August 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


Peter Lorre: a great screen actor remembered (Philip French, 8/30/14, The Observer)

Born László Löwenstein in Rosenberg, Hungary, in 1904, Lorre grew up in Vienna where he left school to work as a bank clerk by day and to act at night in a theatre company that combined improvisation with Freudian therapy. The manager, probably inspired by Struwwelpeter, the shockheaded hero of a popular 19th-century children's book, gave him the name Peter Lorre. This was not inappropriate, because at 5ft 3in and with unruly hair and a face that was a series of circles (infinitely expressive saucer-like eyes, a round face, a neck that would often disappear) he cut something less than a stellar figure. Graham Greene, who thought him a genius, wrote in 1936 of his performance in Mad Love: "Those marble pupils in the pasty spherical head are like the eye-pieces of a microscope through which you can watch the tangled mind laid flat on the slide."

Within three years of settling in Berlin, Lorre was considered the capital's most exciting actor, acclaimed by Bertolt Brecht as the greatest exponent of his work. An essential figure in creating the playwright's concept of epic theatre, he was capable of miming with his body the opposite of what he was expressing in words. In M (1931), one of the first German sound films, Fritz Lang entrusted him with the demanding part of a sympathetic child murderer and later described Lorre's performance as "one of the best in film history and certainly the best in his life". M uncannily anticipates the coming of the Nazis, as the police and the underworld unite to pursue the hapless killer. It not only made Lorre world-famous but also trapped him for ever within a screen persona. Whatever he brought to subsequent roles by way of humour, pathos, pain and human kindness failed to conceal an insistent membrane of threat and danger.

August 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


PA to pay Hamas staff 'as soon as possible' (AFP, August 31, 2014)

 The Palestinian Authority will pay its employees' August salaries on time and Hamas civil servants in Gaza "as soon as possible," a spokesman for the unity government said Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Obama: Bush-Cheney 'Security Apparatus' Makes Us 'Pretty Safe' (DANIEL HALPER, 8/30/14, Weekly Standard)

"I don't have to tell you, anybody who has been watching TV this summer, it seems like it is just wave after wave ofupheaval, most of it surrounding the Middle East.  You're seeing a change in the order in the Middle East.  But the old order is having a tough time holding together and the new order has yet to be born, and in the interim, it's scary."

Then he told the Democratic donors not to worry because measures put in place by Bush and Cheney "make us ... pretty safe." 

"The good news is that we actually have a unprecedented military capacity, and since 9/11 have built up a security apparatus that makes us in the here and now pretty safe.  We have to be vigilant, but this doesn't immediately threaten the homeland.  What it does do, though, is it gives a sense, once again, for future generations, is the world going to be upended in ways that affect our kids and our grandkids."

Thanks, W.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Our Secular Baptism (Nathan Nielson, 8/30/14, Real Clear Religion)

The ALS "ice bucket challenge" has become our new rite of social participation. But it's so much more. Mass public movements have many ancestors, including religious ones. This phenomenon is tapping into something deep in the human spirit, feeding on the desire to order our ethical and social lives by ritual. In a time when traditional religiosity may be losing its appeal and religious experience is becoming more diverse and pluralistic, we now see a practice that unites everyone, regardless of religious, political or socio-economic status.

In short, we have a new baptism -- the renewal of life delivered by bucket.

All the elements are there: cleansing by water, the call to act, absolution of our affluent guilt, commitment to a cause, charity that suffereth long and endureth all things, hope in philanthropic perpetuation, and faith in the efficacy of donations, performed one by one, for all the community of believers to see and enjoy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at 50 (Lucy Mangan, Friday 29 August 2014, The Guardian)

[S]hortly after his son Theo was born in 1960, Dahl sent a revised version of the story, entitled "Charlie's Chocolate Boy" to his agent Mike Watkins, in which the eponymous hero visits the factory with nine other children and is accidentally made into a chocolate figure and delivered to Mr Wonka's house, where he foils a burglary and is rewarded with a sweet shop of his own "nine storeys high".

The others include Augustus Pottle (Gloop's precursor), Miranda Grope (disappears up the pipe with Augustus), Wilbur Rice, Tommy Troutbeck (whose fates you will learn in the never-before-published chapter cut from the draft that accompanies this piece); Violet Strabismus (had been Glockenberry, would become Beauregarde, always ends up violet); Clarence Crump, Bertie Upside, Trevor Roper (who all overheat after ingesting an unwise number of Warming Candies), and Elvira Entwhistle (gets booted down a rubbish chute but would eventually be known as Veruca Salt as she went) - an unwieldy group and it is obvious that some of them need to go, but it is still great fun while they're around.

But then Theo was almost killed when a cab hit his pram in New York. He survived, but developed hydrocephalus. The shunt put in his head to drain the fluid kept clogging, nearly killing him each time. Dahl mined Theo's neurosurgeon Kenneth Till for every ounce of his knowledge then took the problem to his friend Stanley Wade who, in a twist you wouldn't dare write, was an engineer whose hobby was making miniature engines for toy aeroplanes and whose job was running a factory that produced precision hydraulic pumps.

Together, the three men invented the Wade-Dahl-Till valve for Theo and the thousands of other children in his situation. In June 1962, the first one was inserted into the head of a patient in London's Great Ormond Street hospital. It worked beautifully. Theo was well enough not to need it by then, but over the years it was used to treat thousands of children all over the world.

Dahl went back to his book.

The publishers Knopf were reading a second draft when Olivia and Tessa arrived home from school with a note warning parents about a measles outbreak. Vaccination programmes would be introduced a year later in America, but that was too late for the Dahls. Seven-year-old Olivia caught the bug and died. It is perhaps both impossible and unwise to try to describe the depths of anyone's grief at losing a child: recalling it 20 years later in her autobiography As I Am, Neal still struggled to articulate hers; of her husband, she says simply that he "all but lost his mind".

Eventually, however - and it's not quite clear how long after, because Dahl did not date his drafts - the need, both financial and personal, to work reasserted itself and another draft of Charlie took shape. And another, and another.

Reading them now is like watching a familiar landscape slowly emerge out of the mist, or the coloured chips of glass in a kaleidoscope before a final turn of the lens aligns them in the proper pattern. The chocolate river is there, but there's no waterfall or minty grass-meadow setting (though the latter has its precursor in a garden Wonka makes for a rich woman, full of trees with barley sugar branches, fudge trunks and mint crisp leaves). The inventor is the central figure, not Charlie. There are uniformed workers in the factory and disembodied voices whispering the songs that accompany each child's departure instead of a musical tribe of tiny, cacao-loving Loompaland natives.

What we think of as the "real" Dahl is there, moving underneath the story like a shark but only occasionally breaking the surface to show his grinning teeth (one mother objects to her child being made into fudge on the grounds that "we've spent far too much on his education already"). But it is only after a letter from his former agent and confidante Sheila St Lawrence that you can see him start to really trust his instincts. Although she says now that "he was going to get there anyway ... If someone else hadn't alerted him, I'm quite sure he would have alerted himself", she made a variety of specific suggestions - including making the uniformed assistants "something more surprising than they are" - but also encouraged him more generally to let rip. "I'd like to see more humour, more light, Dahlesque touches throughout," ends the letter. "I hope some of my remarks will produce counter remarks in you that will stir you to flights of fancy to make the book take off and really fly, as it undoubtedly will."

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Werner Franz, Survivor of the Hindenburg's Crew, Dies at 92 (BRUCE WEBER, AUG. 29, 2014, NY Times)

Mr. Franz was believed to be the last surviving crew member. At least one other survivor of the crash, Werner Doehner, who was 8 years old and traveling with his family at the time, is thought to be still living.

The Hindenburg, 800 feet long (more than three times the length of a Boeing 747) and 135 feet in diameter, had its maiden voyage on March 4, 1936, and made 62 safe flights before its destruction. Mr. Franz had made four round-trip crossings on it, to both North and South America. As he recalled his experience of the crash in a book published in Germany a year later, he had been clearing dishes in the officer's mess when the Hindenburg began to burn.

"Franz heard a thud, and he felt the ship shake and point sharply upward as the burning tail crashed to the ground," Mr. Grossman wrote on his website,, summarizing the German account. "Hydrogen flames roared above and behind him as the ship tilted more steeply, and then a ballast tank ruptured, dousing Franz with water."

The inadvertent soaking was Mr. Franz's good fortune, offering a buffer against the mounting heat and flame. He kicked open a hatch used to bring supplies onto the ship, and when the ground loomed close enough, he leapt to safety, running from the wreckage before it could entrap him. He suffered no injuries.

August 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Ruble Hits New Low as Ukraine Tensions Rise (ANDREY OSTROUKH and CHIARA ALBANESE, Aug. 29, 2014, WSJ)

The ruble eased to a low of 37.07 versus the dollar, losing around 0.7% on the day. That took the ruble below its previous record of 37 per dollar, which it hit on the first trading day of March after the West had threatened to punish Moscow for its annexation of Crimea.

Analysts say the Russian unit could plumb new depths should the crisis in Ukraine escalate further as foreign players are the main sellers of the ruble.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Rick Perlstein: By the Book (AUG. 28, 2014, NY Times)

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? 

The Book of Job, maybe. It's the best story I know at driving home the fact that the world just isn't always a reasonable place. Not grasping that, I think, is Barack Obama's tragic flaw: He still seems to stubbornly believe that if he just explains clearly and calmly enough to his friends across the aisle why his ideas will bring the greatest good to the greatest number, there'll finally be no more Red America and no more Blue America. But my 18 years studying conservatism has convinced me the right just doesn't work that way -- they're fighting for civilization stakes, and he's a liberal, so, Q.E.D., he's the enemy. His longing to compromise with them just ends up driving the political center in America further to the right.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


How we shop for food is changing, in three charts (Sarah Halzack, August 28, 2014, Washington Post)

While the traditional supermarket still reigns as the top destination for grocery shopping, this chart effectively illustrates just how fierce the competition for your grocery dollars has become.  FMI found that the traditional way of shopping-with one major weekly trip to the same neighborhood grocery-is becoming less common.

The shopping experience is becoming highly fragmented, the study found.  For example, a consumer might do a large trip to a traditional supermarket every other week, but do "fill-in trips" in between those outings to a drug store or a convenience store.  Another shopper might purchase produce at an organic food store, but get packaged items at a warehouse club store such as Costco or Sam's Club.

Our decreased loyalty to a single store is also evident in the number of people who say they have a "primary store" where they do most of their shopping.  In 2014, the number of people who do not have a primary store rose to 9 percent, up from 3 percent in 2013 and 2 percent in 2011.

As these patterns continue to shift, the pressure is on food retailers of all kinds to react nimbly to give shoppers an experience that will keep them coming back.

It's all about the dollar store....
Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Landrieu claims parents' home as her own, raising questions of Louisiana residency (Philip Rucker, August 28, 2014, Washington Post)

In Washington, Sen. Mary Landrieu lives in a stately, $2.5 million brick manse she and her husband built on Capitol Hill.

Here in Louisiana, however, the Democrat does not have a home of her own. She is registered to vote at a large bungalow in New Orleans that her parents have lived in for many decades, according to a Washington Post review of Landrieu's federal financial disclosures and local property and voting records.

On a statement of candidacy Landrieu filed with the Federal Election Commission in January, she listed her Capitol Hill home as her address. But when qualifying for the ballot in Louisiana last week, she listed the family's raised-basement home here on South Prieur Street.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


What If There's No There There? (JAY COST, 9/08/14, Weekly Standard)

Toward the end of Ronald Reagan's second term, a friend of Vice President Bush encouraged him to think carefully about what a Bush presidency should look like. According to Time, Bush responded, "Oh, the vision thing." Fairly or unfairly, this phrase came to characterize the Bush 41 tenure. Despite his impressive résumé spanning three decades in government, he seemed not to have a clear view of what he wanted to do.

When Barack Obama campaigned for the White House in 2008, that hardly seemed like his problem. Obama would take in the whole sweep of American history in his speeches to suggest that his candidacy was its culmination. His heavy-handed propaganda​--​from the Greek columns to Shepard Fairey's "Hope" poster​--​suggested a man with a vision surplus.

In the sixth year of his presidency, it is clear that Obama does not have much of a vision at all. Sure, he is a man of the left and possesses a commitment to its goals; he thinks government should grow larger and taxes should increase. Beyond that, he does not seem to have a firm sense of the reforms he should implement, how to implement them, how he fits into the constitutional schema, what a sensible U.S. foreign policy should be or how to execute it.

The Left was so busy hailing the Messiah and the Right decrying the Anti-Christ they never stopped to recognize that he believes in nothing and follows wherever he's lead. In America, the public leads you towards moderate Republicanism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Was Wittgenstein Right? (PAUL HORWICH,  MARCH 3, 2013, NY Times)

Wittgenstein claims that there are no realms of phenomena whose study is the special business of a philosopher, and about which he or she should devise profound a priori theories and sophisticated supporting arguments. There are no startling discoveries to be made of facts, not open to the methods of science, yet accessible "from the armchair" through some blend of intuition, pure reason and conceptual analysis. Indeed the whole idea of a subject that could yield such results is based on confusion and wishful thinking.

This attitude is in stark opposition to the traditional view, which continues to prevail. Philosophy is respected, even exalted, for its promise to provide fundamental insights into the human condition and the ultimate character of the universe, leading to vital conclusions about how we are to arrange our lives. It's taken for granted that there is deep understanding to be obtained of the nature of consciousness, of how knowledge of the external world is possible, of whether our decisions can be truly free, of the structure of any just society, and so on -- and that philosophy's job is to provide such understanding. Isn't that why we are so fascinated by it?

If so, then we are duped and bound to be disappointed, says Wittgenstein. For these are mere pseudo-problems, the misbegotten products of linguistic illusion and muddled thinking. So it should be entirely unsurprising that the "philosophy" aiming to solve them has been marked by perennial controversy and lack of decisive progress -- by an embarrassing failure, after over 2000 years, to settle any of its central issues. Therefore traditional philosophical theorizing must give way to a painstaking identification of its tempting but misguided presuppositions and an understanding of how we ever came to regard them as legitimate. But in that case, he asks, "[w]here does [our] investigation get its importance from, since it seems only to destroy everything interesting, that is, all that is great and important? (As it were all the buildings, leaving behind only bits of stone and rubble)" -- and answers that "(w)hat we are destroying is nothing but houses of cards and we are clearing up the ground of language on which they stand."

Given this extreme pessimism about the potential of philosophy -- perhaps tantamount to a denial that there is such a subject -- it is hardly surprising that "Wittgenstein" is uttered with a curl of the lip in most philosophical circles. For who likes to be told that his or her life's work is confused and pointless? Thus, even Bertrand Russell, his early teacher and enthusiastic supporter, was eventually led to complain peevishly that Wittgenstein seems to have "grown tired of serious thinking and invented a doctrine which would make such an activity unnecessary."

But what is that notorious doctrine, and can it be defended? We might boil it down to four related claims.

-- The first is that traditional philosophy is scientistic: its primary goals, which are to arrive at simple, general principles, to uncover profound explanations, and to correct naïve opinions, are taken from the sciences. And this is undoubtedly the case.

--The second is that the non-empirical ("armchair") character of philosophical investigation -- its focus on conceptual truth -- is in tension with those goals.  That's because our concepts exhibit a highly theory-resistant complexity and variability. They evolved, not for the sake of science and its objectives, but rather in order to cater to the interacting contingencies of our nature, our culture, our environment, our communicative needs and our other purposes.  As a consequence the commitments defining individual concepts are rarely simple or determinate, and differ dramatically from one concept to another. Moreover, it is not possible (as it is within empirical domains) to accommodate superficial complexity by means of simple principles at a more basic (e.g. microscopic) level.

-- The third main claim of Wittgenstein's metaphilosophy -- an immediate consequence of the first two -- is that traditional philosophy is necessarily pervaded with oversimplification; analogies are unreasonably inflated; exceptions to simple regularities are wrongly dismissed.

-- Therefore -- the fourth claim -- a decent approach to the subject must avoid theory-construction and instead be merely "therapeutic," confined to exposing the irrational assumptions on which theory-oriented investigations are based and the irrational conclusions to which they lead.

It's not that Wittgenstein was right, but that Hume was.  Wittgenstein just reiterated.

August 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 PM


The euro has failed to boost trade between the countries that adopted it (Allister Heath, 27 Aug 2014, The Telegraph)

Nobody today can argue that the past 15 years have been anything other than disastrous for the eurozone, but many ardent supporters still maintain that the single currency has been good for trade. It is hard to know what would have happened to imports and exports had the euro not replaced the franc, lira and mark, of course, but fresh research demonstrates that the eurozone is actually less integrated today than it was when the euro was launched.

The note, produced by the Bruegel think-tank, is devastating. It measures integration on one simple metric: the share of exports from members of the eurozone and EU that go to other eurozone and EU countries, as derived from the IMF's Direction of Trade Statistics database. The figures have been adjusted for the changing membership of both those regions.

During the 1980s, as Bruegel's researcher Giulio Mazzolini points out, EU countries' exports increasingly went to one another. Intra-EU exports rose by eight percentage points of the total to peak in the early 1990s at around 68pc of the total. The share then fell back to around 65pc before stagnating for a while and then returning to the 67-68pc level, where it remained until the end of the 2000s. It then collapsed and is now back to around 64pc, a level of integration last seen in the mid to late 1980s.

As to the eurozone, which was launched on January 1, 1999, the results mirror those for the broader EU almost perfectly, suggesting, as Bruegel puts it, that "the common currency might not have had the expected effect on trade between euro area members". Intra-eurozone exports peaked at around 52pc of the total in the late 1990s and have been in decline ever since. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 PM


Huskers football train for the NU-Miami game is a nod 
to past and sign of future (Steve Jordon, 8/26/14, World-Herald)

If you're feeling nostalgic about those special trains that carried fans to Nebraska football games, you're in luck.

An Omaha group is organizing a 10-car, 500-seat "Big Red Amtrak Special" that will travel the rails from the Durham Museum in Omaha to Lincoln's Haymarket district and back for the Sept. 20 NU-Miami game. [...]

Special trains have been hauling Husker fans between Omaha and Lincoln, off and on, for at least a century. About 700 fans boarded a special train for the Nebraska-Kansas game on Nov. 11, 1914, and hundreds more rode "regular trains" to the game, according to a World-Herald account at the time.

From 1958 to 1974, Omahan William Kratville, a Union Pacific and Amtrak photographer, saw to it that trains carried fans to the Nebraska home games and frequently to Big Eight road games, too.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Remember the Wendy Davis Filibuster? The Law She Fought Is Driving Dozens of Abortion Clinics Out of Business (Hannah Levintova and Kristine Stolakis, Aug. 28, 2014, Mother Jones)

[C]ome next week, abortions can no longer legally be performed at that old facility thanks to HB 2, the omnibus abortion bill that made national headlines last summer after Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' 11-hour filibuster. The law requires that abortions--though not vasectomies--be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, hospital-like facilities that specialize in outpatient surgery. This provision goes into effect on September 1.

Ahead of this deadline, women's health care providers have raced to meet HB 2's burdensome requirements, spending millions of dollars and countless hours of fundraising and construction labor. Converting a medical facility into a full-blown ambulatory surgical facility can be very expensive. Texas has 114 pages of regulations governing ASCs, which mandate wide, gurney-accommodating hallways, larger operating rooms, and sterile ventilation. According to one Texas provider, it will cost them about $40,000 more each month to operate an ASC than it would a regular clinic.

In the face of the law's requirements, all but eight abortion clinics in the state will close by September 1. Many were forced to lock their doors earlier this year as other HB 2 provisions went into effect, including a rule that required doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where they perform abortions by the end of October 2013.

Apparently being in favor of women's health means opposing quality health care standards.

August 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Qatar says it's ready to rebuild Gaza Strip (AFP, August 27, 2014)

Qatar, a key backer of Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, hailed the Gaza ceasefire accord and offered to help rebuild the enclave battered by seven weeks of Israeli bombardment in response to rocket fire emanating from the Strip.

The accord for a long-term ceasefire which came into effect on Tuesday was thanks "firstly to the resistance and the sacrifices" of the Palestinians, the gas-rich Gulf emirate said in a statement.

It said Qatar, which is home to Khaled Mashaal, the political chief of the Islamist movement Hamas, was "ready to contribute to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip as soon as possible,"

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Sheepdogs could be replaced by robots after scientists crack simple process (, 27 August 2014)

Sheepdogs could lose their jobs to robots after scientists learned the secret of their herding ability.

Rounding up sheep successfully is a simple process involving just two basic mathematical rules, a study found.

One causes a sheepdog to close any gaps it sees between dispersing sheep. The other results in sheep being driven forward once the gaps have sufficiently closed.

A computer simulation showed that obeying these two rules alone allowed a single shepherd - or sheepdog - to control a flock of more than 100 animals.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Gaza War's Clear Loser: Netanyahu (Daniel Gordis, 8/27/14, Bloomberg View)

The political right smells blood. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who coupled his Yisrael Beitinu ("Israel is our Home") party to Netanyahu's Likkud for the January 2013 elections but has since insisted he would not do so again, has demanded that the Israeli Defense Forces retake the Gaza strip. Few Israelis wanted to do that -- the losses would have been extremely high (some estimates projected 500 to 1000 soldiers killed), and it wasn't clear how Israel would eventually extricate itself or bear the international condemnation. Still, in the Morning After, some Israelis who thought that Lieberman was behaving like a thug who are now muttering: "Maybe he was right." [...]

The other likely winner on the right is Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, whose Habayit Hayehudi ("The Jewish Home") party was a surprisingly strong player in recent elections. There has always been bad blood between Netanyahu and Bennett (some attribute it to Netanyahu's wife detesting Bennett), and Bennett, like Lieberman, had also urged the use of much greater force. Bibi not only ignored him, but publicly smacked him down for creating a wartime rift in the cabinet. It's virtually inconceivable that Bennett will not try a little jujitsu after that humiliation; he, too, is almost guaranteed to climb in the polls.

With Hamas celebrating in the streets, and Israelis who live near Gaza still insisting they're too afraid of rockets and tunnels to go home, the potential for Bennett and Lieberman to challenge Bibi has never looked better. Ironically, Hamas may have just ushered in a much more hard-line Israeli government.

But the political left is equally unhappy. Israel bombed Gaza into smithereens for seven weeks, killed thousands of people -- many of them terrorists, but many of them civilians, women and children (as was inevitable, given that Hamas stationed itself in neighborhoods, mosques and hospitals). To do all of that without having achieved victory, the left insists, is a moral and political catastrophe. Haaretz, Israel's left-leaning paper of record, led this morning with an opinion piece noting that after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, Netanyahu castigated then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying that Hamas should have been toppled and security restored to Israel. Bibi insisted that only he could do it, which was when that "A Strong Leader for a Strong Nation" manta re-appeared. "Reality is a bit more complicated, isn't it?" Haaretz derisively castigated him this morning.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Medicare: Not Such a Budget-Buster Anymore (NY Times, AUG. 27, 2014)

The changes are big. The difference between the current estimate for Medicare's 2019 budget and the estimate for the 2019 budget four years ago is about $95 billion. That sum is greater than the government is expected to spend that year on unemployment insurance, welfare and Amtrak -- combined. It's equal to about one-fifth of the expected Pentagon budget in 2019. Widely discussed policy changes, like raising the estate tax, would generate just a tiny fraction of the budget savings relative to the recent changes in Medicare's spending estimates.

In more concrete terms, the reduced estimates mean that the federal government's long-term budget deficit is considerably less severe than commonly thought just a few years ago. The country still faces a projected deficit in future decades, thanks mostly to the retirement of the baby boomers and the high cost of medical care, but it is not likely to require the level of fiscal pain that many assumed several years ago.

The reduced estimates are also an indication of what's happening in the overall health care system. Even as more people are getting access to health insurance, the costs of caring for individual patients is growing at a super-slow rate. That means that health care, which has eaten into salary gains for years and driven up debt and bankruptcies, may be starting to stabilize as a share of national spending. [...]

[M]uch of the recent reductions come from changes in behavior among doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients. Medicare beneficiaries are using fewer high-cost health care services than in the past -- taking fewer brand-name drugs, for example, or spending less time in the hospital. The C.B.O.'s economists call these changes "technical changes," and they dominate the downward revisions since 2010.

In all, technical changes have been responsible for a 12 percent reduction since 2010 in the estimates for Medicare spending over the decade ending in 2020. In dollar terms, that's over $700 billion, which is more than budget cutters could save by eliminating the tax deduction for charitable giving or by converting Medicaid into a block-grant program or cutting military spending by 15 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


François Hollande's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week (ARTHUR GOLDHAMMER, AUGUST 25, 2014, American Prospect)

At the center of Hollande's domestic policy is the so-called Responsibility Pact, which proposes shifting employer-paid payroll taxes to individual taxpayers, coupled with unspecified cuts in government spending. The measure is deeply unpopular, especially on the Left, so much so that it triggered a fronde, or insurrection, in the ranks of the president's own Socialist Party. Prime Minister Manuel Valls nevertheless succeeded in mollifying the hundred or so dissident deputies, only to see the provisions of the Pact that were intended to ease the additional tax burden on the poorest taxpayers struck down by the Constitutional Council, a French judicial body that determines whether legislation conforms to the nation's Constitution.

The president's uncompromising interview with Le Monde may have been intended to send a signal of resolute firmness, but its immediate result was to stiffen the resistance of the frondeurs.
The government was therefore already facing a restive majority, half of whose members were insisting on a major revision of this key measure before voting on a new draft designed to pass muster with the Constitutional Council. The president's uncompromising interview with Le Monde may have been intended to send a signal of resolute firmness, but its immediate result was to stiffen the resistance of the frondeurs. Then, on Thursday, the day after the interview, a new book harshly critical of the president's leadership appeared. The author was Cécile Duflot, a leader of the Green Party, who had been the environment minister until she walked out in protest, ending her party's coalition with the Socialists.

On Friday, Arnaud Montebourg, the minister of the economy, also spoke to Le Monde, openly repudiating the president's "stay-the-course" rhetoric. Hollande had called for "an acceleration of the reforms," but as far as Montebourg was concerned, the reforms were leading France straight into a wall--although unemployment was continuing to rise, the deficit was only getting worse, not better--and acceleration would simply increase the damage. On Saturday, education minister Benoît Hamon joined Montebourg in calling for a change of policy, and on Sunday evening the two appeared together at Montebourg's Festival of the Rose, an annual event in which he celebrates socialism in his Burgundian fiefdom with lofty rhetoric lubricated by good red wine.

For Prime Minister Manuel Valls, the sight of his two ministers on the evening news, wine glasses in hand, jocularly proclaiming loyalty to a president whose policy they simultaneously denounced, was the last straw. He had made "governmental solidarity" a tenet of his leadership and had no intention of tolerating the open insubordination that had made his predecessor, Jean-Marc Ayrault, with whom Montebourg had previously locked horns, a laughingstock. On Sunday night he informed the president that it was "either Montebourg or me," and on Monday morning he announced the dissolution of the government.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Poll: Gov. Scott Walker in tight race in Wisconsin, trailing among likely voters (Eric Kleefeld, 8/27/14, The Week)

The new poll from Marquette University Law School, conducted from Aug. 21 to 24, notably shows different results among registered or likely voters -- but not in the way one might expect. Among registered voters, Walker leads with 47.5 percent, against Burke with 44.1 percent. But among likely voters, Burke is the one who is ahead with 48.6 percent, compared to Walker at 46.5 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Ceasefire sparks storm of criticism against Netanyahu : Disapproval from allies, opposition exposes rifts in Netanyahu's coalition (SPENCER HO, August 27, 2014, Times of Israel)

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's allies trumpet Tuesday's ceasefire agreement as a clear win for Israel over Hamas, Israeli politicians in the opposition called for his job Wednesday and even allies warned that elections could be on the horizon.

