November 30, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Scott Walker, Wisconsin's action governor (George F. Will, November 29, 2013, Washington Post)

Act 10 required government workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salaries to their pensions (hitherto, most paid nothing) and to pay 12.6 percent of their health-care premiums (up from 6 percent but still just half of what the average federal worker pays). Both percentages are well below the private-sector average. By limiting collective bargaining to base wages, Act 10 freed school districts to hire and fire teachers based on merit, and to save many millions of dollars by buying teachers' health insurance in the competitive market rather than from an entity run by the teachers' union. Restricting collective bargaining to wages ended the sort of absurd rules for overtime compensation that made a bus driver Madison's highest paid public employee.

Act 10's dynamite, however, was the provision ending the state's compulsory collection of union dues -- sometimes as high as $1,400 per year -- that fund union contributions to Democrats. Barack Obama and his national labor allies made Wisconsin a battleground because they knew that when Indiana made paying union dues optional, 90 percent of state employees quit paying, and similar measures produced similar results in Washington, Colorado and Utah.

Walker has long experience in the furnace of resistance to the looting of public funds by the public's employees. He was elected chief executive of heavily Democratic Milwaukee County after his predecessor collaborated with other officials in rewriting pension rules in a way that, if he had been reelected instead of resigning, would have given him a lump-sum payment of $2.3 million and $136,000 a year for life.

To fight the recall -- during which opponents disrupted Walker's appearance at a Special Olympics event and squeezed Super Glue into the locks of a school he was to visit -- Walker raised more than $30 million, assembling a nationwide network of conservative donors that could come in handy if he is reelected next year. Having become the first U.S. governor to survive a recall election, he is today serene as America's first governor to be, in effect, elected twice to a first term. When he seeks a second term, his opponent will probably be a wealthy rival who says her only promise is to not make promises. 

Marquette Poll: Scott Walker faces close reelection race in 2014 (JACK CRAVER, 10/29/13, The Capital Times)

As Prof. Charles Franklin, the poll's director, pointed out on Twitter, Walker's approval number has hardly budged in the 20 months since Marquette began its public opinion survey at the height of the recall election campaign in 2012. The most recent poll shows 49 percent of registered voters approve of the job he's doing and 47 percent disapprove, evidence that few in the Badger State haven't formed an opinion about the governor, whose aggressive conservatism has elevated the profile of state politics since his election in 2010.

The good news for Democrats is that their likely nominee, Madison school board member Mary Burke, is running neck-and-neck with Walker, even though she is still largely unknown.

Another relatively unknown candidate, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, also picks up 45 percent of the vote to Walker's 48 percent in a potential match-up, adding to the perception that Democratic-leaning voters are likely to vote for anybody over Walker. That has not been the case in past elections, including the three landslide reelection victories by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, in which he picked up a large share of Democratic voters.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Q&A: Richard Dawkins discusses evolution, religion and his fans : British author and outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins talks about evolution, religion and his 'appetite for wonder.' (Eryn Brown, November 30, 2013, LA Times)

How do you define natural selection?

That the bodies that survive are the ones that are good at surviving...

November 29, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM

AMONG THE COOKS (profanity alert):

THE SECRET OF EXCESS : How a life became cooking. (Bill Buford, AUGUST 19, 2002, The New Yorker)

The first glimpse I had of what Mario Batali's friends had described to me as the "myth of Mario" was during a weekend in January last year, when I invited him to dinner with some friends. Batali, the chef and co-owner of Babbo, an Italian restaurant in Manhattan, is such a proficient cook that he is rarely invited to people's homes for a meal, and he went out of his way to be a grateful guest. He arrived with a jar of quince-flavored grappa, which he'd made himself (the fruit renders it almost drinkable); a bottle of nocino, which he'd also made (same principle, but with walnuts); three bottles of wine; and a white, dense slab of lardo--literally, the raw "lardy" back of a very fat pig, which he'd cured with herbs and salt. I was a reasonably comfortable cook, keen but a little chaotic, and I was delighted to have Batali in the kitchen, if only for his pedagogical interventions. He has been cooking for a cable-television audience for more than six years and has an uninhibited way of telling you that only a moron would wrap the meat in foil after cooking it. The evening, by then, had been effectively taken over. Not long into it, Batali had cut very thin slices of the lardo and, with a flourish of intimacy, laid them individually on our tongues, whispering that we needed to let the lardo melt to appreciate what the pig had eaten just before he died. The pig, evidently, had been five hundred and seventy-five pounds, almost three times the size of a normal pig, and, near the end, had lived exclusively on walnuts, apples, and cream. ("It's the best song sung in the key of pig," Batali said.) No one at dinner that evening had knowingly eaten pure fat before ("At the restaurant, I tell the waiters to call it prosciutto bianco, or else people won't touch it"), and by the time he had persuaded us to a third helping my heart was racing and we were all very thirsty.

On trips to Italy made with his Babbo co-owner, Joe Bastianich, Batali has been known to share an entire case of wine during dinner, and, while we didn't drink anything like that, we were all infected by his live-very-hard-for-now approach and had more than was sensible. I don't know. I don't really remember. There was also the grappa and the nocino, and one of my last recollections is of Batali around three in the morning--back arched, eyes closed, an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth, his red Converse high-tops pounding the floor--playing air guitar to Neil Young's "Southern Man." Batali had recently turned forty, and I remember thinking that it was a long time since I'd seen a grown man playing air guitar. He then found the soundtrack for "Buena Vista Social Club," tried to salsa with one of the guests (who promptly fell over a sofa), tried to dance with her boyfriend (who was unresponsive), and then put on a Tom Waits CD and sang along as he went into the kitchen, where, with a machinelike speed, he washed the dishes and mopped the floor. He reminded me that we had an arrangement for the next day--he'd got tickets to a New York Giants game, courtesy of the commissioner of the N.F.L., who had just eaten at Babbo--and disappeared with three of my friends. They ended up at Marylou's, in the Village--in Batali's description, "a wise-guy joint where you get anything at any time of night, none of it good."

It was nearly daylight when he got home, the doorman of his apartment building told me the next day as the two of us tried to get Batali to wake up: the N.F.L. commissioner's driver was waiting outside. When Batali was roused, forty-five minutes later, he was momentarily perplexed, standing in his doorway in his underwear and wondering why I was there. Batali has a remarkable girth, and it was a little startling to see him so clad, but within minutes he had transformed himself into the famous television chef: shorts, high-tops, sunglasses, his red hair pulled back into a ponytail. He had become Molto Mario--the many-layered name of his cooking program, which, in one of its senses, means, literally, Very Mario (that is, an intensified Mario, an exaggerated Mario, and an utterly over-the-top Mario)--and a figure whose renown I didn't fully appreciate until, as guests of the commissioner, we were allowed on the field before the game. Fans of the New York Giants are happy caricatures (the ethic is old-fashioned blue-collar, even if they're corporate managers), and I was surprised by how many of them recognized the ponytailed chef, who stood on the field facing them, arms crossed over his chest, and beaming. "Hey, Molto!" one of them shouted. "What's cooking, Mario?" "Mario, make me a pasta!" On the East Coast, "Molto Mario" is on twice a day (at eleven-thirty in the morning and five-thirty in the afternoon). I had a complex picture of the metropolitan working male--policeman, Con Ed worker, plumber--rushing home to catch lessons in how to braise his broccoli rabe and get just the right forked texture on his homemade orecchiette. (Batali later told me that when the viewing figures for his show first came in they were so overwhelmingly male that the producers thought they weren't going to be able to carry on.) I stood back, with one of the security people, taking in the spectacle (by now a crowd was chanting "Molto! Molto! Molto!")-- this proudly round man, whose whole manner said, "Dude, where's the party?"

"I love this guy," the security man said. "Just lookin' at him makes me hungry."

Mario Batali arrived in New York in 1992, when he was thirty-one. He had two hundred dollars, a duffelbag, and a guitar. Since then, he has become the city's most widely recognized chef and, almost single-handedly, has changed the way people think about Italian cooking in America. The food he prepares at Babbo, which was given three stars by the Times when the restaurant opened, in 1998, is characterized by intensity--of ingredients, of flavor--and when people talk of it they use words like "heat" and "vibrancy," "exaggeration" and "surprise." Batali is not thought of as a conventional cook, in the business of serving food for profit; he's in the much murkier enterprise of stimulating outrageous appetites and satisfying them aggressively. (In Batali's language, appetites blur: a pasta made with butter "swells like the lips of a woman aroused," roasted lotus roots are like "sucking the toes of the Shah's mistress," and just about anything powerfully flavored--the first cherries of the season, the first ramps, a cheese from Piedmont--"gives me wood.") Chefs are regular visitors and are subjected to extreme versions of what is already an extreme experience. "We're going to kill him," Batali said to me with maniacal glee as he prepared a meal for Wylie Dufresne, the former chef of 71 Clinton, who had ordered a seven-course tasting menu, to which Batali then added a lethal-seeming number of impossible-to-resist extra courses. The starters (variations, again, in the key of pig) included a plate of lonza (the cured backstrap from one of Batali's cream-apple-and-walnut-fattened pigs); a plate of coppa (made from the same creamy pig's shoulder); a fried pig foot; a porcini mushroom, stuffed with garlic and thyme, and roasted with a piece of Batali's own pancetta (cured pig belly) wrapped around its stem; plus ("just for the hell of it") tagliatelle topped with guanciale (cured pig jowls), parsnips, and black truffle. A publisher who was fed by Batali while talking to him about booking a party came away vowing to eat only soft fruit and water until he'd recovered: "This guy knows no middle ground. It's just excess on a level I've never known before--it's food and drink, food and drink, food and drink, until you start to feel as though you're on drugs." This spring, Mario was trying out a new motto, borrowed from the writer Shirley O. Corriher: "Wretched excess is just barely enough." 

"You learn by working in the kitchen," Batali told me. "Not going to cookery school. That's how it's done."

That's what I wanted to do--to work in the Babbo kitchen, as Mario's slave.

Mr. Buford's Among the Thugs is one of the classics, if not the avatar, of immersion journalism, with the book that grew out of this profile--Heat--a worthy successor.  Here's all you really need to know to get a flavor for it : the soccer thugs in the former are more sympathetic than the cooks in the latter.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


A Giant Awakens: Inside Africa's Economic Boom (The Economist, 11/29/13)

Africa's boom can be seen in many indicators: the volume of cars (and accompanying traffic jams) on the streets of its major cities, the glittering shopping malls and the major infrastructure projects. Highways, rail lines, airports, dams, power plants, pipelines and factories are all being built, and megacities such as Lagos, Nairobi, Addis Ababa are seeing the emergence of industrial parks and special economic zones.

It's the start of a period of new growth and fresh beginnings, and many Africans seem more confident now than they have at any other time since the end of the colonial era, in the early 1960s. Economists attribute this to three main factors: political stability, economic reforms and a push toward technological innovation that has gripped the entire continent.

Many countries have become better governed, and Africa as a whole is more peaceful and democratic than it once was. When the Cold War ended, just three out of 53 African nations had halfway functional democracies. Today, that figure is 25 out of 54. Aside from chronic conflict zones -- such as those in Congo, Sudan and Somalia -- the number of civil wars and military coups has decreased, as has the excessive use of violence.

At the same time, a revolution is taking place in the information and communications sector, as Africa connects itself to the world via modern data highways. Nowhere is the spread of the Internet as all-encompassing as it is between Cairo and Cape Town, and nowhere is mobile-phone use increasing as explosively. There are now 650 million African mobile-phone users -- more than in North America.

In Kenya, young local IT experts are doing globally pioneering work in developing innovative mobile-phone applications. Development experts call this "leapfrogging": As Africa catches up on modernization, it is able to skip the industrial age completely and jump straight to the digital future. And free access to information in turn stimulates economic activity, strengthens civil society and brings about societal change, especially in major cities. In this way, the young people and women of Africa are emancipating themselves.

Driving this progress is a new middle class, which the African Development Bank estimates encompasses over 310 million people -- roughly equivalent to the population of the US.

Those who have made it into this African middle class don't fit the cliché of the helpless, destitute African. These are self-confident citizens who have jobs, buy apartments and invest in their children's education, just as members of the middle class do around the world.

"The lions are on the move" is the new motto of the African elite, with the phrase being a play on the term "Asian tiger." After decades of decline, African nations are hoping to benefit from the same demographic dividend that made it possible for countries such as South Korea and Taiwan to make a leap of progress. By 2050, at least 2 billion people will live in Africa, accounting for one quarter of the world's labor force.

Skeptics, though, pose the question of whether Africa's current economic miracle might be nothing but a flash in the pan, fueled primarily by high raw-material prices and improving life for only a thin layer of the upper class. In resource-rich countries, such as Gabon and Angola, many people experience those resources not as a blessing, but a curse. While those in power grow rich unchecked, everyone else remains just as poor as ever.

Millions of Africans continue to go to bed hungry. Millions suffer from disease and epidemics. Millions of children attend abysmal schools.

Nevertheless, the economic growth is bearing its first fruits. In many places, living conditions have visibly improved. Child mortality, illiteracy rates and AIDS infection rates are declining, and life expectancy has increased by 10 percent.

Even those with a pessimistic view of Africa are looking on in astonishment as the continent once considered an ailing giant gradually picks itself up off the ground. In fact, Africa's economic successes of the last decade have most likely had more of a positive impact on it than all the development aid it received over the last half-century.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Meet The Man Who Wants To Help Paul Ryan Solve Poverty (DANNY VINIK   NOV. 26, 2013, Business Insider)

Scott Winship is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who specializes in income inequality and economic mobility. He, along with other conservative wonks, has been working with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) on a new anti-poverty agenda that will likely be unveiled in the Spring. We spoke yesterday evening and a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity, follows. [...]

Winship : Another interesting approach would be to promote a voucherized human capital investment program. The idea would be that if you're disadvantaged you qualify for a voucher that you could use for whatever services you think would most benefit your kid. That will vary by family obviously. Maybe it's tutoring. Maybe it's summer school. Maybe it's an after school program. Maybe it's violin programs. Essentially, you give folks vouchers. You create a regulated market of organizations that can receive vouchers and people who could receive the vouchers. But then you rigorously evaluate both overall approaches and individual providers and those who are ineffective at some point no longer qualify for the vouchers. What would be potentially interesting about that is you could attack this cultural element of poverty as well where people particularly in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty have kind of ended up with bad norms that inhibit mobility. 

It would be voluntary so it would encourage personal responsibility as well. If parents decided not to use these vouchers then they wouldn't help their kid at all so you're sort of building in an incentive for them to think about their kid's future and investing in it.

Finally, one of the benefits of it would be you would find that more programs than not fail to be effective. In some sense that would be bad because you would be throwing dollars at problems without improving things. On the other hand, it would also be a way to build concerns and recognition around the fact that a lot of what we currently do is ineffective and there's no reason to spend money on ineffective things when we could discover things that do work and use the money there.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Don't let politics kill a good pension deal (Chicago Sun-Times, November 29, 2013)

The state's top legislative leaders reached a deal Wednesday to cut pension costs for teachers, state and university workers and legislators. State lawmakers should ratify that agreement when they return to Springfield on Tuesday. The deal is the closest the state has come to passing a desperately needed pension reform package in years. Lawmakers owe it to taxpayers not to blow this. [...]

The plan, slated to save $160 billion over 30 years, includes a reduction in cost-of-living raises for retirees but in a way that shields long-term, lower income state workers and keeps up with inflation; a phased-in higher retirement age; a clause to help prevent the state from skipping pension payments; a slight drop in employee contributions; and the funneling of some of the generated savings back into the retirement systems.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Long Way Home (Rosanne Cash, 11/25/13, Oxford American)

Memphis was bursting with music. It was a hot stew of musical urgency: blues and Southern gospel, rock & roll, the "hillbilly" music that came to be called "country," and the new strains of rockabilly. At the same time, at the other end of the spectrum, Tommy Dorsey was performing at the old Claridge Hotel the year I was born.

Radio station WMPS played the Louvin Brothers, and WHBQ had DJ Dewey Phillips, whose show "Red Hot & Blue" was enormously popular with young people. After my dad's first single was a hit, he did an interview with Dewey from the Chisca Hotel, a popular gathering spot. After listening so faithfully to Dewey, this must have been a huge moment for Dad. WDIA employed the first black disc jockeys, including Rufus Thomas and a guitarist named Riley B. King, who played live on the air and soon came to be known as B.B. My parents listened to all three of these stations, and absorbed equal parts of the blues, Appalachian harmony, Southern gospel, and rock & roll. All those strains imprinted themselves in the most profound way, and my dad became who he was out of that brilliant amalgamation.

My parents' best friends were Marshall and Etta Grant and Luther and Birdie Perkins. Marshall and Luther had been mechanics who worked at the same car dealership as my Uncle Roy, who was also a mechanic. Automobile Sales, a large DeSoto and Plymouth dealership, was at 309 Union Avenue, just down the street from Sun Records at 706 Union. When my father was discharged from the Air Force and returned to Memphis, my uncle Roy picked him up at the bus station and then took him over to Automobile Sales to introduce him. Marshall told me that when my dad walked into the mechanic's bay he looked up, saw a lanky, dark-haired young man standing in the doorway, and that the hair on the back of his head stood up and chills went down his back. He knew.

"Roy says you boys pick a little music," Dad said to Marshall and Luther. "Very little," Marshall answered. "Maybe I can pick with you sometime," Dad responded. And that was the beginning.

Marshall and Luther and Dad gathered at Marshall and Etta's home at 4199 Nakomis Ave. to play primitive rhythms on three guitars and sing old country and gospel songs, and a little band was formed. It was decided that Marshall should play bass, so he taught himself how to pick out a boom-chicka-boom rhythm on a stand-up bass. Etta, Birdie, and my mom played cards in the kitchen while the men practiced and began to forge a style out of their limitations.

My mom and Etta became like the closest of sisters. They were always together, and then when Dad, Luther, and Marshall went on the road, Mom and Etta were close companions and a two-woman support group. When Dad and the Tennessee Two started performing in the area around Memphis, Dad would leave my mom and me and later Kathy at the Nakomis house with Etta. We'd go to bed, and Dad would come to get us after the show, late at night or in the early morning hours, to take us home to Tutwiler, then to a new house on Sandy Cove, and then eventually to an even nicer house on Walnut Grove. Marshall said he always thought I was asleep when Dad lifted me onto his shoulder, but then he'd see my little hand pat Daddy's back as we walked to the car. I suppose I already knew that a touring musician had a hard life.

Marshall and Etta moved to Hernando, Mississippi, in the 1970s, but they never gave up the house on Nakomis. It became a place of memories for them, filled with souvenirs from the decades Marshall and Dad were on the road together, closer than brothers, from the first rudimentary attempts at music, through the Sun Records years, through staggering success and inconceivable fame, my dad's drug addiction, my parents' divorce, Dad's recovery from addiction and chronic relapses, a devastating lawsuit between them, and eventually, sweet reconciliation in their later years. One of the few times my dad got really angry with me was when I came to Marshall's defense during that lawsuit. Dad forgave me quickly, however, in a letter he wrote me saying that he knew my instincts were those of compassion.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Michael Connelly Brings Harry Bosch to TV : Amazon produces a show about the famous LAPD detective (ALEXANDRA ALTER, Nov. 28, 2013, WSJ)

Crime writer Michael Connelly was standing in a light, cold rain on a hill overlooking downtown Los Angeles. A garbage truck rolled by, then a beat-up maroon Cadillac. It had been dark for hours and the street was empty, except for 135 members of a film crew who had set up a makeshift production camp in a dirt clearing by the side of the road.

They were shooting the opening scene of "Bosch," a one-hour TV pilot based on Mr. Connelly's iconic L.A. homicide detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch. Played by Titus Welliver, Bosch was glowering in the Cadillac, staking out the home of a suspected serial killer.

Mr. Connelly looked tired, having just weathered several marathon shoots that went until six in the morning. But he was content. He'd been waiting to watch this scene unfold for nearly 20 years.

After an epic rights struggle with Paramount, which optioned two Harry Bosch books in 1994 but never adapted them, Mr. Connelly finally bought the character rights back in 2011, spending $3 million of his own money. He was wary of getting tied up in development with another film studio. So he struck a deal with a company he knew was good at marketing and selling Harry Bosch: Amazon.

"The idea of the place that sells most of my books wanting to do a television show based on my books" was appealing, Mr. Connelly said. "That kind of synchronicity was attractive," he said.

...Mr. Connelly's is the great American police procedural series--we're more of a private eye culture.  And nothing makes the books more American than Harry Bosch's personal ethos, the belief that every death matters and, therefore, every murder should be solved and justice done.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


I Want an American Baby! Chinese Women Flock to the U.S. to Give Birth (Hannah Beech Nov. 27, 2013, TIME)

Jiang Wenjun was getting ready to go to America. His wife, due to give birth to their son any day, was already there. Like any expectant parents, the Shanghai couple agonized over how best to prepare for the arrival -- and upbringing -- of their firstborn child. American citizenship, they decided, was one of the finest gifts they could bestow. "America is the strongest country in the world," says Jiang, whose son was born just days after he eventually arrived in California this month. "We want our child to have the best future."

The U.S. is one of the few nations where simply being born on its soil confers citizenship on a newborn. That policy has spawned a birth-tourism industry, in which pregnant foreigners flock to American hospitals to secure U.S. passports for their babies. Although the foreign couple can't acquire U.S. nationality themselves, once their American-born offspring turn 21 they can theoretically sponsor their parents for future U.S. citizenship. Another perk: these American-born kids can take advantage of the U.S. education system, even paying lower in-state fees for public universities, depending on where they were delivered. (California is a popular birth-tourism destination because of its well-known university system.)

More rich Chinese than ever are sending their families and money abroad. One study of Chinese millionaires found that half had either emigrated or were thinking of doing so. Boston Consulting Group estimates that Chinese have some $450 billion stockpiled overseas.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


23 charts to be thankful for this Thanksgiving (Dylan Matthews, November 28, 2013, Washington Post)


Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


25 Charts That Will Make You Thankful You Live In America (ROB WILE, NOV. 28, 2013, Business Insider)

gdp and life expectency

food costs

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Boris Johnson's philosophy isn't just elitist - it's sinister (Suzanne Moore, 11/28/13, The Guardian)

He has said what he really thinks. Will the electorate, the great lumpen mass of obviously stupid people, swallow it? Rich people are rich because they are better, cleverer, more ambitious. We should worship them for paying taxes. Try not to think about the ones that don't. Oh, and let's have Boris Island.

There are no surprises in what he said, other than timing. The Tories increasingly favour genetic explanations for inequality. If whole swaths of us are born poor, dumb and without the drive to get to Eton, never mind a jobcentre, it's our own stupid fault.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Give States More Power, With Caution (KEN KOLLMAN, 11/29/13, NY Times)

While states' rights have (like the Tea Party) been historically associated with preservation of a conservative social order, that association might be changing. That is, states might in some areas better protect civil rights and liberties than the national government.

States arguably have led the way in legalizing same-sex marriage, regulating the environment, and improving education for low-income children. In the face of rapid growth in federal surveillance, states have been in the vanguard of new privacy protections.

Federalism is fundamental to American political institutions. The founders provided for a federal government that would represent both the people and the states. But in the 19th century, the choosing of senators was often marred by bribery, horse-trading and the outright purchasing of seats.

The 17th Amendment was partly a response to this corruption. It was one of many Progressive reforms that led to a strengthening of the national government: the federal income tax; greater regulation of interstate commerce; the creation of Social Security and other social insurance programs; and big fiscal transfers to states and localities.

The Supreme Court has been an occasional check on the growth of federal authority. And states have a role in amending the United States Constitution (which last occurred in 1992). But there is no institutionalized means for protecting states' interests in Congress.

Some critics will say that repeal of the 17th Amendment would exacerbate the Senate's antidemocratic nature.

November 28, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


In Manhattan, 'Thanksgivukkah' is as American as apple pie (ELHANAN MILLER, November 28, 2013, Times of Israel)

Fifteen minutes and three marching bands later, a large float of a blue dreidel resting on a platform resembling a golden Hanukkah coin passed by. Here, the reaction was somewhat different. "It's a dreidel," a mother in a woolen beanie explained to her daughter, capturing the parade on her cellphone.

Hannukah and its symbols have become a staple of American popular culture, but rarely do they converge with Thanksgiving, a national holiday that American Jews hold particularly dear, creating the new 2013 hybrid holiday of Thanksgivukkah. This fuzzy combo, everyone knows, will not occur again for over 70,000 years.

Alex Herko, a marketing student from Burlington, Vermont, immediately recognized the outsize toy as it drifted down Avenue of the Americas. He said that for the average American, the dreidel may even be better known as a Jewish symbol than the Star of David.

"Even being Catholic, everybody knows the song 'dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made you out of clay,'" Herko said. "I can distinctly remember making dreidels in the third or fourth grade."

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Egyptian police arrest prominent activist over call to protest (MAGGIE MICHAEL, November 29, 2013, AP) 

Egyptian security forces arrested a prominent political activist Thursday night over inciting a demonstration in defiance of a new law heavily restricting protests in the country, his family said.

The arrest of Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a blogger who rose to prominence in Egypt's 2011 revolution, quickly dominated social media. His previous detention sparked protests against the military, which appeared likely again as recently quiet liberal and secular groups have expressed increasing alarm over the military-backed government since it enacted the new protest law this week.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


In possible sign of improved relations, Iran, Gulf states make tentative diplomatic moves (REUTERS, 11/28/2013)

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed on a rare visit to Iran on Thursday called for a partnership with Iran, but suspicion remains despite Tehran's tentative overtures towards its Gulf neighbors. [...]

"We are neighbors but do not confine ourselves to this and are calling to be partners," Sheikh Abdullah was quoted as saying by Iran's official IRNA news agency.

Zarif, speaking after the meeting with Sheikh Abdullah, who also met President Rouhani, said peace would benefit everybody in the region.

"We see the progress of countries in the region as a success and any type of danger as a threat to them. Security and development cannot be separated and we see relations with regional countries as taking this form," IRNA quoted him as saying.

The Sunni/Israeli Axis is a quaint notion, but hardly workable.

Posted by orrinj at 11:56 AM


Forget about Thanksgivukkah, let's talk Hanukkah : The clash of two holidays this year highlights the struggle between Jewish exceptionalism and assimilation (MICHAEL BERNSTEIN, November 28, 2013, Times of Israel)

Part of the miracle of Hanukkah in America could be the miracle of assimilation -- not assimilation as a measure of an individual getting lost in the larger culture, but as an opportunity to incorporate key elements of the larger culture while remaining strongly and unabashedly Jewish.

It is incredible that a relatively small people could survive for so many generations, transmitting sacred creeds, texts and practices. Yet our survival was not accomplished by remaining pure and separate but by embracing the possibilities in society as a whole.

In America, Hanukkah, once synonymous with zealous religious practice, now takes its turn standing for religious freedom and justice.

...precisely because we universalized the exceptionalism.

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


As a general matter, a married straight white Christian American 21st Century male has so much to be thankful for that we come to be a bit jaded by the whole notion of thanksgiving.  But yesterday at work I wished a friend a Happy Thanksgiving in a nearly perfunctory way and a few minutes later as he was passing by he said : "Hey, Orrin, give those kids a hug for me."   

Only then did it occur to me that this is yet another Thanksgiving Day that he'll be wiuthout the son he lost in a car accident several years ago.

It was a poignant but useful reminder that we should never loose sight of how blessed we are.

May you and yours have much to be thankful for this year and may you all pause, however briefly, to realize it.

When we pause today, we'll certain think upon all the readers, commenters and correspondents who have graced this site over the increasingly many years.

With All Best Wishes,
The Brothers

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 AM


Challah, canned cranberries and 'peanuts' -- Americans in Israel give thanks slightly differently : From celebrating a day late to sending pizzas to families in the south, how to mark Turkey Day in the 51st state (JESSICA STEINBERG November 22, 2012, Times of Israel)

For North Americans living in Israel, celebrating Thanksgiving comes with a certain amount of baggage for some, and is a fast-and-firm tradition for others. There are specific challenges this food-oriented holiday entails, from acquiring fresh or canned cranberries, pumpkin and a fresh, whole turkey to deciding whether to include non-Americans in the dinnertime celebration. (It's a curious thing that while Thanksgiving has always been mistakenly seen as a separation of sorts from the British homeland, it was in fact rooted in an age-old English tradition.)

Yet it's the quirky aspects of celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel that have made it as important a holiday as any others in my family's calendar year. Perhaps it's the opportunity to bring some of our traditions to this country where we're still immigrants, no matter how long we've been living here. I like that my butcher teases me each year about the size of the turkey, and I like knowing that someone coming from the US, at some point in September or October, will stuff bags of fresh cranberries in their suitcase. There's the pleasure in taking out our annual T-day decorations, and taping a massive cardboard turkey on our front door, much to the amusement of our Moroccan neighbor.

This year, it will about feeling thankful for some peace and quiet, while knowing that not everyone has managed to get back to his own home. And so, this week's top five ways to feel thankful...

Check out the Turkey Challah.
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Posted by orrinj at 12:45 AM


Thanksgiving Gains Popularity in Iceland (Iceland Review, 11/22/12)

An increasing number of Icelanders are joining Americans and Canadians in celebrating Thanksgiving, which is today.

Turkey is also growing in popularity, according to Jón Magnús Jónsson, the manager of the biggest turkey farm in Iceland. "[Thanksgiving] was almost non-existent ten years ago, at least there was very little of it, but this has changed and people celebrate it as a new festival."

(originally posted: 11/22/12)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:33 AM


Fit for a Pilgrim: Pure in flavor, heritage birds are taking a place at the table (Regina Schrambling, Special to the Los Angeles Times)

Only in the food world is reverse evolution a good thing. Every November, turkey, the all-important element of the most unifying American meal, gets a little closer to what the Pilgrims ate at that very first feast when they were grateful just to be alive. And every November it gets better.

In the last 20 years, frozen Butterballs have given way even in supermarkets to fresh turkeys, then free-range turkeys and most recently organic turkeys. Now all those relatively tame birds bred to sameness over the last half a century are very slowly starting to be supplanted by turkeys with stunning flavor and texture that may not be totally wild but are much richer and more nuanced than the usual tom or hen.

Known as heritage turkeys ("heirloom" was apparently taken by tomatoes and apples), these birds are truly the essence of Thanksgiving. Everything about them takes you back in time to a purer world of food.

Unlike the Broad-Breasted Whites developed to dominate the holiday (representing 99.9% of what is sold each season, according to Heritage Foods USA, which markets American Bronze and Bourbon Red breeds), they have sturdy legs and flatter, longer breasts with stunning flavor. Their white meat would never be mistaken for chicken, and their dark meat is rich and sensuous as duck.

(originally posted: 11/22/05)

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:22 AM


Why I'm Thankful for America's Future: It's easy to be gloomy about the current state of the U.S. economy, but the nation retains numerous advantages over rivals (Frank Aquila, 11/22/11, Bloomberg)

The late U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell, author of the legislation that created the eponymous Pell Grants, once pointed out that America's strength "is not the gold at Fort Knox or the weapons of mass destruction that we have, but the sum total of the education and the character of our people." Our system of higher education is unequaled anywhere in the world. The alma maters of many of the global economic leaders currently in the spotlight--from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi (MIT) to Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa (University of Chicago), Bank of England Governor Mervyn King (Harvard), Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos (MIT), and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti (Yale)--attest to the strength of U.S. higher education.

Americans and those who aspire to live in the U.S. share a desire to create better lives for themselves and their families. Luckily we have the building blocks to achieve all that we dare to dream. As Warren Buffet wrote in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders this year, "the prophets of doom have overlooked the all-important factor that is certain: Human potential is far from exhausted, and the American system for unleashing that potential ... remains alive and effective."

The U.S. take on this "human potential" is often seen in the proverbial garage from which a tinkerer with an idea periodically emerges with a product or service that changes the world. That innovative spark finds a home in America that is unlike almost anywhere else. To the entrepreneur in America, business failure is not a shameful calamity; indeed, it is often a proving ground for one's resilience and a crucible in which an idea improves.

[originally posted: 11/23/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Green bean bake--uncanned! (LEZLI BITTERMAN , December 18, 2002, Chicago Sun-Times)
Everyone has his or her own favorite dishes to serve at the holidays. I wouldn't want to mess with tradition, especially one that has been in your family for years. But with Thanksgiving out of the way, now is the time to try a couple of recipes that may rival those old standbys.

Dorcas Reilly, former manager of the kitchens at Campbell's Soup, created classic green bean bake in 1955 and it has been a staple on many holiday tables ever since. In fact, Reilly, now 76, recently presented the original recipe to the archives of the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.

Eve Felder, associate dean for advanced cooking at the Culinary Institute of America, has created a contemporary version of this dish. It appeared in the November 2002 issue of Fine Cooking magazine, and I think it's worth a try.

Felder's green beans with mushrooms, cream and toasted bread crumbs uses fresh green beans in place of frozen or canned and replaces condensed cream of mushroom soup with fresh mushrooms and real whipping cream. Instead of canned fried onions, Felder creates a refreshing crunchy topping made with homemade coarse bread crumbs baked in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. [...]

Green beans with mushrooms, cream and toasted bread crumbs


Bread crumbs:

1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs

1 tablespoon olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Green beans:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

8 ounces white mushrooms, quartered

1/2 cup finely diced onion

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 medium cloves garlic, peeled and


10 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth

1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Toss the bread crumbs in a bowl with olive oil and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and toast until golden, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reserve.

To prepare green beans, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and onions. Increase heat to high to reheat the pan, then drop the heat back to medium. When mushrooms are slightly golden, in about 7 minutes, add salt. Saute until mushrooms are deep golden, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, green beans and pepper. Add broth and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

Remove beans and mushrooms from liquid and keep warm. Increase heat and reduce liquid until only 1/2 cup remains. Add cream and return green bean-mushroom mixture back to pan.

Continue to simmer until cream has thickened, about 10 minutes. Serve beans and sauce topped with toasted bread crumbs.

Cook's Illustrated

Nutrition facts per serving: 403 calories, 29 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 74 mg cholesterol, 30 g carbohydrates, 9 g protein, 943 mg sodium, 4 g fiber

This is the kind of senseless "progress" that's wrecking this country.
(originally posted: December 19, 2002)
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:05 AM


Scholars aim to dispel the Puritans' prudish image (Mark O'Keefe, Nov. 23, 2002, Religion News Service)
[T]here is something Puritan about America as we've always known it, argues Charles Haynes, senior scholar of the First Amendment Center, a research group in Arlington, Va. He cites politics, and the influence of John Winthrop, as just one example.

Winthrop, Puritan governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company, gave a 1630 sermon called "A Model of Christian Charity." Winthrop used a phrase from the New Testament's Matthew 5:14, referring to America as a "city on a hill" that would inspire and lead the world.

It has become customary for American presidential candidates to give at least one "city on a hill" speech, Haynes said, noting that Ronald Reagan repeatedly used the phrase as his overarching vision for the country. Similarly, Bill Clinton used the Puritan language of "new covenant" to describe his political agenda.

"We are all Puritans today in how we see the world and how we see America's place in the world," Haynes said.

There's nothing more curious to me than our insistence, against all common sense, on believing that our ancestors must have been miserable. [originally posted: 12/01/02]
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November 27, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


Iran: President's music video echoes Obama's 'Yes we can' film (BBC, 11/27/13)

The black-and-white videos both run for about four-and-a-half minutes and feature a range of people voicing parts of speeches by the two leaders to a guitar-led soundtrack, with frequent use of split-screen edits.

The two politicians look ahead to their time in office, but there's a difference in emphasis. The independently produced Obama video focuses on his "Yes we can" slogan. The Rouhani film, produced by the man behind the president's election campaign videos, Hoseyn Dehbashi, emphasises the need to be humble. "I feel the burden of this vote," Rouhani says. "I find shelter only in God, and I honestly and humbly ask God Almighty to keep this weak servant of his away from misery, jealousy, arrogance and egoism."

Rouhani's video also emphasises national unity, with men and women, young and old, speaking the minority languages Baluchi, Kurdish, Turkish and Arabic as well as Persian. "Let us allow elites to serve the nation. Let us allow people's hearts to be cleansed from hatred," Rouhani says - a message that chimes with his new foreign policy orientation of reconciliation with the West and the need to bring hardliners on board.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM



Our main yardstick for the health of the economy is G.D.P. growth, a concept devised in the nineteen-thirties by the economist Simon Kuznets. If it's rising briskly, we know that the economy is doing well. If not, we know it's time to worry. The basic assumption is simple: the more stuff we're producing for sale, the better off we are. In the industrial age, this was a reasonable assumption, but in the digital economy that picture gets a lot fuzzier, since so much of what's being produced is available free. You may think that Wikipedia, Twitter, Snapchat, Google Maps, and so on are valuable. But, as far as G.D.P. is concerned, they barely exist. The M.I.T. economist Erik Brynjolfsson points out that, according to government statistics, the "information sector" of the economy--which includes publishing, software, data services, and telecom--has barely grown since the late eighties, even though we've seen an explosion in the amount of information and data that individuals and businesses consume. "That just feels totally wrong," he told me.

Brynjolfsson is the co-author, with Andrew McAfee, of the forthcoming book "The Second Machine Age," which examines how digitization is remaking the economy. "We're underestimating the value of the part of the economy that's free," he said. "As digital goods make up a bigger share of economic activity, that means we're likely getting a distorted picture of the economy as a whole." The issue is that, as Kuznets himself acknowledged, "the welfare of a nation . . . can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income." For instance, most Web sites are built with free, open-source applications. This makes running a site cheap, which has all sorts of benefits in terms of welfare, but G.D.P. ends up lower than it would be if everyone had to pay for Microsoft's server software. Digital innovation can even shrink G.D.P.: Skype has reduced the amount of money that people spend on international calls, and free smartphone apps are replacing stand-alone devices that once generated billions in sales. The G.P.S. company Garmin was once one of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. Thanks to Google and Apple Maps, Garmin's sales have taken a severe hit, but consumers, who now have access to good directions at no cost, are certainly better off.

