, or a shotgun--without due process."

But then he justified the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki, without acknowledging that Al-Awlaki received no due process.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


What Angelina Jolie forgot to mention (H. Gilbert Welch, 5/18/13, CNN)

[M]ore than 99% of women do not have the BRCA1 mutation -- or the BRCA2 mutation, for that matter.

Let's be clear, the BRCA1 mutation is a bad thing. Although I might quibble with the exact numbers in the piece, the big picture is this: the mutation increases the risk of developing breast cancer about five fold and increases the risk of ovarian cancer more than 10 fold.

It is a powerful risk factor for these cancers -- almost as powerful as cigarette smoking is for lung cancer.

When people are at very high risk for something bad to happen, preventive interventions are more likely to be a good deal; that is, the benefits are likely to exceed the harms. I'm not saying that prophylactic mastectomy is the right choice for a woman with BRCA1, simply that it is a reasonable one.

When people are at average risk, the deal changes. The opportunity for benefit is less, simply because the bad event is less likely to happen. But the harms of preventive intervention remain roughly the same.

It is a fundamental precept of medicine -- one I hammer home with undergraduates (future patients) and medical students (future doctors): Patients with severe abnormalities stand to gain more from intervention than patients with mild ones. Patients with mild abnormalities are more likely to experience net harm from intervention, simply because they have less opportunity to benefit.

The vast majority of women don't have the BRCA1 mutation. They are at average risk for breast cancer. They are not Angelina Jolie. They should not have a preventive mastectomy.

May 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 PM


Electric carmaker Tesla pays off U.S. loan (Ben Klayman, May 22, 2013, Reuters)

The automaker said on Wednesday that it wired $451.8 million to repay the full loan with interest.

"I would like to thank the Department of Energy and the members of Congress and their staffs that worked hard to create the (Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing) program, and particularly the American taxpayer from whom these funds originate," Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said in a statement. "I hope we did you proud."

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


This country needs another financial crisis (Allan Sloan, May 22, 2013, Fortune)

Almost a century ago Thomas Marshall, Woodrow Wilson's Vice President, got tired of listening to senators blather on about the nation's needs and uttered the words that made him immortal: "What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar." Today, with 24/7 blathering as our national political pastime, let me adapt Marshall's 1917 remark: What this country needs to get its act together is a good five-alarm financial crisis.

I mean, look around. Except for the Federal Reserve, which has consistently tried to help the economy, misguided though some of its actions may be, about the only real changes our government has made since the onset of the financial crisis were induced by fear. The Troubled Asset Relief Program, which played a vital role in restoring confidence and stability to the financial system, was passed only because the House's rejection of it on Sept. 28, 2008, set off a 778-point plummet in the Dow. That scared the House into reversing itself.

Should have listened to Rahm and not wasted the "crisis".

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 PM


Living by the Numbers: Big Data Knows What Your Future Holds (Martin U. Müller, Marcel Rosenbach and Thomas Schulz, 5/22/13, Der Spiegel)

The expression "Big Brother" has become dated. Experts would seem to have reached consensus on the term "Big Data" to describe the new favorite topic of discussion in boardrooms, at conventions like Berlin's re:publica last week, and in a number of new books. Big Data promises both total control and the logical management of our future in all aspects of life. Authors like Oxford Professor Victor Mayer-Schönberger are calling it a "revolution." According to Mayer-Schönberger, Big Data, which is also the title of his current book on the subject, will change our working environment and even the way we think.

The most important factor is not the sheer volume of data, even though it is currently growing faster than ever. An estimated 2.8 zettabytes of data were created in 2012. One zettabyte is 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 kilobytes. Experts predict that the volume of new data could increase to 40 zettabytes by 2020. It would take about 250 million DVDs to store the amount of data being transmitted on the Internet in a single day. This volume doubles about once every two years.

New is the way companies, government agencies and scientists are now beginning to interpret and analyze their data resources. Because storage space costs almost nothing nowadays, computers, which are getting faster and faster, can link and correlate a wide variety of data around the clock. Algorithms are what create order from this chaos. They dig through, discovering previously unknown patterns and promptly revealing new relationships, insights and business models.

Though the term Big Data means very little to most people, the power of algorithms is already everywhere. Credit card companies can quickly recognize unusual usage patterns, and hence automatically warn cardholders when large sums are suddenly being charged to their cards in places where they have never been. Energy companies use weather data analyses to pinpoint the ideal locations for wind turbines down to the last meter. According to official figures, since the Swedish capital Stockholm began using algorithms to manage traffic, drive times through the city's downtown area have been cut in half and emissions reduced by 10 percent. Online merchants have recently started using the analyses to optimize their selling strategies. The widespread phrase "Customers who bought this item also bought ..." is only one example of the approach.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


How to Humble a Wing Nut (Cass R. Sunstein May 20, 2013, Bloomberg)

There is no standard definition of the all-important term "wing nut," so let's provide one. A wing nut is someone who has a dogmatic commitment to an extreme political view ("wing") that is false and at least a bit crazy ("nut").

A wing nut might believe that George W. Bush is a fascist, that Barack Obama is a socialist, that big banks run the Department of the Treasury or that the U.S. intervened in Libya because of oil.

When wing nuts encounter people with whom they disagree, they immediately impugn their opponents' motivations. Whatever their religion, they are devout Manicheans, dividing their fellow citizens into the forces of light and the forces of darkness.

Wing nuts have a lot of fellow travelers -- people who don't fit the definition, yet who are similarly dogmatic and whose views, though not really crazy, aren't exactly evidence-based. You can be a wing nut on a particular issue without being a wing nut in general. Most human beings can hear the voice, at least on occasion, of their inner wing nut.

The good news is that wing nuts usually don't matter. The bad news is that they influence people who do. Sadly, more information often fails to correct people's misunderstandings. In fact, it can backfire and entrench them. Can anything be done?

For a positive answer, consider an intriguing study by Philip Fernbach, a University of Colorado business school professor, and his colleagues. Their central finding is that if you ask people to explain exactly why they think as they do, they discover how much they don't know -- and they become more humble and therefore more moderate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


You Do Not Have Asperger's  (Amy S.F. Lutz, May 22, 2013, Slate)

[A] 2011 study by Catherine Lord (another member of the task force) and more than 35 colleagues reported, "In these 12 university-based sites, with research clinicians selected for their expertise in ASD and trained in using standardized instruments, there was great variation in how best-estimate clinical diagnoses within the autism spectrum (i.e., autistic disorder, PDD-NOS, Asperger's disorder) were assigned to individual children." In other words, the diagnoses children received depended largely on where they were diagnosed.

Yet those diagnoses had serious implications. Certain states provide services for children diagnosed with autism but not for those diagnosed with Asperger's. "It was difficult to get kids with Asperger's services because their deficits can be subtle, so they were left on their own to some degree," says Matthew Siegel, director of the Developmental Disorders Program at Spring Harbor Hospital in Maine. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Franglais row: Is the English language conquering France? (Agnes Poirier, 5/22/13, BBC)

On 20 March, when French higher education minister Genevieve Fioraso unveiled the proposed road map, she mentioned that there were only 3,000 Indian students in France.

In order to attract more foreign students, she added, French universities would have to start offering courses taught in English.

"We must teach in English or there will only remain in France a handful of experts discussing Proust around the table," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


The big fat truth : More and more studies show that being overweight does not always shorten life -- but some public-health researchers would rather not talk about them. (Virginia Hughes, 22 May 2013, Nature)

The report, a meta-analysis of 97 studies including 2.88 million people, had been released on 2 January in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)1. A team led by Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist at the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Maryland, reported that people deemed 'overweight' by international standards were 6% less likely to die than were those of 'normal' weight over the same time period.

The result seemed to counter decades of advice to avoid even modest weight gain, provoking coverage in most major news outlets -- and a hostile backlash from some public-health experts. "This study is really a pile of rubbish, and no one should waste their time reading it," said Walter Willett, a leading nutrition and epidemiology researcher at the Harvard school, in a radio interview. Willett later organized the Harvard symposium -- where speakers lined up to critique Flegal's study -- to counteract that coverage and highlight what he and his colleagues saw as problems with the paper. "The Flegal paper was so flawed, so misleading and so confusing to so many people, we thought it really would be important to dig down more deeply," Willett says.

But many researchers accept Flegal's results and see them as just the latest report illustrating what is known as the obesity paradox. Being overweight increases a person's risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and many other chronic illnesses. But these studies suggest that for some people -- particularly those who are middle-aged or older, or already sick -- a bit of extra weight is not particularly harmful, and may even be helpful.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


This App Will Make You Feel Better, Using No Medicine At All : Instead, it uses the power of your own positive thinking to create a placebo effect--which works even if you know it's happening. (Ben Schiller, Co.exist)

Daniel Jacobs also wants to use placebos for good. His new app, which he's crowd-funding on Indiegogo, is an attempt to take the placebo out of the doctor's office and into your home. He hopes it will make people feel better, and contribute further to placebo research.

You start by setting a goal: say, more joy or love in your life. Then, you choose someone to give you the placebo (maybe a friend or family member), what you want it to be (a pill, say), and where you want to take it (maybe a forest where you go running with a friend). You then "take" the placebo whenever you want to, following a pre-set ritual built into the app.

The point is to replicate what's important about the placebo effect, which isn't the pill itself, but the experience. "If we think about placebo as a transformational symbol, then people get to choose what placebo they want," says Jacobs. "It can be a pill, magic wand, holy book, communion wafer, or herbs. It just needs to be meaningful for them."

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


When shining a light is a problem in itself : Heisenberg's uncertainties are starting to cause problems for some very big experiments (Steve Jones, 21 May 2013, The Telegraph)

In science, as in life, the old jokes are the best. The physicist Werner Heisenberg was once stopped for speeding. "Professor Heisenberg," the cop said, "do you know how fast you were going?" "No," he replied, "but I know exactly where I am!" [...]

All that may seem irrelevant to daily life. But now the mechanical effect of light has been found to influence things on what, to a physicist, is a gigantic scale (or, at least, can almost be seen with the naked eye). It's a tiny membrane that acts as a mirror and is vibrated fast. Shine a laser beam on it, and suddenly the mirror begins to shake even more violently, and in an unpredictable way. The energy of the photons means, once again, that the reflected light beam cannot be used to give a precise picture of both the position and the speed of movement of the mirror's surface, just as Heisenberg predicted.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Study Finds Correlation Between Fiscal Conservatism And Big Biceps : Does physical strength lead to conservative beliefs? (Dan Nosowitz, 05.20.2013, Popular Science)

Conducted by researchers at Denmark's Aarhus University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, the study surveyed subjects by upper-body strength, socioeconomic status, and then compared those with the subject's response to a questionnaire about economic redistribution. The hypothesis: men with more upper-body strength would be less open to economic redistribution. And it turned out to be true, to an extent, depending on socioeconomic status. 

May 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


The I.R.S. Does Its Job (NY Times, March 7, 2012)
Taxpayers should be encouraged by complaints from Tea Party chapters applying for nonprofit tax status at being asked by the Internal Revenue Service to prove they are "social welfare" organizations and not the political activists they so obviously are.

Tea Party supporters claim they are being politically harassed with extensive I.R.S. questionnaires. But the service properly contends that it must ensure that these groups are "primarily" engaged in social welfare, not political campaigning, to merit tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code.

Such I.R.S. inquiries are long overdue and should be applied across the board to the growing number of organizations, allied with the major political parties, that are also ludicrously posing as "social welfare" groups. Legitimate social welfare organizations are allowed limited political activity. But these political offshoots are using that tax status in a transparent ploy to keep big donors secret while funneling the money to campaigns. Chief among these groups are American Crossroads, the campaign machine created by Republican guru Karl Rove, and Priorities USA, the Democratic counterpart founded by former White House aides, now openly encouraged by President Obama as he runs for re-election.

These groups, which already have 501(c)(4) status, should be as thoroughly investigated as any Tea Party chapter applying for that tax exempt status.

May 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Sweet-Toothed Senators Push Back on Sugar Supports (Niels Lesniewski, 5/20/13, Roll Call)

[Republican Mark S.] Kirk is one of three senators leading a push to reduce price-support levels for sugar. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., and Kirk will reintroduce their sugar program overhaul as an amendment to this year's farm bill after it reaches the Senate floor Monday afternoon.

"The sugar program is broken and this is a smart, commonsense fix.  Right now, American families are footing the bill for an outdated program that offers a sweet deal to a small group of sugar growers and processors. All the while, we're losing manufacturing jobs all over the country as a result," Shaheen said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


On climate change, Obama faces an attack from his left flank (Juliet Eilperin, May 20, 2013, Washington Post)

If you want to get a sense of how impatient some of President Obama's most loyal supporters are getting when it comes to climate change, consider this: They're planning to conduct protests at meetings of the grassroots advocacy organization run by his former top campaign aides.

Environmentalists have become increasingly frustrated that Organizing for Action, the non-profit 501(c)(4) group that conducts issue advocacy on behalf of the president's agenda, isn't doing more to press for executive action on global warming. So these grassroots groups -- including CREDO Action, the political arm of the company CREDO Mobile, and others, intend to demonstrate at events OFA will conduct in the weeks ahead. [...]

Climate activists are particularly upset that OFA is not lobbying the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial project that would ship carbon-intense crude oil from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries.

"flank" suffices.
Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Confusion and Staff Troubles Rife at I.R.S. Office in Ohio (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, DAVID KOCIENIEWSKI and MICHAEL LUO, 5/18/13, NY Times)

Overseen by a revolving cast of midlevel managers, stalled by miscommunication with I.R.S. lawyers and executives in Washington and confused about the rules they were enforcing, the Cincinnati specialists flagged virtually every application with Tea Party in its name. But their review went beyond conservative groups: more than 400 organizations came under scrutiny, including at least two dozen liberal-leaning ones and some that were seemingly apolitical.

Over three years, as the office struggled with a growing caseload of advocacy groups seeking tax exemptions, responsibility for the cases moved from one group of specialists to another, and the Determinations Unit, which handles all nonprofit applications, was reorganized. One batch of cases sat ignored for months. Few if any of the employees were experts on tax law, contributing to waves of questionnaires about groups' political activity and donors that top officials acknowledge were improper.

"The I.R.S. is pretty dysfunctional to begin with, and this case brought all those dysfunctions to their worst," said Paul Streckfus, a former I.R.S. employee who runs a newsletter devoted to tax-exempt organizations. "People were coming and going, asking for advice and not getting it, and sometimes forgetting the cases existed." [...]

Administering the nearly four-million-word federal tax code involves so many arcane legalities, and is so fraught with potential to ignite Washington's partisan skirmishes or infuriate taxpayers, that much of the I.R.S. is run by lawyers.

But the Exempt Organizations Division -- concentrated in Cincinnati with fewer than 200 workers, according to I.R.S. officials -- is staffed mostly with accountants, clerks and civil servants. Working for one of only three I.R.S. divisions not charged with collecting tax revenue, specialists in the Determinations Unit in Cincinnati primarily review and process roughly 70,000 applications for exemptions each year, relatively few from groups engaged in election activity.

Inside the agency, the unit was considered particularly unglamorous. "Nobody wants to be a determination agent," said Jack Reilly, a former lawyer in the Washington office that oversaw exempt organizations. "It's a job that just about everybody would be anxious to get out of it."

In recent years, the office's biggest headache was not the rising tide of political groups seeking tax exemptions or the growing calls from Washington lawmakers, chiefly Democrats, demanding closer scrutiny of big-spending political operations claiming tax-exempt status. The office was consumed with a different problem: a tweak Congress had made to the tax code that threatened more than 400,000 nonprofit groups around the country with an automatic loss of tax exemption, potentially putting some out of business, according to a report by the Taxpayer Advocate Service, which handles complaints about tax cases. Tens of thousands of such groups had reapplied for exemptions, overwhelming the office with queries and paperwork.

The rules governing those traditional charities, known as 501(c)3 groups, are relatively clear. But after the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision on campaign financing freed corporations and unions to spend money on elections, hundreds of new applications began to arrive from Tea Party and other organizations. Most sought a different status, 501(c)4, under which "social welfare" nonprofit groups may engage in a limited amount of election activity without registering as political action committees and disclosing their donors.

Those indicating that they will intervene in elections typically receive closer scrutiny, former I.R.S. officials said, because of the potential that they may not be entitled to a tax exemption.

It is not unusual for I.R.S. specialists to search for patterns in applications, in part for clues toward fraud and scams -- a single tax preparer employing the same tax gambit for multiple clients, for example -- and in part to ensure that similar groups are treated in a consistent way, the former officials said.

It is not yet clear which manager in Cincinnati asked for an initial keyword search of Tea Party applications, Congressional aides said. One of the employees that the House committee is seeking to interview this week, Joseph Herr, had been a manager in charge of the group of specialists in Cincinnati from its inception through August 2010, according to the aides.

By October 2010, a batch of 40 cases were under heightened review, 18 of them with "Tea Party" in the group names. Specialists throughout the Determinations Unit had been issued a "Be on the Lookout" notice for Tea Party applications, and some were given training on how to evaluate groups planning to do election-related work, according to the I.R.S. inspector general.

In October 2010, as part of a reorganization of the unit, responsibility for the cases was shifted to a different group of specialists. Some applications that had been farmed out to Determinations Unit specialists elsewhere were moved back to the Cincinnati office.

One manager there complained that the "technical unit" -- lawyers, chiefly in Washington, who advise the specialists on the tax law -- had been slow in providing guidance on the applications, according to the inspector general. Over the next several months, the inspector general said, low-level specialists, managers and the lawyers appeared to struggle to come up with a consistent set of criteria and questions to ask the groups.

Philip Hackney, who was an I.R.S. lawyer in Washington, occasionally reviewed the exempt unit's work until 2011 and was not involved in the Tea Party cases. He said that several times he and other lawyers revised the procedures the Cincinnati employees devised to scrutinize applicants because their questions might be interpreted as intrusive or politically insensitive.

"We're talking about an office overwhelmed by 60,000 paper applications trying to find efficient means of dealing with that," said Mr. Hackney, who is now a law professor at Louisiana State University. "There were times where they came up with shortcuts that were efficient but didn't take into consideration the public perception."

The whole kerfuffle is an argument to simplify the tax code.
Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


EXCLUSIVE: Organized labor to oppose President Obama's nomination of Penny Pritzker for commerce secretary (JAMES WARREN, 5/20/13,NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Organized labor will break its silence and oppose President Obama's nominee for Commerce Secretary, Chicago's Penny Pritzker, the Daily News has learned.

The decision stems from long-standing grievances with labor practices at the Hyatt Hotels chain, a source of her family's fortune, and despite earlier reports that unions would not raise objections to the nomination.

May 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


We haven't done this for awhile and I need some ideas for a trip to DC next weekend, so, what's everybody listening to, watching, reading playing...


Friend and coworker, Brian Barthelmes, and his band, Tallahassee, have a great new album out:

Old Ways


Fans of Patrick O'Brian, in particular, will really enjoy:

At Drake's Command: The Adventures of Peregrine James During the Second Circumnavigation of the World by David Wesley Hill


The Hobbit


With Lewis ending, we still have:



Still the most amazing app ever:

and the addictive


Posted by orrinj at 11:36 AM


Hamas confiscates rockets from Fatah's armed wing (KHALED ABU TOAMEH, 05/19/2013, Jerusalem Post)

Hamas has confiscated rockets and other types of weaponry belonging to Fatah's armed wing, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Palestinian sources revealed Sunday.

The sources told the Fatah-affiliated Palestine Press News Agency that Hamas confiscated 100 rockets and 500 "combat units" when Fatah tried to move them from one location to another in the Gaza Strip.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Postcard: Love thy neighbor? Europeans say 'no' : A Pew Research Center study shows public support for the European project has fallen and distrust between countries is growing. And the most down on the EU are the French. (John Laurenson, 5/19/13, Deutsche Welle)

Pew talked to 7,646 people in eight EU countries in March this year. Their conclusion is that no-one believes in the European Union any more; except the Germans. And that the process of European integration that was supposed to bring down barriers between European countries has had the opposite effect.

Belief that European economic integration has strengthened the economy slipped right across Europe from 2012 to 2013. It decreased five points in Germany. Now only 54 percent of Germans think economic integration is making us richer. But that's the only place in the survey where most people think this. In Britain it's now 26 percent, in Greece and Italy 11 percent. France registered the biggest drop in confidence in the economic benefits of the EU, at 22 percent they are now more disillusioned than the British.

French approval of the EU as an institution has also plummeted; approval ratings are 19 percent down on last year. That is much more than any other country, again overtaking the British.

When the French have to look to Britain to be convinced that the European Union is a good idea, you know you're in trouble.

Nations don't have neighbors--they're ethnic entities.

Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


Jaron Lanier takes a hard look at the wired world : The Writer's Life: The smart, accessible 'Who Owns the Future?' peers critically at the online state of affairs and finds it out of balance. (Carolyn Kellogg, 5/16/13, Los Angeles Times)

He's not an economist, he's a futurist, so his ideas are rendered in abstractions. For example, he coined the term "Siren Servers" to describe the powerful, enriched operators that gather and trade upon information provided by others. You and I know them as Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon and the automated trading algorithms that contributed to the 2008 recession. And the term, which comes from the sirens of Greek myth -- so alluring that they caused sailors to wreck their ships on their rocky shores -- alludes to what he sees as their danger.

"An amazing number of people offer an amazing amount of value over networks. But the lion's share of wealth now flows to those who aggregate and route those offerings, rather than those who provide the 'raw materials,'" he writes in "Who Owns the Future?" "A new kind of middle class, and a more genuine, growing information economy, could come about if we could break out of the 'free information' idea and into a universal micropayment system."

By stepping back and grouping them all together, Lanier is able to draw connections between invisible stock trades and MP3 downloads. "I'm not saying all finance is bad and all networking is bad and all sharing is bad," he says. "What I'm criticizing is very specifically the way we're doing it now."

Lanier would like to see musicians, writers, coders, data generators and all content creators get tiny payments for their inputs into our vast system. You'd get paid for that status update about delicious tacos, especially if it showed up in a Facebook advertisement.

His ideas for brokering those payments are a bit fuzzy and, because they'd require a two-way accounting of who does what where online, run counter to some of the underlying ideas of the Internet, both structurally and ideologically. He's able to layer his argument so that it makes sense to a Silicon Valley outsider, while communicating some of the insider's point of view.

In part, Lanier is arguing against "the Singularity," Raymond Kurzweil's idea that computers will become intelligent, more intelligent that humans, by 2050 and change our civilization forever. As farfetched as it may sound, it's a dominant trope in futurism discussions, based on the accelerating speed with which computers have advanced.

For Lanier, the difference between human intelligence and machine intelligence is key. Much of what we think of as the Internet's free information exchange is actually based on the real work of people -- online translation tools are based on millions of previous translations done by real humans.

Lanier wants to force the acknowledgment, financially, that humans are essential part of the picture. We might create a robot that could provide nursing support to aging baby boomers -- but its success would be built on observing human nurses, aggregating the data collected as they go about their work. The human nurses should get paid for their contribution -- otherwise, they're freely offering the data that will put them out of work.

...not least because administering the payment system is too complex.  But, what will happen is that we'll redistribute the wealth we all contributed to creating.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


CORMAC McCARTHY'S BLEAK ROAD: Landscapes of the Mind: in a new series, Robert Macfarlane roams fictional worlds, starting with "The Road" (Robert Macfarlane, May/June 2013, INTELLIGENT LIFE)

I have read "The Road" more, probably, than any other book. A tale so fiercely bleak, so cauterised in its vision, is still a page-turner. It has entered my soul as a black version of a possible future, its effects felt bodily first: the steady creep of chill, an urge to hold my children tight. Man and boy plod on, page after page, and I read on, page after page, puzzled at my own persistence.

Hope lurks in both activities. It survives in McCarthy's language: austerely beautiful, and proving the paradox of apocalyptic art, that to annihilate the world one must also summon it into being. Hope is there, too, in the boy, whom the father strives so hard to protect, and whose presence brings the possibility, however faint, of life after ruin.

It's not faint.

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


'We Can Be Great Again' (Jeb Bush, Newsmax Magazine)

We also must address the spending side, particularly entitlements. This is an area of great opportunity. The other party has shown no willingness to bring much needed reforms to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Despite ample evidence that such reforms could be done gradually and effectively, the entitlement programs remain as expensive as ever. The American people know this, and are looking for answers.

We have to be willing to accept that these programs are part of America's social safety net. And for millions, these programs are essential, providing a valued source of stability. But a nation that looks to the future does not treat such programs as beyond reform and improvement.

We devote far more resources to today's seniors than we do today's young; often those resources come at the expense of the young.

If nothing else, we can't address deficits -- projected as far as the eye can see -- without having an honest conversation about the growth rates in entitlement programs. These programs, designed and promised to be self-sustaining, will completely overwhelm the rest of the government's budget responsibilities by the time today's youngest workers retire. Wherever possible, conservatives should propose, through waivers from federal law and through state law, alternatives to the steady march to government control of healthcare.

Elements of a conservative plan would include lower premiums, consumer-directed care, catastrophic coverage, rewards for healthy lifestyle behaviors, and paying for quality.

This is a test of policy maturity. Today, the Republican Party has an opportunity to embrace gradual and productive reforms to these programs. We have the ability to present, by our own policies, a thoughtful approach to something all Americans correctly fear.

The other party has the power to do the work, but is unwilling to take it on. In such a context, we have the ability to prove ourselves worthy to govern. If we fail on that score, we can scarcely hope to be given the political power to do other great things. And think of what we could do: shrink the size of the government and its debt, refocus American energy on the growth of the economy, adopt much needed reforms to our education and immigration systems, and inspire hope and confidence in American households everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Nudging Conservatives to Harness Behavioral Science (Rich Thau and Celeste Gregory, May 3, 2013, American)

In 1982, social scientist James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published their "Broken Windows" article in The Atlantic, an idea that launched a savvy assault on crime. One unrepaired broken window, they posited, signals a community's indifference and leads to many broken windows. "Vandalism can occur anywhere once communal barriers -- the sense of mutual regard and the obligations of civility -- are lowered by actions that seem to signal that 'no one cares.'"

Fighting crime became a Republican wedge issue, and the psychology of broken windows served as the weapon of choice. Rudy Giuliani wielded it most famously as mayor of New York City by vigorously policing minor crimes. In 1998, Giuliani said, "Obviously, murder and graffiti are two vastly different crimes. But they are part of the same continuum, and a climate that tolerates one is more likely to tolerate the other."

It seemed to work. Thirty years after "Broken Windows," some of New York City's citizens aren't even aware of its crime-ridden past.

The anecdotal evidence of New York's success has been buttressed by research published in the journals Science and Criminology: a disorderly environment leads to more -- and more serious -- disorderly behavior. It's an example of what behavioral scientists call the "priming effect" -- exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a later stimulus. Broken windows, and other repeated signs of societal deterioration, prime people to believe disorderly behavior is acceptable, and they act accordingly.

The broken windows story is a true conservative success rooted in social science. Yet since then, especially in recent years, conservatives have not followed up with similar public policy formulation and implementation. Meanwhile, the Left is deploying knowledge from emerging fields, such as applied behavioral science, with stunning success. [...]