August 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


UFO Believers Organize Another Successful Topless Day (NSFW) (Frank Kobola, Cosmopolitan)

Vancouver just wrapped up another successful Go Topless Day, where women and men alike paraded down the street without shirts.

Go Topless Day is designed to protest the double-standard that men can go topless in many public places while women get shamed for public breastfeeding, let alone going topless at a beach. 

All that and we conned them into being breadwinners.
Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


In US, a decline in domestic violence (Stacy Teicher Khadaroo, AUGUST 26, 2014, CS Monitor)

Annual rates of nonfatal domestic violence fell by 63 percent between 1994 and 2012 - from 13.5 victimizations per 1,000 people to 5 per 1,000. This is a count by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) of such crimes as rape, assault, and robbery committed by intimate partners, former partners, or family members. The figures are based on a national survey and include both reported and unreported crimes against people over age 12.

In a BJS count of serious intimate partner violence against women, the numbers dropped 72 percent between 1994 and 2011. And from 1993 to 2007, the annual number of female victims of homicides by intimate partners declined from 2,200 to 1,640; male victims from 1,100 to 700.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Who needs Keystone XL? Oil sands flow to US via loophole. (Nick Cunningham, AUGUST 26, 2014, CS Monitor)

Pipeline operations giant Enbridge has figured out how to avoid having to go through the regulatory process with the U.S. State Department for approval of an oil sands pipeline.

According to EnergyWire, the company plans to build several interconnections on either side of the border between Manitoba and Minnesota. The interconnections will allow the company to transfer heavy oil from its Alberta Clipper pipeline to another pipeline known as "Line 3." It will then be transferred back to the Alberta Clipper line once it is safely across the border in Minnesota.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Israel, Palestinians reportedly agree to new cease-fire  (JTA, 8/26/14)
According to reports, the open-ended cease-fire would see the immediate opening of border crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt, and the expansion of Gaza's fishing zone.

The second phase would begin in a month, with discussion of the construction of a Gaza seaport and the Israeli release of Hamas prisoners.

August 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Ceaser's 14 Conservative Points (Peter Augustine Lawler, August 24, 2014, National Review)

[A]fter considerable reading, I think I've found the tightest and most illuminating summary of Ceaser's conservative public philosophy (or political science?). I've reduced what he says in his Designing a Polity (pages 149-51) to fourteen propositions. [...]

1. "American conservatism is devoted to conserving the American republic. It can have no higher or nobler goal." [...]

6. "Conservatism conserves the American republic by giving appropriate support to biblical religion. Biblical religion has been the main source of our ethical system, one of self-restraint and belief in something beyond material existence. . . . Original liberal theory was in some formulations cool to religion, and it often failed to acknowledge or appreciate how much liberal society had borrowed from its storehouse of religious capital."

7. "Liberalism does not require . . . neutrality [between faith and nonbelief], and conservatism does not recommend it."

8. "Conservatism conserves the American republic by promoting 'the tradition,' which refers, beyond religion and the Enlightenment, to the classical Greek and Roman ideals of virtue and excellence."

9. "Conservatives subscribe to the liberal principle of equality of rights, but they do so in no small part because it makes room for the emergence of inequalities and excellences."

10. "The tradition also provides a theoretical basis for a hierarchy of standards, allowing conservatives to criticize without apology the vulgarity that pollutes any society and runs rampant in ours."

11. [Conservatives see that] "original liberalism often had such [hierarchical, anti-vulgar] inclinations . . ., but it engaged too easily on attacks on the classics and, in rationalist exuberance, went too far in elevating utility at the expense of nobility. . . . Modern liberalism, with its focus on compassion . . . allied itself culturally with relativism, which is the application of the idea of equality to all thought."

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


In search of libertarians (JOCELYN KILEY, 8/25/14, Pew Research)

Self-described libertarians tend to be modestly more supportive of some libertarian positions, but few of them hold consistent libertarian opinions on the role of government, foreign policy and social issues.

Men were about twice as likely as women to say the term libertarian describes them well and to know the meaning of the term (15% vs. 7%). More college graduates (15%) than those with no more than a high school education (7%) identified as libertarians. There also were partisan differences; 14% of independents and 12% of Republicans said they are libertarian, compared with 6% of Democrats.

Some of these differences arise from confusion about the meaning of "libertarian." Just 42% of those with a high school education or less answered the multiple-choice question correctly, compared with 76% of college graduates.

In some cases, the political views of self-described libertarians differ modestly from those of the general public; in others there are no differences at all.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Dash of Salt Does No Harm. Extremes Are the Enemy. (Aaron E. Carroll, 8/25/14, NY Times)

Americans consume, on average, 3.4 grams of sodium per day, or about the equivalent of three and a half tablespoons of soy sauce. This is on the low end of the "safe zone" of 3-6 grams in the study. The United States Food and Drug Administration thinks that's not low enough. It recommends 2.3 grams per day. The World Health Organization says it should be 2.0 grams. The American Heart Association goes even further and recommends we consume no more than 1.5 grams.

Why? There's surprisingly little rationale for this belief. Last year, experts convened by the Institute of Medicine assessed the evidence concerning sodium intake around the world. They agreed that efforts to reduce excessive sodium were warranted. But they cautioned that no such evidence existed to recommend a very low salt diet. They hoped that future research would assess the potential benefits of a diet where sodium intake was 1.5 to 2.3 grams per day.

The second New England Journal of Medicine study did just that. In addition to looking at high sodium diets, it also compared the health outcomes of those who had very low sodium diets. What they found was worrisome. When compared with those who consumed 3-6 grams per day, people who consumed less than 3 grams of sodium per day had an even higher risk of death or cardiovascular incidents than those who consumed more than 7 grams per day.

This result would be shocking if we in the medical community hadn't seen it before. But we have. In 2011, researchers published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Asssociation after following 3,681 people over almost a decade. They, too, found that excessive salt intake was associated with high blood pressure. They also found that a low-sodium diet was associated with higher mortality from cardiovascular causes.

Why experts and organizations feel the need to go from one extreme to the other is unclear. But it's unfortunately something we do far too often in medicine.

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Cornel West: "He posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency"  (THOMAS FRANK, 8/24/14, Salon)

No, the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he's just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. [...]

[W]e ended up with a brown-faced Clinton. Another opportunist. Another neoliberal opportunist. It's like, "Oh, no, don't tell me that!" I tell you this, because I got hit hard years ago, but everywhere I go now, it's "Brother West, I see what you were saying. Brother West, you were right. Your language was harsh and it was difficult to take, but you turned out to be absolutely right."

Amen, brother.

August 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


A Simple Tax Reform Can Help Families and Promote Economic Growth (AMITY SHLAES And CHRIS EDWARDS, Aug. 24, 2014, WSJ)

Canada's TFSAs are like Roth IRAs--but supercharged. Citizens may deposit up to $5,500 after-tax each year, and all account earnings and withdrawals are tax-free. However, unlike Roth IRAs, funds can be withdrawn at any time for any reason with no penalties or taxes. Another feature: The annual limit on a contribution carries over from year to year if a citizen doesn't reach it. So if a Canadian contributes $2,000 this year, he can put away up to $9,000 next year ($3,500 plus $5,500).

There are other attractive features: Unlike in a Roth, there are no income limits for individuals contributing to a TFSA, and there are no withdrawal requirements at retirement. The accounts can be opened easily at any bank branch or online. They can hold bank deposits, stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other types of assets.

There are several reasons the U.S. is primed for its own TFSA. The first is legislative: Creating such an account would not be difficult for lawmakers, certainly not compared with revamping the whole tax system. Congress can simply expand eligibility and lift limits on the Roth IRA format.

We believe this new tax vehicle--call it the Universal Savings Account--would be so attractive that Americans would select it over education savings accounts or traditional programs, especially if its annual contribution limit is $7,000 or $8,000, which is higher than the current $5,500 for Roth IRAs. There would be no need to cut off access to or abolish the Roth IRA or other programs. Merely let citizens choose a new one.

Another virtue of a Universal Savings Account is simplicity. Savers would spend more time evaluating investments and less time mastering the twists and turns of tax law.

A Universal Savings Account would also give citizens the incentive to save. Without withdrawal penalties hanging over them, people would be less likely to hesitate before putting money into these accounts. Some people might use their accounts to fund an expensive vacation. But it's much more likely they would use the money for serious projects, to build up a retirement fund, or even to invest in a new enterprise.

If people aren't forced to save the money for retirement they won't.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Confrontation Amid the Shadows : Caravaggio forces us to bear witness in 'The Taking of Christ' (WILLARD SPIEGELMAN, Aug. 24, 2014, WSJ)

The 1602 oil, which measures approximately 53 inches by 67 inches, depicts the moment of Christ's betrayal by Judas and his capture by Roman soldiers. It may be the darkest and densest, the most oppressively claustrophobic of all of Caravaggio's paintings. Caravaggio (1571-1610, born Michelangelo Merisi, named for his native village) was the master, if not the actual inventor, of chiaroscuro, that penumbral, dramatic mingling of light and darkness that made him famous. He spawned countless followers and imitators throughout the 17th century. Then his reputation declined, to be revived two centuries later. Many art historians have called him the father of the baroque. Rubens would certainly have been a different painter without his example.

In "The Taking of Christ," Caravaggio has created a work almost entirely oscuro. What little clear (chiara) light there is, coming from the left and repeated by a lantern on the picture's right side, can hardly compete with the utter darkness that overwhelms the action and the characters. Any textbook or postcard reproduction of the picture has much more color than the original: Nothing prepares you for a confrontation with the work itself.

The moment dramatized in the painting derives from the Gospel of Mark, (14:44): "Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he; take him, and lead him away safely." In an act of treachery compounded with eroticism, Judas has just handed Jesus over to the Roman centurions. We do not see the actors in this drama straight on. No one looks out at us directly; everyone is cast in partial light or rendered in profile. The fact of almost unrelieved darkness produces tragedy, mystery and foreboding. It also suggests the universality of the event. There is no garden, no background, no setting, just the action, a snapshot caught at the moment, with neither preparation nor aftermath. What we see, Caravaggio suggests, might occur anywhere. Theologically, everyone betrays Jesus.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Going for the Gold : Jeff Bell's unorthodox Senate campaign (ANDREW FERGUSON, 9/01/14, Weekly Standard)

What frustrates Bell and his many well-wishers is that the race against Booker may not be as hopeless as the spreadsheets suggest. At 55 percent to 44 percent, Booker's special election victory last year over a self-funding Republican unknown was weaker than most people expected. A few weeks ago, in early August, a poll by Quinnipiac University of registered voters showed Booker's support at 47 percent, below the 50 percent mark that any healthy incumbent should expect. Amazingly, Bell was hard on his heels at 37 percent, even though the same poll showed that fewer than 25 percent knew who he was. A CBS/New York Times poll--this time of likely voters--put Bell within 7 points of Booker.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Love of Labor : Automation makes things easier, whether it's on the factory floor or online. Is it also eroding too many of the valuable skills that define us as people? (Mattathias Schwartz, August 19, 2014, MIT Technology Review)

The book begins with a warning to airline pilots from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration not to rely too much on autopilot. He narrates two crashes, tracing their cause to pilot inattention caused by the autopilot's lulling effects. This reads like the opening of a utilitarian argument against automation: we ought to let pilots do their jobs because computers lack the judgment necessary to preserve human life during moments of crisis. Later, we learn that the safety records of Airbus planes and the more pilot-oriented planes built by Boeing are more or less identical. Carr's core complaint is mainly about the texture of living in an automated world--how it affects us at a personal level.

At times, this seems to be coming from a position of nostalgia, a longing for a past that is perhaps more desirable in retrospect. Take GPS. To Carr, GPS systems are inferior to paper maps because they make navigation too easy--they weaken our own navigational skills. GPS is "not designed to deepen our involvement with our surroundings," he writes. The problem is, neither are maps. Like GPS, they are tools intended to deliver their user to a desired destination with the least possible hassle. It is true that paper maps require a different set of skills, and anyone who finds this experience of stopping and unfolding and getting lost more enlivening or less emasculating than the new incarnation of way-finding can choose to turn GPS off, or use the two technologies in tandem.

The classic account of life at the top of the Yerkes-Dodson curve is Mihaly ­Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, published in 1990. Flow is a concept of almost poetic vagueness, hard to measure and even harder to define. Csikszentmihalyi found it in all kinds of people: athletes, artists, musicians, and craftsmen. What makes "flow" more than a flight of fancy is that almost anyone will recognize the feeling of "losing oneself" in a challenging task or being "in the zone." As a concept, flow erases the boundary that economists draw between "work" and leisure or recreation, and Carr wants automation to be designed to produce it. Ideally it would have a Goldilocks just-right quality, relieving drudgery but stopping short of doing everything.

Carr spends most of The Glass Cage treating automation as though it were a problem of unenlightened personal choices--suggesting that we should often opt out of technologies like GPS in favor of manual alternatives. Yet the decision to adopt many other innovations is not always so voluntary. There is often something seductive and even coercive about them. Consider a technology that Carr himself discusses: Facebook, which seeks to automate the management of human relationships. Once the majority has accepted the site's addictive design and slight utility, it gets harder for any one individual to opt out. (Though Facebook may not look like an example of automation, it is indeed work in disguise. The workers--or "users"--are not paid a wage and the product, personal data, is not sold in a visible or public market, but it does have a residual echo of the machine room. Personal expression and relationships constitute the raw material; the continuously updated feed is the production line.)

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


One Way to Fix the Corporate Tax: Repeal It (N. Gregory Mankiw, 8/24/14, NY Times)

Perhaps the boldest and best response to corporate inversions is to completely rethink the basis of corporate taxation. The first step is to acknowledge that corporations are more like tax collectors than taxpayers. The burden of the corporate tax is ultimately borne by people -- some combination of the companies' employees, customers and shareholders. After recognizing that corporations are mere conduits, we can focus more directly on the people.

A long tradition in political philosophy and economics, dating back about four centuries to Thomas Hobbes, suggests that the amount that a person consumes is the right basis for taxation. A broad-based consumption tax asks a person to contribute to support the government according to how much of the economy's output of goods and services he or she enjoys. It doesn't matter whether the resources for that consumption come from wages, interest, rent, dividends, capital gains or inheritance.

So here's a proposal: Let's repeal the corporate income tax entirely, and scale back the personal income tax as well. We can replace them with a broad-based tax on consumption. The consumption tax could take the form of a value-added tax, which in other countries has proved to be a remarkably efficient way to raise government revenue.

Some may worry that a flat consumption tax is too easy on the rich or too hard on the poor. But there are ways to address these concerns. One possibility is to maintain a personal income tax for those with especially high incomes. Another is to use some revenue from the consumption tax to fund universal fixed rebates -- sometimes called demogrants. Of course, the larger the rebate, the higher the tax rate would need to be.

August 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The Loss of Skill in the Industrial Revolution (Growth Economics, August 19, 2014)

There's a recent working paper by Alexandra de Pleijt and Jacob Weisdorf that looks at skill composition of the English workforce from 1550 through 1850. They do this by looking at the occupational titles recorded in English parish records over that period, and code each observed worker by the skill associated with their occupation. They use the standardized Dictionary of Occupational Titles to infer the skill level for any given occupation. For example, a wright is a high-skilled manual laborer, a tailor is medium-skilled, while a weaver is a low-skilled manual laborer.

The big upshot to their paper is that there was substantial de-skilling over this period, driven mainly by a shift in the composition of manual laborers. In 1550, only about 25% of all manual laborers are unskilled (think ditch-diggers), while 75% are either low- or medium-skilled (weavers or tailors). However, over time there is a distinct growth in the the unskilled as a fraction of manual laborers, reaching 45% by 1850, while the low- and medium-skilled fall to 55% in the same period. 

The point of technology/information is that it obviates the need for specialized knowledge (skills).

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


This 1,600-year-old Viking war game is still awesome It's even a pretty good simulator of 21st century conflicts (Robert Beckhusen, 8/21/14, War is Boring)

At first glance, Hnefatafl (prounounced "nef-ah-tah-fel") might just look like a knock-off version of chess with Norse helms and impressive beards, but the game is at least 600 years older -- already well-known by 400 A.D. -- and is perhaps a lot more relevant to the conflicts of the 21st century.

"I love the asymmetry in this game. To win in this game, you absolutely have to think like your opponent," emails Kristan Wheaton, a former Army foreign area officer and ex-analyst at U.S. European Command's Intelligence Directorate. "Geography, force structure, force size, and objectives are different for the two sides. If you can't think like your opponent, you can't win. I don't know of a better analogy for post-Cold War conflict."

The game is similar to chess, but with several important differences. Instead of two identical and equal opponents facing each other, Hnefatafl is a game where one side is surrounded and outnumbered -- like a Viking war party caught in an ambush.

The game might seem unbalanced. The attacking black player has 24 total pieces -- known as "hunns" -- to white's meager and surrounded 12 hunns. But white has several advantages.

White has an additional unique unit, a king, which must be surrounded on four horizontal sides to be captured. Hunns require being surrounded on two sides, and that's pretty hard by itself. White's goal is also simple: move the king to one of four corner squares known as "castles." Black's goal is to stop them.

Other rules? All pieces move like chess rooks. Black makes the first move. Black cannot occupy a castle, which would end the game in short order. But black can block off several castles by moving quickly, forming the equivalent of a medieval shield wall.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


The Ratings Revolution (Carlo Ratti & Matthew Claudel, 8/21/14, Project Syndicate)

"Bonjour Monsieur, comment pourrais-je vous aider?" asks the obsequious concierge at my Paris hotel. I immediately wonder what happened to the city's infamous haughtiness - especially toward American tourists. If the French capital is no longer Europe's rudest city, we can perhaps thank the growth of online rating tools, such as TripAdvisor.

Travel Web sites have been around since the 1990s, when Expedia, Travelocity, and other holiday booking sites were launched, allowing travelers to compare flight and hotel prices with the click of a mouse. With information no longer controlled by travel agents or hidden in business networks, the travel industry was revolutionized, as greater transparency helped slash prices.
Today, the industry is in the throes of a new revolution - this time transforming service quality. Online rating platforms - specializing in hotels (TripAdvisor), restaurants (Zagat), apartments (Airbnb), and taxis (Uber) - allow travelers to exchange reviews and experiences for all to see.

Hospitality businesses are now ranked, analyzed, and compared not by industry professionals, but by the very people for whom the service is intended - the customer. This has forged a new relationship between buyer and seller. Customers have always voted with their feet; they can now explain their decision to anyone who is interested. As a result, businesses are much more accountable, often in very specific ways, which creates powerful incentives to improve service.

Although some readers might not care for gossipy reports of brusque bellboys in Berlin or malfunctioning hotel hairdryers in Houston, the true power of online reviews lies not just in the individual stories, but in the Web sites' capacity to aggregate a large volume of ratings.

The impact cannot be overstated. Businesses that attract top ratings can enjoy exponential growth, as new customers are attracted by good overall reviews and subsequently provide yet more (positive) feedback.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


John Stuart Mill: False Prophet of Liberty (Bruce Frohnen, 8/21/14, Imaginative Conservative)

As long as there have been "libertarians," there has been hero worship of John Stuart Mill. This Nineteenth Century utilitarian author, most famously of On Liberty, has been looked to as a kind of fount of holy writ for individualism. And Mill was an individualist. Unfortunately, he was not a supporter of liberty in any meaningful sense.

It is somewhat odd, frankly, that Mill should enjoy the reputation he does, given the depth and breadth of the written record of his opinions and proposals advocating an administrative state with unchecked power to regulate people's daily lives. What is more, excellent studies by Joseph Hamburger and, more recently, Linda Raeder, have shown the character and statist intentions of his life's work. Still, some of the many passages so frequently quoted from his works might give evidence, to those who do not read more and with moderate care, that he was a friend to individual freedom and reasoned, principled service to mankind.

There is a pride evinced in Mill's work that appeals to his readers' own pride, especially if they consider themselves to have sacrificed material gain for principles--and particularly if they are academics or otherwise committed to what we somewhat self-servingly refer to as "the life of the mind." Thus, Mill's catchphrase, "one person with a belief is equal to ninety-nine who have only interests," is the stuff of dorm room walls and faculty office doors across America. Commitment to "principle," be it justice, freedom, or toleration, and however defined, makes us feel good about ourselves. That such principles, stated in the abstract and held by their adherents more or less abstractly, may serve as cover for hypocrisy as well as inhumane zealotry is a well known problem of long standing--and one that generally is ignored until long after it is too late to prevent moral enormities of various kinds.

Nonetheless, almost all of us not residing in asylums want to believe that we live according to principle rather than mere self-interest. Moreover, we should not forget that the Golden Rule itself is a kind of master-principle of virtue, though one freighted with cultural context in its admonition, not to "do unto others so as to serve the greatest good of the greatest number" but, rather, to do unto others as we, in light of our varying circumstances and needs, would have done by us.

Of course, the Golden Rule assumes innate recognition of certain permanent goods beneficial to us all. Utilitarianism, the belief that societies should be seen as mechanisms for the gathering of "good things" defined as good by those seeking them, holds no such view. Yet, idealism has the power to invest with at least an apparent nobility even the extreme vision Mill has of the good of individual autonomy, in which liberty itself is defined in terms of self-mastery: "The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good, in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it." The "sovereign" self in this view is what matters. And what makes that self truly matter is sovereign, that is self-willed, autonomous choice. Thus, the principle that Mill would serve is the liberty to do as one wills, making the will itself a governing principle for us all.

Another aspect of Mill's writing that has endeared him to many is his seeming love of eccentricity. The individual who dares to be different in the face of the conformist mob appears to be his greatest hero, just as it is for those hordes of non-conformists populating the halls of academe (and, of course, juvenile halls everywhere). To break the chains of tradition and social authority seems, to Mill, to be a moral duty to oneself and to mankind. As Mill succinctly claimed, "the despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement." If only, he seems to argue, we would dispatch custom to the ash heap of history, we might get down to some serious reasoning about how to make life better for everyone.

The problem with this vision, as we have learned to our great loss, is that unthinking opposition to the wisdom of the ages, made concrete in a people's practical habits and ways of living, produces, not ordered liberty, but social chaos. Individuals are, indeed, unprincipled "followers" and "self-interested" morally flawed beings, at least more so than they are the kind of grand idealists Mill would have us be. That is to say, people are social creatures, not abstract calculators of public interest. If they do not follow good customs, they will follow bad habits--including the contemporary habit of disparaging settled modes of living and even the most basic of social institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


The Moral Divide Between Progressives and Traditionalists (JAMES KALB, 8/21/14, Crisis)

A recent account of moral sentiments, proposed by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (Pantheon, 2012), has attracted attention for its explanation of the difference between progressives and traditionalists.

According to the account, moral judgments typically have to do with six dimensions of concern: care versus harm, fairness versus cheating, liberty versus oppression, loyalty versus betrayal, authority versus subversion, and sanctity versus degradation. Surveys show that progressives, by and large, are concerned with the care, fairness, and liberty dimensions, while traditionalists are concerned with all six. So it appears that the "culture wars" have to do with the moral status of loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Traditionally minded people accept them as morally important, while their more progressive fellows do not.

But why the difference? It appears, although Haidt's concerns lie elsewhere, that the difference lines up with the opposition between the modern tendency to view man as radically free and the world as technological, and the traditional, classical, and religious view of man as social, and the world as pervaded by intrinsic meanings, natural ways of functioning, and natural ends.

The difference is a difference in basic understandings of man, society, and the world. Progressives tend to think of the world as a sort of blank slate that is meaningless in itself. On that view man becomes the creator of values, society becomes a system set up to bring about whatever goals people want it to serve, and it seems most sensible to design the system to help people attain whatever purposes they have, without playing favorites or interfering more than necessary with what they want to do.

So the progressive view makes care, fairness, and liberty seem the right basic standards, with "care" understood from the standpoint of the concerns of the person cared for. Authority, loyalty, and sanctity interfere with people doing and getting what they want, so on such a view they make no sense as standards. They seem dangerous, since they give an advantage to those in charge of the system, who in the absence of a higher good shared with others can be expected to use the advantage for their private ends. So it's not surprising that "question authority" has been an axiom for progressives, rebellion a virtue, and transgression a desirable form of liberation.

In contrast, traditionalists view society and morality as natural rather than constructed. Since man is naturally social, society and morality are necessary to the world he inhabits and needed to make him what he truly is. That world is considered good in itself as well as productive of good, and to act socially and morally is to realize one's own nature by participating in it. So the loyalty and authority that create a social world and make us part of it are natural to man and necessary for a good life.

August 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 PM


All of the U.S.'s New Electricity in July Came from Renewables ( Rebecca Leber, 8/21/14, New Republic)

Clean energy still counts for a pretty small portion of our energy. While coal provides 39 percent, renewables like solar and wind add up to just 13 percent of our total supply. But policies to improve our energy mix--tax credits for wind and solar, state-level standards requiring utilities to rely more on renewables--are having a real impact. You can see it July's Energy Infrastructure Update, which the federal government just released.

Last month, a full 100 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added at the utility level came from wind, solar, and water in the U.S. This counts renewables that power utilities in the energy grid--but doesn't include solar installed on the rooftops of homes and businesses. Wind and solar added 379 megawatts and 31 megawatts respectively for July, bringing the two sources' total installed capacity to 6 percent of the utility sector. 

But natural gas is still the main new source of electricity this year, even if the oil and gas sector saw no growth last month. Natural gas accounted for 46 percent of new installations for the first seven months of the year, compared to over a quarter each for wind and solar. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 PM


Free Money for Germany Is Bad News for Euro (Mark Gilbert, 8/21/14, Bloomberg View)

When investors are willing to lend money to Germany for two years for free, at a zero interest rate, you know the euro project is in trouble again.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 PM


The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit : For nearly thirty years, a phantom haunted the woods of Central Maine. Unseen and unknown, he lived in secret, creeping into homes in the dead of night and surviving on what he could steal. To the spooked locals, he became a legend--or maybe a myth. They wondered how he could possibly be real. Until one day last year, the hermit came out of the forest (MICHAEL FINKEL, September 2014, GQ)

Newly installed in the Pine Tree kitchen, hidden behind the ice machine, was a military-grade motion detector. The device remained silent in the kitchen but sounded an alarm in the home of Sergeant Terry Hughes, a game warden who'd become obsessed with catching the thief. Hughes lived a mile away. He raced to the camp in his pickup truck and sprinted to the rear of the dining hall. He peeked in a window.