New technologies have always driven out old ones, but it used to be that they would enter the market economy, and thus boost G.D.P.--as when the internal-combustion engine replaced the horse. Digitization is distinctive because much of the value it creates for consumers never becomes part of the economy that G.D.P. measures. That makes the gap between what's actually happening in the economy and what the statistics are measuring wider than ever before.

But the notion that we live in tough economic times is so precious....

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 AM


Rise of the Conservative Latinos (GERALDO L. CADAVA, 11/23/13, ZY)

Chris Christie's re-election as governor of New Jersey earlier this month sparked another round of speculation that he would run for president in 2016, and, this time around, that he might choose New Mexico's Republican Governor Susana Martinez as his running mate. In the homestretch, Martinez stumped for Christie in areas of New Jersey densely populated by Latinos. Statewide, he won a majority of their votes, even more than the vaunted 40 percent that George W. Bush won in the 2004 presidential race. [...]

So far, Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have captured most of the headlines, but with support from groups like the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, established in the late 1960s, and newer ones including the Latino National Republican Coalition and the Future Majority Caucus, scores of Latino conservatives have won elected positions across the country. The Future Majority Caucus wants to recruit more than 100 Latino Republicans to run for office in the near future, boasts about its multimillion-dollar fundraising successes and claims responsibility for helping to elect 15 new Latino Republicans in nine states in 2012 alone. This is the Latino conservative political machine at work.

As Latinos have spread across the country, so have Latino conservatives. Rep. Robert Cornejo hails from Missouri, Rep. Paul Espinosa from West Virginia, state Sen. Art Linares from Connecticut, and state Sen. Ernesto "Ernie" Lopez from Delaware. They're lawyers, businesspeople and educators. Cornejo graduated from Washington University in St. Louis and is a partner at a law firm in Columbia. Espinosa is the general manager of a communications company and has served as president of a local Rotary Club and chamber of commerce. Before he ran for office, Linares volunteered for Sen. Marco Rubio. And Lopez is an administrator at the University of Delaware.

Thirty-something Rep. Marilinda Garcia of Salem, New Hampshire, is also on the way up, according to the RNC. She was first elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives at the age of 23, after graduating from Tufts University. Like other young Latino Republicans, Garcia aspires to higher office and is expected to run for the U.S. congressional seat currently held by Rep. Annie Kuster, a Democrat.

Some younger Latino Republicans identify with the histories that shaped Latino conservatism during an earlier era. The 25-year-old Linares says he's influenced by his grandparents' escape from Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. But most up-and-coming Latino Republicans walk in step with new-wave conservatism. They advocate policies indistinguishable from the mainstream or far right elements of their party: pro-growth business measures, lower taxes, smaller government, curtailed entitlements, pro-life, school choice, anti-Affordable Care Act. The list goes on, begging the question: What's Latino about them at all?

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 AM


IRS proposes new curbs on campaigning by tax-exempt groups (Joseph Tanfani, November 26, 2013, LA Times)

 In a long-anticipated move to restrict the flood of secret money in campaigns, the IRS for the first time proposed rules to rein in the political activities of tax-exempt groups that have emerged as heavyweight players in American elections. [...]

The 501(c)4 organizations are defined by the IRS code as promoting "the common good and general welfare." They are permitted to engage in some campaign-related activity, as long as politics is not their "primary purpose."

But the IRS has never spelled out exactly what that means.

The vague language set the stage for the agency's overzealous scrutiny of tea party and progressive groups, which came to light this year. IRS agents sent some groups long lists of intrusive questions to determine whether their main purpose was politics.

The proposed new rules wouldn't ban political activity, but would attempt to draw a clearer line between activities that are political and those that promote the general welfare.

The IRS has not proposed a new standard for how it would decide whether politics or social welfare is a group's primary purpose. The agency is soliciting comments on whether it should do that.

"This proposed guidance is a first critical step toward creating clear-cut definitions of political activity," Mark J. Mazur, Treasury assistant secretary for tax policy, said in a statement. "We are committed to getting this right before issuing final guidelines that may affect a broad group of organizations."

Some of the IRS proposals reflect Federal Election Commission rules. Any communications that "expressly advocate" for a candidate would count as politics, including all references to candidates of a political party.

Any communication that even mentions a candidate would also be considered political activity if it fell within 60 days of a general election, or 30 days of a primary. That rule, however, would leave groups free to spend money without restriction on ads during the summers of election years so long as they do not promote a candidate.

Unlike the FEC's rules, the IRS limits would also cover state and local races.

The new definitions would expand the reach of IRS regulations into areas long considered acceptable for civic groups, including get-out-the-vote drives, publication of voter guides, voter registration efforts and candidate forums. Those would be considered political activity whether they're done by advocacy groups or the nonpartisan League of Women Voters.

By focusing on the activity, not the intent, the IRS is trying to get away from the "fact-intensive inquiries" it now uses to determine whether groups are neutral.

Of course, we have this all backwards.  The only speech that must be free, under the First Amendment, is political speech
Posted by Orrin Judd at 1:11 AM


King Arthur Flour's Heavenly Pumpkin Pie Recipe (Susan Fogwell, November 24, 2010, HuffPo)

Guaranteed Pumpkin Pie Recipe

Hands-on time: 30 to 40 minutes
Baking time: 45 to 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hr 15 mins to 1 hr 30 mins.
Yield: 8 Servings

Your favorite single pie crust

½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, optional
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups (or one 15-ounce can) pumpkin purée.
1 ¼ cups light cream or evaporated milk

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sugars, flour, salt, and spices.

In a large measuring cup, beat together the eggs, pumpkin, and cream or evaporated milk. Whisk into the dry ingredients. For best flavor, cover and refrigerate the filling overnight before baking.

Lightly grease a 9" pie pan at least 1 ½" deep. Roll out the crust, place it in the pan, and crimp the edges above the rim: this will give you a little extra headroom to hold the filling. Refrigerate the crust while the oven preheats to 400 degrees.

When the oven is hot, place the pie pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips. Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell.

Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the filling is set 2" in from the edge; the center should still be wobbly. Remove the pie from the oven and cool on a rack; the center will finish cooking through as the pie sits. Refrigerate the pie until you're ready to serve it.

[originally posted: 11/25/10]

November 26, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


U.S. B-52′s Fly Into China's New Air Defense Zone (Luis Martinez, Nov 26, 2013, ABC News)

Two U.S. Air Force B-52 long range bombers flew what U.S. officials are calling a "routine training mission" through airspace over the East  China that China is claiming as a new air defense identification zone.   Entering the zone without notifying Chinese authorities on Monday was the first U.S. challenge to China's controversial move that has  increased tensions in the region.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters today that two unarmed  aircraft flew the "routine training mission" from Guam and spent about an hour inside the airspace designated by China on Saturday as its air defense identification zone (ADIZ).  Warren characterized the mission as having "happened without incident."  A separate American defense official identified the two aircraft as B-52′s based at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

It'll be fun to hear the hawks sing the UR praises.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM

This Is How You Should Cook Your Turkey (to Avoid Wasting Hours) (Adam Pasch, 11/25/13, Lifehacker)

Roast Brined Turkey

Serves 10 to 12

If using a self-basting turkey or kosher turkey, do not brine in step 1, and season with salt after brushing with melted butter in step 5. Resist the temptation to tent the roasted turkey with foil while it rests on the carving board. Covering the bird will make the skin soggy.

1 cup salt

1 (12- to 14-pound) turkey, trimmed, neck, giblets, and tailpiece removed and reserved for gravy

6 sprigs fresh thyme

2 onions, chopped coarse

2 carrots, peeled and chopped coarse

2 celery ribs, chopped coarse

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup water, plus extra as needed

1 recipe Giblet Pan Gravy

Dissolve salt in 2 gallons cold water in large container. Submerge turkey in brine, cover, and refrigerate or store in very cool spot (40 degrees or less) for 6 to 12 hours.

Set wire rack in rimmed baking sheet. Remove turkey from brine and pat dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Place turkey on prepared wire rack. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line V-rack with heavy-duty aluminum foil and poke several holes in foil. Set V-rack in roasting pan and spray foil with vegetable oil spray.

Toss thyme and half of vegetables with 1 tablespoon melted butter in bowl and place inside turkey. Tie legs together with kitchen twine and tuck wings behind back. Scatter remaining vegetables in pan.

Pour water over vegetable mixture in pan. Brush turkey breast with 1 tablespoon melted butter, then place turkey breast side down on V-rack. Brush with remaining 1 tablespoon butter.

Roast turkey for 45 minutes. Remove pan from oven; baste turkey with juices from pan. Using 2 large wads of paper towels, turn turkey wing side up. If liquid in pan has totally evaporated, add another 1/2 cup water. Return turkey to oven and roast for 15 minutes. Remove turkey from oven again, baste, and rotate so that other wing side is up; roast for another 15 minutes. Remove turkey from oven again, baste, and turn it breast side up; roast until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove turkey from oven. Gently tip turkey so that any accumulated juices in cavity run into pan. Transfer turkey to carving board and let rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.

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Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Iran and Hezbollah refuse to retaliate after deadly suicide attacks in Beirut (Martin Chulov, 26 November 2013, Guardian)

Rescue workers had barely finished clearing the debris from outside the Irjust eastanian embassy in Beirut last week, when those who had been targeted gave their first decree.

There were to be no recriminations, Iranian and Hezbollah senior officials told their rank and file, hours after . Nor was there to be a military response, at least not in Lebanon.

The subdued aftermath of the first bomb attack on an embassy in the Lebanese capital in 30 years surprised many across the country, where dire warnings of unease spilling into outright chaos have been commonplace.

But Hezbollah officials, like their powerful patrons in Tehran, were staying true to their calculation of the past five years that their strategic gains in Lebanon, Baghdad and more recently Syria, would be compromised by striking back.

November 25, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Iranian exiles in the US welcome the nuclear deal (Deutsche-Welle, 11/25/13)

Kamran G. was on the Internet until late into the night. Finally he was able to post the historic message to friends and relatives in his homeland. "The deal is on!" Kamran, an Iranian-born US citizen, announced triumphantly.

"My reaction has been one of gladness because this has been going on for such a long time. And the longer it takes, the more pressure the ordinary Iranian people are suffering from the sanctions," he says. It was on account of the "ordinary Iranian people" that Kamran was so happy, even if this agreement is only a preliminary step. The response from Iran was mostly euphoric, although some people, he says, are reacting with "cautious optimism"

Kamran shares that optimism. He's a journalist from Tehran who has been living in the USA for twelve years now. He's brought his wife and children here because he believed in a better life: in human rights, democratic values ​​and, above all, a future.

"I hope and I look forward to a relief in the economic conditions of people who are trying really hard to make ends meet and to earn their bread and butter," says Kamran. The stranglehold of economic sanctions permeates every part of Iranian society. People are at the end of their tether. Their money is worth less and less, while prices are exploding.

"I think in the first place, what made the hardliners and the Supreme Leader agree with a new delegation sealing a deal was the economic impact on all sections of the society in Iran," says Kamran. But those same hardliners should not underestimate the psychological effect of the partial lifting of sanctions: "With the opening of the economy there will be more breathing space for personal liberties."

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Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Why experts blew the 2013 hurricane forecasts (Ken Kaye, November 25, 2013, Orlando Sentinel)

Twelve forecast teams predicted an average of 16 named storms, including eight hurricanes, four major. Yet this season, which ends Saturday, saw only 13 named storms, including two mediocre Category 1 hurricanes. [...]

Forecasters say they didn't foresee that a large-scale atmospheric wind pattern would blanket the tropical Atlantic with dry, sinking air. And they didn't anticipate that Saharan dust would further dry out the atmosphere.

Finally, they failed to anticipate that cooler waters would infiltrate the Atlantic in the spring. That helped stymie storm formation and keep those that did emerge relatively weak and short-lived.

"I think the magnitude of the cooling that occurred in the Atlantic was somewhat overlooked by ourselves and others," said Phil Klotzbach, who along with William Gray initially forecast 18 named storms, including nine hurricanes. "It was one of the largest busts for our research team in the 30 years we've been issuing this report."

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Tax Professor Pushes Plan to Tax Consumption (DAVID WESSEL, 11/25/13, WSJ)

A professor of tax law at Columbia University who did a stint in the George H. W. Bush Treasury, Mr. Graetz believes that someday Congress and a future president will realize that piece-by-piece changes to the individual and corporate income tax system won't work. At that point, he predicts, the U.S. will follow every other developed economy and adopt a tax on consumption [...]

He would impose a new national value-added tax and use the money, in part, to eliminate the income tax - and the filing of income tax returns - for families with incomes under $100,000. For others, there would be three marginal tax brackets (14%, 27% and, for income above $600,000,  31%.)  He'd also lower the corporate tax rate to 15%, cut the payroll tax and give cash to low-income families with children.  For more, see the full tax plan.

"It does not tear up the tax code and start over," Mr. Graetz says. "It simply returns the nation to its pre-World War II tax system, where most revenue came from taxing consumption -- then in an archaic way, through tariffs -- and the income tax was limited to its proper function of providing tax justice through progressivity for folks at the very top. My proposal is designed to promote more economic growth without shifting the tax burden away from the top to families with less income."

Number crunchers at the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution think tanks, say the current version of the Graetz plan would raise as much money as today's tax code without shifting the tax burden among income groups.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


A Time-Lapse Detective: 25 Years of Agatha Christie's "Poirot" (Molly McArdle, November 25th, 2013, LA Review of Books)

She created the detective in a fit of patriotic fervor during the First World War. In a 2006 episode of the documentary series "Super Sleuths" on Agatha Christie's Poirot, the author's grandson Mathew Prichard attributes her inspiration to seeing near her home a bus full of Belgian refugees, having fled the bloody pit Europe's armies had made of their country. One, apparently, looked particularly striking: a small, dapper man with an "egg-shaped head."

Christie wrote The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1917 -- coincidentally the same year that Arthur Conan Doyle published the last story in Sherlock Holmes's chronology. (Though he went on to publish an additional book of short stories, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, all were set between 1896 and 1907.) Doyle's story takes place in 1914, on the eve of the Great War; Christie, in its midst. Both stories, set in Essex, offer the barest hint of overlap: the stuff of fanfiction.

If you were to imagine these detectives at a party, Sherlock Holmes -- tall, hawklike, thin as a razor (appropriate considering all that cocaine) -- would stand by the window, looking haunted and mean. Poirot, meanwhile, would be by the buffet, a crisp white napkin tucked into his precision-fit collar and draped over his significant front. While Holmes might consume himself with ashtrays or the quality of dirt on a guest's shoe, Poirot -- tiny plate of hors d'oeuvre in hand -- watches the way a dancing couple looks at each other, the huffy departure of an angered man, and slips in and out of pleasant small talk.

Though Christie clearly molded Hercule Poirot after Holmes -- both eccentric, vain, and improbably brilliant; both accompanied by rather dimmer wingmen (Hastings for Poirot, Watson for Holmes); both regularly interacting with their cruder and inevitably lower-class counterparts in the police (Japp and Lestrade, respectively) -- he is a clear departure. As a character, Poirot certainly lacks the glamor that bestows on Benedict Cumberbatch's wan, ferrety face the high-cheek-boned handsomeness he somehow bears in Sherlock. But his absurdity -- not only in the perfectly tailored suits, the persistent gleam of his patent-leather shoes, the perfect and ludicrous mustache, but also in the effort we see Poirot make to maintain his appearance -- humanizes him. We know the arguments he has with his tailor, how he sighs every time his feet threaten to touch dirt, about the tiny scissors he uses to trim his facial hair. Holmes's toilette, however, remains a mystery.

Poirot's physical vanity speaks to a larger difference in how the detective moves through and interacts with the world around him. He cares deeply how other people see him because he cares deeply about other people. Though Poirot is a far cry from a feminist detective, it's interesting to think about him as the product of a woman writer, or at least a writer who understands the importance of public opinion, of relationships, of feelings. Poirot's genuine engagement and interest in people, rather than merely the crimes they commit, shapes his method of investigation.

Patricia D. Maida writes in Murder She Wrote: A Study of Agatha Christie's Detective Fiction that "Poirot distinguishes himself from the prototype in his 'picturesque refusal to go Holmes-like on all fours in the pursuit of clues.' [...] By relying on his 'little grey cells'" -- that is, his brain (it's one of the detective's signature catch phrases) -- "Poirot moves beyond the limits of physical evidence to rare moments of perception."

Poirot's style of investigation centers on interviews. Though concrete clues -- footprints, initialed handkerchiefs, half-burned wills -- form a crucial part of his deduction, ultimately the solution he presents is founded on emotional truth, which he discovers through his perceptive reading of the personalities around him and, especially, the stories they tell him. Cultivating a solicitous, avuncular air, Poirot encourages witnesses to divulge all. "Papa Poirot" is all-forgiving, ever-understanding, kind and patient and harmless, really. (How could this tiny, foppish Belgian man, whose grasp of English seems none too firm, be a threat?) He collects each story, some complimentary and others contradicting, and he shapes them into master narrative, one that changes throughout the episode as new information -- physical as well as psychological -- arises. Ultimately, his solutions must make both logistical (the shoe must fit the footprint) and emotional sense. He seeks not merely to know how but also, fundamentally, why.

So much of the pleasure of Agatha Christie's Poirot can be found in the denouement. It is a profoundly theatrical event, every time. Poirot (or one of his agents) gathers the involved parties -- witnesses, suspects, bystanders -- into a room where they can be seated comfortably and then presents his findings. He does not merely supply a name, he tells a story, one about all of their stories. As a result, his metanarrative often grows larger than the murder itself: he reveals relatively unrelated drug addictions, affairs, secret parentage, shady histories. The price this group of people must pay for harboring a criminal (knowingly or not) is for all their secrets to be revealed. In the 2006 ITV documentary Poirot & Me, David Suchet explains: "He knows who it is. He puts everyone through hell. He makes everyone feel guilty. The whole of the last act is Poirot summing up. It's my piece of theater, as well as Poirot's piece of theater." [...]

The performance that Poirot supplies at the end of every episode, his summation, is essential to the pleasure we take in his stories. In the Poirot & Me documentary, Suchet says, "I think Agatha Christie is one of the great mystery and intrigue writers -- not so much for her plots. I think she's great because of her characterizations." Episodes are replete with truly ridiculous crimes -- full of electrocuted chess pieces, whoopee cushions that approximate dying screams, balls of goat blood sealed in wax -- but Poirot's retelling makes them, to a certain extent, sensible. Ultimately, despite the improbable twists, he grapples with the question of why people (that is, relatively well-off British people) do terrible things. Christie, and so also Poirot, succeeds because they shape the character of evil into something that can be explained. 

"You see murder, a real murder, is not an entertainment."

--Poirot, "Affair at the Victory Ball"

There is something about violent crime, when treated in a very specific way -- that is, named and punished -- that provides audiences in any medium a profound comfort. Though ostensibly about a brutal rupture in the social order, mysteries and crime novels end with a solution (murder is exposed) and a resolution (murder is punished) and are therefore, in fact, a reification of the strength of a culture's social fabric. Law and order (and thus justice), despite pernicious threats, ultimately prevail.

Poirot had always seemed to fussy, but The Wife and I are on Season Six (God bless Amazon Prime) and enjoying it immensely.  They're worth it just for David Suchet's performance and for Hastings, Japp & Ms Lemon.

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Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


A reveille call to the slumbering Anglosphere (Charles Moore,  24 Nov 2013, The Telegraph)

Edmund Burke, who wrote the greatest British encomium to conservatism, was a Whig. Now Daniel Hannan, who is a Tory (an ultra-sceptic MEP, in fact), has written a great encomium to Whiggery. With the eloquence of Macaulay or Trevelyan - both of whom are liberally quoted here - Hannan sweeps us through English history to show the triumph of law-based liberty and "that total understanding which can only exist between people speaking the same tongue". With incredible ingenuity, he finds the marks of this genius in almost everything the English have done.

I say "the English". Hannan has no race theory - pointing out, for example, how "English" oriental people can be in Hong Kong, Singapore or India - but he certainly believes in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. The Norman Conquest was, in his view, a "calamity". It is because of Saxon Witans, and Saxon law, and Kipling's Saxon yeoman who "stands like an ox in his furrow" demanding fair dealing, that we are a free people today, he thinks. He even complains that the Normans, being more snooty, let us keep plain Saxon words - cow, pig, lamb - for living animals, but imposed their own French-derived ones for the cooked version - beef, pork, mutton.

There are wonderful passages here. One shows how - despite having had what was called the Peasants' Revolt - the English were never peasants at all (they had property rights). Another explains how our freedom to make our wills in favour of anyone we wish upholds the rights of property by extending them beyond death. On the Continent, the law makes you leave things equally to your children.

But though this book is ultra-patriotic, it is also global. "Let observation, with extensive view,/ Survey mankind from China to Peru", wrote Dr Johnson. That is what Hannan does, particularly from the latter vantage point. He is Anglo-Peruvian, brought up mainly in Peru, and this enables him to contrast a Spanish-based polity where no one believed in the rule of law with our own dear habits. He says he loves Iberian culture but, the more he knows both, "the harder it is to sustain the idea that the English- and Spanish-speaking worlds are manifestations of a common Western civilisation".

His obsession is not England, but the Anglosphere. 

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Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


The Rise of Greater Kurdistan (Ted Galen Carpenter | November 25, 2013, National Interest)

The status of the Kurdish people, the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland, has been a source of instability in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran for decades. But with the onset of the civil war in Syria, a new theater has surged in prominence regarding that issue. For months, Syrian Kurdish militias have battled other--primarily Islamist--factions within Syria's rebel movement. They have been surprisingly successful, scoring major military victories in the northeastern part of the country against the Al Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), both affiliated with Al Qaeda. Given the widespread collapse of the authority that Bashar al-Assad's government exercised in northeastern Syria, the Kurds have been poised for months to expand greatly their power in that area.

Following the latest victories over Islamist forces in late October and early November, Kurdish leaders in Syria finally took the next step. They announced the creation of an "interim autonomous government" for Syria's Kurdish region. It was quite clear that this was not a temporary measure. The same announcement confirmed that elections for a long-term government would follow shortly.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Iran's future is now (Trita Parsi NOVEMBER 25, 2013, Reuters)

Will Iran be defined by the confrontational and bombastic approach of its former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the conservatives around him? Or will it be defined by the more open and moderate approach of its current President Hassan Rouhani and his energetic and respected Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.

A lot is at stake. A comprehensive nuclear agreement that provides the Iranian economy with much-needed relief, retains enrichment on Iranian soil and upholds Iran's sense of dignity will significantly strengthen Rouhani's team and force the conservatives to lose even more political ground. Rouhani will have demonstrated to Iranians, for the first time in a long time, that moderation can pay off.

The crowd cheered as Zarif arrived at the Tehran airport after the negotiations in Geneva. The slogans they chanted revealed Iran's  new political winds.

They praised the leader of the Green Movement, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, as well as former moderate Presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The crowd also called for the release of all political prisoners, placing opponents of diplomacy in the same camp, "Kayhan [Iran's main conservative paper], Israel, we offer our condolences," they said. [...]

An Iran that is defined by the win-win paradigm of Zarif and guided by Rouhani's moderation could be a game-changer in the Middle East.

The domestic political situation may open and revive the Iranian civil society - long a key driver of political reform and democratization. This educated demographic had thrived under the Khatami presidency but been crushed by Ahmadinejad.

While there are still no signs of systemic change in Iran's human rights record, the public is pressing Rouhani to address this critical issue. The  pressure will likely increase now that the nuclear issue is being dealt with. The chants at the airport calling for the release of all political prisoners were a stark reminder.

November 24, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Poor, with Savings  (MONICA POTTS NOVEMBER 19, 2013, American Prospect)

For decades, academics and activists have floated ideas about how to help families automatically save part of this windfall at tax time. Evidence suggests that starting a savings account with a lump sum of money makes it easier to continue saving throughout the year--partly because few people imagine that putting $50 or so away a month will ever add up to anything worth the hassle. New York City, under the Michael Bloomberg administration, began such a program in 2008. Families that qualified for EITC could ask that some of their refund--at least $100 at first, later changed to $200--be deposited into a savings account before they ever saw it. The program contributed 50 cents for every dollar each family saved for an entire year, up to $250 at first, later changed to $500, with funding coming from the Rockefeller and Ford foundations. If the families withdrew money from their accounts before the year was up, they wouldn't receive the matching funds.

The city recruited workers at neighborhood tax-preparation sites, where accountants help low-income families file their taxes at no cost, to enroll people in the plan. Billy Garcia worked for three years at sites in the Bronx, in poor, mostly black and Latino neighborhoods like Mott Haven and Morrisania. "A lot of people would say, 'I don't want to participate because this money is already spent,'" Garcia says. "I understood that."

A number of Garcia's clients who had opted to open accounts returned to tell him their success stories. While some had saved money and used it for small purchases or to keep on top of bills, others had planned for things they wouldn't be able to afford with their normal salaries. One woman wanted her kids to meet their grandparents in the Dominican Republic--she put away $1,000 for a whole year, which was matched by another $500, and saved an additional $1,000, also matched, in the following year. With $3,000 in savings, her family was able to make the trip.

A few families were not able to save the money for an entire year. "They would come to me, and they would be a little disappointed, as if I would be disappointed in them," Garcia says. One client needed to wire money to Uruguay because of a family emergency. Garcia told him: "We did actually help you save that money, because you held it for six months. You can't help the things that come up in life, but at least you had that money and it was there for you to use."

In the program's first three years, 2,600 filers participated, taking up every available spot. (Admissions to the program were limited by the amount of matching funds the foundations had donated.) Eighty percent of the families saved for the entire year and received matching funds--for a total of $2.3 million in savings and matching funds--and 70 percent continued to save after the year was up. "They were successfully saving money, even though on average they were making $18,000 a year, and this was when the economy was all falling apart, and they were living in a city like New York," says Jonathan Mintz, commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, which runs the program through its Office of Financial Empowerment. "The odds were really against them."

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


The State of Israel : a review of MY PROMISED LAND : The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel By Ari Shavit (LEON WIESELTIER, NY Times Book Review)

Too much of the discourse on Israel is a doubting discourse. I do not mean that it is too critical: Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I mean that the state is too often judged for its viability or its validity, as if some fundamental acceptance of its reality is pending upon the resolution of its many problems with itself and with others. About the severity of those problems there is no question, and some of them broach primary issues of politics and morality; but Israel's problems are too often combined and promoted into a Problem, which has the effect of emptying the Jewish state of its actuality and consigning it to a historical provisionality, a permanent condition of controversy, from which it can be released only by furnishing various justifications and explanations.

In its early years Israel liked to think of itself as an experiment in the realization of various ideals and hopes, but really all societies, including Arab ones, are, in the matter of justice, experiments; and existence itself must never be regarded as an experiment, as if anybody has the authority to declare that the experiment has failed, and to try and do something about it. Israel is not a proposition, it is a country. Its facticity is one of the great accomplishments of the Jews' history and one of the great accomplishments of liberalism's and socialism's and nationalism's histories, and it is not complacent or apologetic to say so. The problems are not going away. I cannot say the same about the sense of greatness.

It is one of the achievements of Ari Shavit's important and powerful book to recover the feeling of Israel's facticity and to revel in it, to restore the grandeur of the simple fact in full view of the complicated facts.'s a question of what sort of state Israel chooses to be.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


(JOHN HARWOOD, 11/24/13, NY Times)

These days the word is particularly toxic at the White House, where it has been hidden away to make the Affordable Care Act more palatable to the public and less a target for Republicans, who have long accused Democrats of seeking "socialized medicine." But the redistribution of wealth has always been a central feature of the law and lies at the heart of the insurance market disruptions driving political attacks this fall.

"Americans want a fair and fixed insurance market," said Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who advised Mr. Obama's team as it designed the law. "You cannot have that without some redistribution away from a small number of people."

Mr. Obama's advisers set out to pass the law in 2009 fully aware that fears among middle-class voters sank President Bill Clinton's health initiative 16 years earlier. So they designed the legislation to minimize the number of people likely to be hurt.

Instead of a sweeping change to a government-run "single-payer" system favored by Democratic liberals, members of the administration sought to preserve the existing system of employer-provided health insurance while covering the uninsured through the expansion of Medicaid and changes to the individual insurance market.

They also added benefits available to any family, such as the ability of children up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health plans.

But throughout the process, they knew that some level of redistributing wealth -- creating losers as well as winners -- was inescapable.

They were nonetheless acutely aware of how explosive the word could be.

...maybe they could accept a plan that really transfers wealth, one with publicly-funded HSAs, instead of the one that only redistributes wealth to insurance companies and medical providers.  Sadly, the UR is too Republican for our own good.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Why The U.S. Remains The World's Unchallenged Superpower (Jonathan Adelman, 11/24/13, Forbes)

Yet, the United States is the world leader and likely to remain there for decades. It has the greatest soft power in the world by far. The United States still receives far more immigrants each year (1 million) than any other country in the world. The United States leads the world in high technology (Silicon Valley), finance and business (Wall Street), the movies (Hollywood) and higher education (17 of the top 20 universities in the world in Shanghai's Jaotong University survey). The United States has a First World trade profile (massive exports of consumer and technology goods and imports of natural resources).

It is still the world's leader for FDI at 180 billion dollars, almost twice its nearest competitor. The United States, spending 560 billion dollars a year, has the most powerful military in the world. Its GDP (16 trillion dollars) is more than twice the size of China's GDP. As the first new nation, it has the world's longest functioning democracy in a world filled with semi-democratic or non-democratic countries. Its stock market, at an all time high, still reflects American leadership of the global economy.

Furthermore, who is going to challenge the United States for global leadership? The Europeans?  The Japanese? The Russians?  The EU today has 12 percent unemployment - reaching 26 percent in Greece and Spain - almost zero economic growth, a declining population in many of its member states. The Japanese are suffering from a declining and rapidly aging population, lack of immigration, a Nikkei Index that is still more than 20,000 points below the level of 1988 and debt that equals 240 percent of GNP.  Not to mention a weak economic growth in a last two decades.  While Russia may have grabbed the headlines for hosing the forthcoming Olympics and Edward Snowden, it's no super power.  Russia has a  trade profile of a Third World country, a GNP the size of Canada, which is less than 15 percent of the United States GDP, no soft power, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street or highly rated universities.

What about China or India? While both have made great strides in the last several decades, they also suffer from serious problems. China has 650 million people in the often-impoverished countryside and a GDP/capita ($6,100) in 87th place in the world that is barely 12 percent of American GDP/capita. China suffers from massive official corruption, one party Communist rule, lack of creativity and grotesque social stratification. Its massive air, water and soil pollution problems kill 1.2 Chinese a year. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Is Iran about to return to the fold? (Con Coughlin, 24 Nov 2013, The Telegraph)

You have to go back a very long way - arguably to the late 19th century - to find a time when relations between the major Western powers and Tehran might plausibly have been described as cordial. Certainly, so far as Britain is concerned, the high point in dealings between London and the ancient Persian city was reached in the 1870s when Baron Paul Julius von Reuter, the founder of the Reuters news agency, struck a business deal with the bankrupt Shah, Nasir ed-Din, which provided him with a virtual monopoly over all of Iran's economic and financial resources.

Lord Curzon, the British foreign secretary, later described the Reuter Concession, as it became known, as "the most complete and extraordinary surrender of the entire industrial resources of a Kingdom into foreign hands that has probably ever been dreamt, or much less accomplished, in history." While the deal delighted the royal court, which was able to replenish its empty coffers with British largesse, it did not go down so well with the people, who saw it as yet another example of their government's ineptitude and their country's constant humiliation at the hands of foreign powers.

Thus were sown the seeds of the residual mistrust that has plagued Iran's dealings with the world's main powers up to the present day. Until, that is, Iran's newly elected President Hassan Rouhani announced that a ground-breaking deal had been reached in Geneva in the early hours of yesterday morning on his country's controversial nuclear programme, the most recent issue to have stoked the fires of anti-Western resentment among the Iranian people.

William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, who flew to Geneva at the weekend when it became clear a deal was in the offing, said the agreement, in which Iran has agreed to scale down its nuclear enrichment activities in return for a limited easing of UN sanctions, was "good for the whole world". And while, given the long history of Iran's antagonistic attitude towards foreign meddling in its affairs, it would be somewhat premature to hail the agreement as the start of a full rapprochement between the West and the Islamic republic, there are nevertheless many good reasons why it is in everyone's interests to bring Iran in from the diplomatic cold.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour signs 'anti-protest law' (Patrick Kingsley, 11/24/13,

Egypt's interim president, Adly Mansour, has enacted a new protest law that rights groups say will severely curtail freedom of assembly, and could prohibit the kinds of mass demonstrations that forced presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi from power.

The law will force would-be protesters to seek seven separate permissions to take to the streets, and bans overnight sit-ins such as the Tahrir Square protests of early 2011. Activists will have to go to court to appeal against any rejected applications - a restriction lawyers argue will render legal demonstration almost impossible.

The law also bans any unsanctioned gatherings - either in public or in private - of 10 or more people, and will give the police the final say on whether a protest can take place. As a result, the law is deemed just as restrictive as a similar protest bill debated and later discarded under Morsi, whose own authoritarian instincts contributed to his downfall. His version - which was written by the same official - would have made demonstrators seek five separate permissions, instead of seven, but outlined more draconian punishments.

"This law brings Mubarak's era back," said Gamal Eid, the director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and one of Egypt's leading human rights laws. Eid even argued that the new law compared unfavourably with repressive legislation drafted while Egypt was still a British protectorate.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Iran unlikely to breach interim deal, says top Israeli analyst (TIMES OF ISRAEL,  November 24, 2013)

Amos Yadlin, the former head of the IDF's Military Intelligence hierarchy, said that the terms agreed by the P5+1 powers and Iran were "far better" than those in the deal that fell apart in Geneva two weeks ago. Yadlin, who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies think tank at Tel Aviv University, also said he did not think Iran would breach the terms of the deal in the coming six months.

And Ehud Yaari, a veteran and widely respected Arab affairs analyst, said it was highly unlikely that military intervention could have achieved a better result than the terms agreed in the deal, including the halting of Iran's uranium enrichment above 5%, the neutralizing of 20% enriched uranium stockpiles, and the halt on work to advance the Arak heavy water facility.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny's : ". . . It's a tricky business, integrating new politics with tried and true social motifs . . ." (Tom Wolfe, June 8, 1970, New York Magazine)

From the beginning it was pointless to argue about the sincerity of Radical Chic. Unquestionably the basic impulse, "red diaper" or otherwise, was sincere. But, as in most human endeavors focused upon an ideal, there seemed to be some double-track thinking going on. On the first track--well, one does have a sincere concern for the poor and the underprivileged and an honest outrage against discrimination. One's heart does cry out--quite spontaneously!--upon hearing how the police have dealt with the Panthers, dragging an epileptic like Lee Berry out of his hospital bed and throwing him into the Tombs. When one thinks of Mitchell and Agnew and Nixon and all of their Captain Beef-heart Maggie & Jiggs New York Athletic Club troglodyte crypto-Horst Wessel Irish Oyster Bar Construction Worker followers, then one understands why poor blacks like the Panthers might feel driven to drastic solutions, and--well, anyway, one truly feels for them. One really does. On the other hand--on the second track in one's mind, that is--one also has a sincere concern for maintaining a proper East Side lifestyle in New York Society. And this concern is just as sincere as the first, and just as deep. It really is. It really does become part of one's psyche. For example, one must have a weekend place, in the country or by the shore, all year round preferably, but certainly from the middle of May to the middle of September. It is hard to get across to outsiders an understanding of how absolute such apparently trivial needs are. One feels them in his solar plexus. When one thinks of being trapped in New York Saturday after Saturday in July or August, doomed to be a part of those fantastically dowdy herds roaming past Bonwit's and Tiffany's at dead noon in the sandstone sun-broil, 92 degrees, daddies from Long Island in balloon-seat Bermuda shorts bought at the Times Square Store in Oceanside and fat mommies with white belled pants stretching over their lower bellies and crinkling up in the crotch like some kind of Dacron-polyester labia--well, anyway, then one truly feels the need to obey at least the minimal rules of New York Society. One really does.

One rule is that nostalgie de la boue--i.e., the styles of romantic, raw-vital, Low Rent primitives--are good; and middle class, whether black or white, is bad. Therefore, Radical Chic invariably favors radicals who seem primitive, exotic and romantic, such as the grape workers, who are not merely radical and "of the soil," but also Latin; the Panthers, with their leather pieces, Afros, shades, and shoot-outs; and the Red Indians, who, of course, had always seemed primitive, exotic and romantic. At the outset, at least, all three groups had something else to recommend them, as well: they were headquartered 3,000 miles away from the East Side of Manhattan, in places like Delano (the grape workers), Oakland (the Panthers) and Arizona and New Mexico (the Indians). They weren't likely to become too much . . . underfoot, as it were. Exotic, Romantic, Far Off . . . as we shall soon see, other favorite creatures of Radical Chic had the same attractive qualities; namely, the ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs and Somali leopards.