Conservatives should be thinking now about building at least a small corps of social psychologists and behavioral scientists who could help the next conservative president govern as effectively as possible.
A growing body of compelling research shows that sometimes we follow the "Homer Simpson" in our minds, as Ariely likes to say. In fact, we very often behave irrationally, but in predictable ways. According to Ariely, if we recognize where we fall short and make mistakes in our rational thinking, then we can improve the world.

The 2002 Nobel Prize winner in economics, Daniel Kahneman, a patriarch of applied behavioral science, posits this premise: we each possess two systems of thought, called (unsurprisingly) System 1 and System 2. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional. System 2 is analytical, deliberative, and logical. Too often we make decisions based on the biases of System 1 -- even when we think we're using System 2.

To illustrate his point, Kahneman cites myriad questions such as this one: a ball and a bat together cost $1.10. The bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Very predictably, the initial System 1 response is typically "10 cents." It's fast, intuitive -- and wrong. Only when System 2 is engaged, and acts as a check on System 1, would a person determine the correct answer is "five cents."

In addition to System 1 and System 2, behavioral scientists have discerned and labeled numerous patterns in people's intuitive decision-making -- such as "priming effects," "loss aversion," and "what you see is all there is." By recognizing these seemingly irrational phenomena, humans potentially can understand their errors in judgment and avoid them in the future.

The understanding of these tendencies can also be deployed to "nudge" people toward certain behaviors and away from others. "People have a strong tendency to go along with the status quo or default option," write Sunstein and Thaler in the introduction to Nudge. "Research shows that whatever the default choices are, many people stick with them.... Two important lessons can be drawn from this research. First, never underestimate the power of inertia. Second, that power can be harnessed."

So, if conservatives could harness that same power, what would they do with it?

Perhaps conservatives would nudge people to stay in school and get married. Maybe they'd nudge them to save more for retirement and take more personal responsibility for their health care spending. But first they'd need to come to terms with the uncomfortable idea of government using these tools.

Indeed, while conservatives rightfully are wary of government nudging (which might appear to some as shoving), there are several policy initiatives where conservatives should pull the behavioral science tool kit off the shelf and start using it, because it brings them closer to the policy objectives they want to see realized, which would benefit society. And by continuing to not use these tools, they're ceding more to the Left than they need to.

Below are a handful of policy examples that outline how applied behavioral science could advance conservative principles on far-ranging policies related to marriage, education, retirement savings, and Medicare.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Landfill sites find reuse as locations for solar electricity plants (Miranda Green, May 19, 2013, Daily Beast)

Many states and cities have long been turning trash into treasure by burning garbage to create heat and electricity, or by harvesting the methane gas that is released as junk decomposes. But in a new twist on this theme, several cities and municipalities are transforming capped landfills - the ultimate waste of space - into solar power plants.

"When you get done with a landfill that property's primary function can no longer be used anymore, it's a great pyramid of waste," said Mark Roberts, vice president of HDR, an engineering company that constructs solar voltaic landfills. "So the question is what do you do with these facilities when you've filled it up. What you can do is cap the landfill in such a way that it meets the EPA requirements but gives you an opportunity to still get benefits from its use."

Those benefits come in the form of renewable electricity. Instead of letting landfills sit for years as the land settles and compacts, towns can place solar panels on the wide-open space and continue to make money from the energy collected. "In order to make old systems work properly you have to maintain the grass, fertilize and mow and maintain them for perpetuity, about 20 plus years," said Roberts. "We do these exposed solar caps and the maintenance goes down significantly and there's an economic incentive there."

Walmart announces completion of 8 solar arrays at Mass. stores (Chris Reidy, MAY 16, 2013, Boston Globe)

Eight of the 50 Walmarts in Massachusetts now have such systems, a company spokesman said. The other local Walmarts with solar arrays are in Springfield, Ware, Lunenberg, Northbridge, Halifax, Abington, and Tewksbury, he said.

Collectively, the installations at those eight Walmarts are projected to provide 2.8 million kilowatt hours of energy annually, saving about 1,484 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually - roughly the equivalent of taking 309 cars off the road, Walmart said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Maligned dollar flourishes in Venezuela (Juan Forero, May 17, 2013, NY Times)

Because the bolivar is artificially overvalued and practically worthless outside of Venezuela, everyone here is desperate for dollars, from auto-part importers to supermarkets to ordinary Venezuelans planning to travel abroad. Even government officials and the politically connected businessmen who have made fortunes off the free-spending state search out and trade in dollars.

The dollar may fluctuate in other markets, or even make a spirited comeback against some currencies, as it has this year. But here in Venezuela people know that the greenback skyrockets in just one direction -- up, to be bought and sold on an illegal and shadowy parallel market the government has been unable to control.

"We depend completely on the dollar," said one black-market dollar dealer, who asked that he only be identified by his first name, Fernando, for fear of winding up in jail. "Buying dollars is practically the national sport."

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Reactionaries in New York (Joe Klein, May 18, 2013, TIME)

The Democratic candidates for mayor in New York are campaigning to win the support of the teachers union. They threaten to return the city to the horrors of the David Dinkins era. 

Back at the turn of the 1990s, New York City was a mess. Crime was rampant. The schools were dreadful. Children in foster care were brutalized because-as the head of the Child Welfare Agency said-"oversight is racist." The mayor was an incompetent. And, above all, the city was run for the benefit of its employees rather than its citizens.

What followed was 20 years of governance by moderate Republicans, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


This is not the President Obama we voted for : Candidate Obama promised a different kind of culture in Washington, but it's looking similar to the Bush era (Heather Long, 5/17/13,

I was in Washington DC the night that Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. As usual, people were hopping from bar to bar to watch the returns come in and high five friends (or boo, in some cases). When it became clear that Obama had won and he gave his victory speech, something happened that I have rarely witnessed in America: spontaneous demonstrations broke out. People started marching down some of the main streets, many shaking keys or banging on pots and pans. Others carried American flags. Cars honked (more than usual) in solidarity.

It was mostly young people marching - from varied backgrounds. Many of these parades ended up in front of the White House where chants of "goodbye Bush" (or some variation thereof) began. It was the same slogan heard as Barack Obama was sworn in as president in January 2009 and Bush flew away in a helicopter.

There was a belief, especially among voters in their 20s and 30s, that Obama was going to be different. That his promises to "change the culture in Washington" were real. That his administration wouldn't be beholden to lobbyists and conduct executive power grabs. That any wars would be justified.

This was, after all, the candidate who put statements on his website like:

"The Bush administration has ignored public disclosure rules and has invoked a legal tool known as the 'state secrets' privilege more than any other previous administration to get cases thrown out of civil court."

Don't get me wrong, we've seen cracks in Obama's idealism since he was sworn in as president. It is typified in the fact that prisoners - 166 of them - are still detained at Guantanamo Bay despite Obama's promises to close the prison swiftly after he took office.

But this week was one head-shaking moment too many for me, and it appears from the president's sinking approval rating that others - including some who gave Obama a real chance - are with me. As a registered Republican, I thought long and hard about whether to vote for Obama, but I crossed party lines, as did many of my young peers. I wanted a more transparent and accountable government. I wanted America to make a very different statement after the Bush years.

Yet even setting aside Benghazi and the IRS conservative targeting ordeal, which is a big set aside considering reports now suggest that officials in Washington were very much involved, there's still plenty that makes Obama's presidency eerily reminiscent of the Bush administration, especially when it comes to these "trust us, this is in the name of national security" kind of statements.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


THREE CHEERS FOR TESLA (John Hindraker, 5/18/13, Powerline)

I have always been skeptical of electric vehicles, mostly because of my perception that electric car makers are more interested in subsisting on government subsidies than in competing on a level playing field for my business. So I was intrigued when I got an email this morning from Jeff Evanson, Tesla Motors' Vice-President of investor relations. Evanson, a long-time Power Line reader, pointed out that the company raised over $1 billion last week, and will use a portion of those proceeds to pay off its loan with the Department of Energy ahead of schedule. This will make Tesla the only US-based auto maker with no government debt. [...]

The Model S starts at $58,570 and costs a mere 6 cents per mile to run-and that's at California electricity prices.

All of this may be old hat to you, but it was news to me. Tesla's success, financial as well as technical, suggests that the long-awaited era of electric vehicles may be closer at hand than we thought.

May 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Massive, open, online disruption (Zachary Karabell, MAY 17, 2013, Reuters)

The United States has a problem: rapidly rising student debt. It also has a solution: online education. The primary reason for spiraling student debt is the soaring costs of a college education at a physical college. Online education strips away all of those expenses except for the cost of the professor's time and experience. It sounds perfect, an alignment of technology, social need and limited resources. So why do so many people believe that it is a deeply flawed solution?

Because it means massive swaths of higher education is about to change. Technology has disrupted many industries; now it's about to do the same to higher ed.

Efficiency is the enemy of employment in all fields.
Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The real scandal: IRS gives tax exemptions to political partisans (David Horsey, May 15, 2013, LA Times)

The reality is that numerous high-powered political operatives for both Republicans and Democrats have formed 501(c)(4) organizations. The GOP's most prominent political guru, Karl Rove, has Crossroads GPS, a 501(c)(4) entity that spent $70 million during the 2012 campaign encouraging voters to cast their ballots for Republican candidates. Under the guidance of former Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, the president's reelection apparatus has been reorganized as a 501(c)(4) group that no doubt will "educate" the public about the need for more Democrats in Congress. [...]

The fact is that none of the right-wing applicants were turned down, even though they are probably as engaged in partisan campaigning as Karl Rove or Jim Messina. A 501(c)(4) group is, by law, supposed to be a social welfare organization whose primary activity is not politics. Can anyone honestly say that about Rove or Messina or any of the many tea party organizations?

...whether it is appropriate to tax political speech at all?  As Robert Bork argued, the only speech protected by the First Amendment is political speech.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Ignatieff: 'We have a duty to intervene in Syria' (Deutsche-Welle, 5/17/13)

Political scientist and public intellectual Michael Ignatieff says the international community has a duty to intervene in Syria. He told DW that he sees signs of the emergence of new global security architecture.

DW: Mr. Ignatieff, some time ago you and other political scientists developed the concept of "responsibility to protect," which states that in the case of particularly grave human rights the international community is obliged to intervene in a country's internal affairs. How does that apply to the situation in Syria?

Michael Ignatieff: Syria is a case where we're now into the third year of a bloody conflict in which the Syrian regime is using artillery and aircraft to attack civilian populations. Their security forces and their militias are staging obvious and horrifying massacres. So from a "responsibility to protect" point of view this is a case where a state has forfeited its right to be left alone and betrayed its responsibilities.

Thus is sovereignty redefined.
Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


'Israel prefers Bashar Assad to Islamist rebels : 'Israeli officials say a weakened but intact Syrian president is better for the region than an extremist-ruled Syria, reports the London Times (TIMES OF ISRAEL,  May 18, 2013)

On Friday, senior Defense Ministry official Maj.-Gen. (Res) Amos Gilad said in an interview with Israel Radio that Assad is in total control of his country's weapons systems and is acting sensibly with regard to Israel, seeking to calm escalating tensions between Jerusalem and Damascus following reported Israeli airstrikes earlier this month.

Gilad stressed that Israel is not striving to topple Assad's regime...

You can't both back the oppression of the Arabs and wonder why they perceive you as an enemy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Can Rafsanjani Save Iran's Economy? (Bijan Khajehpour, May 15 2013, Al-Monitor)
While the last-minute nomination came as a surprise to many, it could be expected that the news would lead to a positive response from the key economic and business players in the country. Immediately after his registration, the price of gold coins (a main indicator of market trends) and foreign currencies started dropping. In fact, the Iranian rial appreciated by about 4% compared to the US dollar within one day. 

More interesting than the market reaction was the emergence of news that segments of the powerful Motalefeh Party (the representative of the old merchant community in the Bazaar) would support Rafsanjani in the race. This is a very significant development as the Motalefeh had traditionally always supported the conservative candidates in Iranian elections. However, it also indicates that even the Bazaaris expect Rafsanjani to play a more positive role in managing the economy as opposed to other leading candidates.

There are diverse reasons for the overall positive reaction of market players to Rafsanjani's candidacy. Emotionally, Rafsanjani is still known as the politician who put an end to the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. He was the one who persuaded then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini to drink the "chalice of poison" and accept the cease-fire with Iraq. That day was one of the most significant turning points in modern Iranian history and some believe that a similar event will be needed to generate a new positive momentum. This historical fact bears symbolic significance, particularly when we realize that many Iranians compare the current conditions to the economic misery that had dominated Iran in the 1980s. Rafsanjani is seen as the political figure who can restore some normalcy in the Iranian economy.

Furthermore, Rafsanjani was Iran's president during the post-war reconstruction era when many of Iranian industries were revived and when the country invested heavily in  building domestic capacity. The same industrial units that emerged under Rafsanjani (and later Khatami) presidency, were dealt a heavy blow under the Ahmadinejad policies. Therefore, many industrialists and market players hope for a more balanced set of economic policies in a Rafsanjani government.

Finally, Rafsanjani has always been seen as a pragmatic "crisis manager" in Iranian politics. Not just for the political elite, but also for many average citizens, Rafsanjani is a more credible political figure to address the current crises in the economy, foreign policy and domestic affairs. Approaching the age of 80, Rafsanjani is also seen as an experienced politician who will not allow the same type of trial-and-error mentality that the Ahmadinejad camp produced over the past eight years.

If Rafsanjani wins, the president should offer back the Khatami deal that W mistakenly rejected.
Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


The Health Spending Decline. (WSJ, 5/13/13)

A more plausible explanation is offered by Michael Chernew and some Harvard colleagues. Their model suggests that market choice and competition helped produce the slowdown, especially among Mr. Obama's preferred villains. Hide the children: the insurers.

Dr. Chernew investigated changes in the insurance mix at large businesses from 2008 to 2011. Even as these firms did better than their smaller counterparts, their workers shared more of the costs of their own care through higher deductibles, co-pays and new benefit designs. "Rising out-of-pocket payments," he writes, "appear to have played a major role in this decline, accounting for approximately 20% of the observed slowdown."

In a word, patients make better decisions when they have the right incentives and information. 

The future of heath care is driven by two simple truths: (1) every modern democracy provides universal health care and (2) people in developed countries don't need much health care until end-of-life.  

Designing a system that accounts for those two truths could hardly be more straightforward--folks need to have catastrophic coverage for when they truly need health care but the rest of the time as much as possible of their "health care" dollars should be saved and invested for the future.  The opportunity to keep those dollars for themselves will drive greater efficiency throughout the system.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Deep-voiced chief executives are more successful, scientists say (Rosa Silverman, 13 May 2013, The Telegraph)

What worked for the late female former prime minister in politics works for men in business, scientists have found, as those with the deepest voices earn more on average than their higher-pitched colleagues.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Rust-Belt Reaches for Immigrant Tide : Aim Is to Reverse Population Decline and Revive Businesses (MARK PETERS and JACK NICAS, 5/12/13, WSJ)

Worries over immigrants potentially taking jobs from native-born Americans run high in parts of the nation, but some U.S. cities are taking a different view: Wooing immigrants can reverse long-term declines in population.
New data shows that banks are still making it difficult to get a mortgage and competition to get a job remains tough. MarketWatch's Rex Crum has the charts. (Photo: Labor Department)

Cities, mostly in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states, are betting that attracting foreign-born residents can spur business creation and revive neighborhoods. Steps vary from proclamations welcoming immigrants, to adding staff focused on attracting newcomers and translating government websites, to efforts to connect international students with local companies.

"We've had neighborhoods decimated by population loss, and the only way we rebuild is by bringing new people here," said Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto, a mayoral candidate who includes attracting immigrants in his campaign platform.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Yep, Immigrants Are Doing the Work We Won't (Kevin Drum| Wed May. 15, 2013, Mother Jones)

[T]he North Carolina Growers Association]  is required to heavily advertise for native workers before their applications for H-2A guest worker visas are approved, but these efforts seldom pay off. Even when unemployment was at its height in 2011, they received a grand total of only 268 referrals. They hired 90 percent of the applicants, but only 163 showed up for work on their first day--and that was the best response in NCGA's history. [...]

Within two months, 80 percent of the native workers had quit. By the end of the growing season, only seven were left.

May 17, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


Greens slam Obama for draft rules about fracking on federal land (Todd Woody, 5/17/13, Quartz)
The Obama administration is still playing it cool with environmentalists. First it skirted the protracted battle over the Keystone XL pipeline, which could carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada to the American Gulf Coast. Now it's facing opposition to proposed fracking regulations on tens of millions of acres of government land.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Volvo Tests Ultra-Efficient Plug-in Hybrid-Electric Diesel Bus (Josh Dzieza, May 17, 2013, Daily Beast)

Volvo is testing a new plug-in electric hybrid diesel bus in Gothenburg, Sweden. The company says the vehicles can cut fuel consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions by 75 to 80 percent compared with conventional buses. And if the buses are fueled with biodiesel, carbon-dioxide emissions would be cut by 90 percent.

Increasing the fuel efficiency for buses and trucks is an easy way to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, mostly because these vehicles get such terrible mileage to begin with. New York's old diesel buses got about 2.75 miles per gallon. So even if the MTA's new hybrid buses only get 4 mpg that's almost a 50 percent improvement. (The MTA says is has about 800 hybrid buses on the road, with more to come.) When you're dealing with mass transit, marginal gains in efficiency go a long way. And because cash-strapped transit agencies often keep old diesel buses running for years, those gains come relatively easily.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


The IRS' Role in Campaign Finance Is an Awkward, Unhappy Accident (PHILIP BUMP 1,426 ViewsMAY 13, 2013, Atlantic)

The IRS isn't clear on the origin of section 4, but it apparently resulted from a 1913 request from the Chamber of Commerce asking that "civic and commercial" organizations be exempt from paying federal taxes. In 1958, the NAACP won a case at the Supreme Court allowing it to keep its donor list private, in order to protect its work for the social welfare.

Which is what (c)(4)s are supposed to do: advocate for the improvement of the social welfare. Here's how the IRS describes that mandate:

To be operated exclusively to promote social welfare, an organization must operate primarily to further the common good and general welfare of the people of the community (such as by bringing about civic betterment and social improvements).

The IRS gives examples: groups pushing for affordable housing, those doing job training for the unemployed, those working to build a stadium at a school.

What isn't mentioned is: using non-profit status to shield contributions from donors that are used to advocate during political campaigns. It's this use that's become a problem, because the IRS definition of what constitutes social welfare is broad and vague. And unlike some other non-profits, these groups can do political advocacy. The IRS indicates that such groups cannot directly or indirectly advocate for candidates, but can "engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity."

After Congress revised rules governing contributions to political parties a decade ago, donors went looking for other ways to anonymously promote political causes they supported. As far back as 2006, the media was calling out 501(c)(4)s that appeared to serve little "social welfare" outcome beyond the political goals of its funders. Forming a (c)(4) offered the best of all possible worlds: anonymous political money that could largely be used to influence politics. Once, that money flowed into political parties. Now it goes to IRS-designated non-profits.

In 2011, with the prospect of a presidential election looming, the Center for Public Integrity described the breadth of the loophole -- little reporting, lots of money, unknown sponsors. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 AM


So Postmodern Conservatism-Part Deux (Peter Lawler, 5/16/13, First Things)

We conservatives reject the progressive view that it's impossible to go back, given that we now live in a more advanced stage of History. History isn't simply a tale of either progress or of decline and fall, and who each of us is isn't completely determined by his or her Historical situation. It's just not true that the sophisticated understanding of who women are these days is simply an advance over the alleged prejudices of the past.

Our understanding of who we all are has become too "Historical" or even "existential" or not properly natural or personal. Our sophisticates mistakenly think each of us can define the mystery of his or her personal existence--personal identity--without regard to the purposes and limits he or she been given through his or her embodiment, through birth, genuinely relational life, and death.

But it's also true that we can see, in justice, that our high-tech society has opened possibilities for largely unprecedented personal development for women. We add that it's difficult--much more difficult than progressives and liberals acknowledge--to reconcile personal fulfillment through work with the more relational forms of free personal fulfillment as a parent. It's hard to properly honor "voluntary caregiving" in a society that's, more than ever, a meritocracy based on productivity. But that's the challenge that's been given us, and we conservatives pride ourselves in facing up to it. We think that both love and work--even contemplation and charity--should animate every personal life.

...about the prospect of less work and more time for relational forms.
Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


The Hank Greenberg Story That '42' Forgot : Remembering Day Jackie Robinson Met the Hebrew Hammer (Aviva Kempner, May 16, 2013, Jewish Daily Forward)

What the film did not depict was the reported encounter Robinson had with the one baseball player who could best understand the prejudice the Civil Rights symbol encountered on the field in 1947.

That man was another first baseman, Jewish slugger Hammerin' Hank Greenberg, playing for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the sunset year of his career. Greenberg had been unfairly released from the Detroit Tigers the year before even though his power had helped the team win four pennants and two World Series.

The two men met on the field on May 15th. According to sports columnist Ira Berkow "Greenberg was appalled by some of the things the players in his own dugout were hollering at Robinson."

A little drama unfolded when Robinson hit a ball and collided with Greenberg running to first base. Greenberg went out of his way to help Robinson up and give him a pep talk. After the game, the reporters asked the rookie what Greenberg had said to him. Robinson asserted, 'He gave me encouragement."

This empathy was expressed because Greenberg understood Robinson's struggles. "42" mentions in passing that Greenberg was subject to anti-Semitic slurs, but that was only the tip of the prejudice. Upon first entering the minor leagues in the 1930s,

Greenberg realized that most of his ballplayers were "country boys and had never had seen a Jew. I remember my teammate Jo-Jo White, when he saw me he couldn't understand because he was always told that Jews had horns. And here I was, I looked like a normal human being, and he just couldn't figure it out."

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 AM


Saws Cut Off 4,000 Fingers a Year. This Gadget Could Fix That. (Myron Levin | Thu May. 16, 2013, Mother Jones)

Gerald Wheeler caught the hot dog demonstration at the International Woodworking Fair in Atlanta in 2002. A man took an Oscar Meyer wiener and pushed it into the blade of a table saw spinning 4,000 times per minute. As the hot dog touched the whirring saw, the blade came to a dead stop in about three one-thousandths of a second, leaving the dog with only a minor nick.

The saw was equipped with a safety device called SawStop that could distinguish between wood and flesh and then stop the blade fast enough to prevent a gruesome injury. Wheeler was amazed. As the operator of a wood shop in Hot Springs, Arkansas, he was all too aware of the unforgiving nature of table saws. Not long before, two of his employees had been maimed within a few weeks of each other. Wheeler felt awful about the injuries, the loss of two good workers, the $95,000 in medical bills, the doubling of his workers compensation rates. Watching SawStop in action, Wheeler thought: If only this had come along sooner.

Those kinds of injuries are all too common: Each year, more than 67,000 workers and do-it-yourselfers are injured by table saws, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (PDF), resulting in more than 33,000 emergency room visits and 4,000 amputations. At an average cost of $35,000 each, these accidents lead to more than $2.3 billion in societal costs annually including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 AM


The AP Scandal Shows That the Obama Administration Is Going Rogue (Jacob Heilbrunn | May 13, 2013, National Interest)

The Obama administration is mired in a fresh scandal of its own making. The revelation that the Justice Department has been snooping into the phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors indicates that the administration's ruthlessness when it comes to trying to protect its reputation and sources knows no bounds. Attorney General Eric Holder, always a poor choice for a cabinet post, should resign. Coupled with the revelation that the IRS has been selectively targeting Tea Party groups and the botched handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack, the administration confronts a second term that appears to be ending even before it has even really begun.

Obama has always prided himself on being squeaky clean when it comes to governing. He campaigned for transparency in government. He said he was against soft money. He said that members of his administration would have to demonstrate the highest ethical standards ever. Well, that was then. He has nominated the tax-dodging billionaire Penny Pritzker, who bankrolled his political ascendancy, to serve as his Commerce secretary. He has hoovered up any and all funds he can attract, infuriating proponents of campaign finance reform. And now his administration, in its mad and obsessive and destructive pursuit to quash any leaks, has besmirched itself by targeting journalists for investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 AM


The Conservative Crackdown on Tea Party Groups Vanished in the IRS Scandal (ELSPETH REEVE MAY 16, 2013, Atlantic)

To get tax-exempt status, a 501(c)(4) has to be primarily a social welfare organization. But groups like the liberal Priorities USA and the conservative Crossroads GPS are social welfare organizations only in the sense that they were fighting for the welfare of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively.  None other than our friend Erick Erickson railed against the groups who shamelessly exploited campaign finance law. In fact, it seemed Tea Party groups were the worst. Erickson wrote just five weeks ago: 

My mother constantly gets mail at her house begging her for money to fight the good fight. More often than not, the groups begging her for help have "Tea Party" in their name and they are all scams.
He even alleged clear violation of elections law:

Give money to a conservative candidate and you too will see your mailbox explode. "But we cannot pull from FEC filings," they claim. That may be the law, but when has that stopped them? Try this -- give a handful of conservative candidates enough money to get printed in their FEC disclosures. "Mistype" your name. Watch as you suddenly see an avalanche of direct mail, all with your name mistyped.

And it was clear from Erickson's complaints that their primary focus was campaigning, however inefficiently, and not social welfare:

Like drug addicts wanting one more hit before going straight, they send out one last mail piece demanding money to help Allen West...

Never you mind that Allen West will never see one penny of the money. "We're building his name identification," the mailhouse tells you. Yes, in the days of Rush Limbaugh's 20 million listener audience, Fox News's domination of the news airwaves, and Allen West's own efforts, I'm sure he needs some crappy little group no one has ever heard of using his name so that they themselves get money.

The IRS was trying to screen out groups that were seeking non-profit status to illegally finance campaign activity, which is good, but they were using a politicized method -- screening for groups with "tea party" or "patriot" in the name, as well as those whose core issues were Tea Partyish themes like cutting spending -- which is very bad.

May 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


An NFL Lineman Finds His Inner Troubadour : Musician Erin McKeown talks with former NFL offensive lineman Brian Barthelmes, now the frontman for indie folk band Tallahassee. (Erin McKeown, 5/15/13, WNY: Soundcheck)

Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Barthelmes is the frontman of the indie-folk band Tallahassee. After growing up in rural Ohio -- between Cleveland and Pittsburgh -- Barthelmes landed a scholarship to the University of Virginia. He red-shirted his first year, then started the next four years on the offensive line. Picked up as a free agent after the 2006 draft, Barthelmes signed with the New England Patriots as a center and swing guard. After spending parts of the next two seasons on the Patriots practice squad, Barthelmes made the decision to move on from football.

"I was never a big fan of football culture, nor big business," he says. "The moving and life style were aiding in some of my mental illness problems. I decided to take a year off to sort out my health and then decided to stay out of the game."