And there he was. Probably. The person stealing food appeared entirely too clean, his face freshly shaved. He wore eyeglasses and a wool ski hat. Was this really the North Pond Hermit, a man who'd tormented the surrounding community for years--decades--yet the police still hadn't learned his name?

Hughes used his cell phone, quietly, and asked the Maine State Police to alert trooper Diane Perkins-Vance, who had also been hunting the hermit. Before Perkins-Vance could get there, the burglar, his backpack full, started toward the exit. If the man stepped into the forest, Hughes understood, he might never be found again.

The burglar eased out of the dining hall, and Hughes used his left hand to blind the man with his flashlight; with his right he aimed his .357 square on his nose. "Get on the ground!" he bellowed.

The thief complied, no resistance, and lay facedown, candy spilling out of his pockets. It was one thirty in the morning on April 4, 2013. Perkins-Vance soon arrived, and the burglar was placed, handcuffed, in a plastic chair. The officers asked his name. He refused to answer. His skin was strangely pale; his glasses, with chunky plastic frames, were extremely outdated. But he wore a nice Columbia jacket, new Lands' End blue jeans, and sturdy boots. The officers searched him, and no identification was located.

Hughes left the suspect alone with Perkins-Vance. She removed his handcuffs and gave him a bottle of water. And he started to speak. A little. When Perkins-Vance asked why he didn't want to answer any questions, he said he was ashamed. He spoke haltingly, uncertainly; the connection between his mind and his mouth seemed to have atrophied from disuse. But over the next couple of hours, he gradually opened up.

His name, he revealed, was Christopher Thomas Knight. Born on December 7, 1965. He said he had no address, no vehicle, did not file a tax return, and did not receive mail. He said he lived in the woods.

"For how long?" wondered Perkins-Vance.

Knight thought for a bit, then asked when the Chernobyl nuclear-plant disaster occurred. He had long ago lost the habit of marking time in months or years; this was just a news event he happened to remember. The nuclear meltdown took place in 1986, the same year, Knight said, he went to live in the woods. He was 20 years old at the time, not long out of high school. He was now 47, a middle-aged man.

Knight stated that over all those years he slept only in a tent. He never lit a fire, for fear that smoke would give his camp away. He moved strictly at night. He said he didn't know if his parents were alive or dead. He'd not made one phone call or driven in a car or spent any money. He had never in his life sent an e-mail or even seen the Internet.

He confessed that he'd committed approximately forty robberies a year while in the woods--a total of more than a thousand break-ins. But never when anyone was home. He said he stole only food and kitchenware and propane tanks and reading material and a few other items. Knight admitted that everything he possessed in the world, he'd stolen, including the clothes he was wearing, right down to his underwear. The only exception was his eyeglasses.

Perkins-Vance called dispatch and learned that Knight had no criminal record. He said he grew up in a nearby community, and his senior picture was soon located in the 1984 Lawrence High School yearbook. He was wearing the same eyeglasses.

For close to three decades, Knight said, he had not seen a doctor or taken any medicine. He mentioned that he had never once been sick. You had to have contact with other humans, he claimed, in order to get sick.

When, said Perkins-Vance, was the last time he'd had contact with another person?

Sometime in the 1990s, answered Knight, he passed a hiker while walking in the woods.

"What did you say?" asked Perkins-Vance.

"I said, 'Hi,' " Knight replied. Other than that single syllable, he insisted, he had not spoken with or touched another human being, until this night, for twenty-seven years.

Christopher Knight was arrested, charged with burglary and theft, and transported to the Kennebec County jail in Augusta, the state capital. For the first time in nearly 10,000 days, he slept indoors.

News of the capture stunned the citizens of North Pond. For decades, they'd felt haunted by...something. It was hard to say what. At first, in the late 1980s, there were strange occurrences. Flashlights were missing their batteries. Steaks disappeared from the fridge. New propane tanks on the grill had been replaced by old ones. "My grandkids thought I was losing my mind," said David Proulx, whose vacation cabin was broken into at least fifty times.

Then people began noticing other things. Wood shavings near window locks; scratches on doorframes. Was it a neighbor? A gang of teenagers? The robberies continued--boat batteries, frying pans, winter jackets. Fear took hold. "We always felt like he was watching us," one resident said. The police were called, repeatedly, but were unable to help.

Locks were changed, alarm systems installed. Nothing seemed to stop him. Or her. Or them. No one knew. A few desperate residents even left notes on their doors: "Please don't break in. Tell me what you need and I'll leave it out for you." There was never a reply.

Incidents mounted, and the phantom morphed into legend. Eventually he was given a name: the North Pond Hermit. At a homeowners' meeting in 2002, the hundred people present were asked who had suffered break-ins. Seventy-five raised their hands. Campfire hermit stories were swapped. One kid recalled that when he was 10 years old, all his Halloween candy was stolen. That kid is now 34.

Still the robberies persisted. The crimes, after so long, felt almost supernatural. "The legend of the hermit lived on for years and years," said Pete Cogswell, whose jeans and belt were worn by the hermit when he was caught. "Did I believe it? No. Who really could?"

Knight's arrest, rather than eliminating disbelief, only enhanced it. The truth was stranger than the myth. One man had actually lived in the woods of Maine for twenty-seven years, in an unheated nylon tent. Winters in Maine are long and intensely cold: a wet, windy cold, the worst kind of cold. A week of winter camping is an impressive achievement. An entire season is practically unheard of.

Though hermits have been documented for thousands of years, Knight's feat appears to exist in a category of its own. He engaged in zero communication with the outside world. He never snapped a photo. He did not keep a journal. His camp was undisclosed to everyone.

There may have been others like Knight, whose commitment to isolation was absolute--he planned to live his entire life in secret--but if so, they were never found. Capturing Knight was the human equivalent of netting a giant squid. He was an uncontacted tribe of one.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 PM


Global warming's 'pause': Where did the heat go? (Becky Oskin, AUGUST 22, 2014, CS Monitor)

In 1999, the feverish rise in Earth's surface temperatures suddenly slowed, even as greenhouse gas emissions escalated. This unexpected slowdown has been called a global warming hiatus or global warming pause. Most climate scientists don't think this hiatus means global warming went kaput, but the reason (or reasons) for the slowdown has scientists flummoxed. Researchers have offered more than two dozen ideas to explain the missing heat.

Now, a study published today (Aug. 21) in the journal Science suggests a natural climate cycle in the North Atlantic Ocean gobbled Earth's extra heat. 

August 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 PM


Neanderthals walked among us - study (Associated Press,  20 August 2014)

Modern humans and Neanderthals may have coexisted in Europe for more than 5,000 years, providing ample time for the two species to meet and mix, according to new research.

In other words, one species, not two.
Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Bank Of America Reaches Record Settlement Over Mortgage Meltdown (SCOTT NEUMAN, August 21, 2014, NPR)

The settlement "addresses allegations that Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, and Countrywide each engaged in pervasive schemes to defraud financial institutions and other investors in structured financial products known as residential mortgage-backed securities, or RMBS," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said.

The securities typically included a high percentage of subprime mortgages and the sellers misrepresented to investors the degree of risk involved, Justice alleges. When the housing market collapsed, many of the RMBS became worthless.

Holder said the subprime mortgages bundled into the securities "contained material underwriting defects; they were secured by properties with inflated appraisals; they failed to comply with federal, state, and local laws; and they were insufficiently collateralized."

Even so, he said, "these financial institutions knowingly, routinely, falsely, and fraudulently marked and sold these loans as sound and reliable investments. Worse still, on multiple occasions -- when confronted with concerns about their reckless practices -- bankers at these institutions continued to mislead investors about their own standards and to securitize loans with fundamental credit, compliance, and legal defects."

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


U.S. Tried to Rescue Journalist James Foley From Islamic State Captors in Syria (DION NISSENBAUM and ADAM ENTOUS, Aug. 21, 2014, WSJ)

U.S. Special Operations forces mounted an unsuccessful mission inside Syria earlier this summer to try to rescue several Americans held by Islamic extremists, including the journalist who was beheaded this week, senior Obama administration officials said.

President Barack Obama ordered the secret operation, the first of its kind by the U.S. inside Syrian territory since the start of the civil war, after the U.S. received intelligence the Americans were being held by the extremist group known as Islamic State at a specific facility in a sparsely populated area inside Syria. Among the group, intelligence agencies believed at the time, was James Foley, the U.S. journalist whose beheading was shown in a grisly video released Tuesday.

Where do these neocons get off unilaterally invading other countries....

August 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Shrinking government: Federal hiring is down, departures are up (Josh Hicks August 2014, Washington Post)

Federal hiring has declined rapidly in recent years, while the number of departures has increased nearly as fast. That's a recipe for a shrinking government. [...]

The number of federal employees leaving government rose from about 83,000 in 2008 to 114,000 last year, representing a 37 percent increase in departures. At the same time, the number of hires has declined every year since 2009, dropping from about 140,000 to roughly 77,000.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


After Joining the WTO, What's Next for Laos? (Buavanh Vilavong,  9 August 2014, East Asia Forum)

Laos has used its WTO accession to implement its decision to establish a market economy. The accession process allows countries to align their trade policy with the principles of non-discrimination and transparency. Over the course of 15 years of accession negotiations, Laos enacted some 90 laws and regulations to bring them in line with WTO rules. This is expected to help create an enabling environment for the private sector. Such reform momentum should be maintained post-accession if Laos is to be competitive in the region.

WTO membership provides export opportunities for Laos, but such opportunities need to be realised. Despite its relatively robust growth of around 7.5 per cent per year over the last decade, Laos has to broaden its export base. To date, its exports are dominated by a limited number of products, mainly resource-based products (mining and electricity), primary commodities (agriculture and wood) and products with low value add (garments). Opening up the internal market to
foreign competition will help to stimulate reform in both the import-competing and export-oriented sectors.

Laos has bound its tariffs for all agricultural and industrial products, while a grace period has been granted for tariffs on items that are significant parts of Laos' domestic production or tariffs that contribute significantly to government revenue. In the medium to long term, alternative measures that are legal under the WTO, such as trade remedies, need to be put in place to address the possible impacts of an import surge.

Adapting to the WTO rules is a long-term challenge. Both the public and private sectors need to be prepared. Joining the WTO is not an end in itself. It is a tool to assist countries in adjusting their internal system to the norms of the world trade community. The true benefits of WTO accession can only be gained if Laos takes the results of the accession negotiations seriously and implements its obligations proactively -- but its first year has been a good start.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Obamacare Losing Power as Campaign Weapon in Ad Battles (Heidi Przybyla  Aug 19, 2014, Bloomberg) 

Republicans seeking to unseat the U.S. Senate incumbent in North Carolina have cut in half the portion of their top issue ads citing Obamacare, a sign that the party's favorite attack against Democrats is losing its punch.

The shift -- also taking place in competitive states such as Arkansas and Louisiana -- shows Republicans are easing off their strategy of criticizing Democrats over the Affordable Care Act now that many Americans are benefiting from the law and the measure is unlikely to be repealed.

And in one of those delicious ironies, Republicans will be the ones to make it more universal but will restrict choice.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Always Talk to Strangers : People who know and trust their neighbors are less likely to have heart attacks. New research builds on the understated health benefits of a sense of belonging and community. (JAMES HAMBLIN, AUG 19 2014, The Atlantic)

Social connection at the neighborhood level has long been known to be associated with good mental health, and some aspects of physical health. But this is the first study to look specifically at neighborhood social cohesion and heart attacks, which hit more than 700,000 Americans every year and cost everyone billions of dollars.

"There's evidence suggesting that negative factors of the neighborhood, things like density of fast food outlets, violence, noise, and poor air quality impact health," lead researcher Eric Kim, a psychologist in his final year of doctoral work at the University of Michigan, told me. I'd add broken windows. One 2003 study found that "boarded-up housing" predicts high rates of gonorrhea in a neighborhood, as well as premature death due to cancer or complications of diabetes. (And murder.) More recently, researchers from University of Pennsylvania looked at the health detriments associated with vacant land. By their understanding, abandoned buildings lead to isolation and erosion of social relationships, mutual trust, and collective efficacy, which leads to poor physical health.

Kim's team is focusing on the other side of things: the positive elements of a neighborhood that "might perhaps be protective or even enhancing of health." For a young scientist, Kim is precociously well versed in the language of hedging.

The study du jour, published in Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, is based on assessments of social connectedness in 5276 adults in urban, suburban, and rural areas. The subjects rated how strongly they agreed with the following four prompts:

"I really feel part of this area."

"If [I] were in trouble, there are lots of people in this area who would help."

"Most people in this area can be trusted."

"Most people in this area are friendly."

The responses landed the participants on a seven-point Likert scale. And then they were followed. Four years later, 148 of them had experienced heart attacks.

"On the seven-point scale," Kim explained, "each unit of increase in neighborhood social cohesion was associated with a 17 percent reduced risk of heart attacks."

"If you compare the people who had the most versus the least neighborhood social cohesion," Kim continued, "they had a 67 percent reduced risk of heart attacks."

But does it really matter if you feel connected in your community, as long as you have relationships and connectedness somewhere? (Like, on the Internet?)

Rare among studies of its kind, Kim and colleagues controlled for social connectedness at the individual level. "We also controlled for dispositional factors," he said, "thinking that perhaps optimistic people might think that they are more socially connected." The survey included measures of optimism, and the analysis also accounted for things like age, race, income, marital status, education, mental health, and known risk factors for heart attacks like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


Last Call :  The end of the printed newspaper. (Clay Shirkey, Medium)

Journalists have been infantilized throughout the last decade, kept in a state of relative ignorance about the firms that employ them. A friend tells a story of reporters being asked the paid print circulation of their own publication. Their guesses ranged from 150,000 to 300,000; the actual figure was 35,000. If a reporter was that uninformed about a business he was covering, he'd be taken off the story.

This cluelessness is not by accident; the people who understand the state of the business often hide that knowledge from the workers. My friend Jay Rosen writes about the media's "production of innocence" -- when covering a contentious issue, they must signal to the readers "We have no idea who's right." Among the small pool of journalists reporting on their own industry, there is a related task, the production of ignorance. When the press writes about the current dislocations, they must insist that no one knows what will happen. This pattern shows up whenever the media covers itself. When the Tribune Company recently got rid of their newspapers, the New York Times ran the story under a headline "The Tribune Company's publishing unit is being spun off, as the future of print remains unclear."

The future of print remains what? Try to imagine a world where the future of print is unclear: Maybe 25 year olds will start demanding news from yesterday, delivered in an unshareable format once a day. Perhaps advertisers will decide "Click to buy" is for wimps. Mobile phones: could be a fad. After all, anything could happen with print. Hard to tell, really.

Meanwhile, back in the treasurer's office, have a look at this chart. Do you see anything unclear about the trend line?

Carpe Diem/Mark Perry

Contrary to the contrived ignorance of media reporters, the future of the daily newspaper is one of the few certainties in the current landscape: Most of them are going away, in this decade. (If you work at a paper and you don't know what's happened to your own circulation or revenue in the last few years, now might be a good time to ask.) We're late enough in the process that we can even predict the likely circumstance of its demise.

Pick up a Sunday paper anywhere in this country. It will be the biggest paper that week, stuffed with sections, and with ads. Sunday is the money-maker, when circulation is highest and browsing time most abundant. Sunday is also the day for delivering those pamphlets of coupons and sales touts from from national advertisers like Home Depot and Office Max, Staples and Michael's.

Those pamphlets -- "free-standing inserts" -- are now the largest single source of print advertising for many papers. Classifieds have imploded, local display ads are down, and black newsroom humor long ago re-labelled the Obituary column 'Subscriber Countdown.'

Print ads are essential revenue for most papers. Retail ads are essential for print. Sunday is essential for retail. Inserts are essential for Sundays. The base of that entire inverted pyramid is being supported by the marketing departments of no more than a couple dozen national advertisers.

Those advertisers already have one foot out the door, having abandoned the idea that ads have to be printed inside the paper to reach their audience. CVS and Best Buy have so little connection to the papers they ride along with that they don't even bother printing the addresses of their local outlets anymore. (You can always find that information online.) From the advertiser's point of view, the nation's newspapers have become little more than a blue-bag delivery service, with a horoscope and enough local sports inside to get people to open the bag.

Inserts are one of the last sources of advertising to resist digitization. They are also the next to go. Businesses like Cellfire and Find & Save are working on digital coupons; stores like Kroger's and Safeway already offer online coupons direct to customers. This digitization is progressing as print circulation decays. Back in Roanoke, the Times was on the market for 5 years before it was bought; in that time the paper lost a quarter of its Sunday readers -- 106,000 to 85,000 -- and a third of its weekday readers -- 96,000 to 65,000. This story too is being repeated all over the country. The print audience continues to defect to mobile, abandon the local paper, or die.

As digital alternatives become attractive while print circulation withers, business will start to shift their money away from inserts. When the inserts go, Sundays won't prop up the rest of the week. When Sundays turn bad, the presses will become unprofitable. And when the presses become unprofitable, it will trigger the extraordinary costs involved in shrinking or ending the print operation. (If you work at a newspaper chain, ask your treasurer about underfunded pensions. Bring smelling salts.) These costs will torpedo the balance sheet, leading to further mergers, layoffs, reduced delivery days, or outright collapse.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Robin Williams Was Addicted To 'Tooth-Rotting Sentimentality' Says Barry Norman In 'Honest Tribute' (Ben Arnold, 19 Aug 2014, Yahoo)

Norman, who helmed the BBC's 'Film' series from 1972 until 'Film 98', praised Williams celebrated work, and Oscar-winning success, but continued to lament his less successful movies.

"That's a CV for which many a star would give his eyeteeth. But among the good films was a plenitude of bad ones," he continued.

"Well, every actor makes bad films occasionally but what was remarkable about Williams was not that he was so good in the good ones but that he was so very bad in the bad ones.


"He made no secret of his addiction to drugs and alcohol but there was another addiction, which he never admitted but which became increasingly evident in his own work - to saccharine, tooth-rotting sentimentality.

"Were the bad films made when drink or drugs played their part?"

Mr. Williams was the classic case where folks confuse mania (which is always self-indulgent) or humor.  To illustrate the point, he only starred in two good movies : one that wasn't a comedy, Awakenings; and one where he was confined by illustrators, Aladdin.  Anytime that he was allowed to be himself the movie/show suffered.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


Kurdish Fighters Aren't Terrorists (The Editors, 8/20/14, Bloomberg View)

In Iraq, the U.S. is fighting in a de facto alliance with one group on its list of terrorist organizations -- the Kurdistan Workers Party, also known as the PKK -- against another, Islamic State. This odd situation reveals an emerging truth about the Kurdish group: Its terrorist status is falling out of date. At this point it has to be recognized for the constructive role it can play in Iraq and the wider region.

August 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


How Egypt Prolonged the Gaza War (MICHELE DUNNE, NATHAN J. BROWN AUGUST 18, 2014, Foreign Policy)

[W]hile a strong Egypt-Israel alliance was supposed to cut Hamas down to size, this strategy has also backfired on the diplomatic front. However much it has bloodied Hamas -- and particularly the population of Gaza -- the war has actually led to a breaking of international taboos on dealing with Hamas, a former pariah.

...than talk to democrats, you've warped yourselves.
Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Common Knowledge Makes Us More Cooperative (AVITAL ANDREWS, August 19, 2014, Pacific Standard)

If you know that someone knows something that you also know, does that make you more likely to cooperate with them? A new study out of Harvard suggests the answer is yes.

Social psychology has plenty of studies that examine altruism, but there hasn't been much research that looks into its obscure cousin, "mutualistic cooperation"--that is, when people cooperate to benefit each other and themselves.

To start rectifying that, a group of researchers, including the popular author Steven Pinker, designed and ran four game theory-type experiments on 1,033 people that involved giving subjects varying levels of information, from private to common--the common knowledge was literally broadcast over a loudspeaker. Each person was then given a set of decisions with varying costs and payoffs, and allowed to choose whether to work by themselves or with others. In many cases, participants needed common knowledge and others' help to get the games' maximum benefit. The researchers also manipulated what their subjects knew about their partners' knowledge.

The resulting study, published last week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that when people have common knowledge, they're much likelier to act in each others' best interest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Obama Is Seen as Frustrating His Own Party (CARL HULSE, JEREMY W. PETERS and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, AUG. 18, 2014, NY Times)

The meeting in the Oval Office in late June was called to give President Obama and the four top members of Congress a chance to discuss the unraveling situation in Iraq.

But Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, wanted to press another point.

With Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, sitting a few feet away, Mr. Reid complained that Senate Republicans were spitefully blocking the confirmation of dozens of Mr. Obama's nominees to serve as ambassadors. He expected that the president would back him up and urge Mr. McConnell to relent.

Mr. Obama quickly dismissed the matter.

"You and Mitch work it out," Mr. Obama said coolly, cutting off any discussion.

Mr. Reid seethed quietly for the rest of the meeting, according to four separate accounts provided by people who spoke with him about it. After his return to the Capitol that afternoon, Mr. Reid told other senators and his staff members that he was astonished by how disengaged the president seemed. After all, these were Mr. Obama's own ambassadors who were being blocked by Mr. McConnell, and Secretary of State John Kerry had been arguing for months that getting them installed was an urgent necessity for the administration.

But the impression the president left with Mr. Reid was clear: Capitol Hill is not my problem.

To Democrats in Congress who have worked with Mr. Obama, the indifference conveyed to Mr. Reid, one of the president's most indispensable supporters, was frustratingly familiar. In one sense, Mr. Obama's response was a reminder of what made him such an appealing figure in the first place: his almost innate aversion to the partisan squabbles that have left Americans so jaded and disgruntled with their political system. But nearly six years into his term, with his popularity at the lowest of his presidency, Mr. Obama appears remarkably distant from his own party on Capitol Hill, with his long neglect of would-be allies catching up to him.

In interviews, nearly two dozen Democratic lawmakers and senior congressional aides suggested that Mr. Obama's approach has left him with few loyalists to effectively manage the issues erupting abroad and at home and could imperil his efforts to leave a legacy in his final stretch in office.

Only a peculiar kind of "magic Negro" racism can have blinded them to the fact that he's basically Jimmy Carter. Better brace ourselves for the most annoying post-Presidency ever....

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


In modern education, metrics 'r' us (John Yemma,  AUGUST 19, 2014, CS Monitor)

Metrics are better than guesses. A good guess might lead to something wonderful, but that is rare, and a worker who only guesses won't go far. Being systematic is important. Producing consistent results is crucial - whether repairing a faucet or building a jet engine. As you'll see in Sarah Garland's recent Monitor cover story (read it here), the three-decade effort to improve public education in the United States - initiated by the 1983 "A Nation at Risk" report and brought forward by the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act and the current Common Core initiative - has relied heavily on metrics.

Students, teachers, and schools are held to a set of standards and are constantly being tested and evaluated, their performance compared with their past performances and with those of other students, teachers, and schools. 

We won.  Which annoys the heck out of us.
Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Mike Brown's Family Asked To See Robbery Footage Before Police Released It To Media, But Were Ignored (JEFF SPROSS, AUGUST 17, 2014, Think Progress)

On Friday, August 15th, Ferguson police released a convenience store surveillance video that purportedly shows Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery -- shoving a clerk to take some cigars from the store -- the same day he was killed. [...]

When asked if the family believes it is their son in the video, Grey said "they haven't examined it for that purpose," but "there's no reason not to believe that it's him." Another Brown family lawyer, Benjamin Crump, also said the person in the video appears to be Michael Brown.

Trayvon Martin's Mom: 'If They Refuse to Hear Us, We Will Make Them Feel Us' (Sybrina Fulton,  Aug. 18, 2014, TIME)

I wish I had a word of automatic comfort but I don't. I wish I could say that it will be alright on a certain or specific day but I can't. I wish that all of the pain that I have endured could possibly ease some of yours but it won't. What I can do for you is what has been done for me: pray for you then share my continuing journey as you begin yours.

I hate that you and your family must join this exclusive yet growing group of parents and relatives who have lost loved ones to senseless gun violence. Of particular concern is that so many of these gun violence cases involve children far too young. But Michael is much more than a police/gun violence case; Michael is your son. A son that barely had a chance to live. Our children are our future so whenever any of our children - black, white, brown, yellow, or red - are taken from us unnecessarily, it causes a never-ending pain that is unlike anything I could have imagined experiencing.

Neither kid need be dead, but one was a criminal shot by police officers.  The other was an innocent gunned down by an obsessive.
Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue? : The mass frustration is surely there. What's missing is a mainstream national leader who will make this cause a prime election issue. (ROBERT KUTTNER, AUGUST 19, 2014, American Prospect)

The shift in labor markets, from an economy where regular payroll employment is the norm, to one where more of us are performing odd jobs, or have regular jobs with indeterminate schedules, ought to be the top domestic political issue. There should be an emergent political consciousness that regular people are getting screwed solely so that greater profits can go to corporations, executive, and private equity speculators.

Are we on the cusp of a breakthrough, where this issue bursts into public consciousness and cannot be ignored, the way the civil rights movement finally broke through in the late 1950s?

The mass frustration is surely there. What's missing is a mainstream national leader who will make this cause a prime election issue.

Why do politicians address these widely felt injustices mainly at the level of platitude? Because the remedies would require a transformation of who runs the economy, and of how we regulate labor markets.

Three decades ago, corporations in retailing and other service industries faced essentially the same variation in the need for staffing over days or weeks. But they didn't expect their employees to bear all of the cost. Unemployment insurance covered far more of the cost of genuinely seasonal work such as construction.

Though the Times series cites use of new computer technology that makes it easier for employers to monitor fluctuating demand for services and to reduce ever more employees to on-call status, this shift is mainly not about new technology; it's about a power shift.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Top U.S. General Visits Vietnam as Asian Tensions Simmer ( VU TRONG KHANH and TREFOR MOSS,  Aug. 14, 2014, NY Times)

The U.S.'s top-ranked military officer met his Vietnamese counterpart here Thursday, as the U.S. capitalizes on tensions between China and its Asia-Pacific neighbors to revamp its own regional alliances.

Gen. Martin Dempsey became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit the Southeast Asian country since the Vietnam War. Vietnam's Defense Ministry said in a statement that he and Gen. Do Ba Ty, the chief of General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army, discussed future cooperation between the American and Vietnamese militaries.

The move is the latest initiative on the part of Washington and its Asian allies to boost the defense capabilities of Southeast Asian countries--notably Vietnam and the Philippines--that are struggling to stand up to China in their territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Can taxing the wealthy strengthen democracy? (Deborah Boucoyannis, August 18, 2014, NY Times)

The historical record, however, suggests that taxing the wealthiest does have an important, but different, consequence: making the wealthy vested in the common good. In fact, taxing the wealthy was crucial for the emergence of representative government itself.

Based on an original database of about 600 members of the English nobility between 1200 and 1350, my research shows the remarkable scale of the obligations, both fiscal and military, that the wealthiest in England owed to their crown. Unlike their French or Spanish counterparts, who were typically exempted from fiscal duties, the English nobility bore a heavy burden on both fronts. Almost all were obliged to perform military service and more than 30 percent had their estates confiscated over unfulfilled obligations to the crown, whether temporarily or permanently. Between 20 and 40 percent were in debt to the crown, usually for overdue taxes.