Rule No. 2 was that no matter what, one should always maintain a proper address, a proper scale of interior decoration, and servants. Servants, especially, were one of the last absolute dividing lines between those truly "in Society," New or Old, and the great scuffling mass of middle-class strivers paying up to $1,250-a-month rent or buying expensive co-ops all over the East Side. There are no two ways about it. One must have servants. Having servants becomes such a psychological necessity that there are many women in Society today who may be heard to complain in all honesty about how hard it is to find a nurse for the children to fill in on the regular nurse's day off. There is the famous Mrs. C--------, one of New York's richest widows, who has a 10-room duplex on Sutton Place, the good part of Sutton Place as opposed to the Miami Beach-looking part, one understands, but who is somehow absolute poison with servants and can't keep anything but day help and is constantly heard to lament: "What good is all the money in the world if you can't come home at night and know there will be someone there to take your coat and fix you a drink?" There is true anguish behind that remark!

In the era of Radical Chic, then, what a collision course was set between the absolute need for servants--and the fact that the servant was the absolute symbol of what the new movements, black or brown, were struggling against! How absolutely urgent, then, became the search for the only way out: white servants!

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Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Independence day: Scotland's destiny harks back to its history (Kevin McKenna, 11/23/13, The Observer)

If the people of Scotland deliver a Yes vote in next year's referendum, Scotland will have its Independence Day on 24 March 2016. The date is included in the SNP's white paper on independence, due to be revealed at Glasgow Science Centre on the banks of the Clyde on Tuesday.

The chosen date is not without historical significance: on the same day in 1603 the Union of the Crowns occurred, when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England and Ireland after the death of his cousin Elizabeth I, while on 24 March 1707 the Acts of Union - which merged the parliaments of Scotland and England - were signed, making one single country, Great Britain.

The SNP claims that the white paper, which runs to a hefty 670 pages and 170,000 words, is the most detailed and comprehensive blueprint for an independent country that has ever been published. At a fundraising event for activists on Friday night, Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, said: "No nation has ever been better prepared or better researched for independence." 

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Region will lose sleep over Iran deal -Saudi adviser (ANGUS MCDOWALL, Nov 24, 2013, Reuters) 

People in the Middle East will lose sleep over a nuclear deal between global powers and Iran, a Saudi foreign policy adviser said on Sunday, signalling the deep unease Sunni Muslim Gulf states have over Western rapprochement with their Shi'ite foe.

The alliance of democratic Christianity and democratic Islam should scare undemocratic Sunni regimes.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


A classical liberal manifesto (Rafe Champion, 20 November 2013, Online Opinion)

Classical liberalism has the potential to  reach beyond the free trade and the libertarian agenda to recruit  conservatives and also well-meaning and caring people on the left who are interested in the outcomes of policy initiatives as well as the intentions.

Why is this spectre haunting us now?

Soon there will be a visible and identifiable classical liberal presence in Parliament, starting at the top with the Prime Minister.  George Brandis is on side with some CL principles, Joe Hockey is good on some and other Liberals will be supportive.  Being the  national leader Mr Abbott will have to temper his enthusiasms and engage in the art of compromise but that will not apply to the senators elect  David  Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democrats and Bob Day of  Family First.  Leyonhjelm is an impressive media performer and he provides a clear liberal/libertarian message that resonates with a lot of Coalition supporters and  others who have never encountered classical liberalism before. That is a really novel development in Australian politics and it will be a great support to the classical liberal cause.

Add to that the growing confidence and capacity of the liberal/libertarian agencies and commentators. In addition to the relative even-handedness of the Murdoch press the blogosphere provides a number of outlets for the classical liberal message.  The young turks at the IPA are showing some form as they demonstrated in the defence of  free speech. The Centre for Independent Studies has been camped on the intellectual high ground for a long time and the good work goes on, especially in bringing to town one of the world's leading exponents of classical liberalism, Deirdre McCloskey. The so-called "shock jocks" of the airwaves might be alarmed by the label of "classical liberal" but most of the time they support "the spectre" both in their own commentary and in the views of many of the people who phone in.
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Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


In Middle of Mexico, a Middle Class Rises (DAMIEN CAVE, 11/19/13, NY Times)

This is a Mexico far different from the popular American conception: it is neither the grinding, low-skilled assembly work at maquiladoras, the multinational factories near the border, nor the ugliness of drug cartels. But the question many experts and officials are asking is whether Mexico as a whole can keep up with the rising demand for educated labor -- and overcome concerns about crime and corruption -- to propel its 112 million people into the club of developed nations.

"We are at something of a turning point," said Eric Verhoogen, a professor of economics and international affairs at Columbia University. "The maquila strategy has been revealed not to have been successful, so people are looking around for something new."

The automotive industry has been Mexico's brightest spot so far. In many ways, central Mexico has already surpassed Detroit. There are now more auto-industry jobs in Mexico than in the entire American Midwest. At least 100,000 jobs have been added in Mexico since 2010, according to a recent Brookings Institution report, and General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Audi and Volkswagen have all announced expansion plans, with nearly $10 billion to be invested over the next several years, mainly in a 400-mile corridor from Puebla to Aguascalientes.

The work tends to be better paid than what could be found in the area before the companies arrived. It is still a fraction of the salaries of American workers -- many employees on the factory floors in the interior port make around $3.65 an hour -- but higher-paid professionals make up about 30 percent of the employees at many auto plants here, roughly twice as much as in the maquiladoras near the border.

And although robotics and other changes have kept overall employment in the industry somewhat limited, more of the industry has moved to Mexico as the car business has recovered. Around 40 percent of all auto-industry jobs in North America are in Mexico, up from 27 percent in 2000 (the Midwest has about 30 percent), and experts say the growth is accelerating, especially in Guanajuato, where state officials have been increasing incentives.

The 2,600-acre interior port, for example, has become a draw because, in addition to the polytechnic, the state built customs facilities, a railroad depot and a link to the local airport. Guanajuato also helps find candidates for companies to hire and, in some cases, gives them free classes to help them pass standardized tests required for employment. At Volkswagen, many of the young men and women flowing in and out of test-taking sessions said they benefited from the assistance.

Guanajuato even pays companies a small bonus for sending workers abroad for training. Mauricio Martínez, 29, an engineer at the Italian tiremaker Pirelli, which was one of the first companies to take up residence in the port, said he and his wife, Mariana, still saw their trip to Prague after his training in Romania as a fairy tale.

"I'm a small-town guy," he said one day after work, in his kitchen with a beer. "But there I was; an Italian company from Milan hired a small-town guy from Mexico."

He said he now makes $2,250 a month ($27,000 a year), far more than at his old job at a tow-truck company and roughly double the median household income nationwide. That's more than enough for a middle-class life here. Both husband and wife drive to work, and this year they bought a three-bedroom townhouse in a new development for about $80,000. On a recent visit, "The Big Bang Theory" played on their flat-screen TV as a neighbor watered her patch of lawn no bigger than a beach towel.

While cooking dinner, Mrs. Martínez said that her husband's job had given them the credit and stability they needed to start her own business -- a gourmet salad shop in a colonial village nearby. And as is common in other countries with an expanding middle class, such as Brazil, their economic rise has led to demands for better government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


We Have a Deal With Iran. A Good One. : It's everything Obama hoped to achieve in Geneva (Fred Kaplan, 11/24/13, Slate)

The Iranian nuclear deal struck Saturday night is a triumph. It contains nothing that any American, Israeli, or Arab skeptic could reasonably protest. Had George W. Bush negotiated this deal, Republicans would be hailing his diplomatic prowess, and rightly so.

A few weeks ago, a "senior administration official" outlined the agreement that President Obama hoped to achieve in Geneva. Some reporters who heard the briefing (including me) thought that the terms were way too one-sided, that the Iranians would never accept them. Here's the thing: The deal just signed by Iran and the P5+1 nations (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) is precisely the hoped-for deal laid out at that briefing.

It is an interim agreement, not a treaty (which means, among other things, that it doesn't require Senate ratification). It is meant as a first step toward a comprehensive treaty to be negotiated in the next six months. More than that, it expires in six months. In other words, if Iran and the other powers can't agree on a follow-on accord in six months, nobody is stuck with a deal that was never meant to be permanent. There is no opportunity for traps and trickery.

Meanwhile, Iran has to do the following things: halt the enrichment of all uranium above 5 percent and freeze the stockpile of uranium enriched to 3.5 percent; neutralize its stockpile of uranium that's been enriched to 20 percent (either by diluting it to 5 percent purity or converting it to a form that cannot be used to make a weapon); stop producing, installing, or modernizing centrifuges; stop constructing more enrichment facilities; halt all activities at the Arak nuclear reactor (which has the potential to produce nuclear weapons made of plutonium); permit much wider and more intrusive measures of verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency, including daily inspections of all facilities.

...Mr. Kaplan would oppose it.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Many winners in deal with Iran : The compromise reached on Iran's nuclear program has advantages for many parties involved. But the agreement is far from a happy end (Jamsheed Faroughi, 11/24/13, Deutsche-Welle)

The biggest winner in the deal is clearly the Iranian people. The so-called "intelligent" sanctions have been intended to hit primarily those in power in Iran. Sanctions against oil and gas exports were instituted to restrict the wellspring of the theocracy's finances in a serious and enduring fashion. And in fact, measures taken by Iran's international opponents largely succeeded in reaching those goals. However, the sanctions enriched with intelligence have also caused much more damage than planned, and it was primarily the Iranian people who bore the brunt.

Thanks to a rather inexplicable sense of national pride, some Iranians stood behind the regime's strange atomic program. But when you're starving, yellowcakes are hardly an alternative to bread. The Iranian people wanted a quick escape from isolation. They hoped for an improvement of economic conditions through a relaxing or even a removal of sanctions, sought greater openness from the country's political leaders and desired more rights and freedom.

The election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was the product of these demands, and Iranians were hoping for a miracle in Geneva.

November 23, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


En route to Sotheby's, Bay Psalm Book traces nation's seesaw religious history (David Van Biema, Nov 20, 2013, RNS)

For the first time since 1947, and only the second time since the nineteenth century, a copy of the first book printed in America will be sold at auction. The Whole Booke of Psalmes--universally known as The Bay Psalm Book--was translated and printed in 1640 in the virtual wilderness of Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Congregationalist Puritans who left England in search of religious freedom. 

A Puritan might read this extraordinary markup as an example of God's unknowable Providence. An economist might cite the laws of supply and demand. Either way, the blockbuster sale of "The Whole Book of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Meter" caps a fascinating seesaw act of American theology and marketplace. And depending on who wins the auction, it may say a bit more.

The book, on display at Sotheby's Manhattan headquarters, opened to Psalm 23, is physically unimposing. About 7 inches high and 4 inches wide, it is largely undecorated. The printer, a trained locksmith who arrived with the press, had his idiosyncrasies, including spelling "psalm" two different ways. The translators, among them Puritan luminaries John Cotton, Richard Mather and John Eliot, admitted to heeding "fidelity rather than poetry": They produced some clunky verse. The initial run of 1,700 seems in retrospect optimistic, considering that the Bay Colony had just 3,500 families. But the hymnbook was a success, and would eventually become better known for its scarcity than overproduction.

Most churches undoubtedly wore through their copies. Some books probably languished a while as relics of a vanished age: hymns eventually replaced sung psalms, even in most Reformed congregations. By the 1800s, only 11 known copies remained.

At which point America's bibliophiles realized they had nearly lost their foundational document.
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Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


JFK's Legacy: The Charisma Fallacy (Max Boot, 11.22.2013, Commentary)

In the end Dallek, a good historian, falls back on this: "Kennedy's greatest success was the very thing that critics often cast as a shortcoming: his charisma, his feel for the importance of inspirational leadership and his willingness to use it to great ends."

There is little doubt that there is something here-Kennedy did inspire a generation and many felt called to public service because of his example. But the nation also paid a high cost for the youthful charisma that Kennedy brought to the presidency because its flip side was lack of know-how and experience.

Even Kennedy admirers have to admit his many early stumbles, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion (why on earth approve a hare-brained CIA scheme to restage D-Day but without air cover?), the Berlin crisis, and the Vienna summit with Khrushchev where the Soviet leader came away convinced that the new president was weak-a conclusion that led directly to the worst days of the Cold War. To be sure, Kennedy deserved high marks for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis when he resisted the militaristic advice of his Joint Chiefs of Staff that, if adopted, could easily have triggered World War III. (Was this the last time that the top generals were more hawkish than the top civilian policymakers?)

Undoubtedly this was a sign of his growing maturity in office, and yet this chronicle of a president growing into his job bumps up against some inconvenient facts. Namely that in the last months of his life Kennedy was guilty of one of his worst blunders in office-approving the plot to overthrow South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem when it was obvious that there was no better alternative among all the South Vietnamese generals hungry for his post. Kennedy immediately expressed contrition for Diem's death but he did not live to see how the removal of South Vietnam's leader embroiled that country in years of instability and fostered a sense of American ownership of the conflict.

It is little wonder that in succeeding decades, as the luster of Camelot has faded, historians have been elevating Eisenhower and demoting Kennedy among the ranks of presidents-the former getting newfound respect for his steadiness, experience and deft handling of the international scene, all qualities that Kennedy lacked at least at first.

Yet we never seem to learn-we keep choosing charisma over experience. 

The UR himself made a revealing statement reflecting the weakness of the charismatic : 

[M]y greatest weakness, I think, is when it comes to -- I'll give you a very good example. I ask my staff never to hand me paper until two seconds before I need it, because I will lose it. (Laughter.) You know. The -- you know. And my desk in my office doesn't look good. I've got to have somebody around me who is keeping track of that stuff. And that's not trivial. I need to have good people in place who can make sure that systems run.

Of course, one distinguishing characteristic of the charismatic is that they surround themselvbes with lackeys, not competent people.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


God Delivered the Pilgrims--and My People : Thanksgiving always had particular resonance for one group of religious freedom-seekers. (MEIR SOLOVEICHIK, Nov. 21, 2013 WSJ)

At the beginning of the 18th century, Shearith Israel--the name means "the remnant of Israel"--was importing its clergy from Europe. But by 1768, it was ready to hire its first American-born minister, Gershom Mendes Seixas. And it is here that the story of Shearith Israel becomes forever intertwined with the story of Thanksgiving--and of America.

Known as the "Patriot Rabbi," Seixas ardently supported the American cause against Britain. By April of 1789, when the victorious George Washington arrived in New York to be sworn in as the first president of the United States, Seixas joined the city's Christian clergymen in the inaugural procession. Later that year, when the president proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving, the minister of America's first Jewish congregation delivered the first Thanksgiving address in a synagogue following the adoption of the Constitution.

In his sermon, delivered Nov. 26, 1789, he expressed his profound gratitude for a government that was "founded upon the strictest principles of equal liberty and justice." In a Thanksgiving Day service several years later, Seixas declared: "As Jews, we are even more than others called upon to return thanks to God for placing us in such a country--where we are free to act according to the dictates of conscience, and where no exception is taken from following the principles of our religion."

Throughout its history, the members of Shearith Israel have observed Thanksgiving by reciting in synagogue the same psalms of praise and gratitude sung by Jews all over the world on festive days like Hanukkah. This year, thanks to the coincidence of the two holidays, our members will be joined by a global chorus of their coreligionists.
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Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Iran Would Eliminate Stock of Some of Its Enriched Uranium Under Deal (STEVEN ERLANGER, 11/23/13, NY Times)

Under the proposed six-month deal that six major powers are negotiating with Iran in Geneva, Iran would eliminate its current stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent by diluting it or turning it into fuel rods or oxide powder, forms that are unusable for weapons, senior Western officials said Friday.

Iran would be allowed to continue to enrich uranium at much lower levels, to 3.5 percent, the officials said, but would also agree to cap its current stockpile of such uranium, by eliminating, diluting or transforming into fuel as much 3.5 percent uranium as it produces over the six months.

The officials spoke about the deal on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations had not been completed.

The rationale for such a deal, the officials said, is to satisfy Iran's refusal to suspend all enrichment -- a concession that its negotiators could not sell domestically, even for six months. But in exchange, Iran would agree to cap its stockpile, while eliminating its current supply of the more highly enriched uranium, which is much closer to bomb grade and has caused anxiety among Western nations, Israel and the Arab gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia.

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


India Is Courting China's Rivals, Too (Bruce Einhorn  November 21, 2013, Bloomberg Businessweek)

As China squabbles with the Philippines, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian nations over disputed islands in the South China Sea, Japan isn't the only regional rival looking to capitalize on distrust of China in Asia. India is trying to take advantage of opportunities, too. Like Japan, India has disputes of its own with China. India has a long border with China, which claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, as South Tibet. And like Japan, India is looking for friends that could potentially come in handy if tensions build with China.

So, just as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has focused much of his diplomatic efforts during his first year in office traveling to Southeast Asia, India's leaders are trying to build ties with other Asian countries that have reason to be wary of the Chinese. That helps explain why the head of Vietnam's Communist Party is the Indian Prime Minister's guest in New Delhi. Yesterday, as part of the visit by Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, the two countries announced a series of deals to boost economic ties. Among the agreements is a plan for India's Tata Power to build a $1.8 billion coal-fired power plant in Vietnam and Indian energy company ONGC Videsh to explore for oil and gas off the Vietnamese coast.

The energy deal is particularly significant. It's Vietnam's latest offer to India to explore off its coast and once again puts India in the midst of a territorial dispute. 

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Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


To ensure prosperity, immigration reform must not halt the flow of newcomers (JOHN IBBITSON, 11/20/13, The Globe and Mail)

For decades, now, European countries have struggled with the risk of a shrinking population, which happens if women have fewer than an average of 2.1 children and the pace of immigration doesn't make up the balance. European governments have done everything in their power, through daycare and early childhood education programs, to increase the fertility rate, with some success.

But with the onset of the recession, Europeans once again stopped having babies. "Whether countries have high fertility rates, like Britain, or low ones, like Hungary, the trend is similar," the Economist reports. "A 10-year fertility rise stopped around 2008 as the economic crisis hit, and started to slide in 2011."

There are two reasons for this: With the onset of the recession, young couples decided to put off having children, and immigrants remigrated because there were no jobs for them.

In a long-term, global context, depopulation can ease pressure on the environment. Short-term, however, demographic decline can be devastating. Low birth rates and little immigration leave too few young workers to pay into pension plans on which older workers depend. There are too few consumers buying homes and cars and dishwashers, forcing builders and manufacturers to shut down.

Japanese economists cite aging and depopulation as major contributors to that country's decades' long economic decay.

A strong economy and a robust immigration policy have protected Canada from the demographic shock of decreasing fertility. The latest Statistics Canada data show that our birth rate actually improved from 1.5 in 2000 to 1.7 in 2011. Nonetheless, by 2030 any increase in the Canadian population will come almost entirely from immigration. That is why it is so vital to keep the public onside.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


French rail commuters get English skills back on track (AFP, NOVEMBER 23, 2013)

It is not your usual classroom inside this train making the 45-minute trip from the city of Reims, in the heart of France's champagne country.

But the French state railways company SNCF thinks it has found a good solution for time-squeezed commuters who need to brush up on the language of Shakespeare.

The pilot programme, aptly named "English on track" service, was launched in September on six routes from the eastern Champagne-Ardenne region, a popular commuter hub for people working in the French capital.

Boarding the train at Reims in the semi-darkness of early morning is Jerome Maillot, a buyer in a Paris firm and already a fan of the scheme.

"I use English all the time in my job and since I get home late, it's difficult for me to fit in lessons. So using the journey to improve my skills is a real time-saver," says the 29-year-old, as he settles down for the lesson held either in first class or another designated space in the train. [...]

Many French employees are increasingly required to use English on their jobs.

"Even if the lesson only lasts 45 minutes, practising regularly means you can improve pretty quickly and the sociable aspect of being on the train makes conversation easier," explains Calum MacDougall, the director of the SpeakWrite language institute which provides the training.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Giving Thanks in Hitler's Reich (Timothy George, 11/18/13, First Things)

Paul Robert Schneider (1897-1939) was the first Protestant pastor to die in a concentration camp at the hands of the Nazis. His story is one of unmitigated courage, self-sacrifice, and martyrdom. Only in recent years has he begun to receive some of the recognition he deserves.

Schneider was not a theologian of first rank like Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, nor a hero like the Polish friar Maximillian Kolbe, who sheltered thousands of Jews and eventually exchanged his own life for one of his Auschwitz cellmates. Nor did Schneider live in a large urban center like Martin Niemöller, the Confessing Church leader in Berlin or the Catholic bishop Clemens August Graf von Galen, the "Lion of Münster." Paul Schneider, rather, was an obscure village pastor who could have escaped persecution completely had he simply been willing to keep his mouth shut.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Turkey's Kurdish opening (Deutsche-Welle, 11/19/13)

The meeting on Saturday (16.11.2013) between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the president of the autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, in Diyarbakir has opened a new era in Turkey's relations with the Kurds. According to veteran Turkish Kurdish politician Hasim Hasimi, it would be hard to overestimate the historic nature of the event.

"The Diyarbakir meeting of two of the region's symbolic figures is the beginning of a new era," he told Deutsche Welle. "For the first time, in Diyarbakir, Prime Minister Erdogan used the term Kurdistan. We have seen the flags of Turkey and Kurdistan together. All the taboos have been broken."

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Why Does Health Care Cost so Much in America? Ask Harvard's David Cutler (Paul Solman & David Cutler, 11/19/13, PBS)

Paul Solman: Why does health care cost so much in America?

David Cutler: Let me give you three reasons why. The first one is because the administrative costs of running our health care system are astronomical. About one quarter of health care cost is associated with administration, which is far higher than in any other country.

Paul Solman: What's the next highest?

David Cutler: About 10, 15 percent. Just to give you one example, Duke University Hospital has 900 hospital beds and 1,300 billing clerks. The typical Canadian hospital has a handful of billing clerks. Single-payer systems have fewer administrative needs. That's not to say they're better, but that's just on one dimension that they clearly cost less. What a lot of those people are doing in America is they are figuring out how to bill different insurers for different systems, figuring out how to collect money from people, all of that sort of stuff.

The second reason health care costs so much in America is that the U.S. spends more than other countries do on many of the same things. Drugs are the most commonly noted item, where a branded drug will cost much more in the U.S. than in other countries. But, for example, doctors also earn more for doing the same thing in the U.S. than they do in other countries, and a lot of suppliers charge more for things like durable medical equipment in the U.S. than in other countries.

Paul Solman: And that's not only doctors being paid more in this country, but the United States making the decision as a government not to buy drugs in bulk and therefore to bid down the price that pharmaceutical companies can charge.

David Cutler: The lowest prices for pharmaceuticals, and a variety of other medical devices and payments to physicians, are in government plans. So Medicaid gets the best prices on pharmaceuticals. In terms of physician payments, Medicaid payments are the lowest. Medicare payments are above that and private payments are above that. The more leverage the buyer has, the lower the price they get. That's true in every industry. In health care, the United States doesn't utilize that leverage as much as other countries do.

Paul Solman: Okay, so that's two and what's the third reason?

David Cutler: The third one is Americans receive more medical care than people do in other countries, not so much in terms of doctor visits, but if a person has a heart attack in the United States, they're much more likely to get open heart surgery than they are in most other countries.

Go back to Canada. In all of Ontario there are 11 hospitals that can do open heart surgery. Pennsylvania has roughly the population of Ontario and it has a bit over 60 hospitals that can do open heart surgery. So there's no way you can operate on as many people in Ontario as you can in Pennsylvania even if you operated around the clock.

Paul Solman: But that means that the people in Canada or in Ontario have to wait longer right?

David Cutler: Sometimes they wait longer. What's much more common is that there's a lot of gray area where it's not clear if you need the open heart surgery or not, and in the U.S., people will get it and in Canada, they don't. The interesting thing about it is that life expectancy or one-year mortality after a heart attack is the same in the two countries.

Make us spend our money.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


Egypt asks Turkish ambassador to leave, cites threat to stability (REUTERS, 11/23/2013)

Turkey has emerged as one of the fiercest international critics of Morsi's removal, calling it an "unacceptable coup." Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which has been staging protests calling for his reinstatement, has close ties with Turkey's ruling AK Party.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Consumer prices unexpectedly dip in October on lower gasoline costs (Jim Puzzanghera, November 20, 2013, LA Times)

Excluding volatile energy and food, consumer prices rose 0.1% in October, the same as the previous two months.

November 22, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 PM


The Real Lives of Gay Men (Austin Ruse, 11/22/13, Crisis)

In his excellent manuscript, The Gaying of America:  How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything to be published next March by Ignatius Press, Robert Reilly lays out the horrific numbers. Keep in mind that even repeating these numbers opens you up to a torrent of vitriol. You will see in the inevitable comments below that even mentioning them is hate speech, no more than lies, myths on par with the oversexed black man. Other than invective and charges that the studies and their authors have been "discredited," the numbers are unassailable. And they are supremely important for a young man considering taking a peak outside the closet door.

This is the door he is about to walk through.

Reilly writes: "one might ask how typical anal intercourse is in homosexual behavior. Is it fundamentally characteristic, or anomalous? Some claim that homosexual behavior does not necessarily mean that male couples engage in anal intercourse. The answer, however, is that it predominates."

Reilly quotes psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Santinover in Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth that "The typical homosexual (needless to say there are exceptions) is a man who has frequent episodes of anal intercourse with other men, often with many different men. These episodes are 13 times more frequent than heterosexuals' acts of anal intercourse, with 12 times as many different partners as heterosexuals."

Reilly goes further. "The most rigorous single study--the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study [1987]--recruited nearly 5,000 homosexual men and found that: 'a significant majority of these men ... (69 to 82%) reported having 50 or more lifetime sexual partners, and over 80% had engaged in receptive anal intercourse with at least some of their partners in the previous two years.'"

Such relationships are not spousal in any way, shape or form and this is what Ronald Lee found in his decades long search for real love, for a relationship that would fit into any notion of Christian sexual ethics.

Studies show gay men are remarkably promiscuous. Dr. Santinover cites a study by two homosexual researchers that found that out of "156 couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity; of the hundred couples that had been together for more than five years, none had been able to maintain sexual fidelity." They said, "[t]he expectation for outside sexual activity was the rule for male couples and the exception for heterosexual couples."

Reilly cites a 1997 Australian study that showed "only 15% of the men reported having fewer than 11 sex partners to date, while on the other end of the spectrum 15% had over 1,000 sex partners. A whopping 82% had over 50 partners and nearly 50% had over 100." The research goes on and drearily on.

A significant portion of our gains in modern public health is nothing more than a matter of distancing ourselves from the functions of our bowels.  Homosexuality, for obvious reasons, is little more than a matter of delving into that filth.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:28 PM


Are We Alone in the Universe? (PAUL DAVIES, 11/18/13, NY Times)

What can be said about the chances of life starting up on a habitable planet? Darwin gave us a powerful explanation of how life on Earth evolved over billions of years, but he would not be drawn out on the question of how life got going in the first place. "One might as well speculate about the origin of matter," he quipped. In spite of intensive research, scientists are still very much in the dark about the mechanism that transformed a nonliving chemical soup into a living cell. But without knowing the process that produced life, the odds of its happening can't be estimated. [...]

The underlying problem is complexity. Even the simplest bacterium is, at the molecular level, staggeringly complex. Although we have no idea of the minimal complexity of a living organism, it is likely to be very high. It could be that some sort of complexifying principle operates in nature, serving to drive a chaotic mix of chemicals on a fast track to a primitive microbe. If so, no hint of such a principle has been found in laboratory experiments to re-create the basic building blocks of life.

On the other hand, if life arose simply by the accumulation of many specific chemical accidents in one place, it is easy to imagine that only one in, say, a trillion trillion habitable planets would ever host such a dream run. Set against a number that big -- and once you decide a series of unlikely accidents is behind the creation of life, you get enormous odds very easily -- it is irrelevant whether the Milky Way contains 40 billion habitable planets or just a handful. Forty billion makes hardly a dent in a trillion trillion.

So we are stuck.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


AUTO CORRECT : Has the self-driving car at last arrived? (BURKHARD BILGER, NOVEMBER 25, 2013, The New Yorker)

Human beings make terrible drivers. They talk on the phone and run red lights, signal to the left and turn to the right. They drink too much beer and plow into trees or veer into traffic as they swat at their kids. They have blind spots, leg cramps, seizures, and heart attacks. They rubberneck, hotdog, and take pity on turtles, cause fender benders, pileups, and head-on collisions. They nod off at the wheel, wrestle with maps, fiddle with knobs, have marital spats, take the curve too late, take the curve too hard, spill coffee in their laps, and flip over their cars. Of the ten million accidents that Americans are in every year, nine and a half million are their own damn fault.

A case in point: The driver in the lane to my right. He's twisted halfway around in his seat, taking a picture of the Lexus that I'm riding in with an engineer named Anthony Levandowski. Both cars are heading south on Highway 880 in Oakland, going more than seventy miles an hour, yet the man takes his time. He holds his phone up to the window with both hands until the car is framed just so. Then he snaps the picture, checks it onscreen, and taps out a lengthy text message with his thumbs. By the time he puts his hands back on the wheel and glances up at the road, half a minute has passed.

Levandowski shakes his head. He's used to this sort of thing. His Lexus is what you might call a custom model. It's surmounted by a spinning laser turret and knobbed with cameras, radar, antennas, and G.P.S. It looks a little like an ice-cream truck, lightly weaponized for inner-city work. Levandowski used to tell people that the car was designed to chase tornadoes or to track mosquitoes, or that he belonged to an élite team of ghost hunters. But nowadays the vehicle is clearly marked: "Self-Driving Car."

Every week for the past year and a half, Levandowski has taken the Lexus on the same slightly surreal commute. He leaves his house in Berkeley at around eight o'clock, waves goodbye to his fiancée and their son, and drives to his office in Mountain View, forty-three miles away. The ride takes him over surface streets and freeways, old salt flats and pine-green foothills, across the gusty blue of San Francisco Bay, and down into the heart of Silicon Valley. In rush-hour traffic, it can take two hours, but Levandowski doesn't mind. He thinks of it as research. While other drivers are gawking at him, he is observing them: recording their maneuvers in his car's sensor logs, analyzing traffic flow, and flagging any problems for future review. The only tiresome part is when there's roadwork or an accident ahead and the Lexus insists that he take the wheel. A chime sounds, pleasant yet insistent, then a warning appears on his dashboard screen: "In one mile, prepare to resume manual control."

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Book Review: 'The Cave and the Light,' by Arthur Herman : In the pantheon of Dead White European Males, are there any specimens more deeply interred than Plato and Aristotle? (ROGER KIMBALL, Nov. 17, 2013, WSJ)

It might seem odd to search for "the soul of Western Civilization" in the work of two philosophers from the fourth century B.C. In the pantheon of Dead White European Males, are there any specimens more deeply interred? But Mr. Herman takes the reader on a rollicking trip from classical Athens to 21st-century New York to make the case that "everything we say, do, and see" has been shaped--"in one way or another"--by the ideas of Plato or Aristotle.

And what were those ideas, exactly? Mr. Herman turns to Plato's allegory in Book VII of "The Republic" to explain. Socrates compares the lot of most men to bound prisoners in a cave. A fire behind them casts a play of shadows on the wall in front, and these shadows they naturally mistake for reality. As Yeats said in "Among School Children": "Plato thought nature but a spume that plays / Upon a ghostly paradigm of things."

Imagine the prisoner set free. His eyes would be dazzled first by the fire and then, as he emerged from the cave, by the sunlight outside--a world of ideal forms, the true reality. This journey upward, says Socrates, is like the "upward journey of the soul" from the deceptive realm of the senses to a realm of timeless if abstract certainty. For Aristotle, by contrast, the world wasn't a shadow-filled cave but a provocation to curiosity, a place to be investigated for itself. Mr. Herman several times quotes his declaration that "the fact is our starting point." that it is also our end point, if we rely on Reason.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Democracy's Dual Dangers (David Runciman, 11/18/13, The Chronicle Review)

There is no decade from the past century when it is not possible to find an extended debate among commentators and intellectuals in the democratic West about the inadequacies of democratic politics. This is not true of only those decades when Western democracy was clearly on the ropes, like the 1930s, when it was menaced by fascism, or the 1970s, when it was threatened by inflation and oil shock. It's also true of the prosperous and relatively stable decades as well. In the 1920s, Walter Lippmann led the charge, arguing that democratic publics were far too ill-informed and inattentive to manage their own affairs. In the 1950s, academics worried about the banality and exhaustion of democratic life. Daniel Bell took a positive stance with his claims about the end of ideology, but for the most part democracy was treated as a cumbersome, careless system of government, in permanent danger of being outwitted by the Soviets.

The history of modern democracy is a tale of steady success accompanied by the constant drumbeat of anticipated failure.

Even the 1980s, which we now look back on as a time of emergent democratic triumphalism, were dominated by prophecies of doom. Consider the two best-selling academic books from the end of that decade. One, Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind (1987), argued that the endemic triviality of mass democracy would destroy the minds of the young, leaving them unable to distinguish good from bad. (Bloom blamed, among other people, Mick Jagger.) The second, Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1988), foretold American decline as the demands of sustaining a global empire would overwhelm the capacity of the American people to put up with them.

The history of modern democracy is a tale of steady success accompanied by the constant drumbeat of anticipated failure. The intellectual commentator who first spotted this distinctive feature of democratic life (and who did most to explain it) was Alexis de Tocque­ville. When he traveled to America, in 1831, Tocqueville was immediately struck by the frenetic and mindless quality of democratic politics. Citizens were always complaining, and their politicians were endlessly throwing mud at one another. The grumbling discontent was frequently interrupted by bursts of outright panic as resentments spilled over.

Yet Tocqueville noticed something else about American democracy: that underneath the chaotic surface, it was quite stable. Citizens' discontent coincided with an underlying faith that democratic politics would see them right in the end.

There is no more intolerable idea than that the times you live in are devoid of drama and you face no significant challenges.
Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Someday Your EV Charger May Be the Roadway Itself : A researcher envisions the ultimate cure for "range anxiety": roadway-powered vehicles with modified on-board power receivers. (Martin LaMonica, November 19, 2013, Technology Review)

One way to extend the range of electric vehicles may be to provide power wirelessly through coils placed under the surface of a road. But charging moving vehicles with high-power wireless chargers below them is complex.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a method to deliver power to moving vehicles using simple electronic components, rather than the expensive power electronics or complex sensors previously employed. The system uses a specialized receiver that induces a burst of power only when a vehicle passes over a wireless transmitter. Initial models indicate that placing charging coils in 10 percent of a roadway would extend the driving range of an EV from about 60 miles to 300 miles, says Srdjan Lukic, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at NCSU.

Wireless charging through magnetic induction--the same type typically used for electronic toothbrushes--is being pursued by a number of companies for consumer electronics and electric vehicles (see "Wireless Charging--Has the Time Finally Arrived?"). Such chargers work by sending current through a coil, which produces a magnetic field. When a car with its own coil is placed above the transmitter, the magnetic field induces a flow of power that charges the batteries.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Are Kids Sports Pricing Themselves Out of the Market? : As organized sports get pushed further out of reach of many poorer kids, one former college hoops star wants to even the playing field. (John Greenya, 11/22/13, Pacific Standard)

Thanks to the equality of opportunity provided by sandlots and playgrounds, it used to be axiomatic that an American kid from any neighborhood could rise to the top of any major league sport. No more. For one thing, there are fewer and fewer sandlots and playgrounds. A more important reason is that fewer and fewer parents can afford the escalating costs of organized sports.

Consider this: If Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Magic Johnson, Jim Brown, or Jackie (Flo Jo) Joyner Kersee were born in this century instead of the last, we'd probably never hear of them--their parents  didn't make enough to pay the costs of their kids' play.

"Free play has disappeared," says entrepreneur Darryl Hill, who grew up on the streets and playgrounds of Washington, D.C., to become, in 1963 at the University of Maryland, the first African American to play football--or any major sport--in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "There are no more sandlot sports."

Even school teams are becoming rarer. An examination of who plays youth sports from ESPN The Magazine finds that while there may be 21.5 million kids between age six and 17 playing on a team, including teams at schools, the earliest participants come from upper-income families. "We also see starkly what drives the very earliest action: money," wrote Bruce Kelley and Carl Carchia. "The biggest indicator of whether kids start young, [sports researcher Don] Sabo found, is whether their parents have a household income of $100,000 or more." Kids from low-income families are the least likely to be on multiple teams.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Conspiracy Theorists Aren't Really Skeptics : The fascinating psychology of people who know the real truth about JFK, UFOs, and 9/11 (William Saletan, 11/19/13, Slate)

[P]eople who suspect conspiracies aren't really skeptics. Like the rest of us, they're selective doubters. They favor a worldview, which they uncritically defend. But their worldview isn't about God, values, freedom, or equality. It's about the omnipotence of elites.

Conspiracy chatter was once dismissed as mental illness. But the prevalence of such belief, documented in surveys, has forced scholars to take it more seriously. Conspiracy theory psychology is becoming an empirical field with a broader mission: to understand why so many people embrace this way of interpreting history. As you'd expect, distrust turns out to be an important factor. But it's not the kind of distrust that cultivates critical thinking.

In 1999 a research team headed by Marina Abalakina-Paap, a psychologist at New Mexico State University, published a study of U.S. college students. The students were asked whether they agreed with statements such as "Underground movements threaten the stability of American society" and "People who see conspiracies behind everything are simply imagining things." The strongest predictor of general belief in conspiracies, the authors found, was "lack of trust."

But the survey instrument that was used in the experiment to measure "trust" was more social than intellectual. It asked the students, in various ways, whether they believed that most human beings treat others generously, fairly, and sincerely. It measured faith in people, not in propositions. "People low in trust of others are likely to believe that others are colluding against them," the authors proposed. This sort of distrust, in other words, favors a certain kind of belief. It makes you more susceptible, not less, to claims of conspiracy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Buying on credit is so nice : The debt crisis has not stopped Puerto Ricans from shopping (The Economist, Nov 23rd 2013)

Doing business there also became frustrating. The informal economy grew to an estimated quarter of GNP, forcing legal companies to shoulder an outsize share of the fiscal burden. The tax code set high rates, but was riddled with carve-outs. Meanwhile, the state electricity monopoly fell captive to its union and suppliers, and lost $383m last year despite charging three times the price of electricity on the American mainland. Faced with all this, the economy fell into recession in 2006. [...]