Given that statement, it makes sense that a life as an independent musician would be so appealing and prove more satisfying. As Barthelmes further explained, being a musician has created a more healthful, creative, and fufilling environment for him than professional sports.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Do Away With Them (John D. Colombo, MAY 15, 2013, NY Times)

The best solution to the problems with 501(c)(4) organizations is to eliminate them completely. The problem with the (c)(4) designation is that it is essentially a charity that is permitted to engage in unlimited lobbying and some significant amount of political campaign activity (as long as that activity isn't the organization's "primary purpose") in exchange for denying the organization the ability to receive deductible charitable contributions.

The I.R.S, will never be able to satisfactorily police the line at which political activity becomes "primary."
But the Internal Revenue Service will never be able to satisfactorily police the line at which political activity becomes "primary." Since "issue advocacy" (for example, lobbying) is permitted in any amount, the problem isn't just one of identifying when political campaign activity becomes primary; it is also identifying the line between permissible issue advocacy and political campaign activity. This line is hard enough to enforce in the 501(c)(3) context, where political campaign activity is absolutely prohibited and lobbying permitted only to an "insubstantial" degree. The loosening of these restrictions in the (c)(4) context virtually invites wholesale noncompliance, which is pretty much what we have. 

Further, the (c)(4) designation has no real purpose. The best explanation, in my view, for tax exemption for charities is that it is a sort of partial government subsidy for organizations that offer services that the private market will not offer, and that government either will not or cannot offer directly. I find it hard to believe that lobbying suffers from such a serious market failure that we need to subsidize organizations whose primary activity is to lobby. In fact, it seems almost perverse that the government would subsidize organizations whose primary purpose is to lobby the government.

May 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM

The Greatest Star Trek Movies, Series, Episodes, Villains, and Crew Members : From best to worst. (Matthew Yglesias, May 15, 2013, Slate)

We'd nominate Squire of Gothos, which asks a subtle question about the nature of God.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Little rituals really do work : New research reveals that the symbolic acts we perform aren't as irrational as they appear (FRANCESCA GINO AND MICHAEL I. NORTON, Scientific American)

Think about the last time you were about to interview for a job, speak in front of an audience, or go on a first date. To quell your nerves, chances are you spent time preparing - reading up on the company, reviewing your slides, practicing your charming patter. People facing situations that induce anxiety typically take comfort in engaging in preparatory activities, inducing a feeling of being back in control and reducing uncertainty.While a little extra preparation seems perfectly reasonable, people also engage in seemingly less logical behaviors in such situations. Here's one person's description from our research:I pound my feet strongly on the ground several times, I take several deep breaths, and I "shake" my body to remove any negative energies.  I do this often before going to work, going into meetings, and at the front door before entering my house after a long day.While we wonder what this person's co-workers and neighbors think of their shaky acquaintance, such rituals - the symbolic behaviors we perform before, during, and after meaningful event - are surprisingly ubiquitous, across culture and time. Rituals take an extraordinary array of shapes and forms. At times performed in communal or religious settings, at times performed in solitude; at times involving fixed, repeated sequences of actions, at other times not. People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition - or even making it rain.

Recent research suggests that rituals may be more rational than they appear. Why? Because even simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses - from loved ones to lotteries - do alleviate grief, and rituals performed before high-pressure tasks - like singing in public - do in fact reduce anxiety and increase people's confidence. What's more, rituals appear to benefit even people who claim not to believe that rituals work.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Thank you, George W. Bush! (DANIEL TAUBER, 05/15/2013, Jerusalem Post)

When al-Qaida attacked America, only a few months into Bush's presidency, I had just begun my freshman year of college.

One of the things I remember most from that formative period of my life is people who had voted for Al Gore saying, "Thank God George Bush is president." As time passes, I believe that's what people will remember.

AFTER 9/11, experts said it was "not a question of if but when" another such attack would occur. But it didn't. That's quite astounding for a country like the US which has so many vulnerabilities, as illustrated so recently by the Boston Marathon bombings. Given massive terror attacks around the world, organized Islamic terrorists certainly haven't lost interest, but instead failed in their attempts to attack the US.

They failed because president Bush committed the United States to a seemingly unwinnable war which had to be waged all over the world against not only people but against an idea itself. Bush brought the fight to the enemy with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and military operations everywhere. Bank accounts were frozen. The Patriot Act was enacted. An ultimatum was issued to states that harbored, funded and tolerated terrorists that they were "either with us or against us."

A more polite, defensive strategy of hiding behind the oceans and peeking out to launch tomahawk missiles or to conduct limited humanitarian campaigns could not have succeeded and would have emboldened the terrorists further, giving proof to their claim that America was a paper tiger. With his aggressive strategy, Bush not only reminded the world that the US is a sleeping giant enemies should think twice before awakening, but kept America safe.

President Bush also infused the War on Terror with America's founding vision, the spread of liberty. As historian Gordon Wood has noted, in revolting against British rule, Americans saw themselves as leading a "worldwide struggle for the salvation of liberty itself." In its global struggles of the past hundred years, America brought its vision of liberty to bear. [...]

Believing that a region of the world which is in many ways stuck in the 7th century would embrace Anglo-American liberalism may have been overambitious, but affirming that Americans were fighting a just cause in keeping with their core principles was important for fighting the War on Terror and for how America continues to perceive itself.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


A fascinating map of the world's most and least racially tolerant countries (Max Fisher, May 15, 2013, Washington Post)

When two Swedish economists set out to examine whether economic freedom made people any more or less racist, they knew how they would gauge economic freedom, but they needed to find a way to measure a country's level of racial tolerance. So they turned to something called the World Values Survey, which has been measuring global attitudes and opinions for decades.
Among the dozens of questions that World Values asks, the Swedish economists found one that, they believe, could be a pretty good indicator of tolerance for other races. The survey asked respondents in more than 80 different countries to identify kinds of people they would not want as neighbors. Some respondents, picking from a list, chose "people of a different race." The more frequently that people in a given country say they don't want neighbors from other races, the economists reasoned, the less racially tolerant you could call that society.[...]

Here's what the data show:

• Anglo and Latin countries most tolerant. People in the survey were most likely to embrace a racially diverse neighbor in the United Kingdom and its Anglo former colonies (the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and in Latin America. The only real exceptions were oil-rich Venezuela, where income inequality sometimes breaks along racial lines, and the Dominican Republic, perhaps because of its adjacency to troubled Haiti. Scandinavian countries also scored high.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Man shoots himself in leg while bowling (Toronto Sun, 5/15/13)

A Florida man accidentally shot himself in the leg while bowling Tuesday night.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


U.S. Should Lower DUI Blood-Alcohol Threshold To 0.05 Percent, Transportation Safety Board Says (Francie Diep, 05.15.2013, PopSci)

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is recommending a new, lower limit for what's considered driving drunk. The board, which has no regulatory authority, wants states to set the blood-alcohol limit at 0.05 percent for driving. All 50 states now have limits of 0.08 percent.

After reviewing decades' worth of studies, the board concluded that people still have impaired attention, perception, reaction time and other functions important to driving at the lower blood-alcohol limit. The board also decided that the U.S. hasn't done enough yet to reduce drunk driving fatalities. About 173,000 people are injured every year in drunk-driver crashes and 10,000 people die, according a report the board published. About 30 percent of traffic deaths in the U.S. in 2011 were alcohol-related.

...just make ignition locks mandatory.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Massive (But Not Open) (Ry Rivard, 5/14/13, Inside Higher Ed)

The Georgia Institute of Technology plans to offer a $7,000 online master's degree to 10,000 new students over the next three years without hiring much more than a handful of new instructors.

Georgia Tech will work with AT&T and Udacity, the 15-month-old Silicon Valley-based company, to offer a new online master's degree in computer science to students across the world at a sixth of the price of its current degree. The deal, announced Tuesday, is portrayed as a revolutionary attempt by a respected university, an education technology startup and a major corporate employer to drive down costs and expand higher education capacity.

Georgia Tech expects to hire only eight or so new instructors even as it takes its master's program from 300 students to as many as 10,000 within three years, said Zvi Galil, the dean of computing at Georgia Tech.

Academia is just a market, a degree just a commodity.  Economics does the rest.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet (GINA KOLATA, 5/14/13, NY Times)

In a report that undercuts years of public health warnings, a prestigious group convened by the government says there is no good reason based on health outcomes for many Americans to drive their sodium consumption down to the very low levels recommended in national dietary guidelines.

Those levels, 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day, or a little more than half a teaspoon of salt, were supposed to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people at risk, including anyone older than 50, blacks and people with high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease -- groups that make up more than half of the American population.

Some influential organizations, including the American Heart Association, have said that everyone, not just those at risk, should aim for that very low sodium level. The heart association reaffirmed that position in an interview with its spokesman on Monday, even in light of the new report.

But the new expert committee, commissioned by the Institute of Medicine at the behest of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said there was no rationale for anyone to aim for sodium levels below 2,300 milligrams a day. The group examined new evidence that had emerged since the last such report was issued, in 2005.

"As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms," said Dr. Brian L. Strom, chairman of the committee and a professor of public health at the University of Pennsylvania. He explained that the possible harms included increased rates of heart attacks and an increased risk of death.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


US, Britain most desirable spots for foreign workers - poll (Reuters, MAY 15, 2013)

The United States held on to its status as the most popular location for professionals moving overseas, followed by Britain, Australia, Singapore, Canada and Switzerland.

"The United States is still the dominant force, but the UK is definitely on the march," said Dan Fox of recruitment company Hydrogen, which commissioned the survey of 2,000 people in 90 countries.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Tesla: The anti-Solyndra (Chris Isidore, 5/15/13, CNNMoney)

If Tesla (TSLA) isn't able to pay back its loan within five years, the federal government could still benefit through warrants to buy more than 3 million shares of the company's stock at a fraction of the current price. Those warrants would disappear if the loan is paid off in five years, since they can't be exercised until 2018.

At that point, the government will be able to buy more than 3 million Tesla shares for $7.54 each, and 5,100 additional shares for $8.94 apiece.

While it can't exercise those warrants now, at the recent record high of $97.12, the warrants would net taxpayers a $277 million profit.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Truck drivers sue over overtime, meal breaks (Ricardo Lopez, 5/15/13, Los Angeles Times)

Two truck drivers have sued one of Southern California's largest trucking companies, alleging they were denied breaks, lunch hours and overtime because they were treated as independent contractors rather than employees of Harbor Express Inc.

The lawsuit filed this week is one of several complaints lodged against trucking companies in recent years and is seeking class-action status.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said it could affect as many as 400 truck drivers who worked for the Wilmington-based company since May 2009.

The complaint alleges that Harbor Express, which serves the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, misclassified hundreds of truck drivers as independent contractors so the firm wouldn't have to provide worker benefits such as rest breaks and overtime pay.

Driving is one of those labors humans should obviously be relieved from doing.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Scientists Convert Human Skin Cells Into Embryonic Stem Cells : After years of failure, scientists have finally found a method to create embryonic stem cells without destroying a fertilized embryo (JASON KOEBLER, May 15, 2013, US News)

For the first time, a team of scientists say they have successfully converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells, a move that could help quiet the ethical debate surrounding stem cell research.

Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University say they were able to implant the nucleus from a skin cell into a donated human egg cell with its nucleus removed, creating an embryo-like cell that has the genetic makeup of the patient who donated the skin cell.

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 PM


Obamacare Implodes (PETER FERRARA, 5.15.13, American Spectator)

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) were enacted into law in December 2003. Traditional, old-fashioned insurance involves a nominal deductible, leaving the insured to pay only the first $100 or $250 each year, with the rest covered by the insurance, perhaps with a modest, limited, co-insurance fee above the deductible. That structure creates the "third party payment" problem. With the insurance company paying for virtually all the bills, neither the patient nor the doctor bears any incentive to control costs. But they both decide between themselves what and how much health care to consume, and bill the insurer. Naturally, that makes health insurance very expensive.

The concept behind HSAs is to greatly reduce the cost of the health insurance with a high deductible, in the range of $2,000 to $6,000 a year, or more. The savings from that lower expense is then kept in the HSA to be used to pay for health care costs below the deductible. Whatever the patient does not spend from those HSA funds on health care he or she gets to keep, for future health care expenses, or anything in retirement. That creates full market incentives to control costs for all non-catastrophic health expenses, because the patient is effectively using his or her own money for such costs. Since the patient is now concerned about costs, the doctors and hospitals will compete to control costs.

The insight of the godfather of HSAs, John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, was that the health insurance savings from a deductible in this range would be almost enough to finance all expenses under the deductible for the year. After one healthy year, the insured would have more than enough in the HSA to pay for all expenses below the deductible.

Moreover, patients with HSAs would enjoy complete control over what health care to spend their HSA funds on. They don't need to beg for the approval of a health insurance company to spend their HSA funds on the health care they want.

These are the reasons why the sick as well as the poor would still prefer HSAs. The sick would have complete control to spend their HSA funds on the health care they prefer. The poor would be fully covered and could pay themselves out of the health care savings they gain with HSAs.

Such HSAs and their incentives have proven very effective in controlling costs in the real world. Total HSA costs, including the savings to fully fund the HSA savings account to cover the deductible, have run about 25% less than the costs for traditional, old-fashioned insurance. Annual costs increases for HSAs have run more than 50% less, sometimes with zero premium increases for years.
These are the reasons why HSA accounts soared by 22% in 2012 alone, to over 8 million. Total savings and assets in the accounts zoomed by 27% to $15.5 billion. That is expected to increase by nearly three-fourths to almost $27 billion by 2015. That booming growth has continued since HSAs were adopted in 2003.

According to the National Health Interview Survey of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one fourth of the privately insured population is covered by HSAs, similar Health Reimbursement Accounts (HRAs), or other high deductible plans, which probably exceeds HMO enrollment by now. About half of those with private insurance obtained outside employer plans are covered by such high deductible plans.

The proof is in the pudding. As HSAs and similar plans have soared in the private market, health spending growth has plummeted. That is the result of market competition and incentives.

The Third Way works.  Now it's just a matter of letting everyone benefit.

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


Home appraisals no longer derailing sales (Les Christie, 5/15/13, CNNMoney)

Consider this one more sign that the housing market is heating up: Appraisers are putting higher values on homes again, allowing for more deals to go through.

During the housing bust, sales were often derailed by low-ball appraisals that fell far shy of a home's selling price. [...]

But now, as home prices climb and housing inventories shrink, appraisers are valuing homes at or above their selling prices, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Wholesale Prices Drop as Energy Costs Continue to Fall (JONATHAN HOUSE And ERIC MORATH, 5/15/13, WSJ)

The producer-price index, which measures how much businesses pay for finished goods, declined by a seasonally adjusted 0.7% in April from a month earlier, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It was the biggest one-month decline since February 2010. In March, the index fell by 0.6%. [...]

Stripping out the more-volatile energy and food components, core wholesale prices rose a modest 0.1% in April.


Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Want To Be Happy? Live Near A Park : New research finds that the effect of green space on personal well-being is more than you might guess. (Ben Schiller, 5/14/13, Co.exist)

As urban planners debate the merits of, say, a new shopping center versus maintaining the local park, they might consider this: over time, parks--and other green spaces--make people feel better about themselves.

Or, at least, that is the takeaway from a long-term study of 12,000 people in the U.K. Researchers at the University of Exeter used survey data measuring both life satisfaction and mental distress, then matched that to a map ranking 32,482 areas for their greenness. They found that people living in greener areas were consistently more satisfied, and experienced less distress.

The best thing we could do for those who live in inner cities is to give them housing/houses in the suburbs. It's only human.

City centers are appropriate for workplaces, entertainment, and childless hipsters.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


IRS Sent Same Letter to Democrats That Fed Tea Party Row (Julie Bykowicz and Jonathan D. Salant, May 14, 2013, Bloomberg)

The Internal Revenue Service, under pressure after admitting it targeted anti-tax Tea Party groups for scrutiny in recent years, also had its eye on at least three Democratic-leaning organizations seeking nonprofit status.

One of those groups, Emerge America, saw its tax-exempt status denied, forcing it to disclose its donors and pay some taxes. None of the Republican groups have said their applications were rejected.

Progress Texas, another of the organizations, faced the same lines of questioning as the Tea Party groups from the same IRS office that issued letters to the Republican-friendly applicants. A third group, Clean Elections Texas, which supports public funding of campaigns, also received IRS inquiries.

In a statement late yesterday, the tax agency said it had pooled together the politically active nonpartisan applicants -- including a "minority" that were identified because of their names. "

Notes on a Trumped Up Scandal : The IRS fiasco shows that conservatives can be PC too (NOAM SCHEIBER, 5/15/13, New Republic)

It turns out that the applications the conservative groups submitted to the IRS--the ones the agency subsequently combed over, provoking nonstop howling--were unnecessary. The IRS doesn't require so-called 501c4 organizations to apply for tax-exempt status. If anyone wants to start a social welfare group, they can just do it, then submit the corresponding tax return (form 990) at the end of the year. To be sure, the IRS certainly allows groups to apply for tax-exempt status if they want to make their status official. But the application is completely voluntary, making it a strange basis for an alleged witch hunt.

So why would so many Tea Party groups subject themselves to a lengthy and needless application process? Mostly it had to do with anxiety--the fear that they could run afoul of the law once they started raising and spending money. "Our business experience was that we had to pay taxes once there was money coming through here," says Tom Zawistowski, the recent president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, which tangled with the IRS over its tax status. "We felt we were under a microscope. ... We were on pins and needles at all times." In other words, the groups submitted their applications because they perceived themselves to be persecuted, not because they actually were.

Fine--there's no law against neurosis. But, to borrow a thought experiment from my colleague Alec MacGillis, consider all this from the perspective of the IRS's Cincinnati office, which handles tax-exempt groups. You're minding your own business in 2009 when you start to receive dozens of applications from right-leaning groups, applications you didn't solicit and don't require. You peruse a few of the applications and it looks like many of the groups, while claiming to be "social welfare" organizations, have an overtly political purpose, like backing candidates with specific ideological agendas. Suffice it to say, you don't need an inquisitorial mind to decide the applications deserve careful vetting. One Tea Party activist from Waco, Texas, has complained that an IRS official told her he was "sitting on a stack of tea party applications and they were awaiting word from higher-ups as to how to process them." The quote is intended to sound nefarious--an outtake from some vast left-wing conspiracy--but it's actually perfectly straight-forward: The IRS was unexpectedly flooded by dodgy 501c4 applications and was at a loss over how to manage them.2

So the crime here had nothing to do with "targeting" conservatives. The targeting was effectively done by the conservative groups themselves, when they filed their gratuitous applications. The crime, such as it is, was twofold. First, in the course of legitimately vetting questionable applications, the IRS appears to have been more intrusive than justified, asking for information about donors whose privacy it should have respected. This is unfortunate and intolerable, but not quite a threat to democracy.

Second, the IRS was tone deaf to how its scrutiny would look to the people being scrutinized, given that they all subscribed to the same worldview, and that they were already nursing a healthy persecution complex. Which is to say, the IRS didn't go about its otherwise legitimate vetting in a very politically-correct way. "It's part of their job to look for organizations that may be more likely to have too much campaign intervention," a law professor named Ellen Aprill told The Washington Post. "But it is important to try to make these criteria as politically neutral as possible." 

If you act like you're guilty of something you tend to get more scrutiny, no?
Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


Republicans just not that mad about AP phone records scandal (JILLIAN RAYFIELD, 5/14/13, Salon)

"I don't want to jump to judgment here because many of us did call on the administration to investigate leaks; I am struck by what appears to be a very broad net and not a very targeted look," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters on Tuesday, Buzzfeed reports. "I think the best thing to do would be to have the attorney general come over and testify before the Judiciary Committee."

"I can only speak for myself, but it strikes me this Justice Department inquiry will go forward and we'll look forward to seeing what comes of it," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

"I want to see the details -- what was their rationale, why did they do it -- before offering an opinion," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., according to the Huffington Post. "For me, to rush to a judgment without knowing all the facts is just not appropriate."

Funny old thing, that First Amendment...

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Why Washington Saved the Economy, Then Permanently Destroyed the Labor Market  (DEREK THOMPSON, MAY 13 2013, Atlantic)

I have two stories for you about Washington and the economy. Both true. But very different.

The first story is called: How Washington Saved the Economy. You might begin in 2008, when the Federal Reserve went on an unprecedented spree of asset-buying to un-gunk the banks, push down interest rates, and spur investing in mortally weakened economy. This was followed, in 2009, with an equally historic stimulus package aimed at filling holes in state budgets and sending cash back to families and businesses. The government ran steep $1+ trillion deficits to keep as much money in the weak private sector as possible.

There is little question that monetary and fiscal stimulus blunted the recession -- and saved the economy.

The second story is called: How Washington Permanently Scarred the Labor Market. You might begin this story in 2011, when Congress (led by Republican obstructionism) embarked on a historic quest to crush deficit spending by any means necessary. Hold the economy hostage over the debt ceiling? Check. Kill the American Jobs Act while scheduling a too-awful-to-be-a-real-law sequester? Check. Allow the too-awful-to-be-a-real-law sequester to become a real law? Checkmate. 

The deficit fell fast. As unemployment ebbed, the ranks of long-term jobless calcified, creating two separate job markets. One broken market for people out of work for more than six months. And another slowly healing market for everybody else. But the combination of a thermostatic recovery and a deep aversion to stimulus crushed any hope that the long-term unemployed would get the help they needed. Long-term unemployment isn't special just because it's longer; it's special because it's self-perpetuating. Skills atrophy, networks dry up, and employers discriminate, creating a vicious cycle of joblessness that can't be cured by normal economic growth.

There is little question that, in the last two years, Washington has essentially left the long-term unemployed to fend for themselves -- and permanently scarred the labor market.

...which is, obviously, that a robust economy is at least not dependent on high employment.  Indeed, the dichotomy outlined here raises the implication that we have a choice: a healthy economy or high employment.  It is the failure to recognize that this is a choice that clouds so much thinking today.

We really can't discuss the future sensibly until folks ask themselves a threshold question: does an economy exist to create wealth, and jobs are incidental, or to create jobs, and wealth is incidental?

The respective answers create massively different policy prescriptions.  On the one hand, we can work to make the economy more productive and efficient and then worry about how we redistribute the greater wealth we've created, or we can seek to make the economy less productive and less efficient so that we can continue to redistribute less wealth via jobs.    

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Trends in TV, Part 1: Fewer gay characters (JOHN DOYLE, 5/15/13, The Globe and Mail)

The most striking aspect of the massacre of existing shows that preceded the annual upfront announcement, was the cancellation of many shows featuring gay and lesbian characters.

The trade-off was supposed to be tolerance for silence.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 AM


Shapeways is reinventing the factory (Jessi Hempel, May 14, 2013, Fortune)

In front of us, one of these hulking machines gives off heat. It's the size of a refrigerator; inside, a rectangle tray the size of my favorite chili pan is being filled layer-by-layer with dust. We push our noses up to the small window to watch: a layer of dust is spread. Then, a laser burns a series of lines into the dust, heating it to the point of almost melting to form the object. It will take 24 hours for this chili-pan size tray to be complete.

For now, the Long Island City factory only prints materials in a white nylon plastic, though that will change in time. Shapeways is able to manufacture in other materials--stainless steel, sandstone, ceramics--from its other facilities. The company also has offices in Seattle and Eindhoven in the Netherlands.

A diagram of the tray's contents hangs to the right of each printer. Weijmarshausen explains that Shapeways maximizes each tray by pairing elements of different customer orders. These diagrams look like a cross between a 3D sonogram and a katamari. This optimization brings the price down. Once the tray is completed, employees bring it over to a post-production area where they remove all the dust that hasn't been sealed by the laser. The result is a jumbled collection of parts that are cleaned and separated and buffed, much like bone-hunting archeology. Depending on the order, many are also dyed in bright hues.

The 3D printing buzz has been a bit overblown this year as companies like Staples (SPLS) begin making them available directly to consumers--earlier this month The Cube, which is manufactured by 3D Systems, went on sale for $1300 through; it will likely be available in stores starting as early as July. But just as with any first-generation tech products, these printers won't be capable of doing all that much. The fanfare over the world's first 3D-printed gun is also a distracting side-show.

The real potential for 3D printing will be felt in enterprise--as companies like Airbus explore using 3D printing to make, say, airplane parts. That's the bet that fuels Weijmarshausen's ambitions. As big business takes an increasing interest in 3D manufacturing, the costs of materials will come down and the machine technology will improve. Customers will be able to order more types of objects in more materials. Today, perhaps it's the iPhone case. Tomorrow, potentially, the phone itself.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


Sequester 'Armageddon' Has Been President Obama's Y2K (David Davenport, 5/14/13, Forbes)

Do you remember what was said when the budget sequester took effect more than two months ago?  President Obama warned in February that, thanks to sequestration, "all our economic progress could be put at risk."  I guess the operative word was "could," like the weather reporter's 10% chance of rain that actually occurs.  Cabinet officers issued such dire warnings that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood felt obligated to add: "We are not making this up."  John Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association put in his two cents:  "The road to a lawless society is currently being paved by the congressional sequester."  Even this week Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was still referring to the "reckless across-the-board cuts" of the sequester.

It turns out that, like Chicken Little's fear that the sky was falling when it was only an acorn hitting his head, the sequester has been a bit of a non-event.  The 2013 automatic cuts of $85 billion are less than 2% of the federal budget.  And what senior manager of a large organization (almost certainly with a lot less fat than the federal government) hasn't survived the implementation of far deeper cuts than that?  Not only has the economy survived, but housing prices are up, jobs are still growing modestly, and the stock market (including government contractors expected to be hurt the most) is at all-time highs.  A recent Gallup Poll indicates that most people don't even know whether the sequester has helped or hurt, or even whether they have been impacted by it.  Representative Billy Long of Missouri says his constituents actually want more sequestration, not less.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Rare Golden State Gold: a Budget Surplus (VAUHINI VARA, 5/15/13, WSJ)

Mr. Brown said he anticipates revenue of $98.2 billion in the current fiscal year ending June 30, up 13% from $87.1 billion in 2012. That would be followed by revenue of $97.2 billion in 2014.

California's financial improvement comes from an economic rebound driven in part by Silicon Valley and a set of tax increases that voters approved in November. The news follows years of deep deficits that, as recently as 2009, forced the state under former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to issue IOUs to cover the state's bills.

Mr. Brown warned that a shaky recovery of the international economy, the federal sequestration budget cuts and the expiration of a federal payroll-tax holiday are expected to weigh on California in the year ahead. While the 2013 forecast exceeds an earlier estimate in January, the 2014 forecast is lower.

"We're sailing into some rather uncertain times," he said.

Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway said in a statement that Mr. Brown's plan "charts a realistic path forward in meeting the budget priorities of hard-working taxpayers" and that she hopes "Democrats will follow the governor's lead in making fiscal discipline a core budget principle."

May 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


U.S. oil boom causing energy upheaval (Alanna Petroff, May 14, 2013, CNN/Money)

"North America has set off a supply shock that is sending ripples throughout the world," said IEA executive director Maria van der Hoeven. "This is helping to ease a market that was relatively tight for several years."

Growing North American production will help the U.S. begin to meet its own energy demands, leading it to cut back on imports that will instead start flowing to emerging markets.