The high fiscal burden remains obscured because some of the most famous nobles, the topmost level of society, paid little in taxes. Probably the richest noble of the 1290s,the Earl of Cornwall, had an annual income amounting to 3,000 or 4,000 pounds, yet he contributed only about £10 in taxes.

What this misses, however, is that the earl had lent over £18,000 to the crown throughout his life, which could have been about 20 percent of his lifetime income -- a remarkable amount when the highest tax rate at the time was 10 percent. Such loans were advanced by many of the earls and top nobles. Furthermore, the Earl of Cornwall was never reimbursed; in fact, when he died childless, virtually his entire estate was forfeited to the crown.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that at least 75 percent of the nobility attended parliament. Two separate forces pushed them. First, because the government was forcing nobles to loan it money, these nobles supported the government's ability to raise taxes from other sectors of society, so that the government could pay the nobles back. Loans are serviced by taxes, and one of the biggest obstacles to taxation is that local elites will resist it; but once these people are vested in the government and in its ability to tax, they enable that capacity to grow--or at least their resistance weakens.

A similar dynamic helps explain the emergence of democracy in the city-states of Europe. The political scientist David Stasavage has described how merchants were heavily vested in the public debt of various city-states, as well as early modern England, and this secured their presence in the representative assemblies that granted taxation. This was an ancient practice after all: Plutarch recounted how Eumenes, a Macedonian general, accepted loans from his rivals, thus vesting them in his survival and co-opting them.

The second force pushing the rich to hold the government accountable is that when they are forced to pay high taxes, they feel compelled to monitor the government's actions and check how their money is spent. Where the rich are not vested in public affairs through high contributions, they are less likely to use their bargaining powers to bring change.

No representation without taxation.

August 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Study: Many Seniors Get Unnecessary Cancer Tests (Steven Reinberg, 8/18/14, HealthDay)

"Across the U.S., there seems to be a lot of cancer screening in patients who have a short life expectancy," said lead researcher Dr. Ronald Chen, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"For patients who have a limited life expectancy, cancer screening might cause them more harm than benefit," Chen said. "Most guidelines recommend that we stop screening for these cancers when the patient has a short life expectancy. There is no evidence that cancer screening helps patients who have less than 10 years to live."

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


Five Things to Know About Perry Indictment (Jay Root, Aug. 16, 2014, Texas Tribune)

No one disputes that Perry, a Republican, had the authority to use his line-item veto power, guaranteed by the Texas Constitution, to eliminate the $7.5 million in two-year state funding for the public integrity unit.

That unit, charged with prosecuting public corruption cases in the state capital, is operated by the office of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. Nor does anyone dispute that Perry, under the First Amendment, has the unfettered right to call for the resignation of Lehmberg or any other DA.

The allegation is that Perry improperly combined the two -- that he illegally tied his power over integrity unit funding to his demand that Lehmberg resign, essentially setting up a quid pro quo arrangement that crossed the line into an abuse of power.

Even after the veto, there were numerous reports that Perry's office continued to dangle a restoration of the state funding or a future job offer to Lehmberg if she would leave office. Sources said Lehmberg rejected the deal because she questioned whether it was legal.

Asked about those reports Saturday, Perry said: "The details of my decision-making were very clear. I said early on that I was going to clearly veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I had lost confidence in, and I did exactly what I said I was going to do."

Perry's strongest case going forward, at least in the court of public opinion, will probably center on Lehmberg's outrageous conduct during and after her arrest.

According to arrest reports and published accounts, a driver called 911 in April 2013 after seeing someone in a Lexus driving erratically, crossing into the bike lanes and swerving into oncoming traffic. Lehmberg, Travis County's top law enforcement official, was later found in a church parking lot with a bottle of vodka in the front seat.

The video of her field sobriety tests and from inside the Travis County Jail is scandalous and highly embarrassing: She screamed and cried, kicked a door, stuck out her tongue and repeatedly tried to pull rank by telling authorities to "call Greg"  -- meaning Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton. "Y'all are gonna be in jail, not me," she declared at one point.

She ultimately had to be restrained in leg irons before her blood was drawn. Even hours after her arrest, her blood-alcohol content was found to be at nearly three times the blood-alcohol limit.

...that in her video she'd said the stuff Mel Gibson did; would anyone even question the veto?

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Is a Baby Aspirin a Day the New Apple? (Hilda Bastian, August 17, 2014, Scientific American)

His first big clue came when people started hemorrhaging after chewing gum.

Lawrence Craven did tonsil and adenoid surgery in his office. And it usually went well. But in the mid-1940s, "an alarming number of hemorrhages were evidenced in disturbing frequency," he said.

He figured it was the aspirin chewing gum people were using for pain relief. Maybe it interfered with blood clotting. Craven tested the idea out on himself. He took 12 aspirin a day till he got a "profuse nosebleed." Then he did it a couple more times to be sure.

And if the drug could interfere with blood clotting, Craven figured maybe it could prevent blood clots in arteries that caused heart attacks. So he started prescribing an aspirin a day to thousands of men at high risk of heart attack and recording what happened: very few heart attacks.

It was the first appearance of the "aspirin a day" practice in the medical literature. But no one followed up on Craven's call for controlled testing of the hypothesis. Then in the 1960s, John O'Brien, a hematologist in Portsmouth, England, arrived at the same conclusion. That convinced Peter Elwood from the UK Medical Research Council to start a randomized controlled trial. The first men enrolled in 1970.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


The Free and the Antifree : On payment for writers (n + 1, Fall 2014)

By the mid-aughts, a day job was no longer an inconvenience but an aspiration, and attitudes toward it changed. The work writers could get at corporations--as listings editors or fact-checkers--may have remained secondary to artwork in their minds, but that work, so much less reliably available than before, demanded a new level of effort to find and to keep. Not only one's position but one's entire department could, without much warning, disappear.

These writers and copy editors were among the many who, faced with limited resources and their own cultural omnivorousness, came home each night eager to download MP3s, PDFs, and other digital copies of artworks and research they would otherwise be unable to access. Around the reality of these thefts a powerful ideological movement emerged, taking as its inspiration not just facts on the ground but also the libertarian, antigovernment, "hacker" spirit of the earliest personal computing and internet communities. The apostles of the Free Culture movement, as it came to be called, argued that stealing digital content was a progressive politics and should be brought into the open. Some of these apostles were hucksters and profiteers, others were merely hypocrites (who preached the virtues of free from their perches as well-paid magazine editors or college or law school professors), but still others, like the freeware hacker Aaron Swartz, were true believers. Congress had allowed copyright protections to be rewritten by huge corporations (most notably Disney) to become a parody of a law. If what was being illegally downloaded was some of the best that had been thought or said by human beings, and the downloaders were people who couldn't afford the purchase price of the books or movies (some of which were expensive)--wasn't that a good thing? [...]

If this was not yet a movement, it was definitely a mood--antifree--and it was fighting a more difficult battle than the proponents of free had. The Free movement had a few professorial spokespeople and millions of adherents; antifree was a small group of interested artisans speaking up for the dignity of being gainfully employed. As antifree grew beyond the small world of left-wing blogs, it attracted 25-year-olds who objected to being paid $50 by a corporate website that presumed them lucky to get the experience. It attracted veteran journalists who balked at being asked to write for a large, profitable magazine's website for chump change. And it attracted unpaid interns, who at profitable media corporations (ranging from Condé Nast to Gawker), actually filed suit for violations of labor laws. These were individual stories, but they added up. The entities that had once supported journalists and writers were now doing their best not to pay them for the simplest of reasons: they could get away with it.

One of the first books to come out of the antifree movement was Ross Perlin's Intern Nation; most recently, Astra Taylor's The People's Platform patiently explains how the internet has failed to upend business as usual, so that today's large corporations, even if superficially different from the large corporations of yesteryear, still control and above all profit from what we see, read, and hear. Taylor, an independent documentary filmmaker with close ties to the independent music scene, is particularly critical of the free philosophers, who ultimately have only helped corporations to shore up their bottom lines.

The argument between free and antifree may be framed in many ways; one would be as an argument between the American scholar Lewis Hyde and the French Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. In his great book The Gift (1983), Hyde tried to explain, against an American intellectual background of economic rationalism, why people would do something like write poetry. Bourdieu, whose work was beginning to be translated into English around this same time, had already prepared an answer to this question: people make art for the same reason people do everything--because they want to gain capital. In the case of art this capital was often symbolic rather than financial, but it was still capital. For Hyde, art-making looked more like the premodern gift economies described by anthropologists like Mauss and Lévi-Strauss--the creation of something without obvious utility that could be presented to the world as a gift. (Bourdieu had also written about gift economies; for him they were, like art, a winnable game with rules and strategies.) For Hyde, the secret of art was that there was no secret--art-making was what made us human. It was what we did for free.

As it happens, Hyde's book is often cited as an argument against payment for writing--"Art is a gift," these people say, as they pick up their paychecks from Princeton or Iowa or Columbia. Antifree responds with some variant of Bourdieu's old unmasking: Nothing exists outside the realm of exchange. If a writer is not paid in money, she is paid in "cultural capital" that translates into improved standing and, eventually, cash. So why (asks antifree) should the writer be forced to wait? Why shouldn't she be paid right now?

In the argument between the free and the antifree, we're with the antifree. that this editorial is free. If it had commercial value they'd be charging you to read it.  But, if they sought to charge you, you wouldn't read it.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM



Pope Francis on Monday endorsed the use of force to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq but said the international community -- and not just one country -- should decide how to intervene.

So the Samaritan should have paaed on by because the priest and the Levite did?  

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Ronald Reagan Steals the Show (Cass R. Sunstein, 8/06/14, Bloomberg View)

[W]hen discussing Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Perlstein writes in fetters. As soon as Reagan appears, the author is at liberty, and his prose soars.

Perlstein reminds us that as the terrible events of Watergate unfolded, Reagan was Nixon's most consistent defender. Were the Democrats upset that Nixon had bugged their offices? "They should be happy that somebody was willing to listen to them," Reagan quipped.

In Reagan's view, Nixon was "a truthful man." Informed that he himself had been taped when he visited the Oval Office, Reagan answered that the tapes probably "made me sound good." Even after Nixon resigned, Reagan saw the bright side, suggesting that when Americans started to "calm down a bit," they would "take pride" that the system had succeeded in rooting out the few bad apples.

Reagan combined an unflappable optimism about the future with a deep faith in the nation's traditions and institutions. A college acquaintance doubted that he was "intelligent enough to be cynical" -- a revealing mistake. Reagan's lack of cynicism was real enough, but it was a product of emotional commitment, not of any deficit in intelligence. In the words of his son Ron, "He made a lot of stuff up but could pass a lie detector test."

Reagan catapulted to national political prominence in large part because of his aggressive stand against Berkeley's student protestors in the 1960s. In his words, "I'd like to harness their youthful energy with a strap." His political advisers, consulting sophisticated public opinion research, told him not to make an issue of campus militancy; he ignored them. He had cherished his own experience at Eureka College and, as governor, promised he would tell students to "obey the rules or get out."

That moral clarity, offered with firmness and good cheer, defined Reagan's political life. 

Carter, Nixon and Ford were small men.  Reagan was a big man.

August 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


US education: How we got where we are today : The standardized state of US schools today grew from the Reagan blueprint, 'A Nation at Risk.' Why that legacy matters now. (Sarah Garland, 8/17/14, The Hechinger Report)

"A Nation at Risk," commissioned by the Reagan administration in 1981, was a scathing appraisal of public education. Its authors - a federal commission of leaders from government, business, and education - spent two years examining American schools, and they were appalled at what they found. Standardized test and SAT scores were falling. The United States was dropping behind competitors such as Japan. The public education system was so bad that not only were US students unprepared to join an increasingly high-tech workforce, 23 million Americans were functionally illiterate. Worst of all, the report concluded, Americans were complacent as their schools crumbled, threatening the very "fabric of society."  

One of the most famous lines in the report said: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."

The document set off panic in a once self-satisfied nation and launched a movement to transform the public education system. A generation later, its effects are powerful. The excoriation of American schooling is what most people remember, but its actual legacy is ingrained in public education today.  

The report's five proposed solutions - improving content, raising standards, overhauling the teaching profession, adding time to the school day and year, and improving leadership and fiscal support - are clear in current reform. They can be seen in the spread of the Common Core standards, a set of streamlined but intense new standards introduced in 2009 that, though controversial, are still in use in more than 40 states; in new teacher ratings based partly on standardized test scores; and in the invention and rise of charter schools with longer school days and no union contracts. 

Initially embraced by a coalition of conservatives and liberals, the solutions offered in "A Nation at Risk" stoked a backlash among many on the left who argued that its criticisms of public education were over the top and that its solutions ignored poverty and inequity in the system.

But the Republican-driven revolution is being driven home, as never before, by a Democratic president.

One of the great amusements of being on the right is that when we get what we want we assume it must have been a liberal commie plot.

August 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM



Orrin Judd (orrinj) has invited you to play in a mini-league called BrothersJudd.

Selco Predictor is both easy to play and will keep you and your friends entertained throughout the Barclays Premier League season 2014/15.

Register or log in to the game by visiting

Once you have logged in, click on the Mini-Leagues link on the right of the page and then enter the code FC515-ZAL to join the private Mini-League.

Enjoy the game!

Thanks to our friends at FSB, we're giving away a copy of Jason L. Riley's Please Stop Helping Us to whoever gets the most games right this weekend.

'Please Stop Helping Us' : A new book brilliantly explains how policies designed to help blacks end up harming them.  (Thomas Sowell, National Review)

This book untangles the controversies, the confusions, and the irresponsible rhetoric in which issues involving minimum-wage laws are usually discussed. As someone who has followed minimum-wage controversies for decades, I must say that I have never seen the subject explained more clearly or more convincingly.

Black teenage-unemployment rates ranging from 20 to 50 percent have been so common over the past 60 years that many people are unaware that this was not true before there were minimum-wage laws, or even during years when inflation rendered minimum-wage laws ineffective, as in the late 1940s.

Pricing young people out of work deprives them not only of income but also of work experience, which can be even more valuable. Pricing young people out of legal work, when illegal work is always available, is just asking for trouble. So is having large numbers of idle young males hanging out together on the streets.

When it comes to affirmative action, Jason Riley asks the key question: "Do racial preferences work? What is the track record?" Like many other well-meaning and nice-sounding policies, affirmative action cannot survive factual scrutiny.

Some individuals may get jobs they would not get otherwise, but many black students who are quite capable of getting a good college education are admitted, under racial quotas, to institutions whose pace alone is enough to make it unlikely that they will graduate.

Studies that show how many artificial failures are created by affirmative-action admissions policies are summarized in Please Stop Helping Us, in language much easier to understand than in the original studies.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


No Theatricks : a review of The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke from the Sublime and Beautiful to American Independence by David Bromwich (Ferdinand Mount, 8/21/14, ondon Review of Books)

It is David Bromwich's aim in The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke that people should know a good deal more about what Burke actually said and wrote. This is the first of two projected volumes; the second will cover the two great causes of Burke's later life: the British misgovernment of India and the French Revolution. Bromwich's patient and subtle exposition is a continuing delight. After reading this first volume, several major misreadings of Burke and a more general ignorance of his arguments and actions will not be possible, or at any rate won't be legitimate, by no means the same thing. The book is not intended as a guide to Burke's personal and family life or to the ups and downs of his political career. It just tells the reader what Burke thought and why he thought it.

Burke was on the side of the underdog. That is a pallid way of putting what must be one's first and abiding impression. There were at least six great issues on which he defended the victims of mistreatment with a steely vigour and an unhesitating sympathy. These six issues deserve to be listed, if only to dispel once and for all the illusion that Burke was the lackey of the rich and powerful.

From first to last, he stuck up for John Wilkes and the cause of liberty. He drily recognised Wilkes's failings: 'There has been no hero of the mob but Wilkes'; 'He is not ours, and if he were, is little to be trusted. He is a lively agreeable man, but of no prudence and no principles.' Yet he defended Wilkes throughout his struggle to be elected to a House of Commons which repeatedly refused to recognise his election. It was a sacrosanct principle that in a free country the people must be allowed to choose their own representatives. Which did not mean that Burke was a democrat in our modern sense. He believed in government for the people, not by the people, and he opposed the proposed reforms of Parliament - wider suffrage, more frequent elections, the end of rotten boroughs - on the grounds that, though the British constitution might be imperfect, it worked and its faults should be corrected only over time and with great caution.

Almost simultaneously, Burke was defending the American colonists in their struggle not to be taxed by a Parliament three thousand miles away, not simply because there must be no taxation without representation and it would be absurd to send American MPs to Westminster, but also because the colonists had grown away from their mother country, grown too 'Whiggish' for their internal democracy to be crushed or checked. Here we see, perhaps for the first time, Burke's crucially socio-historical bent. It was not simply a sound principle that the people should choose their own governors. In the historical situation of the American colonies, they were going to choose them whether George III and Lord North liked it or not. There was no point in arguing with that political fact: 'I do not know the method of drawing up an indictment against an whole people.'

Burke's opposition to the American war has a further dimension which comes close to a blanket opposition to war per se. He had been educated at a Quaker school outside Dublin, run by Abraham Shackleton, who in his prospectus declared that he declined 'to teach that part of the academic course which he conceives injurious to morals and subversive of sound principles, particularly those authors who recommend, in seducing language, the illusions of love and the abominable trade of war'. Abraham's son Richard became Burke's best friend (Burke wrote sixty letters to him over five years), and the Quaker and Huguenot connections, both in Dublin and in Co. Cork (where Burke's mother originally came from), are not to be underestimated. As for his Catholic connections, there was no danger of those being overlooked. Edmund's mother and his wife were both Catholics of Irish stock and his father may have converted in order to pursue his successful legal career. Certainly the cartoonists kept his origins in public sight; he was typically portrayed in cassock and biretta as well as his trademark specs.

Burke constantly insisted that it was common humanity and not his Irish origins which led him to support the gradual emancipation of Catholics and Dissenters and to press for the repeal of the cruel tariffs and import bans which prevented his ex-countrymen from earning any sort of living. Even after reinventing himself as an Englishman, he never abandoned Ireland, although free trade with Ireland was scarcely a cause calculated to endear him to the Bristol merchants who had elected him to Parliament. Nor was his support of the American colonists, which made him so unpopular in Bristol that he told his constituents in August 1776, 'in this temper of yours and of my mind, I should sooner have fled to the extremities of the earth than have shewn myself here.' It was in Bristol that Burke made famous the proposition that 'your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays if instead of serving you, he sacrifices it to your opinion.' And it was in Bristol that he lived up to that doctrine, and they duly kicked him out.

After the Bristol years he took up the cause of abolition of the slave trade, anathema to those same merchants, who profited from it so hugely. The slave trade was, he said, 'the most shameful trade that ever the hardened heart of man could bear' and 'rather than suffer it to continue as it is, I heartily wish it at an end.' But he recognised the interests of the slave merchants and the economic dislocation that would be caused by immediate abolition. So he devised a detailed blueprint for its slow strangulation, his Sketch of a Negro Code which he allowed to be sent to Pitt's home secretary Henry Dundas in 1792. Under the Code, there would be strict controls over the transport of slaves: breathing room, diet, medical treatment. On arrival, there were to be severe criminal sanctions against maltreatment or the seizure of their property; plantations were to have churches and schools; brighter pupils would be sent to the bishop of London for further education, where they would automatically become free, though Burke does not spell this out. Above all, families were not to be separated, and slave-owners would have to offer proper support to pregnant and nursing mothers and their children. Negroes over the age of thirty with three children or more would be entitled to purchase their freedom at half their market value. All this would make slave-holding so costly as to become ultimately unviable. But what should also be noted is how Burke goes beyond sloganising for abolition and sets himself to work out a more tolerable way of life for slave families during and after the transition.

The same practical humanity is there in his great campaign against Warren Hastings and the East India Company, which is to come in Bromwich's second volume. One final campaign is worth listing here to complete the record. It was a small affair at the time, but Burke's words resonate to us in this post-Holocaust age with a terrible vibrancy. During the American war, the British invaded the Dutch-owned Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius and roughed up the inhabitants. The brutality was all the more callous because the tiny volcanic island had recently been flattened by a hurricane. The people who came off worst were the little band of Jewish merchants who resided there. Their plight might have been utterly forgotten except for Burke's speech:

The persecution was begun with the people, whom of all others it ought to be the care and the wish of humane nations to protect, the Jews. Having no fixed settlement in any part of the world, no kingdom nor country in which they have a government, a community, and a system of laws, they are thrown upon the benevolence of nations, and claim protection and civility from their weakness, as well as from their utility ... Their abandoned state and their defenceless situation calls most forcibly for the protection of civilised nations.

By setting out in such detail what Burke said and did in these six cases (and in others, such as the cruel treatment of debtors), Bromwich sets us a puzzling question: why should such a man have provoked the loathing of so many liberal-minded scholars? What is it about Burke that gets their goat? The first thing that inflames this aversion, I think, is the way Burke plunged headlong into party politics. His speeches and writings are so immersed in political negotiation as often to be inaccessible to modern readers, and also for that reason rather offputting. He deliberately avoids the marmoreal detachment from the fray that we are accustomed to in political thinkers. Worse still, Burke refuses to regard parties as a grubby tactical necessity. On the contrary, he presents party affiliation as a noble aspect of political life. Bromwich reminds us that Burke never uttered those famous words attributed to him: 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.' What he did say was: 'When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.' Burke was proud to be a leader of the Rockingham Whigs, who have a claim to be the first ongoing political party in British history, for 'Commonwealths are made of families, free commonwealths of parties also; and we may as well affirm that our natural regards and ties of blood tend inevitably to make men bad citizens as that the bonds of our party weaken those by which we are held to our country.'

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Germany Eavesdropped On Kerry, Clinton, Magazine Says (NPR, August 16, 2014)

The magazine said the German equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency, known by its acronym BND, tapped a satellite conversation Kerry made in the Middle East in 2013. BND also recorded a conversation between then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2012, according to Der Spiegel.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


It's Time for Real Reform of Veterans' Health Care (Joseph Antos, July 31, 2014, The American)

Overall, the Miller-Sanders bill will probably do some good in waking up the VA and at least temporarily improving access to health care. However, it cannot permanently ensure that the promises of medical benefits made to veterans can be met within limited budget resources without returning to long waiting lists and compromised quality.

We need to decentralize the VA health system and give veterans realistic health plan choices. As much as possible, veterans should receive their care from the broader health system, and not be kept locked up in a system that cannot handle the full caseload.

The VA has gotten away with a long history of failures because its customers have no other choice if they want to obtain promised care without having to make a financial payment. Veterans may be dissatisfied, but they have no effective voice other than through the political process, which has shown only sporadic interest in the ongoing problems with access and quality.

Rather than authorizing private health care on a short-term basis, as the Miller-Sanders bill does, most veterans can be fully integrated into mainstream health care. The private health sector is fully equipped to deal with most of the health needs of former soldiers. The VA should focus its resources on specialized services, including treatment for combat trauma and rehabilitation that is unique to war veterans. Facilities not needed to provide those services should be sold off.

Veterans should be given vouchers to purchase private health insurance, including coverage on the new health insurance exchanges. With more health plan options, veterans can become active consumers who can pick plans that best meet their needs. The principle of informed choice of health plans has been adopted by Obamacare for everyone else. It is time to give that option to veterans.

Except that the poroblem is veterans are extremely satisfied with the VA system, not least because it treats them as if they were special and deserving of a system not available to the rest of the citizenry.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Why Students Prefer to Learn From a Machine : Robo-readers aren't as good as human readers--they're better (Annie Murphy Paul, 8/14/14, Slate)

[T]here's another use for robo-graders--a role for them to play in which, evidence suggests, they may not only be as good as humans, but better. In this role, the computer functions not as a grader but as a proofreader and basic writing tutor, providing feedback on drafts, which students then use to revise their papers before handing them in to a human.

Instructors at the New Jersey Institute of Technology have been using a program called E-Rater in this fashion since 2009, and they've observed a striking change in student behavior as a result. Andrew Klobucar, associate professor of humanities at NJIT, notes that students almost universally resist going back over material they've written. But, Klobucar told Inside Higher Ed reporter Scott Jaschik, his students are willing to revise their essays, even multiple times, when their work is being reviewed by a computer and not by a human teacher. They end up writing nearly three times as many words in the course of revising as students who are not offered the services of E-Rater, and the quality of their writing improves as a result. Crucially, says Klobucar, students who feel that handing in successive drafts to an instructor wielding a red pen is "corrective, even punitive" do not seem to feel rebuked by similar feedback from a computer.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


BOOMERS: MOVING FURTHER OUT AND AWAY (Wendell Cox, 08/14/2014, New Geography)

The latest available small area data shows that baby boomers continue to leave the urban cores in large numbers. They have also left the earlier suburbs in such large numbers that their population gains in the later suburbs and exurbs have been insufficient to stem boomer movement out of the major metropolitan areas to smaller cities and rural areas.

These conclusions are drawn from an analysis of population at the zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) among those 35 to 54 years of age in 2000 and the same cohort in 2010 (then 45 to 64 years of age). This small area analysis avoids the exaggeration of urban core data that necessarily occurs from reliance on the municipal boundaries of core cities (which are themselves nearly 60 percent suburban or exurban, ranging from as little as three percent to virtually 100 percent).  [...]

Moreover, the data indicates that boomers are leaving the major metropolitan areas to move to smaller cities or even to rural areas. In contrast with the 2.17 million major metropolitan area loss, areas outside the major metropolitan areas added 350,000 boomers between 2000 and 2010. In 2000, smaller cities and rural areas housed 44.4 percent of the boomer population. By 2010, the smaller city and rural share had risen to 45.8 percent (Figure 3).

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


U.S. Household Debt Sinks, in Tale of Two Borrowers (ALAN ZIBEL, Aug. 14, 2014, WSJ)

Total outstanding household debt--including mortgages, home-equity loans, credit cards, auto loans and student loans--sank $18 billion between April and June to $11.63 trillion, according to a report released Thursday by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. [...]

Meanwhile, more Americans are making loan payments on time. The share of Americans' debt that was seriously overdue fell to 4.5%, the lowest level since the start of 2008.

Household Wealth in U.S. Increases as Home Values Appreciate (Michelle Jamrisko, Jun 5, 2014, Bloomberg)

Household wealth in the U.S. climbed in the first quarter, helped by labor market improvement and gains in the stock and residential real estate markets that are giving balance sheets a lift.

Net worth for households and non-profit groups increased by $1.49 trillion from January through March, or 1.9 percent from the previous three months, to $81.8 trillion, the Federal Reserve said today from Washington in its flow of funds report.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


A YEAR ON: HOW THE WEST GREEN-LIGHTED SISI'S MASSACRES : The assault on Morsi supporters marked the end of the Arab Spring. (TIM BLACK, 13 AUGUST 2014, spiked)

All the grisly details of the Egyptian state's brutal suppression of pro-Morsi supporters in the few weeks following the Sisi-led coup d'etat can be found in a new Human Rights Watch report, All According to Plan: The Rab'a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt. That a report about Sisi's year-old crackdown has caused such a stir now, with some seemingly surprised to learn about the extent of the massacre, is testament to what spiked identified at the time as Western commentators' and politicians' silence on the tyranny in Egypt. Still, HRW presents a damning picture of the actions of the Egyptian security apparatus. In the words of HRW director Kenneth Roth: 'The legacy of the Rab'a massacre continues to cast a dark shadow over Egypt. Egypt will not move forward until it comes to terms with this bloody stain on its history.'