The other "escape valve" is emigration. Some 29% of those born on the island now live on the mainland. Its population has fallen by 4% since 2000, to 3.7m. The young and jobless are most likely to move. Small communities in the interior are becoming ghost towns.

Unfortunately, this leaves fewer people to pay taxes to the cash-strapped treasury. As the economy shrunk, the government turned to the bond markets, which sopped up paper that was fully exempt from taxation in all 50 states. Investors remained complacent until Detroit went bankrupt in July. Then they soured, and Puerto Rican debt-yields nearly doubled in two months.

The governor, Alejandro García Padilla, had already launched an austerity programme, raising taxes by 1.1% of GNP and making public employees' pension schemes less generous. That is expected to trim the deficit from $2.2 billion to $800m; it has already made 62% of Puerto Ricans disapprove of Mr García Padilla. Yet investors are still unimpressed. Sergio Marxuach, an economist, estimates that the tax increases will shrink GDP so much that half their fiscal benefits will be negated. Investment has fallen by over 20% since 2004. Mr García Padilla is encouraging medical tourism and will allow rich newcomers to avoid tax on passive income. But he opposes opening the market in electricity distribution, which Eduardo Bhatia, the Senate president, thinks would cut energy costs by $2 billion a year.

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


Lincoln's Sound Bite: Have Faith in Democracy (ALLEN C. GUELZO, 11/17/13, NY Times)

The address is less like an oration, and more like that oldest of American genres, the Puritan jeremiad, the public sermon that warned our forebears of their sins but also offered them a path to redemption. The three-part, past-present-future movement in the address matches the same movement in the jeremiad, and like it, the address contains both a word of warning and a promise of blessing.

The warning Lincoln issues is his admission that the Civil War was testing whether or not democracies are inherently unstable -- "whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure." Today, many take democracy for granted as the endpoint of political development. But it did not look that way in 1863. The French Revolution, which promised to be the American Revolution's beachhead in Europe, swiftly circled downward in the Reign of Terror and then the tyranny of Bonaparte; democratic uprisings in Spain in 1820, in Russia in 1825, in France in 1830 and across Europe in 1848 were crushed by newly renascent monarchies or subverted by Romantic philosophers, glorying in regimes built on blood, soil and nationality rather than the Rights of Man.

The outbreak of the American Civil War only gave the monarchs further reason to rejoice. The survival of the American democracy had been a thorn in their royal sides, unsettling their downtrodden peoples with dreams of self-government. That this same troublesome democracy would, in 1861, obligingly proceed to blow its own political brains out -- and do it in defense of the virtues of human slavery -- gave the monarchs no end of delight.

Lincoln's task at Gettysburg was to persuade his hearers, on the evidence offered by three days of battle, that democracy's sun had not set after all. Gettysburg was not only a victory, but a victory won with the Union Army's back to the wall, and its news came, appropriately, on July 4.

Above all, the victory was the product of self-sacrifice -- 3,155 Union dead, 14,529 wounded and 5,365 "missing," rivaling British and Allied losses at Waterloo. These casualties were not professional soldiers, Wellington's "scum of the earth" who had taken their shilling and their chance together, nor were they dispirited peasants, driven into battle by the whips of their betters, but precisely those ordinary citizens whom the cultured despisers of democracy had laughingly doubted could ever be made to do anything but calculate profit and loss.

Looking out over the semicircular rows of graves, Lincoln saw in them a transcendence that few people, then or now, have been willing to concede to liberal democracy. And he saw something all could borrow, a renewed dedication to popular self-government, "that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion." Like the jeremiad, it would point toward a renewal, a new birth, not of freedom from sin, but political freedom.

The genius of the address thus lay not in its language or in its brevity (virtues though these were), but in the new birth it gave to those who had become discouraged and wearied by democracy's follies, and in the reminder that democracy's survival rested ultimately in the hands of citizens who saw something in democracy worth dying for. We could use that reminder again today.

November 21, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


DOJ 'Abandons' Suit Against Louisiana School Voucher Program (MICHAEL WARREN, 11/19/13, Weekly Standard)

The Obama administration's Justice Department has dropped a lawsuit aiming to stop a school voucher program in the state of Louisiana. A ruling Friday by a United States district court judge revealed that the federal government has "abandoned" its pursuit of an injunction against the Louisiana Scholarship Program, a state-funded voucher program designed to give students in failing public schools the opportunity to attend better performing public or private schools.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Is Jeb Bush gearing up for 2016? (Laura Colarusso, 11/21/13, The Week)

In early November, Bush trekked to Wisconsin, where he also told reporters he doesn't think ObamaCare will work. "If the objective is, don't worry about the budget, we'll just finance it the same way we're financing our deficits right now, build a bigger debt, you could see this thing surviving," he said. "But it will have failed what the promises were. It will have failed the American people. And I don't think it will bend the cost curve."

In June, he laid out a four-point plan to revive the economy that included approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, raising education standards, and passing comprehensive immigration reform.

Bush has long been a favorite of establishment Republicans and deep-pocketed GOP donors who urged him to run for the White House in 2012. He is seen as a strong voice advocating for a humane approach to immigration reform -- a stance that puts him at odds with large swaths of the conservative electorate, but ultimately helps him with one of the fastest-growing sectors of the American electorate: Latino voters.

It doesn't hurt that his brother, George W. Bush, won the White House in 2004 with more than 40 percent of the Latino vote, the highest margin for a Republican in recent history.

Conservatives and Republicans are pro-amnesty; the Right is opposed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


U.S. Wholesale Prices Fall 0.2% (SARAH PORTLOCK, Nov. 21, 2013, WSJ)

U.S. wholesale prices fell in October while longer-run inflation pressures remained contained, a reflection of weak demand across the economy.

The producer-price index, which measures how much companies pay for everything from food to computers, declined 0.2% last month from September, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was largely due to falling energy costs. Core prices, which exclude the volatile food and energy components, rose 0.2%, in line with the soft readings in recent months.

"There is no inflation pressure now and none in the pipeline," said IHS Global Insight economist Michael Montgomery, pointing to Europe's "funk" and China's struggles to recover from its economic slowdown.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Government Turns Bailout Profit Despite GM Loss (ERIC MORATH, 11/21/13, WSJ)

Five years after the U.S. government started injecting hundreds of billions of dollars into auto makers, financial institutions and the housing sector, American taxpayers can expect a small profit from an era of historic federal bailouts.

The U.S. Treasury, which pumped out $421.6 billion for its financial-crisis rescues, will have recouped more than $432 billion from bailout recipients once it unloads its remaining General Motors Co. stock. The Treasury Department, which announced the final steps Thursday, expects to sell the government's position in GM by the end of the year.

It would have been enough had he simply avboided a depression...turning a profit on quick recovery instead was genius.

November 20, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


A world for children: J. R. R. Tolkien, : a review of The Hobbit: or There and Back Again (CS Lewis, 10/02/37, Times L:iterary Supplement)

[T]here are dwarfs and dwarfs, and no common recipe for children's stories will give you creatures so rooted in their own soil and history as those of Professor Tolkien--who obviously knows much more about them than he needs for this tale. Still less will the common recipe prepare us for the curious shift from the matter-of-fact beginnings of his story ("hobbits are small people, smaller than dwarfs--and they have no beards--but very much larger than Lilliputians") [2] to the saga-like tone of the later chapters ("It is in my mind to ask what share of their inheritance you would have paid to our kindred had you found the hoard unguarded and us slain"). [3] You must read for yourself to find out how inevitable the change is and how it keeps pace with the hero's journey. Though all is marvellous, nothing is arbitrary: all the inhabitants of Wilderland seem to have the same unquestionable right to their existence as those of our own world, though the fortunate child who meets them will have no notion--and his unlearned elders not much more--of the deep sources in our blood and tradition from which they spring.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


The book that cured me of JFK conspiracies once and for all (Hector Tobar, November 20, 2013, LA Times)

20 years ago I was cured of my conspiracy-theory fever forever. A single book was the antidote.

Gerald Posner's "Case Closed: Lee Harvey Oswald and the Assassination of JFK" was published in 1993, on the 30th anniversary of the assassination. As the title suggests, its chief protagonist is Oswald, a man with the kind of lonely, tortured and eventful biography that American culture has produced pretty routinely in the decades since. In fact, I would argue that there are echoes of Oswald's life in figures as diverse as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and the two teenage boys who massacred their classmates at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Oswald was just 24 when he was arrested after Kennedy's assassination. In the conspiracy theories, he is a shadow figure, a pawn moved around by powerful forces, a "patsy" who takes the fall.  In "Case Closed" (and also in excellent, later books by Norman Mailer and Vincent Bugliosi), a more recognizably human figure emerges. Oswald's father died when his mother was still pregnant with him, and he had a rootless childhood, marked by domestic neglect and violence -- as an adolescent, he hit his mother and was briefly institutionalized. He latched on to various dreams and schemes to give him the sense of self his upbringing had denied him: from being a teenage "Communist" in a radical party of one, to joining the Marines and finally to defecting to the Soviet Union.

The peculiar madness of Oswald pulled me through "Case Closed," as Posner crafts a narrative that reads like a novel -- though it's a novel that's being constantly interrupted when Posner has to stop and debunk the many myths about Oswald's life that the conspiracy theorists have concocted in the years since. that he wastes so much time rehashing the conspiracy theories that Mr. Posner forever laid to rest.
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Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Upper Valley families confront rural poverty (CHARLIE RAFKIN, 11/15/13, The Dartmouth)

Not far from Baker-Berry Library's towering spire, thousands are facing similar struggles. In West Fairlee, a Vermont town less than 20 miles from Hanover, 24.8 percent of the town's 652 inhabitants live below the federal poverty line, according to Census data. The towns of Claremont, Corinth and Newport all suffer poverty rates of 15 percent or higher. The Claremont region has a median income of just $39,670, and only 14 percent of adults have earned a college diploma, The Washington Post reported. 

There are, of course, many affluent towns and counties in the Upper Valley. Norwich's median household income, for example, is $101,250, almost double the national rate. In fact, New Hampshire's Gini coefficient, a standard economic measure of income inequality, is quite low relative to those of other states, indicating that the state has a more equitable distribution of income. (Vermont's is slightly higher, but still well below the national rate.) 

Statewide, New Hampshire has an 8 percent poverty rate, while Vermont's is 11.4 percent. Both figures fall below the national rate of 14.3 percent. 

New Hampshire also had the lowest poverty rate in the U.S. in 2011 and 2012. 

This low overall rate does not cleave evenly between races. Over the past 12 months, just 7.5 percent of white New Hampshire residents had incomes below the poverty line, but 23.5 percent of black residents, 15.8 percent of Native American residents and 17.4 percent of Hispanic residents fell below this level, according to the latest Census estimates. 

The disparity between Norwich's affluence and West Fairlee's poverty is a "microcosm" of statewide trends, said Erika Argersinger, public policy director of the Children's Alliance of New Hampshire. 

Relying on such encouraging statewide figures alone can obscure the dreadful poverty that some Upper Valley communities endure. 

"When you have those small pockets, it's easy for it to get sort of washed out when you look at the average across the state," Argersinger said. "You have pretty wealthy areas of the Upper Valley, and then you have more poor areas of the Upper Valley, so when you look at it overall, the Upper Valley, you know, looks pretty well off, but what we know is that there are these pockets of deeper poverty." 

The Upper Valley's most affluent communities are generally located near Hanover: since Dartmouth is the area's largest employer, communities close to Dartmouth are, on balance, wealthier. But as Dakota and Destiny's situations demonstrate -- the two are from Lebanon -- there is more need than statistics suggest. Even Hanover is not completely bracketed off from poverty. 

"It's here," Hanover town manager Julia Griffin said. "We see folks who need welfare assistance, who are trying really to hold onto homes." 

The town provided over $80,000 in grants to community agencies that served the town last year, as well as over $10,000 in direct welfare assistance to residents, Griffin said. She noted, however, that Hanover's high property costs deter many poor community members from moving to the town, and that Lebanon's welfare budget is much greater. 

The high poverty rate in some parts of the Upper Valley is tied to some community members' lack of marketable skills and the lack of transportation infrastructure the region. The onset of the recession in 2008 also contributed to the community's economic instability, said Sara Kobylenski, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven, a local shelter. 

"Our model of capitalism economically has worked better than any of the others, but it still has people that don't come to the table at an equal footing with others," she said. 
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Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


John Henry, A Steel-Drivin' Man--And A Luddite (Harry Binswanger, 11/20/13, Forbes)

Now let's throw the warm light of reason on the story. One website gives this account of the Chesapeake and Ohio's construction of the Big Bend Tunnel.

The C&O's new line was moving along quickly, until Big Bend Mountain emerged to block its path. The mile-and-a-quarter-thick mountain was too vast to build around. So the men were told they had drive their drills through it, through its belly.

It took 1,000 men three years to finish. The work was treacherous. Visibility was negligible and the air inside the developing tunnel was thick with noxious black smoke and dust. Hundreds of men would lose their lives to Big Bend before it was over, their bodies piled into makeshift, sandy graves just steps outside the mountain. John Henry was one of them. As the story goes, John Henry was the strongest, fastest, most powerful man working on the rails. He used a 14-pound hammer to drill, some historians believe, 10 to 20 feet in a 12-hour day-the best of any man on the rails.

One day, a salesman came to camp, boasting that his steam-powered machine could outdrill any man. A race was set: man against machine. John Henry won, the legend says, driving 14 feet to the drill's nine. He died shortly after, some say from exhaustion, some say from a stroke.

What then is the actual meaning of the story? John Henry, out of personal vanity, died trying to defeat an invention that actually brought deliverance from the inhuman conditions of all steel-driving men, including him. He and hundreds of men died building the Big Bend tunnel. The steam hammer would have saved most of those lives. It would have allowed the laborers to do work, on the railroad or elsewhere, that was immensely easier and less dangerous. Is this something that John Henry and his Leftist admirers should oppose?

Steam power also greatly shortened the time required to lay track, lowering costs and therefore lowering the price of rail travel, raising everyone's standard of living. The invention meant the substitution of steam power for costly, back-breaking, life-shortening, muscular labor.

...than a live one with a higher standard of living!

November 19, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


ObamaCare Flop Contrasts Sharply With Bush's Medicare Overhaul (Carrie Sheffield, 11/17/13, Forbes)

When it comes to rolling out massive healthcare programs, President Obama is not measuring up to his nemesis, George W. Bush.

Rollout thus far of the Affordable Care Act has been riddled with glitches, delays and consumer complaints. Contrast this with rollout of Medicare Part D, the prescription drug benefit enacted under Bush.

As a reporter in 2005 covering health care policy for The Hill newspaper in Washington, D.C., I followed the horse jockeying behind rollout of this massive entitlement program. Its passage was strong-armed by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay by a razor thin House margin as a giveaway to seniors--by far the most potent voting bloc--in hopes of forever bringing them to the "R" column. DeLay's political fantasy was never fulfilled (seniors did favor Republican Mitt Romney over Obama, but they're still electorally fickle), yet rollout of Medicare Part D was a policy wonk's paradise compared to ObamaCare.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Poll: Most Americans Oppose Obamacare Repeal Despite Rollout Troubles (Ronald Brownstein, November 18, 2013, National Journal)

Despite sharp divisions over the long-term impact of President Obama's health-reform law, fewer than two in five Americans say it should be repealed, virtually unchanged since last summer, the latest United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll has found. [...]

Yet the survey did not find these doubts about the law translating into surging demand to undo it. Reprising a question first asked in July, the survey recorded a close split when respondents were asked to choose among three options for what Congress "should do now about the health care law."

Thirty-eight percent of those polled said Congress should "repeal the law so it is not implemented at all," while 35 percent said lawmakers should "wait and see how things go before making any changes." Another 23 percent said Congress should "provide more money to ensure it is implemented effectively" (the remaining 5 percent had no opinion).

Notwithstanding all the tumult surrounding the law's rocky implementation, those numbers changed little from July, when 36 percent supported repeal, 30 percent wanted Congress to wait and see, and 27 percent wanted lawmakers to provide more funds for implementation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


...but the very real possibility exists that he is the only featured speaker who would, like Lincoln, have waged the war.

November 18, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Are You a Scott Walker Conservative? : Why Wisconsin's governor may be Chris Christie's toughest competition in 2016 (John Dickerson, 11/17/13, Slate)

The senators have spoken. The problem is that's what senators are mostly known for doing: talking. They may make good presidential candidates, but in 2016 the political bias is going to be for chief executives. Republican voters tend to be fond of governors; they see the job as good training for the White House. You sharpen a set of skills that more closely track with the ones you'll need in the Oval Office. With the voters so sick of Washington politicians, the political incentive is to stay away from senators because--no matter how much they behave like insurgents--they still have the smell of Washington on them. Finally, Republicans have been vocal for a long time that President Obama's failures flow from his lack of executive experience. Given this, it is hard to imagine that enough voters would want to replace him with another one-term senator who has built his reputation on nothing more than the quality of his speeches. (Unsurprisingly, Walker thinks the GOP is going to nominate a governor in 2016, too).

That narrows the field down to the pool of leading current and former Republican governors: Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rick Perry, and Walker. All of those men have something to recommend them, but "no one checks as many boxes as Walker does," as an Iowa GOP strategist puts it. Walker has near hero status in the grassroots for taking on Wisconsin's public sector unions. Cruz talks about taking stands on principle, but he lost his fight. Walker took a stand, was targeted by the full force of the Democratic machine, and stayed alive. He won a recall election with a larger margin than his original victory. He raised $30 million for that race, so he knows how to tap wealthy donors. Social conservatives also consider him one of their own for his pro-life views and his pedigree: His father was a Baptist minister.

Jindal and Perry have supporters in conservative circles, but Jindal can't match Walker's union-slaying story and Perry's accomplishments won't help him overcome the memories of his disastrous 2012 run. If the incentive is to pick a Christie alternative who can survive, it also helps if the candidate comes from a battleground state--even better if they come from a swing state in the Midwest. Walker also brings helpful connections to Iowa, that early caucus state. Besides governing in nearby Wisconsin, Walker grew up in Iowa. Right now GOP operatives describe the competition in the Hawkeye State as one between Rand Paul (whose forces control the state party) and Sen. Ted Cruz (who excites the base).

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hails from a swing state, but he himself has admitted that he is out of step with the Republican Party on immigration. He may still be noodling a run, but he could easily be painted as a GOP moderate--and that space is already occupied by Christie.

Scott Walker backs path to citizenship, increased immigration (AARON BLAKE, July 3, 2013, Washington Post)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said Tuesday that he supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants but that federal immigration reform efforts miss a key element of the debate.

In an interview with the Wausau (Wis.) Daily Herald editorial board, Walker said the debate should focus on making it easier to immigrate rather than on what to do with immigrants already here illegally and border security.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


The Decline of Oil (John Steele Gordon, 11.18.2013, Commentary)

 Oil consumption has been rising very slowly in the United States, however, up a mere 8.1 percent in 20 years.

But the U.S. population has risen over 20 percent since 1993, so U.S. oil consumption is down significantly on a per capita basis. We used 24.15 barrels a year per person in 1993; today the figure is 21.6 barrels, a 10.6 percent drop per person. The decline in oil consumption on a GDP basis is even more dramatic. In 1993, the U.S. had $1,096 of GDP per barrel of oil consumed. Today the figure is $2,393 per barrel of oil. Taking inflation into account, GDP per barrel of oil is up a whopping 34.8 percent in the last 20 years.

What accounts for that? There are several things. One is a slow but steady switch to other power sources, such as natural gas. In 1993, natural gas produced 13 percent of total U.S. electricity; today it produces 24.7 percent. Oil, meanwhile, went from producing 3.5 percent of total electricity 20 years ago to a mere 0.7 percent today. Another reason is a steadily increasing efficiency. Space heating took 53.1 percent of home energy consumption in 1993; today it is only 41.5 percent. The nation's fleet of cars and trucks have much higher average miles per gallon than 20 years ago. A third reason is that GDP growth in recent decades has been centered in non-energy-intensive industries. Manufacturing automobiles is energy intensive. Manufacturing software is not.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


George Zimmerman arrested following Florida house disturbance (Associated Press, November 18, 2013)

Zimmerman's arrest at a house in Apopka, about 15 miles from Sanford, was just his latest brush with the law.

Zimmerman and his estranged wife were involved in a domestic dispute in September just days after Shellie Zimmerman filed divorce papers, but police later said no charges were filed against either of them because of a lack of evidence.

Zimmerman has also been pulled over three times for traffic stops since his acquittal. He was ticketed for doing 60 mph in a 45 mph zone in Lake Mary in September and was given a warning by a state trooper along Interstate 95 for having a tag cover and windows that were too darkly tinted. He was also stopped near Dallas in July and was given a warning for speeding.

In 2005, Zimmerman had to take anger management courses after he was accused of attacking an undercover officer who was trying to arrest Zimmerman's friend. In another incident, a girlfriend accused him of attacking her.

He seemed like such a stable, responsible young man...

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Everyone In The World Hates Their Jobs (Sydney Brownstone, 11/17/13, Co.Exist) and market research company GfK conducted the study, which revealed that only 53% of Americans actively enjoy their jobs, and 15% actively dislike them. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


How Mayor Rahm Emanuel Awoke A Progressive Resistance in Chicago : The war between Chicago's 99% and the new mayor. (KARI LYDERSEN, 11/18/13, In These Times)

Many pundits describe Emanuel as the epitome of the modern centrist neoliberal Democrat. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is often viewed as a symbol of neoliberalism, a global socioeconomic doctrine with intellectual roots in Chicago. Emanuel was a key architect of the trade agreement, which ultimately cost tens of thousands of U.S. jobs and brought social and economic devastation to Mexico.

To the extent that Emanuel genuinely wants to make the world a better place for working people, he thinks market forces and business models are the way to do it, and he clearly (and perhaps rightly) thinks that he understands these institutions far better than any teacher or crossing guard or nurse. From that viewpoint, the messy attributes of democracy--sit-ins, protests, rallies, people demanding meetings and information and input--simply slow down and encumber the streamlined, bottom-line-driven process Emanuel knows is best. But many regular Chicagoans see injustice, callousness and even cruelty in this trickle-down, authoritarian approach to city governance. They see the mayor bringing thousands of new corporate jobs subsidized with taxpayer dollars while laying off middle-class public sector workers like librarians, call-center staffers, crossing guards, and mental health clinic therapists. They see him closing neighborhood schools, throwing parents' and students' lives into turmoil. They see him (like Daley) passing ordinances at will through a rubber-stamp City Council, leaving citizens with few meaningful avenues to express their opposition to policies changing the face of their city.

If there's one thing Chicagoans have demonstrated ever since the city rose out of a swamp of stinking onions, it is that they will not quietly acquiesce when they sense injustice. This rich tradition stretches from the Haymarket Affair of 1886 to the garment workers strikes of the early 1900s; from the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests to the first massive immigration march of 2006. Like the proud Chicagoans who came before them, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Mental Health Movement, and other contemporary groups are committed to questioning and shaping the meanings of democracy, leadership, power and justice.

Rahm Emanuel's tenure as mayor of Chicago has provided a stage for these populist and progressive institutions to grapple with other powerful forces in a drama about the continual evolution of a great American city.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM

PLENTY O' NOTHIN' (profanity alert):

Does your job create real value? Many Americans no longer understand the results of their labor By Noah Smith, 11/1/13, The Week)

Finance takes up fully 8 percent of our economy, up from less than 3 percent in 1950. But is our finance industry giving us anything now that it wasn't back then? [...]

All that trading, and the infrastructure to support it, occupy a vast number of Americans. But we have no idea how it creates value. Some forms of financial activity, such as high-frequency foreign exchange trading, are almost certainly useless. If people get paid money to do these things, it almost certainly must be because they either use the market to trick people out of their money, or because the government somehow subsidizes them. Our top financial economists are stumped. When I once asked a hedge fund trader how much value his job created for the world, and he cheerfully replied, "Oh, none. Zero. But they pay me a lot of money to do it!" [...]

Even as productivity has climbed strongly in most American industries, it has fallen in health care. More and more people are being hired by the industry, but the average amount they produce is going down and down. So whether you measure the value of our health-care industry in terms of how healthy we are or how much people are willing to pay, the picture is not bright. [...]

Finally, we have the education sector, which at 5.7 percent of GDP is also a big deal. Even as college tuition, already sky-high, continues to drift upward, many economists question whether college is worth what we pay for it. Does college really train students with the skills and life experiences they need to be productive?

Jobs are just a means to redistribute wealth.

November 17, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 PM


Global warming pragmatism (Robert J. Samuelson, November 17, 2013, Washington Post)

Economist Robert Pindyck of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently examined the computer models that estimate the effects and costs of climate change -- and he didn't like what he found. The models reflect two gaping uncertainties, he says. First, we don't know how much increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) will raise global temperatures. "There are feedback loops" -- interactions between greenhouse gases and weather -- "that aren't easy to measure." The models make assumptions. Next, he says, we don't know what economic losses will result from higher temperatures. More assumptions. The "damage functions" in the models, he says, "are completely made-up."

Pindyck sounds like a "global warming denier." He isn't. True, he thinks climate change and its adverse economic consequences could be wildly overstated. He also thinks they could be wildly understated. The effects might ultimately be catastrophic. We simply don't know. Ignorance reigns. The best course, he says, would be to adopt a modest carbon tax -- because there are certainly some ill effects of global warming -- and adjust it as we learn more. Meanwhile, we shouldn't assume that computer models convey scientific truth. "The models create an illusion of knowledge," he says. "For me, the issue is being honest."

I'd call Pindyck a global warming pragmatist, and it's a middle path that I find appealing. It acknowledges warming's uncertainties but doesn't use them as an excuse for inaction. For years, I've advocated an energy tax -- my preference now is a carbon tax -- because it could advance other national goals. It could reduce budget deficits and enhance energy security by pushing consumers toward more efficient cars and trucks. That's my standard: Support policies that, though they might address climate change, can be justified on other grounds.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


Cross the Border, Then Fly (CONOR DOUGHERTY, Nov. 17, 2013, WSJ)

SAN DIEGO--This city has spent decades looking for ways to expand its cramped, one-runway airport. Today the region is edging closer to a solution, but it comes with a catch: It's in Mexico.

Developers backed by a group of U.S. and Mexican investors said they are close to breaking ground on a privately owned pedestrian bridge that would allow Americans and foreign travelers to cross the border directly into and out of Tijuana's General Abelardo L. Rodriguez International Airport, or TIJ.

It's not a done deal, but if the final hurdles are cleared, the for-profit project--whose investors include real-estate mogul Sam Zell--would be the latest in a series of border improvements that have strengthened the economic ties between the neighboring cities.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 PM


Physicists snatch a peep into quantum paradox : Measurement-induced collapse of quantum wavefunction captured in slow motion (Eugenie Samuel Reich, 09 October 2013, Nature)

It is the most fundamental, and yet also the strangest postulate of the theory of quantum mechanics: the idea that a quantum system will catastrophically collapse from a blend of several possible quantum states to just one the moment it is measured by an experimentalist.

In textbooks on quantum mechanics, the collapse is depicted as sudden and irreversible. It is also extremely counterintuitive. Researchers have struggled to understand how a measurement can profoundly alter the state that an object is in, rather than just allowing us to learn about an objective reality.

A new experiment1sheds some light on this question through the use of weak measurements -- indirect probes of quantum systems that tweak a wavefunction slightly while providing partial information about its state, avoiding a sudden collapse.

Atomic and solid-state physicist Kater Murch of the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues performed a series of weak measurements on a superconducting circuit that was in a superposition -- a combination of two quantum states. They did this by monitoring microwaves that had passed through a box containing the circuit, based on the fact that the circuit's electrical oscillations alter the state of the microwaves as they pass through the box. Over a couple of microseconds, those weak measurements captured snapshots of the state of the circuit as it gradually changed from a superposition to just one of the states within that superposition -- as if charting the collapse of a quantum wavefunction in slow motion.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 PM


Health savings account popularity will likely continue to rise (BRIAN SODOMA, 10/22/13, Las Vegas Review Journal)

Health saving accounts have climbed to $18.1 billion in assets, representing more than 9.1 million accounts, a 29 percent jump from fiscal year 2012 to 2013, according to investment research firm Devenir. The average account balance is $1,981, up 5 percent from last year, according to the report.

For decades, the medical consumer has taken a low maintenance approach to health care. Under a low-deductible health care plan, copays are low for doctor visits, prescriptions or lab fees -- usually $10 or $20. Of course, all of this comes at a price.

Low-deductible plan premiums can sometimes cost twice as much, or even more than high-deductible plans, said Chris Cochran, an associate professor and chairman of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' health care administration and policy department. So more people opting for a lower-cost, higher-deductible plan (deductibles range from about $1,500 annually for an individual to upward of $6,000 for a family), with the added assurance of setting a little tax-free money aside should medical care needs arise, makes sense on the surface.

The thinking behind creating the health saving accounts is that the person who chooses a qualified, high-deductible plan with a low premium but high out-of-pocket, upfront cost will be inclined to sock away some of that premium savings tax-free into an interest-bearing account that can be tied to an investment fund. That money will then be there when he or she, or the family, need medical care.

There are caps for how much in pretax dollars a person or family can set aside. For 2013, individuals can set aside up to $3,250 in their health saving accounts. That number climbs to $3,300 in 2014. For families, the figures are $6,450 for 2013 and $6,550 for 2014.

If you're over 55, you can contribute an additional $1,000 a year in catch-up contributions. You must also be under age 65 to qualify for a health savings account.

Jeff Bakke, chief strategy officer of Evolution 1, a technology service provider for health saving and flexible spending account-holders, refers to health saving accounts as a "triple tax advantage." Deposits are not taxed, interest earned goes untaxed and withdrawals, provided they are for qualified health expenses, also go untaxed. [...]

A recent survey from Towers Watson/National Business Group on Health indicated 66 percent of large companies (defined as 1,000 employees or more) offered at least one qualified, high-deductible plan this year. The survey indicates that number will grow to 80 percent next year.

Ruby Warthan-Vance, a group benefits broker with Orgill/Singer and Associates, a Las Vegas-based full-service independent insurance agency, said health saving accounts are becoming more popular in Nevada today than, say, five years ago.

More consumers are seeing that with a low-deductible plan, the consumer pays the insurance company up front, regardless of whether the service is used or not, Warthan-Vance said. For those who rarely go to the doctor, paying a lower premium and having untaxed money set aside in a health saving account may save money in the long run.

Warthan-Vance said the move requires a shift in thinking about health care spending. When shopping for phones or car tires, for example, consumers are research savvy, she said. When working with a high-deductible plan and health saving account, the same attention to detail is needed.

"It's just kind of taking that bold step and being open-minded, being more engaged in your health care, deciding whether you should go to urgent care or a walk-in clinic. Should you use generic or brand name for a prescription? ... It makes you an active consumer interested in the cost of your care."

Chris Wilcox, a CPA and shareholder with Johnson Jacobson Wilcox CPAs, is hearing less about health saving accounts from his clients, but thinks that should change. The accountant works almost exclusively with business owners, and says health saving account benefits could help both the employer and employee.

"It might be one of the more underutilized vehicles out there to help businesses control health care costs," he said.

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Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


Tea Party's Image Turns More Negative (Pew Research, 10/16/13)

Tea Party Republicans: Older, More Male, Higher Income

The roughly four-in-ten Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party are more likely to be male (61%) than non-Tea Party Republicans (50%) and they tend to be older: 57% of Tea Party Republicans are age 50 or older, compared with 45% of non-Tea Party Republicans.

Both Tea Party (83%) and non-Tea Party Republicans (81%) are predominantly non-Hispanic whites, this compares with 68% of the public overall.

Tea Party Republicans have higher levels of income and education than Republicans and Republican leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party. 

Profile of Tea Party Republicans

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Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


McAllister apparent winner in 5th District  (JORDAN BLUM AND MARK BALLARD, November 17, 2013, The Advocate)

 Rookie Vance McAllister says he's never visited Washington, D.C., but now he has a job in the nation's capital.

McAllister upset state Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, by winning the all-GOP runoff for the 5th Congressional District seat in much of northern and central Louisiana. [...]

Having never visited Washington, McAllister said late Saturday he is excited about his first trip.

"I'm looking so forward to it," he said. "A lot of great leaders and great patriots have walked through there."

He said it is time to "quell the politics as usual stuff."

He credited running a positive campaign and connecting with the voters for his big win. He also invested more than $800,000 of his own money. "It was enough," he said with a laugh about the amount he spent. [...]

Running as a Christian conservative and a political outsider, McAllister rode the endorsements of "Duck Dynasty" stars Phil and Willie Robertson to surge out of obscurity and into a seat in Congress.

University of Louisiana at Monroe political scientist Joshua Stockley said McAllister once again surprised everyone with his strong showing.

"He proved every single pundit wrong," Stockley said. "Not only did he win, he obliterated the frontrunner."

McAllister has a "great recipe for victory" that included his personal wealth to self-fund most of his campaign, the backlash against the political establishment, the support of "Duck Dynasty" stars and the quirks of Louisiana's open primary election.

McAllister's "more pragmatic approach" resonated with voters and won him more Democrats and moderates, Stockley said.

Rod Dreher, a commentator in The American Conservative, wrote that Duck Dynasty's Robertson family was McAllister's secret weapon. "The Tea Party is nothing compared to the Duck Commander dudes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Will downtown Detroit be a white enclave? (NOLAN FINLEY, 11/17/13, Detroit News)

Downtown seems immune to Detroit's broken finances. It's booming thanks to private investments and its sudden emergence as a cool city for young people to live and work in.

Private dollars take care of everything from street clean-up to security within the downtown and Midtown zones.

It's a different story in the neighborhoods, where the city's inability to fund basic services is evident on nearly every block.

Something else is bubbling, too. A lot of nights you can stand in downtown Detroit and think you were in Minneapolis instead of at the core of the blackest city in America.

With a few exceptions, the new hip hotspots have an overwhelmingly white clientele. Often, the downtown crowd is an almost exact reversal of the city's 80 percent black, 20 percent white and others racial makeup.

I talked with several downtown denizens over the past few weeks, and all seem to have noticed the same thing, but they can't say for sure why it's happening. Most say diversity is one of the things that draws them to Detroit.

A few offered that its a natural reflection of the influx of new downtown residents and workers, who are predominately white.

But there are still more than 600,000 African-Americans living in the city. And yet you can often find more diversity in the bars and restaurants of Birmingham than in the ones downtown.

It's long past time to move black families to suburbia where life, and schools, are decent.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): A Trade Agreement You Should Care About (Moran Zhang, October 15 2013, IB Times)

A comprehensive Asia-Pacific free trade deal is still on track to cross the finish line by year's end despite a daunting list of unresolved issues and U.S. President Barack Obama's absence from a regional summit that is ironing out differences on the pact. [...]
1. Why is it important?

If completed, the TPP would cover two-fifths of the world economy and one-third of interracial trade. It aims not just to eradicate tariffs on goods and services, but would cover labor and the environment, intellectual property, government procurement and state-owned enterprises.

Burgeoning global supply chains have been a significant boost to world trade in recent decades, strengthening the case for free trade zones. Increased internationalization and verticalization of production means that final goods now have a higher degree of foreign content. The International Monetary Fund reckons that the foreign content share in gross exports has, in effect, almost doubled in 40 years, according to Gustavo Reis, a senior international economist at BofA Merrill Lynch.

Moreover, the higher foreign content in final goods increases trade in intermediate goods. Trade in intermediate goods now accounts for more than two-thirds of global trade, blurring the boundaries of national trade interests by making international trade more intertwined. This expanded global supply network is one reason why there has been limited use of traditional protectionist measures in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Both the U.S. and the Japanese administrations have embraced the project and consider it significant. "The TPP looks like a rare breed of an ambitious multilateral project with political backbone," Reis said.

2. How involved is the U.S.?

The TPP is one of the main pillars of the Obama administration's ambitious second-term trade agenda and is central to its plans for boosting America's presence in Asia. In effect, the U.S. is leading the negotiations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


The World of English Freedoms : It's no accident that the English-speaking nations are the ones most devoted to law and individual rights (DANIEL HANNAN, Nov. 15, 2013, WSJ)

We often use the word "Western" as a shorthand for liberal-democratic values, but we're really being polite. What we mean is countries that have adopted the Anglo-American system of government. The spread of "Western" values was, in truth, a series of military victories by the Anglosphere.

I realize that all this might seem strange to American readers. Am I not diluting the uniqueness of the U.S., the world's only propositional state, by lumping it in with the rest of the Anglosphere? Wasn't the republic founded in a violent rejection of the British Empire? Didn't Paul Revere rouse a nation with his cry of "the British are coming"?

Actually, no. That would have been a remarkably odd thing to yell at a Massachusetts population that had never considered itself anything other than British (what the plucky Boston silversmith actually shouted was "The regulars are coming out!"). The American Founders were arguing not for the rejection but for the assertion of what they took to be their birthright as Englishmen. They were revolutionaries in the 18th-century sense of the word, whereby a revolution was understood to be a complete turn of the wheel: a setting upright of that which had been placed on its head.

Alexis de Tocqueville is widely quoted these days as a witness to American exceptionalism. Quoted, but evidently not so widely read, since at the very beginning of "Democracy in America," he flags up what is to be his main argument, namely, that the New World allowed the national characteristics of Europe's nations the freest possible expression. Just as French America exaggerated the autocracy and seigneurialism of Louis XIV's France, and Spanish America the ramshackle obscurantism of Philip IV's Spain, so English America (as he called it) exaggerated the localism, the libertarianism and the mercantilism of the mother country: "The American is the Englishman left to himself."