In its latest report, the Paris-based IEA forecasts that North America's oil supply will grow by nearly 4 million barrels per day between 2012 to 2018, amounting to nearly 50% of global output growth over that period.

"The shock waves of rising U.S. shale gas, light tight oil and Canadian oil sands production are reaching virtually all recesses of the global oil market," stated the IEA report.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Deficit projection reduced to $642 billion, CBO says (Lori Montgomery, Published: May 14, 2013, Washington Post)

The federal budget deficit will plummet to $642 billion this year, congressional budget analysts said Tuesday, reducing their previous forecast by roughly $200 billion. [...]

Moreover, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that the deficit will continue to shrink, falling below 3 percent of the overall economy by 2015, a level economists consider to be economically sustainable.

The difficulty lies in keeping them that high.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Perhaps Niall Ferguson Had A Point About Keynes (Jerry Bowyer, 5/12/13, Forbes)

[A]s I said, I don't think that the lack of procreation is really the strongest link between Keynes' sexual views and his economics, anyway. To understand this one must first understand the nature of Keynes' sexual philosophy. He was not 'gay' in the modern sense of the world, fighting against prejudice and bullying from a bigoted establishment. Keynes and his circle were the establishment, whose prejudice led them to bully others. The Cambridge Apostles is the definitive book on the group in which Keynes lived and moved and had his being. He and his circle embraced what they called 'the higher sodomy' which was based on the idea, not just that sodomy should be tolerated, but that everything else was inferior. The philosophy of the higher sodomy held that the highest form of human relations was one in which men of refinement, intellect, class and aesthetic superiority combined their male friendships with sexual relations. To go to the club and converse with men of high intellect and then to have to go home to the little woman is a lower life, a falling short of the higher sodomy.

As Strachey's biographer put it:

"They thought that love of young men was a higher form of love. They had been brought up and educated to believe that women were inferior --in mind and body. If from the ethical point of view . . . love should be attached only to worthy objects, then love of young men was, they believed, ethically better than love of women."

We have to avoid anachronisms here: Keynes was not the friend of the bride in a modern rom-com, who loved to gossip with the girls. He was drenched in, and in some ways intensified, a culture of misogyny which was characteristic of both his particular era and of his academic milieu. The movement to sexually integrate British universities was a matter of great debate during Keynes' time at Cambridge. The intensity of feeling is hard for modern people to imagine: Dorothy Sayers' excellent mystery, Gaudy Night, uses this as the backdrop to a series of crimes and provides Sayers, a Christian feminist (and the only female member of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien's famous Inklings literary society,) with the opportunity to make the case for women's equality. Keynes himself actively criticized integration, at least in his own case, opposed having women in his classroom. He went so far as to say that he found female modes of thinking repellant:

"I think I shall have to give up teaching females after this year. The nervous irritation caused by two hours' contact with them is intense. I seem to hate every movement of their minds. The minds of the men, even when they are stupid and ugly, never appear to me so repellent"

Now if Keynes were just the president of the He Man Woman Haters Club, Cambridge Chapter, he would just be unlikeable as a man, but not as an economist. The problem is that Keynes had an unusual habit of thinking of economic theory in sexual and gender terms.
According to my friend Mark Skousen in his classic The Making of Modern Economics:

Historians Elizabeth and Harry Johnson even went so far as to suggest that Keynes's misogynistic attitude extended to his theories about saving and investing. The Johnsons noted that Keynes and his followers often referred to savings as female and investment as male. Female saving was usually seen in a negative light and male investment in a positive way. The maleness of investment is attested to by among other things the frequent references by Joan Robinson and other Cambridge writers to 'the animal spirits' of entrepreneurs; the femaleness of savings is evident in the passive role assigned to savings in the analysis of the determination of employment equilibrium." (Johnson 1978: 121). Keynes himself wrote in his Treatise on Money "Thus, thrift may be the handmaid and nurse of enterprise. But equally she may not."(1930, 2: 132).

He was committed to the theories of Sigmund Freud, which held that even the most rarified heights of intellectual life were the sublimated effects of subconscious sexual impulses. For Keynes, savings was a distinctively feminine preoccupation. Women, guardians of hearth and home, were the advocates of thrift, whereas active investment (driven by animal spirits) and expenditures were a masculine matter. Beneath all of this economic activity were sexual drives, 'the fetish for liquidity', the 'neurosis' of money getting.

Keynes was a man who exhibited what most of us would see as an almost pathological preference for exclusively male intellectual and sexual companionship specifically because of the great admiration for the male mind and disdain for the female one, who disapproved of the presence of women in his economics classes, who found women's thinking patterns repugnant and who associated savings with feminine reticence. Is it really such an unforgiveable sin to take these facts and to surmise that his odd sexual views might be related to his odd economic views? Is it really right that anyone who suggests that they are connected should be drummed out of polite society?

Then, as now, the question of homosexuality was intimately connected with the question of God. Lytton Strachey, for whom Keynes was a long-term lover, close friend and benefactor, described him as "a liberal and a sodomite, an atheist and a statistician." There are few who knew Keynes as well as Strachey, who basically ran the Bloomsbury Circle which Keynes funded. Bloomsbury saw all of these things as related, so who are modern progressives to retroactively go back and declare that there was some sort of hermetically sealed distinction between ideas and private lives? There was nothing private at all about the 'higher sodomy:' Strachey openly declared that the goal of their work was to take these ideas, including homosexuality, and promote them through their intellectual and literary output. For free-market (and fellow atheist) economist Murray Rothbard, Keynes' rather idiosyncratic sexual life was related to his rather idiosyncratic views on statistical theory. According to Rothbard's biography of Keynes, his treatise on statistics seemed to be designed to stop the formation of chains of causation and to sever actions from consequences. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


It's Time to Talk about the Burgeoning Robot Middle Class : How will a mass influx of robots affect human employment? (Illah Nourbakhsh, May 14, 2013, MIT Technology Review

In the book Race Against the Machine, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of MIT's Sloan School of Management present a chart showing U.S. productivity, GDP, employment, and income from 1953 to 2011. The chart looks as you would expect from 1953 until the mid-1980s, with every one of the measures rising together: employees work more productively, companies make more money, and more hires occur as the middle class swells.

Then, during Reagan's tenure, the bad news begins to show its face. First, even though productivity and GDP continue their upward arc, median household income starts to level off. That is unsettling, since it suggests that companies can get richer and yet employees can stop benefiting from increasing GDP: what happened to trickle-down? A decade later, in the mid-1990s, more trouble crops up: employment flattens as GDP and productivity continue even faster growth.

Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue that these are signs of a true sea change in the dynamics of productivity and employment. Contrary to popular conceptions that all we need is more technological innovation to increase employment, they argue, technological innovation is itself among the forces behind the change.

The elephant in the room is how robotics will play out for human employment in the long term. New robots will take on advanced manufacturing, tutoring, scheduling, and customer relations. They operate equipment, manage construction, operate backhoes, and yes, even drive tomorrow's cars.

It is time for not just economists but roboticists, like me, to ask, "How will robotic advances transform society in potentially dystopian ways?" My concern is that without serious discourse and explicit policy changes, the current path will lead to an ever more polarized economic world, with robotic technologies replacing the middle class and further distancing our society from authentic opportunity and economic justice.

The middle class is the electorate, they'll change the policies.
Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


Google's Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen on the New Digital Age (ADAM POPESCU, 5/14/13, Mashable)

When you hear stories like these, it becomes obvious that innovations for the more privileged, like Google Glass and automated cars are, for the moment, just toys. There are countless underserved regions and peoples still not benefiting from more basic innovations. As the rest of the planet continues to gain Internet access, things will improve, but for all the money Google is investing in the developing world, the company is not powerful enough to be the world's custodian, a point skirted by Schmidt during the audience Q&A when a grey-haired academic asked: Is access to technology actually making us stupider?

"We can't disagree over facts," Schmidt said, reasoning that access to those facts, being reproducible and proven, will help us all.

Facts are essential to a free and informed society, but when every answer is but a touch or click away, the cultural argument is, 'How could it not foster a generation and culture of laziness?' There's a back and forth debate in tech circles whether the Internet makes our lives easier, and the use of search engines like Google are at the heart of the question. So polarizing are views that people can't even agree on the state of innovation. Some say information overload is in fact complicating our lives, while others champion the wealth of knowledge online; though Cohen and Schmidt did not touch on such topics during their talk. know life is good.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Shavuot and Self-Immolation (Shaul Magid May 14, 2013, Daily Beast)

The problem here is not religion. The problem is the result of a society that has become so accustomed to hating the "other" (the Palestinians, the Arabs, the U.N., Obama) that "others" continuously need to be created in order to hate them. The Talmud teaches that one who is angry repudiates the entire Torah. Anger is a consuming fire. But it does not only consume the object of one's anger, nor does it only consume the angry subject. It consumes the entire society. Anger erases Torah and civility. Lest the righteous Israel defenders unleash their wrath on me, this is by no means exclusive to Israel. Just across the security wall, the Palestinian's anger and hatred of Israel (justified or not) consistently turns into self-hatred as Fatah and Hamas continue to consume one another. The sword has two ends, one for the enemy and one for the self. A homicidal society soon becomes a suicidal one.

Some argue that such anger toward the "other" (the Palestinian, the Arab, the U.N., Obama) is justified. Perhaps. But on that logic, haredi anger toward Women of the Wall is justified as well. In their world-view they are protecting Israel against those they consider blasphemers. But consuming anger is not placated by justification, not toward the stranger and not toward the self.

I find it odd when I hear Jews express shock that Jews use hate-speech or violence against fellow Jews but remain silent when Jews use hate-speech and violence against the "stranger" in their midst, as if to say one form of hated is not intrinsically connected to the other. Why is hatred against the "other" any more legitimate than hatred toward one's own? Is the mitzvah of "loving one's neighbor" (Lev. 19:18) intrinsically more important than "loving the stranger" (Deut. 10:19)? The Torah explicitly states, "There should be on law for the Israelite (ezrakh) and the stranger that dwells among you." (Ex. 12:49). In fact, anger and hatred toward the stranger may very well be the source of the anger and hatred toward the neighbor. Focused anger invariably becomes indiscriminate anger.

Ruth the Moabite is the heroine of Shavuot. She loved those who were not her own and was granted protection by the Israelites in return. Most strangers are not Ruth the Moabite. But the Torah commands its readers to "love the stranger" nonetheless. Not only because it is civil and just, that too, but because when anger and hatred pervades toward the stranger, it eventually turns within. An angry society will eventually consume itself.

May 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Welcome, Robot Overlords. Please Don't Fire Us? : Smart machines probably won't kill us all--but they'll definitely take our jobs, and sooner than you think. (Kevin Drum, May. 13, 2013, Mother Jones)

 It's true that we've made far slower progress toward real artificial intelligence than we once thought, but that's for a very simple and very human reason: Early computer scientists grossly underestimated the power of the human brain and the difficulty of emulating one. It turns out that this is a very, very hard problem, sort of like filling up Lake Michigan one drop at a time. In fact, not just sort of like. It's exactly like filling up Lake Michigan one drop at a time. If you want to understand the future of computing, it's essential to understand this.

Suppose it's 1940 and Lake Michigan has (somehow) been emptied. Your job is to fill it up using the following rule: To start off, you can add one fluid ounce of water to the lake bed. Eighteen months later, you can add two. In another 18 months, you can add four ounces. And so on. Obviously this is going to take a while.

By 1950, you have added around a gallon of water. But you keep soldiering on. By 1960, you have a bit more than 150 gallons. By 1970, you have 16,000 gallons, about as much as an average suburban swimming pool.

At this point it's been 30 years, and even though 16,000 gallons is a fair amount of water, it's nothing compared to the size of Lake Michigan. To the naked eye you've made no progress at all.

So let's skip all the way ahead to 2000. Still nothing. You have--maybe--a slight sheen on the lake floor. How about 2010? You have a few inches of water here and there. This is ridiculous. It's now been 70 years and you still don't have enough water to float a goldfish. Surely this task is futile?

But wait. Just as you're about to give up, things suddenly change. By 2020, you have about 40 feet of water. And by 2025 you're done. After 70 years you had nothing. Fifteen years later, the job was finished.

IF YOU HAVE ANY KIND OF BACKGROUND in computers, you've already figured out that I didn't pick these numbers out of a hat. I started in 1940 because that's about when the first programmable computer was invented [4]. I chose a doubling time of 18 months because of a cornerstone of computer history called Moore's Law [5], which famously estimates that computing power doubles approximately every 18 months. And I chose Lake Michigan because its size, in fluid ounces, is roughly the same as the computing power of the human brain measured in calculations per second.

In other words, just as it took us until 2025 to fill up Lake Michigan, the simple exponential curve of Moore's Law suggests it's going to take us until 2025 to build a computer with the processing power of the human brain. And it's going to happen the same way: For the first 70 years, it will seem as if nothing is happening, even though we're doubling our progress every 18 months. Then, in the final 15 years, seemingly out of nowhere, we'll finish the job.

Given that the entire point of the Industrial Revolution has been to replace human labor with machine, it's kind of bizarre to start worrying about jobs now.  The entire exercise is about them firing us.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


Explosion of Political Groups Seeking Tax-Exempt Status May Have Led to IRS Scandal (DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, May 13, 2013, US News)

[T]o target a group for being political, in whatever way, may be a smart IRS policy, and some experts believe the agency should do more of it, or at least clarify how it does these investigations.

That's because the types of groups the IRS was targeting also fall under the heading of so-called "social welfare" organizations, which can obtain tax-exempt, 501(c)(4) status. The IRS states that these organizations may participate in political activities, so long as they are "organized exclusively to promote social welfare." That creates a hazy zone of political activity: according to the Center for Responsive politics, 501(c)(4) organizations "may engage in political activities, as long as these activities do not become their primary purpose."

Deciding exactly which groups fall into that definition is a tricky business.

"It's a very blurry line, and it's very hard to determine," says George Yin, professor of law and taxation at the University of Virginia School of Law. "There's a balance, and political activity and advocacy would tend to remove you from eligibility in that category."

In that sense, an IRS official may see the words "Tea Party" on an application for tax-exempt status and be justified in investigating further, believing the Tea Party to have political associations, as its words and deeds would suggest. Examining groups that appear blatantly political is good policy, says Yin.

...of whether taxing primarily political activity is consistent with the First Amendment.  Given normal rules of textual construction, only political speech should be protected by the free speech amendment, so it ought not be taxable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Where Thomas Nagel Went Wrong : The philosopher's critique of evolution wasn't shocking. So why is he being raked over the coals? (Michael Chorost, 5/13/13, The Chronicle)

Nagel didn't help his cause by (a) being a philosopher opining on science; (b) being alarmingly nice to intelligent-design theorists; and (c) writing in a convoluted style that made him sound unconvinced of his own ideas.

The Florida State University philosopher of science Michael Ruse, who has written extensively about arguments over Darwinian theory, says Nagel is a horse who broke into the zebra pen. Evolutionary biologists don't like it when philosophers try to tell them their business: "When you've got a leader of a professional field who comes in and says, as a philosopher, 'I want to tell you all that Darwinian evolutionary theory is full of it,' then of course it's a rather different kettle of fish."

Joan Roughgarden, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist at the ­Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, agrees that evolutionary biologists can be nasty when crossed. "I mean, these guys are impervious to contrary evidence and alternative formulations," she says. "What we see in evolution is stasis--conceptual stasis, in my view--where people are ardently defending their formulations from the early 70s."

Nagel really got their noses out of joint by sympathizing with theorists of intelligent design. "They do not deserve the scorn with which they are commonly met," he wrote. "It is manifestly unfair." To be sure, he was not agreeing with them. He notes several times that he is an atheist and has no truck with supernatural gods. He views the ID crowd the way a broad-minded capitalist would sum up Marx: right in his critique, wrong in his solutions. But ID, he says, does contain criticisms of evolutionary theory that should be taken seriously.

Whatever the validity of this stance, its timing was certainly bad. The war between New Atheists and believers has become savage, with Richard Dawkins writing sentences like, "I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sadomasochistic, and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad. ..." In that climate, saying anything nice at all about religion is a tactical error.

The amusing thing is that Mr. Nagel is unscientific at precisely the point where he refuses to follow where his ideas lead.  He is a Creationist, he just can't bear the thought. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


In defense of Tesla's price tag (Michael Levi, 5/13/13, Forbes)

Take the cellular telephone. The Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, released in 1982, sold for $3,995 (equivalent to nearly $10,000 today). Gordon Gecko, who carried one of the behemoths around in the 1987 movie Wall Street, typified the cell phone user: rich, arrogant, brash. As late as 1998, the Nokia 6160 (the most popular cell phone model of the 1990s) sold for $900, well beyond the reach of most consumers. It was not until the 2000s that cell phones, which improved dramatically while they were considered a luxury good, became cheap enough for mass adoption.

During the 20 or so years that it took the cell phone to move from high-end product to mass market, the phones themselves transformed too. The DynaTAC was more than a foot long, weighed over two pounds, and had a one-hour battery life; today, you can buy a two-ounce phone that's smaller than your palm for $20.

The automobile itself benefited from early adoption by wealthy buyers. The first successful gasoline-based internal combustion engine was introduced in Germany in 1885 and over the next two decades, engines and other parts of the vehicle steadily improved. Yet it wasn't until Henry Ford introduced his Model T in 1908 that modern automobile became accessible to mere mortals. Ford (F) introduced a host of innovations -- most notably the assembly line -- that made the Model T accessible to the masses. But he was only able to do that because he could build on innovations that had been driven by smaller, upscale markets for more than 20 years.

May 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Nawaz Sharif 'ready to hit ground running' as he heads for Pakistan win (Jon Boone in Lahore, Jason Burke in Delhi and Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul, 5/12/13, The Guardian)

The full scale of Nawaz Sharif's thumping victory in Pakistan's general election became clear on Sunday, making it far more likely the country's next prime minister will be able to govern without coalition deals and be free to push through what supporters see as a potentially revolutionary agenda.

Besides overhauling a moribund economy Sharif, with his conservative Pakistan Muslim League, wants to end his country's decades old feud with India and put Pakistan's meddlesome generals in their place.

It is a programme that has won him fans even among left-leaning critics who oppose his conservatism. It has also raised hopes in India and Afghanistan.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Jaron Lanier: The Internet destroyed the middle class : Kodak employed 140,000 people. Instagram, 13. A digital visionary says the Web kills jobs, wealth -- even democracy (SCOTT TIMBERG, 5/12/13, Salon)

This week sees the publication of "Who Owns the Future?," which digs into technology, economics and culture in unconventional ways. (How is a pirated music file like a 21st century mortgage?) Lanier argues that there is little essential difference between Facebook and a digital trading company, or Amazon and an enormous bank. ("Stanford sometimes seems like one of the Silicon Valley companies.")

Much of the book looks at the way Internet technology threatens to destroy the middle class by first eroding employment and job security, along with various "levees" that give the economic middle stability. [...]

You talk early in "Who Owns the Future?" about Kodak -- about thousand of jobs being destroyed, and Instagram picking up the slack -- but with almost no jobs produced. So give us a sense of how that happens and what the result is. It seems like the seed of your book in a way.

Right. Well, I think what's been happening is a shift from the formal to the informal economy for most people. So that's to say if you use Instagram to show pictures to your friends and relatives, or whatever service it is, there are a couple of things that are still the same as they were in the times of Kodak. One is that the number of people who are contributing to the system to make it viable is probably the same. Instagram wouldn't work if there weren't many millions of people using it. And furthermore, many people kind of have to use social networks for them to be functional besides being valuable. People have to, there's a constant tending that's done on a volunteer basis so that people can find each other and whatnot.

So there's still a lot of human effort, but the difference is that whereas before when people made contributions to the system that they used, they received formal benefits, which means not only salary but pensions and certain kinds of social safety nets. Now, instead, they receive benefits on an informal basis. And what an informal economy is like is the economy in a developing country slum. It's reputation, it's barter, it's that kind of stuff.

So instead of somebody paying money to get their photo developed, and somebody getting a part of a job, a little fragment of a job, at least, and retirement and all the other things that we're accustomed to, it works informally now, and intangibly.

Yeah, and I remember there was this fascination with the idea of the informal economy about 10 years ago. Stewart Brand was talking about how brilliant it is that people get by in slums on an informal economy. He's a friend so I don't want to rag on him too much. But he was talking about how wonderful it is to live in an informal economy and how beautiful trust is and all that.

And you know, that's all kind of true when you're young and if you're not sick, but if you look at the infant mortality rate and the life expectancy and the education of the people who live in those slums, you really see what the benefit of the formal economy is if you're a person in the West, in the developed world. And then meanwhile this loss, or this shift in the line from what's formal to what's informal, doesn't mean that we're abandoning what's formal. I mean, if it was uniform, and we were all entering a socialist utopia or something, that would be one thing, but the formal benefits are accruing at this fantastic rate, at this global record rate to the people who own the biggest computer that's connecting all the people.

So Kodak has 140,000 really good middle-class employees, and Instagram has 13 employees, period. You have this intense concentration of the formal benefits, and that winner-take-all feeling is not just for the people who are on the computers but also from the people who are using them. So there's this tiny token number of people who will get by from using YouTube or Kickstarter, and everybody else lives on hope. There's not a middle-class hump. It's an all-or-nothing society.

Right, and also I think part of what you're saying too is that it's still in most ways a formal economy in that the person who lost his job at Kodak still has to pay rent with old-fashioned money he or she is no longer earning. He can't pay his rent with cultural capital that's replaced it.

Yeah, well, people will say you can find a place to crash. People who tour right now will find a couch to crash on. But, you know, this is the difference ... I'm not saying that there aren't ever benefits, like yeah, sometimes you can find a couch. But as I put it in the book, you have to sing for your supper for every meal. The informal way of getting by doesn't tide you over when you're sick and it doesn't let you raise kids and it doesn't let you grow old. It's not biologically real.

Actually, can we stick with photography for a second? If we go back to the 19th century, photography was kind of born as a labor-saving device, although we don't think of it that way. One of my favorite stories, which might be apocryphal -- I can't tell you for sure that this is so, although photographers traded this story for many years. But the way the piece of folklore goes is that during the Civil War era, and a little after, the very earliest photographers would go around with a collection of photographs of people who matched a certain archetype. So they would find the photograph that most closely matched your loved one and you'd buy that because at least there would be representation a little like the person, even if it was the wrong person. And that sounds just incredibly weird to us.

And then, you know, along a similar vein at that time early audio recordings, which today would sound horrible to us, were indistinguishable between real music to people who did double blind tests and whatnot. So the thing is, why not just paint the real person, because painting was really a lot of work. It takes a long time to paint a portrait. And you have to carry around all the paints and all that, and you could just create a stack of photos and sell them. So in the beginning photography was kind of a labor saving device. And whenever you have a technological advance that's less hassle than the previous thing, there's still a choice to make. And the choice is, do you still get paid for doing the thing that's easier?

People often say, well, in Rochester, N.Y. -- which is a town that kind of lived on the photography business -- they had a buggy whip factory that closed down with the advent of the automobile. The thing is, it's a lot easier to deal with a car than to deal with horses. I love horses, but you know, you have to feed them, and they poop a lot, and you have to deal with their hooves. It's a whole thing. And so you could make the argument that a transition to cars should create a world where drivers don't get paid, because, after all, it's fun to drive. And it is. And they're magical.

And so there could really easily be, somebody could easily have asserted that photography is so much easier than painting and driving cars is so much easier than horses that the people who do those things -- or support it -shouldn't be paid. Working in a nice environment -- if you go to Sweden and you visit the Saab factory, it's really nice. Why should you even be paid to do anything?

We kind of made a bargain, a social contract, in the 20th century that even if jobs were pleasant people could still get paid for them. Because otherwise we would have had a massive unemployment. And so to my mind, the right question to ask is, why are we abandoning that bargain that worked so well?

Put another way: why not require Instagram to expand its payroll to 140,000 jobs?

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


How Low Can Part-Timers' Hours Go? (HAROLD MEYERSON, MAY 6, 2013, American Prospect)

Right now, the average number of hours an employee in a retail establishment works each week is 31.4. And a whole lot of Americans work in retail--just slightly over 15 million, according to the latest employment report, out Friday, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Not all of them work hours that hover just over 30, of course, but the UC Berkeley Labor Center has calculated that 10.6 percent of workers in retail establishments that employ 100 or more individuals put in between 30 and 36 hours each week. As retail establishments that employ between 50 and 100 workers may well employ a higher percentage of part-timers than their larger counterparts, that figure of 10.6 percent is likely to rise when those additional employees are factored in.

Any way you slice it, there have to be millions of American workers who are likely to see their weekly hours cut below 30 as employers respond to the mandates of the Affordable Care Act. The BLS tells us that the average number of hours worked weekly in the "education and health services" sector--a catch-all category whose 20.6 million workers range from Harvard professors to home-care workers--is 32.9.  According The Los Angeles Times in a story last Thursday, "colleges are reducing courses for part-time professors to keep their hours down and avoid paying for their health premiums."

Indeed, not all the employers cutting back their workers' hours are found in the private sector. At the direction of Bob McDonnell, Virginia's Republican governor, the state has a new policy stipulating that its part-time workers can work no more than 29 hours a week. McDonnell's office says that more than 7,000 workers will see their hours reduced by virtue of the new rule. Nor is it just Republican-controlled governments that are reducing workers' hours. Long Beach, California, a solid-blue Democratic city, is "limiting most of its 1,600 part-time employees to fewer than 27 hours a week" in response to the law, the L.A. Times reports.

...and we already know that workers aren't actually productive for even twenty hours a week, why not help business and society by working to increase the number of jobs and reduce the number of hours folks work per week via partnership over the benefits attached to jobs? As we move towards universal personal accounts for health, retirement, education, unemployment, etc., we can just require business to contribute to the funding based on the total hours employees put in, rather than the hours per employee.  Or, better yet, tax them on consumption, instead of on labor, since we want them to employee people.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


Red lines and red herrings (Daryl G. Press, Jennifer Lind, May 6, 2013, Foreign Policy)

Advocates of intervention in Syria worry that a failure to act will embolden U.S. adversaries around the world. But if Kim Jong Un is trying to figure out whether or not the United States would defend South Korea, he will notice that Washington and Seoul have been allies for more than six decades, and that with the rise of China, the United States is increasing its focus on East Asia.  The notion that Kim would interpret U.S. reluctance to stop a humanitarian disaster in Syria as a green light to conquer a major U.S. ally strains credulity.

Similarly, leaders in Tehran assessing U.S. threats to strike their nuclear facilities will weigh America's clear interest in nuclear nonproliferation against the real limitations of airstrikes against Iran's deeply buried nuclear facilities. American reluctance to support various extremist rebels in Syria is unlikely to enter into Iran's calculus.

As the civil war in Syria unfolds, the United States may eventually decide to intervene. U.S. officials and foreign policy analysts might make the case (which we disagree with) to join the fighting in order to stop the humanitarian disaster, to contain regional instability, or to secure U.S. influence with the post-Assad Syrian government. But the case for U.S. military intervention should not rest on a bogus theory about signaling resolve to Khamenei and Kim.  American credibility lies elsewhere.