In an obvious sense, Roth is right. The systematic and widespread killing of those opposed to Sisi's coup d'etat does cast a shadow over Sisi's continued leadership of Egypt. (Although the very fact that he gained power by force ought to have been enough to set most democratic alarm bells ringing even before he began massacring opponents.) Yet there's something almost wilfully myopic about HRW's tale. It seems to treat the murderous brutality of the Egyptian army and police force in isolation. It's as if the massacres of those dispiriting few weeks are being packaged up as something malign but separate from the broader context in which they took place. This perhaps explains why HRW can be so blissfully disingenuous when proferring its recommendations: the perpetrators should be punished by Egyptian prosecutors; and the international community should ensure this happens by threatening Egypt's government with the withdrawal of aid and assistance and a trip to the International Criminal Court. That is, as HRW sees it, there is no problem with Egypt that cannot be fixed by a bit of international meddling. And then the bloody stain on Egypt's history will be wiped clean away.

All of which determinedly misses the meaning of the massacres. They weren't unfortunate moments of brutality ruining an otherwise well-functioning social-political arrangement. Rather, they were the consequence of a coup in which the military seized power, and, faced with thousands of supporters of the deposed but elected Morsi, sought to consolidate its incipient rule using the only real means it had at its illegitimate disposal: military might. The massacres cannot be separated from Sisi's regime like an appendix from a HRW report; rather, they were essential to what is a military dictatorship.

And more disingenuous still, the so-called international community, really consisting of a few Western states, was not an oblivious bystander which, now it has been alerted to wrongdoing, will exercise its do-gooding will. Rather, it was complicit in the coup from the start. Fearful of the potential freedom and the democratic choices of Arab peoples, concerned that they would choose what the West deems to be the wrong leaders, and anxious in particular about Islamists, too many in the West were keen to see the downfall of Morsi, a figure who came to represent the democratic folly of the Arab Spring. The US or the UK might not have given Sisi the nod to depose Egypt's first democratically elected leader, but they certainly smiled inwardly as the tanks rolled through Cairo.

If you were a Muslim and a democrat you'd hate us.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Here come the robots? (DICK POUNTAIN 14 August 2014, OpenDemocracy)

In the 1960s the prospect of the abolition of work by automated machinery could still be treated as a utopian goal by groups like the Situationist International: back then trade unions were sufficiently strong that it was taken for granted that wages could be maintained as working hours shrank. The neoliberal reversal of the last 30 years has ensured that labour lacks any such power nowadays (if it ever had it). The matter cropped up again in the early 1980s when it looked as though the personal computer "revolution" might do away with millions of white collar jobs, but that turned out to be a false alarm too. In fact PC operating systems and application programs were so primitive and unreliable that many new jobs had to be created in IT departments tasked with trying to keep them all running.

The latest version of this problem is being raised just now, thanks to dramatic advances in robots controlled by AI ("artificial intelligence") software. Google's driverless car is one uncanny example, and the giant online retailer Amazon has been rumbling about employing pilotless aerial drones to deliver ordered goods to customers. It seems extremely unlikely that the powers who control airspace will permit this any time soon, but Amazon more realistically talks about AI-driven automation of the location and retrieval of inventory in its chain of huge warehouses, which poses a genuine threat to jobs that are already scandalously underpaid. In a recent interview with the online magazine Slate, Professor Andrew McAfee, a research scientist at MIT's Center for Digital Business, was asked by interviewer Niall Firth "Are robots really taking our jobs?" and he replied by offering these three alternative scenarios:

Robots will take away jobs in the short term, but more will be created and a new equilibrium reached, as after the first Industrial Revolution

Robots will replace more and more professions and massive retraining will be essential to keep up employment

The sci-fi-horror scenario in which robots can perform almost all jobs and "you just won't need a lot of labour" 

McAfee believes that we'll see scenario three in his lifetime.

When asked further about any possible upside to this automation process, McAfee described the "bounty" he saw arising as a greater variety of stuff of higher quality at lower prices, and most importantly "you don't need money to buy access to Instagram, Facebook or Wikipedia". One doesn't need to have actually read Keynes to recognise that though McAfee might know a lot about robotics, his grasp of political economy is rather weaker. If employers "just won't need a lot of labour" then they just won't need to pay a lot of wages either, unless forced to do so by some agency whose identity is very far from obvious right now.

The obvious question, especially for conservatives, is :  how does it make any economic sense for businesses to pay high labor costs if they don't need to?  

There is certainly a coherent argument to be made that labor is good for the soul.  Much harder is crafting an argument that such makework jobs are good for anyone's soul or that they are good for business.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Catalonia vs Spain, a clash of two nationalisms (PATRICE DE BEER, 14 August 2014, OpenDemocracy)

Will 2014 be the year of Catalonia as it might be that of Scotland, whose voters will decide by referendum on September 18 if they want to regain their independence after three centuries within the United Kingdom ?

Five days earlier, Catalans will have taken to the streets en masse to commemorate the 300th anniversary of their own battle of Culloden, i.e. the fall of Barcelona into the hands of Spanish and French armies on September 11, 1714, and the end of their traditional self-rule and national identity. In 2012 and 2013 between one and two million people marched for independence from Spain, out of a population of 7.5 millions, slightly larger than Denmark.

And, on November 9, the autonomous government has vowed to organise a referendum on Catalan residents' "Right to decide" whether they want to become a State and, if they do, whether they would choose independence or remain in the fold of the Spanish monarchy. A vote which is bitterly opposed - as unconstitutional - by the right wing PP's (Popular Party) government in Madrid as much as by PSOE (Socialist) opposition in the name of Spanish unity. For the moment, according to recent opinion polls, over two thirds of voters would vote "yes" at the first question and a small majority would opt for independence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


John Adams, Whig (Bradley J. Birzer, 8/14/14, Imaginative Conservative)

In an 1818 letter to the publisher, Hezekial Niles, Adams perceptively noted the role of ideas in the formation of the American revolutionary determination:

But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people, a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. While the king, and all in authority under him, were believed to govern in justice and mercy according to the laws and constitution derived to them from the God of nature, and transmitted to them by their ancestors, they thought themselves bound to pray for the king and queen and all the royal family, and all in authority under them, as ministers ordained of God for their good. But when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the Continental Congress and all the thirteen state congresses, etc.

Perhaps few shaped that very thought and gave as much voice to the movement of revolution as had Adams. Jefferson had brilliance and flash when it came to ideas. But, Adams had perseverance.

One of his most interesting arguments can be found in his oft-neglected and nearly forgotten Novanglus letters, a spirited defense of the movement toward revolution from 1754 to 1775. He wrote twelve of them, and they represent one of the finest summations of what is called by its allies, Anglo-Saxon history, and its detractors, Whig history. In sum, Adams argued that American sentiment, soul, and passions represent yet one stage of the time-ful struggle of power and liberty. Seeing the rising tyranny and corruption in the mother land, the colonists had the choice: to succumb or to resist.

In resisting, they proved not only their English-ness but also their western-ness. As such, their resistance amounted to rebellion and reformation more than what we post-1789 types would consider "revolution."

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Just When It Looks like Jesus Would Flunk Pastoral Care 101 : The Lord surprises and shows us the value of humility, faith, and love. (CANONRY OF ST. LEOPOLD, 8/16/14, Aleteia)

And now, because of this not-giving-up, this boldness even, an outward dialogue - a strange one to be sure - begins between them.  The Lord is still not going to get a good grade for conventional pastoral kindness: "It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs."  Did good and gentle Jesus just call her, a poor woman who is begging His help, a dog?!? Yes, He did.  

A brief interlude: Does this make you a bit uncomfortable? Probably it does, and that's a good thing. When we think we know what Jesus will do next, when we - however well-intentioned and even piously - place Him in a box, a category, and think we've figured Him out, when we are complacent in thinking we know who He is and what He's doing, it is exactly then that we need a Gospel like this, which shakes us up, wakes us up to the glorious, if sometimes disquieting, reality that He is so much more than we can imagine. 

The Gospel - and today's is a great example of this - is meant, indeed, to comfort the afflicted; but, it's also meant to afflict the comfortable, or better said, the complacent, those who think they've got it all figured out. The feeling of unsettling confusion and even perhaps dismay which this passage give us is like the shiver one gets after taking a spoonful of oddly-tasting medicine; it means it's working.

And her next words - "Please, Lord, even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters" - how do you imagine she spoke them? Cringing? Cowering? Groveling? I can't imagine her saying these words without a sly, little smile and a glint in her eyes. Because she knew. She knew Him, in a way I only hope I can someday know Him. And she knew she'd got Him!

And then the love, the generosity, the caring (which we more easily recognize) burst out of the Lord as He praises her, the pagan (and in the eyes of all around them "only" a woman) and says:

"O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish."

Don't you think Jesus let out a big, hearty laugh here? A great, joyous laugh at that fact that she - a foreigner, a pagan - got it, that she understood - had always understood - what was really going on in this meeting (and what the disciples - and we as well - did not understand), this loving (oh, yes!) meeting of two people who knew each other.

No, they had never met, never been introduced. But they knew each other deeply. How He knew her is clear: she, like all of us, was made in His image. But how she knew Him, now that's interesting. She knew Him because of her awareness of her own need and total dependency and utter helplessness (we can call this humility, the one virtue we absolutely need if we want to know Jesus) and because of the love she had for her daughter.

So powerful, so real was this knowledge that she - without knowing anything of prophecy or even of the faith of Israel - was able to recognize Him, the one for whom her heart longed, the only savior. Would that our awareness of our own need for Him might be that strong! How much better we could recognize His presence and love, even when it seems, as in this Gospel, that they are missing.

While on the surface, this is an odd exchange between two people who couldn't be farther apart - the King of Israel and a Canaanite woman - it is in truth the loving and playful encounter, a great and elaborate dance of two people who know each other profoundly and whose dialogue - beyond words - began long before this moment we are privileged to witness and continues for ever.  I can see the Lord and the Canaanite woman - the woman of great faith, a faith that recognized Him when He seemed to hide His loving face - laughing together in the Kingdom.

The Gospels are a comedy, not a tragedy.
Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Forget about taming or disarming Hamas: cut it a deal it can't refuse (ROSEMARY HOLLIS, 15 August 2014, OpenDemocracy)

A radical solution that places Hamas at the centre of negotiations is worth consideration if only as a way to escape further time wasting on already defunct or moribund formulations. And the key to this radical approach would be the Hamas demand for the development of a Gaza seaport. The logic behind Hamas' thinking on this is clearly that that such a facility would relieve Gazans of dependence on either the Israelis or the Egyptians, with or without PA involvement, and provide them with access to the outside world.

The proposal being mooted here is that an international team responsible to the UN secretary general would propose to the Hamas leadership that it cooperates in the development and running of a new port facility on condition that it renounces violence and the smuggling of weapons for a set period, say ten years, while Gaza is rebuilt, offshore facilities constructed, fishing permits extended out to sea and the gas field off the Gazan coast is developed.

Certainly, Hamas would enjoy a reprieve - a reward even - for its stance hitherto, but at a price - namely an end to resistance to Israel, while the 1.8 million or so inhabitants of Gaza are enabled to achieve some sort of quality of life hitherto denied them. If they are left to fester, they will produce ever more militants, and Hamas will seem like moderates compared to the ideologues of the future.

There is no exact precedent for this proposal. The Israeli government will not like it, because it will not be in control: but by its own logic it has relinquished the right to determine who rules Gaza and how by evacuating the place in 2005. The PA would not like it, nor many other Palestinians, because it would effectively maintain the division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but it must know that a reinsertion of the PA in Gaza in the name of unity would only make the organisation the stooge of Israel and Egypt.

The problem here, as in less charitablr analses of Palestine's future, is that as it normalizes it's going to have elections and secular parties won't lead the nation.

August 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


The Futures Account (RICHARD J. GELLES, August 2014, American Interest)

Can we help expand the middle class and re-open the doors for upward mobility in 2014? Absolutely. The method would model the GI Bill, but use the form of what are called "Baby Bonds" or "child allowances." In September 2007, addressing the Congressional Black Caucus, then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton floated the idea of a $5,000 Baby Bond:

I like the idea of giving every baby born in America a $5,000 account that will grow over time, so when [young people turn] eighteen, if they have finished high school they will be able to access it to go to college or maybe they will be able to put that down payment on their first home, or go into business. [...]

The idea has finally gotten the attention of some U.S. legislators. Members of Congress have introduced a type of Baby Bond legislation: the America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education Act (ASPIRE), initially sponsored by former Senator and former Governor of New Jersey John Corzine, a Democrat, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican. The bill was first proposed in the 108th Congress (2003-04) and was introduced in each of the next three. ASPIRE legislation called for a deposit of $500 for every newborn in the United States. The funds would compound over time, and when the child reached age 18 the money could be used for education, home ownership, or later for retirement. Additional funds of up to $500 would be deposited each year by the Federal government to match funds in the account by parents, states, foundations, or other entities. For children in families below the national median income ($50,000), an additional $500 would be deposited at the time of the child's birth. ASPIRE was not proposed in either the 111th or the current congressional session. Of course, it got nowhere in its earlier incarnations.

Indeed, none of the Baby Bond or child allowance proposals raised in the United States have achieved any real traction. By and large, they were either trial balloons or sidebar solutions tacked on to academic books that examined social problems. ASPIRE came closest to crafting a supportive social policy, but the meager investment of $500 per child would not have been sufficient to make a real difference, especially if the goal is to reinvigorate the American middle class. My "Futures Account" proposal offers the American working class a pathway to the middle class and secures the existing middle class in its status. It is based on four principles:

The policy must be universal, with no means testing; everyone is eligible.
The policy must be fair; no one is left out.
The policy must be fundable; there must be a realistic method of consistently financing the program.
The policy has to be consistent with the values and principles of a market economy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


The Iranian president's surprising tweet (BBC, 8/15/14)

President Rouhani tweeted a message expressing his delight at the news. "Congrats to #MaryamMirzakhani on becoming the first ever woman to win the #FieldsMedal, making us Iranians very proud," he said. The surprise came by way of two pictures he attached to the message. In one half the mathematician appeared wearing a hijab - required by law for women in Iran, and in the other she appeared bare-headed. The image has been retweeted almost 3,000 times, and caused a deluge of comments online.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


More Employers Moving to High-Deductible Health Plans (Karen Pallarito, Aug. 15, 2014, HealthDay News) 

"Employers are looking to put their employees in the driver's seat" to help manage costs together, Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, said during a media briefing this week detailing the survey's results.

Consumer-directed health plans feature high deductibles and low monthly premiums. These plans are typically paired with a health savings account to help employees and their dependents pay out-of-pocket medical expenses.

"The idea is that consumers will use fewer services and become more prudent purchasers since they bear more financial responsibility for their consumption," said Caroline Pearson, a vice president at Avalere Health, a Washington, D.C.-based research and consulting firm.

Now universalize them.

August 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Hamas talks of 'real chance' for Gaza agreement with Israel (Harriet Sherwood, 8/14/14,

Hamas believes there is a "real opportunity" to reach an agreement with Israel in Cairo negotiations to end the conflict in Gaza, saying it is "not interested in more bloodshed". [...]

Egyptian mediators appeared to be striving for a two-part agreement. The initial deal would focus on easing Israeli restrictions on imports and exports, increasing the number of permits issued to Gazans to enter or travel through Israel, reducing the size of the no-go "buffer zone" inside Gaza's perimeter, and expanding the permitted fishing zone.

The second part, to follow some weeks later, would focus on Hamas's demands for a sea and airport, and the possible release of some Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in the conflict which Hamas is believed to be holding as a bargaining tool.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


TRANSCENDING OBAMACARE : A Patient-Centered Plan for Near-Universal Coverage and Permanent Fiscal Solvency (Avik Roy, Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute, August 2014)

[T]he proposal contained herein--dubbed the Universal Exchange Plan ("the Plan")--seeks to substantially repair both sets of health-policy problems: those caused by the ACA and those that predate it. It is the latter set of problems that have denied affordable, high-quality health care to millions of Americans, while presenting the government with crushing health care bills.

The Universal Exchange Plan's reforms are perfectly compatible with the "repeal and replace" approach, but they do not require the full and formal repeal of the ACA in order to be enacted.

The Universal Exchange Plan would introduce major changes to the broad set of federal health care entitlements: Obamacare, Medicare, and Medicaid. While the Plan is compatible with the "repeal and replace" approach favored by Republicans, it does not require the formal repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Indeed, the Plan uses a reformed version of the ACA's health insurance exchanges as the basis for far-reaching entitlement reform.

The Plan would repeal many of the ACA's cost-increasing insurance mandates, including the individual mandate. But it would preserve the ACA's guarantee that every American can purchase coverage regardless of preexisting conditions. And it would utilize the concept of using federal premium support subsidies, on a means-tested basis, to defray the cost of private health coverage.

It would gradually migrate most Medicaid recipients, along with future retirees, onto these reformed exchanges. This change would dramatically increase the quality of health coverage offered to Americans at or below the poverty line, and preserve the guarantee of health coverage for low- and middle-income seniors, while ensuring the fiscal sustainability of both federal health care commitments. The Plan proposes minor changes to the treatment of employer-sponsored health coverage, while giving workers additional tools to lower their health care bills. It would curb the pricing power of hospitals, cap malpractice damages, and accelerate medical innovation.

Taken together, these changes could usher in a new era of consumer-driven, patient-centered health care.

According to our estimates, the Universal Exchange Plan would, by 2025, increase the number of U.S. residents with health coverage by 12.1 million, relative to the Affordable Care Act. Over time, we project that the Plan would outperform the ACA by an even wider margin.

The Plan would also expand economic opportunity for those struggling with high medical bills. It would improve the quality of health care delivered to the poor, and put America's finances on a permanently stable course.

The plan has its roots in real-world examples of market-oriented, cost-effective health reform. Notably, two wealthy nations--Switzerland and Singapore--spend a fraction of what the United States spends on health care subsidies; yet they have achieved universal coverage with high levels of access and quality.

In 2011, the Singaporean government spent $851 per capita on health care: less than a quarter of what the U.S. spent, adjusted for purchasing power parity. Singapore has achieved its savings using a universal system of consumer-driven health care. The government funds catastrophic coverage for every Singaporean, and reroutes a portion of workers' payroll taxes into health savings accounts that can be used for routine expenses.

The dirty secret of health care reform is that everyone wants universal health care, but almost no one needs it.  What we should all have is coverage.  So you combine that coverage (a catastrophic plan) with a health savings account and you've tricked fols into building the sort of wealth that means they won't be a burden when they actually need health care.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Scott Walker 2016? Why his 2014 race is getting tighter. (Linda Feldmann, AUGUST 14, 2014, CS Monitor)

The latest poll, released Aug. 3 by Gravis Marketing for the conservative website Human Events, shows Walker and Burke tied at 47 percent each among likely Wisconsin voters. In March, Gravis had Walker up by 5 percentage points. A poll released July 23 by Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee shows Walker at 46 percent and Burke at 45 percent among registered voters.

A source in the Walker camp speaking privately says Wisconsin Democrats are more engaged and energized by the race than Republicans - a reverse from the national trend, and a worrisome sign for the GOP in a blue-leaning state.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


The bizarre - and costly - cult of Richard Dawkins (Andrew Brown, 16 August 2014, The Spectator)

My man in the pub was at the very low end of what believers will do and pay for: the Richard Dawkins website offers followers the chance to join the 'Reason Circle', which, like Dante's Hell, is arranged in concentric circles. For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet 'Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities'. Obviously that's not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month -- or $5,000 a year -- for the chance to attend an event where he will speak.

When you compare this to the going rate for other charismatic preachers, it does seem on the high side. The Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, for example, charges only $30 a month to become a member of 'God's Victorious Army', which is bringing 'healing and deliverance to the world'. And from Cerullo you get free DVDs, not just discounts.

But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive 'Darwin Circle' and then the 'Evolution Circle', he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with 'Richard' as well as 'all the benefits listed above', so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying 'Religion -- together we can find a cure.'

The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called 'The Magic of Reality Circle'. I don't think any irony is intended.

At this point it is obvious to everyone except the participants that what we have here is a religion without the good bits.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


The unraveling of the Gaza blockade? (Mitch Ginsburg, 8/14/14, The Times of Israel)

[A]t the heart of the discussion, quite likely, is the blockade, the mechanism that restricts, to a small extent, the goods entering Gaza, and, to a great extent, everything that leaves the 140-square-mile enclave boxed in between Israel, Egypt, and the sea.

The one comfort for Israel is that what it was fighting to preserve was wrong to begin with.
Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


How Hillary Will Fail Liberals (Steve Chapman, August 14, 2014, Chicago Tribune)

[I]f they mass behind Clinton's presidential candidacy, liberals will be making a Faustian deal. They may get the White House. But if they expect her to implement an ambitious domestic agenda, they are in for a painful shock. It's not that she wouldn't like to achieve it. It's that her priorities will make it impossible.

Those priorities became clear this week in her interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, which she used to highlight how much more hawkish she is than that guy she used to work for.

She thinks the United States should have done more to help the Syrian rebels, must get over its habit of "hunkering down and pulling back," and needs an "overarching" strategy to combat Islamic terrorism. "I'm thinking a lot about containment, deterrence and defeat," she said.

Of Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression against Ukraine, she implicitly blamed Barack Obama for not being assertive enough: "In the world in which we are living right now, vacuums get filled by some pretty unsavory players." [...]

Hawks would feel vindicated if Clinton were elected. The Weekly Standard, a tireless advocate for the Iraq war and any other possible war, excerpted The Atlantic interview under the headline, "Special Guest Editorial:

Obama's Foreign Policy Failures." Right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham said, "She sounds like John McCain."

What all this means is that Obama's presidency would be a hiatus between the military aggressiveness of George W. Bush and the military aggressiveness of Hillary Clinton. Obama's effort to wean us from perpetual intervention would be abandoned.

Well, except that the weaner initiated or continued wars in Libya, the Ukraine, Syria, Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


Editorial: Keep corporations home with tax reform (Detroit News, 8/14/14)

Companies that purport to be U.S. based should pay U.S. taxes, of course. But those taxes should be fair. Instead of weighing measures to punish corporations that take advantage of these so-called tax inversions, the better approach is to finally overhaul an uncompetitive corporate tax code.

President Barack Obama came into office touting the need to reform corporate taxes, and there's little disagreement in Congress. Retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Camp has even done the legwork by creating a new, feasible blueprint for reform.

And yet it hasn't happened. Meanwhile, corporations are starting to give up and pack up -- at least on paper.

Any new code must lower the 35 percent corporate tax rate, which is the highest in the industrialized world. Companies can find rates that are half that or lower in countries such as Ireland and England.

We need business to create jobs and profits--why tax them at all (other than on their consumption)?

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Effort to Aid Kurdish Forces Puts Iran, U.S. on Same Side (NOUR MALAS and JOE PARKINSON, Aug. 14, 2014 , WSJ)

The struggles of the embattled Kurdish Peshmerga to repel Islamist insurgents have put the U.S. and Iran on the same side, with both rushing to reinforce a revered fighting force to defeat a common enemy. [...]

The parallel tracks demonstrated clearly that the U.S. and Iran, longtime competitors for influence in Iraq, have found common cause in the effort to resuscitate the Peshmerga, long mythologized as Iraq's most capable fighting force.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


Another tax reform solution: taxing consumption (Charles Lane, August 13, 2014, Washington Post)

In his latest paper, published by the National Tax Journal, [Michael J. Graetz, a former Treasury official in the first Bush administration and longtime advocate of radical tax reform who teaches at Columbia Law School] contends, plausibly, that the 1986 tax reform worked because it was then possible to pay for rate reductions by eliminating billions of dollars in individual and corporate tax shelters without tackling middle-class breaks like the mortgage interest deduction.

Today, though, there's less low-hanging fruit; a 1986-style reform would be politically difficult because it would be financially difficult, as Camp's plan and similar attempts at "revenue-neutral" reforms suggest.

Even if our politicians did manage to push this boulder up the hill, Graetz notes, it would roll right back down. At the behest of lobbyists, Congress began fiddling with the 1986 reform almost as soon as it was enacted, giving us today's loophole-ridden mess.

The United States' real problem, according to Graetz, is its undue dependence on income taxes -- corporate and individual -- in the first place. He supplies a nifty world map with all nations shaded except the ones that don't have a value-added tax (VAT), essentially a sales tax on goods and services imposed at each stage of their production and distribution. It's striking to see the United States grouped with Burma, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and exactly zero developed nations.

Graetz would put a 12.9 percent VAT at the center of a new system -- using the revenue to slash the corporate tax rate to 15 percent and eliminate income taxes for all households earning less than $100,000 ($50,000 for singles), that is, 80 percent of current filers.

For those above that threshold, there would be two rates, 16 percent and 25.5 percent. Payroll tax rates would stay the same, with credits for low-income workers to offset the regressive impact of the VAT, as well as an additional child tax credit.

Graetz points to independent analyses showing this would raise about as much revenue, about as progressively, as the current system. It could spur growth by reducing uncertainty and perverse incentives -- of which "tax inversions" are but one example. By taxing consumption, it would encourage savings and investment, but not steer them in politically favored directions, as the current code does.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Would you trade pay for a higher 401(k) match? (Melanie Hicken, August 12, 2014, CNN Money)

Nearly half, or 43%, of workers said they would opt for a lower salary in exchange for a larger employer contribution to their 401(k) plan, a Fidelity Investments survey of more than 1,000 working retirement savers found. [...]

Employers pitch in an average of $3,540 (or 4.3% of salary) into worker retirement accounts each year, according to Fidelity.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Dry cleaners charge women more, and it matters more than you realize (Danielle Kurtzleben, August 7, 2014, Vox)

There are a few reasons why women are paying more for certain goods and services. Not really knowing or thinking about this pricing gap is certainly part of it -- as a woman, it's easy to pick the Powder-Fresh deodorant and never give the stick of Cool Rush a second thought.

"It's absolutely there. The problem is that we just kind of, we're lulled into not doing anything about it," says Emily Spensieri, president of Female Engineered Marketing, a Toronto-based firm that has represented Schick and Sears, among other companies.

She adds that people like gendered products, and with women it plays highly in marketers' favor.

"That whole 'it's made for a woman' thing makes it feel more special because it's made for me," she says. "And that's where the real opportunity is."

She adds that women develop "relationships" with brands and are more brand-loyal than men. If that's true, it could explain why women might pay more for a razor that's priced too high.

They carry Speed-Stick at the Dollar Store. Why would you use anything else?

August 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Germany, France, Britain propose EU mission to open Gaza-Egypt crossing (REUTERS, 8/06/14)

Germany, France and Britain have proposed reactivating a European Union mission on the Egypt-Gaza border to help stabilize the Palestinian enclave after a month-long war, a German diplomatic source said on Wednesday.

The source said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and counterparts in Paris and London favored restoring EU operations at the Rafah crossing that is the main window to the world for Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians.