What made the Anglosphere different? Foreign visitors through the centuries remarked on a number of peculiar characteristics: the profusion of nonstate organizations, clubs, charities and foundations; the cheerful materialism of the population; the strong county institutions, including locally chosen law officers and judges; the easy coexistence of different denominations (religious toleration wasn't unique to the Anglosphere, but religious equality--that is, freedom for every sect to proselytize--was almost unknown in the rest of the world). They were struck by the weakness, in both law and custom, of the extended family, and by the converse emphasis on individualism. They wondered at the stubborn elevation of private property over raison d'état, of personal freedom over collective need.

Many of them, including Tocqueville and Montesquieu, connected the liberty that English-speakers took for granted to geography. Outside North America, most of the Anglosphere is an extended archipelago: Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, the more democratic Caribbean states. North America, although not literally isolated, was geopolitically more remote than any of them, "kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean," as Jefferson put it in his 1801 inaugural address, "from the exterminating havoc [of Europe]."

Isolation meant that there was no need for a standing army in peacetime, which in turn meant that the government had no mechanism for internal repression. When rulers wanted something, usually revenue, they had to ask nicely, by summoning people's representatives in an assembly. It is no coincidence that the world's oldest parliaments--England, Iceland, the Faroes, the Isle of Man--are on islands.

Above all, liberty was tied up with something that foreign observers could only marvel at: the miracle of the common law. Laws weren't written down in the abstract and then applied to particular disputes; they built up, like a coral reef, case by case. They came not from the state but from the people. The common law wasn't a tool of government but an ally of liberty: It placed itself across the path of the Stuarts and George III; it ruled that the bonds of slavery disappeared the moment a man set foot on English soil.

There was a fashion for florid prose in the 18th century, but the second American president, John Adams, wasn't exaggerating when he identified the Anglosphere's beautiful, anomalous legal system--which today covers most English-speaking countries plus Israel, almost an honorary member of the club, alongside the Netherlands and the Nordic countries--as the ultimate guarantor of freedom: "The liberty, the unalienable, indefeasible rights of men, the honor and dignity of human nature... and the universal happiness of individuals, were never so skillfully and successfully consulted as in that most excellent monument of human art, the common law of England."

Freedom under the law is a portable commodity, passed on through intellectual exchange rather than gene flow. Anyone can benefit from constitutional liberty simply by adopting the right institutions and the cultural assumptions that go with them. The Anglosphere is why Bermuda is not Haiti, why Singapore is not Indonesia, why Hong Kong is not China--and, for that matter, not Macau. As the distinguished Indian writer Madhav Das Nalapat, holder of the Unesco Peace Chair, puts it, the Anglosphere is defined not by racial affinity but "by the blood of the mind."

At a time when most countries defined citizenship by ancestry, Britain was unusual in developing a civil rather than an ethnic nationality. The U.S., as so often, distilled and intensified a tendency that had been present in Great Britain, explicitly defining itself as a creedal polity: Anyone can become American simply by signing up to the values inherent in the Constitution.

What makes the Anglosphere so exceptional is that we arrived at the End of History so early and organically. We can hardly expect those regions of the globe that have had the system forced upon them by circumstance--the circumstance being that our system works and theirs don't--two centuries later to be at our stage of maturity.  Indeed, most of them look like they'll die off before they grow up.  But there's plenty of room here for the adults.

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Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Uighur separatists blamed for assault on Xinjiang police station in northwestern China (Deutsche-Welle, 11/17/13)

According to the Xinjiang regional government, two officers died and police killed nine of the assailants, who used knives and axes in Saturday's attack in Bachu county's Serikbuya township, near the historic city of Kashgar.

State media reported that the attackers also injured two police officers. The US government-funded broadcaster Radio Free Asia reported that a police special weapons and tactics team killed several of the young attackers despite appeals from residents who had gathered at the scene to take them alive. [...]

Many Uighurs have long resented Chinese rule, and insurgency has occasionally flared up in Xinjiang province. This year, for example, has provem particularly bloody, with a number of deadly clashes in Xinjiang and one in the heart of Beijing in which three attackers drove a vehicle through crowds in front of historic Tiananmen Gate, killing themselves and two tourists. Overall, the attacks have led to the deaths of scores of attackers and government officials, with an accurate total figure hard to pin down because many incidents go unreported.

The whole world is rallying round to help the Philippines after the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan. Only China is hesitant - Bejing's reserve has a political history. (14.11.2013)
More than 8 million Uighurs - a generally Islamic group of Turkic descent - live in Xinjiang, a sprawling region of about 21 million people that borders Afghanistan, Pakistan and a number of Central Asian states. Many Uighurs complain that policies that favor ethnic Chinese have marginalized them as the indigenous population.

November 16, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


ENTITLEMENT REFORM, TEA PARTY STYLE : New CBO numbers leave no other choice (Peter Ferrara, American Spectator)

Real entitlement reform involves fundamental structural reforms that change the way the programs operate. Those structural reforms can introduce positive, pro-growth incentives that lead people to productive activities that promote financial independence, rather than counterproductive activities that promote only government dependency. Instead of those counterproductive activities subtracting from the economy, productive activities resulting from the reforms would contribute to increased economic growth and prosperity for all.

Instead of negative benefit cuts that take away from the poor and seniors, those reforms would result in higher incomes and benefits for the poor and seniors. Yet, such reforms would ultimately reduce government spending by far more than could ever be achieved by trying to slash benefits for the poor and seniors. Indeed, ultimately over the long run, these reforms would reduce federal spending by half from what it would be otherwise. And these are all tried and true reforms that have already been proven to work to produce these results in the real world.

Instead of Social Security encouraging people not to save for retirement, retirement can be based on savings and investment through personal accounts for Social Security and Medicare. Because a lifetime of savings and investment will always result in higher income and benefits than a lifetime of no savings and investment, these personal savings and investment accounts would pay higher benefits for retirees than Social Security even promises but cannot pay. Moreover, with personal accounts, each retiree would be free to choose his or her own retirement age, rather than politics and the government imposing one uniform retirement age on everyone, with market incentives to delay retirement as long as possible, to increase benefits.

But because benefit spending under these reforms are moved off the federal budget altogether, and into the private sector, the result would be the greatest reduction in government spending in world history. The ultimate, long-term goal should be to empower all workers with the choice of substituting personal savings, investment and insurance accounts for the entire payroll tax, displacing the tax entirely with a personal family wealth engine.

The personal accounts would also produce mighty rivers of new capital investment that would cascade throughout the economy, financing breakthrough innovation and cutting edge technologies that would further promote economic growth and prosperity, and leapfrog the American standard of living generations ahead. [...]

Similarly, Obamacare can and should be replaced with Patient Power and Health Savings Accounts that maximize power and control of the sick over their own health care. The market incentives of those HSAs have already been proven to powerfully reduce health costs in the real world. By expanding the same tax relief that now applies only to employer provided health care equally to everyone, health care for all can be assured, unlike with Obamacare, with no individual mandate and no employer mandate, a tax cut of a trillion dollars, and at least $2 trillion in reduced government spending.

Everyone would then choose their own health plan, including Health Savings Accounts if they prefer. The government would not be telling the Catholic Church it has to buy insurance that pays for abortion and contraceptives. If you like your health plan, of course you can keep it. It is all your choice. If you like your doctor, of course you can keep your doctor. It is again your choice. Joining the interstate sale of health insurance with medical liability reform and HSAs would result in the most powerful reduction in health costs ever. That would further promote economic growth and prosperity for all.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Mexico nears electoral reform, opening door to energy bill (DAVE GRAHAM, Nov 12, 2013, Reuters)

Accused a generation ago of engineering the "perfect dictatorship," Mexico's ruling party is now close to agreeing on a plan that could weaken the presidency and strengthen Congress in order to win votes for a major energy reform.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its opposition rivals are shortly expected to unveil the blueprint for a reform aimed at giving Congress greater oversight of government and allowing lawmakers to serve consecutive terms.

Billed as a step forward for democracy, the electoral reform is a bargaining chip for President Enrique Pena Nieto's most ambitious plan - changing the constitution to allow more private capital into the state-controlled oil industry.

The energy bill is the central pivot of a broader drive for change from telecoms to education that Pena Nieto hopes will help boost Mexico's economic growth, which has long lagged that of other countries in the region.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Boeing Weighs Sites for Construction of New Jet : Consideration Follows Union Rejection in Washington State (RORY JONES, Nov. 16, 2013, WSJ)

Boeing Co. is considering a number of alternative locations to build its new 777X jet, including the Persian Gulf, following a union vote in Washington state that rejected a contract to assemble the aircraft there. [...]

Washington isn't off the table, and other states in the U.S. and Japan are being considered for the manufacture of the 777X, Ray Conner, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, told reporters on Saturday ahead of the air show.

Sites in the Persian Gulf, such as the United Arab Emirates, where Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways are based, are also under consideration for the manufacturer but are considered second-tier locations and would be options that would "grow" over time, he added.

Posted by orrinj at 10:04 AM


Does the health-care fumble mean game over for Obama? (Dana Milbank, November 15, 2013, Washington Post)

Four times he mentioned fumbling -- both the Web site and his promise that people could keep their health plans if they liked them. "These are two fumbles on something that -- on a big game, which -- but the game's not over," he said.

In a narrow sense, that's probably true: There may well be enough time to salvage Obamacare.

But on the broader question of whether Obama can rebuild an effective presidency after this debacle, it's starting to look as if it may be game over.

Let us consider for a moment what Mr. Milbank is asserting and asking here : that there ever was an effective Obama presidency and that its end would matter. 

As to the first, having come to office with no agenda pretty much everything the UR has accomplished has been nothing more than a continuation of the effective Bush presidency, up to and including passing the Heritage Foundation's health care mandate.

Now, let us ask what might not be accomplished in the coming years that this president has distinctly set out to do, such that it would define his presidency as uniquely his own?  *crickets*

The fact is that the point of his presidency is nothing more than for him to be president.  He is going to be president for 8 years--barring tragedy--so he has effected everything he sought to achieve.  The game is over, but, on his terms, he won.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Scrooge McDucks (William H. Gross, November 2013, Pimco)

With the budget and debt ceiling crises temporarily averted, perhaps a future economic priority will be to promote economic growth; one way to do that may be via tax reform. How to proceed depends as always on the view of the observer and whether the glasses are worn by capital, labor or government interests. 

Having benefited enormously via the leveraging of capital since the beginning of my career and having shared a decreasing percentage of my income thanks to Presidents Reagan and Bush 43 via lower government taxes, I now find my intellectual leanings shifting to the plight of labor. I often tell my wife Sue it's probably a Kennedy-esque type of phenomenon. Having gotten rich at the expense of labor, the guilt sets in and I begin to feel sorry for the less well-off, writing very public Investment Outlooks that "dis" the success that provided me the soapbox in the first place. If your immediate reaction is to nod up and down, then give yourself some points in this intellectual tête-à-tête. Still, I would ask the Scrooge McDucks of the world who so vehemently criticize what they consider to be counterproductive, even crippling taxation of the wealthy in the midst of historically high corporate profits and personal income, to consider this: Instead of approaching the tax reform argument from the standpoint of what an enormous percentage of the overall income taxes the top 1% pay, consider how much of the national income you've been privileged to make. In the United States, the share of total pre-tax income accruing to the top 1% has more than doubled from 10% in the 1970s to 20% today. Admit that you, and I and others in the magnificent "1%" grew up in a gilded age of credit, where those who borrowed money or charged fees on expanding financial assets had a much better chance of making it to the big tent than those who used their hands for a living. Yes I know many of you money people worked hard as did I, and you survived and prospered where others did not. A fair economic system should always allow for an opportunity to succeed. Congratulations. Smoke that cigar, enjoy that Chateau Lafite 1989. But (mostly you guys) acknowledge your good fortune at having been born in the '40s, '50s or '60s, entering the male-dominated workforce 25 years later, and having had the privilege of riding a credit wave and a credit boom for the past three decades. You did not, as President Obama averred, "build that," you did not create that wave. You rode it. And now it's time to kick out and share some of your good fortune by paying higher taxes or reforming them to favor economic growth and labor, as opposed to corporate profits and individual gazillions. You'll still be able to attend those charity galas and demonstrate your benevolence and philanthropic character to your admiring public. You'll just have to write a little bit smaller check. Scrooge McDuck would complain but then he's swimming in it, and can afford to duck paddle to a shallower end for a while. If you're in the privileged 1%, you should be paddling right alongside and willing to support higher taxes on carried interest, and certainly capital gains readjusted to existing marginal income tax rates. Stanley Druckenmiller and Warren Buffett have recently advocated similar proposals. The era of taxing "capital" at lower rates than "labor" should now end.

Mr. Gross makes the usual error here and fails to consider the one over-arching interest : that of society in general.  If we consider the proper role of the economy, broadly, and taxes, specifically, from this perspective, it seems obvious that what we want the former to do is maximize wealth and the latter to help redistribute that wealth fairly and help the least equal develop capital.

Why then would we tax either capital or labor?  

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


Why Doctors Don't Take Sick Days (DANIELLE OFRI, 11/16/13, NY Times)

A 2005 outbreak of the norovirus stomach bug in a nursing home highlighted the role of medical personnel in spreading communicable disease. The most disturbing aspect of the case was that medical staff members continued to come to work while ill, well into the outbreak, despite strenuous and public exhortations to stay home. This may have prolonged the outbreak and led to more patients' falling ill.

A survey of British doctors back in the '90s found that 87 percent of G.P.'s said they would not call in sick for a severe cold (compared to 32 percent of office workers who were asked the same question). In Norway, a 2001 survey revealed that 80 percent of doctors had reported to work while sick with illnesses for which they would have advised their own patients to stay home. Two-thirds of these illnesses were considered contagious.

What explains this toxic brew of denial, ignorance and bravado? Part of it is a professional but often exaggerated sense of responsibility to colleagues and patients. Even if you are sick enough to have an IV running in your arm, you keep doing your job.

But another part is how we see ourselves. Illness is what we do, not who we are. We define ourselves by vanquishing illness, not succumbing to it.

As much as we empathize with our patients, part of protecting our inner core may require drawing an unconscious demarcation between "us" and "them." I can recall, as a resident, the palpable relief of leaving the hospital at the end of a long night, something I generally thought about in physical terms -- getting out of grubby scrubs, the promise of a hot shower and edible food. But it was more than that: There was also the awkward relief of leaving behind the graphic reminder of what could befall my own body. Somewhere, deep down, I needed to convince myself that we doctors were a different species from our patients.

Of course, the even more damaging downside of this dichotomy is the profession's eagerness to treat every visitor as if they were sick and to needlessly treat this weaker species medically.
Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Why Companies Desperately Need to Make Wearables Cool (CRAIG HAJDUK, 11.15.13, Wired)

The sweet spot for wearables today is utility. There's a stunning array of range of fitness devices that provide a flood of data like heartbeat, calories burned, perspiration, movement, distance, location, more.

While the data itself might be interesting at first, people purchase those products to make a meaningful difference in their lives; to become healthier, fitter, better rested, happier. As Aaron Filner, a product manager at Facebook told me, "If a device doesn't help someone change their behavior, how long will they keep using it? It needs to make a difference to be valuable over the long term."

That is where design thinking comes in. Approaching wearables from the point of view of the outcome we want to achieve and the meaning we want to deliver allows us to move beyond utility and start thinking about the emotional connection and value users will actually place on them. Fields such as behavioral economics and behavior modification also have as much to contribute to the product as traditional industrial and interaction design.

As wearable technology is designed to achieve positive outcomes for the long term, companies' business models need to adapt accordingly. For example: If the value comes from the service rather than the one-time device purchase, we could see free devices bundled with annual contracts or with an ecosystem of other services (such as nutrition counseling or fitness and lifestyle coaching). A company such as Weight Watchers, for instance, could bundle a wearable device that measures clients' physical activity and nutritional intake and use the data to develop personalized plans for members.

Such transactions-based business models would not only help subsidize the device, but would strengthen long-term relationships with the manufacturing brand and provide additional distribution channels for the devices.

Unlike (or less so with) phones and other gadgets, wearable technology becomes part of people's personal images. Consumers will identify with wearable products in the same way they think about the fashion brands they wear. Every choice is a defining one.

Because our warehouse is SQF and HACCP certified you aren't allowed to wear any jewelry.  The one exception the regulations make is your wedding band.  That's enough.
Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Andy Kaufman's Best Lies : This week's hoax over his supposedly continued existence pales in comparison to what the comic accomplished at the height of his powers. (KEMBREW MCLEODNOV 15 2013, Atlantic)

I myself got suckered by Andy Kaufman back in 1982. I vividly remember watching a professional wrestling show as a kid when the Taxi star appeared at the Mid-Atlantic Coliseum in Memphis, Tennessee. "I'm from Hollywood," he sneered, pointing at his cranium as he mouthed off about his higher intelligence and how southerners were stupid. After he went too far with his shtick, I cheered when wrestler Jerry Lawler stepped in and shoved him to the ground.

"Lawler, you think you're really being smart," Kaufman ranted. "Look, I'm from Hollywood. That's where we make movies and TV shows. ... I'm not from down here in men-fus ten-uh-see, okay?" What a total jerk, I thought. Kaufman kept needling the crowd about how his matches with women were real and that professional wrestlers were phonies. I seethed. Andy Kaufman is such a jerk, and I really, really hate him. I even stopped watching Taxi because of it.

Eventually, this ugly display overflowed into another favorite show of mine. "On April 5th, 1982, in Memphis, Tennessee," David Letterman said, introducing the Late Night segment, "Andy Kaufman--the actor-comedian and Intergender Wrestling Champion--had his first wrestling match with a member of his own sex." In true Kaufman form, the segment descended in chaos. Lawler eventually slapped him across the face, which unleashed a torrent of expletives and coffee thrown in the direction of the wrestler. 

I had never seen anything like that on television, and my adolescent mind was blown wide open. In my defense, I only knew Kaufman as the affable Latka Gravas character on Taxi and had no clue about his previous history of trickery. I was too young to have seen his offbeat Saturday Night Live performances in the 1970s, nor did I witness his other surreal televised acts.

It took me years to catch on, and only then did I realize Kaufman's hijinks had body-slammed my consciousness. It all came into focus long after his death, when his friend and collaborator Bob Zmuda finally confirmed that Lawler had conspired with them. "Jerry is quite the gentleman," Zmuda wrote in his 1999 book Andy Kaufman Revealed!, "and a helluva good sport." [...]

Catch a Rising Star comedy club owner Rick Newman told the New York Times, "I really didn't know he was putting me on. ... He did Foreign Man until the audiences were booing and walking out. Then, suddenly, he broke into his incredible Elvis imitation and caught us so completely by surprise that we ended up crying, we were laughing so hard." Audiences returned for the act--not so much to watch Kaufman as to see the crowd trying to process what was happening.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Winning The Price Is Right : Slate's complete guide to better bidding through game theory--you don't even need to know the prices. (Ben Blatt, 11/12/13, Slate)

If Margie had applied a few principles of game theory, she could have planted a big kiss on Bob Barker's cheek, and maybe have gone home with ... a new car!

In one instance, when Margie was the last contestant to bid, she guessed the retail price of an oven was $1,150. There had already been one bid for $1,200 and another for $1,050. She therefore could only win if the actual price was between $1,150 and $1,200. Since she was the last to bid, she could have guessed $1051, expanding her range by almost $100 (any price from $1051 to $1199 would have made her a winner), with no downside. What she really should have done, however, is bid $1,201. Game theory says that when you are last to bid, you should bid one dollar more than the highest bidder. You obviously won't win every time, but in the last 1,500 Contestants' Rows to have aired, had final bidders committed to this strategy, they would have won 54 percent of the time. Instead, last bidders too often rely on their intuition, or on suggestions called out by delirious audience members. As a result, they have won only 35 percent of the time. Contestants in this sample of 1,500 who guessed a value between the highest and second-highest current guesses, as Margie did, win only 20 percent of the time. In this instance, the oven cost $1,999. Margie lost again.

To help future contestants avoid Margie's fate, I decided to make a handy cheat sheet explaining how to win The Price Is Right--not just the Contestants' Row segment, but all of its many pricing games. This guide, which conveniently fits on the front and back of an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of paper, does not rely on the prices of items. That may sound crazy, but there's good reason behind it. Cataloging all the possible items up for bid--from karaoke machines to Reese's Peanut Butter Cups--would be impossible, and even if you could, prices change frequently. For example, in the most recent season of Price Is Right, the Honda Accord LX was valued in different games as $22,587, $22,480 (twice), $22,934, $22,423, $22,791, and $22,841. In six of the seven times it appeared, the exact value was needed in order to win it. Memorizing prices ahead of time--even if you had a hunch you might have a shot at that Honda--has less value than you think.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM



Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: Is the labeled waistline on your jeans accurate?

November 15, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 PM


Iran deal may be inked as soon as next week (Yoel Goldman, 11/16/13, Times of Israel)

A senior US official told reporters on Friday that it was "quite possible" the P5+1 and Iran could reach an agreement regarding the Islamic Republic's nuclear program when diplomats meet in Geneva this week.

US, Iran may cooperate on Syria aid (SYIFA YAAKOV November 16, 2013, Times of Israel)

Both Iran and the US -- which are known to sit on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to Syrian President Bashar Assad's ongoing offensive against rebels aiming to topple him -- were invited by the UN's chief relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, to participate in a high-level meeting in Geneva to discuss ways to provide aid workers with easier access to civilian populations In Syria.

Both countries reportedly "responded favorably" to the invitation, with Iranian UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi telling Foreign Policy that Tehran welcomed "any efforts to help [the] Syrian people" to supplement "political steps."

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Health Law Rollout's Stumbles Draw Parallels to Bush's Hurricane Response (MICHAEL D. SHEAR, 11/15/13, NY Times)

Barack Obama won the presidency by exploiting a political environment that devoured George W. Bush in a second term plagued by sinking credibility, failed legislative battles, fractured world relations and revolts inside his own party.

President Obama is now threatened by a similar toxic mix. The disastrous rollout of his health care law not only threatens the rest of his agenda but also raises questions about his competence in the same way that the Bush administration's botched response to Hurricane Katrina undermined any semblance of Republican efficiency. [...]

Republicans readily made the Hurricane Katrina comparison. "The echoes to the fall of 2005 are really eerie," said Peter D. Feaver, a top national security official in Mr. Bush's second term. "Katrina, which is shorthand for bungled administration policy, matches to the rollout of the website." Looking back, he said, "we can see that some of the things that we hoped were temporary or just blips turned out to be more systemic from a political sense. It's a fair question of whether that's happening to President Obama."

...Katrina was an act of God; Obamacare the act of a guy who thinks he's a god.

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa (TOMAS JIVANDA, 15 November 2013, Independent)

The Sun is set to "flip upside down" within weeks as its magnetic field reverses polarity in an event that will send ripple effects throughout the solar system.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Why Not a Negative Income Tax? : Replace the welfare state with a cash subsidy for the poor. (Guy Sorman, Winter 2011, City Journal)

In his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom, Friedman acknowledged that some form of welfare was necessary in capitalist societies and that the state would likely play a role in its provision. The trick was to imagine a very different, radically improved, and more efficient form of welfare--what Friedman's son, David, also an economist, calls "libertarian redistributionism." What kind of program could help protect every citizen from destitution without granting excessive power to bureaucrats, creating disincentives to work, and clogging up the free-market economy, as the modern welfare state has done? Friedman's answer was the negative income tax, or NIT.

The NIT is easy to describe. "The basic idea," Friedman wrote in a 1968 Newsweek column, "is to use the mechanism by which we now collect tax revenue from people with incomes above some minimum level to provide financial assistance to people with incomes below that level." Already, he pointed out, no one pays taxes on the first few thousand dollars of income, thanks to personal exemptions and deductions. Most earners pay a fraction of their "positive taxable income"--that is, the amount by which their earnings exceed that first few thousand dollars. In Friedman's plan, the poor would similarly receive a fraction of their "negative taxable income"--the amount by which their earnings fell short of that level. This direct cash grant would replace all other welfare programs for the poor, which, Friedman rightly observed, were generating a huge bureaucracy and extensive welfare dependency.

But wouldn't the NIT--in effect, a government-guaranteed income--still be a disincentive to work, just as no-questions-asked welfare benefits were before being reformed in the 1990s? "Any state intervention, any income redistribution, creates disincentives and distortions," admits Gary Becker, a University of Chicago economist and Friedman disciple. "But if society decides that a certain level of redistribution must take place, the NIT is the best, the most minimally distorting, solution ever devised." To limit the disincentive, Friedman argued, the NIT should be progressive. Say the government drew the income line at $10,000 for a family of four and the NIT was 50 percent, as most economists recommend. If the family had no income at all, it would receive $5,000--that is, 50 percent of the amount by which its income fell short of $10,000. If the family earned $2,000, it would get $4,000 from the government--again, 50 percent of its income shortfall--for a total post-tax income of $6,000. Bring in $4,000, and it would receive $3,000, for a total of $7,000. So as the family's earnings rise, its post-tax income rises, too, preserving the work incentive. This is very different from many social welfare programs, in which a household either receives all of a benefit or, if it ceases to qualify, nothing at all. The all-or-nothing model encourages what social scientists call "poverty traps," tempting the poor not to improve their situations.

Robert Moffitt, an economist at Johns Hopkins University and a leading authority on the NIT, notes another advantage of the program over other forms of state assistance: "No stigma attaches to the NIT." Everyone fills out the same forms, and no infantilizing government meddles with a household's food, shelter, and health care, as under the current system. The NIT simply provides the poor with money, which they can use to meet their various needs. Friedman strongly believed that individuals have the capacity to promote their own interests.

Yet another NIT advantage is a freer labor market. No minimum wage would be necessary, since a minimum income would now be guaranteed. This would boost employment: as economists recognize, a legal minimum wage tends to increase joblessness by discouraging employers from recruiting unskilled labor. The NIT would reduce illegal immigration, too. Managed by the IRS, it would apply only to citizens and legal residents, and since it would eliminate welfare programs, aliens would have less incentive to cross the border illegally for government benefits (though local authorities would still have to decide whether to grant them access to schools and hospitals). "From an economist's perspective, the negative income tax is the perfect design," Moffitt says. "The only reason an economist would oppose it would be from a strict libertarian perspective--opposition to any kind of government-managed welfare."

But the biggest advantage of the NIT is that it requires the smallest possible bureaucracy to implement. The IRS already exists; it knows how to assess income statements; and, to run the NIT, it has only to take money or pay it out. No longer would the federal and state governments maintain the sprawling multiple agencies necessary to distribute food stamps, public housing, Medicaid, cash welfare, and a myriad of community development programs. Nor would they need to pay the salaries and enormous future pensions of the public employees who run all these programs. According to a Heritage Foundation study by Robert Rector, Kiki Bradley, and Rachel Sheffield, the federal portion of America's welfare system cost a staggering $522 billion in 2008, which works out to about $12,000 per poor person aided. Speaking very generally, then, we can estimate that so long as a federal NIT's average payout amounted to less than $12,000, it would cost less than the current welfare system does. True, replacing Medicaid with a cash benefit would pose great difficulties in America's current, heavily regulated health-care system, in which private insurance is artificially expensive. One solution would be leaving Medicaid in place and bestowing a less generous NIT; another, which Friedman himself proposed at the end of his life, would be health-care vouchers, which would work along the same lines as school vouchers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


What the Founding Fathers Believed: Stock Ownership for All (Paul Solman, Richard B. Freeman and Joseph R. Blasi, 11/15/13, PBS)

Citizen ownership, often demonized as "socialist," has a pedigree dating to the American Revolution. "Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States," oil on canvas by Howard Chandler Christy, 1940, via Wikipedia Commons.

Paul Solman: "Using tech playbook, oil drillers shower employees with stock." So read a recent article in Reuters.

But as Joseph Blasi of Rutgers and Richard Freeman of Harvard emphasize in Friday's post, worker ownership is as new as fracking, but as old as America itself. George Washington, a slave owner, remember, believed that broad-based worker ownership would ensure "the happiness of the lowest class of people because of the equal distribution of property."

John D. Rockefeller encouraged worker ownership. George Eastman (of Eastman Kodak) helped invent stock options.

These and other rather surprising facts are in Blasi, Freeman and co-author Doug Kruse's new book, "The Citizens Share," which Freeman told me about recently when I interviewed him for the NewsHour.

"The Alternative American Dream: Inclusive Capitalism." That was the headline of an extremely popular post on our Making Sen$e Business Desk by long-time worker ownership activist Chris Mackin this summer. Now, Freeman and Blasi, in a sense, follow up.

Richard B. Freeman and Joseph R. Blasi: The fact is indisputable: productivity -- output per worker -- nearly doubled over the past 30 years. Yet the real pay of most workers increased much more slowly, and the hourly pay of many groups of non-supervisory workers barely budged at all. So what happened to the gains of higher productivity?

They showed up in an increased share of income accruing to owners of capital and in the pay of top earners, whose compensation consists disproportionately of -- guess what? -- stock options and stock grants that give them a share of the increased growth and income that comes from capital. [...]

Reading through the original arguments for a United States of America suggests that this level of inequality threatens not only our economy -- who will buy what the wealthy produce? -- but the health of our democracy as well. One does not have to be a modern radical to worry. Back in the 1770s, the Founding Fathers worried deeply about the dangers to the new democracy of concentration of wealth.

James Madison warned that inequality in property ownership would subvert liberty, either through opposition to wealth (a war of labor against capital) or "by an oligarchy founded on corruption" through which the wealthy dominate political decision-making (a war of capital against labor). John Adams favored distribution of public lands to the landless to create broad-based ownership of property, then the critical component of business capital in the largely agricultural U.S. Current levels and trends in inequality would almost certainly have terrified the founders, who believed that broad-based property ownership was essential to the sustenance of a republic.

If increasing inequality is indeed as dire a problem as the Founding Fathers imagined, what, if anything, can the U.S. do to reverse the pattern and to assure that in the next three decades, all of us share in the benefits of modern technology and economic progress? What is the best way to avoid Madison's dark scenarios?

The standard economic solutions from the right and left are either to raise or lower taxes; to increase or decrease social welfare expenditures; to invest more or less in education or infrastructure; to clamp down or loosen up on business. But none of them addresses the essence of the problem: the huge concentration of capital ownership and capital income.

We propose a new strategy: to expand capital ownership and capital income for normal workers through programs that encourage broad-based employee stock ownership of firms, widely available profit-sharing, and all-employee stock options and stock grants in firms that now restrict ownership, stock options and bonuses to only the highest-level executives. (More active pension fund investments, more active institutional investors economy-wide and reforms in corporate governance are also needed to address what we could call the ownership gap, but we'll save them for another day.)

The economic benefit of increasing workers' shares of the income earned by their employers jumps out in the data. On average, workers produce more in those firms in which they have a stake and in which they participate in workplace decision-making than in those in which they are merely hired hands. To be sure, worker ownership of shares and of the stream of returns through profit-sharing or gain-sharing or other forms of shared capitalism does not always produce better outcomes, any more than medicines cure all diseases. But empirical evidence reviewed in chapter five of our new book shows that on average, ownership and decision-making based on all employees owning a stake in performance beats out hierarchical economic structures dominated by the few.

And, of course, your SS, HSA and unemployment accounts should all be made up of stocks too.
Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Tiananmen crash: Terrorism or cry of desperation? (Sean R. Roberts, 10/31/13, CNN)

Life for Uyghurs inside Xinjiang is not like that of most people in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

For the last decade, the Chinese government has created a virtual police state within Xinjiang, employing enhanced surveillance of Uyghur citizens, actively repressing Uyghurs' political voices, and greatly curtailing Uyghur religious practices.

It has also vastly reduced Uyghurs' access to education in their own language and has limited Uyghur language publications of original reading materials.

Officially, the Chinese state explains most of these measures as part of its anti-terrorism measures to protect national security.

These measures also regularly include arresting large numbers of Uyghurs on charges of engaging in "illegal religious activity" or of having ties to terrorist organizations.

In fact, during this month alone, security organs in Xinjiang were involved in the fatal shooting of suspected Uyghur militants on several separate occasions and arrested at least one hundred more they suspected of trying to flee the country.

Although the government characterizes its ongoing and expansive confrontation with Uyghurs in Xinjiang as anti-terrorism, it is equally related to the PRC's larger plans for Xinjiang.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


When the Obama Magic Died : There were no economic or cultural bonds among his coalition. He was all things to all people. Charisma ruled. (FOUAD AJAMI, Nov. 14, 2013, WSJ)

The current troubles of the Obama presidency can be read back into its beginnings. Rule by personal charisma has met its proper fate. The spell has been broken, and the magician stands exposed. We need no pollsters to tell us of the loss of faith in Mr. Obama's policies--and, more significantly, in the man himself. Charisma is like that. Crowds come together and they project their needs onto an imagined redeemer. The redeemer leaves the crowd to its imagination: For as long as the charismatic moment lasts--a year, an era--the redeemer is above and beyond judgment. He glides through crises, he knits together groups of varied, often clashing, interests. Always there is that magical moment, and its beauty, as a reference point.

In retirement, George W. Bush regrerts the portions of his agenda he was unable to eneact : SS and immigration reform.  

In his retirement, the UR will regret that people don't have him as their president anymore.

Elect the guy with the agenda, not the charisma.

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


What Obamacare Needs Now ... (Ross Douthat, 11/15/13, NY Times)

[A]t the risk of sounding like what the kids call a "concern troll," it does seem like there is a semi-plausible policy response to the rate shock issue, which wouldn't roll back the ongoing plan cancellations but might make cheaper plans available to buyers going forward: Obamacare's regulations could be rewritten to allow insurers to sell less comprehensive plans on the exchanges. This wouldn't require doing away with every new regulation, or rolling back the pre-existing condition guarantee, which is what liberals argue the Upton bill currently being considered in the House would do. But it could involve heeding the recent hint from the University of Chicago's Harold Pollack, a card-carrying Obamacare advocate, that perhaps in the wake of the last month's developments the government should "revisit just how minimal the most minimal insurance packages should be," which in turn could open the door to allowing many more people to buy the kind of high-deductible catastrophic plans that the law currently allows insurers to only sell to twentysomethings.

These moves would not let everyone keep their existing plans, as the Upton and Landrieu bills aspire to do -- but there is really nothing that the White House can responsibly do, given the law's underlying design, that would resolve that problem. What partial deregulation would accomplish, though, is to allow some of the lower-cost plans the law abolishes to be actually revived and made available on the exchanges as "bronze" options in 2014 and 2015, rather than just temporarily grandfathered for a year or so outside them. And this would have two potential upsides for Obamacare. First, it would ease the rate shock that people with cancelled plans experience when they go shopping for new coverage on the exchanges (and in the process hedge against potential further rate increases in the new few years). And second, it would offer a carrot, in the form of cheaper options than the exchanges currently provide, to lure in some of the uninsured who might otherwise be more inclined than the White House expected to just pay the fine (or dodge it) and continue without coverage. (If you want more people to buy a product from your website, figuring out a way to lower the price is a time-tested method ...)

It would also, obviously, have a major policy downside for Democrats, because it would undercut the liberal goal of equalizing coverage as well as just expanding it, and move the system in a more conservative/libertarian direction instead. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 AM


What America Would Look Like If Everyone Who Wanted To Start Their Own State Got Their Way : Sixteen places that want to become the 51st state (Hunter Schwarz, 11/13/13, Buzzfeed)

Five rural counties in northeastern Colorado voted last week to secede from Colorado and form their own state. The vote was symbolic -- to actually form a new state, Colorado's legislature would have to approve it, as would the U.S. Congress -- but residents in what would be North Colorado believe they are underrepresented and ignored by Denver.
North Colorado is the latest in a wave of secession movements across the country, some more serious than others. Here are 16 places where voters or politicians have proposed carving out new states:

....given the correlation of smaller state size to democracy.

November 14, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Iran putting brakes on nuclear expansion under Rouhani: IAEA report (FREDRIK DAHL, Nov 14, 2013, Reuters) 

Since Hassan Rouhani became president, Iran has stopped expanding its uranium enrichment capacity, a U.N. inspection report showed on Thursday, in a potential boost for diplomacy to end Tehran's nuclear dispute with the West.

The quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also said that since August no further major components had been added to a potential plutonium-producing reactor that worries the United States and its allies.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


LOCKED IN THE CABINET : The worst job in Barack Obama's Washington. (GLENN THRUSH, NOVEMBER 2013, Politico)

[T]he Cabinet is a swarm of 23 people that includes 15 secretaries and eight other Cabinet-rank officers. And yet never has the job of Cabinet secretary seemed smaller. The staffers who rule Obama's West Wing often treat his Cabinet as a nuisance: At the top of the pecking order are the celebrity power players, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to be warily managed; at the bottom, what they see as a bunch of well-intentioned political naifs only a lip-slip away from derailing the president's agenda. Chu might have been the first Obama Cabinet secretary to earn the disdain of White House aides, but he was hardly the last.

"We are completely marginalized ... until the s[***] hits the fan," says one former Cabinet deputy secretary, summing up the view of many officials I interviewed. "If your question is: Did the president rely a lot on his Cabinet as a group of advisers? No, he didn't," says former Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Little wonder, then, that Obama has called the group together only rarely, for what by most accounts are not much more than ritualistic team-building exercises: According to CBS News White House reporter Mark Knoller, the Cabinet met 19 times in Obama's first term and four times in the first 10 months of his second term. That's once every three months or so--about as long as you can drive around before you're supposed to change your oil.