There are no bad reasons for removing the Kims and the Assads.  If someone feels compelled to view diplomacy as a sophisticated game that requires certain moves and they've accidentally arrived at the right moral position, why disabuse them?

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


Lost in Medication : Psychiatrists who take time with their patients are not the norm. It's not because others don't care. Rather the system rewards efficiency, not empathy. (SARAH MOURRAMAY 10 2013, Atlantic)

In many places psychiatry has become a biological enterprise, with some psychiatrists even introducing themselves as "psychopharmacologists." In no other specialty does a physician define themselves by the medication that they use. As one of my psychiatry professors once commented, "I have never met an oncologist who says "I'm an onco-pharmacologist." Increasingly, we are convinced that medications are what make patients better -- and that if only they would stay on them, if only they would take them as we have prescribed them, if only they were on the right one or the right dose -- they would get better.

In reality the process of getting better is much more complicated. Medications can play a large role, but other factors are enormously important -- environment, sense of purpose and meaning, the person's perception of their illness, and their relationship with the people who treat them. Studies have shown that patients taking placebo who have a good relationship with their psychiatrist have better outcomes than patients taking the active drug who do not have that strong personal connection. In the outpatient setting, a well-trained psychiatrist will follow what's called the biopsychosocial treatment model -- which values the biological, psychological, and social aspects of a person in considering their treatment -- and consider these other parts of the patient's healing process, in addition to medication.

For the person whose first encounter with psychiatry involves the inpatient psychiatric hospital ward, however, these psychosocial interventions are frequently left behind. Often under pressure from insurance companies, inpatient psychiatric units experience a tremendous push to medicate patients quickly and discharge them as soon as possible. During my time working on psychiatric units I saw instances where insurers balked at paying for the visit if the patient was not placed on any sort of medication.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


Forecast for a 20,000 Dow Still Holds (JEFF SOMMER, May 11, 2013, NY Times)

LAST July, when the Dow Jones industrial average was still stuck below 12,900 and investors were seeking safety in bonds, Seth J. Masters made a startling argument.

Mr. Masters, the chief investment officer of Bernstein Global Wealth Management, said that people were so traumatized by the financial crisis that they were seriously underestimating the stock market. In fact, the chances were quite good that by the end of the decade, the Dow would rise more than 7,000 points and reach 20,000, he said.

In some important ways, he said, stocks at that moment had become safer than bonds. "This argument may seem provocative," he told me back then. "But that's only because market conditions are so unusual, and so many people have become so pessimistic."

Last week, Mr. Masters made essentially the same argument, but it sounded much less provocative.

Dow 15,000? Try 116,200 (Chuck Jaffe, 5/11/13, MarketWatch)

The basis for Berger's forecast was simple. By 1995, he'd been in the investment business for 45 years, and had seen the Dow go from below 200 to just over 4,300. Mathematically, Berger saw the Dow's future as reflecting what had happened in the past, thus moving it from 1995 levels to 116,200 in 45 years.

Using easy, round numbers, the Dow needed roughly 16.5 years to triple from the time of Berger's prediction, crossing 13,000 early in 2012.

Using the Rule of 115 -- a rough measure of how long it takes for something to triple based on a constant return -- that's a gain of roughly 7% per year.

If that rate of return holds for the future -- and it's smack in the middle of the 6% to 8% long-term range that many market observers believe is realistic -- then the Dow would triple twice more over the next 32 years.

If that happens, the Dow will cross 116,200 sometime in 2045, a bit after Berger's time frame but not wildly off base, especially when considering that the forecast would have made investors break out in hysterics had it been made, say, any time after 2000.

May 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Current deficit plunges 32% (Jeanne Sahadi, 5/07/13, CNNMoney)

Spending, meanwhile, fell 1.9% year over year, the CBO estimated.

The biggest percentage drop occurred in the payment of unemployment benefits, which were down nearly 25%, or $15 billion. Defense spending fell 5.3%, or $20 billion, and "other activities" -- primarily spending on nondefense programs -- fell 8.6%, or $58 billion.
Less was spent, for instance, on housing assistance, energy programs and international assistance, along with the TARP bank bailout and on mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Edmund Burke - the great conservative who foresaw the discontents of our era (Jesse Norman, 09 May 2013, The Telegraph)

Despite a chequered career, 250 years later it is Burke who offers the deepest critique of politics today, and the greatest hope for its future.

Burke came to prominence in the age of Dr Johnson, David Hume, Adam Smith and Edward Gibbon. Over his long career he fought five great political battles: for more equal treatment of Catholics in Ireland; against British oppression of the 13 American colonies; for constitutional restraints on royal patronage; against the power of the East India Company in India; and most famously, against the dogma of the French Revolution. Their common theme is his detestation of injustice and the abuse of power.

In these battles Burke's record was mixed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


The Science of Guns Proves Arming Untrained Citizens Is a Bad Idea : How data can help clarify the gun-control debate (Michael Shermer, Scientific American)

Consider a 1998 study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery that found that "every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides." Pistol owners' fantasy of blowing away home-invading bad guys or street toughs holding up liquor stores is a myth debunked by the data showing that a gun is 22 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault, an accidental death or injury, a suicide attempt or a homicide than it is for self-defense. I harbored this belief for the 20 years I owned a Ruger .357 Magnum with hollow-point bullets designed to shred the body of anyone who dared to break into my home, but when I learned about these statistics, I got rid of the gun.

More insights can be found in a 2013 book from Johns Hopkins University Press entitled Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis, edited by Daniel W. Webster and Jon S. Vernick, both professors in health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In addition to the 31,672 people killed by guns in 2010, another 73,505 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for nonfatal bullet wounds, and 337,960 nonfatal violent crimes were committed with guns. Of those 31,672 dead, 61 percent were suicides, and the vast majority of the rest were homicides by people who knew one another.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to stand in Iran presidential election (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 5/11/13,

Rafsanjani, 79, is one of Iran's great political survivors who played an instrumental role in the appointment of Khamenei as the current supreme leader after the death in 1989 of the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini.

However, Rafsanjani and Khamenei have been at odds since the former lost to Ahmadinejad in 2005 presidential election. In 2009 notably, Khamenei sided with Ahmadinejad while Rafsanjani showing moderate support for the Green Movement and its leaders. As a result of his confrontation with Khamenei, Rafsanjani's authority has diminished in recent years and two of his children were jailed last year but his candidacy can possibly play as a game changer. Despite this, many believe that he has a strong base among clerics and can draw a great deal of support from reformists because of his sympathy with the opposition.

The US ought not support him specifically, but should urge voters to turn out--a role reversal from the tragic part we played in recent elections--and seize power democratically.
Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


The Amnesty Next Time : The specter of 1986 haunts the immigration debate. (FRED BARNES, 5/10/13, Weekly Standard)

In 1986, three million illegal immigrants in the United States were given the right to become citizens. It was a full-scale amnesty, created by a bipartisan majority in Congress and signed into law by President Reagan. It had one big flaw.

The amnesty went into effect immediately. And strong measures to secure the border with Mexico and prosecute employers who hired illegals were to follow. The goal was to stop illegal immigration once and for all, while allowing those here illegally to stay.

But strengthened enforcement never happened--that was the flaw--and the bill produced a perverse result. Rather than halt the flow of illegal immigrants, the 1986 law actually spurred millions more to come. 

 It is no coincidence that the only recession since 1986 followed defeat of the follow-up amnesty plan.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


The Deficit Is Falling! What It Means for a Debt Fight in Washington (ABBY D. PHILLIP, May 10, 2013, ABC News)

There's no denying it: things are looking a little better for the economy.

More money is coming into the Treasury, the government is spending a little less, the unemployment rate is slowly moving down, and Wall Street is doing great. And the cherry on top: On Thursday, the once-embattled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced that they would return a combined $66.4 billion to the U.S. Treasury.

"I think it's great news," said Moody's Analytics' chief economist Mark Zandi. "It reflects the steadily improving economy, but also the tax increases and government spending cuts that have been implemented."

But good economic news is tantamount to a loosening of the proverbial noose around the necks of Washington lawmakers, potentially postponing a deadline that could force quicker action on some major issues including tax reform and entitlement reform.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


FCC: Fronting For Corporations? : Business is cheering Obama's nominee. That's bad news if you like your media diverse and your Internet free. (JOEL BLEIFUSS, 5/10/13, In These Times)

President Obama nominated Tom Wheeler the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and Grant Seiffert, the president of the Telecommunications Industry Association enthused: "He has the proven ability to transcend a broad range of industry perspectives to reach balanced outcomes."

Indeed. Wheeler, 67, is the former head of--and chief lobbyist for--both the National Cable Television Association and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association. Or, as Obama spins it, "He's helped give American consumers more choices and better products." (He's also helped give the president more than $245,000 in bundled contributions for his re-election campaign.) [...]

[T]he president seems to view the nation's communications infrastructure as an instrument through which to maximize widget sales--a great Sunday circular. Accordingly, he has selected an industry-friendly Babbitt to be the top media watchdog.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Republicans Shying From Immigration Reform Risk Losing the Soul of America (LAWRENCE KUDLOW, May 10, 2013, NY Sun)

At the end of the day, the battle over immigration reform is not about dollars and cents. It's about the soul of a nation. President Reagan reminded us that America must remain a "beacon" and a "shining city on a hill" for immigrants who renew our great country with their energy while adding to economic growth and prosperity.
Here's a quote from Jack Kemp: "Americans and immigrants share the same value of work, family, and opportunity. There is no reason to fear the newcomers arriving on our shores today. If anything, they will energize what is best about our country."
It strikes me that the Republican party has lost its growth-and-opportunity message in recent years, and has replaced it with a very austere vision. Debt, deficits, and budget-cutting all have their place in the economic-policy debate. But the GOP has forgotten that strong economic growth leads to a balanced budget, not the other way around.

The GOP must reclaim the growth-and-optimism message of Reagan and Kemp. Immigration reform is part of that message.

...just about the blood of a nation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


The Most Viable Way to Give a Boost to Low-Income Workers (MATT BRUENIG, MAY 10, 2013, American Prospect)

If we are going to live in a society that shies away from after-the-fact redistribution, the only way we can hope to achieve greater economic equality is through "predistribution."

In 2011, Jacob Hacker wrote a ground-breaking paper in which he coined the phrase predistribution. Under Hacker's definition, predistribution refers to measures governments take to reduce or eliminate inequality in market incomes. This differs from redistribution, which Hacker uses to mean measures states take to reduce or eliminate inequality after market incomes have been distributed, for instance through taxes and government benefit programs.

As far I am concerned, there is no moral or political difference between the two. Predistributive institutions and redistributive institutions are both just institutions. What matters is achieving greater economic equality, not so much the precise institutional regime that we use to get there. If anything, I tend to find so-called redistributive institutions more attractive because they are easier to fine tune and strike me as more liberating.

But, as Hacker correctly points out, my view is almost certainly an outlying one. For cultural or other reasons, Americans tend to be more supportive of equality-producing measures that get baked into paychecks than they are of equality-producing measures that go through more overt government channels. As a result, the US has a very stingy welfare state and delivers much of its government spending through opaque, submerged mechanisms like tax credits.

On the other hand, two things Americans overwhelmingly support are fairness and family, so we could certainly predistribute funding to everyone via things like O'Neill Accounts, HSAs and the like.

May 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


The Jobs Crisis: Bigger Than You Think (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 5/10/13, American Interest)

The American economy is shedding jobs, especially long-term, well-paying jobs with good benefits, and the jobs that replace them are often less secure and less well paid. The relentless transformation of the American labor market is changing the nature of American life, calling into question some of the basic assumptions and building blocks of the last fifty years, and generating a complex mix of political and social pressures that will shake the country to its foundations.

Essentially, the problem is this: automation and IT are moving routine processing, whether that being processed is information or matter, out of the realm of human work and into the realm of machines. Factory floors are increasingly automated places where fewer and fewer human beings are needed to transform raw materials into finished products; clerical work and many forms of mass employment in business, government and management are also increasingly performed more economically by computers than by trained human beings.

The transformation is only beginning to kick in. Self driving cars and trucks may reduce the need for human beings in the transportation and freight industries.  Information processing is beginning to change the nature of the legal profession and even as law school applications fall by almost 50 percent there is much more change to come. Computer assisted diagnosis is making itself felt in health care. MOOCs are likely to change the way much of higher ed works.

It is impossible to say now how far and how fast this process will move, but more and more Americans are experiencing the kind of upheaval that blue collar workers in manufacturing began to experience in the last generation and white collar workers and journalists have felt more recently. We are seeing the greatest wave of economic transition since the mechanization of agriculture reduced the percentage of the labor force engaged in farming from more than half the American labor force in 1890 to less than two percent today. [...]

When 'reformers' like William Jennings Bryan talked about fixing the economy in the 1890s they were thinking about policies that would make the small farm viable. When they thought about providing for American families, they thought about finding ways for new generations of Americans to farm their own land.

In much the same way today, much of our policymaking is about trying to resuscitate the past. Will 'onshoring' revive the manufacturing economy? Yes... but it won't create many jobs. Automation means that a small number of factory workers can produce enough goods for a whole nation, just as a much reduced number of farmers can now feed us.

In the same way, we are going to keep shedding clerical and information processing jobs. There are no policies that can do more than delay the inevitable, just as the host of farm support policies developed during the long transition failed to stop the transformation of agriculture. (These days, farm subsidies developed to help family farmers now mostly fatten the coffers of huge agricultural corporate complexes. More or less the same fate awaits any effort to protect industrial or clerical jobs now: the change won't stop, and the money will end up in the wrong pockets.)

The old jobs are going away and they aren't coming back. More, we can't fix the problem by trying to create new jobs in factories or traditional office bureaucracies to replace the ones going away. We need new kinds of jobs that don't involve manufacturing or traditional forms of information processing. That leaves the service economy; there is nowhere else to go.

It seems obvious enough on its face that the capacity to create ever increasing wealth with ever decreasing labor inputs can not be called a crisis on its face.  Considered in only those terms it borders on the miraculous and is purely benevolent.

The actual crisis that Mr. Mead and others are fretting about is that labor has historically been one of the main means by which we've redistributed wealth and if labor is constantly decreasing in value then it will also be an increasingly ineffective means of redistribution.  So what we actually have is a wealth redistribution crisis.  

Now, many, like Mr. Mead, are still stuck on the job model and envision the possibility of creating masses of boondoggle jobs that will allow us to continue to redistribute wealth via paychecks.  The problem with this vision is twofold: first, the amount of effort expended throughout human history to liberate ourselves from the requirement of labor suggests that, given our druthers, we're happier not having to; and, second, the creation of these unnecessary jobs will retard the very economic efficiencies that are creating such unprecedented wealth in the first place.   It is certainly the case that we could simply accept this trade off--preserve jobs at the expense of efficiency and wealth--it just isn't clear why it would make sense to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Falling Deficit Alters Debate (DAMIAN PALETTA, 5/09/13, WSJ)

Rising government revenue from tax collections and bailout paybacks are shrinking the federal deficit faster than expected, delaying the point when the government will reach the so-called debt ceiling and altering the budget debate in Washington.

The improving financial picture got brighter Thursday when mortgage-finance giant Fannie Mae FNMA +0.11% --which received a big dose of taxpayer aid during the financial crisis--said it would pay the U.S. government $59.4 billion in dividends at the end of June. That sum, as well as $7 billion and possibly more from fellow mortgage-finance firm Freddie Mac, FMCC -0.71% will flow straight into the federal coffers.

At the same time, steadily if historically slow economic growth and changes in tax laws that raised rates in January have pushed other government revenue up. The Congressional Budget Office now calculates the federal deficit through the first seven months of the fiscal year that began in October is $231 billion less than the deficit was at this time a year ago, thanks in part to an estimated 16% increase in tax revenue.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


General Motors' $6 billion truck (Doron Levin, 5/10/13, Fortune)

Because Japanese automakers have managed to conquer only a small piece of the U.S. full-size pickup market, U.S. producers can contend among themselves for most of the shoppers now "in play," those who aren't currently driving a Silverado or F Series. And since large pickups are sold only in North America, automakers have the unusual luxury of charging prices that haven't been driven lower, as with most models, by global competition.

Joe Phillippi, a former Wall Street automotive analyst who writes about the industry, reckons that Silverado will earn "at least five figures" in gross profit per sale. Thus it and its sibling, the GMC Sierra, could account for $5.5 billion to $6 billion in gross profit annually for GM.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Housing Rebound Grows as Prices Climb Sharply (ROBBIE WHELAN, 5/10/13, WSJ)

The National Association of Realtors said Thursday that the national median closing price for an existing single-family house was $176,600 in the first quarter, up 11.3% from the first quarter of 2012. That was the largest year-over-year gain since the end of 2005. Of the 150 metro areas tracked by the NAR, sale prices rose in 133 and declined in 17.

"The supply/demand balance is clearly tilted toward sellers in a good portion of the country," said NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 AM


Cost of Bailouts Continues to Decline (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, 5/10/13, WSJ)

The taxpayers' tab for the government's bailout of companies during the financial crisis continues to shrink.

Big payments to the Treasury Department planned by mortgage-finance giants Fannie Mae FNMA -3.00% and Freddie Mac, FMCC -3.98% and announced this week, will lower the net cost so far of the government's rescue of the two firms to $60.5 billion; it peaked at $187.5 billion in 2011.

The net cost of another major rescue program, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, has fallen to less than $23 billion, a fraction of the $419 billion the Treasury has disbursed to struggling companies since 2008.

May 9, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


China may not overtake America this century after all (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 08 May 2013, The Telegraph)

China's catch-up spurt has a few more years to run in the Western hinterlands perhaps, but when the full story comes out we may find that nationwide growth has already fallen below 7pc.

Mr Li complained in a US diplomatic cable released on WikiLeaks that Chinese GDP statistics are "man-made", confiding to a US diplomat that he tracked electricity use, rail cargo, and bank loans to gauge growth. For a while, analysts use electricity data as a proxy for GDP but the commissars kept a step ahead by ordering power utilities to fiddle the figures.

The National Bureau of Statistics has since revealed that data collected by the regions overstates GDP by 10pc, though they have not acted on the insight. It is well-known why this goes on. The reward system of the Communist hierarchy has been geared to talking up growth, and officials gain kudos by lowering the stated "energy intensity" of their zone.

China's Development Research Council (DRC) expects growth to drop to 6pc by 2020. It could be much lower. The US Conference Board says it will average 3.7pc from 2019-2025 as the ageing crisis hits. Michael Pettis from Beijing University thinks it is likely to slow to 3pc to 4pc over the next decade, deeming this entirely desirable if it comes from taming the runaway state enterprises.

If so, China's growth may not be much higher than the new consensus estimate of 3pc for a reborn America, powered by its energy boom and the revival of the chemical, steel, glass, and paper industries.
All those charts showing China's economy surging past the US by 2030, or 2025, or even 2017, will look very credulous. China may not surpass the US this century.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Heartbroken Chris Brown Always Thought Rihanna Was Woman He'd Beat To Death (The Onion,  May 7, 2013)

After revealing yesterday that he had recently split up with longtime girlfriend Rihanna, a heartbroken Chris Brown tearfully told reporters that he always thought the 25-year-old singer was going to be the woman he'd beat to death one day. "Despite all the ups and downs, I was so sure Rihanna was the one I'd take by the throat one day and fatally assault, and even toward the end I continued to hold out hope that we'd be together until the day she died at my hands from blunt-force trauma," Brown, 24, said in a radio interview this week, telling DJs he still has abusive feelings for his ex-flame and is hopeful that he might punch her again one day. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Even Without Accounting Gimmicks, Electric-Car Maker Tesla is Now Profitable (Kevin Bullis, 5/08/13, Technology Review)

As expected, Tesla Motors, the maker of the luxury Model S electric sedan, announced today that it was profitable for the first time in its ten-year history. During the first quarter of 2013 it had profits of $11 million. Total revenues were $562 million.

The profits came as Tesla cut costs and managed to sell more cars as it ramped up production at its factory in California. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


High School Drop-out Rate at Record Low : Hispanic High School Graduates Pass Whites in Rate of College Enrollment (Richard Fry and Paul Taylor, 5/09/13, Pew Research)

A record seven-in-ten (69%) Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall, two percentage points higher than the rate (67%) among their white counterparts,1 according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. [...]

Another factor, however, could be the importance that Latino families place on a college education. According to a 2009 Pew Hispanic Center survey, 88% of Latinos ages 16 and older agreed that a college degree is necessary to get ahead in life today (Pew Hispanic Center, 2009). By contrast, a separate 2009 survey of all Americans ages 16 and older found that fewer (74%) said the same (Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends, 2009).

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


We Built These Bodies : Evolution: Changing the human body, one invention at a time. (DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC, Nautilus)

Since Darwin, we have considered our bodies to be an outcome of natural selection. But recent anthropological theories suggest that our own technology, even the most primitive, may have affected our own evolution, right down to our shape. [...]

"I believe the transformative moment that gave rise to the genus Homo, one of the great transitions in the history of life, stemmed from the control of fire and the advent of cooked meals," writes anthropologist Richard Wrangham in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.

Cooking increased the amount of energy derived from food while making it softer and easier to chew, he says. This was reflected in bodily changes--smaller guts, narrow pelvises, and ribs that didn't flare out. An abundant fuel supply also helped to maintain our glucose-hungry brains, which required a lot of energy. "Brains are one of the most expensive organs in the body," he says. Our brain uses 20 percent of our energy although it represents only 2 percent of our body weight. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM

The Slide Brothers On World Cafe (DAVID DYE, May 09, 2013, WXPN : World Cafe)

Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent and brothers Darrick and Chuck Campbell are The Slide Brothers. The band's self-titled album debut album was produced by Robert Randolph, the spectacular young pedal-steel guitarist who became the first player from the Sacred Steel tradition to break out to a wider audience.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


The 2015 Budget Surplus Scenario (Reihan Salam, May 8, 2013, National Review)

James Pethokoukis cites a new report from Potomac Research to suggest that there is at least a slim chance that the U.S. federal government will achieve a budget surplus by fiscal year 2015. Pethokoukis makes the most important political points -- a surplus will make it difficult for the Obama administration to make the case for further tax increases, yet it will also undermine the case for entitlement reform. But to be cynical and political for a moment, a surplus would be even worse news for the Republican Party. get credit for it all they had to do was accept a grand bargain with the UR.  The contents made no material difference.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Economists See Deficit Emphasis as Impeding Recovery (JACKIE CALMES and JONATHAN WEISMAN, 5/09/13, NY Times)

That period roughly coincides with the time that Mr. Obama and Congressional Republicans have shared governance since Republicans took control of the House in 2011, promising an immediate $100 billion in spending cuts. Republicans did not get that much then, but the series of budget compromises with the president since -- while not so great as they wanted -- will soon reduce annual discretionary spending for domestic and military programs to the lowest level in half a century.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Obamacare can't fix what was never broken (Robert J. Samuelson, May 9, 2013, Washington Post)

The most overlooked finding is that the uninsured already receive considerable health care. On average, the uninsured annually had 5.5 office visits, used 1.8 prescription drugs and visited an emergency room once. Almost half (46 percent) said that they "had a usual place of care," and 61 percent said that they had "received all needed care" in the past year. About three-quarters (78 percent) who received care judged it "of high quality." Health spending for them averaged $3,257.

True, when people were covered by Medicaid, many of these figures rose. The annual number of office visits went to 8.2; the number of drugs, to 2.5; the share of patients with a usual place of care, to 70 percent; the proportion receiving all needed care, to 72 percent. Preventive care also increased. The share of patients receiving screening for cholesterol moved from 27 percent for the uninsured to 42 percent; the share of women older than 50 having mammograms jumped from 29 percent to 59 percent; the share of men older than 50 getting PSA tests for prostate cancer doubled, from 21 percent to 41 percent. Spending rose to $4,429.

Unfortunately, the added care and cost didn't much improve physical health. The study screened for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and the risk of heart attack or stroke. No major differences were detected between the uninsured and Medicaid recipients. There was more treatment for diabetes, although no difference was found between the two groups on a key indicator of the disease.

The only major health gain was psychological. Depression dropped from about 30 percent to 21 percent between the groups. One reason may have been that Medicaid recipients don't fear huge medical bills. Their out-of-pocket health costs were $337. For the uninsured, out-of-pocket costs were 64 percent higher. (Presumably, most non-out-of-pocket costs for the uninsured were covered by free clinics, charity care and uncollected debt.)

"Health insurance is a financial product that is aimed at providing financial security," the study says. On that ground, the expansion succeeded; by most clinical measures, it didn't. 

...that will both result in greater financial security and less health care than they were even receiving before they were insured.

May 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


Conservative Immigration Scholar: Black and Hispanic Immigrants Are Dumber Than European Immigrants (Adam Serwer, May. 8, 2013, Mother Jones)

Jason Richwine, the co-author of the conservative Heritage Foundation's controversial study on the supposed $6.3 trillion cost of comprehensive immigration reform, has received much attention and criticism for his 2009 Harvard University dissertation that argued there was "a genetic component" to racial disparities in IQ. But this dissertation wasn't the first time Richwine had expressed such views publicly. In 2008, he told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that "major" ethnic or racial differences in intelligence between the Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants who flocked to the United States at the turn of the 20th century and the immigrants coming to the US today justified severely restricting immigration.

Richwine's remarks, which he made as a resident fellow at AEI, did not receive much public notice at the time, but they go beyond the arguments presented in his 2009 dissertation. In that dissertation, "IQ and Immigration Policy," which was first reported by Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post, Richwine argued for restricting immigration based on IQ differences, which he believes are partially the result of genetic differences between ethnic groups. In the dissertation's acknowledgements, Richwine wrote that "no one was more influential" than AEI scholar Charles Murray, co-author of the much-criticized book The Bell Curve, which argued that racial disparities in IQ are partially the result of genetic differences between races. After the Post broke the story about the dissertation, the Heritage Foundation distanced itself from Richwine's immigration reform study.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


In Defense of Henry Kissinger : He was the 20th century's greatest 19th-century statesman. (ROBERT D. KAPLAN, APR 24 2013, The Atlantic)

Like Palmerston, Henry Kissinger believes that in difficult, uncertain times--times like the 1960s and '70s in America, when the nation's vulnerabilities appeared to outweigh its opportunities--the preservation of the status quo should constitute the highest morality.  [...]

To be uncomfortable with Kissinger is, as Palmerston might say, only natural. But to condemn him outright verges on sanctimony, if not delusion. Kissinger has, in fact, been quite moral--provided, of course, that you accept the Cold War assumptions of the age in which he operated.

...provided that you accept the cannibalistic assumptions under which he operated.

Of course, the notion that we were vulnerable vis a vis the communists was just a mistake of fact, but that we ought to engage in helping them maintain a murderous and oppressive status quo because of some (perceived) vulnerabilities was anti-moral.  It is the argument that if a man of sufficient size is beating his wife you ought to make sure he is not interrupted lest he get angry with you.