A two-day-old Gaza ceasefire was holding on Wednesday as Egyptian mediators pursued talks with Israeli and Palestinian envoys on an enduring end to a war in which Israeli shelling wrecked whole areas of the Islamist Hamas-dominated territory.

The EU Border Assistance Mission in Rafah started work in 2005 to monitor the crossing point as part of an accord worked out by Israel and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. The operation was halted two years later when Hamas terrorists seized control of the Gaza Strip.

...formal recognition of Hamas and re-opening the borders.
Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


How to Stop Tax Inversions With a Carbon Levy. Seriously (Eric Roston,  Aug 13, 2014, Bloomberg)

Revenue raised through climate policy, be it an emissions-permit trading scheme or straight-out carbon tax, could really be used to do anything politicians think important -- fund clean energy research, aid poor communities reliant on coal mining or burning, or refund it to taxpayers quarterly, as Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen recently proposed.

Two environmental economists propose that federal income from a carbon tax could help reboot the U.S. corporate tax code. And a rebooted corporate tax code would then have the effect of reducing the cost of the carbon tax to GDP.

Lawrence Goulder, of Stanford University, and Marc Hafstead, of the nonpartisan think tank Resources for the Future, studied how three scenarios might affect GDP: a lump-sum refund of U.S. carbon tax revenue to Americans; using the income to pay for personal income tax cuts; or using it to cut corporate income taxes. The study looked at the potential impacts of a carbon tax of $10 per ton of carbon dioxide (or its heat-trapping equivalent from other greenhouse gases) that rises 5 percent a year, and is levied on industrial energy consumption. The tax itself is the same in each case and all three are "revenue neutral," meaning that the money that comes in goes right back out the door for some other purpose:

The researchers found that the third option, cutting corporate taxes, reduces the cost of the carbon tax in GDP better than the other two.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


A Crisis a Century in the Making (Vali R. Nasr, 8/10/14, NY Times)

After World War I, the region's Arabs were not allowed a proper foundation on which to build stable, functional nations. And in more recent decades, they have been largely unsuccessful in doing so on their own.

Those painful facts are most obvious now in Iraq, where sectarianism has been undoing all of America's past efforts to forcibly plant a pluralistic democracy in soil made arid by longstanding grievances, inequities, tribal identities and violence.

The Arab world today is the product of maps drawn by the British diplomat Sir Mark Sykes and his French counterpart François Georges-Picot in 1916, and sanctified at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. European rule over Arab states that were only nominally independent followed; this left these states struggling with legitimacy ever since. When the Europeans left, they were followed by dictators who talked of nationalism, but failed to convince their own citizens that they were important participants in the nation.

That was because the arbitrary boundaries had left these new Arab states open to perpetual internal clashes based on rivalries among tribes and religious sects. Their leaders spoke the language of modern nationalism, but their states never quite united. So they turned to domination by one tribe or sect over others.

Contra the neocons and Realists, the solution to the Middle East's problems does not lie in delaying democracy further.
Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


Why reform conservatives should embrace a universal basic income (Jeff Spross, August 12, 2014, The Week)

[I]f reformocons truly want to remake the American social safety net for the 21st century, they're going to need one additional policy. It's rather radical for the political mainstream, but its radicalism flows from some of the best insights conservatism has to offer. And it falls right in with reformocons' renewed focus on the interests of the poor and working class.

It's called a universal basic income -- or a UBI for short. It's simple: The government writes a check for the same amount to every American. It could come once a month or once every two weeks. For Americans under 18, it could be given to their guardians as a child allowance. But most importantly, it comes with absolutely no strings attached. You get it regardless of your income level or whether you have a job. If you're here and you're breathing, you qualify.

This design comes with two immediate strengths that anyone who's read Ryan's plan will recognize. One, it's simple for Americans to use, as opposed to the smorgasbord of assistance programs they face now. And two, because there's no cutoff after a beneficiary reaches a certain level of income, a UBI doesn't create a disincentive for people to keep earning more.

Matt Bruenig and Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig (who both write for The Week) recently calculated that a modest UBI of $3,000 a year would cut poverty in half. The annual $900 billion price tag could be paid for in a revenue-neutral fashion by clearing away the carve-outs in the tax code for the affluent -- something reformocons have been hankering to do anyway -- and by taking a cue from Rand Paul and reducing military spending.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Health care for $4: Walmart launches primary-care clinics in South Carolina (Dan Diamond, 9/04/14, Advisory Board)

It's no surprise to see a large retailer push into health care, given the potential market opportunity. (Our experts have closely tracked the growth in the retail sector, and how hospitals can strike deals with these retailers.)

Walmart's specific approach is driven by several factors: 

Long-germinating plans: Whether hosting retail clinics or potentially launching a insurance exchange, company officials have spent years eying the health care market. 

Existing expertise: Walmart's already acted as a disruptive innovator within the industry: its discount drug program helped drive big changes for consumers' pharmaceutical spending a decade ago.

Internal push for cost control: The Affordable Care Act is driving up Walmart's own health spending. The company says it will spend $330 million more on health care this year as a result of expanding coverage, and officials say piloting its own clinics represents one attempt to try and rein in health costs.

Walmart's also targeting regions where patients are most in need of care innovation. The company's two South Carolina clinics are located in Sumter and Florence--where some of the state's poorest and least healthy residents live.

And local lawmakers believe the retail giant can help improve the state's health. South Carolina officials lobbied Walmart for the opportunity to launch the clinics, Sausser reports.

"We told Wal-Mart, 'We think this is perfect,'" said Tony Keck, director of South Carolina's Medicaid agency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


How Obama can show he is serious about helping Iraq (David Ignatius, August 12, 2014, Washington Post)

When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his terrorist Islamic State, he ignored a warning from Osama bin Laden that jihadists should be cautious about establishing a caliphate too quickly. In torching a firestorm in Iraq and Syria, Baghdadi has united his enemies and given them a target to attack, just as bin Laden predicted.

It was actually bin Laden who made the mistake.  9-11 gave even an insitinctively isolationist president like the Ur carte blanche to bomb salafists anywhere they are. But it is also true that all the adoption of formal state structures does is make our targetting of those bombs easier.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Marilinda Garcia: New Hampshire's Young Conservative (EMILY CADEI, 8/13/14, Ozy)

The Republican establishment wasn't initially sold on Garcia and is now playing catch-up. But she's found support elsewhere in the meantime. One influential PAC has invested in a six-figure ad buy on her behalf.

Nowadays, observers give her a shot at snatching the 2nd District seat in this political bellwether state, and if she does, Republican stardom would likely await her.

Garcia is diminutive and raven-haired, and though her surname might make her sound Latina, her mother is an Italian immigrant and her father is Spanish-American. She grew up in Salem, New Hampshire, and earned degrees from Tufts University, the New England Conservatory of Music -- she is an accomplished harpist -- and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She teaches music at several prep schools and has served almost continuously in the part-time state legislature since 2006, when she was 23. Her younger sister, Bianca, was elected, too, in 2012, but there's no dynasty yet: In New Hampshire, the joke goes, half the population is in the statehouse at any given time.

"I was considering volunteering on a campaign after I finished college, and then someone suggested to me, 'Why don't you consider running yourself?'" Garcia tells OZY. "I thought, 'That's a good way to ensure my values are represented.'"

August 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Ukraine Is Winning the War (CHRYSTIA FREELAND, August 11, 2014, Politico)

This is a young country swiftly uniting around the democratic idea in the face of foreign aggression. Ukraine's new leaders aren't angels. Their ranks include oligarchs with checkered biographies and politicians who were members of past, failed governments. But, after 23 years of chaotic post-Soviet independence, Ukraine now has a wired and educated civil society prepared to fight for democracy and a leadership that knows how the West works and wants to emulate it.

Which is why the right parallel when thinking about how the West should respond to this crisis isn't with the West's past decade of military misadventures in the Middle East, it is with Eastern Europe in the 1980s, where civil society overthrew communist regimes and produced leaders who were, albeit with plenty of mistakes and hardship along the way, able to build capitalist democracies in their place.

The first success is the consolidation, maturity and determination of Ukraine's civil society. Remember all of those warnings from Putin and other Russians about the dangerous power of the far right and the worries that the euphoria of the pro-Europe protesters who rallied in Kyiv's Maidan Square last winter would give way to rule by armed, brown-shirted militias?

The May 25 presidential election, in which Petro Poroshenko, a Russian-speaking centrist businessman from the south, won a strong majority on the first ballot in a field of 17 candidates, gave the lie to that putative threat. Ukraine's two far-right candidates polled less than 2 percent each, far less than the hard right polled in European Union parliamentary elections held on the same day.

Ukrainians didn't elect Poroshenko for his charisma or his barnstorming speeches. They voted for him because he backed the Maidan protesters from the start, he was the frontrunner, and he is competent. His most effective campaign slogan--which appeared with no photo or visual image, just words, on billboards across the country -- was "to stop the war, let's elect a president on the first ballot." Ukraine is normally a sort of Slavic Italy--a disputatious society that revels in political disagreement and debate. It is a measure of the gravity of the moment that Ukrainians accepted Poroshenko's argument and, for the first time since independence, chose a president on the first ballot and with strong backing from across the country.

Ukraine's second success is its unprecedented degree of national unity. That reality is obscured by the lazy shorthand that often frames the conflict in eastern Ukraine as a Yugoslav-style civil war, driven by ancient cultural, linguistic and religious divisions. In fact, the fight in Ukraine is almost entirely a political and even ideological struggle. This isn't about Russian speakers vs. Ukrainian speakers--an absurd idea in a country so at ease with its nearly universal bilingualism that everything from television interviews to jokes to parliamentary debates are conducted in an easy back-and-forth between Ukrainian and Russian.

The dividing line in what Ukrainians call their "dignity revolution" is instead the choice between Western liberal democracy and the Kremlin's neo-authoritarianism. What has been striking is how determinedly most of Ukraine has chosen democracy. For Ukrainians, this isn't about the reshaping of the world's geostrategic chessboard--who would chose to be a pawn in someone else's power play? But Ukrainians have now seen both Western democracy and Putin's post-Soviet kleptocracy up close. They have made the same choice all of us would, and they are proving they are willing to fight, and to die, for it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


The Comedy of the Cross : Jesus does not laugh in any of the four Gospels. This fact might seem strange to us, and even a little scandalous--isn't Jesus fully man and fully God? Isn't laughter natural to men? (Brother Gabriel Torrett, O.P., 8/12/14, World on Fire)

[W]hy doesn't Jesus laugh in the Gospels? Without pretending to give a definitive answer, we might consider a few relevant points. As a general principle, it is important to note that the Gospels are not attempting to provide journalistic, play-by-play accounts of every moment in Jesus' life; they are records of salvation history, of Jesus' mission as redeemer of mankind and revelator of the face of God. We also might note that there are plenty of other characteristically human acts that the Gospel does not record Jesus doing: running, jumping, swimming, washing dishes, taking a bath, and on and on. No one feels that the absence of these activities from the Gospel record casts doubt on Jesus' genuine humanity. 

But one might legitimately respond that laughing is not like those other activities; laughter is proper to man and expresses a deep aspect of the human person. In this vein, Aristotle argued that the ability to laugh is inseparable from man's rationality, which cannot be said for running, jumping, or bathing. So the question remains. 

A more satisfying answer seems to lie in the nature of comedy. Comedy is not just a matter of cracking jokes, however elevated or sophisticated they may be. Fundamentally comedy is the dynamic realization of freedom and love, especially as they emerge from slavery or hatred. As the literary critic Louise Cowan puts it: 
"Archetypally, the comic action is the psyche moving out of stasis into the rhythm of the life force; culturally, it is the flexibility of the community prevailing over rigid and oppressive custom; psychologically, it is the heart finding its right order, its abundance, in love; and anagogically, it is the soul's participation, through the komos, the marriage feast, in universal blessedness."
Viewed in this light, the entire action of Christ in the world is the perfect and final comedy, with the death, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord as the definitive event that destroys death, slavery, hatred, and abandonment forever, replacing them with redemption, adoption, the law of love, and participation in the divine life. 

...than when God despairs of Himself on the Cross.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


'All of Us Feel Absolutely Betrayed' : In last-minute compromise, Colorado Dems squelch anti-fracking ballot measures. (COLE STANGLER, 8/12/14, In These Times)

Colorado was supposed to be the epicenter of this fall's ballot box battles on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking--the controversial drilling practice that involves shooting chemically-saturated water deep into the ground to blast apart shale rock and expose oil and gas reserves.

Deep in the heart of some of the nation's richest oil and gas fields, voters were gearing up to take part in two state-wide referenda in November. The first would have quadrupled the size of Colorado's minimum 500-foot "buffer" zone between oil and gas wells and occupied buildings. Another would have established local control of energy resources, paving the way for a future series of bans and moratoria.

A lot was at stake. Activists saw a historic victory within their grasp. Oil and gas execs worried about the long-term financial impact of such wide-reaching votes; Democratic kingmakers were filled with dread at the thought of fracking dominating the election cycle, risking the loss of a critical U.S. Senate seat and governorship in the Rocky Mountain State. Now the latter two camps can rest easy, thanks to an eleventh-hour deal brokered by top Democrats and the energy industry.

On Monday, the day the ballot-qualifying signatures were due, the group leading the petition drive, Coloradans for Safe and Clean Energy, heavily funded by Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colo.), agreed to drop both measures. In exchange, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper--an opponent of both initiatives and such a partisan of shale drilling that he once boasted of drinking fracking fluid--agreed to launch a new commission to make non-binding recommendations on the topic to the state legislature. 

History is over; all parties are pro-business.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


US ready to help new Iraq leader Haider al-Abadi, Iran welcomes choice (Reuters | 12 Aug, 2014)

Iraq's new prime minister-designate won swift endorsements from uneasy mutual allies the United States and Iran on Tuesday as he called on political leaders to end crippling feuds that have let jihadists seize a third of the country. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Gaza: hopes rise of end to war as Hamas 'optimistic' of deal with Israel (Jason Burke in Gaza City, Patrick Kingsley in Cairo and Orlando Crowcroft in Tel Aviv, 8/12/14, The Guardian,)

Hopes rose on Tuesday night of an end to the month-long war in Gaza, with officials from Hamas and other groups expressing cautious optimism that a deal would be made with Israel before the current 72-hour ceasefire ends on Wednesday evening.

After a day of conflicting reports about Egyptian mediators' efforts to narrow the gap between the two sides, Ihab al-Ghossein, a senior Hamas official and spokesman in Gaza, said he was optimistic.

"This time at least it is a real negotiation. There is talking and discussion about all our points and hopefully we will have an agreement. I'm optimistic there will be something," he said.

Hassan Abdu, of the smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, said there had been "positive developments," though he warned that the two sides, who are talking in Cairo through Egyptian mediators, were still some way from a deal. ,...]

The talks centre on the lifting of the blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel eight years ago, the key demand of the 12-man Palestinian delegation.

"We are not making demands, we are looking for our rights: lifting the siege, opening our borders, implementing past agreements, releasing prisoners," said Ghossein.

One key Palestinian demand is the construction of a sea port and reopening of an airport, as agreed in the Oslo agreements more than 20 years ago.

"We will not give Israel the security it wants until they lift the siege totally," said Abdu, of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

August 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


The Biggest Misconceptions People Have About the Medical Profession (Dr. Gilbert Welch, Aug. 11, 2014, WSJ)

What's the biggest misconception about us doctors? That when it comes to your current health, we know more than you do.

For most patients, it's simply not true.

I'm not saying we have nothing to offer; I am saying how you feel says a lot. That's why good doctors take the time to explore how patients feel. For patients who feel bad, we'll explore what makes them feel worse-and what makes them feel better. Not infrequently, the information gleaned from this exploration-we call it the history-point to both a diagnosis and a strategy for managing the problem.

And if you're one of those who feel healthy, it's just possible you might be right.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


7-year-old border blockade, imposed to isolate Hamas, has hurt Gaza's 1.8 million people (KARIN LAUB, 8/11/14, Associated Press

Mohammed al-Telbani lost his life's work when Israeli shells repeatedly slammed into his four-story snack and cookie factory during the Gaza war, finally sparking a fire that engulfed vats of margarine and sacks of cocoa powder.

As he contemplated starting over, sitting near the smoldering ruins of one of Gaza's largest factories, he looked to Cairo for answers. There, negotiators from Israel and Hamas launched another attempt Monday to negotiate an end to the 34-day-old war -- and, perhaps even more crucial for Gaza's 1.8 million people, reach a new border deal for the coastal territory.

Gazans haven't been able to trade or travel freely since Israel and Egypt imposed stringent border restrictions in response to the violent Hamas takeover of the territory in 2007. The closure also deepened Gaza's separation from the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas on the opposite side of Israel that, along with Gaza, are envisioned as part of a future Palestinian state.

The blockade was meant to isolate the Islamic militant Hamas and perhaps loosen its grip on power. Seven years later, Hamas remains rooted in Gaza, albeit weakened by a financial crisis brought on by the closure as well as thousands of Israel airstrikes over the past month.

Gaza's civilians have borne the brunt of the blockade.

Unemployment -- already at 30 percent in 2007 -- has risen to 45 percent, according to official figures. Tens of thousands of jobs have been wiped out. The main U.N. aid agency in Gaza says it provides food aid to about 800,000 Gazans, ten times the number it helped in 2000, when Israeli travel bans linked to unrest intensified.

A ban on virtually all exports from Gaza, along with the destruction of scores of factories in three rounds of fighting, has reduced the number of manufacturing businesses from 2,400 to 400 over eight years, according to a local business association.

Israel trapped itself into negotiating with Hamas (Amir Oren, Aug. 11, 2014, Ha'aretz)

[I]srael's insistence on viewing the Palestinian unity government as a "terrorist entity," or at the very least "a Hamas government," has actually trapped it, and once again forced it into negotiating with Hamas and Islamic Jihad while pushing Abbas into the position of an observer who is not authorized to sign an accord, should one be reached.

The result is that the way the talks are conducted and their likely results - even if Hamas and its partners do not receive everything they want - will revive the standing of the Islamist group as the ruler in the Gaza Strip. It will also probably perpetuate the Strip's status as being a separate land from the West Bank.

This is the strategy Israel has taken for the eight years Hamas has ruled Gaza, underlying the claim in Jerusalem that Abbas does not represent both parts of Palestine. As a result, any agreement with him could not effectively dispel the threat to Israeli security.

The paradox here is that it is this strategy that provoked three rounds of fighting in Gaza and the dozens of incidents of hostilities that have broken out between Israel and the Palestinians in recent years. This is also what has lead to Israel's insistence in relating to the negotiations in Cairo as negotiations with Hamas - not with representatives of the unified Palestinian government.

As a result, when fundamental demands are made of Israel - such as opening of the border crossings, reinstating the overland connection between the West Bank and Gaza, rehabilitating the Strip or building a port - Israel relates to the demands as coming from Hamas, and not as appropriate Palestinian requests that are supported by many countries, including Egypt.

The result is that these demands are included in the profit-and-loss statement of Operation Protective Edge, whereby agreement to any one of them will be seen as a defeat for Israel and a victory for Hamas.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


Hillary Clinton is gunning for a third George W. Bush term (Michael Brendan Dougherty, 8/11/14, The Week)

Hillary Clinton wants you to know she's not a shrinking violet like President Obama, wuss in chief. In fact, she's ready to arm your Middle Eastern rebel group. Just ask!

Indeed, it seems these days like Clinton is trying to cast herself less like her old boss, and more like Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, the decider in chief. The former secretary of state and odds-on-favorite to be America's next president recently gave an interview to The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, published over the weekend. The interview is widely believed to be part of a broader campaign to distance herself from the Obama administration, in large part by highlighting how many more people she would have the U.S. bomb and how many more people she would have the U.S. arm. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


Oil and Erbil (STEVE COLL, 8/11/14, The New Yorker)

[W]hy are thousands of Americans in Erbil these days? It is not to take in clean mountain air.

ExxonMobil and Chevron are among the many oil and gas firms large and small drilling in Kurdistan under contracts that compensate the companies for their political risk-taking with unusually favorable terms. (Chevron said last week that it is pulling some expatriates out of Kurdistan; ExxonMobil declined to comment.) With those oil giants have come the usual contractors, the oilfield service companies, the accountants, the construction firms, the trucking firms, and, at the bottom of the economic chain, diverse entrepreneurs digging for a score.

Scroll the online roster of Erbil's Chamber of Commerce for the askew poetry of a boom town's small businesses: Dream Kitchen, Live Dream, Pure Gold, Events Gala, Emotion, and where I, personally, might consider a last meal if trapped in an ISIS onslaught, "Famous Cheeses Teak."

It's not about oil. After you've written that on the blackboard five hundred times, watch Rachel Maddow's documentary "Why We Did It" for a highly sophisticated yet pointed journalistic take on how the world oil economy has figured from the start as a silent partner in the Iraq fiasco.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Iran president tells nuke hard-liners to go 'to hell' (AP, August 11, 2014)

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani offered his harshest criticism yet Monday of hard-liners opposed to making a deal over its contested nuclear program with world powers, saying they should go "to hell." [...]

Rouhani said his government will continue his policy of moderation and "constructive engagement" with the West.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Corporate America's 'report cards' are strong (Ben Rooney, August 11, 2014, CNNMoney)

The quarterly "report cards" from Corporate America are honor roll quality.

About 90% of the companies in the S&P 500 have reported earnings so far for the second quarter. Nearly three quarters of them were better than expected. That's a very high percentage, and it's being driven largely by performance.

In the end, earnings are expected to be up 9.9% over last year, according to S&P Capital IQ, which compiles estimates from Wall Street analysts. [...]

"It's been an exceptionally strong earnings season from a growth -- revenue as well -- standpoint," Dan Greenhaus, chief market strategist at BTIG, wrote in a note to clients. That's "ironic given how poorly stocks have traded of late," he added.

The Dow Jones industrial average has tumbled more than 3% in recent weeks since hitting its most recent all-time high on July 16. The Dow rebounded on Friday and is up on Monday, but investors have clearly been rattled by intensifying conflicts in Iraq and Israel, as well as a showdown between Russia and the West over Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 2:36 PM


Israel denies reaching out to Hamas for long-term ceasefire (ELHANAN MILLER, August 11, 2014, Times of Israel)

Hamas website Al-Resalah reported on Sunday that elements within the movement were responding to direct Israeli overtures, bypassing the Egyptian intelligence services which have been overseeing ceasefire talks in Cairo between Israeli and Palestinian delegations. Al-Resalah's "knowledgeable sources" said that Israel had decided to turn to Hamas directly after realizing that Egypt is a stumbling block for any agreement between Israel and Gaza, with "Cairo pursuing its own particular interests more than Israel's."

August 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


How Hamas Beat Israel in Gaza (RONEN BERGMAN, AUG. 10, 2014, NY Times)

[S]oon enough Hamas was dictating the duration of the conflict by repeatedly refusing cease-fires. Furthermore, it preserved its capability of firing rockets and missiles at most of Israel's territory, despite the immense effort the Israeli Air Force invested in knocking out launch sites.

Hamas also waged an urban campaign against Israeli ground forces, inflicting at least five times as many casualties as in the last conflict and successfully used tunnels to penetrate Israeli territory and sow fear and demoralization. It made Israel pay a heavy price and the I.D.F. eventually withdrew its ground troops from Gaza without a cease-fire.

Israeli leaders have now set the demilitarization of Gaza as one of their goals. But it's difficult to picture how this could be achieved. Hamas would never agree to disarm unless faced with a protracted Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, which is something the Mr. Netanyahu has declared he won't undertake.

So how did a terrorist guerrilla organization overcome the strongest army in the Middle East?

Hamas's achievements on the battlefield are the fruit of a concerted effort to draw lessons from previous Israeli defeats. [...]

And as much as Israel is seeking to marginalize Hamas and empower the weakened Mr. Abbas, Hamas is, for the first time in its history, on the verge of being internationally recognized as an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


Would a citizen's income be better than our benefits system? : Phasing out tax relief and allowances may reduce the budget deficit while also adapting to the growing informal economy (Larry Elliott, 8/10/14, The Guardian)

One radical suggestion is for everybody to receive a citizen's income. Under this scheme, waged and unwaged, children and adults, the working aged and pensioner, rich and poor alike would receive the same basic income financed by the phasing out of virtually every tax relief and allowance. Those on benefits would not face high marginal tax rates if they took a job, but merely pay PAYE at the current standard rate of 20% on every pound they earned. Those working 20 hours a week on the minimum wage could work 40 hours a week without losing more than 50% of their extra earnings in lost tax credits.

There would be other advantages from such a system. First, it would be universal and hence avoid the stigma attached to benefits. Secondly, people taking a job or starting a business would have the security of knowing that they would still have their citizen's income if the venture did not work out.

Concerns that a citizen's income would encourage the idle to sit at home all day watching daytime TV do not appear to be supported by evidence from pilot schemes in other countries. Even so, there would be cases where this did happen and they would doubtless be highlighted as an example of a something-for-nothing culture. Other drawbacks include the failure so far to construct a citizen's income that obviates the need for housing benefit, and the political difficulty in persuading voters that a millionaire should be getting the same citizen's income as a milkman.

So far support for a citizen's income is limited to the Green party, although the government's switch to a flat-rate state pension is a step in that direction. The truth is that no tax and benefit system is perfect. But the one we have is costly, bureaucratic, ineffective - and ripe for reform.

It's Milton Friedman's world; we just live in it.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 PM


Rural Town Needs Plumber, Hopes A Student Will Take The Plunge (NPR, August 10, 2014)

If a pipe bursts or a toilet backs up, many of us might not give a second thought to looking up a plumber. In most areas, there will be lots of options for services nearby.

But in the isolated town of Jackman, Maine, which has a population of around 800, the local plumber recently retired. Now, the closest plumber is in the nearest town -- 50 miles away.

To fill the void, one family has partnered with the local school district to create a scholarship. The 2015 Inza and Harry Hughey Memorial Scholarship will award $2,000 to a local graduate willing to become a certified plumber and come back to work in the town.

Sheryl and Larry Harth run the scholarship fund and decided to focus it on plumbing once the void hit them acutely. They moved back to the area about two years ago and built a house, hiring a plumber who lived in that town about 50 miles away to work on the project. Last year, they needed more work done and they were promised that that plumber would return.

"Well, it's been two years and we still have not seen that person," Larry Harth tells NPR's Arun Rath.

You can never have enough Poles....

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


New Gaza truce comes into effect (Al Jazeera, 10 Aug 2014)

Al Jazeera's Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from West Jerusalem, said that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, had come under intense pressure internationally and domestically.

"Internally, people are frustrated especially those who live in the south who had evacuated their homes along the border with Gaza for a month and then were told to return home during the ceasefire only to find out fighting has resumed," she said.

"He [Netanyahu] is also under pressure from the international community to return to Cairo for talks." [...]

Meanwhile, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal told AFP news agency on Sunday that a lasting truce must lead to the lifting of Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Meshaal said the latest ceasefire deal "is one of the ways or tactics to ensure successful negotiations or to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza".

The final "goal we insist on is having the demands of Palestinians met and the Gaza Strip exist without a blockade".