For any modern president, the advantages of hoarding power in the White House at the expense of the Cabinet are obvious--from more efficient internal communication and better control of external messaging to avoiding messy confirmation battles and protecting against pesky congressional subpoenas. But over the course of his five years in office, Obama has taken this White House tendency to an extreme, according to more than 50 interviews with current and former secretaries, White House staffers and executive branch officials, who described his Cabinet as a restless nest of ambition, fits-and-starts achievement and power-jockeying under a shadow of unfulfilled promise.

That's a far cry from the vision Obama sketched out in the months leading up to his 2008 election. Back then, he waxed expansive about the Cabinet, promising to rejuvenate the institution as a venue for serious innovation and genuine decision making. "I don't want to have people who just agree with me," he told Time magazine, after reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's classic account of President Abraham Lincoln and his advisers, Team of Rivals. "I want people who are continually pushing me out of my comfort zone."

Obama, many of his associates now concede, never really intended to be pushed out of his comfort zone. While he personally recruited stars such as Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, most other picks for his first Cabinet were made by his staff, with less involvement from the president. "[Bill] Clinton spent almost all of his time picking the Cabinet at the expense of the White House staff; Obama made the opposite mistake," says a person close to both presidents.

Five years on, Obama's White House still reflects those priorities. At the top is a stripped-down command cluster modeled on his campaign, ruled by ferocious gatekeepers such as first-term chief of staff Emanuel and the more disciplined man who currently holds the position, Denis McDonough. But Obama also created in the White House an intellectual cloister where he could spitball ideas with academics like Larry Summers or take a few hours, as he did in the middle of the 2012 campaign, to discuss issues like civility in social media with a group of tech titans. The Cabinet, in many cases, fell between the cracks. And Obama, who has a pronounced disdain for traditional Washington institutions, didn't much care.

George W. Bush, a CEO and governor secure in himself, stocked his administration with former Chiefs-of-staff and governors.  If he'd ignored such able advisers and administrators it would have been noteworthy.

Mr. Obama, a lightweight himself, had to surround himself with people of no substance lest he be overshadowed.  Why would he utilize them?  

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


401(k) balances hit record $84,300 (Melanie Hicken, November 14, 2013, CNNMoney)

It's been a good year (so far) for 401(k) savers, with average balances hitting another record high amid strong stock market gains and an increase in contributions.

Average 401(k) balances reached $84,300 during the third quarter, up more than 11% from $75,900 last year, according to an analysis of 12.6 million accounts by Fidelity Investments, the largest 401(k) provider in the country.

Much of the boost has come from investment gains. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


U.S. third-quarter productivity climbs 1.9% (Jeffry Bartash, 11/14/13, MarketWatch) 

U.S. productivity increased by a 1.9% annual rate in the third quarter, slightly faster than revised pace in the prior period, the Labor Department said Thursday. 

Our Economic Pickle (STEVEN GREENHOUSE, 1/13/13, NY Times)

Wages have fallen to a record low as a share of America's gross domestic product. Until 1975, wages nearly always accounted for more than 50 percent of the nation's G.D.P., but last year wages fell to a record low of 43.5 percent. Since 2001, when the wage share was 49 percent, there has been a steep slide. [...]

From 1973 to 2011, worker productivity grew 80 percent, while median hourly compensation, after inflation, grew by just one-eighth that amount, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. And since 2000, productivity has risen 23 percent while real hourly pay has essentially stagnated.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


What are some of the biggest problems with a guaranteed annual income? (Tyler Cowen, November 14, 2013, Marginal Revolution)

As long as we are moving toward more cash transfers, why don't we substitute cash transfers for some or all of Medicare and Medicaid health insurance coverage benefits, especially for lower-value ailments?  But then we are paying more cash to the sick individuals.  That doesn't have to be a mistake, but it does mean that an initially simple, "dogmatic" payment scheme now has multiplied into a rather complex form of social welfare assistance, contingent on just about every relevant factor one might care to cite.

You can see the issue.  Whether on grounds of justice, practicality, or just public choice considerations ("you can keep your current welfare payments if you like them"), we should not expect everyone to be paid the same under a guaranteed annual income.  And with enough tweaks, this version of the guaranteed income suddenly starts resembling...the welfare state, albeit the welfare state plus.  Unemployment insurance benefits wouldn't end.  More people could get on disability, and without those pesky judges asking so many questions.

The potential problem is that we inherit and in some ways magnify the problems with the current welfare state, rather than doing away with those problems.

In exchange for more generous welfare the least we can require is that some portion of transfers go into savings accounts that will fund the particular problems of old age, like health care.
Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


A Conservative Alternative to ObamaCare : To avoid a lurch to the left if the current law fails, the time is right to present sensible, market-oriented reforms. (RAMESH PONNURU And YUVAL LEVIN, Nov. 13, 2013, WSJ)

The first step of a plan to replace ObamaCare should be a flat and universal tax benefit for coverage. Today's tax exclusion for employer-provided health coverage should be capped so that people would not get a bigger tax break by buying more extensive and expensive insurance. The result would be to make employees more cost-conscious; and competition for their favor would make insurance cheaper.

That tax break would also be available--ideally as a refundable credit sufficient at least for the purchase of catastrophic coverage--to people who do not have access to employer coverage. This would enable people who now choose not to buy insurance to get catastrophic coverage with no premium costs. It also would give those who want more-comprehensive coverage in the individual market the same advantage that people with employer plans get.

Medicaid could be converted into a means-based addition to that credit, allowing the poor to buy into the same insurance market as more affluent people--and so give them access to better health care than they can get now.

All those with continuous coverage, which everyone could afford thanks to the new tax treatment, would be protected from price spikes or plan cancellations if they got sick. This guarantee would provide a strong incentive to buy coverage, without the coercion of the individual mandate. People who have pre-existing conditions when the new rules take effect would be able to buy coverage through subsidized, high-risk pools.

By making at least catastrophic coverage available to all, and by giving people such incentives to obtain it, this approach could cover more people than ObamaCare was ever projected to reach, and at a significantly lower cost.

The impending compromise is mandated and universal catastrophic coverage paired with an HSA.
Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


Obamacare is in much more trouble than it was one week ago (Ezra Klein, November 13, 2013, Washington Post)

The Affordable Care Act's political position has deteriorated dramatically over the last week. President Bill Clinton's statement that the law should be reopened to ensure everyone who likes their health plans can keep them was a signal event. It gives congressional Democrats cover to begin breaking with the Obama administration.

November 13, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Musk's next target for Tesla: Its own 'F150' pickup (Chris Isidore, November 13, 2013, CNNMoney)

Would eco-conscious Tesla owners want to buy a full-size pickup? Tesla CEO Elon Musk, champion of sustainable transportation, thinks they would. [...]

"If you're trying to replace the most gasoline miles driven, you have to look at what people are buying," he said after an appearance at a Business Insider conference. "That's the best selling car in America. If people are voting that's their car, then that's the car we have to deliver."

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Firearms and Suicides in US States (Alex Tabarrok, November 13, 2013, Marginal Revolution)

Suicides outnumber homicides in the United States by 3:1. (In 2010 there were 38,364 suicides and 12, 996 homicides.) Lots of studies have investigated the relationship between firearms and homicide but the potential for reverse causality makes this a difficult problem. More homicides in a region, for example, might cause an increase in gun ownership so a positive correlation between guns and homicide doesn't tell you which is cause and which is effect. Reverse causality is less of a problem for understanding the guns to suicide link because it's less likely that a rash of suicides would encourage gun ownership.

In my latest paper, Firearms and Suicides in US States, (written with the excellent Justin Briggs) we examine the easier question, what is the relationship between firearms and suicide? Using a variety of techniques and data we estimate that a 1% increase in gun ownership leads to a .5 to .9% increase in suicides.

Even if one thinks that suicides don't cause gun ownership one might imagine that they are correlated due say to a third factor such as social anomie. We have an interesting test of this in the paper. If suicides and gun ownership were being driven by a third factor we would expect gun ownership to be correlated with all suicides not just gun-suicide. What we find, however, is that an increase in gun ownership decrease non-gun suicide. From an economics perspective this makes perfect sense. As gun ownership increases, the cost of gun-suicide falls because guns are easier to access and as the cost of gun-suicide falls there is substitution away from non-gun suicide.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Survey: Americans Would Share Medical Information for a Price (ALLIE BIDWELL, November 13, 2013, US News)

Many Americans would be willing to share private health information, such as blood tests, height and weight measurements and even genetic testing, with their insurance providers if they received a financial incentive to do so, according to a poll released Wednesday by HealthDay and Harris Interactive.

Of the more than 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed Oct. 21-23, 76 percent said they would share the results of blood pressure tests, 68 percent said they would reveal whether they have diabetes or high cholesterol, and 49 percent said they would undergo invasive genetic testing to determine their risk of cancer or inherited medical conditions.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Yes, You Can Be Fit and Fat : A new meta-study finds higher mortality rates among people who are not physically fit--no matter their weight. (Tom Jacobs, 11/13/13, Pacific Standard)

"Much more attention should be given to promoting physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness as a means to reduce risk for disease and death," writes a research team led by Vaughn Barry of Middle Tennessee State University. Its study is published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. [...]

Barry and his colleagues decided to examine the evidence regarding the "fitness-fatness hypothesis, which suggests a higher level of cardiorespiratory fitness will substantially reduce the adverse effects of obesity on morbidity and mortality, making obesity a much less important factor for health than is generally believed."

After sifting through the literature, they narrowed their focus to 10 studies that measured both fitness and body-mass index (BMI). While the precise methodologies of the studies differed, fitness was measured via exercise trials, while BMI was used to categorize participants as normal, overweight, or obese.

The studies they examined were, for the most part, quite large: Two had more than 20,000 participants, while three others had more than 10,000 participants. Adding them all together, far more men than women took part; six of the studies were all-male, compared to only two that were all-female.

Participants were followed up with between seven and 16 years after the initial data was taken. Researchers determined how many had died in the interim, and compared their initial BMI and fitness 
levels with that of the participants who remained alive.

The key result: "Compared to normal weight-fit individuals, unfit individuals had twice the risk of mortality, regardless of BMI. Overweight and obese-fit individuals had similar mortality risks as normal weight-fit individuals."

Weight is like the debt, an aesthetic issue.
Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


5 Headlines That Would Have Been If JFK Lived (JOAN E. GREVE, Nov. 13, 2013, ABC News)

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


How to stop the fighting, sometimes (The Economist, Nov 9th 2013)

Of 150 large intrastate wars since 1945 fewer than ten are ongoing. Angola, Chad, Sri Lanka and other places long known for bloodletting are now at peace, though hardly democratic.

And recently civil wars have been ending sooner. The rate at which they start is the same today as it has been for 60 years; they kick off every year in 1-2% of countries. But the number of medium-to-large civil wars under way--there are six in which more than 1,000 people died last year--is low by the standards of the period. This is because they are coming to an end a little sooner. The average length of civil wars dropped from 4.6 to 3.7 years after 1991, according to Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, a professor at the University of Essex.

So far, nothing has done more to end the world's hot little wars than winding up its big cold one. From 1945 to 1989 the number of civil wars rose by leaps and bounds, as America and the Soviet Union fuelled internecine fighting in weak young states, either to gain advantage or to stop the other doing so. By the end of the period, civil war afflicted 18% of the world's nations, according to the tally kept by the Centre for the Study of Civil War, established at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, a decade ago. When the cold war ended, the two enemies stopped most of their sponsorship of foreign proxies, and without it, the combatants folded. More conflicts ended in the 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall than in the preceding half-century (see chart 1). The proportion of countries fighting civil wars had declined to about 12% by 1995. [...]

Sometimes the dispute is so intractable that no agreed solution short of the break-up of the state seems possible. Wars of identity--those in which populations are mobilised by grievances that have ripened over decades or centuries--are the most likely to belong to this category.

The drawbacks to partitions in such cases, especially where they require large-scale population movements, are well rehearsed. Sects and tribes are rarely neatly divided, waiting for a line to be drawn between them. Separating them, if need be by force, will make some safer, but it will cause others great misery and may well spark new conflicts. When Pakistan split from India, it was saddled with a coup-prone state and a war in Kashmir. And many nations with fissiparous tensions at home recoil from the idea of any partition anywhere, lest it be seen as a precedent.

Still, some break-ups do make sense. South Sudan's government is lousy, and fighting continues along the border set up with the rest of Sudan two years ago. But most independent observers agree that the south made the right choice in negotiating to split off. The Arab elite in the north was never going to change its murderous attitude toward black southerners that brought about decades of miserable war and the death of 2m people. And there is little worry that South Sudan will look so attractive as to encourage secession elsewhere. Few minorities would accept such pain to win a seat at the UN.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


 The Case for Kurdistan (Ali Ezzatyar, November 12, 2013, National Interest)

There is a rare historic opportunity now to for America to be ahead of the curve on a major regional event involving an important ally: Kurdish independence.

Reliable friends are hard to find, and in the Middle East, they are also hard to buy. A decade after the second Gulf war, the Iraqi leadership is closer to the Mullahs in Iran than they are to Uncle Sam, despite considerable American expense and effort there. In Syria as well, Iran was the invisible hand that brought Assad back from the brink of disaster, all the while lobbying Russia to maintain its support for the regime and bringing about the diplomatic coup that was Obama's about-face on Syrian intervention. The Egyptian army, one of the largest single recipients of US aid for the last three decades, has repeatedly flouted United States pressure since Mubarak's ouster for its own short term interests. In a region full of resource rich autocracies, there is no shortage of players who will outspend and out-influence America when their existence, and not just their interests, are at stake. The Saudis will make it rain petrodollars all day, and America simply cannot compete with notions of prestige and threat of force.

History shows that allies with shared values, but also shared rivalries, are the safest of bets for the West in the Middle East. Israel is the clearest example; modern Turkey, relative to its Arab neighbors, has also made an ideal patron for the United States due not only to its secular tradition, but also due to its own lack of natural allies in the region. This is also why Iran, and not Saudi Arabia, was the more important country in America's "twin pillar" policy of the 1970s.

November 12, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 2:30 PM


Switzerland's Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive (ANNIE LOWREY, 11/17/13, NY Times Magazine)

This fall, a truck dumped eight million coins outside the Parliament building in Bern, one for every Swiss citizen. It was a publicity stunt for advocates of an audacious social policy that just might become reality in the tiny, rich country. Along with the coins, activists delivered 125,000 signatures -- enough to trigger a Swiss public referendum, this time on providing a monthly income to every citizen, no strings attached. Every month, every Swiss person would receive a check from the government, no matter how rich or poor, how hardworking or lazy, how old or young. Poverty would disappear. Economists, needless to say, are sharply divided on what would reappear in its place -- and whether such a basic-income scheme might have some appeal for other, less socialist countries too. [...]

 They even are whispered about in the United States, where certain wonks on the libertarian right and liberal left have come to a strange convergence around the idea -- some prefer an unconditional "basic" income that would go out to everyone, no strings attached; others a means-tested "minimum" income to supplement the earnings of the poor up to a given level.

The case from the right is one of expediency and efficacy. Let's say that Congress decided to provide a basic income through the tax code or by expanding the Social Security program. Such a system might work better and be fairer than the current patchwork of programs, including welfare, food stamps and housing vouchers. A single father with two jobs and two children would no longer have to worry about the hassle of visiting a bunch of offices to receive benefits. And giving him a single lump sum might help him use his federal dollars better. Housing vouchers have to be spent on housing, food stamps on food. Those dollars would be more valuable -- both to the recipient and the economy at large -- if they were fungible.

Even better, conservatives think, such a program could significantly reduce the size of our federal bureaucracy. It could take the place of welfare, food stamps, housing vouchers and hundreds of other programs, all at once: Hello, basic income; goodbye, H.U.D. Charles Murray of the conservative American Enterprise Institute has proposed a minimum income for just that reason -- feed the poor, and starve the beast. "Give the money to the people," Murray wrote in his book "In Our Hands: A Plan to Replace the Welfare State." He suggested guaranteeing $10,000 a year to anyone meeting the following conditions: be American, be over 21, stay out of jail and -- as he once quipped -- "have a pulse."

One hardly need worry about disincentives to work when there's less and less work to be done.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


Iran, UN watchdog agree on probe of nuclear sites (REUTERS, 11/11/2013)

The agreement is a step towards resolving concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Iran's nuclear activities and opens the way for its inspectors to visit two more nuclear sites, the Arak heavy water site and the Gachin uranium mine. [...]

Also as part of the deal, the IAEA said Iran has agreed to provide information to UN inspectors about planned nuclear facilities including research reactors under a cooperation agreement signed by the two sides on Monday.

The agreement, seen by Reuters, listed a series of steps to be taken by Iran to ensure greater transparency in its disputed nuclear program, also including "managed access" to a uranium mine and a heavy water plant.

The measures will be implemented within three months, the agency said.

November 11, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Why Jews Should Not Accept Jesus -- Whatever George W. Bush Thinks : 'Messianic Jews' Is Marketing Jingle -- Not True Faith (David Wolpe, 11/11/13, Forward)

The chronicle of Christian anti-Semitism is one of the most gruesome, disheartening chapters in the human story. Even the most abominable tragedy, the systematic slaughter of millions in World War II, the Holocaust, cannot be entirely separated from centuries of Christian teachings of the abjectness of the Jew. As the theologian Elieser Berkowitz put it, the Nazis who killed Jews may not have been Christians, but they were all the sons and daughters of Christians.

Although many faiths, including some Roman mystery religions, spoke of a man/god, Judaism sought to keep clear the boundaries between the human and the divine. The blurring was taken to be the sign of betrayal of the tradition. To this day, believing in a man who was God is a bright dividing line and a reason, as discussed below, to say one is a "Jew for Jesus" is self-contradiction.

Jesus did place great emphasis on internal spirituality. This was not because he was more spiritually advanced, but because society was more advanced materially. Moses had to set up a system of civil and criminal law. In the desert there were no courts. Jesus was born in Rome, with the most advanced civil society of the time. He did not need to discuss external procedures, either religious or civil. They were taken care of by Roman law and the developed Jewish law. The only religious discourse left was that of feeling and the emphasis on love (which exists plentifully in Judaism as well) is far easier when you need not pronounce on legal penalties or social arrangements.

In this sense, Islam bears a closer kinship to Judaism; it, too, is a religion of law, necessitated by Muhammad's melding desert tribes into a religious community, much in the manner of Moses. Hence, as Moses Montefiore said of Jesus, "Public justice is outside his purview."

The idea that one can be saved only through Jesus is contrary to simple compassion and justice. Judaism teaches that "the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come." Maimonides writes in a letter that there are non-Jews who "bring their souls to perfection." That is the simple truth that all faiths should acknowledge and celebrate. Otherwise, there can be no kinship. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once wrote about attempts to convert the Jews: "How can we take seriously a friendship that is conditioned ultimately on the hope and expectation that the Jew will disappear? How would a Christian feel if we Jews were engaged in an effort to bring about the liquidation of Christianity?"

What is so bothersome about the group that President Bush has chosen to address is that to speak of "Jews for Jesus" makes as much sense as saying "Christians for Muhammad." A Jew who accepts Jesus has cut himself off from the faith community of Jews, and that has been so for 2,000 years. When the first Christians left the Jewish community, and all the billions of Christians who followed recognized that their belief in Jesus made them a distinct religion, were they all deluded? Only today people have realized that division was a mistake after all? The sudden rise of 'Messianic Jews' owes more to a clever way of misleading untutored Jews than to making theological sense. It should not receive the imprimatur of a former President of the United States.

Moreover, that Christians argue with the Jewish community about the legitimacy of "Jews for Jesus" is presumption of a high order. I would not presume to tell Christians who is a Christian and emphatically reject the idea that the Christian community can tell me who qualifies as a Jew.

Many Jewish thinkers have seen Jesus as they have seen Muhammad, as God's instrument to advance monotheism in the world. Franz Rosenzweig spoke of Judaism as the sun -- that is the source -- and Christianity as the rays of the sun -- that which spreads monotheism to the world. The greatest Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, of the Middle Ages saw Islam and Christianity as the preparation for God's eventual Kingdom.

Jesus exercises a powerful historical fascination. He was without doubt a profound and enigmatic personality. Nonetheless, he remains for many Jews a man whose wisdom and wit place him among the great teachers of humanity, but neither a messiah nor a god.

The curious thing about the offense taken at the very idea of W addressing this group is that in disposing of the possibility that Jesus was God, folks like Mr. Wolpe are also disposing of the possibility of salvation for gentiles.  Christian thinkers and even Christophilic Jewish thinkers have sought to reconcile Jews and Christians by arguing that, while the Jews are already a chosen people and, therefore, didn't need Christ, we gentiles did need Him--"Christianity is Judaism for the Gentiles."  Whatever else one may think about this formulation, there is obviously nothing anti-Semitic in it. Indeed, it accepts the legitimacy and fundamental truth of Judaism.

On the other hand, Mr. Wolpe's argument is literally anti-Christian.  

Fortunately, we take no offense.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Cost, fear of taking time off have many patients pushing surgery to back burner (Rick Wills, Nov. 10, 2013, Trib Live)

The number of surgeries performed each year has declined nationally since the 2008 economic downturn.

A study by the Health Care Cost Institute in Washington found that the number of inpatient surgeries in American hospitals dropped more than 5 percent each year from 2009 to 2012.

"We are seeing a reduction in the number of hospitalizations. At the same time, there has been no real increase in outpatient procedures," said Carolina-Nicole S. Herrera, director of research at the institute.

According to a survey of 58 hospitals by the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania, inpatient surgeries decreased by 4.13 percent, or by 6,713, from June 30, 2012, to this June. Outpatient procedures declined by 10,643, or 3.45 percent.

"It is pretty much universal that we are seeing declines. A lot of that has to do with high deductibles. They are a problem for the hospitals," said Dennis Lukes, council vice president.

When the number of surgeries drops, it hurts the bottom line of hospitals and health care conglomerates, said Yaa Akosa Antwi, a health care economist at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

"Surgeries are an important part of hospital revenue, even though the cost varies between procedures and at different hospitals," Antwi said.

Then vary the cost downwards.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Suicides account for most gun deaths (DREW DESILVER, 5/24/13, Pew Research)

Suicides by gun accounted for about six of every 10 firearm deaths in 2010 and just over half of all suicides, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the CDC began publishing data in 1981, gun suicides have outnumbered gun homicides. But as gun homicides have declined sharply in recent years, suicides have become a greater share of all firearm deaths: the 61% share in 2010 was the highest on record.

Whether or not it's a function of the sorts of people who feel compelled to own guns or not, they're a threat to the owner, not to imagined criminals.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Meet the seemingly unfireable female firefighter (Susan Edelman, November 10, 2013, NY Post)

Despite failing a required FDNY running test five times, Wendy Tapia was allowed to graduate from the Fire Academy and become a firefighter. On Dec. 2, she is taking the test for an unprecedented sixth time.

Tapia was one of only five women among 285 new firefighters who graduated from the FDNY's Randall's Island training academy on May 17.

The class was hailed as the most diverse group of rookies ever, all of them EMTs or paramedics seeking promotion to firefighter. She joined a group of just 35 women among the 11,000 Bravest.

But Tapia, 31, has yet to work a shift at her firehouse, ­Engine No. 316 in East Elmhurst, Queens, where she was assigned May 18.

At the end of 18 weeks of probationary training, Tapia failed to run 1¹/₂ miles in 12 minutes without gear, as required by the academy. She blamed a foot injury.

The FDNY let her graduate anyway -- and gave her five more deadlines over the past six months to pass the running test.

She failed all five times, insiders said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


How to be a 401(k) millionaire (Melanie Hicken, November 11, 2013, CNNMoney)

Fidelity Investments analyzed the savings habits of roughly 1,100 401(k) investors who earned less than $150,000 a year and had accumulated more than $1 million in 401(k) savings to determine how they reached the million-dollar mark.

The retirement plan provider found these savers, who were an average age of 59, had some key behaviors in common: they started young, always took advantage of the company match and saved a large chunk of their pay each year, a median of 14% (not counting the company match).

These workers put aside a median of $13,300 of their own cash each year and enjoyed a median employer contribution of $4,500, for a total of $17,800 in retirement savings each year.

As a result, the savers grew their median account balance from $426,000 in June 2000 to $1.2 million in June 2012.

"You have to start saving and start saving early," said Jeanne Thompson, Fidelity's vice president for market insights.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Khamenei controls massive financial empire built on property seizures (Steve Stecklow, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Yeganeh Torbati,  November 11, 2013, Reuters)

Setad has become one of the most powerful organizations in Iran, though many Iranians, and the wider world, know very little about it. In the past six years, it has morphed into a business juggernaut that now holds stakes in nearly every sector of Iranian industry, including finance, oil, telecommunications, the production of birth-control pills and even ostrich farming.

The organization's total worth is difficult to pinpoint because of the secrecy of its accounts. But Setad's holdings of real estate, corporate stakes and other assets total about $95 billion, Reuters has calculated. That estimate is based on an analysis of statements by Setad officials, data from the Tehran Stock Exchange and company websites, and information from the U.S. Treasury Department.

Just one person controls that economic empire - Khamenei. As Iran's top cleric, he has the final say on all governmental matters. His purview includes his nation's controversial nuclear program, which was the subject of intense negotiations between Iranian and international diplomats in Geneva that ended Sunday without an agreement. It is Khamenei who will set Iran's course in the nuclear talks and other recent efforts by the new president, Hassan Rouhani, to improve relations with Washington.

The supreme leader's acolytes praise his spartan lifestyle, and point to his modest wardrobe and a threadbare carpet in his Tehran home. Reuters found no evidence that Khamenei is tapping Setad to enrich himself.

But Setad has empowered him. Through Setad, Khamenei has at his disposal financial resources whose value rivals the holdings of the shah, the Western-backed monarch who was overthrown in 1979.

How Setad came into those assets also mirrors how the deposed monarchy obtained much of its fortune - by confiscating real estate. A six-month Reuters investigation has found that Setad built its empire on the systematic seizure of thousands of properties belonging to ordinary Iranians: members of religious minorities like Vahdat-e-Hagh, who is Baha'i, as well as Shi'ite Muslims, business people and Iranians living abroad.

Setad has amassed a giant portfolio of real estate by claiming in Iranian courts, sometimes falsely, that the properties are abandoned. The organization now holds a court-ordered monopoly on taking property in the name of the supreme leader, and regularly sells the seized properties at auction or seeks to extract payments from the original owners.

The supreme leader also oversaw the creation of a body of legal rulings and executive orders that enabled and safeguarded Setad's asset acquisitions. "No supervisory organization can question its property," said Naghi Mahmoudi, an Iranian lawyer who left Iran in 2010 and now lives in Germany.

Khamenei's grip on Iran's politics and its military forces has been apparent for years. The investigation into Setad shows that there is a third dimension to his power: economic might. The revenue stream generated by Setad helps explain why Khamenei has not only held on for 24 years but also in some ways has more control than even his revered predecessor. Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget, insulating him from Iran's messy factional infighting.

In the end, it was just a fight about whether the monarchy should be secular or religious.

November 10, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


Iran standoff sees France winning Gulf friends, influence (John Irish, 11/10/13, Reuters)

France's tough line in major power talks with Iran may frustrate those looking for an early deal over Tehran's nuclear program, but is helping Paris to seal strategic new links with Gulf states and Israel. [...]

As France struggles to reform its weak domestic economy and watches Germany increasingly shape European Union policy, that is a realignment full of welcome trade and diplomatic promise for Hollande's government.

"This is not just about arms sales ... but about strategic influence in the region," said Middle East specialist Shashank Joshi at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London.

"France can win influence with Saudi Arabia and Israel." [...]

[W]ith France only last week hit by a second sovereign debt downgrade from ratings agency Standard and Poor's over its failure to kickstart its sluggish economy, Paris does not hide the fact that it regards exports to the Middle East as a precious source of growth and jobs.

In October, France sealed a contract to modernize six naval ships and tankers from Saudi Arabia, having won in July one billion euros worth of contracts with the United Arab Emirates for anti-aircraft radars and military observation satellites.

French officials say they are also optimistic on securing a large deal to deliver anti-aircraft defense missiles to Riyadh and the sale of Rafale fighter jets to neighboring Qatar.

There's a name for someone whose position you can buy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


The Keystone Fight Is a Huge Environmentalist Mistake (Jonathan Chait, 10/30/13, NY Mag)

What do we want? An extremely tiny reduction in Canadian fossil fuel emissions! When do we want it? Eventually!

"To an increasingly disillusioned environmental movement," environmental activist Bill McKibben writes in the Huffington Post, "Keystone looks like a last chance." It may be a last chance for the movement McKibben has helped lead -- he has spent several years organizing activists to single-mindedly fight against approval of the Keystone pipeline -- but Keystone is at best marginally relevant to the cause of stopping global warming. The whole crusade increasingly looks like a bizarre misallocation of political attention.

My view, which I laid out in a long feature story last spring, is that the central environmental issue of Obama's presidency is not Keystone at all but using the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate existing power plants. That's a tool Obama has that can bring American greenhouse gas emissions in line with international standards, and thus open the door to lead an international climate treaty in 2015. The amount of carbon emissions at stake in the EPA fight dwarf the stakes of the Keystone decision.

Estimates differ as to how much approval of the Keystone pipeline would increase carbon emissions, but a survey of studies by the Congressional Research Service found that the pipeline would add the equivalent of anywhere between 0.06 percent to 0.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions per year. By contrast, the Natural Resources Defense Council's proposal for EPA regulations would reduce U.S. emissions by 10 percent per year - 30 times the most pessimistic estimate of Keystone's impact.

Of course, it's far from clear Obama will settle on a regulatory proposal as aggressive as the NRDC's. But that's just the point. Even slight gradations in the strength of possible EPA plans matter more than the whole fate of the Keystone pipeline. And yet McKibben and tens of thousands of his followers are obsessed with a program that amounts to a rounding error at the expense of a decision that really is the last chance to stop unrestrained global warming.

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Iranians angry and bewildered after French torpedo Geneva nuclear entente (Saeed Kamali Dehghan,  10 November 2013, Guardian)

France's role in Geneva talks that ended with no agreement over Tehran's nuclear programme has prompted bewilderment and anger inside Iran.

Iranians, who stayed awake all night to find out whether their negotiators have reached a breakthrough with the west, were disappointed that France was prepared to defy the Americans and block a stopgap deal, and that western sanction would not end any time soon.

The Irna state news agency reported that Iranian businessmen were considering reducing their trade ties with France, saying they no longer considered it as a good partner because of its "adventurist and immature behaviour" at Geneva.

"A group of Tehran-based industrialists held a meeting here on Sunday focusing on reduction of Tehran-Paris trade ties," reported Irna. "They believe that the imbalanced policies of Paris on Tehran have stripped Paris of its status as a good economic partner of Iran."

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


The Lonely Guy : He's a community organizer who works alone. What was once his greatest strength--he kept his cool and didn't need feedback--is now a liability. (Todd S. Purdum, 11/08/13, Vanity Fair)

When Barack Obama arrived in Washington almost five years ago, the universal assumption was that the young president--who had, after all, won office by exploiting every connective tool of the national social and electoral network--would run his White House in sharp contrast to the bunkered, hunkered-down George W. Bush.

Like so much conventional wisdom, that impression has proved dead wrong. In fact, Obama's resolute solitude--his isolation and alienation from the other players and power centers of Washington, be they rivals or friends--has emerged as the defining trait of his time in office. He may be the biggest presidential paradox since Thomas Jefferson, the slaveholder who wrote the Declaration of Independence: a community organizer who works alone.

In early 2011, when the president's most trusted political adviser, David Axelrod, left the White House to return to Chicago to run his re-election campaign, Obama made a surprise appearance at Axelrod's going-away party in a grand apartment off Dupont Circle on a wintry Saturday night. Clad casually in a black jacket, he spoke warmly, even emotionally, of the aide who had done so much to elect him. Then he made his way quickly around a living room full of Cabinet members, other aides, and off-duty reporters, grasping each proffered hand with a single, relentless, repeated greeting: "Gotta go."

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


The Secular Religions of Progress (Robert H. Nelson, Summer 2013, New Atlantis)

The general lack of attention in mainstream economics to issues of moral philosophy limits economists' recognition of the central role that a powerful progressive value system plays in their own field, not only in making policy recommendations but in underpinning the core methods of economic analysis. With very few exceptions -- such as Harvard's Benjamin M. Friedman, author of the 2005 book The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth -- economists seldom compare the benefits of economic growth with the costs, usually assuming automatically that the former outweigh the latter.

But growth radically transforms society -- and not always for the better. Economic gains often come hand in hand with personal, social, cultural, and environmental losses that economists too easily ignore; it is simpler to make judgments about what is economically beneficial based on quantifiable factors and impersonal market mechanisms. Consider trade with China. It has no doubt helped to increase total available goods and services in the United States and has produced large material benefits in China too. But it has thrown many American workers out of their jobs and undermined the vitality of many U.S. communities. How can we say that the social gains of U.S. trade with China are greater than the social costs? Many economists find it easy to answer this question, assuming that economic progress, given its necessarily transcendent importance over any social costs incurred, must always be worth it.

This, however, is not a scientific conclusion but rather one based on a secular-religious faith in the absolute value of economic growth and efficiency. Few if any economists have sought to do a truly comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of trade with China -- one in which the costs have included the psychic demoralization of workers who have lost their jobs and of owners whose businesses have failed, and the transitional costs (not just economic but again, psychic) associated with the disruption of workers having to move their families from one community to another. These hidden costs are not easy to measure, but that does not mean they are unimportant, and it is only a blinding devotion to growth that obscures them from economic analysis.

Moreover, economic estimates and projections of growth frequently leave out short-term costs, the stresses and strains that arise in the process of creative destruction, while focusing entirely on the long term. The range of short-run costs that economic analyses normally ignore includes not just the financial and psychic losses when a worker loses a job, but also the loss of community when the market renders a negative verdict on the mainstays of a local economy; the loss of homes, streets, farms, and other historic treasures; the transformation of plant and animal habitats into resources for exploitation; the weakening of communal bonds; the feelings of personal powerlessness when private organizations are the efficiency winners in the market, leaving many people to work as small parts in large and often impersonal bureaucratic enterprises; and the diminishment of personal freedom associated with the kind of government regulation and taxation put in place to sustain and promote economic activity. There is also the sense that some assets or activities are devalued by the very fact of entering them into the price system as goods and services -- the commodification of human reproduction, for instance. (In a few cases, such as prostitution, government intervenes to limit the devaluing consequences of commodification, but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.)

Admittedly, it would be impossible to assign monetary values to many of these costs. But the more fundamental issue is that economic analyses systematically and deliberately leave them out of consideration, focusing instead on achieving the path of the maximum growth of the economy, the path to heaven on earth. If one were able to account for the costs in every dimension associated with gains in economic progress and efficiency, we might find that the gains are not always worth the costs.

In parts of the world that are less developed than the United States -- in countries like Cambodia or Haiti, for example -- it is not difficult to make a strong argument for both the material and moral benefits of economic growth. But what about in the United States today? Perhaps a century ago the countless beneficial social transformations that recent economic development had produced might have offered strong grounds for holding to the faith that growth is a paramount good. But in the twenty-first century, the case for unlimited growth in already economically developed countries may have become less obvious. Why, then, does it remain such a central goal in American politics? To some extent it may be a matter of inertia: we have all agreed about the need for growth for so long, even in the midst of our disagreements about capitalism versus socialism -- which can be seen as disagreements about how best to achieve growth -- that we cannot easily refocus our politics on some other fundamental good. Also, the growth agenda has played a unifying role in American culture. A nation as large as the United States needs a "civil religion" to hold it together, as the late Robert Bellah argued. Although its hold has been weakening, the American civil religion still assigns a central role to the importance of economic growth. Absent a good substitute, it might be dangerous to give up on so central a part of the American faith.

Of course, a moral argument can still easily be made for progress in such areas as human health. But an argument for advancing medicine and improving health care is not an argument for general economic progress, but rather for devoting more of our society's resources to the health sector. And more practically, growth seems the only way we have at present of dealing with the problem of unemployment. Theoretically, in times of insufficient total aggregate demand, there could be a cooperative agreement in society that each working person should reduce his or her workforce participation by a sufficient amount to allow every person to be employed. But this would entail, to put it mildly, immense political and practical difficulties. So growth may be all we currently have as a unifying solution that can deal with unemployment.

The problem with this analysis is that it fails to comprehend the purpose of the economy, which is to maximize the creation of wealth by society, not to distribute it equatibly, which is a fit purpose for politics.  Indeed, it is only by misunderstanding economics that we can view the decreasing need for employment as a problem at all, rather than as a benefit of economic progress.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Best be Northern, Protestant and/or Anglospheric, eh?
Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Yemen air strikes kill al-Qaida militants (, 10 November 2013)

Five suspected al-Qaida fighters have been killed in two air strikes in Yemen's southern province of Abyan, according to the interior ministry. [...]

The US regularly unleashes drone strikes against Aqap in a campaign that has been criticised by rights groups as executing suspects without trial, while civilians have often been hit.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Defense on a Diet : How Budget Crises Have Improved U.S. Strategy (Melvyn P. Leffler , NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2013, Foreign Affairs)

The United States is now in a period of austerity, and after years of huge increases, the defense budget is set to be scaled back. Even those supporting the cuts stress the need to avoid the supposedly awful consequences of past retrenchments. "We have to remember the lessons of history," President Barack Obama said in January 2012. "We can't afford to repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past -- after World War II, after Vietnam -- when our military policy was left ill prepared for the future. As commander in chief, I will not let that happen again." Similarly, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Congress in October 2011, "After every major conflict -- World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the fall of the Soviet Union -- what happened was that we ultimately hollowed out the force. Whatever we do in confronting the challenges we face now on the fiscal side, we must not make that mistake."