As Mr. Kaplan conceded in a parenthetical in an earlier Kissinger profile: "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 1:05 PM


The Big Trend: The World Is Getting Wealthier (KATHLEEN O'TOOLE, May 8, 2013, Fiscal Times)

American adults are, on average, three times richer than their grandparents, and their grandchildren will likely be three times richer than they are. That's in real dollars with inflation removed, says macroeconomist Charles Jones of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Furthermore, people in most developing countries are now also increasing their standards of living.

"Historically, poor and rich countries grew at roughly the same rate, but in the last decade we've seen a bunch of poor countries growing rapidly -- not just China and India, but also Africa and other places. This is an incredibly wonderful accomplishment that the rest of the world is catching up with the advanced countries," Jones says.

These optimistic messages are part of an hour-long lecture that Jones has condensed from his quarter-long MBA course Growth and Stabilization in the Global Economy. It's a course designed to give students a longer-range view to supplement the immediate perspective of daily news.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


High Yield? Not So Fast: Junk Bond Yields Fall Below 5% (KATY BURNE, 5/08/13, WSJ)

Yields on the Barclays BARC.LN +0.46% US High Yield Index reached 4.97% on Tuesday, a new low and the first time the index has dipped below 5% in its 30-year history.

The index fell below 6% on Jan. 1, 2013, meaning yields on the below-investment grade, or "junk," corporate bonds have fallen a full percentage point this year. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Freddie Mac: Big Gains from Rising Home Prices (Reuters, May 8, 2013)

Freddie Mac (FMCC.OB), the No. 2 provider of U.S. mortgage money, posted its second-largest quarterly profit in company history in the first quarter due to rising home prices, falling mortgage delinquencies and increased refinance activity.

For the first three months of the year, the government-controlled company on Wednesday reported net income of $4.6 billion, up from $577 million in the year-ago quarter. It was the company's sixth straight quarter of profits, and the largest since a $5.7 billion gain in the third quarter of 2002. [...]

It said it would face another $7 billion payment in June based on its current net worth, and suggested it could record gains in the second quarter on billions of dollars worth of assets it had written down, leading to an even bigger payment. "The strong rebound in the housing market of which we're all aware continues to be reflected in our excellent financial performance," Freddie Mac Chief Executive Officer Donald Layton told reporters on a conference call. "We expect that the housing recovery will continue to bolster our financial performance."

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Home builders struggling to find enough construction workers (Alana Semuels and Alejandro Lazo, May 8, 2013, LA Times)

The real estate bust idled hundreds of thousands of construction workers. Now, with housing on the mend, builders are hiring again.

With home prices surging in Southern California and across the country, builders are again seeing big opportunities. Housing starts and new-home sales are up. But even as California unemployment remains stuck above 9% -- among the highest in the nation -- construction companies say they're struggling to find enough qualified workers to keep up with demand for new homes.

We're going to need an awful lot m,ore immigrants...who are going to need homes...which will require more construction workers...

May 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Abortion Rights Community Has Become the NRA of the Left (Kirsten Powers May 6, 2013, Daily Beast)

I'll put my cards on the table: I think life begins at conception and would love to live in a world where no women ever felt she needed to get an abortion. However, I know enough people who are pro-abortion rights--indeed, I was one of them for most of my life--to know that reasonable and sincere people can disagree about when meaningful life begins. They also can disagree about how to weigh that moral uncertainty against a woman's right to control her body--and her own life. I have only ever voted for Democrats, so overturning Roe v. Wade is not one of my priorities. I never want to return to the days of gruesome back-alley abortions.

But medical advances since Roe v. Wade have made it clear to me that late-term abortion is not a moral gray area, and we need to stop pretending it is. No six-months-pregnant woman is picking out names for her "fetus." It's a baby. Let's stop playing Orwellian word games. We are talking about human beings here.
How is this OK? Even liberal Europe gets this. In France, Germany, Italy, and Norway, abortion is illegal after 12 weeks. In addition to the life-of-mother exception, they provide narrow health exceptions that require approval from multiple doctors or in some cases going before a board. In the U.S., if you suggest such stringent regulation and oversight of later-term abortions, you are tarred within seconds by the abortion rights movement as a misogynist who doesn't "trust women."

Speaking as a liberal who endorses more government regulation of practically everything--banks, water, air, food, oil drilling, animal safety--I am eternally perplexed by the fury the abortion rights contingent displays at the suggestion that the government might have a serious role to play in the issue of abortion, especially later-term abortion. More and more, the abortion rights community has become the NRA of the left: unleashing their armies of supporters and lobbyists in opposition to regulations or restrictions that the majority of Americans support. In the same way the NRA believes background checks will lead to the government busting down your door to confiscate your guns, the abortion rights movement conjures a straight line from parental consent to a complete ban on abortion.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


U.S. Gets Free Cash (MIN ZENG, 5/07/13, WSJ)

The U.S. got free cash in the bond market Tuesday for the first time in 17 months, paying no yield as it sold $20 billion worth of four-week Treasury bills.

The sale shows the U.S. government reaping benefits from a drop in the supply of such short-term Treasury securities as it cuts back on borrowing amid a surge in tax receipts. 

The greatest long term threat to the global economy remains the decline of US debt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Guys: Holding A Guitar Makes You More Attractive (Colin Lecher, 05.06.2013, Popular Science)

Single dudes: Are you holding a guitar at this moment? If not, you are not reaching your Maximum Attractiveness Potential, according to two (2) recently published studies.

A French study that was just published suggests women are more attracted to a guy hefting around a guitar, and that supports another study published in Israel last year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Where Trade Is Free, Powerful Economic Growth Is The Norm ( Claudio Loser, 5/07/13, Forbes)

The world is witnessing a profound economic initiative in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - the regional free trade agreement currently under negotiation between the United States and ten other countries in the Americas and in the Asia-Pacific Region.  These negotiations were energized in March by Japan's decision to seek participation, and a short time later, with the Obama administration's pledge to support their inclusion. It's clear that a global free trade agreement, which includes the first and third largest economies - and all of NAFTA - will truly achieve "game changer" status.  With Japan, the TPP would cover 40 percent of global GDP, and nearly 10 percent of total trade, including one third of U.S. external trade. With these growth prospects in mind, Japan should be welcomed by all parties to the TPP. [...]

A desire for greater inclusiveness is already evidenced by the President's success in securing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) in his first term with Panama, Colombia and South Korea. [...]

The facts are compelling.  Japan has been a major investor in Latin America and particularly in Mexico, Peru, and Chile.  While commerce in general has declined compared to the levels of the 1980s and '90s, Japan serves as the destination of more than 10 percent of Chilean, and five percent of Peruvian exports.

Japan is already the source of four percent of both Peruvian and Mexican imports.  And we can anticipate that the expanded trade freedom that will result from the TPP will only increase Japan's appetite for Latin American products, while also helping to better integrate their value chain, something that is sorely missing in South American countries. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


As red ink recedes, pressure fades for budget deal (Lori Montgomery and Zachary A. Goldfarb, May 7, 2013, Washington Post)

After four years of trillion-dollar deficits, the red ink is receding rapidly in Washington, easing pressure on policymakers and shattering hopes for a summertime budget deal.

Federal tax revenue is up and spending is down thanks to an improving economy, tax hikes enacted in January and the hated budget cuts known as the sequester. As a result, the U.S. Treasury has slowed the pace of borrowing from the frantic days of the 2008 economic crisis and actually expects to repay a tiny fraction of the $16.8 trillion national debt by the end of June.

The budget was always too trivial a problem to require reform.  You had to exploit the hysteria to get any.

Current deficit plunges 32% (Jeanne Sahadi, 5/07/13, CNNMoney)

The annual deficit has fallen 32% over the first seven months of this fiscal year compared with same period last year, according to Congressional Budget Office figures released Tuesday.
A major reason: A big jump in tax revenue.

Tax collections rose by $220 billion -- or 16% -- between the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 through April 30. Individual and payroll taxes accounted for $184 billion of that increase. [...[

Spending, meanwhile, fell 1.9% year over year, the CBO estimated. 

May 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Apprenticeships could help U.S. workers gain a competitive edge (Stuart E. Eizenstat and Robert I. Lerman, Published: May 3, 2013, Washington Post)

The central answer to the mismatch between jobs and employment is a 21st-century apprenticeship program. In Austria, Germany and Switzerland -- countries with long histories of guilds and craftwork -- 55 to 70 percent of all young people enter apprenticeships. Apprenticeships have grown rapidly in other countries, tripling in Australia since 1996 and jumping tenfold -- to more than 500,000 entrants last year -- in England since 1990. The Group of 20 ministers of labor, the International Labor Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development strongly recommend expanding apprenticeship programs.

Apprenticeships could help reduce youth unemployment, widen opportunities for young people who do not want to sit in class all day and help ensure that the potential resurgence in manufacturing is not thwarted by a mismatch of skills. With effective apprenticeship systems, highly developed economies sustain jobs in manufacturing. Employment in manufacturing accounts for 20 percent of jobs in Germany and 16 percent in Switzerland but only 10 percent in the United States.

Although apprenticeships yield significant earnings gains for workers, this country has too few programs, partly because of the massive bias in public spending toward a college-only approach. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Many opt for high-deductible health plans despite risks (Lisa Zamosky, May 5, 2013, LA Times)

Alice Marie Francis believes it's important to have health insurance, but finding a plan that fit her budget was no easy task. "Money is tight," says the 50-year-old Burbank mother of two, whose children are insured by their father's work-based policy.

To make sure she had coverage that didn't break the bank, she opted for a high-deductible health plan -- an increasingly popular option with lower monthly premiums but high upfront costs before most insurance payments kick in.

High-deductible plans are typically recommended for younger policyholders who are in good health and have less need for doctor visits and prescription drugs, and for people with incomes high enough to cover the cost of routine medical care.

But patients like Francis opt for it anyway, despite the risks. She pays just $123 a month, but if she gets sick she'll have to shell out $3,300 to meet her deductible before insurance helps her pay the bills.

As a result, Francis says she does whatever she can to avoid the doctor. "I ensure that I take very good care of myself," she says. [...]

•Sign up for a health savings account to set aside money for medical expenses. These HSAs are investment accounts that can be opened by anyone enrolled in a qualified health insurance plan. For 2013, a single person can sock away as much as $3,250 annually and a family can set aside as much as $6,450. If you're 55 or older, you're allowed to kick in an additional $1,000 each year.

The money you deposit goes in as a before-tax contribution and, as with a 401(k) account, accumulates tax free from year to year. The money can also be withdrawn tax free as long as it's spent on qualified healthcare costs, such as dental care, doctor and hospital visits, eyeglasses and prescription drugs. Check out IRS Publication 502 for a list of qualified expenses.

•Shop for the best price and negotiate. The prices of medical procedures vary widely from one healthcare provider to another, even among those contracted with the same insurance company. For example, a study conducted last year for Catalyst for Payment Reform, a nonprofit organization working to improve how health services are paid for, found that the price for colonoscopies varied from one provider to another by as much as 1,000%.

For that reason it pays to shop around. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Recovery in U.S. Is Lifting Profits, but Not Adding Jobs (NELSON D. SCHWARTZ, March 3, 2013, NY Times)

As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. In recent years, the shift has accelerated during the slow recovery that followed the financial crisis and ensuing recession of 2008 and 2009, said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.

Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008, he said, but disposable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, after adjusting for inflation.

"There hasn't been a period in the last 50 years where these trends have been so pronounced," Mr. Maki said.

At the individual corporate level, though, the budget sequestration could result in large job cuts as companies move to protect their bottom lines, said Louis R. Chenevert, the chief executive of United Technologies. Depending on how long the budget tightening lasts, the job cuts at his company could total anywhere from several hundred to several thousand, he said.

"If I don't have the business, at some point you've got to adjust the work force," he said. "You always try to find solutions, but you get to a point where it's inevitable."

The path charted by United Technologies, an industrial giant based in Hartford that is one of 30 companies in the Dow, underscores why corporate profits and share prices continue to rise in a lackluster economy and a stagnant job market. Simply put, United Technologies does not need as many workers as it once did to churn out higher sales and profits.

"Right now, C.E.O.'s are saying, 'I don't really need to hire because of the productivity gains of the last few years,' " said Robert E. Moritz, chairman of the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

At 218,300 employees, United Technologies' work force is virtually unchanged from seven years ago, even though annual revenue soared to $57.7 billion in 2012 from $42.7 billion in 2005.

The relentless focus on maintaining margins continues, even though profit and revenue have never been higher; four days after the company's shares soared past $90 to a record high last month, United Technologies confirmed it would eliminate an additional 3,000 workers this year, on top of 4,000 let go in 2012 as part a broader restructuring effort.

"There's no doubt we will continue to drive productivity year after year," Mr. Chenevert said. "Ultimately, we compete globally."

May 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


Oslo eager to import trash to solve fuel shortage (Magdalene Perez,  4/30/13, MSN News)

As some landfills in the United States fill to capacity, Oslo is facing a very different problem -- a trash shortage.

The Norwegian capital, which burns garbage to generate heat and electricity, has more demand for waste than supply, The New York Times reports. Nearly half the city of 1.4 million is heated by burning garbage, including household trash and toxic and industrial waste.

With not enough local trash to keep its incinerators running, Oslo has turned to importing rubbish from England, Ireland and Sweden, according to the report. City official Pal Mikkelsen, managing director of Oslo's waste-to-energy agency, is even interested in importing waste from the United States, he told the Times.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Looser Guidelines Issued on Prostate Screening (ANDREW POLLACK, 5/03/13, NY Times)

In a major shift, the American Urological Association has pulled back its strong support of prostate cancer screening, saying that the testing should be considered primarily by men aged 55 to 69.

The association had staunchly defended the benefits of screening men with the prostate test, even after a government advisory committee, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, said in 2011 that healthy men should not be screened because far more men would be harmed by unnecessary prostate cancer treatments than would be saved from death.

But in new guidelines issued Friday, the urology association says that routine screening is no longer recommended for men 40 to 54 years old who are at average risk of getting prostate cancer. Screening is also not recommended for men 70 and older.

The guidelines say men 55 to 69 should discuss the benefits and harms of screening with their doctors. And if they do choose screening, an interval of two years rather than annually would be better.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


How the Bank of Japan staged its big bang (Leika Kihara, 4/30/13, Reuters)

From the moment he assumed the job in March, Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda had a number in mind: 9. The number had nothing to do with the scale of the bank's stimulus plan, which the market had been buzzing about. It was a vote target.

The central bank's policies are determined in votes by its nine-member board, chaired by the governor. And Kuroda wanted all eight of his colleagues to back his controversial plan to jolt Japan out of its long slump by flooding markets with cheap money.

Only weeks before Kuroda joined, the board had voted 8 to 1 against a plan for bold monetary easing. Now, vocally backed by a new prime minister, Kuroda knew the arithmetic had moved in his favor. He was joining the board with two new deputies. They plus two sympathetic veterans on the board gave the new governor a 5-4 edge. But Kuroda wanted unanimous support.

His recipe was radical: double Japan's money supply in two years, and promise to ignite 2 percent inflation in two years, reversing nearly two decades of falling prices. 

Japan's Population Falls by Record in 2012 as Births Decrease (Masumi Suga, Jan 1, 2013, Bloomberg)

Japan's population last year declined by 212,000, the biggest drop on record, according to an estimate by the nation's health ministry.

That's the largest reduction since the ministry started recording the data in 1947 and a sixth straight year of declines.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Austerity never works: Deficit hawks are amoral -- and wrong : The 1 percent and the financial class caused the Great Recession. So why do we keep allowing them to shape policy? (ROBERT KUTTNER, 5/05/13, Salon)

By the war's end, the U.S. government's public debt exceeded 120 percent of GDP, almost twice today's ratio. America worked off that debt not by tightening its belt but by liberating the economy's potential. In 1945, there was no panel like President Obama's Bowles-Simpson commission targeting the debt ratio a decade into the future and commending 10 years of budget cuts. Rather, the greater worry was that absent the stimulus of war and with 12 million newly jobless GIs returning home, the civilian economy would revert to depression. So America doubled down on its public investments with programs like the GI Bill and the Marshall Plan. For three decades, the economy grew faster than the debt, and the debt dwindled to less than 30 percent of GDP. 

Mr. Kuttner's point is so hilarious on its face that it hardly seems fair to introduce facts, but let's just take a look at how little spending changed after the War.

Oops, nevermind.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


My father, the good Nazi (Philippe Sands, 5/03/13, Financial Times)

The father and son theme interested me. At the time I met Niklas I was writing a piece about Saif Gaddafi's relationship with his father, and about Saif's failure to break with him at a crucial moment in Libya's history, in February 2011. Niklas and I talked at length about patricide, literary and political.

Knowing of my interest in Lemberg, Niklas suggested I might want to meet Horst, the son of Lemberg's Nazi governor, Otto von Wächter, who worked closely with his father, Hans. He added a note of caution: "Horst takes a rather different attitude to mine." [...]

The last time Horst saw his father was in 1948, around Christmas. He remembered a man with a moustache who visited at night, but recalled no conversation, or any real connection. This made his desire to rehabilitate Otto even more incomprehensible.

"My whole life is dominated by him," Horst offered. After the war the family was ostracised even in Salzburg, and this caused a great feeling of insecurity and led to a recurring question: "Was my father really a criminal?" In the face of overwhelming evidence he was unable to confront the reality.

It was plain that Horst had developed various techniques to sanitise the facts. There was a distinction between Wächter and the system, between the individual and the group. "I know that the whole system was criminal," Horst says, "and that he was part of it, but I don't think he was a criminal. He didn't act like a criminal."

The answer was bemusing, but I understood the reluctance. He was not alone in Austria. (After my first visit to Horst, I had collected my 15-year-old daughter at the airport, and in response to my inquiry as to which museum she might want to visit, she suggested the Museum of the Anschluss. There is of course no such place, and we made do with a single room at the small, private Third Man Museum - named after the classic film - which rather impressively tries to make up for the state's unwillingness to confront its own past.)

The more I pushed, the more Horst insisted on varnished truth. Wächter was a father. He saved Jews. He had responsibilities to others. He followed orders and an oath (to Hitler). He had to provide for the family. He was an idealist. He was honourable. He believed the system could be improved. In a court these arguments would be hopeless. Yet Horst maintained that Wächter was "very much against the criminal system" even if hard put to offer any convincing examples.

Could his father have walked away from Lemberg and the murderous operations his administration oversaw?

"No, after 1934 he had no chance to leave it. He had an idealistic idea of a better system."

If there had been a chance to walk away in August 1942, before the "Great Aktion", would he have taken it?

"There was no chance to leave the system," Horst said quietly.

The US Justice Department documents said otherwise, and to these we turned. Horst had seen plenty of evidence tying his father to those times, but he had managed to find a way to rationalise the material, which was merely "unpleasant" or "tragic". Now I showed him new material. He took each document and read it carefully, head lowered, eyes intent.

The first document was a note of a meeting held in Lemberg on January 10 1942, shortly before Wächter arrived in the city. It was entitled "Deportation of Jews from Lemberg", ostensibly the removal of the economically unproductive to the countryside. The reality was a one-way trip to Belzec concentration camp and the gas chambers, in late March 1942. "If feasible, the term 'resettlement' is to be avoided," the note said.

The second document was an order of March 13 1942, actually signed by Wächter. Intended to restrict the employment of Jews throughout Galicia, it was issued two days before the first ghetto operation (March 15), and took effect the day after the transfers to Belzec (April 1). It cut off access to the gentile world for working Jews, making them more vulnerable to later Aktions. Horst's improbable reaction? His father acted against the order, he employed Jews in his own household.

How did he feel reading his father's signature on such a document, in black and white?

He paused, then suggested that Wächter must have known what this would mean. "He was helplessly involved."

Helplessly? He could have left, I said. Horst's answer floored me.

"He knew that if he left Lemberg, they would put some brutalists there, instead of him."

More brutal than killing every Jew?

Horst is unable to offer an answer.

We proceeded to the third, devastating document. It was a short memorandum from Heinrich Himmler to Dr Stuckart, the Reich minister of the interior in Berlin, on Wächter's future. It was dated August 25 1942, the last day of the Great Aktion that had begun on the 10th.

"I recently was in Lemberg and had a very plain talk with the governor, SS-Brigadeführer Dr. Wächter. I openly asked him whether he wants to go to Vienna, because I would have considered it a mistake, while there, not to have asked this question that I am well aware of. Wächter does not want to go to Vienna."

Himmler had spoken with Wächter about his future career. What transpired was unclear, but Himmler offered him a chance to return to Vienna. This was declined, no doubt, as a career-killing move. Himmler ended with an additional thought:

"It now remains to be seen how Wächter will conduct himself in the General government as Governor of Galicia, following our talk."

Wächter must have conducted himself well, as he finished the job and stayed on in Lemberg for two more years.

The context was important. Himmler met Wächter in Lemberg on August 17, and by the time he wrote to Stuckart the operation to remove 40,000 Jews to Belzec was under way. Among them were the parents and siblings of Hersch Lauterpacht and, apparently, Simon Wiesenthal's mother. As civilian leader, Wächter supported the operation.

The document offered no ambiguity, or escape.

Horst stared at it, without expression. If his father stood before him, what would he say?

"I don't really know," Horst said. "It's very difficult ... Maybe I wouldn't ask him anything at all."

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


Richard Nixon, hero of the American Left : He's justifiably reviled by historians, but Nixon's politics were far more progressive than we give him credit (EMMETT RENSIN, 5/05/13, Salon)

Far more interesting was just how progressive Nixon seemed to be. No less a liberal luminary than Gore Vidal endorsed in "Not The Best Man's Best Man" as:

The first President who acted on the not-exactly-arcane notion that the United States is just one country among many countries [...] [Nixon] went to Peking and Moscow in order to demonstrate to all the world the absolute necessity of coexistence.

The foreign policy accomplishments are well documented and, however begrudgingly, praised in left-wing circles. It was these very accomplishments that were seen as safe subject matter for the funeral. They are remarkable not just for their success, but for the fundamentally progressive content of their character: disarmament in the form of the SALT treaties, restraint in support of Israel, choosing trade with China over the ideological rigidity of absolute good versus evil -- these are the things that today's Democrats can only dream of, lest they be accused of weakness, appeasement, and surrender. To an Angeleno teenager living in the latter days of George W. Bush, it looked like saintliness.

Moreover, Nixon's unexpected leftism didn't end at the water's edge. On the domestic front, Nixon had instituted wage and price controls, founded the EPA, claimed that solar and wind power were the only option for the 21st century, rejected the extreme voices of his own party when they tried to give Spiro Agnew's job to Ronald Reagan (who Nixon called a "know-nothing") instead of the relatively moderate Gerald Ford. His record read like everything I wished my party could admit standing for and still get elected.

On the economy, Nixon declared himself -- and all of us -- to be Keynesians, saying flat out that the government does create jobs, siding with Paul Krugman, not Milton Friedman or Ayn Rand. On civil rights, he broke the 1959 Senate tie over strengthening the black vote in the former Confederacy; Senator John F. Kennedy sided with the South. As President he required affirmative action for federal contractors; Senator Sam Ervin, hero of the Watergate Committee, swore to fight integration to his last breath. On the environment -- beyond the EPA and renewable energy -- he halted dumping in the Great Lakes, passed the Clean Air Act, and formed a cabinet-level Council on Environmental Quality. He founded the Legal Services Corporation to assist the poor, opposed an amendment to protect school prayer, gave 18-year-olds the vote, ended the draft (finally), and was the first American president to propose the universal insurance mandate so hated by today's Republicans. Ted Kennedy killed the legislation (it wasn't liberal enough).

I began to play a game called "Guess Who Said It." The idea was to put two quotations on a political issue next to each other -- one from Richard Nixon, and the other from a well-known contemporary Democrat. Here's one with John Kerry on the topic of gun control. Guess who said it:

Let me be clear. I support the Second Amendment. I am a gun owner. I am a hunter.

I don't know why an individual should have a right to a revolver in his house [...] the kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth. Why can't we go after handguns, period?

Richard Nixon -- the Big Bad of American politics, the most universally condemned president of the last 100 years -- was to the left of John Kerry on gun control. In 1992, near the end of his life, he went on record saying flat out that "[w]e need gun laws stricter than the Brady Bill."

Of course, on all of these counts, the Nixon legacy is more complicated than I gave it credit for all those years ago. But by the beginning of my freshman year at the University of Chicago, I was a clear-eyed apologist for Nixon the Complex; a foot soldier for Nixon the Surprisingly Liberal, acting out my revisionist crusade, full of zealotry. I volunteered for the Obama campaign while I filled my dorm room with 1968 campaign posters. I argued for socialism in my freshman sociology classes while debating (to my parents' horror) any fellow liberal I could find on the 37th president. There didn't seem to be a contradiction -- my hero and my left wing values fell hand in hand.

In 15 short months, I had come from reflexively loathing to unconditionally loving The Great Boogeyman of American politics. From "Nixonland" to Nixonalia. From a toke to the needle. I was a Nixon junkie.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


Obamacare and the Mystery of Medical Science (Jonathan Chait, 5/03/13, New York)

Okay: The case for Medicaid expansion is not as strong as I had thought. [...]

The United States has very high levels of income inequality, a very stingy welfare state, and is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee access to medical care. The Oregon study does not raise particular questions about the efficacy of Medicaid; it raises questions about the efficacy of medical care in general. Measuring the impact of medicine is just really hard to do, yet almost nobody would volunteer to follow this frustrating fact to its logical conclusion and forgo the benefits of modern medicine.

And the Oregon study is not pushing the political debate toward a rethinking of the benefits of medicine writ large. It is only strengthening the hand of those who want to deny it to people who can't afford health insurance. The Oregon study results from an unusual circumstance: The state had the budget to add 10,000 people to Medicaid, but far more who wanted to join, so it conducted a lottery. 
It is only the poor who can be subjected to Hunger Games-style experimentation with their health. In any other advanced country, in which medical care is a basic right, such an experiment would be wildly unethical.

We know that Medicaid makes people happier and less poor. We have trouble proving its impact on their physical well-being because proof of the benefits of medicine remain elusive. Unless we want to stop thinking of basic medical care as a life necessity, and we don't, the case for Medicaid remains unimpeachable.

Mr. Chait has--even if accidentally--made a pretty good case that rather than wasting money on universal medical care, which makes little difference to people's health, we ought to use the money to supplement wealth and make social welfare more generous.  Of course, that's exactly what HSAs do and Medicaid does not do.  It's an essay at war with itself.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


Keynes Was Gay -- Not That There's Anything Wrong with That (Jonah Goldberg, May 4, 2013, National Review)

Here, via Nexis, is a passage from a 1986 Harvard Business Review article by George Sim Johnston, reviewing a book by Henry Kaufman:

As I say, Dr. Kaufman counsels bond investors to forget the past. Early in the book, however, he tells us that his most strongly held views, particularly with regard to inflation, probably derive from his past, which began in the Weimar Republic. He was born just after the hyperinflation and was weaned on family stories about the overnight disappearance of life savings. Ever since, he has been wary of the state's ability to print money.