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Russia plays a weak hand in battle with West over sanctions (Robin Mills, August 10, 2014, The National)

[R]ussia appears to be sanctioning itself. The West, borrowing from its Iran playbook, has imposed sanctions on the Russian energy sector, including on the long-term financing of oil companies and on advanced technology used in shale oil production and offshore drilling.

In response, Russia banned food imports from the United States, European Union, Norway, Canada and Australia. From the US$43 billion of agricultural products it bought last year, $25bn are now banned. This may revive old memories of empty Soviet supermarkets, and spur inflation, seen at about 7 per cent this year.

Russia's shift to retaliatory sanctions shifts the battleground from its strengths in covert warfare, diplomatic intimidation and dissimulation, to its weak point - the economy. Russia's GDP is just 6 per cent of Nato's and it was running into economic trouble even before the current crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


The carbon tax: why a bipartisan idea is still held up (Chris Berdik, AUGUST 10, 2014, Boston Globe)

The notion of taxing problematic goods dates to the 1920s, when British economist Arthur Pigou observed that some products had social costs that weren't accounted for in prices set strictly by supply and demand. He suggested what became known as "Pigovian taxes" on goods and services such as alcohol and tobacco, which were legal but the government might want to discourage people from using.

In the case of carbon, the Pigovian approach was first debated by economists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Supporters say a single, uniform tax in which fuels are taxed based on how much carbon they contain, or on the amount of carbon dioxide emitted when the fuel is burned, would cut emissions, and encourage conservation and the development of green energy more efficiently (and less expensively) than government mandates or patchworks of subsidies. In 2012, researchers at MIT's Joint Program on Global Change analyzed the idea and concluded that a $20 per-ton fee on the carbon content of fossil fuels, implemented in 2013 and increasing 4 percent a year, would by itself cut emissions to 20 percent below 2006 levels by mid-century. (That's a sizeable reduction, if only a step toward the what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests is needed to fend off serious climate trouble: an 80 percent drop from 1990 levels by 2050.)

But the scheme runs into one deep, common-sense objection: Like it or not, America's economy runs on carbon--more than 80 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels. Taxing carbon would make everything more expensive, slow economic growth, and put people out of work. That $20-per-ton tax the MIT researchers analyzed would pull about $1.5 trillion out of the economy in its first decade.

Hence the twist: What if you just returned all the carbon tax money to the economy? The revenue could be returned to taxpayers with dividend checks, or it could be used to lower other taxes on individuals or businesses. Either plan would effectively be taking money from the biggest polluters and plowing it back into the economy.

In the past few years, this so-called revenue-neutral carbon tax has garnered support from a wide spectrum of political and economic interests. It includes climate scientists such as James Hansen, who sits on the advisory board of a national carbon-tax advocacy group called Citizens' Climate Lobby; but also economist Arthur Laffer, who was Ronald Reagan's economic policy adviser; former Republican treasury secretary Henry Paulson; and even ExxonMobil. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Butterflies are free to change colors in new Yale research (Jim Shelton, August 5, 2014, Yale News)

Yale University scientists have chosen the most fleeting of mediums for their groundbreaking work on biomimicry: They've changed the color of butterfly wings.

In so doing, they produced the first structural color change in an animal by influencing evolution. The discovery may have implications for physicists and engineers trying to use evolutionary principles in the design of new materials and devices.

One of the problems it could never overcome is that any scientifically controlled attempt to demonstrate Darwinism proves its opposite.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Rick Perlstein: "Ronald Reagan absolved America almost in a priestly role not to have to contend with sin. The consequences are all around us today" : From climate change to foreign affairs, Reagan pushed America toward easy lies, just as reckoning seemed possible (DAVID DAYEN, 7/30/14, Salon)

So this is a book about America's loss of innocence and, simultaneously, America's striving for a return to innocence. How do you reconcile that?

Well, that's the narrative of the book, I would say. The story I'm telling is unfolding along that loss of innocence. But the baseline is this moment in 1973 when the Vietnam War ends, and that spring, Watergate breaks wide open, after basically disappearing from the political scene for a while. You have this remarkable thing, where Sam Ervin puts these hearings on television. And day after day the public hears White House officials sounding like Mafia figures. That same spring, you get the energy crisis, and you hear officials say that we're running out of energy when heretofore, nobody knew you could run out. That's a blindsiding blow to the American psyche. And then there's the oil embargo, suddenly a bunch of Arab oil sheiks decide to hold America hostage, and succeed. So the way I characterize that is that we had this idea of America as existing outside of the rules of history, as a country that can't do any wrong. Suddenly we begin to think of ourselves as just another country, not God's chosen nation. I have a quote in the preface to the book by Immanuel Kant, who defined the Enlightenment as "man's emergence from his self-incurred immaturity," basically the process of leaving childhood and becoming a grown-up. And that's what we're seeing in America in the 1970s.

This is a remarkable juncture, and you could see it in popular culture. Like "M*A*S*H," and how it takes on militarism. People were insistently following the Watergate hearings, which were enormously complex. And America is really beginning to take on big problems, thinking about what it would mean to conserve energy, to create energy independence. Then everything takes a turn, Reagan is introduced, and he says don't worry about this stuff. America is that shining city on a hill.

We haven't received our review copy, but I have been enjoying the reviews and the controversy over Friend Perlstein's reasearch and attribution methods.  As you can see here, the premise of this volume is not only hilarious but inflates Ronald Reagan into a mythical hero far moreso than any of the fawning texts we on the right produce : the gnostic reality, known only to the Left, is that America is nothing special and, for one brief shining moment, in the 70s everyone was about to realize that, but Reagan, through the exercise of little more than his personal will, restores the delusion that America is more important than other states.

If Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh had given Reagan that much credit for reshaping the world around himself, they'd be dismissed as overenthusiastic cultists.  But Reagan looms so large in the mind of the Left that Friend Perlstein can't see he's gone far beyond any Reagan fanboy of the right in his claims for the greatness (let's say we use the term in its value neutral sense) of the Gipper.

August 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


WHO STOLE THE FOUR-HOUR WORKDAY? (Nathan Schneider, Aug 5 2014, Vice)

Alex is a busy man. The 36-year-old husband and father of three commutes each day to his full-time job at a large telecom company in Denver, the city he moved to from his native Peru in 2003. At night, he has classes or homework for the bachelor's in social science he is pursuing at a nearby university. With or without an alarm, he wakes up at 5 AM every day, and it's only then, after eating breakfast and glancing at the newspaper, that he has a chance to serve in his capacity as the sole US organizer and webmaster of the Global Campaign for the 4 Hour Work-Day.

"I've been trying to contact other organizations," he says, "though, ironically, I don't have time."

But Alex has big plans. By the end of the decade he envisions "a really crazy movement" with chapters around the world orchestrating the requisite work stoppage.

A century ago, such an undertaking would have seemed less obviously doomed. For decades the US labor movement had already been filling the streets with hundreds of thousands of workers demanding an eight-hour workday. This was just one more step in the gradual reduction of working hours that was expected to continue forever. Before the Civil War, workers like the factory women of Lowell, Massachusetts, had fought for a reduction to ten hours from 12 or more. Later, when the Great Depression hit, unions called for shorter hours to spread out the reduced workload and prevent layoffs; big companies like Kellogg's followed suit voluntarily. But in the wake of World War II, the eight-hour grind stuck, and today most workers end up doing more than that.

The United States now leads the pack of the wealthiest countries in annual working hours. US workers put in as many as 300 more hours a year than their counterparts in Western Europe, largely thanks to the lack of paid leave. (The Germans work far less than we do, while the Greeks work considerably more.) Average worker productivity has doubled a couple of times since 1950, but income has stagnated--unless you're just looking at the rich, who've become a great deal richer. The value from that extra productivity, after all, has to go somewhere.

It used to be common sense that advances in technology would bring more leisure time. "If every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful," Benjamin Franklin assumed, "that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life." Science fiction has tended to consider a future with shorter hours to be all but an axiom. Edward Bellamy's 1888 best seller Looking Backward describes a year 2000 in which people do their jobs for about four to eight hours, with less attractive tasks requiring less time. In the universe of Star Trek, work is done for personal development, not material necessity. In Wall-E, robots do everything, and humans have become inert blobs lying on levitating sofas.

During the heat of the fight for the eight-hour day in the 1930s, the Industrial Workers of the World were already making cartoon handbills for what they considered the next great horizon: a four-hour day, a four-day week, and a wage people can live on. "Why not?" the IWW propaganda asked.

It's a good question. A four-hour workday with a livable wage could solve a lot of our most nagging problems.

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


I WANT MY SLOW TV! (On the Media, August 01, 2014)

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation has been creating some of the world's slowest TV - shows like a 7 hour train ride or 18 hours of salmon fishing. Norwegian audiences are loving it. Last summer, Brooke spoke with Rune Moklebust of the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation about why he thinks so-called "boring TV" is actually quite exciting.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Adieu to That Dapper Detective (CRAIG TOMASHOFF, JULY 18, 2014, NY Times)

He's lived with the character for 70 episodes of "Agatha Christie's Poirot," or just about all the stories ever written about this Belgian detective. The final five will be broadcast in the United States starting next Sunday, the first two on PBS and the final three exclusively on Acorn TV, the streaming service that concentrates on British programming. According to Mr. Suchet, some 730 million viewers worldwide have seen at least one. His role has inspired hundreds of ardent fans to send him their paintings of him as Poirot. A 12-year-old boy recently came to a performance of "The Last Confession" completely decked out as Poirot, right down to a custom-made homburg.

"David Suchet is the definitive Poirot," said Eirik Dragsund, a Christie expert and creator of a blog that chronicles every episode of the series. "With a meticulous attention to detail and respect for Christie's stories, he has worked consistently to bring the much-loved Belgian to life. The walk, the accent, the order and the method make Poirot recognizable and, more importantly, believable."

James Hobbs, another Christie authority who operates the Hercule Poirot Central Facebook page and website, added, "I've read every Poirot novel and short story, and I can tell Suchet has paid attention to Poirot's personality."

Even Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks, invited him to dinner to explain how much her mother, who died in 1976, would have loved his portrayal of her famous creation. It was "the most moving thing said to me during filming of the show," Mr. Suchet recalled. "I was always scared stiff, because it was well known Agatha Christie was never happy with any of the cinematic portrayals of her characters. But Rosalind had my wife and I over to the family house, and it made me absolutely well up when she said, 'My mother would have been absolutely delighted with what you've done.' It meant so much because that was my whole reason for doing this role."

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Great Train Rides: Run Away on the Rails : Taking the train from London to the tip of Scotland beats a plane any day (CASSIE WERBER, Aug. 7, 2014, WSJ)

Traveling by train in the U.K. isn't the luxury it once was. But while brass-and-leather bar cars and china teacups might be ancient history, there are still few better ways to see the island's remote and beautiful corners--and everything in between.

My first-class cabin is well-worn and industrially lit, with a small berth, space to hang clothes, and not much else. But the moment I'm in bed, the magic that clings round the "sleeper" kicks in. The train's soft clicking and rocking soothes like no other mode of transportation--particularly not the bright, overstuffed spaces that airplanes have become.

After six hours of deep sleep, I open the blinds to glimpse a dawn sky over Scotland's Pentland Hills. The train pauses at Carstairs, a village in South Lanarkshire, and I discover that one of the panels in my cabin lifts to reveal a sink, with hot water and a tiny towel. My continental breakfast is more delicious for being eaten in bed, as the train begins to move. We're traveling northeast, and the light comes in shafts from the seaward side, almost lulling me back to sleep.

Getting off in Edinburgh less than an hour later allows you to explore this dramatic northern capital, where buildings, including Edinburgh Castle, seem to grow from rock like dark crystals. But if you can, continue north to Inverness and beyond. Granted, it is unusually sunny on the morning of my trip, but even on a dreary day, Scotland is extraordinarily beautiful. Just ask the Scottish landscape poet Kathleen Jamie.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Yields on 10-Year Treasuries Fall, Confounding the Experts (JEFF SOMMER,  AUGUST 8, 2014, NY Times)

The 10-year Treasury note fell as low as 2.35 percent, its nadir since June 20, 2013, before settling at 2.42 percent, according to Bloomberg.

Yields have been falling with embarrassing consistency in 2014 despite forecasts to the contrary from most Wall Street analysts at the beginning of the year.

"Just about all of us were convinced that yields were rising," Kathy A. Jones, a fixed-income strategist at Schwab, said in a phone interview this week. "But the bond market didn't go along with that story." [...]

[I]nvestors worldwide have been curbing the risk in their portfolios and moving money into safer holdings. United States Treasuries remain high on the list of global safe havens. Demand for Treasuries has driven prices higher and pushed down yields.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Starting Small: Millennial Investors Learn the Power of Compounding (Danielle Maddox Aug. 6, 2014, US News)

To take advantage of compound interest and receive a substantial return on your investment, Kaplan says you should invest as early as you can and for decades. That way, your nest egg can withstand market corrections.

"Even though some [millennials] might feel a little stunned by what happened in 2008, those sorts of market dislocations actually happen about twice a decade. You have to take on risk, and in return for that risk, we're rewarded by making a nice return," Kaplan says.

Millennials have an investing advantage because they have decades until retirement, she adds.

Even if those first contributions are small, they become significantly larger over time through the power of compounding, Moore says. "I saw the charts, and I had to run the calculations myself because it almost doesn't sound believable until you run the numbers."

Shane currently contributes 5 percent of his annual income to his 401(k). For his IRA, he plans to make one contribution annually of just below the maximum an investor can deposit. This year, it's $5,500.

Following her parents' initial contribution, Radaj says she began putting $20 at a time into her IRA because she could not afford to contribute more.

"Start with a small amount of money," Moore advises. "If you start with a small amount today, it's the same as starting with a large amount of money in the future."

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission's compound interest calculator, if you start with $1,000 and contribute $200 monthly, assuming a 7 percent average annual return, your investment will grow to nearly $500,000 in 40 years. 

All the Third Way does is exploit the genius of compound interest: invest government money in these accounts while they're young and they'll means-test out of government welfare when they're old.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The Latest Obamacare "Glitch" Isn't a Glitch At All--and It's Democrats' Fault (Brian Beutler, 8/07/14, New Republic)

[B]eneficiaries who do the easy thing and re-enroll automatically are likely to discover at some point in 2015 that they're on the hook for more money than they were this year. Others, who decide to initiate the process all over again, might find cheaper plans, but those plans might not carry the same cost-sharing arrangements or provider networks that their current plans do.

This is not a glitch, like the software failure or the provision of the law that unintentionally withholds subsidies from the families of people whose employers offer them, and only them, affordable coverage. It's a natural outgrowth of the scheme. It's one of the many concessions liberals made to conservative Democrats and that conservative Democrats in turn made in a doomed attempt to entice Republicans to support the ACA and avoid the smear that they supported a government takeover of health care.

It's a relic of the ACA's conservative design--the same template Republicans still envision for Medicare. When they inevitably use tales of frustration over this issue to attack Obamacare, it will be disingenuous. But that will be little solace to the administration and the Democrats who voted for the law. And in the short term there isn't much they can do about it.

...will just make HSAs the default and permanent option.  You'll have to go through a cumbersome and expensive process to opt-out.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


10 Tips To Supercharge Your Savings (Walter Updegrave , 8/09/14, Forbes)

Most of us find saving difficult. That's not surprising, as research shows our brains are hard-wired for immediate gratification. The flashy new car we can have right now has a lot more appeal than some vague notion of financial security later on. But there are ways to tilt the odds toward saving. [...]

3. Go On Autopilot

One of the most effective ways to save is to put money away before you can get your greedy little hands on it. Enroll in your 401(k) or other company payroll deduction plan and contribute at least enough to qualify for an employer matching funds.

Don't have a 401(k) or similar plan? Sign up ASAP for a mutual fund's automatic investing plan that transfers money to a mutual fund from your checking account every month. Most fund companies offer such a program, many allowing you to participate for as little as $50 a month or so. that it forces everyone into saving/investing money before they ever get their hands on it.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


The Skill Combo That Earns a 10% Wage Premium (LAUREN WEBER, 8/08/14, WSJ)

Automation and technology are replacing or reducing the menial tasks once associated with typical entry-level roles - those jobs that act as the first rung on a career ladder - so employers are raising the skills bar for their newest hires. Companies want those employees to arrive with sophisticated interpersonal skills, able to collaborate skillfully with colleagues and immediately interact with clients.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Healthcare robots bring far-away visitors closer (Jennifer Bell, August 8, 2014, The National)

 VGo is a revolutionary new robot that can be found whizzing around the hallways of Amana Healthcare, a long-term care facility in Al Ain.

The healthcare provider is the first in the region to introduce the remote-control robot which replicates a person. "The idea is that you can consult with someone on the outside. We could theoretically consult someone in the United States or Germany," said Arlene Susanne Ryan, a quality co-ordinator at Amana, in Al Ain, which have partnered with VGo Communications, a US-based provider of telepresence robotics.

The robot works on Wi-Fi and has a high-resolution manoeuvrable camera. 


Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


The Writhings of Nihilism (John Goerke, 8/07/14, Imaginative Conservative)

The most searching and dispassionate analysis will yield the irrefutable conclusion that summer is by far the worst season. Both presently and historically, the months when the northern hemisphere faces the full force of the sun are months of turmoil and destruction. Locally, a man will notice his powers suppressed by the sun, his energy running out with the flow of sweat from his skin. Internationally, this summer has yielded conflict in the Ukraine, as the slumbering beast of Soviet nationalism has stirred. In the Middle East, a faction of the Muslim religion has raped and plundered the once-great city of Mosul. The crescent is doing all it can to crush the Cross. In Israel, the conflict ever ancient, ever new, once again spills blood on the ground where Christ trod. The fires of this war are visible from space, as the dying cry out to heaven. Oh yes indeed, summer is a most dreadful time.

This seems to be a recurring problem. For the event which I accidentally found myself studying this summer, namely the French Revolution, experienced its worst atrocities during the months of humidity and heat. The Bastille fell during the summer. The Reign of Terror reached its apex during the summer. Curiously the two works which are the subject of this essay do not make mention of the summer's effect upon national discord. I suggest, humbly, that this is a slight oversight on their part.

Which is why nuclear winter always seemed more a promise than a threat.

August 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


53 percent of teens who talk on the phone while driving are chatting with mom or dad (Mike Barry, 8/08/14, The Week)

A recent study presented at the American Psychological Association's annual convention reveals that 53 percent of teens who reported talking on their cell phones while driving were actually talking to mom or dad. The study's co-author, Noelle Lavoie, noted that "teens said parents expect to be able to reach them, that parents get mad if they don't answer their phone."

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 PM


In Ambitious Bid, Walmart Seeks Foothold in Primary Care Services (RACHEL ABRAMS, AUG. 7, 2014, NY Times)

Welcome to Walmart. The nurse will be right with you.

Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, has spent years trying to turn some of its millions of customers into patients, offering a simple menu of medical services that consumers can buy along with everything from a bag of chips to a lawn mower. Now, the store is making an aggressive push to become a one-stop shopping destination for medical care.

The company has opened five primary care locations in South Carolina and Texas, and plans to open a sixth clinic in Palestine, Tex., on Friday and another six by the end of the year. The clinics, it says, can offer a broader range of services, like chronic disease management, than the 100 or so acute care clinics leased by hospital operators at Walmarts across the country. Unlike CVS or Walgreens, which also offer some similar services, or Costco, which offers eye care, Walmart is marketing itself as a primary medical provider.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


What makes us human? (JOHN LLOYD, 1 AUGUST, 2014, New Statesman)

This is a big question, but one answer covers it all: we ask questions. There are quite a few human languages - Latin and Irish among them - that don't have words for "yes" or "no" - but every language on earth has a word for "why".

Why is this? Why are we the only species on earth that is concerned about things that don't directly concern our survival or that of our offspring? Porcupines do not look up at the night sky and wonder what all the sparkly bits are; weasels don't worry about what other weasels think of them; lobsters really don't enjoy pub quizzes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


'THE GAY MOVEMENT IS FULL OF STAID CONFORMISTS' : Julie Bindel talks to spiked about the death of gay radicalism. (Tom Slater, 8/08/14, spiked)
The gay movement has become very traditional and cowardly', says Julie Bindel. [...]

Her new book, Straight Expectations, offers a strident critique of the modern gay movement. Talking to me down the line from her home in north London, she traces the decline of the gay movement back to the establishment-led attack on gay people in the 1980s. After the AIDS panic and the Thatcher government's grotesque Clause 28, which banned local authorities, and in particular state-run schools, from 'promoting homosexuality' in education, Bindel feels there was a gradual shift to a more conciliatory agenda: 'The language became one of acceptance and tolerance rather than liberation and "[...] you". There was a desperate desire for a quiet life, to be left alone. The more radical voices of lesbian feminism, and the few gay men that were more radical, were drowned out.'

Bindel isolates gay marriage as one of the key manifestations of this shift towards conservatism. Gay marriage doesn't only spring from a desire to be 'left alone', she says - it also speaks to a quest for validation from the state. 'It's the desire to be in a traditional couple that's sanctioned by the state, rather than punished by the state', she says.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 PM


The U.S. Airstrikes in Northern Iraq Are All About Oil (John B. Judis, 8/08/14, New Republic)

Last night, President Barack Obama announced that he was authorizing American airtstrikes in Iraq. He described his intervention as a "humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain" and as an effort "to protect our American personnel." One word that he didn't mention is "oil," but it lies near the center of American motives for intervention.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Nissan, Mitsubishi to join hands on low-cost electric car (Nikkei Asian Review, 8/04/12)

Nissan Motor and Mitsubishi Motors will work together to develop a minicar-based electric vehicle, aiming to release a new model in fiscal 2016 at the lowest price among major automakers. [...]

The i-MiEV is the cheapest electric passenger car on the Japanese market, starting at 2.52 million yen ($24,300). When government subsidies of up to 740,000 yen are included, it can be purchased for as little as 1.78 million yen.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


GOP Senate Incumbents Complete Primary Season Sweep (Scott Conroy, August 8, 2014, RCP)

Back in March, Mitch McConnell made a brash prediction about how Senate Republican incumbents would fare against Tea Party insurgents in the upcoming primary season.  

"I think we are going to crush them everywhere," the minority leader told the New York Times. "I don't think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country." 

At the time, McConnell's remark sounded like bluster. After all, the GOP establishment had taken a beating over the previous two election cycles as their preferred Senate candidates lost to Tea Party challengers (who later proved to be fatally flawed general election candidates) in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana and Missouri.  

What's more, Tea Party upstarts in the 2014 midterms were better funded than ever before, with such groups as the Senate Conservatives Fund and FreedomWorks adding big outside money to buttress the simmering grassroots support for anti-incumbent Republican challengers. 

But with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander's victory over state Rep. Joe Carr on Thursday, the Republican establishment secured a clean sweep in 2014 Senate primary races -- the first time since 2008 that every GOP senator seeking re-election has been re-nominated.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


Israel has won the tunnel war, but lost the propaganda battle to Hamas (Con Coughlin, 08 Aug 2014, The Telegraph)

To judge by the general tenor of global reaction to the conflict, it would be fair to conclude that while Israel has unquestionably won the military campaign - it has completely destroyed the tunnel network as well as killed an estimated 900 Hamas militants - it stands precious little chance of winning the propaganda war.

On that front, Hamas is the undisputed winner. The resignation of Baroness Warsi as a junior Foreign Office minister this week is the most high-profile example of the deep antipathy that has been generated around the world over what is regarded as Israel's immoral conduct.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Economists are baffled by Russia's new sanctions against the West (John Aziz, 8/08/14, The Week)

After the introduction of new Western sanctions against Russia last month as punishment for its role in destabilizing Ukraine, Russia has returned fire by announcing a raft of sanctions of its own. Economists, however, are baffled at the Russian decision. While the Western sanctions have hurt the Russian economy, Russia's retaliatory sanctions will hurt its own economy even more. [...]

Forbes' Tim Worstall points out the Russian retaliation is nonsensical. It is, in effect, Russia saying, "You are making us poorer by denying us your lovely imports. We shall therefore make ourselves poorer by denying ourselves more of your lovely imports."

....means that they commit suicide while we're killing them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Why Not a Three-Day Week? (MARIA KONNIKOVA, 8/07/14, The New Yorker)

During a talk at a conference in Paraguay two weeks ago, Slim proposed that the standard work schedule worldwide should be trimmed to three days a week. The current arrangement, he pointed out, was developed when life expectancy was lower and the world was, as a whole, poorer. Now, with people living longer and the structure of society shifting accordingly, a four-day weekend would improve quality of life, promote the development of other occupations, and healthier and more productive employees. Slim's proposal included two important caveats: employees would work longer hours each day, and would continue to work into their seventies. (At Slim's own company, Telmex, he is allowing workers past retirement age to keep working four-day weeks, at full salary.)

Slim's three-day work week was greeted with skepticism, but he is far from the first executive to criticize the structure of our working lives. In 1926, when six-day work weeks were the norm, Henry Ford proposed a five-day week: workers would receive the same pay and have their weekends free. Ford didn't take the change as a matter of faith; he tested worker productivity beforehand. "Now we know from our experience in changing from six to five days and back again that we can get at least as great production in five days as we can in six," he wrote. "And we shall probably get a greater, for the pressure will bring better methods." Ford saw the five-day week as just one step in ongoing efforts to reduce working hours. "The five day week is not the ultimate, and neither is the eight hour day," he wrote. "It is enough to manage what we are equipped to manage and to let the future take care of itself. It will anyway. That is its habit."

In 2010, Anna Coote, the head of social policy at the New Economics, made a recommendation even more extreme than Slim's: a twenty-one-hour work week. According to Coote, a twenty-one-hour week would help to address "overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life." We may be reluctant to believe these claims--isn't long, hard work necessary for success? But here's the thing: when workers feel that they are being cheated or slighted by their employers, their productivity falls and their propensity to cut corners increases. In a study of non-union employees in the United States, the organizational psychologist Daniel Skarlicki found that workers' perception that they are being treated unfairly not only causes negative emotions but also breeds a desire for retribution. If employees feel that they aren't paid enough, they may feel entitled, for instance, to mistreat office property or to waste office materials. If they feel that they are being asked to work longer hours than they'd been led to believe they would have to, they may decide to spend more time in the office on Facebook, take longer lunch breaks, work more slowly, or call in sick. A common gripe is, "I don't get paid enough to work as hard as I do."

One of the main factors affecting how motivated we are at work is whether we feel in control of our jobs, and whether we think our actions and views can actually make a difference. In a 2010 survey of employees and supervisors at a large I.T. company, feelings of empowerment affected both intrinsic motivation (wanting to do the work for its own sake, rather than for money or for other external rewards) and creativity. A 2012 review of workplace-empowerment studies since the early twentieth century concluded that helping employees to feel more in control has "proven to be competitively advantageous." Fostering a sense of control and self-efficacy, it turns out, is a far more effective way to encourage productivity and creativity than demanding a certain output. We're creative and productive when we feel we have space to find our own way; we're frustrated and stubborn when we don't.