Contrary to such conventional wisdom, the consequences of past U.S. defense cuts were not bad. In fact, a look at five such periods over the past century -- following World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Cold War -- shows that austerity can be useful in forcing Washington to think strategically, something it rarely does when times are flush.

After World War I, the United States pared back its military spending from over 17 percent of GDP in 1919 to less than two percent in 1922. The army was cut from roughly 3.5 million soldiers to about 146,000. And in 1922, the Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty capped the navy's tonnage in key categories and linked the United States' construction of capital ships to those of the United Kingdom and Japan according to a 5:5:3 ratio (which changed to 10:10:7 after the London Naval Conference of 1930). The Great Depression then forced Washington to build even fewer ships than it was permitted.

In World War II, the paucity of the resources on hand actually forced U.S. policymakers to make tough but smart choices.

The conventional wisdom is always wrong, nowhere moreso than on the benefits of being unprepared for war.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Attack Obamacare, but Talk Growth Too : That's the GOP one-two punch for the midterm elections. (Larry Kudlow, 11/08/13, National Review)

As a supply-sider, I urge the GOP to stay on track with pro-growth tax reform -- broadening the base, lowering marginal tax rates, and simplifying the entire code for businesses and individuals. And I am also impressed by Senator Mike Lee's proposal for a substantial increase in the child tax credit, which will boost take-home pay for the middle class.

Now, the push for economic growth is not a brand new idea. But it's an important idea. And Republicans, I think, can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can nail Obamacare and promote economic-growth policies.

As for the health-care issue, Republicans should also spend more time promoting their own alternative policies. Why not more freedom to choose your insurance plan by shopping across state lines? Why not tax breaks going directly to individuals and families rather than big business and big labor? In a play for the youth vote, why not new plans for preventive medicine and major-medical catastrophic insurance that includes rock-bottom premiums? The young and healthy might think about returning to the GOP if the GOP comes up with a few ideas to help them out.

In the long run, positive conservative messages on growth, taxes, and health care are better than just negative attacks.

Tweaking Obamacare so that folks are defaulted into an HSA/catastrophic plan--publicly-funded for the poor--is not just positive but pro-growth and, literally, progressive.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


New invention 'harvests' electricity from background radiation (DAILY MAIL, 8 November 2013)

Engineers at Duke University have designed a breakthrough gadget that 'harvests' background microwave radiation and converts it into electricity, with the same efficiency as solar panels.

The development, unveiled on Thursday, raises exciting possibilities such as recharging a phone wirelessly and providing power to remote locations that can't access conventional electricity.

And the researchers say that their inexpensive invention is remarkably versatile. It could be used to capture 'lost' energy from a range of sources such as satellite transmissions, sound signals or Wi-Fi.

November 9, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


As Tensions Fall in Iran, So Do Costs of Gasoline (CLIFFORD KRAUSS, 11/09/13, NY Times)

Gasoline prices are tumbling just in time for the holiday shopping season to begin.

Consumers can thank the tentative reduction in tensions in the Middle East and swelling supplies of domestic oil for their good fortune, and energy experts say prices could fall further if negotiations between the West and Iran progress.

The cost of a gallon of regular gasoline has dropped by 6 cents a gallon over the last week alone, in line with a steady swoon through the fall that has brought prices to their lowest levels in three years.

Seasonal price declines are expected this time of year, but the slide this year is particularly steep. It brings modest relief to consumers at a time when families try to scrape together disposable income for gifts, road trips and entertaining family and friends.

"From a psychology standpoint, lower prices at the pump are correlated with higher consumer confidence," said Michael Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers. "Over the years Walmart has said how deeply dependent their consumers are on gasoline prices and it goes beyond Walmart."

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Goodbye and good riddance, trans fats (Aaron Carroll, 11/08/13, CNN)

There has been a longstanding argument that we should stop using trans fats. The American Heart Association recommends that people's diets contain 2 grams or less of trans fats a day. That amount is what you might normally get in dairy products and meat. But if you eat processed foods, you'll end up consuming more trans fats.

In 2006, the FDA started mandating that food labels list the amount of trans fats in foods in order to make consumers aware of their hazard.

Some companies have made an effort to stay away from trans fats. McDonalds stopped using them 7 years ago. Burger King has a minimal amount in its foods, and that's from small amounts that are present naturally in meat and cheese. New York banned trans fats in restaurants in 2007. It was a controversial decision at the time, but consumption of trans fats in the city has dropped dramatically because of the ban.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that removing trans fats from the U.S. food supply could prevent about 20,000 heart attacks a year and 7,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease. [...]

I think it's likely that processed food producers will comply. There's almost no good evidence -- or argument -- to support the continued use of trans fats. In fact, it's been reported that some manufacturers have voluntarily lowered the use of trans fats by almost 75% in the past eight years. Given these moves, it's not hard to imagine them going the rest of the distance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


This Impeccably Designed $20,000 House Could Soon Be Yours (Sydney Brownstone, 11/05/13, Co.Exiist)

Rural Studio started making the 20K house in 2005, keeping in mind the assumption that $20,000 was the total cost of housing someone living on Social Security could afford to pay in monthly mortgage installments. Since then, students have built 12 houses for their rural neighbors, with each design building off the knowledge and real-world experience of the last. The last 20K house built included passive heating and a safe-room in the shower, after the Moore tornado ripped through Oklahoma and killed 23 people earlier this year.

This fall, Rural Studio is hosting a fundraising competition to build eight more 20K houses, and beyond that, project manager McElroy is working with design firms to get student drawings up to the professional snuff needed to roll out a mass product. For its 20K City Challenge, Rural Studio is attempting to raise $160,000 by December 6, asking donors from different cities to compete to reach fundraising goals. The cities that are first to reach $20,000 and raise the most money will each have 20K houses named after their locales.

"We see the 20K house as a moral obligation," says Rural Studio director Andrew Freear, adding that free student labor and an unmatchable learning opportunity had created what was essentially a cheap, custom-tailored design service for Hale County.

"We also wanted to get serious," he adds. "In 2010 we said we could continue to be academics playing around with this as an idea, but what happens if the rubber meets the road? We said, let's start talking to bankers about this, let's start talking to builders about how they could be built."

But that's where the 20K house gets tricky. Its most desirable attribute also happens to be a bit of a curse. Unlike mobile homes, which, like cars, depreciate in value, the 20K houses have been appreciating sharply. The last 20K home they checked, McElroy tells me, was worth $42,000, after being built for $20,000 a little less than a year before.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


How Obama Blew the Entire Last Year (George E. Condon Jr., November 7, 2013, National Journal)

His troubles began less than 24 hours after his victory speech, when he learned that CIA Director David Petraeus was quitting because of an extramarital affair. Before the month was out, the Republican-led investigations into Benghazi gained steam, with the controversy claiming its biggest victim only five weeks after the election when Susan Rice withdrew her name from consideration for secretary of State.

While this was developing, Obama was engaged in fiscal-cliff battles with Republicans, securing a victory on higher taxes for the wealthiest Americans but allowing the GOP to lock in the bulk of the Bush-era tax cuts. And, as a backdrop to the Washington infighting, on the day after Rice's withdrawal, a gunman shocked the nation by killing 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

The new year brought more bad news for the president. Instead of going for immigration reform as his top legislative priority, he squandered much of his political capital on a doomed effort to enact gun restrictions. In March and April, House Republicans battered him on Benghazi. In May, he learned that the Internal Revenue Service had inappropriately monitored conservative groups, putting him on the defensive. At the same time, he came under fire for Justice Department investigations of journalists.

In June, Edward Snowden started leaking highly sensitive and embarrassing National Security Agency documents. By July, Snowden was demanding asylum in Russia, leading Obama to cancel a planned summit with Vladimir Putin at the precise time he was looking to the Russian president to bail him out of a no-win battle with Congress over Syria. It was also in June that the White House had to acknowledge that Syria had crossed Obama's "red line" and used chemical weapons. That led to a request to use military force that seemed doomed before Putin stepped in.

Obama's annus horribilis wasn't over, of course. Still to come was the badly botched rollout of the Affordable Care Act, a mess still awaiting a fix. The result, on the one-year anniversary of his reelection, is that Obama finds himself near a personal low point in his approval ratings.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


The GOP Is in Better Shape Than You Think : Independents favor the GOP on handling the economy by a whopping 46%-30% margin. (ANDREW KOHUT, Nov. 7, 2013, WSJ)

A mid-October Pew Research national poll found that a plurality regard the Republicans as "better able to deal with the economy" than the Democrats (44%-37%). Independents favored the GOP on the economy by a whopping 46%-30% margin in that survey.

The Republicans took most of the blame for the shutdown, yet a growing number see the GOP as "better able to manage the government." In December 2012, the Democratic Party held a 45%-36% advantage over the GOP as the party Americans viewed as better able to manage the government. By Oct. 15--in the midst of the shutdown and debt crisis--the Democratic lead on this measure disappeared: 42% said the Republican Party is better able to manage the federal government, compared with 39% who named the Democrats.

An early read of voter preferences for the House in 2014 by the Pew Research Center in mid-October had the Democrats with a six-point edge: 49% to 43% among registered voters. In historical terms, this is a relatively modest margin. Six points is the same lead the Democrats had in 2009, a lead that steadily eroded in 2010. The GOP picked up six Senate seats and 63 House seats in that year's midterm.

That's credit, not blame.

November 8, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 PM


School Reform Delivers (WSJ, Nov. 7, 2013)

Until very recently, Washington, D.C. was an example of public school failure. Then in 2009 former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee implemented more rigorous teacher evaluations that place a heavy emphasis on student learning. The district also tied pay to performance evaluations and eliminated tenure so that ineffective teachers could be fired.

Between 2010 and 2012, about 4% of D.C. teachers--and nearly all of those rated "ineffective"--were dismissed. About 30% of teachers rated "minimally effective" left on their own, likely because they didn't receive a pay bump and were warned that they could be removed within a year if they failed to shape up.

Clearing out the deadwood appears to have lifted scores. D.C. led the nation in student progress. Average reading scores jumped five points in the fourth grade and six in the eighth. The percentage of students scoring at or above "basic" in math rose by six points in both grade levels.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 PM


What shutdown? Job growth strong in October (Annalyn Kurtz, November 8, 2013, (CNNMoney)

What shutdown? Job growth unexpectedly surged in October, even as the federal government closed its doors for 16 days.

The U.S. economy added 204,000 jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was well above economists' expectations.

Plus, there was more good news about hiring during the late summer. Revisions showed an extra 60,000 jobs were created in August and September.

"The economy seems to be heating up faster than people think. It's incredibly impressive," said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist for TDAmeritrade.

Economists were expecting weak job growth due to uncertainties created by the budget battles in Washington. The federal government shut down on Oct. 1, after Congress failed to agree on a budget for fiscal 2014. The standoff lasted 16 days and left as many as 800,000 federal employees temporarily out of work.

But the Labor Department noted "there were no discernible impacts of the partial federal government shutdown" on the job growth numbers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Fascinating Hypothesis: The Whole Idea Of Species Doesn't Apply To Certain Organisms (Francie Diep, 11.08.2013, Popular Science)

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Shift on Defense Gives GOP Budget Leverage (PATRICK O'CONNOR, Nov. 7, 2013, WSJ)

As Congress girds for its next budget battle, the willingness of rank-and-file Republicans to cut the once-sacrosanct Pentagon budget is bolstering the negotiation position of GOP leaders.

Democrats in past years might have banked on the GOP to make concessions, such as agreeing to higher tax revenues or smaller cuts elsewhere in the budget, in order to protect military spending. But GOP leaders now are feeling less pressure to protect the Pentagon, which is due to take an additional $20 billion in cuts early next year under a set of spending reductions known as the sequester.

"There should be no illusion that the Department of Defense is immune from wasteful spending, fraud and mismanagement that costs taxpayer millions and billions of dollars," Sen. Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) said at a hearing last week to open formal budget talks between the House and Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Exclusive: Obama's Secret Iran Détente (Eli Lake, Josh Rogin Nov 8, 2013, Daily Beast)

Long before a nuclear deal was in reach, the U.S. was quietly lifting some of the financial pressure on Iran, a Daily Beast investigation reveals. How the sanctions were softened.
The Obama administration began softening sanctions on Iran after the election of Iran's new president in June, months before the current round of nuclear talks in Geneva or the historic phone call between the two leaders in September.

While those negotiations now appear on the verge of a breakthrough the key condition for Iran--relief from crippling sanctions--began quietly and modestly five months ago. 

A review of Treasury Department notices reveals that the U.S. government has all but stopped the financial blacklisting of entities and people that help Iran evade international sanctions since the election of its president, Hassan Rouhani, in June.

November 7, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 PM


Taxpayers near break-even point with Fannie, Freddie bailouts (Jim Puzzanghera, November 7, 2013, LA Times)

More than five years after the government seized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, taxpayers are close to breaking even on the controversial bailouts of the mortgage finance giants. [...]

"We are quickly approaching the point when taxpayers will receive a positive return on their investment in this company," Fannie Mae Chief Executive Tim Mayopoulos told reporters. "That's obviously very good news for taxpayers."

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM

60-40 NATION:

Defeat of School Tax Stings Colorado Democrats (JACK HEALY, 11/06/13, NY Times)

They had $10 million in contributions, a barrage of advertising and support from the usually warring factions of the educational establishment. But Democratic leaders in this swing state were dealt a stinging defeat on Tuesday as voters resoundingly rejected an effort to raise taxes by $1 billion a year to pay for a sweeping school overhaul.

The outcome, a warning to Democrats nationally, was a drubbing for teachers unions as well as wealthy philanthropists like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York and Bill and Melinda Gates, who pumped millions of dollars into the measure, and it offered a sharp rebuke to Gov. John W. Hickenlooper and the Democratically led legislature, who have recently tugged Colorado to the left with laws on gun control and clean energy. [...]

Had the referendum passed, the current flat state income tax rate of 4.6 percent would have been replaced with a two-tier system. Residents with taxable incomes below $75,000 would have paid 5 percent; taxable incomes above $75,000 would have been taxed at 5.9 percent. The measure would have poured money into poor, rural school districts, expanded preschool, bought new technology and encouraged local innovations like longer school days and school years, supporters said.

But the promise of higher teacher salaries and full-day kindergarten failed to resonate with voters, even in many reliably blue corners of the state and areas where the money would have had the greatest benefit. The state voted 65 percent to 35 percent against the overhaul, known as Amendment 66.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Meet the Pakistani Taliban's surprise new leader (Frances Weaver, 11/07/13, )

The Pakistani Taliban has been on the lookout for a new leader since the group's former head, Hakimullah Mehsud, was abruptly killed in a U.S. drone strike last week. Well, the Taliban has now found him: Mullah Fazlullah, the fiery mastermind behind last year's attack on schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, was announced as the group's new chief this morning.

No one will even pretend to mind when we hellfire him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Spring in the steps of Arab revolt (Ramzy Baroud, 11/07/13, Asaia Times)

Arab revolutions have not failed, at least not yet. It will take us years, or maybe even an entire generation to assess their failures or successes. They have "failed" according to our hyped expectations and erroneous understanding of history. What popular revolutions do is that they introduce new factors that challenge the way countries are ruled. 

In post-colonial Middle East, Arab countries were ruled through dictators - and their local associates - and foreign powers. The harmony and clashes between the dictator and the foreigner determined the course of events in most Arab countries - in fact in most post-colonial experiences around the world. 

This is where the real significance of the mass mobilizations in Arab countries becomes very important, for the "people" - a factor that is still far from having been fully defined - challenged the rules of the game and mixed up the cards. True, they sent the entire region into disarray, but it is the price one would expect to pay when powerful regimes and foreign powers are challenged by long-disempowered, disorganized and oppressed people. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Mehsud: A terrorist not a hero (Tahir Mahmood , 11/07/13, Asaia Times)

It is beyond any dispute for Pakistanis that Hakimullah Mehsud was a terrorist who was responsible for most of the acts of terrorism and the killings of thousands of innocent citizens in the past five years. The TTP does not accept the constitution of Pakistan and the legitimacy of its state organs. It didn't stop killing innocent people even after the recent initiation of a peace-dialogue process. The deaths of Christian worshippers in a Peshawar blast, the killing of civil servants in a bus blast in the same city, and many other terrorist acts took place in last two months after the process of talks was underway. 

Those showing outrage and sympathy at the death of terrorists were not so vocal when terrorists were brutally killing innocent people. It must be hurting the families of victims when a section of the news media and some leaders show support for the terrorists on one pretext or another. 

November 6, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


How 'smart' street lights save energy (Charles Kennedy,  November 5, 2013, CS Monitor)

The intelligent streetlight system, designed by  Dutch Delft University of Technology, using motion sensing technology that automatically dims streetlights to 20% power when no pedestrians or vehicles are in the vicinity--and the idea is ready to go commercial.

Europe pays over $13 billion a year powering streetlights, and this massive sum accounts for more than 40% of government energy bills. From another perspective, we're talking about 40 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, equal to that of 20 million cars. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Cleveland Fed Estimates of Inflation Expectations (Cleveland Fed, October 30, 2013)

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland reports that its latest estimate of 10-year expected inflation is 1.73 percent. In other words, the public currently expects the inflation rate to be less than 2 percent on average over the next decade.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Christie's strategy of wooing key Democrats pays off big ( CHARLES STILE, 11/05/13,

Christie's bold leadership during Superstorm Sandy, the shrewd marketing of his Jersey tough guy persona and several important legislative accomplishments are indeed important factors in the strong support for his reelection. But while the public was seeing all of that, Christie discreetly and methodically courted Democrats with every lever of power at his disposal. By the end, many of those Democrats would supply the manpower, money or simply the photo ops for his campaign.

Long before Buono entered a race that no other Democratic contender wanted to come near, Christie had already won the campaign. While the cameras and the social-media feeds and the political pundits focused on Christie's forceful personality, his often over-the-top comments and his welcoming embrace of President Obama after Sandy, Christie was planting the seeds for his own reelection, Demo­cratic mayor by Democratic mayor, Democratic boss by Democratic boss, Demo­cratic union leader by Democratic union leader. As the ancient Chinese military tome "The Art of War" noted, "Every battle is won before it is fought."

Christie won the unofficial support -- and admiration -- of George Norcross, the South Jersey insurance executive and the state's most powerful Democrat, by carrying out an overhaul of the state's higher education system that poured more money into that region. He wooed Democratic-allied construction unions by financing massive transportation projects and backing tax incentives for long-dormant mega-projects in Atlantic City and the Meadowlands. He used his clout to secure approvals for large Port Authority of New York and New Jersey projects in Democratic towns.

By the end of this campaign, Demo­crats not only endorsed Christie, they lavished him with praise, eager to demonstrate their fealty and well aware that the chances of intraparty punishment were nil. Union City Mayor Brian Stack, who is also a state senator, gave Christie a hero's welcome -- and a parade. Essex County Sheriff Armando Fontoura took the unusual step of vigorously defending Christie's debate performance.

And although Cory Booker formally endorsed Buono, Booker, the state's most popular Democrat, publicly praised Christie during a Newark supermarket groundbreaking. It was Booker's first public event after winning the U.S. Senate seat last month. Events with Buono would have to wait.

But Christie's early, old-school "outreach" worked to divide, conquer and dilute the power of the state's ruling Democrats. Despite the party's power on paper -- 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans and majority control of both houses of the Legislature -- Christie's strategy exploited its divisions and realized its vaunted machinery put power and self-preservation ahead of partisan loyalty.

Christie revived the transactional, political dynamic that vanished during the rocky tenure of Corzine, his predecessor. Legislators and mayors -- who care more about obtaining environmental permits and road project funding and financing for community clubhouses -- fumed at Corzine's clumsy deal-making and his CEO-like aloofness.

Christie recognized the post-Corzine hunger among the political class for a governor's office willing to listen and deal. It made many officials easy prey for Christie's entreaties.

"Jon Corzine continues to haunt the Democratic Party," said state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a Union County Democrat.

Christie reopened the governor's office, but with an implied "you're either with me or against me" ethos. Those who worked with him -- by keeping a low profile, voting for parts of his agenda or even endorsing his reelection -- could count on getting their phone calls returned and their needs addressed. Those who criticized risked being locked out.

For some Democrats, it was an easy decision. They saw no advantage in tangling with a governor whose popularity only seemed to soar with every attack on sewerage authority bureaucrats, teacher union leaders and the occasional mayor, like Atlantic City's Lorenzo Langford, one of the few big-city mayors who openly clashed with Christie.

"Mayors now feel they have a voice in Trenton," said one Democratic mayor, who declined to be identified for fear of alienating some intraparty allies. "Why did we want to change that?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 AM


Chris Christie Is Showing Conservatives How to Win (Ramesh Ponnuru, Nov 4, 2013, Bloomberg)

Another difference, though, is that Cuccinelli made his name as a conservative crusader, especially on social issues, where McDonnell made his as a bipartisan problem-solver. McDonnell's Democratic critics had to dig up a 20-year-old grad-school thesis he had written to make him look out of the mainstream; Cuccinelli's have more recent initiatives and statements to work with. Refusing to defend that record put Cuccinelli in the worst possible position.

He would probably have been better off restating his views while criticizing McAuliffe's own extremism. (McAuliffe refuses to say if he thinks partial-birth abortion should be legal, for instance.) That would have given conservatives more reason to come out to vote for Cuccinelli, and at the very least given moderates less reason to vote against him.

Cuccinelli may have hesitated because polls have shown him losing a significant number of votes to a third-party candidate running as a pro-choice libertarian. But even a lot of libertarian-leaning Republicans are willing to vote for pro-life candidates, as McDonnell's landslide proved.

Socially conservative positions on hot-button issues don't seem to be a deal-breaker even for the much more liberal voters of New Jersey. Christie has vetoed legislation to grant state recognition to same-sex marriage -- a judge later ordered it, though Christie briefly appealed -- and vetoed bills to fund Planned Parenthood five times.

He does not, however, seem obsessed by social issues: Democrats haven't gotten much mileage out of ads saying that his priorities are different from those of voters, as they have against Cuccinelli. Christie has also avoided taking unpopular socially conservative stands on issues that aren't live debates, and taken the occasional opportunity to soften his profile.

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 AM


Omissions Are Not Accidents : The life of Marianne Moore, whose legend grew as she winnowed complexity from her work. (Jennifer Szalai, November 2013, Slate Book Review)

More essential to Marianne was poetry, to which she demonstrated her devotion as both a writer and the editor of the legendary Modernist journal The Dial. For four years, until The Dial closed shop in 1929, Moore chose which poets and critics to publish, subjected them to her scrupulous edits (even though she would publicly maintain that it would be a "sacrilege to change or add even a comma"), and encouraged new talents like Hart Crane and Kenneth Burke. (Awaiting Moore's editorial decision, an anxious Crane grumbled to friends about "the Rt. Rev. Miss Mountjoy" and the "hysterical virgin.")

Moore had already established herself as a poet in her own right, though her work was only half-understood, even by her most admiring critics. They complimented her poems for their chilly intellect: "Emotion in her," as one critic put it, "is calcined to a thin ash." Moore disagreed. However much she valued precision, she also insisted her writing had a real "gusto." In "When I Buy Pictures," she described how "too stern an intellectual emphasis upon this quality or that detracts from one's enjoyment."

"When I Buy Pictures" is one of Moore's earlier poems, written long before Moore became America's public poet, the little old lady in the tricorne hat. Leavell sees a turning point around World War II, just after Moore had tried and failed to sell a novel--"a poet's novel," according to one gentle rejection letter--and started submitting her poetry to general-interest magazines like the Atlantic and The New Yorker. Those poems were rejected too. Moore might have been disappointed, but she told her brother that she understood why those magazines declined to publish her work: "Technical virtuosity is not the essential nourishment we need at this time." She herself started to write poems whose syntax was looser, the symbolism and import more readily apparent. A caged bird, for instance, "though he is captive,/ his mighty singing/ says, satisfaction is a lowly/ thing, how pure a thing is joy."

Leavell concedes that Moore's new poems still demanded what Pound called "mental attention," but "that attention is now rewarded with a meaning closer to what readers expect from poetry." In 1943 Moore published "In Distrust of Merits," a war poem whose heightened emotion and sincere use of "O"s garnered both admiration and condemnation. Helen Vendler simply called it a "bad poem" that was "monotonously anthologized because of its concurrence with popular sentiment." W.H. Auden, however, anointed it "the best of them all" and wrote about Nevertheless, the collection in which "In Distrust of Merits" appeared," for the New York Times Book Review, confessing the difficulty he had with her earlier work. He wanted to "assure" new readers that they, too, could learn to love her poetry as much as he did. Within three months, Nevertheless went into a third printing. 

November 5, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Iranian official calls for end to social media ban  (AP, 11/05/13) 

Iran's culture minister is urging authorities to unblock social media networks that are widely used by government figures but remain officially banned, the state news agency said Tuesday.

The appeal reflects another point of tension between the moderate-leaning government of President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's hard-liners. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Israel, Iran attended nuclear conference last month, sources confirm (TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF AND LAZAR BERMAN November 5, 2013, Times of Israel)

Diplomatic sources confirmed Tuesday that Israel and Iran attended an international conference two weeks ago in Switzerland to discuss the possibility of banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East, according to Reuters. [...]

Another diplomat characterized the talks as "quite constructive" and said another meeting is scheduled for later this month.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Bordentown School Backs Off Religious Christmas Song Ban (Dan Alexander, November 4, 2013 , NJ 101.5)

Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


India launches first mission to Mars (Katy Daigle, 11/05/13, Associated Press)

Officials at the space center described it as a "textbook launch." If the mission is successful, India will become only the fourth nation to visit the red planet after the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


U.K. town to deploy driverless pods to replace busses (Bob Yirka, 11/05/13,
Milton Keynes, a town north of London, has announced that it will be deploying 100 driverless pods (officially known as ULTra PRT transport pods) as a public transportation system. A similar system has been running for two years at Heathrow airport. The plan is to have the system up and running by 2015, with a full rollout by 2017. The move marks the first time that self-driving vehicles will be allowed to run on public roads in that country.

The pods look like very small metro rail cars, with sliding doors for exit and entry. Passengers can call (and pay £2 per trip) for a pod using their smartphone. The pods travel using rubber wheels on a special roadway, not a track, between curbs that help in guidance. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


Michael Oakeshott and Modern Conservatism (Peter Wehner, 11.05.2013 , Commentary)

In her 1975 essay (which is reprinted in this collection) on Oakeshott-one of the most respected intellectual spokesmen for 20th century British conservatism-the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb said the key word describing the conservative disposition was "enjoyment."

"The 'conservative disposition,'" Himmelfarb wrote, "the disposition to enjoy what is rather than pining for what might be, to appreciate the givens and the goods of life without wanting to subject them to social or political validation - that is a perfect description of his own temperament... Oakeshott's conservatism, like his temperament, is something of a rarity these days."

That is perhaps truer now than it has been in the past.

My impression is that among some on the right there is an increasing sense of around-the-clock agitation and desperation, which translates into shrillness and brittleness. One can sense, at least here and there, a spirit of ressentiment, or a "narrative of injury." It's the feeling that conservatives are a persecuted minority, combined with a growing rage and weariness with what they perceive to be the multiplying failures all around us.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


Obama Wants to Make Immigration Bill 'Easy' for House GOP (JARED A. FAVOLE , 11/05/13, WSJ)

President Barack Obama wants to overhaul the immigration system this year and said that while some House Republicans seem reluctant to support changes he wants to make the vote as easy as he can.

"It's my estimation that we actually have the votes to get comprehensive immigration reform done in the House right now," Mr. Obama said at a meeting with chief executives from McDonald's Corp., Blackstone Group LP and other companies. "The politics are challenging for the speaker and others, and we want to make it as easy for them as possible. This is not an issue where we're looking for a political win; this is one where we're looking for a substantive win."

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


Mega-money French giants Paris Saint-Germain sign commercial deal with McDonalds (Daily Mirror, 5 Nov 2013)

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


The Red Sox take back Boston (Hunter Felt, 11/05/13, Guardian)

It feels like only in Boston that a championship parade would count as a return to normalcy, a side effect of holding eight of them in the span of eleven years (across four sports). Long-time residents, or return visitors, had an idea of what to expect. The sidewalks well packed by early morning, well before the parade's 10am start time ( the estimated attendance was around one million, alleviating concerns that fear or anxiety would keep more fans away). Radio stations and other businesses distributed placards to the growing mass of fans for cheap but effective advertising. Day-drunk townies chugged liquor only nominally hidden in Gatorade containers or water bottles, using the day as an excuse to get wasted at 9am in the morning. The Dropkick Murphys, essentially Boston's house band at this point in their career, played a three-song set including, as is probably required by Massachusetts law, "I'm Shipping Off To Boston".

In fact, before the duckboats carrying Red Sox players, front office people and media members made its way to Boylston St, where bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, there were only a few hints that this parade was under much different circumstances than previous ones, most notably in how the police officers involved in the procession were applauded almost as much as some of the players. Nobody had forgotten how well law enforcement handled the aftermath of the bombings as well as the day-long manhunt for the surviving suspect. Considering the circumstances it was fitting that the enduring image from the Red Sox run featured Officer Steve Horgan raising his arms triumphantly in the bullpen at Fenway Park while the Detroit Tigers' Torii Hunter took a tumble in a failed attempt to rob David Ortiz's season-saving grand slam in the American League Championship Series. (Yes, he was involved with the festivities as well.)

The celebration took a serious turn when the duckboats carrying players and personnel stopped at Boylston, where outfielder Jonny Gomes placed the World Series trophy on the finish line as onlookers sang "God Bless America" and chanted "Boston Strong". Following this, World Series MVP David Ortiz, quite possibly the most beloved person in Boston, hopped off his duckboat to jog across the iconic yellow and blue line across from the library for his own homage to the marathon. Then it was time to complete the parade as the line of duckboats made its way through the rest of the city until the amphibious vehicles reached the Charles River.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM

Diwali: To celebrate the Hindu Festival of Lights, make kheer (Betty Hallock, November 4, 2013, LA Times) 

Diwali Indian-style rice pudding (kheer)

5 tablespoons basmati rice

8 cups milk

10 cardamom pods, slightly crushed

2 tablespoons sugar or honey to taste

1/3 cup slivered, blanched almonds

1 cup grated coconut, optional

1/2 cup raisins, optional

1 tablespoon ground cardamom

Wash the rice and combine it with the milk in a heavy-bottomed pan. Place the cardamom pods on a piece of cheesecloth and tie the ends of the cloth tightly together, fashioning a pouch. Toss the pouch into the milk. Bring the milk almost to a boil. Decrease the heat to medium-low and allow the milk to bubble -- but not bubble over -- stirring occasionally, until half the quantity remains, about 2 hours. (Don't be alarmed if it forms a crust at the top -- simply stir it into the milk.) Turn off the heat.

Remove the cardamom pouch and discard. Add the sugar, almonds, coconut and raisins, if using, to the milk. Mix well. Allow to cool, about 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture into a serving bowl. Sprinkle the cardamom on top, cover and refrigerate 2 hours. Serve chilled.

November 4, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Trial of Egypt's Morsi fraught with risks (Sarah El Deeb, November 01, 2013, AP)

Egypt's new military-backed government had hoped trying Mohammed Morsi would close the chapter on his presidency. Instead, the trial of the ousted Islamist president on charges of inciting murder, which begins Monday, is only compounding their troubles.

Morsi's supporters plan widespread protests on the day of the trial, threatening to disrupt the proceedings. Security concerns are so high that the venue for the trial has still not been formally announced, though it is expected to be held in a heavily secured police academy in Cairo.

Then there is the political risk of Morsi's anticipated first public appearance since the military deposed him on July 3 and locked him in secret detention, virtually incommunicado. Morsi will likely represent himself in the trial, the first time public figure to do so in the host of trials of politicians since autocrat Hosni Mubarak's ouster in 2011, Brotherhood lawyers say. He will use the platform to insist he is still the true president, question the trial's legitimacy and turn it into an indictment of the coup, further energizing his supporters in the street.

The military is on trial, not the Brotherhood.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Why are the rulers of Saudi Arabia losing their cool? : Every time the Gulf States' rulers justify their support for violent rebels in Syria or the military regime in Egypt by appealing to the unalienable right of peoples to basic rights and representative governance, they legitimize the Arab Spring in the eyes of their own peoples, too. (AHMED E. SOUAIAIA, 4 November 2013, Open Democracy)  

Together, the Arab Spring and Wikileaks revelations shook the Saudi rulers' confidence in preserving power inside their country and maintaining influence outside of it. But three events have pushed the ruling family of Saudi Arabia to take off the mask of moderation and show its true face. First, the rulers failed to convince the US administration to save Mubarak and later support the military regime. Second, the ruling family failed to goad the US, Britain, and France into launching air strikes to bomb the Syrian military despite agreeing to pay for the cost. Third, Saudi rulers have demonstrated alarm at the slow and measured rapprochement between Iran and the US. This third event is especially important for Saudi rulers because their animosity towards Iran is not about nuclear disarmament but about history and ideology.

Today, the ruling family governs Saudi Arabia the same way the Umayyads governed the Islamic world for nearly one hundred years during the seventh and eighth centuries. In 750 CE, the Abbasids launched a violent revolution that overthrew the Umayyads and killed every male of the ruling Umayyads (except one who escaped to Spain). The Saudis fear a repeat of history and they are committed to reducing Iran's status to a weak pariah state. That is a tall order given the resilience of governing institutions in Iran. [...]

It is not in the interest of Saudi Arabia to oppose a political solution and bet on armed groups. There is some indication that the same groups on which the Kingdom relies are also ideologically and dogmatically opposed to the form of governance practiced in Saudi Arabia. It is only a matter of time before the Kingdom faces the threat of terrorism it exports to Syria, Iraq, Libya, and other countries around the world at home. This fact is underscored by the rise in the number of armed attacks on security installations, churches, and public installations in Egypt despite the Saudi rulers' support for the military regime in that country. In other words, the Kingdom may have control over some Salafi groups, but not all of them. Equally important, even those groups currently under the Kingdom's control will not remain there should circumstances change, because their alliance is one of convenience.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Arab Spring was a true historical moment. It has profoundly changed the relationship between the masses and the rulers in the Arab world. The ruling family in Saudi Arabia thinks and hopes that the Arab Spring will not sprout in its land. It has. Trying to divert the course of the Arab Spring to other countries Saudi Arabia wishes to weaken (like Syria) or reverse course (as in Egypt) are short term attempts at a solution. In the end, every time the Gulf States' rulers justify their support for violent rebels in Syria or the military regime in Egypt by appealing to the unalienable right of peoples to basic rights and representative governance, they legitimize the Arab Spring in the eyes of their own peoples, too. When the ruling families excuse the use of crude violence to achieve the goals of the Arab Spring in Syria, they are in effect writing their own destiny: those who rule by the sword die by the sword. That too was the fate of the Umayyads.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


A great economist and euro-fan turns negative on the region (Shawn Tully, November 4, 2013, FORTUNE)

We're hearing a lot of talk these days about how Europe is staging a modest recovery that's sufficient to save the euro. So I was surprised when one of the top international economists of the past four decades, and a former euro-fan, told me that he's changed his view. "The chances are higher than ever that the what I call Teutonic Europe and Latin Europe will split into at least two currency zones," says Robert Aliber, now retired from the Booth  School of Business at the University of Chicago, where I was privileged to have him as a teacher many years ago.

Pay attention to Aliber, affectionately known by his initials "RZA" to his students. He predicted the disaster in Iceland in mid-2007, when the experts at the World Bank and IMF were still asleep. "Iceland was suffering from a very high level of indebtedness and very large trade deficits," recalls Aliber. "They got the money to pay the interest in the form of new loans." For his foresight in Iceland, Aliber won plaudits from Michel Lewis in his bestseller Boomerang.

Aliber cites two factors for his growing pessimism on the euro. The first is the EU's decision to keep Greece in the common currency at all costs. "That was a dreadful mistake," says Aliber. Greece, he says, was highly uncompetitive as a euro-member from its entry at the start of 2001. "Greece fudged the data to hide its problems in order to join the euro," says Aliber. "It used sham contracts to get lots of its debt officially off its books." He says that when the inevitable collapse began in early 2010, the EU should have forced Greece to exit, "So that its prices, which were set too high at the start because of the fudged data and only got higher, would be reset." A euro-escape would have made Greece's exports and tourist industry far more competitive, and avoided what Aliber calls "A situation resembling our Great Depression."

The second force is what he calls "the pattern of imbalances" between the northern "Teutonic" and southern, or "Latin," zones. Germany, Austria, Finland, and the Netherlands are all running big trade deficits by selling lots of cars and computers to their southern neighbors. France, Spain, Italy, and Portugal are running big trade deficits because their products are just too costly to compete with exports from the north. "The Latin trade deficits will not go away," says Aliber. "France's indebtedness will only increase. Germany has a vibrant export sector, France does not."

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


November 2013's Hottest Gadgets : The most efficient LED bulb and more (Amber Williams and additional reporting by Sarah Jacoby, 11/04/13, Popular Science)

Using only 12 watts, NanoLeaf produces 1,600 lumens, making it the most efficient LED lightbulb. Printed circuit boards provide both the bulb's circuitry and structure. And because the 33 LEDs draw so little energy, they also produce little heat, eliminating the need for a heat sink, so the bulb is lighter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Deflation risk may spur new ECB rate cut (Mark Thompson, November 4, 2013, CNNMoney)

Alarm bells are ringing again over the health of the European economy, after a surprising fall in inflation last month.