It would be useful if more economists prefaced their works with such biographical material. As William James pointed out, analytical thinking always begins with some personal bias; scratch a mathematical model and you'll find that its creator prefers blueberry jam to marmalade. John Maynard Keynes would have done a great service if he had begun The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money with the disclosure that he was a Bloomsbury aesthete and a practicing homosexual. He could have explained how he and friends did not believe in self-denial or consider that they had any obligation to posterity. (An historian has pointed out that Keynes's famous remark, "In the long run we are all dead," is easy to make if you have no children and don't want any.) Perhaps as a result we might have lower federal deficits. [...]

[K]eynes' himself described the Bloomsbury mindset as a rejection of all standards:

We repudiated entirely customary morals, conventions and traditional wisdom. We were, that is to say, in the strict sense of the term, immoralists. The consequences of being found out had, of course, to be considered for what they were worth. But we recognised no moral obligation on us, or inner sanction, to conform or to obey. Before heaven we claimed to be our own judge in our own case.

Intellectual historian Gertrude Himmelfarb draws quite a few lessons from that mindset. She writes:

In fact, something of the "soul" of Bloomsbury penetrated even into Keynes's economic theories. There is a discernible affinity between the Bloomsbury ethos, which put a premium on immediate and present satisfactions, and Keynesian economics, which is based entirely on the short run and precludes any long-term judgments. (Keynes's famous remark. "In the long run we are all dead," also has an obvious connection with his homosexuality -- what Schumpeter delicately referred to as his "childless vision.") The same ethos is reflected in the Keynesian doctrine that consumption rather than saving is the source of economic growth -- indeed, that thrift is economically and socially harmful. In The Economic Consequences of the Peace, written long before The General Theory, Keynes ridiculed the "virtue" of saving. The capitalists, he said, deluded the working classes into thinking that their interests were best served by saving rather than consuming. This delusion was part of the age-old Puritan fallacy.

So Keynes believed that Puritan values inclined people to embrace an economic theory (capitalism), but the Ferguson episode teaches us that is now beyond outrageous to suggest that Keynes's rejection of Puritan values inclined him to embrace a slightly different economic theory (Keynesianism)? Got it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


In Costa Rica, Obama Stresses Economic Ties (COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON, 5/05/13, WSJ)

President Barack Obama said Saturday that he considers trade relationships with Central American countries and Mexico enormously important, telling Costa Ricans that the U.S. wants to be their partner.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Our National Raptor : The bald eagle makes a big impression, but its voice is small (Priscilla Long, American Scholar)

They live in monogamous pairs for life, a span that runs for 20 or 30 years in the wild. If a bird loses a mate, come breeding season he or she will seek a new partner. They court by performing aerial dives and displays designed, it seems, to make human air-show pilots feel inadequate. They construct the mother of all bird nests at the tops of massive trees, mostly with sticks. They remodel and add on each year, and a nest can reach nine feet across and weigh half a ton. They lay one to three eggs a year, incubating them for a bit over a month. Eagle chicks are all brown. The parents feed them (fish is the preferred food) and guard them. They fly at about the age of 12 weeks but don't fly away. They stick around with their parents.

We almost lost the bald eagle, and the fact that the species has come back and is now thriving is one of our great environmental achievements. In the mid 20th century the birds got a bad rap and were alleged to eat toddlers (false) and baby lambs (mostly false--they do eat mice and small mammals). People detested them and would shoot them for the hell of it.

The hunting ban mattered.  The DDT ban didn't.
Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Off-the-Cuff Obama Line Put U.S. in Bind on Syria (PETER BAKER, MARK LANDLER, DAVID E. SANGER and ANNE BARNARD, 5/05/13, NY Times)

Confronted with evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, President Obama now finds himself in a geopolitical box, his credibility at stake with frustratingly few good options.

The origins of this dilemma can be traced in large part to a weekend last August, when alarming intelligence reports suggested the besieged Syrian government might be preparing to use chemical weapons. After months of keeping a distance from the conflict, Mr. Obama felt he had to become more directly engaged.

In a frenetic series of meetings, the White House devised a 48-hour plan to deter President Bashar al-Assad of Syria by using intermediaries like Russia and Iran to send a message that one official summarized as, "Are you crazy?" But when Mr. Obama emerged to issue the public version of the warning, he went further than many aides realized he would. [...]

The evolution of the "red line" and the nine months that followed underscore the improvisational nature of Mr. Obama's approach to one of the most vexing crises in the world, all the more striking for a president who relishes precision. Palpably reluctant to become entangled in another war in the Middle East, and well aware that most Americans oppose military action, the president has deliberately not explained what his "red line" actually is or how it would change his calculus.

"I'm not convinced it was thought through," said Barry Pavel, a former defense policy adviser to Mr. Obama who is now at the Atlantic Council. "I'm worried about the broader damage to U.S. credibility if we make a statement and then come back with lawyerly language to get around it."

While Mr. Pavel favors a more active response to the killings in Syria, others worry that Mr. Obama may have trapped himself into going too far. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, told Bloomberg Television that military involvement in Syria would risk "a large-scale disaster for the United States." that Mr. Brzezinski was hawkish when it was Polish freedom that was at stake but has been isolationist for every other people.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


On Borges, Particles and the Paradox of the Perceived (WILLIAM EGGINTON, 4/28/13, NY Times)

On the one hand, Kant says, our reason tells us that as we home in on a substance we will eventually come to a unit that cannot be further divided, for if we didn't, there would be nothing out of which the world and everything in it is composed. On the other hand, our reason also tells us that such a simple substance, if we find it, occupies space; and if it occupies space, that space must be divisible.

In formulating the antinomies, Kant was inspired by Zeno. Zeno's paradoxes purport to prove the impossibility of motion. To get from Point A to Point B, a traveler must first cross to a Point C halfway between them. Prior to that, though, he or she must cross Point D halfway between A and C, and so on infinitely, such that the traveler never in fact moves.

In both Zeno's paradoxes and Kant's antinomies, an act of observation engenders an apparent contradiction in the very knowledge it produces. As it turns out, it is this very same apparent contradiction that we see at work in the uncertainty principle. While any and all observations contain this inherent paradox, it becomes visible only when pushed to the extreme, either of logic or of the physical world.

In a story published in his 1941 collection "Fictions," Borges created just such an extreme scenario. His character in that story, Funes, has a memory so perfect that he perceives every moment in time as entirely distinct, unrelated to those coming before or after. Consequently, he is incapable of overlooking minor differences in order to connect the impressions of one moment in time to those of the next. He becomes frustrated at our how language generalizes, at how we use the same word, "dog," to refer to a four-legged creature facing one direction at 3:14 and facing another direction at 3:15.

While Borges may have been inspired by examples of prodigious memory, pushed to such impossible extremes the example of Funes reveals the paradox at the heart of any and all knowledge of the world: namely, that there can be no such thing as a pure observation, one free of the changes imposed by time.

What Funes shows is that, at its most basic level, any observation requires a synthesis of impressions over time. Furthermore, the process by which the synthesis takes place, the media through which it is processed, and the entity doing the synthesizing are all essential aspects of the knowledge being produced. This is, in a nutshell, the first part of Kant's 1781 opus magnum, "The Critique of Pure Reason."

Kant had been challenged -- awoken from his dogmatic slumber, as he said -- by the empiricist David Hume's assertion that we could never infer any certain knowledge about, for instance, laws of causality, because we are limited to knowing what our senses can learn about the world at any given moment. We may know that the sun is rising now, he famously argued, but cannot infer with any certainty that it will rise again tomorrow.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Democracy Promotion Benefits the United States (Zalmay Khalilzad | May 3, 2013, National Interest)

In his recently published criticism of U.S. democracy programs, particularly those of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Jordan Michael Smith characterizes that organization's work as "controversial." Controversial? In 2003, on the twentieth anniversary of NED's founding, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution commending its work and pledging future support. The vote was 390-1. A not-for-profit organization that receives federal funding, the Endowment has been a line-item in the budget of every president, Democratic and Republican, year in and year out, since its inception thirty years ago.

Of course, supporting civic organizations that seek our assistance is indeed regarded as controversial by authoritarians who seek to crush the aspirations of their own people. Smith takes at face value the accusations of such authorities as the Kremlin-funded Russia Today, Iran's former envoy to the United Nations, and Egypt's justice minister, that NED and other democracy-assistance groups seek "to determine the governmental systems of other countries." Had he interviewed NED's grantees (detailed in its freely available annual report), he would have found that NED supports independent democratic activists and NGOs that are politically diverse, pragmatic, and reformist. Often, their activities are in tension with the array of interests that the U.S. government pursues.

Their God-given right to self-determination trumps our petty self-interests.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


What I discovered when I got a gun (Alex Hannaford, 5/03/13,

So I went out an bought a gun.

A 9mm Sig Sauer P250 semi-automatic handgun, to be precise. And then I attended a one-day concealed handgun license course up the road from my home, which enabled me to take my gun (almost) everywhere I went, albeit squirreled away in a holster tucked into my jeans.

I had been commissioned by GQ magazine to write an in-depth story about American gun culture and under the strict rules of immersion journalism I'd, er, immersed myself. The results surprised me a little, but it was less to do with how I felt carrying the gun around (pretty stupid) and more to do with the exhaustive research I did alongside it. Here's what I learned:

1. The pro-gun brigade will have you believe that the police absolutely love concealed handgun license holders. Spoiler, if you're about to read the feature I wrote: they don't.

2. Where I live in Austin, there are about 82 home invasions a year - in a city of 820,000 people. You're far more likely to be injured by your own gun than to need one to use against somebody breaking in at night.

3. Concealed handgun license holders are mostly white, middle-class men who want to defend against people and places they perceive as dangerous - especially ethnic minority men. Actually, this one wasn't much of a surprise.

4. I actually enjoyed target shooting, and, afterwards, taking my gun apart and cleaning it. It's pretty therapeutic.

5. More of my Texas friends (Democrat, Libertarian and Republican alike) had guns than I'd thought.

6. So-called assault rifles like the AR-15 are also manufactured and sold in Britain. It's perfectly legal for someone living in Croydon, for example, to own an AR-15 - if he or she has a UK licence for target shooting.

This last piece of information I found particularly astonishing; and I wrote a follow-up piece explaining why attacks from the left in Europe often miss their target due to a complete lack of knowledge about guns and gun laws in their own countries, let alone in the United States; that some people railing against the availability of assault rifles, which are so often demonised in the gun debate, lived in countries like the UK where the same guns are actually manufactured and sold to civilians.

The difference is that, in the UK, we don't license guns for use in the killing of other human beings as they do in the US. I'm not being facetious either. On my concealed handgun licence course, we learned how hollow-point bullets (that you can buy from Walmart, incidentally) are designed to expand when they meet flesh, causing maximum, bloody, damage. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter, used this sort of ammunition.

The research I did for those stories also reinforced my belief that it's a very vocal minority in America whose affection for the right to bear arms isn't anything to do with hunting or target shooting. It's about arming themselves to the teeth so they can rise up against an oppressive government should the need arise. Because, you know, that kind of thing happens a lot in America. And they're going to be really effective against the most powerful military force in the world, if the need should ever arise.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Homage to Orwell : Revisiting George Orwell's classic account of the Spanish Civil War, 75 years on. (Mick Hume, spiked Review of Books)

Most of those from Britain and Europe who went to write about and fight in the Spanish Civil War took a similarly one-eyed view and followed the pro-Soviet line. What was unique about Orwell was that he hated fascism, but also stood apart from the official Stalinist-dominated left of his time. The radical maverick wrote about what he saw in Spain, rather than simply what he was told was true - although he also warned his readers to 'beware my partisanship' when seeking an objective account. He questioned the 'official' Stalinist-dictated account of events in Barcelona and elsewhere that was accepted around the world. This heresy made him the subject of a hate campaign when Homage to Catalonia was finally published in 1938, a campaign which continued well into the 1980s.

Orwell concedes that when he arrived in Barcelona in December 1936, months after General Franco's fascist rebellion down south and the working-class revolt it had sparked in the Catalan capital, he was politically naive about the situation in Spain. He wanted to join the International Brigades to fight fascism, but the Communist Party of Great Britain would not endorse his application. So, almost by accident via his links with the Independent Labour Party over here, Orwell ended up at the Lenin Barracks of the workers' militia attached to the POUM - the anti-Stalinist Workers Party of Marxist Unification. Orwell confessed he was initially exasperated by the 'kaleidoscope' of different parties, trade unions and factions vying for influence on the left 'with their tiresome names -  PSUC, POUM, FAI, CNT, UGT, JCI, JSU, AIT... as if Spain were suffering from a plague of initials'. The significance of those divisions on the left would become clear soon enough.

Orwell gives an account of one corner of the Spanish Civil War from the perspective of an isolated and frustrated English volunteer. He depicts the militia he fought with as a poorly trained, barely armed 'rabble', capturing the frontline atmosphere of cold and boredom and squalor and shortages. The 'characteristic smell of war' he describes as one 'of excrement and decaying food', and notes with some sang-froid that, 'If there is one thing I hate more than another it is a rat running over me in the darkness. However, I had the satisfaction of catching one of them a good punch that sent him flying.' Orwell's militia unit generally seemed to have less success landing a meaningful blow in their somewhat fitful exchanges with the fascist foe.

Yet amid the vermin and the organised chaos, Orwell was obviously deeply touched by the decency and heroism of the ordinary Spaniards and foreigners fighting for freedom by his side. Isolated on the frontline with the workers' militia, he recalls: 'One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word "comrade" stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality.'

Like others, Orwell had gone to Spain in the spirit of anti-fascist idealism. The International Brigades were themselves partly a symptom of the defeat of the European left in the era of fascism and Stalinism. Those who could see no prospect of socialism at home grabbed at the chance to make a stand in Spain. When the Civil War broke out there in 1936, wrote Orwell, 'every anti-fascist in Europe felt a thrill of hope'. Those hopes were to be dashed as they discovered that the Stalinist apparatchiks who had overseen the demise of the Russian Revolution were determined to make sure there was no boat-rocking proletarian revolution in Spain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


The Apprentices of a Digital Age (HANNAH SELIGSON, 5/05/13, NY Times)

JASMINE GAO, who is 19, just wasn't the classroom type. So instead of languishing in college, she dropped out after her freshman year.

Ms. Gao decided that she didn't want to continue studying at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York. At first she considered transferring to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, but she changed her mind when she saw that her tuition bill would be around $44,000 a year, with only a small amount of financial aid available. "I didn't want to come out of college with $200,000 in debt and have to spend 10 years paying it off," she said.

Yet she still sought a way to nurture her interest in technology. A year later, Ms. Gao holds the title of data strategist at Bitly, the URL-shortening service based in New York.

How did she catapult from dropping out of college to landing a plum job? She became an apprentice to Hilary Mason, chief data scientist at Bitly, through a new two-year program called Enstitute. It teaches skills in fields like information technology, computer programming and app building via on-the-job experience. Enstitute seeks to challenge the conventional wisdom that top professional jobs always require a bachelor's degree -- at least for a small group of the young, digital elite.

"Our long-term vision is that this becomes an acceptable alternative to college," says Kane Sarhan, one of Enstitute's founders. "Our big recruitment effort is at high schools and universities. We are targeting people who are not interested in going to school, school is not the right fit for them, or they can't afford school."

The Diploma's Vanishing Value : Bachelor's degrees may not be worth it, but community college can bring a strong return (JEFFREY J. SELINGO, 4/26/13, WSJ)

In a few states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, families can now compare colleges, and even majors, based on the actual first-year earnings of graduates of in-state schools. (Go to The salaries come from the states' unemployment-insurance programs, which collect earnings information from employers every quarter. Using Social Security numbers, the states then match the information to college graduates. (One limit of this method: The data don't include graduates who leave the state or are self-employed.)

Think a community-college degree is worth less than a credential from a four-year college? In Tennessee, the average first-year salaries of graduates with a two-year degree are $1,000 higher than those with a bachelor's degree. Technical degree holders from the state's community colleges often earn more their first year out than those who studied the same field at a four-year university.

Take graduates in health professions from Dyersburg State Community College. They not only finish two years earlier than their counterparts at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, but they also earn $5,300 more, on average, in their first year after graduation.

In Virginia, graduates with technical degrees from community colleges make $20,000 more in the first year after college than do graduates in several fields who get bachelor's degrees. Yet high-school seniors are regularly told that community colleges are for students who can't hack it on a four-year campus.

That's how Tom Carey landed at Radford University in Virginia as a business major, though his real love was working on cars. "There was definitely pressure" to go to a four-year school, he told me. "I had no interest in whatever degree I was getting at Radford."

After two years, Mr. Carey, who is from Reston, transferred to be closer to home and enrolled in the automotive-technology program at Northern Virginia Community College. He is now working at a Cadillac dealership and outearns business graduates from Radford's undergraduate program by several thousand dollars. That small difference grows considerably when you take into account that a community-college degree is a fraction of the cost of a bachelor's degree and that these students enter the workforce two years earlier.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


The Corporate Tax Game (GRAHAM BOWLEY, 5/05/13, NY Times)

Since the last reduction in United States corporate tax rates, in 1986, other nations have reduced their own business rates; corporations complain this is putting them at a sharp competitive disadvantage. In reality, though, few companies pay the official rate.

Many pay at a much lower effective rate, taking advantage of numerous tax breaks and loopholes and using aggressive tax strategies to shift profits to more generous tax territories abroad. Among the companies benefiting from lower effective rates is General Electric, which has paid total corporate taxes -- federal, state, local and foreign -- equal to 17.9 percent of its cumulative $81 billion in earnings over the last five years, according to an analysis by S&P Capital IQ.

FedEx paid 20.1 percent, 6.6 percent and Ford Motor 4.2 percent. G.E. said its tax rate was unusually low over this period because it had big losses during the financial crisis. FedEx said it took advantage of temporary incentives to make new investments.

Congress, under relentless pressure from business interests, has allowed corporate taxes to dwindle as a source of revenue. In 2012, they amounted to about 1.6 percent of gross domestic product, half the level collected in 1970. By comparison, the individual income tax generated 7.3 percent of G.D.P. last year.

Many industrialized countries collect more than that percentage, although they, too, have to contend with a competitive globalized world where multinational companies can shift profits beyond the reach of local tax authorities.

"Income is increasingly difficult to nail down," said Aswath Damodaran, a finance professor at New York University. "It is like nailing jelly to the wall. And the problem is only going to get worse rather than better."

Stop chasing income and tax consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Dow 15,000, and the Big Disconnect (JEFF SOMMER, 5/05/13, NY Times)

"The beauty of economics is that we are still arguing about the causes of the start and the end of the Great Depression," said James W. Paulsen, the chief investment strategist at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis. "We'll be debating these questions for the rest of our lives."

Economists and market strategists have plenty of opinions, however, and Mr. Paulsen, who takes a glass-half-full perspective on the current situation, is no exception.

He says the stock market rally can continue so long as the economy keeps growing at what he prefers to call a "modest" pace, rather than a disappointing one. Despite evidence to the contrary -- most crucially, stubbornly high unemployment -- he maintains that the recovery is actually quite good under the circumstances. And, he said, it's robust enough for American corporations to churn out solid profits that will bolster stock returns.

Simply rephrase the question here and it answers itself : how long can corporate shares keep rising as they continue to produce more goods while lowering employee costs?   

May 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


The Singularity of Fools : A special report from the utopian future. (DAVID RIEFF, MAY/JUNE 2013, Foreign Policy)

Almost all contemporary techno-utopians extrapolate from Moore's Law, the hypothesis made by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel, that the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years; such exponential improvements, they argue, apply to virtually all technology. But Reese's confidence is extreme even by those standards. "[W]ith the Internet and associated technologies flourishing in a Moore's-Law-like manner," he writes, immense amounts of wealth will be created. As a result, "the poor will get richer, and the rich will get vastly richer." In this post-scarcity world, "socialism can't even exist."

Well, that's a relief! This confidence that technological innovation will ensure that liberal free market capitalism continues to reign supreme is a commonplace of techno-utopian writing. Zuckerman, for one, justifies his call for a new digital cosmopolitanism partly because it is a prudent way to cope with unexpected threats like the SARS epidemic (whose seriousness he vastly overstates) or political upheavals like the Arab Spring, but he is also at pains to emphasize how good the transformations he heralds will be for capitalism. For all the praise he lavishes on diversity and multiculturalism, Zuckerman's notions of politics are extraordinarily impoverished and unicultural.  [...]

It is easy, not to mention enjoyable, to make fun of Reese. But at one point toward the end of Infinite Progress, he marshals the ubiquitous, omnipresent claim of techno-utopians past and present: This Time It's Different.

Mr. Rieff has that exactly backwards.  The reason for optimism about human progress -- as regards things like poverty and violence -- is not because of anything new, but because of the long term trends that technology and the Uniculture have produced. 

The Internet need not be "different" than the printing press for those who believe in progress to be right.  But the printing press needs to have made no difference in the human condition for Mr. Rieff to be right.  Likewise, the adoption of capitalism by Africans need not be different than the adoption by Europeans was.  Indeed, if the past repeats itself it will produce massive economic progress for a billion people.

Utopians always look silly, not just because their specific visions fail to come true, but because no human-made future can ever change the fundamentals of human nature.  No matter how fat and happy we become we remain Fallen.  

But someone seeking to deny that the age of technology has produced great progress can't help but look even sillier.

Gulliver's Final Voyages (Matthew Anger, 5/04/13, Imaginative Conservative)

If Gulliver's third journey strikes me as the most entertaining, the fourth and last voyage (Country of the Houyhnhnms) is the most perplexing. This part of Gulliver's Travels earned Swift no end of disapproval in the years following his death. Apparently the violent contrast of degraded humanity (the ape-like Yahoos) with the noble, intelligent horses (the Houyhnhnms--pronounced "whinny-ms") was intolerable. The misanthropic parable was made all the worse, it seems, by the fact that Gulliver returned home and for years shunned the company of other humans, including his own family.

Undoubtedly there is a strong element of cynicism. While Swift sought amelioration of many evils, he intensely distrusted ambitious political schemes. It is an animosity that seems partly warranted as we look back upon the mixed legacy of the Enlightenment. After all, real progress depends on man's moral intentions, and people have not always made the best use of new inventions and developments. Still there is a point at which social criticism becomes excessive. Whether Swift went that far is a point that readers will continue to debate. There are many people who share Gulliver's overweening pessimism. By the last voyage, the English captain espouses an eighteenth century version of the moral equivalency argument which places all human societies on the same miserable level. The problem with such perfectionism is that it is destructive of practical ethics. It fails to make important distinctions, or acknowledge that virtue is something we progress towards by degrees rather than at all once. As such it is not only conceited, it is hypocritical, as we see in Gulliver's increasing hubris. His conceit is even more repulsive than the Yahoos' brutality. But one can argue that that was exactly the point Swift sought to make.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Experience: I was swallowed by a hippo : 'There was no transition at all, no sense of approaching danger. It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf' (Paul Templer, 5/03/13, The Guardian)

I was aware that my legs were surrounded by water, but my top half was almost dry. I seemed to be trapped in something slimy. There was a terrible, sulphurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest. My arms were trapped but I managed to free one hand and felt around - my palm passed through the wiry bristles of the hippo's snout. It was only then that I realised I was underwater, trapped up to my waist in his mouth.

I wriggled as hard as I could, and in the few seconds for which he opened his jaws, I managed to escape. I swam towards Evans, but the hippo struck again, dragging me back under the surface. I'd never heard of a hippo attacking repeatedly like this, but he clearly wanted me dead.

Hippos' mouths have huge tusks, slicing incisors and a bunch of smaller chewing teeth. It felt as if the bull was making full use of the whole lot as he mauled me - a doctor later counted almost 40 puncture wounds and bite marks on my body. The bull simply went berserk, throwing me into the air and catching me again, shaking me like a dog with a doll.

Then down we went again, right to the bottom, and everything went still. I remember looking up through 10 feet of water at the green and yellow light playing on the surface, and wondering which of us could hold his breath the longest. Blood rose from my body in clouds, and a sense of resignation overwhelmed me. I've no idea how long we stayed under - time passes very slowly when you're in a hippo's mouth.

The hippo lurched suddenly for the surface, spitting me out as it rose. Mike was still waiting for me in his kayak and managed to paddle me to safety. I was a mess. My left arm was crushed to a pulp, blood poured from the wounds in my chest and when he examined my back, Mike discovered a wound so savage that my lung was visible.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Anti-Abortion Forces on the March (Abby Scher, May 2013, The Progressive)

Last year, there were forty-three new laws restricting abortion, the most ever except for 2011 when an unprecedented ninety-two such laws passed. Much of this is the handiwork of Americans United for Life.

"A lot of people assume Roe is untouchable, and we disagree," explains Kristi Stone Hamrick, a publicist for Americans United for Life. "We have a template of legislation that will roll back Roe." [...]

With the Beltway divided between the anti-choice House and the pro-choice Senate, and the U.S. Supreme Court still pro-choice, the states are where most of the action is right now for anti-abortion groups. In the 1990s, these groups began pursuing more incremental restrictions of abortion access after hardcore activists shockingly murdered abortion practitioners and the nation recoiled against the movement.

So it refurbished its message and refined its techniques. As a result of this incremental strategy, 87 percent of counties in the United States no longer have an abortion provider, and it's getting worse.

"Last February we came out with an analysis of states and abortion restrictions," says Elizabeth Nash, the state analyst for the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. "We listed thirteen states hostile in 2000. Now half the states are hostile. So there's a shrinking of states in the middle."

One approach by the anti-abortion forces is bringing technology into the debate. "Ultrasound technology has complicated the debate," says Ed Rivet, legislative director of Michigan Right to Life. "They have wiggly fingers and toes! That whole 'it's a blob of tissue,' that's long gone."

"With the videos of sonograms, how long can Roe v. Wade withstand these kinds of things?" asks Laura Garcia, a Boston College philosophy professor.

Damn science.
Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Cinco de Mayo about much more than having fun (Paul Ortiz, May 4, 2013, The Progressive)

As Napoleon III's army swept across Mexico, France was openly courting the Confederacy, and Southern officials hoped that French diplomatic recognition would allow the Confederacy to break the Union naval blockade. If France could seize Mexico with minimal losses, the strategic military alliance between the Confederacy and the French Empire could have been cemented.

Latinos and African-Americans were jointly horrified at the prospect that slavery might be reinstated even in Mexico and parts of Latin America that had abolished chattel bondage. The only thing that stood in the way of disaster was the beleaguered garrison of Puebla, a town that the French had to subdue in order to conquer Mexico City.

The French assault on the outnumbered Mexican defenders began on May 5, 1862, but they withstood numerous attacks and drove Napoleon's troops away from the town. The Mexican Republic had been saved and perhaps, too, President Lincoln's army.

Latino communities in California and other Western states organized the first major celebrations of El Cinco de Mayo a year after the siege of Puebla had been broken. The themes that Latinos chose to commemorate during this first day of remembrance included: the hope of a final victory of freedom over slavery, democracy over monarchy and union over disunion.

Many of these early celebrations were led by Mexican-American Union Army veterans like those who had fought valiantly at the Battle of Glorieta Pass (known as the "Gettysburg of the West") in New Mexico Territory against the Confederate Army. These were joyous occasions where portraits of Lincoln were featured along with flags of both Mexico and the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


What Health Insurance Doesn't Do (ROSS DOUTHAT, 5/04/13, NY Times)

[I]f it turns out that health insurance is useful mostly because it averts financial catastrophe -- which seems to be the consensus liberal position since the Oregon data came out -- then the new health care law looks vulnerable to two interconnected critiques.

First, if the benefit of health insurance is mostly or exclusively financial, then shouldn't health insurance policies work more like normal insurance? Fire, flood and car insurance exist to protect people against actual disasters, after all, not to pay for ordinary repairs. If the best evidence suggests that health insurance is most helpful in protecting people's pocketbooks from similar disasters, and that more comprehensive coverage often just pays for doctor visits that don't improve people's actual health, then shouldn't we be promoting catastrophic health coverage, rather than expanding Medicaid?

Liberals don't like catastrophic plans because, by definition, they're stingier than the coverage many Americans now enjoy. But this is where the second critique comes in: If the marginal dollar of health care coverage doesn't deliver better health, isn't this a place where policy makers should be stingy, while looking for more direct ways to improve the prospects of the working poor? Some kind of expanded health security is clearly a good thing -- but if we want to promote economic mobility as well, does it really make sense to pour about a trillion dollars into a health care system that everyone agrees is deeply dysfunctional, when some of that money could be returned to Americans' paychecks instead?

There are a variety of ways this could be accomplished -- a bigger child tax credit for struggling families, a payroll tax cut to boost workers, an expanded earned-income tax credit to raise wages at the bottom, health savings accounts that roll over money left unspent.

Democrats already gave us the mandate, now we just have to mandate an HSA/catastrophic minimum.
Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


Fiscal Sanity--For Now? (Irwin M. Stelzer, May 4, 2013, Weekly Standard)

A funny thing happened to our dysfunctional government. It functioned, unwittingly perhaps, but function it did. President Obama forced Republicans, unwilling to risk the political consequences of taking America over the fiscal cliff, to accept a $180 billion tax increase. Republicans returned the favor by forcing the president to live with an across-the-board spending cut--the sequester--that he had long-ago proposed, confident that Congress would never implement it. He guessed wrong. As a result of these tax increases and spending cuts, our government's deficit is headed down. It was $1.1 trillion in fiscal 2012, will be about $845 trillion this year, and fall to $615 billion in fiscal 2014, almost half the amount of red ink spilled in 2012. The deficit-to-GDP ratio is also falling, from 7 percent in 2012 to 5 percent this fiscal year, and to a reasonably acceptable 3.7 percent in 2014. The Treasury actually will be paying down debt in this quarter. Yes, April is typically a month of high tax collections, and the Treasury will resume borrowing in the next quarter. Still, this is the first quarter since 2007 in which the Treasury will pay off at least a few of our IOUs.  [...]

Two developments support the cut-the-deficit-now crowd. The first is Friday's jobs report. The private sector created 176,000 new jobs in April, and the initially reported February and March figures for total jobs created were revised upward by a total of 114,000 jobs. The revised February figure of 332,000 was the highest in almost 13 years, if we ignore temporary blips such as the addition of thousands of census workers in 2010. Better still, the number of long-term unemployed (27 weeks or longer) declined by 258,000. Not all of the data buried in this detailed Labor Department report are as encouraging--hours worked continue to drop--but all in all it provides more talking points for the deficit hawks than for the deficit doves. The deficit is plunging, and the jobs market has not weakened, at least so far.

The second development that makes fiscal tightening less worrisome is the decision of the Federal Reserve Board's monetary policy committee to ride once more unto the breach. It will not only continue the current loose policy, but if necessary loosen further. It emerged from its two-day policy meeting this week to announce, "The Committee is prepared [this is new] to increase or reduce the pace of its purchases to maintain appropriate policy accommodation as the outlook for the labor market or inflation changes [italics added by me]." 

There is more. With the Fed's preferred measure of inflation hovering at around 1 percent, inflation fears that might have worried the Fed have abated. In addition, the Fed will not slow the presses if the unemployment rate falls only because workers in greater numbers give up the job hunt--if the labor force participation rate declines further, in technical jargon. In short, tighter fiscal policy will be offset by continued loose, or even looser monetary policy. That means the age of near-zero interest rates is far from over. The result:

·     Continued easy credit for car buyers--which re-employed and more fully employed construction workers are using to purchase new trucks.

·     Continued record-low mortgage rates that are driving sales of houses--both sales and prices are rising, each up over 9 percent compared with last year.

·     Continued rises in share prices, as traders add chairman Ben Bernanke to their pantheon of heroes.

High house prices combined with rising share prices create a wealth effect, boosting the consumer confidence index in April. Consumers seem to be reacting to the increase in payroll taxes by cutting savings rather than spending, at least so far.

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


Harvard Professor Trashes Keynes For Homosexuality (TOM KOSTIGEN, 5/03/13, Financial Advisor)

Speaking at the Tenth Annual Altegris Conference in Carlsbad, Calif., in front of a group of more than 500 financial advisors and investors, Ferguson responded to a question about Keynes' famous philosophy of self-interest versus the economic philosophy of Edmund Burke, who believed there was a social contract among the living, as well as the dead. Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of "poetry" rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.

It gets worse.

Ferguson, who is the Laurence A. Tisch Professor of History at Harvard University, and author of The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, says it's only logical that Keynes would take this selfish worldview because he was an "effete" member of society. 

...not have any bearing on your philosophy/politics?

Wagner's Incestuous Narcissism (David P. Goldman,Aug/Sep 2011,  First Things)

For Wagner, the exaltation of impulse is elevated to a universal principle, as I explained in an earlier essay, "Why We Can't Hear Wagner's Music," published last November. The love interest in Die Walküre involves the incestuous union of fraternal twins. When Siegmund stumbles into the house of Hunding, he learns that his host's young and unhappy wife is none other than his twin sister Sieglinde, lost in a raid on his boyhood home. Although they do not know it, the twins are Wotan's children, and their birth is part of the god's plot to reclaim the stolen treasure of the Nibelungs.

It seems odd that Wagner would make incest the theme of what he intended as a grand philosophical discourse in music. But Sieglinde tells us why. As she explains to her twin brother, she has fallen in love with him at first sight: "I saw my own image in a stream, and now it is given to me again; / Just as it came up out of the water, / You offer my own image to me now!"

Siegmund replies, "You are the image I harbor in me!" As Gail Finney writes, "The obvious allusion to the myth of Narcissus in this context reveals the underlying nature of the incestuous bond: Erotic energy is transferred from the narcissistic individual to the object most like himself, his sibling."

Wagner scholars explain the composer's self-conscious narcissism in a number of ways. One recent biographer, Joachim Köhler, attributes it to Wagner's unresolved attraction to his older sister Rosalie. It is also possible to interpret this blood bond as a metaphor for racial cohesion. The enamored twins, Mark Weiner argues in Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination, "experience and enact the metaphor of the community recognizing itself in the reflection of its bonds, which are based on the physiology of similar appearances."

Without dismissing either reading, it seems evident that there must be more to Die Walküre than Wagner's unresolved childhood sexuality or his ideological interest in racial affinity. The opera still engrosses modern audiences who would be repelled by either proposition. National self-worship and incestuous romance have long been unfashionable; personal self-adoration, though, has become the past century's favorite pastime.

Wagner remains the consummate bard of narcissistic love, of passion for our own alter egos. That is a side of his genius that his detractors miss. "Wagner's heroines, once they have been divested of their heroic husks, are indistinguishable from Madame Bovary," Nietzsche sniffed. But Flaubert's provincial housewife did not elope with her long-lost twin brother. The great novelist kept his protagonist at a critical distance, and there is a touch of black humor in her suicide by poison. Where Emma Bovary pursued a fantasy of romantic love in what ultimately is a cautionary tale, Wagner recreates the sensuous reality of self-love. 

Wagner wants to counterpose a love of pure impulse to the covenantal order of traditional society. He despises covenantal order; as Nietzsche wrote, "Whence arises all evil in the world, Wagner asked himself? . . . From customs, laws, morals, institutions, from all those things on which the ancient world and ancient society rests." 

Wagner reminds us why Judeo-Christian society rests on the institution of marriage. It is not merely because marriage produces children and socializes them. A republic is defined, Augustine argued in The City of God, not only by a common interest but by a common love. Western polity depends on the mutual love of God and his people. In the normative love of men and women, it is opposites that attract; that is why, since Hosea, heterosexual love has served as the metaphor par excellence for the love of the absolute Other.

Far better than the political philosophers, Wagner understood that the covenant that underlies Western society is not a Hobbesian calculation but rather a nuptial commitment. The family is the fundamental unit of society because it nurtures in the sphere of intimacy an approximation of the covenantal bond between God and Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


Secrets & lies through the eyes of spy meister John le Carre (JOHN LE CARRE, 5/04/13, The Australian)

AND the deep background of the novel? The sights, smells and voices that, 15 years after the end of the war, continued to infest every corner of divided Germany? The Berlin in which Leamas had his being was a paradigm of human folly and historical paradox. In the early 60s I had observed it mostly from the confines of the British Embassy in Bonn, and only occasionally in the raw. But I watched the Wall's progress from barbed wire to breeze block; I watched the ramparts of the cold war going up on the still-warm ashes of the hot one. And I had absolutely no sense of transition from the one war to the other, because in the secret world there barely was one. To the hard-liners of east and west the second world war was a distraction. Now it was over, they could get on with the real war that had started with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and had been running under different flags and disguises ever since. [...]

THE merit of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, then - or its offence, depending where you stood - was not that it was authentic, but that it was credible. The bad dream turned out to be one that a lot of people in the world were sharing, since it asked the same old question that we are asking ourselves 50 years later: how far can we go in the rightful defence of our western values, without abandoning them along the way?

...which is : how much suffering can we tolerate in oppressed countries before we have betrayed our values?  At the core of Mr. Le Carre's ouvre lies the despicable notion that it was none of the Anglosphere's concern what happened to the Ukraine, Poland, the Koreas, the Kurds, the Shi'a, etc.  And that to resist the evil of Communism is to become as evil as the Communists.  By itself this rather juvenile view makes his work morally unserious.  Compounding it is that his characters tend to reveal that the real source of his revulsion is that America usurped the leading role in the fight against evil from Britain.   Jealousy isn't actually a moral argument, just an emotion.
Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Why We Should Be Worrying About Deflation (BRUCE BARTLETT, 5/03/13, The Fiscal Times)

Perhaps more importantly, expectations of inflation are falling. This can be derived from Treasury bonds that are indexed to inflation. Comparing yields on such securities with those on non-indexed bonds tells us what markets are expecting in terms of inflation. While not a perfect indicator of future inflation, those buying indexed bonds are putting their own money at risk if they are wrong and inflation comes in higher than expected.
Some people believe that the price of gold is a very accurate indicator of inflationary expectations. Insofar as this is true, it is also signaling declining inflation. The price of gold is down 13 percent since the first of the year and many observers think it has much further to fall to be consistent with the moderate inflation since the big run-up between 2009 and 2012.
In the last few days, steelmakers have complained about plunging prices for steel, and one of the Federal Reserve's leading "inflation hawks," James Bullard of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, has warned that inflation in running so far below the Fed's target rate that it may require further action by the central bank.

Yet conservatives continue to insist, as they have continuously since 2008, that hyperinflation is right around the corner because they Fed has increased the money supply.  For example, on March 21, Rep. Louis Gohmert (R, Texas), warned that people's bank accounts are disappearing daily because of the massive, ongoing inflation caused by the Fed.

One explanation for the disconnect between monetary stimulus and falling inflation is the deflationary effect of fiscal policy. The budget deficit has fallen by half from 10 percent of the gross domestic product in 2009 to 5 percent this year and will fall by half again in 2015, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office projections. In fact, the Treasury expects to run a $35 billion surplus in the second quarter of this year. 

...but, it seems pretty obvious (as it has since the original credit crunch) that we'd derive some benefit from having them buy and retire consumer debt (starting with housing and educational--which borrowing served public purposes) instead of sitting on reserves.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


The Pentagon Cries Wolf on Sequestration Pains (DAVID FRANCIS, 5/03/13, The Fiscal Times)

Nearly everyone outside of the Pentagon agrees that a $600 billion cut over the next 10 years, part of the sequester requiring DOD to cut $41 billion from its budget this year, is sorely needed. Over the last decade, war spending has been out of control: In 2001, the Pentagon's budget was $291 billion. It peaked at $708 billion in 2011, and was $524 billion last year.

These huge budget numbers reflect 20th century war strategy, in which enemies are defeated with tanks and massive armies. DOD's budget over the last decade did not evolve with changings threat. It was not structured to fight a modern war that will be won by computer hackers, drones and special forces. [...]

But according to a Fiscal Times analysis and to defense strategy experts, fundamental changes to the way the Pentagon defends the country -- and the way it spends money -- are years down the line. DOD is still trying to wage 21st century warfare with a 20th century budget. 

The 2014 Defense budget request does not substantially reduce spending in any of the areas identified by DOD as bloated or in need of drawdown. It's larger than the 2013 budget by $2.6 billion and pretends as if sequestration is simply going to disappear.

With the Long War over, it's time to return to 19th century budgets.
Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


How to Argue With Extremists (Daniel Akst, 5/02/13, WSJ)

Researchers asked volunteers to rate their position using a scale of 1 (strongly against) to 7 (strongly in favor) on such policies as the flat tax, merit pay for teachers, and a higher Social Security retirement age. Participants were asked to rate their stances a second time after being asked to explain some of the policies.

Not only were extreme positions moderated, but participants in another, similar experiment were less likely to donate to an advocacy group. "The evidence suggests that people's mistaken sense that they understand the causal processes underlying policies contributes to political polarization," the researchers wrote.

One odd thing about the internet is that, despite free access to nearly every publication and information source, there is a tendency of people to isolate themselves in intellectual ghettos, only reading journals, blogs, etc. with which they agree.   One of the more amusing manifestations comes when readers object to even the idea of citing non-conforming sources. Thus one finds the bizarre belief that anything found in the New York Times must be wrong because the editorial page is generally liberal.  

These poor misguided souls would benefit greatly from just expanding their data intake, and, as appears from the study above, their own output.

May 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


A Burke for our time : He was an eighteenth-century Irish statesman, but Edmund Burke still has plenty to say today. Charles Hill, May 2013, The New Criterion)

For Edmund Burke, the eighteenth-century Irish statesman who served in the British House of Commons, the hallmark of a sane society is reconciliation of the present and the future to the past. We live our lives in the present, with time always progressing forward in a linear direction, so Burke's respect for the past makes him conservative. Given the modern world's appetite for change, Burke's emphasis on continuity and permanence makes him seem like a strange outsider. Furthermore, Burke's conservatism is expressed in a fierce and fiery, almost reactionary, style.

This puzzled his detractors, who were constantly suspecting Burke of some ulterior motive, of exerting some nefarious influence in the cause of some hidden agenda. The Duke of Newcastle said, "Burke's real name is O'Bourke, a wild Irishman, a Jacobite, a papist, a concealed Jesuit." At best, but equally threatening to the state, Burke was an eighteenth-century Socrates, a dangerous gadfly, challenging the settled assumptions of Britain. The portrayal of Burke in Boswell's Life of Johnson avoids quoting the statesman directly, and sometimes disguises the identity of the "Burkean" speaker, as if to conceal Burke from the authorities. If this was a conservative, it was a strange conservative indeed. Moreover, Burke took contrarian positions on world issues, positions his critics found difficult to reconcile: religious liberty for Ireland, independence for America, justice and respect for India's traditions, and to hell with the French Revolution.

Indeed, Burke presented a formidable challenge to friend and foe: a great intellect, a stunning orator, propelled by an intense inner energy that was hard to take. Burke seemed to concentrate all his capabilities in the immediate moment. If you found yourself conversing with Burke, it was said, you felt as if you were being "grazed by a powerful machine." Samuel Johnson, who yielded to no one in considering himself a great man, repeatedly praised Burke as a great man. If Burke should drop in at a blacksmith's shop to have his horse shod, Johnson said, the blacksmith would say, "We have had an extraordinary man here." Even to the domineering Johnson, Burke was an intimidating presence: "His stream of mind is perpetual." Once, when Johnson was feeling poorly, he said, "That fellow [Burke] calls forth all my powers. Were I to see Burke now, it would kill me."

Not since Cicero had a major political thinker been a practicing politician in the center of the arena. So it is refreshingly welcome to have Burke reassessed today by another politician, Jesse Norman, Member of Parliament for Hereford and South Herefordshire who has taught philosophy at University College London.

Edmund Burke: The First Conservative is not a standard biography.1 Norman has set his book in two parts. Part One, "Life," is a lively review of Burke's political career from his "outsider" origins to his entanglement in the causes of Ireland, America, India, and France. How those controversies generated his ideas is largely left to Part Two of the book, "Thought."

Norman locates Burke in many ways as an Enlightenment figure. By the same token, Burke was presciently aware that Enlightenment ideas could produce deep social pathologies as prescribed by, in Burke's words, "the perverse and paradoxical genius of Rousseau." This position enabled Burke, the author argues, to become "the hinge or pivot of political modernity," the first and greatest critic of the modern age, and the earliest postmodern political thinker. 

The genius of Anglo-American philosophy is that it freed us from the modernist experiment by showing us that postmoderism would be a return to premodernism. The rest of the world (well, really just continental Europe and the nations caught in its wake) spent two hundred miserable years working its way back to ground we never left. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


May 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Pope Francis and his Protestant views (Bill Tammeus  |  May. 1, 2013, National Catholic Reporter)

Speaking about how he would converse with an atheist, Bergoglio wrote: "I would not tell him that his life is condemned because I am convinced that I have no right to pass judgment."

That, friends, is Reformed Tradition theology. It is up to God to determine who will have eternal life. It is not up to us. Even if you go to Reformed Tradition founder John Calvin's hard-to-follow concepts about predestination (to say nothing of double predestination), you discover that no human being can know for certain who is saved and who is condemned.

This very point once led my friend Kathleen Norris to write this in her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith: "It strikes me that only a French lawyer could have come up with so complex, if not bizarre, a justification for treating all people as if they could be among the elect, the chosen of God."

She's right. Even if you buy Calvinism's some-get-saved, some-get-damned-and-there's-nothing-you-can-do-about-it scheme, you don't know who is whom, so you have to be nice to everyone on the theory that you may spend eternity with that person.

Which is pretty much what Bergoglio was saying in On Heaven and Earth, co-written with Rabbi Abraham Skorka.

When I read what Bergoglio said on this subject, I had a provocative thought that I was tempted to throw into the lede of this column. Something like this: "Hey, Catholics: Do you know what you've done? You've chosen a Protestant pope."

But the day after I read the pope's words, I discovered that someone had beat me to that conclusion. Writer Jonathan Merritt asked this question about Pope Francis in this Religion News Service piece: "... could the growing popularity (of Francis) among non-Catholics make him 'the first Protestant Pope?' "

...the second Protestant Pope in a row.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Obama Leaves the Black Community Behind (Kevin Alexander Gray, May 2, 2013, The Progressive)

 He's been on the side of the banks and Wall Street since co-signing George Bush's and Hank Paulsen's TARP "too big to fail" bank bailout at the expense of underwater homeowners and middle-class taxpayers.

That's because he believes more in bogus Wall Street privatization efforts that slide money to fats cats trading on charter schools and insurance companies poised to reap the benefits of Obamacare and Social Security privatization.

It's the belief in the "trickle-down" economic myth of Reaganism and the Wall Street 1percent rather than the many people who are now close to living in the streets because they lost their homes to foreclosures and other wealth-draining schemes.

As his economic race legacy unfolds, Obama's recovery is worse than the George W. Bush recession for blacks. Overall median household income has fallen over $4,000 since he took office but black Americans have had a decrease in real income of over 11 percent. Unemployment is officially at 14-plus percent for blacks, nearly double that of the overall economy. When Obama entered the White House in January 2009, black unemployment was 12.7 percent. The highest black unemployment rate during Obama's time in office was 16.7 percent in August 2011. During the eight years of Bush black unemployment didn't rise above 13 percent. The rate reached its highest point of the Bush presidency, 12.1 percent, in December 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


A Sportscaster Comes Out As Christian (GEORGE NEUMAYR, 5.1.13, American Spectator)

"Authenticity" is highly prized in society today, provided that what one feels falls safely within the dictates of political correctness. Sports analyst Chris Broussard stepped briefly outside of the Christian closet on Monday and paid the price for it.

"Personally I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly premarital sex [lifestyle] between heterosexuals. If you're openly living that type of lifestyle, the Bible says you know them by their fruits, it says that's a sin," Broussard said on ESPN. "If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be. I think that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ."

ESPN, not long thereafter, apologized for permitting these remarks to disrupt Monday's canonization: "We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today's news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins' announcement."

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


ECB Eases as Downturn in Europe Spreads (BRIAN BLACKSTONE, 5/02/13, WSJ)

The European Central Bank cut its key lending rate to a record low and hinted at more dramatic stimulus measures in a tacit admission that Europe's economic crisis is getting worse, as a depression along the southern tier threatens to infect the prosperous core.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Obama's Commerce pick, Penny Pritzker, could rile labor (James O'Toole @jtotoole May 2, 2013, CNN MONEY)

[S]ome on the left are unlikely to welcome her nomination. UNITE HERE, a union representing workers in hotels, casinos and other industries, calls Hyatt "the worst hotel employer in America."

"Hyatt has abused workers, replacing career housekeepers with minimum wage temporary workers and imposing dangerous workloads on those who remain," the union says on the website for its "Hyatt Hurts" boycott campaign.

In 2009, the company sparked a controversy when managers at three Hyatt-controlled hotels in Massachusetts fired their housekeeping staffs and replaced them with cheap subcontracted laborers. Earlier this year, the Hyatt Regency Baltimore reached a settlement with workers who alleged they were fired in connection with their unionizing efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


U.S. to Defend Age Limits on Morning-After Pill Sales (PAM BELLUCK and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, 5/02/13, NY Times)

The Obama administration moved Wednesday to keep girls under 15 from having over-the-counter access to morning-after pills, as the Justice Department filed a notice to appeal a judge's order that would make the drug available without a prescription for girls and women of all ages. [...]

For Mr. Obama's administration, the decision to appeal the judge's ruling provides an opportunity to reaffirm a moderate position in the broader abortion debate that had drawn praise from conservative groups that are normally highly critical of the president.

May 1, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 PM


Fed Presses Ahead With Bond Buys as Inflation Slows (JON HILSENRATH, VICTORIA MCGRANE and BRIAN BLACKSTONE, 5/01/13, WSJ)

U.S. inflation has moved noticeably below the Fed's 2% goal, part of a global slowdown. This has taken pressure off the Fed and other central banks to pull back from their efforts to boost growth by pumping new money into the world economy.

The European Central Bank could be the next to act. It is widely expected Thursday to cut a short-term benchmark interest rate in response to the shrinking euro-area economy and slowing inflation.

The Bank of Japan, meanwhile, has drastically ramped up bond purchases this year in an effort to lift inflation to 2% after long stretches of falling consumer prices during the past two decades.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM

Album Premiere: Tallahassee, Old Ways (Andrew Leahey April 30th, 2013, American Songwriter)

"To me, this album is a kind of declaration of our evolution both as a band and as people," says lead guitarist Scott Thompson. "It's filled with songs about trying to find a way forward. From this perspective, the title, Old Ways, might be perceived as ironic, but I think it's just right. We're the kind of band who would never want our own ideas about these songs or even the album title to overshadow that of the audience. Hopefully, the album title comes across as a sort of invitation to potential listeners, hinting at one meaning while the lyrics articulate something unexpected."

Stream the full album below, and look for Old Ways on May 7th.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 PM


Paul Krugman's Proud War on Fools, Knaves and Lunatics (Clive Crook Apr 30, 2013, Bloomberg)

Before I examine this mindset and where it leads, I should mention my boundless admiration for Krugman as a scholar. As a young economist many years ago, I was in awe of his ability to examine an economic problem in a new way and find something simple and crucial that others had missed. He did this again and again. A remarkable talent, humbling to watch.

These days, when I read his column or his blog posts (such as one on April 29, which boasted that he's more popular on the Web than celebrity gossip), I sometimes feel as though I were watching Albert Einstein on the Cooking Channel. Is this, I wonder, the best use of his gift? [...]

He's enormously influential with those who need no persuading, which is to say not very influential at all. He would have more influence where it would actually make a difference if he developed -- or at least could feign -- some respect for those who aren't his disciples.
Krugman says his opponents are motivated by politics. "Am I (and others on my side of the issue) that much smarter than everyone else? No. The key to understanding this is that the anti-Keynesian position is, in essence, political. It's driven by hostility to active government policy and, in many cases, hostility to any intellectual approach that might make room for government policy."

Talk about lack of self-awareness. Does Krugman imagine that he isn't motivated by politics? His own views are equally driven by support for active government policy; in many cases, they are also driven by support for any intellectual approach that might make room for such government policy. Like any politician, he expresses certainty where he knows there is doubt. He's more than happy to simplify and exaggerate as the cause demands.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


Can China's Top Guns Fly? : The Chinese military is aiming high. But can its Air Force break through all the red tape? (JOHN GARNAUT | APRIL 30, 2013, Foreign Policy)

"It was floating, floating, floating then BANG, suddenly hit the ground," says a witness, according to video footage of the smoking wreckage on March 31 that was anonymously uploaded on the Chinese version of YouTube.

The huge plume of black smoke, still billowing from the wreckage 20 minutes after it exploded, suggests the tanks were full and the accident occurred not long after takeoff, probably from Jinan, the provincial capital.

Perhaps there had been a fuel blockage on one of the external wing tanks, leading to a weight imbalance that contributed to the Soviet-made Su-27 20 entering a flat spin before descending like a kite to earth, according to retired and serving Air Force officers.

The presence of what appear to be ejector seats just meters from the wreck suggests the two airmen died unnecessarily, because they failed to eject until it was too late. Whatever the case, the names of Yu Liang, 33, and Wu Yongming, 36, will be added to the 1,747 inscribed on the Heroes-and-Martyrs Wall at Beijing's Chinese Aviation Museum.

Crashes happen, even to the United States. But for professional military watchers, the more they see inside one of the world's most secretive air forces, it seems, the less they are impressed with the Chinese military's aerial wing.

Pilots are neither trusted nor properly trained. Drills are regimented, centrally controlled, and divorced from realistic combat conditions. The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has nearly 2,000 thousand planes, compared with a little over 3,000 for the U.S. Armed Forces, but only a fraction of the peace-time accident rate, suggesting pilots are not spending sufficient time in the air or training under pressure.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Philosophy That Stirs the Waters (JENNIFER SCHUESSLER, 4/30/13, NY Times)

These days, Mr. Dennett, 71, is most famous for his blunt-talking atheist activism. "There's simply no polite way to tell people they've dedicated their lives to an illusion," he said flatly.

But for decades, he has presented himself among his fellow philosophers as a ruthless slayer of metaphysical fancy.

...and he's just another Designist.  The atheism stuff is all schtick.