With eurozone unemployment stuck at record levels above 12% and the economy failing to generate momentum after emerging from recession earlier this year, some analysts are warning that the region is at risk of sinking into a Japanese-style era of deflation and stagnation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


The Chinese are anxious over the future (Fred Hiatt, November 3, 2013, Washington Post)

Traveling here last week after America's partial government shutdown and near-default, I expected to encounter a surge of confidence in China's inevitable, eventual emergence as the world's greatest power. That is not what I found. [...]

[W]hatever people's views of America, what is striking in many cases is their uncertainty and, at times, even pessimism about China's future. [...]

What I'm talking about is a deeper-seated anxiety about navigating the next stages of growth. In interviews and informal conversations organized for me and three other journalists by the Committee of 100, a U.S. nonprofit dedicated to U.S.-China mutual understanding, two themes emerged. "The easy part is over" was one. The second was: the next stages of economic reform will depend on political reform that the Communist Party may not be willing or able to deliver.

One result is that not only China's billionaires but also, increasingly, the new middle class is hedging bets, thinking about obtaining foreign passports and moving money abroad. The mirthless joke is that President Xi Jinping's inchoate slogan of "a Chinese dream" refers to getting your kids into an American university.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


US public investment falls to lowest level since war (Robin Harding, Richard McGregor and Gabriel Muller, 11/03/13, Financial Times)

Public investment in the US has hit its lowest level since demobilisation after the second world war because of Republican success in stymieing President Barack Obama's push for more spending on infrastructure, science and education.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


As Bush Settles Into Dallas, Golf Tees and Family Time Now Trump Politics (PETER BAKER, 11/02/13, NY Times)

When the executive director of former President George W. Bush's public policy institute decided to move on recently, he stopped by for an exit interview. Mr. Bush asked if he had anything in particular he wanted to talk about.

Nothing specific, said James K. Glassman, the departing director.

"O.K.," Mr. Bush replied, "I want to talk about painting."

After early self-portraits in the shower and then dozens of paintings of dogs and cats, Mr. Bush, it seems, has now moved on to world leaders. He told Mr. Glassman that he wanted to produce portraits of 19 foreign presidents and prime ministers he worked with during his time in the White House.

Nearly five years after leaving office, the nation's 43rd president lives a life of self-imposed exile in Texas, more interested in painting than politics, recovering from a heart scare, privately worried about the rise of the Tea Party, golfing with fervor, bicycling with wounded veterans and enjoying a modest revival in public opinion. While Bill Clinton criticizes Republicans on the campaign trail and Dick Cheney chastises the current administration on his book tour, Mr. Bush resolutely stays out of the public debate.

That his voice remains silent may be all the more striking given how much he seems at the center of the debate anyway. Some of the issues dominating Washington trace their roots to his time in power, including whether to use force to counter nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the Middle East and how to find the right balance between security and privacy when it comes to the surveillance state.

When the rollout of the federal health care exchange was botched, some looked to Mr. Bush's expansion of Medicare for lessons. When President Obama vowed to fix it, he promised a "tech surge," echoing the language used for Mr. Bush's second-term troop buildup in Iraq. And when Mr. Obama pushes lawmakers to overhaul the immigration system, he makes a point of noting that his predecessor supported it too.

But Mr. Bush seems to miss none of it. "He's moved on," said Mark K. Updegrove, the director of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, who has been interviewing him for a book on the two Bush presidents. "He's comfortable with the decisions he made. He doesn't obsess about his place in history."

November 3, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


Talk to Iran, It Works (RYAN C. CROCKER, 11/03/13, NY Times)

Immediately after 9/11, while serving in the State Department, I sat down with Iranian diplomats to discuss the next steps in Afghanistan. Back then, we had a common enemy, the Taliban and its Al Qaeda associates, and both governments thought it was worth exploring whether we could cooperate.

The Iranians were constructive, pragmatic and focused -- at one point they even produced an extremely valuable map showing the Taliban's troop strength and positions just before American military action began.

They were also strong proponents of taking action in Afghanistan. Iranian-American agreement at the 2001 Bonn conference on Afghanistan was central to establishing the Afghan Interim Authority. After I was sent to reopen the United States Embassy in Kabul, we forged agreements with Iran on various security issues and coordinated approaches to reconstruction. And then, suddenly, it all came to an end when President George W. Bush gave his famous "axis of evil" speech in early 2002. Iran's leaders concluded that despite their cooperation with the war effort, the United States remained implacably hostile.

Real cooperation effectively ceased after the speech, and the costs were immediate. At the time, we were in the process of negotiating the transfer of the notorious Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, from Iranian house arrest to Afghan custody and ultimately to American control. Instead, the Iranians facilitated his covert entry into Afghanistan, where he remains at large, launching attacks on coalition and Afghan targets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


'Ender's Game' Leads Weekend Ticket Sales With $28 Million (Ben Livesey & Zachary R. Mider, Nov 3, 2013, Bloomberg)

"Ender's Game," based on the science-fiction novel about a child warrior, topped U.S. and Canadian theaters this weekend, collecting $28 million for Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF) [...]

Social-media buzz for "Ender's Game" has been muted while statements from the book's author, Orson Scott Card, opposing gay marriage sparked calls for a boycott.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Jordan's king calls for reform as opposition simmers (JAMAL HALABY November 3, 2013, AP)

Abdullah told parliament's opening session that he will press ahead with plans to amend election laws the opposition says favor pro-palace candidates and overhaul a public sector widely seen as rife with corruption and nepotism.

The king called the reforms a "white revolution" -- a term royal aides say signifies a peaceful change rather than one of turmoil like those brought by the Arab Spring, which saw four regional leaders deposed in uprisings.

The plan, the king said, will restructure state agencies and improve the quality of education, health care and public transportation in a key US ally bordering Syria, Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

"Jordan is continuing its quest to develop a regional reform model that is home-grown and based on a clear roadmap with specific reform milestones," the king said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


'What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!' : a review of Robespierre edited by Colin Haydon and William Doyle  (Hilary Mantel, 3/30/00, London Review of Books)

In the National Assembly which evolved from the Estates, he was part of a tiny radical minority, but this did not bother him because he did not count in the ordinary way. He was always part of a greater majority: the People and Maximilien, Maximilien and the People. He quickly suspected that the heroes of '89, when in power, were merely old regime politicians with a different vocabulary. They spoke the language of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, while furthering their sectional interests. He tried to shame them into following the logic of their proclaimed principles; mostly, he failed. In the two years following the taking of the Bastille, he pursued an impeccably liberal and far-sighted agenda. He spoke for manhood suffrage and against a property qualification for voters; against slavery; in support of civil rights for Jews; against capital punishment; and against censorship.

The two latter principles, notoriously, would buckle under pressure. In the early years of the Revolution he let the radical press establish his credentials. From the spring of 1792 to the early summer of the following year he made a low-key venture into journalism, publishing a weekly paper, of comment rather than news. His distributor was in the cour du Commerce, on Marat's doorstep. It is hard to imagine him in that territory of inky little hacks, trading sneers and insults over each others' misprints. He had been, as Hugh Gough's essay says, 'consistent and tenacious' in defence of press freedom and had refused to take legal action over the many libels published against him, believing that public opinion would vindicate him. After the fall of the monarchy, the anti-censorship case had to give way; only a community of saints would have allowed the royalist press the opportunity to campaign for a restoration. In the spring of 1794, his childhood friend Camille Desmoulins would tell him that it was not vertu but freedom of thought that was the basis of a republic; but the offending issue of the Vieux Cordelier would not make it into print and the childhood friend would go to the scaffold. In this affair you can convict him of timidity, or of coldness of heart, rather than hypocrisy. It is unhelpful to read a man backwards. Robespierre's early commitment to press freedom was genuine, but did not extend to a press which, as he saw it, had been systematically corrupted. As Gough shows, the Committee of Public Safety, when Robespierre was a member, did not reintroduce the repressive censorship of the old regime nor anticipate that of the Directory; though perhaps it was want of capacity, rather than lack of will. By late 1793, Robespierre profoundly feared the press. A syllable, he felt, could sabotage his policy. For example, he had said: 'the republic, one and indivisible.' The press reported that he had said 'one and universal'; thus aligning him with distrusted cosmopolitan radicals. He did not think this was a mishearing, but a plot to trap him.

His personal history gave him no reason to believe that the world would let him have his say. He was, it is reported, frequently shouted down and silenced early in his parliamentary career. He had no presence, there were no crowd-pleasing mannerisms or orator's flourishes. Historians usually report that his speeches are arid. It is interesting, then, to read his speech against capital punishment, which is as fresh as if it had been made today. It is perfectly constructed, a brilliant fusion of logic and emotion: as much a work of art as a building or a piece of music could be. You can believe that, as Desmoulins reported, he could bring 800 men to their feet in a single moment. You could quibble over the head-count, but the power seemed to be real. It extended to the women of Paris, who attended the public galleries of the Jacobin Club. This worried his contemporaries. They thought he was taking some sneaky advantage. 'What a man this is, with his crowd of women around him!' said Rabaud Saint-Etienne. Condorcet, the champion of women's rights, sulked because he had got their attention.

The status which Robespierre achieved in the Revolution cannot be explained in traditional political terms. For most of his career he fought shy of office, and most of the parliamentary measures he proposed were rejected as too progressive. When he joined the Committee of Public Safety he did so in the quietest manner possible, simply replacing a member who had fallen ill. Soon after he joined the Committee, it began to accrete executive power, till it was the effective Government of France. Its proceedings were generally not minuted, so his role is often unclear. Is he speaking for himself, or for the Government? Whatever the source of his authority, he was undeniably effective. David Jordan's essay describes him as 'that rare being, an ideologue with exquisite political reflexes'. Part of the secret of his success, no doubt, was that initially he was underrated. He was cautious, and could bury himself in detail; these traits were thought the hallmarks of mediocrity. But he had a canny sense of timing and the kind of persistence that wore his opponents down; the weary Danton, at his trial, described him as 'above all, tenacious'. The Robespierre of 1793 is the patron saint of the formerly overlooked, one of the meek who are to inherit the earth. His moral authority held together under pressure of circumstance, and his reputation for probity often seemed the one constant when coalitions were fragile and the reading of events uncertain. He was an idealist who did not believe in losing. As Coleridge put it, 'Robespierre ... possessed a glowing ardour that still remembered the end, and a cool ferocity that never either overlooked or scrupled the means.'

In May 1793 he told the Convention: 'To fulfil your mission, you must do exactly the contrary of what existed before you.' Alan Forrest's essay on his part in war organisation shows him confronting the generals with unblinking radicalism. He had opposed a declaration of war by the French, which made him temporarily unpopular. But he knew that, in times of war, public liberty never increases. He was suspicious of soldiers in general, their outlook; they were oppressors by nature, he thought. He was sceptical of the notion that the French Army would spread freedom through Europe: 'who loves armed missionaries?' He suspected that the war was unwinnable, and that once it began it could not be limited. Victories might be more lethal than defeats; he saw a military dictatorship as the end of it, and of course he was right. But as Forrest shows, he became 'a war leader in spite of himself', his imagination and his willingness to tear up the rule book contributing to the high morale of the volunteers and helping to win the Republic's battles. Ideology reinforced strategy. The ambit of heroism was not narrowly defined; a woman who sent her son to the front was also a hero. The soldier was not a brute, but a citizen: not cannon-fodder but a free man whose intelligence must be addressed.

But it's not enough to win; you have to be right. The Revolution, he believed, must be justified at every step, and every Revolutionary action must be an expression of virtue. No cynic ever learns anything about Robespierre; unable to come to grips with 'virtue', he retires, baffled. There is a problem with the English word 'virtue'. It sounds pallid and Catholic. But vertu is not smugness or piety. It is strength, integrity and purity of intent. It assumes the benevolence of human nature towards itself. It is an active force that puts the public good before private interest. Its meaning is explored in Patrice Higonnet's Goodness beyond Virtue (1998), which is an extraordinary manual of practical Jacobinism. Higonnet has not much time for Robespierre, who, he says, 'probably died a virgin' (not that historians ever gossip, of course). But his book shows the day-to-day vitality, during the Revolution, of ideas which had a venerable pedigree, but which had been presumed to be entirely theoretical. Robespierre thought that, if you could imagine a better society, you could create it. He needed a corps of moral giants at his back, but found himself leading a gang of squabbling moral pygmies.

This is how Virtue led to Terror. Virtue and Terror became inseparable, a single Janus-faced god who guarded the gate to a better world. Was the violence of 1793-94 just the product of circumstances, forced on an unwilling Government panicked by war, civil war and sabotage? Or was it somehow the logical outcome of everything that had gone before? By late 1793 there was a rotten substructure to the Revolution, a web of crooked Army contracts, stockmarket frauds and forgeries, and a capital full of spies and foreign persons of, as Robespierre saw it, dubious worth and allegiance; all information which came to the Government was suspect at source. Also, it was clear that the Sovereign People did not always act in its own best interests. It seemed, from the actions of looters and strikers, that it was given to short-term thinking. Robespierre tried to forge an inner consistency, clinging to the idea of a virtuous people misled by corrupt and factious politicians, by enemies who were masked and veiled. If the Revolution didn't have moral force behind it, it was merely a series of self-serving crimes. Danton had laughed at the idea of virtue; he was therefore not fit to govern. After the courtroom battle with the Dantonists, Robespierre began to fear that the trial process was itself anti-patriotic, criminal, dangerous: the existing law bred crime, if it protected the enemies of the people. Four years of polemics had failed to save the patrie, which was a spiritual, rather than a temporal space; the battle for territory was less important than the battle for the imagination. From now on, there were to be no trials, in the old meaning of the word. The enemy could be judged by his actions, not by a hypocritical form of words he might wield in his defence. There were to be no more arguments, only justice, as swift as death on the field.

On the other hand, consider Russell Kirk's "The conservative is a person who endeavors to conserve the best in our traditions and our institutions, reconciling that best with necessary reform from time to time."

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


What America Can Learn from the Faroe Islands about Social Security Reform (Daniel J. Mitchell, Nov 03, 2013, Townhall)

The current government of the Faroe Islands, which includes the People's Party, has modernized its Social Security regime with a system of personal retirement accounts. Starting next January, workers will begin setting aside some of their income to finance a comfortable retirement income. When fully implemented, workers will be putting 15 percent of their income in their accounts, creating a system that's even larger than the private retirement models in Australia andChile.

So why did Faroese politicians take this step? Well, unlike politicians in most nations, they looked at the long-run data, saw that they had an aging population, realized that a tax-and-transfer scheme no longer could work, and decided to reform now instead of waiting for the old system to collapse.

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Upper Valley NH Brew Pubs : Travelers on I-89 have two great options for food and local beer (ADAM JACKSON, New Hampshire Magazine)

Seven Barrel Brewery

In West Lebanon, where I-89 and I-91 meet, there's a brewery that was founded 19 years ago by craft beer pioneer, Greg Noonan, called Seven Barrel Brewery. The name is derived from the size of each batch of beer that's brewed by their current brewmaster, Tony Lubold, who previously brewed at the now out-of-business Catamount Brewery in Vermont. With over 50 unique beers and five year-round standards, any beer lover is guaranteed to find something on tap to quench his or her thirst.

The Seven Barrel Brewery doesn't bottle any beer but you can get 64-ounce reusable growlers to go and a pint of beer is $4.50. The Red #7 Amber Ale is the top seller but regular patrons each have their favorite of the year-round ales and lagers brewed here. A new addition to this brewery is its "Conan the Destroyer" series of big beers that are generally high ABV, move malty and pack a palate punch above the standard brews. The Conan Double Red is intense with a huge lingering malt profile that is not easily forgotten.

While the food can be considered standard compared to most restaurants, it is far better than food served at other local brewpubs. The burger was juicy and well made and paired very well with the ESB and Oatmeal Stout. The brewmaster at Seven Barrel was clear on his brewing mantra, which is to brew consistently high quality beers that people love. [...]

Flying Goose Brew Pub & Grill

There aren't many breweries that grow their own hops, but the Flying Goose in New London has hop vines reaching 15 feet into the air. The hops then go into batches of beer, which are served just a few yards from where hops were originally harvested. This small brewpub also offsets half of their energy costs with the use of solar panels. It's always great to see breweries that make the most of the land and what Mother Nature has to offer - you can taste this care and attention to detail in their diverse lineup of beers.

The location couldn't be better. Anyone heading north on I-89 will pass New London on the way to Dartmouth College. After exiting, it's a mile before you reach the brewery. They take a family-friendly approach where patrons can choose to sit in a quiet restaurant with sweeping views of the mountains nearby, or in an area where the bar is pouring hand-made beers.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Khamenei warns hard-liners against criticizing nuclear negotiators (Nasser Karimi, 11/03/13, Associated Press)

Iran's Supreme Leader warned Sunday against undermining negotiators engaged in talks with the West, a message directed apparently at hard-liners who have criticized Iran's diplomacy over its nuclear program.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Global warming 'pause' may last for 20 more years and Arctic sea ice has already started to recover (DAVID ROSE, 2 November 2013, Daily Mail)

The 17-year pause in global warming is likely to last into the 2030s and the Arctic sea ice has already started to recover, according to new research.

A paper in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Dynamics - by Professor Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Dr Marcia Wyatt - amounts to a stunning challenge to climate science orthodoxy. 

Not only does it explain the unexpected pause, it suggests that the scientific majority - whose views are represented by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - have underestimated the role of natural cycles and exaggerated that of greenhouse gases. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


In Praise of Art Forgeries (BLAKE GOPNIK, 11/03/13, NY Times)

IN Queens, a guy working in his garage churned out "Pollocks" and "Rothkos" that fooled the experts, sold for millions of dollars and helped destroy the Knoedler & Company gallery, as we learned in recent months. In China, thousands of artisans have forged the country's artistic treasures, both ancient and modern, according to a report in The New York Times.

Our first instinct is to marvel at the forgers' skill and lament their misdeeds. But while forgery is very clearly an economic crime, it may not always be an artistic or aesthetic one. Forgers can even be an art lover's friend.

Sometimes, they give us works that great artists simply didn't get around to making. If a fake is good enough to fool experts, then it's good enough to give the rest of us pleasure, even insight.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Dear President Obama, This Is Why Judges Matter : Two Bush appointees deliver body blows to reproductive rights--and demonstrate the power of the bench.
 (Emily Bazelon and Dahlia Lithwick, 11/02/13, Slate)

It's been a day of body blows for reproductive rights. On Thursday night, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit reversed a lower court's decision to temporarily block a provision of the omnibus Texas abortion law that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The appeals court found that it's constitutionally OK for the requirement to trigger the closure of fully one-third of the reproductive health clinics in the state, because the Supreme Court has found that "the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it." The ruling will be catastrophic, measured in access for women to a procedure they have the constitutional right to obtain. The decision was written by Judge Priscilla R. Owen, a George W. Bush appointee, and joined by two other judges who are women--oh how the right is crowing--and also Bush appointees. [...]

On Friday, morning, it was the turn of another extremely conservative woman chosen for the bench by Bush, Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Brown handed down a similarly dramatic decision holding that the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires companies to provide health care coverage that includes contraception "trammels" the religious freedom of an Ohio-based food service company, Freshway Foods, which claimed that the mandate violated its Catholic faith. This is a company we are talking about, not its owners. But following headlong in the wake of the Supreme Court's wrongheaded finding in Citizens United that corporations are people, too, Brown found that the mandate violates the company's strongly held religious convictions. To make the company provide a health care plan--from an outside insurer--that offers contraceptive coverage is a "compel[led] affirmation of a repugnant belief," Brown wrote. The argument that a for-profit secular company has a religious conscience--separate and apart from the religious beliefs of its owners--is a notion that vaults the concept of personhood from the silly ("corporations are people, my friend") to the sublime (also they pray).

It's hard to overstate how radical these two decisions are. 

Nor how radical the American people are.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Kasich wants able-bodied adults to work for food stamps (Catherine Candisky, 9/07/13, The Columbus Dispatch)

Gov. John Kasich's administration will limit food stamps for more than 130,000 adults in all but a few economically depressed areas starting Jan. 1.

To qualify for benefits, able-bodied adults without children will be required to spend at least 20 hours a week working, training for a job, volunteering or performing a similar type of activity unless they live in one of 16 counties exempt because of high unemployment. [...]

More than 100,000 Ohioans have lost cash assistance since the beginning of 2011 as part of the federal crackdown on work requirements.

"We don't have nearly enough places for 15,000 people" to work, said Lance Porter, spokesman for the Franklin County Department of Job and Family Services.

To begin with, there are 56 Catholic churches in Franklin County.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


A global cooling consensus (Lawrence Solomon, 31/10/13, Financial Post)

Now an increasing number of scientists are swinging back to the thinking of the 1960s and 1970s. The global cooling hypothesis may have been right after all, they say. Earth may be entering a new Little Ice Age.

"Real risk of a Maunder Minimum 'Little Ice Age,'" announced the BBC this week, in reporting startling findings by Professor Mike Lockwood of Reading University. "Professor Lockwood believes solar activity is now falling more rapidly than at any time in the last 10,000 years [raising the risk of a new Little Ice Age] from less than 10% just a few years ago to 25-30%," explained Paul Hudson, the BBC's climate correspondent. If Earth is spared a new Little Ice Age, a severe cooling as "occurred in the early 1800s, which also had its fair share of cold winters and poor summers, is, according to him, 'more likely than not' to happen."

...shouldn't its advocates be recommending that we radically increase carbon emissions?

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 AM

WHEN YOU HIRE A JD INSTEAD OF AN MBA: How political fear was pitted against technical needs (Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin, November 2, 2013, Washington Post)

In May 2010, two months after the Affordable Care Act squeaked through Congress, President Obama's top economic aides were getting worried. Larry Summers, director of the White House's National Economic Council, and Peter Orzag, head of the Office of Management and Budget, had just received a pointed four-page memo from a trusted outside health adviser. It warned that no one in the administration was "up to the task" of overseeing the construction of an insurance exchange and other intricacies of translating the 2,000-page statute into reality.

Summers, Orzag and their staffs agreed. For weeks that spring, a tug of war played out inside the White House, according to five people familiar with the episode. On one side, members of the economic team and Obama health-care adviser Zeke Emanuel lobbied for the president to appoint an outside health reform "czar" with expertise in business, insurance and technology. On the other, the president's top health aides -- who had shepherded the legislation through its tortuous path on Capitol Hill and knew its every detail -- argued that they could handle the job.

In the end, the economic team never had a chance: The president had already made up his mind, according to a White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid. Obama wanted his health policy team -- led by Nancy-Ann De­Parle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform -- to be in charge of the law's arduous implementation. Since the day the bill became law, the official said, the president believed that "if you were to design a person in the lab to implement health care, it would be Nancy-Ann."

Three and a half years later, such insularity -- in that decision and others that would follow -- has emerged as a central factor in the disastrous rollout of the new federal health insurance marketplace, casting doubt on the administration's capacity to carry out such a complex undertaking.

"They were running the biggest start-up in the world, and they didn't have anyone who had run a start-up, or even run a business," said David Cutler, a Harvard professor and health adviser to Obama's 2008 campaign, who was not the individual who provided the memo to The Washington Post but confirmed he was the author. "It's very hard to think of a situation where the people best at getting legislation passed are best at implementing it. They are a different set of skills."

November 2, 2013

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Court Rules Contraception Mandate Infringes on Religious Freedom (SARAH WHEATON, November 1, 2013, NY Times)

A federal court on Friday ruled that the health care law's mandate that employers provide free coverage for contraception infringed on individual religious liberty.

The case, Gilardi v. the Department of Health and Human Services, was the latest setback for the Obama administration as it struggles to fix the crippled insurance enrollment website, However, the fight over the mandate long preceded the law's enactment and will most likely go to the Supreme Court.

The mandate "trammels the right of free exercise," Judge Janice Rogers Brown wrote for a divided three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The ruling was largely in line with most others around the country so far. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


10 alternatives to the gasoline-powered engine (Fortune, 11/02/13)

Fuel-Cell Revolution: Can Toyota Save the Electric Car? (Christian Wüst, 11/02/13, Der Spiegel)

Soon there will be an electric car on the market that, believe it or not, works like a normal car. It will have a range of 600 kilometers (375 miles). Recharging it will take minutes, not hours. In fact, it won't even require an electrical outlet, because its fuel is hydrogen and it makes its own electricity. And, just as surprising, this car isn't the product of some bold startup company trying to secure venture capital -- but of the world's largest automaker.

Electric power without lines (Hundreds of companies are investing in electricity transferred through magnetic fields. How will it work, and will it replace wires? (Brian Dumaine, 11/01/13, Fortune)

[W]ireless electricity is finally gaining some traction. More than one hundred companies including startups such as WiTricity and ProxybyPower and giants such as Toyota (TM), Intel (INTC), Samsung, and Foxconn are investing in the technology. The challenge: to take the wires out of the power equation by transmitting electricity through magnetic fields.
When in the atmosphere, electricity exists as a magnetic field. The trick is to capture it safely to recharge devices. Today's electric toothbrushes charge wirelessly -- as power is transmitted through a magnetic field from the charger to the brush. You can already buy wireless recharging pads: Place your cellphone on a pad that's plugged into the wall, and it will recharge. These pads, however, have their limitations -- the cellphone has to be in the right position, and it can take a long time. A New Zealand company called PowerbyProxy has demonstrated a system where you can put multiple cellphones on a pad in any position, and it will charge the devices as fast as a traditional charger. Samsung last month invested $4 million in the company.

The next step: charging without being so tied to a pad. That's the technology a Watertown, Mass., company named WiTricity is developing. Based on work done at MIT, the technology -- on which the company holds exclusive patents -- uses magnetic resonance to move power through the air -- which means electricity can be moved farther distances without a wire. The way it works: Two devices resonate at the same frequency so that the magnetic waves can travel very precisely from one point to another. Plug a resonator into a wall outlet, and a device installed on a cellphone or an electric car receives the power and starts recharging. WiTricity says its system can move an impressive 3,300 watts -- enough to charge an electric car -- with little efficiency loss. Says Eric Giler, the CEO of WiTricity: "We all love electricity and are willing to do almost anything to get it. It will be the last thing to go wireless, but it will go wireless."

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Games with Orson : The politically correct denunciation of a movie and a novelist  (John J. Miller, 11/11/13, National Review)

Now the modern-day news herd has descended on Card himself, as the movie version of Ender's Game, with its production budget of more than $110 million, prepares to reach theaters on November 1. Many left-of-center pundits dismiss Card as a social pariah -- a gay-bashing bigot and possibly even a racist -- simply because he is a Mormon who has had the gall to oppose same-sex marriage. "Card's views are ugly," complained Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post in a column about calls to boycott the movie on account of the author of the novel it's based on. Petri came down on the side of seeing the film -- see it despite the "visible intolerance" of Card, she said -- but others are less certain. Many are doing their best to creep out moviegoers: David Weigel of Slate even compared Card to George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi party. It's as if Ender's Game were the new Triumph of the Will.

The book was the assigned summer read for Hanover High School.  If the Left can't control academic towns they've really lost.
Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Gas prices hit new low for 2013. Who's paying under $3? (David J. Unger, November 2, 2013, CS Monitor)

The combination of dwindling gas demand and ample stocks have pushed average gas prices to the lowest level since Dec. 27, 2012, according to AAA, the national motor club based in Heathrow, Fla. Prices are expected to continue to fall this year, approaching the $3 mark. In many places across the US, drivers are already paying less than $3 a gallon to fill up their gas tank.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Expert: US could emulate Israel health management (David Shamah, 10/27/13, Times of Israel)

Vetter was at the conference in order to share information with Israeli companies and health funds on a number of issues, especially electronic records and data analytics -- areas, she says, Israel excels in. "One of the big advantages in the system here is that each patient has an electronic record that travels with them between doctors, clinics, and hospitals. That's an objective the US is slowly but surely trying to implement as well, because it makes so much economic sense."

Over the past few years, the United States has been encouraging doctors, hospitals, and health maintenance organizations to adopt electronic records for their patients. Besides saving money on record-keeping in the long term (though the startup costs for an electronic system can be high), electronic health records, which can be transmitted automatically between a doctor's office and a hospital, or even to an ambulance or a doctor in the field, can save lives. By enabling caregivers to have immediate and up-to-date access about a patient's health status and history, more efficient treatment can be provided, answering crucial questions, such as whether a patient is allergic to a certain drug, that in the past could have delayed treatment.

Israel is a world center of development for medical devices and, increasingly, for electronic health applications, and several start-ups that develop apps for e-health presented their technologies at the show. One good example is an all-in-one device developed by Israeli start-up Tyto Health Care that can gather information straight from a patient's mouth and throat, eyes, ears, heart, lungs, and skin. The device includes a camera and microphone, which are used to take measurements -- for example, the device listens to the heart's rate and rhythm -- with the results uploaded to a doctor or health management organization, where it is analyzed and added to the patient's health record.

Digital health is a very new area, and most of the apps available are not as sophisticated as Vetter would like. But many show great promise. "There are many great apps under development, but they need to integrate the information they gather into a single environment, part of the health portal these records can be used for," Vetter said. "I am looking forward to an environment where if the records determine that you have a specific condition, say diabetes, it will be able to suggest apps that can help manage that situation."

Giving patients control over the information in their health history is another great advantage of electronic records; by giving patients, as well as caregivers, access to their whole health record, they will be able to more easily develop methods to manage medical conditions. Indeed, EMC was  the first employer to offer US employees and family members a personalized environment and a personal electronic health record, automatically populated through the exchange of medical claims data and other sources of information such as prescription drugs, vision services, disability, workers compensation, and lab results.

Israel, said Vetter, has a very sophisticated electronic records system. "I think we can lean a lot about electronic infrastructure and information technology in health care from Israel," said Vetter. "Everyone here raves about the system, and I can see why." that better and more ubiquitous electronic monitoring is going to demonstrate how healthy they are. It takes human interaction to get you a sick note.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Development's Democratic Drivers (Jeffrey Gedmin, Oct. 29, 2013, Project Syndicate)

There is a wealth of literature describing the various factors that determine prosperity. In their widely discussed 2012 book Why Nations Fail, the economist Daron Acemoglu and the political scientist James A. Robinson emphasize the importance of inclusive political and economic institutions. According to the economist Angus Deaton's new book The Great Escape, health is a key.

The just-released Legatum Prosperity Index points to another fundamental condition for success: good governance and the rule of law. As Program Director Nathan Gamester puts it, "It pays to be a democracy." Indeed, as it stands, 27 of the world's top 30 most prosperous countries are democracies. This is not true of the bottom 30.

Consider the development disparities in Africa. Countries like Botswana that have accountable governments, respect for the rule of law, established property rights, and independent judiciaries fare far better than their counterparts. But most countries on the continent fall into the "counterpart" category, with 24 of the bottom 30 countries in the Prosperity Index located in sub-Saharan Africa.

Most of these countries suffer a significant "democratic deficit." In Equatorial Guinea, for example, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in power since 1979, making him Africa's longest-serving ruler. In just over three decades, his regime has managed to turn a tiny, oil-rich country into a development disaster. The vast majority of Equatorial Guineans have severely limited access to clean water, education, and health care. And the country has one of the world's highest child-mortality rates, with one out of every five children dying before their fifth birthday.

Despite such examples - of which there are plenty - there is a school of thought that argues that the clumsy inclusiveness of the democratic process impedes economic development. Of course, it is true that democracy is not always efficient - just ask Americans, whose government was recently shut down for 16 days and nearly defaulted on its debt as a result of partisan policy disagreements. But democratic systems based on good governance and the rule of law are more conducive to prosperity than any of the alternatives.

China's unprecedented economic rise, which has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the last three decades, was a result of economic decentralization and freer, more competitive markets - not clever government planning, as some like to claim. China's future will almost certainly be characterized by more democracy and a strengthening of the rule of law - the country's emerging middle class will see to that. This shift will prove vital to consolidating and building upon economic gains.

Similarly, in Latin America, the consolidation of democratic government over the last three decades has progressed in lock-step with economic development. Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay all have positive stories to tell in this year's Prosperity Index.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


In Reversal, Court Allows Texas Law on Abortion (ERIK ECKHOLM, 11/02/13, NY Times)

In blocking the requirement on Monday, Judge Lee Yeakel of United States District Court in Austin accepted the argument of the clinics, and many doctors and national medical associations, that requiring admitting privileges had no bearing on safety because in the rare event of an emergency, patients will be rushed to the nearest hospital and treated the same way regardless.

The requirement is likely to be unconstitutional, he declared, because it is "without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion."

But the appeals panel found just the opposite: that the rule is likely to be constitutional because it serves a legitimate state interest in regulating doctors and does not impose an "undue burden" on the right to abortion.

The appeals court said that the admitting privilege rule might "increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions."

But it cited a Supreme Court statement in an earlier abortion case that if a regulation serves a valid purpose, the fact that it has "the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it."

In Texas and other states, especially in smaller cities and rural areas, abortion clinics often use visiting doctors who may be highly qualified but do not meet the rules of local hospitals for admitting privileges. Many hospitals, for example, grant privileges only to doctors who admit a certain number of patients a year, while emergency hospitalizations after abortions are rare.

Some hospitals are unwilling to make formal arrangements with abortion providers because of religious reasons or because they fear protests.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Meet the "zonkey": Rare zebra-donkey hybrid draws crowds in Italy (AFP, NOVEMBER 02, 2013)

An act of love between Martin the zebra and Giada the donkey in the romantic Italian city of Florence has produced a rare "zonkey" baby that is drawing crowds to an exotic animal shelter.

And they wonder why no one believes in Darwin?

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


The Saudis Are Mad? Tough! : Why we shouldn't care that the world's most irresponsible country is displeased at the U.S. (Fareed Zakaria, Nov. 11, 2013, Time)

If there were a prize for Most Irresponsible Foreign Policy it would surely be awarded to Saudi Arabia. It is the nation most responsible for the rise of Islamic radicalism and militancy around the world. Over the past four decades, the kingdom's immense oil wealth has been used to underwrite the export of an extreme, intolerant and violent version of Islam preached by its Wahhabi clerics.

Go anywhere in the world--from Germany to Indonesia--and you'll find Islamic centers flush with Saudi money, spouting intolerance and hate. In 2007, Stuart Levey, then a top Treasury official, told ABC News, "If I could snap my fingers and cut off the funding from one country, it would be Saudi Arabia." When confronted with the evidence, Saudi officials often claim these funds flow from private individuals and foundations and the government has no control over them. But many of the foundations were set up by the government or key members of the royal family, and none could operate in defiance of national policy; the country is an absolute monarchy. In a December 2009 cable, leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that Saudi Arabia remained a "critical financial base" for terrorism and that Riyadh "has taken only limited action" to stop the flow of funds to the Taliban and other such groups.

Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries in the world to recognize and support the Taliban-led government in Afghanistan until the 9/11 attacks. It is also a major player in Pakistan, now home to most of the world's deadliest terrorists. The country's former Law Minister Iqbal Haider told Deutsche Welle, the German news agency, in August 2012, "Whether they are the Taliban or Lashkar-e-Taiba, their ideology is Saudi Wahhabi without an iota of doubt." He added that there was no doubt Saudi Arabia was supporting Wahhabi groups throughout his country.

Ever since al-Qaeda attacked Riyadh directly in 2003, the Saudis have stamped down on terrorism at home. But they have not ended support for Wahhabi clerics, centers, madrasahs and militants abroad. 

The war ends physically on the Afghan/Pakistan borders, but intellectually with the Reform of Sunni Islam.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


THE DUTCH RETHINK THE WELFARE STATE (Nima Sanandaji 11/02/2013, New Geography)

During the beginning of the 1980s the Netherlands ranked as a top spender in terms of welfare policy. Whilst the US and the UK allocated some 22 and 27 percent respectively of GDP to welfare spending, the Netherlands spent fully 40 percent - the same level as the famously generous Swedish public system.  But since then the pattern has been to reduce the welfare state. Indeed as most OECD-countries public spending rose significantly from the 1980s a  report from the OECD notes that the Netherlands, alongside Ireland, gradually scaled theirs down. A combination of economic growth, tightening of welfare state generosity and privatization of sick-pay led to a decline in public social spending in these two countries. In 1980 public social spending was 25 percent of GDP in the Netherlands, much higher than the OECD-average of 16 percent.

In the beginning of the 2000s the average OECD-country had expanded its welfare state, so that public social expenditure had reached 21 percent of GDP - whilst the Netherlands had reduced its share to the same level. According to another study, benefit expenditure was reduced from 27 to 22 percent of GDP in the Netherland between 1980 and 2001, compared to the EU15 average which rose from 21 to 24 percent during the same period.

Although the Netherlands does not lie in Scandinavia, there are significant similarities between this advanced European nation and the Nordic countries. The similarities go beyond the fact that the Dutch are tall and blond, and live in a small trade-dependent nation. Shared cultural traits and political beliefs can explain why the Dutch adapted similar welfare policies as the Nordic nations. Similarly to as in Denmark and Sweden, the Netherlands has with time reformed its system, for example by introducing legislation which increases employer's responsibility for the provision of sickness benefits. In some ways the Dutch have been even keener to reform than the Nordic countries.

Privatisation of social security and a shift from welfare to workfare have been coupled with the introduction of elaborate markets in the provision of health care and social protection. Not only other European welfare states, but in some regards even the US, can learn much from the Dutch policies of combining a universally compulsory Social health insurance scheme with market mechanisms. Netherlands has, similarly to Denmark, moved towards a "flexicurity" system where labour market regulations have been significantly liberalized within the frame of the welfare system. Taxes in the country peaked at 46 percent of GDP in the late 1980s, but have since fallen to ca. 38-39 percent. The Netherlands has moved from being a country with a large to a medium-sized welfare system, something that still cannot yet be said about culturally and politically similar Sweden and Denmark. The Dutch seem to have been earlier than their Nordic cousins in realizing that overly generous welfare systems and high taxes led to not only sluggish economic growth, but also exclusion of large groups from the labour market.