While feeling in control and working fewer hours may seem like distinct issues, they are fundamentally connected. When we own more of our time, we feel like we're in charge of our lives and our schedules, which makes us happier and, ultimately, better at what we do. Our health and happiness also increases in the course of our lifetimes and, with it, our value to the workplace and to society as a whole. Additionally, we may finally recover from chronic sleep deprivation, which is one of the greatest health hazards currently facing the average employee. Sleep quality, in turn, translates to better cognition, clearer thinking, and increased productivity. Instead of the usual vicious circle, we get a virtuous one.

August 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Pep Guardiola wants 'revenge' for MLS All-Stars' tackling in Bayern defeat (, Thursday 7 August 2014)

Pep Guardiola refused to shake hands with counterpart Caleb Porter after his Bayern Munich team lost 2-1 to the Major League Soccer All-Stars on Wednesday, apparently upset about some heavy tackling in the game.

The Bayern manager wagged his finger angrily toward the MLS All-Stars bench as he walked off after the game without the traditional handshake, and ignored Porter when he tried to make contact as the Spanish coach saluted his own players on the field.

...just the fastest and most physical.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


Mortgage giant Fannie Mae posts $3.7B profit in 2Q (Associated Press, Aug. 7, 2014)

Washington-based Fannie also said it will pay a dividend of $3.7 billion to the U.S. Treasury next month. With its previous payments totaling $126.7 billion, Fannie has more than fully repaid the $116 billion it received from taxpayers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


It Isn't About the Tunnels. So What Is the Gaza Conflict Really About? : The Israeli government's tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision. (GERSHOM GORENBERG, AUGUST 7, 2014, American Prospect)

The Israeli government's announced goal in fighting since the ground invasion of Gaza on July 17 was finding and destroying attack tunnels. This, therefore, is remembered as an original purpose of the war. A friend, left of center politically, asked me the afternoon after the war why Israel had earlier accepted an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire that was set to start before the ground invasion, since the government obviously knew it would need to invade Gaza to get rid of the tunnels.

But the crisis wasn't about tunnels when it started. The Israeli government's tactical goals shifted repeatedly. At no point, it appears, has Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a strategic political vision. Yet the story of the tunnels leads inevitably to the need for a political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The crisis started with the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by a Palestinian cell in early June. Reacting with a roundup of Hamas activists, Netanyahu's goal was to cripple the Islamic organization in the West Bank and to discredit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's new unity government, which had Hamas support.

That's when Palestinian factions in Gaza--first Hamas's more radical rivals, then Hamas itself--broke a semi-armistice and began launching rockets at Israeli cities. Israel's Operation Protective Edge began an air offensive, aimed at stopping the rocket fire. Only after Hamas rejected the Egyptian ceasefire proposal and a squad of gunmen surfaced from a tunnel in Israeli territory did the government order the invasion. From that point the central goal was to eliminate the tunnels.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


Fitness May Help Ward Off Depression in Girls  (HealthDay News, 8/07/14) 

The more fit middle-school girls are, the less likely they may be to develop symptoms of depression, according to a recent study. in the girls helps ward off depression in the boys.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


These are the five most ridiculous attacks on the Chevy Volt ( Sebastian Blanco, Aug 7th 2014, Green Auto)

It's been a long, strange trip for the Chevy Volt from the time when the now-odd-looking concept version (above) was introduced at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show to today. And now, General Motors announced that the second-generation Chevy Volt will make an appearance at the 2015 Detroit show in January. This debut represents a victory for GM with what has easily become the most politicized car of the 21st Century.

There are plenty of reasons for someone to criticize the Volt, but what's amazing is just how much anti-Volt energy has been spent not on things like the styling or how the EREV setup is not as efficient as a pure-EV powertrain. As we wait for more official information on the new Volt, we thought it would be fun to go back and look at some of the most wildly incorrect reporting and strangest attacks on the Volt from the archives. There is so much good stuff out there, it was hard to pare the list down, but these are our five favorites. Amazingly, they're not all clips from Fox News. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


The Worst Part of the Bar Exam (Lisa T. McElroy and Katie Rose Guest Pryal, 8/07/14, Slate)

Last week, all across the country, tens of thousands of law school graduates endured an agonizing rite of passage: the bar examination.

As if sitting for two or three full days in a large room full of stressing, sweating, swearing candidates weren't bad enough, at least 40 percent of these candidates were also struggling with another challenge: gaining admission to the profession despite having a psychiatric disability. having to write a paragraph in cursive.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


On immigration reform, President Obama as emancipator? (Charles Lane, August 6, 2014, Washington Post)

Not since Abraham Lincoln pondered his Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 has a president considered ordering a more sweeping adjustment to membership in the American community than the mass relief for illegal immigrants that President Obama is said to be contemplating. [...]

The ideological concept behind Obama's grand slicing of the Gordian knot of immigration, if he attempts it, would be akin to that which drove Lincoln's action: the president as liberator.

The proposal that's being bandied about -- offering up to 5 million undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and others the same two-year renewable reprieves from deportation plus work permits that Obama already ordered for undocumented residents who arrived as children -- wouldn't cover all illegal immigrants any more than Lincoln's proclamation freed every slave. (It omitted Union-held territory.)

Still, its impact would be dramatic, and might define Obama's legacy as powerfully as the Emancipation Proclamation defined Lincoln's.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


How the Tea Party became as corrupt as the Beltway it loathes (Michael Brendan Dougherty, 8/07/14, The Week)

This week, ProPublica released a report on the financial (and moral) corruption of a Tea Party group operating under the name Move America Forward, which was founded by one Sal Russo. Russo also helped start the Our Country Deserves Better PAC, aka the Tea Party Express. Move America Forward has run fake drives to give care packages to troops, stolen images of other charitable campaigns and passed them off as its own, and trumpeted a nonexistent partnership with Walter Reed Hospital -- all while funneling very real millions to itself. The group is an industry leader at taking your Tea Party sentiments (if you have them) and turning them into profits.

Unfortunately, the continuing success of Sal Russo and the Tea Party Express is emblematic of a larger failure of the American right -- and perhaps the larger project of American self-governance.

Earlier this year, The Daily Caller's Alexis Levinson reported that other Tea Party groups that had raised millions spent up to 80 percent of their money on operating expenditures, salaries, consultants, and mailing list companies, which were often owned by the people who ran the groups themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Richard Nixon, Good Liberal (Albert R. Hunt, 8/07/14, Bloomberg View)

His opening to China in 1972 had been advocated by many liberals, but Democratic presidents weren't willing to take the political risk. Today, it is considered one of the great foreign policy successes of the past half century.

Nixon also presided over a policy of detente with the former Soviet Union, negotiating arms pacts and resisting the more confrontational approach of hardliners.

Vietnam is a black mark. He continued the war, started by Democrats. More than 21,000 Americans lost their lives in Vietnam in the Nixon years. The then-secret Nixon tape recordings, many of which have now been released, reveal that Nixon and Henry Kissinger, his chief foreign policy adviser, knew that the American-backed South Vietnamese government would lose the war; it did in 1975 -- less than a year after Nixon left office.

Domestically, the picture was mixed, but again there is some cheer for liberals. He created the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and tapped the exceptionally able William Ruckelshaus to run it. This was one of the few large government re-organizations that really worked.

He was out front on consumer issues, although he caved to the tobacco lobby in firing Surgeon General Jesse L. Steinfeld, who died yesterday.

He proposed a national health-care plan, with federal subsidies; the late Ted Kennedy later expressed regret that he and other Democrats didn't get behind this at the time. He also proposed a negative income tax for poor people, expanded food stamps and enacted supplemental security income for those with disabilities and the elderly.

It wasn't Watergate that made him one of our worst presidents 

August 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 PM


Doctor on Demand brings its video medical appointments to the desktop (Josh Ong, 8/06/14, Next Web)

Doctor on Demand today announced a desktop browser version of its video service for on-demand doctor's visits. The company has also closed a $21 million Series A funding round and signed a partnership with Comcast that will offer the cable company's employees free access to the service.

Previously, patients could take appointments on iOS and Android. The new Web version is optimized for Chrome on Mac and PC. Check-ups cost a flat fee of $40 and last roughly 15 minutes. All of Doctor on Demand's physicians are board-certified for the state they're taking calls in. The service is 24/7 in most US states, but a few regions might have off hours on a Sunday night or other non-peak times.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Hey, conservatives: I'll trade you the corporate tax for a tax on pollution Let's incentivize the right things (John Aziz, 8/06/14, )The Week

My opposition to the corporate tax is a matter of basic incentives. Taxes are, more or less, a tool for the government to achieve public policy, not only in terms of expenditures for public goods, but also in terms of the incentives that those taxes create.

Taxing something disincentivizes it, because it pushes up the cost. The real question is: are corporations something that we should be disincentivizing?

Some would say yes: when a company incorporates, its owners receive a legal benefit in the form of limited liability. If it goes bust, its creditors take control of the corporation and its assets, but they can't go after the assets owned by a corporation's owners. The costs of incorporating, as well as the corporate tax, are payment for that protection.

But, as Pethokoukis points out, that isn't what really happens. The owners of corporations pass as much of those costs as possible onto workers and customers.

And the bigger point, I think, is that if we want to build a society that gives innovators and risk-takers as much opportunity to succeed as possible, limited liability should be as cheap as possible.

If we love the fruits of entrepreneurship -- technological innovation, research, cheaper products and services, and new jobs -- why disincentivize them with a tax? After all, shareholders in corporations (as well as customers and employees) already pay taxes on their income and capital gains. Why burden them with another round of tax?

Well, cutting the corporate tax to zero right now would blow a big hole in the government's finances -- currently 10 percent of the tax base, or the not-so-paltry sum of $280 billion. But there's no reason why that cannot be made up by other taxes on things that we actually want to disincentivize. Like, rather importantly, pollution.

Corporations should be taxed to some degree for the negative side effects they create, like pollution and environmental degradation. But it's not like all corporations are polluting at the same rate. Most firms create far less pollution than the owner of coal-fired power stations, for example. If pollution is the problem, tax the polluters directly for their pollution and environmental degradation. Tax carbon emissions by the ton. That will also have the benefit of further incentivizing the development of clean energy, which is recognized as the best antidote to climate change. Don't tax every corporation at the same rate -- lower the tax rates for those polluting at a much lower rate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


President Obama's despicable whitewashing of torture (Ryan Cooper, August 5, 2014, The Week)

President Obama's on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other shtick amounts to nothing but vile political cowardice when applied to torture. It's also, unsurprisingly, grossly misleading. The Bush torture program was not some panicked misstep in the weeks after 9/11; it was a coordinated effort continued up through 2004 at least, and probably beyond.

And even if it weren't, what a pathetic excuse 9/11 makes. There is no "unless you are really scared" carve-out in the Convention. 9/11 was a horrifying crime, no doubt, but it simply does not stand comparison even with our Civil War, let alone history's worst events like the Battle of Stalingrad. A terrorist attack does not justify shredding the most sacred touchstones of liberal democracy and taking up techniques pioneered by the Gestapo.

All this makes that word "sanctimonious" absolutely infuriating. These "patriots" did not have "tough jobs," Mr. President; they committed war crimes on orders from practically the entire top echelon of the previous presidential administration. They violated the United States Constitution, grievously harmed the security of the nation, and pillaged the best, most unambiguously good part of the legacy of President Reagan. (War crimes, I might add, which were pitifully, ridiculously ineffective at obtaining anything whatsoever of positive value.)

But since his administration has refused to prosecute those war crimes, it seems clear that Obama has been made thoroughly complicit in them.

National defense ain't bean bag.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


The Pragmatic Libertarian Case for a Basic Income Guarantee (Matt Zwolinski, August 4, 2014, Cato Unbound)

Every one of the more than 126 federal welfare programs comes with its own bureaucracy, its own set of arcane rules, regulations, and restrictions, and its own significant (and rising) overhead costs. A BIG, in contrast, requires significantly less in terms of administrative expense. A program in which everyone gets a check for the same amount is simple enough to be administered by a computer program. And even a more complicated proposal, like Murray's or like Friedman's NIT, could largely piggyback off of the already existing bureaucracy of the federal tax system.

Eliminating a large chunk of the federal bureaucracy would obviously be good from the perspective of a libertarian concern to reduce the size and scope of government. But it would also be good from the perspective of welfare beneficiaries. Actually getting signed up for all the various welfare benefits to which one is entitled is tremendously costly in terms of time, effort, and skill at bureaucratic navigation. Many people miss out on benefits for which they qualify simply because they don't know that the program exists, or what they need to do to draw from it. Getting the benefit of a BIG, in contrast, requires just a single signature on the back of a check. If we're going to spend money on helping the poor, shouldn't we make sure that they actually get the help we're paying for?

Second, a BIG could be considerably cheaper than the current welfare state. How much cheaper depends on the details of the particular proposal. Some, like Murray's, which involve a progressive tax on the BIG once a certain threshold of income is reached, appear to be considerably cheaper. Other analyses, like Ed Dolan's, suggest only that a moderate BIG would not cost more than what we currently spend.

Part of the explanation of the relatively low cost of a BIG comes from the reduction of bureaucracy, described above. But another reason is to be found in Director's Law: If you're like most people, when you hear "welfare" you think about transfers from the rich to the poor. But in reality, most political transfers benefit the middle class at the expense of the poor (and rich). If the BIG is going to replace the welfare state, then transfers to the middle class such as subsidies for higher education, the mortgage interest deduction, and tax benefits for retirement savings ought to be cut right along with (if not before) SNAP, TANF, etc.

Again, how much a BIG would cost relative to the current welfare state depends on the details of the particular BIG proposal. Various proposals need to be evaluated on their own merits, and of course I do not wish to claim that every BIG proposal will be more affordable than our current welfare state. But neither is there any reason to believe that no reasonable proposal could be.

Whenever there exists a bureaucracy with the power and discretion to take from some in order to benefit others, there will also exist powerful incentives for individuals to manipulate that bureaucracy in order to better serve their own private interests. Agents of the bureaucracy itself will seek to expand its scope and budget regardless of whether such expansion serves the interests of its clients. And special interest groups will use various political mechanisms to channel the organization's resources into their own pockets.

In theory, the welfare state doles out money and other resources on the basis of such factors as need and desert. But need and desert are both philosophically contested and impossible to measure objectively. And so, in practice, resources are doled out to those who can make the best political case that they need or deserve it. And this is a contest in which the genuine poor are at a serious disadvantage relative to the better educated, wealthier, and more politically engaged middle class.

A BIG, in contrast, allows virtually no room for bureaucratic discretion, and thus minimizes the opportunities for political rent-seeking and opportunism. It is, as the late James Buchanan once noted, a perfectly general policy that treats all citizens the same. It is thus entirely ill-suited for use as a method of political exploitation. We should therefore expect to see much less rent-seeking and opportunism with a BIG than we do with the present welfare state, and therefore a more effective transfer of resources toward the genuinely needy as opposed to the politically well-connected.

Of course, no policy is perfectly immune to rent-seeking or political manipulation, and others have expressed what seem to me to be some entirely reasonable concerns about a BIG in this respect. But nothing that I have seen has yet convinced me that the problems with a BIG would be worse than those we have now, and there still seems to me to be good reason to think those problems would be considerably diminished.

One of the main differences between a BIG and the current welfare state is the unconditionality of the former. Under a BIG, everybody gets a check. Under the current welfare state, only people who meet the various stipulated qualifications are eligible for assistance. The precise nature of those qualifications varies from program to program, but can include not earning too much, not earning too little, not being on drugs, not having won the lottery, making an earnest effort to find work, and so on.

Conditions are put on welfare in order to ensure that assistance goes to the deserving poor, and not to the undeserving. But distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving is difficult business, and requires a variety of invasive, demoralizing, and degrading inspections into the intimate details of applicants' lives. "Fill out this form, tell us about that man you live with, pee in this cup, and submit to spot inspections of your home by our social workers, or else."

Maybe the state shouldn't be in the business of giving out welfare at all. Maybe it shouldn't be running schools, or highways either. But, as Jacob Levy notes, since it does do these things, libertarians have good reason to demand that it does so in a way that is as "more rather than less compatible with Hayek's rule of law, with freedom from supervision and surveillance by the bureaucracy, with the ability to get on with living their lives rather than having to waste them proving their innocence."

The conditional welfare state is not only invasive, it is heavily paternalistic. Restrictions on eligibility are imposed in order to encourage welfare recipients to live their lives in a way that the state thinks is good for them: don't have kids out of wedlock, don't do drugs, and get (or stay) married. And benefits are often given in-kind rather than in cash precisely because the state doesn't trust welfare recipients to make what it regards as wise choices about how to spend their money. This, despite the fact that both economic theory and a growing body of empirical evidence suggest that individuals are better off with the freedom of choice that a cash grant brings. In-kind grant programs like SNAP (food stamps) persist in their present form not because they are effective but because they are the product of a classic Bootleggers-and-Baptists coalition: well-meaning members of the public like the idea that welfare recipients have to use their vouchers on food rather than alcohol and cigarettes, and the farm lobby likes that beneficiaries are forced to buy its own products. Poor people, meanwhile, are deprived of the opportunity to save that a cash grant would give them, and they are forced to waste time and effort trading what SNAP allows them to buy for what they really want.

The New Luddites : What if technological innovation is a job-killer after all? (Will Oremus, 8/07/14, Slate)

All of which has brought John Maynard Keynes' concept of "technological unemployment" back into the academic discourse, some 80 years after he coined the phrase. On Wednesday, Pew Research and Elon University released a report titled "AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs." The report compiles and summarizes the results of a sort of expert opinion survey in which the researchers asked 1,900 economists, management scientists, industry analysts, and policy thinkers one big question: "Will networked, automated, artificial intelligence applications and robotic devices have displaced more jobs than they have created by 2025?"

The results of the survey were fascinating. Almost exactly half of the respondents (48 percent) predicted that intelligent software will disrupt more jobs than it can replace. The other half predicted the opposite.

The lack of expert consensus on such a crucial and seemingly straightforward question is startling. It's even more so given that history and the leading economic models point so clearly to one side of the question: the side that reckons society will adjust, new jobs will emerge, and technology will eventually leave the economy stronger. Even Keynes in 1930 assured his readers that technological unemployment would be only a "temporary phase of maladjustment." This view has been so widely held for so long that the dissenters have taken on a derogatory label: Luddites. The original Luddites were handloom weavers in England who smashed and burned power looms and mills on the theory that technology posed a fundamental threat to human well-being. Who'd have thought that half the mainstream experts in the United States in the year 2014 would share the Luddites' basic view of automation's effects on the labor market?

"Automation is Voldemort: the terrifying force nobody is willing to name," declared one respondent quoted in the Pew report. "Good-paying jobs will be increasingly scarce," said another, NASA program manager Mark Nall. "I'm not sure that jobs will disappear altogether," allowed Justin Reich of Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, "but the jobs that are left will be lower paying and less secure than those that exist now."

Is this dim view justified? I put that question to McAfee, who along with fellow MIT researcher Brynjolfsson helped to launch the current debate about the effects of automation with their 2011 e-book Race Against the Machine and 2014 follow-up The Second Machine Age.

McAfee, who specializes in the effects of information technology on business, is unreservedly sanguine when it comes to technology's effects on economic growth. "I'm super-optimistic about the size of the pie," he told me. But even he is increasingly nervous about its effects on employment, and middle-class jobs in particular.

"It's fairly unambiguous at this point that the middle class has been getting hollowed out," McAfee said. "The balance between capital and labor is shifting, and the best work on that shift clearly cites information technology as the reason."

McAfee believes the education system has to change to prepare young people for a world in which most of today's jobs are automated. He's just not sure whether it can change fast enough. "The closer we look, the more it seems like some of these transitions have not just been, you know, 24 or 36 months and then everybody's OK," McAfee said. "They've been long, they've been difficult in some ways, and they've required pretty serious policy responses. [Columbia University economist] Joe Stiglitz talks about how the mechanization of agriculture may have made the Great Depression last as long as it did."

It's possible that today's hand-wringing is simply a result of people underestimating the power of capitalist economies to adapt and thrive. They've certainly done so in the past. And remember, half of Pew's respondents still think we'll be just fine.

Still, there's no guarantee that the future will resemble the past. It should be deeply unsettling to policymakers that so many of the smart people who think about these issues believe this time could be fundamentally different.

August 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


After the Arab Spring: The Return of the Generals (Shadi Hamid, 8/04/14, Der Spiegel)

In Egypt, the loss of faith in not just democracy, but in the very notion of politics, was particularly striking. A not insignificant number of Egyptians backed the military coup of July 3, 2013, and then turned away from -- or, worse, embraced -- the mass killing of their countrymen on August 14, 2013. More than 600 were killed in mere hours, as security forces moved to disperse Muslim Brotherhood supporters from two protest camps in Cairo. This happened exactly a year ago -- and will remain a dark blot on the country's history. It, in a sense, is what the Arab Spring had managed to unleash -- not just chaos but something darker.

Before they began to falter, the region's autocrats, whether in Tunisia, Syria or Yemen, were fond of reminding Westerners that despite their brutality -- or perhaps because of it -- they were the ones keeping the peace and ensuring stability. As Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in a televised address just 10 days before he was ousted, "The events of the last few days require us all as a people and as a leadership to choose between chaos and stability." In a sense, he and his fellow autocrats were right -- there was a tradeoff. These, after all, were weak states, divided by religion, ideology, sect and clan.

With little warning, the uprisings pushed these internal tensions and conflicts that had always simmering in the background to the fore. Before the uprisings, Arab strongmen had governed unwieldy countries with arbitrary borders and uncertain identities. They promised stability at the expense of liberty -- and it was a bargain that held for decades.

...and the state of the Midddle East is the price we pay for delaying it since 1919.  The idea that stoking further resentment will make the region better is obviously nonsensical.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


When health care prices stop being hidden, and start getting real (Sarah Kliff on August 5, 2014, Vox)

Over the past two years the Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plans have been running a quiet experiment, to see what would happen if prices became available in some cities but not others. And they found that just the act of making prices available can have a really dramatic impact on what they had to spend to get patients a very basic procedure.

How much is that MRI in the window?

For the experiment, the Blue Cross Blue Shield plans used a very standard procedure, an MRI scan, where there's little (if any) variation in quality from one provider to another.

In St. Louis and Atlanta, for example, patients would be told how much an MRI would cost at different providers. But in Chicago and Kansas City they wouldn't get that information; they would go about setting up an MRI at their facility of choice, without any data on price.

In the cities where price data was available, there was no penalty for choosing the higher-priced option; consumers weren't told they couldn't go get scanned in the more expensive MRI machine.

But just providing the data proved to be powerful: in the course of two years, the average price per MRI fell by $95, according to data published in the journal Health Affairs. Prices at hospitals that didn't post charges rose by $124.

Health care costs can't withstand commodification.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


In Darwin's Footsteps (JONATHAN WEINER, AUG. 4, 2014, NY Times)

In researching my own book, "The Beak of the Finch," I came to know the Grants well. When I first met them, more than two decades ago, they were in their 50s, cheerfully focused, understated, competent. They were also very fit, to use Darwin's word. They had to be, to carry all their food and water up the cliff of the desert island.

They kept up their watch during years of downpours and years of drought -- seasons of feast and famine for the finches. And Darwin's process unfolded before their eyes in intense episodes that illustrated better than anything in the Origin the struggle for existence, and the ways that life adapts and emerges fitter from the struggle.

When I read "40 Years of Evolution," I started near the end. I wanted to know more about the Grants' latest discovery, which I wish I could have witnessed in person.

Its own origins date to 1981, when a strange finch landed on the island. He was a hybrid of the medium-beaked ground finch and the cactus finch. He had the sort of proportions that touch our protective feelings: a big head on a stout body. In other words, he was cute. They called him Big Bird.

Hybrids are not unknown among Darwin's 13 species of finches, but they are rare. Because they evolved so recently, birds of these different species can mate but ordinarily choose not to.

That necessary reduction of mating to a matter of intelligent choice is what doomed the whole Darwinian project, as illustrated by his finches.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


The Earnings Gap Between Married and Non-Married Moms is Widening (NEIL SHAH, 8/05/14, WSJ)

 In a study released Tuesday, Columbia University and Russell Sage Foundation scholar Jane Waldfogel finds that U.S. mothers in their prime-working years (usually defined as 25 to 44 years old) face a roughly 5% "motherhood wage penalty" in the workplace relative to childless women workers, a figure she estimates hasn't improved much since the late 1970s.

Dividing the working moms into married and never-married women, she finds that the penalty for married women, which used to be around 8% in the late 1970s--meaning these women made 8% less in hourly wages than a married, childless female worker--shrank to around 3% by 2007, just before the recession. The same penalty for never-married women shot up from basically zero to 10.5%. (Various factors, like education, make it likelier that some women will get higher-paying jobs, or become mothers--issues Ms. Waldfogel and her colleague, graduate student Ipshita Pal, controlled for. However, it's hard to control for the fact that never-married working moms back in 1977 were very different from those in 2007; indeed, there were much fewer of them, and fewer employment opportunities for them, which is probably why there is no "motherhood penalty" for them in 1977.)

What's going on?

A big factor, Ms. Waldfogel believes, is married working moms are probably getting help from husbands on things like childcare and household chores, allowing them to stay more attached to the labor force. Rather than taking, say, a year off of work and then struggling to return, or moving into a part-time job, these women are continuing to build what economists call "human capital"--all the company- and occupation-specific experience that boosts their value to employers over time. Many married women are finally starting to see the work-related benefits of having a supportive partner that studies have shown men have enjoyed for decades. Never-married mothers, the logic goes, may be less likely to get such support from their partners, and find it harder to stay attached to the labor force. Indeed, some of the partners in question may not be around at all.

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


With Gaza war ostensibly over, Israelis ask what's next? (RAPHAEL AHREN, August 5, 2014, Times of Israel)

On the ninth of the month of Av, Jews traditionally mourn the destruction of two Temples, among a laundry list of other calamities that befell the Jewish people throughout the ages.

This Tuesday, many Israeli Jews, especially those leaning to the right, added Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to agree to a 72-hour ceasefire with Hamas to that long tally.

Once more, many will undoubtedly wail, Israel is caving to international pressure, holding its fire and withdrawing its forces without having "finished the job." The government again wasted an opportunity to root out terrorism, once and for all, from Gaza, they lament.

"It's a real disgrace that we're withdrawing; we gained nothing but dead soldiers," an IDF reservist told Ynet Monday as his battalion was withdrawing from Gaza.

"If they let us go and pull out, this will all be for nothing," said another soldier. "We'll go back for another war under a different name; it's only the names that change."

A Channel 2 poll published Tuesday showed that 42 percent thought Israel had won the war, versus 44% who said it had lost.

The tragedy is that it was all so predictable.


Gaza Crisis: 'The Real Danger to Israel Comes from Within' (Interview Conducted by Julia Amalia Heyer, 8/05/14, Der Spiegel)

SPIEGEL: There was widespread support in Israel for the operation in the Gaza Strip, despite the huge numbers of civilian casualties and the deaths of hundreds of children. Why is that?

Illouz: Where you see human beings, Israelis see enemies. In front of enemies, you close ranks, you unite in fear for your life, and you do not ponder about the fragility of the other. Israel has a split, schizophrenic self-awareness: It cultivates its strength and yet cannot stop seeing itself as weak and threatened. Moreover, both the fact that Hamas holds a radical Islamist and anti-Semitic ideology and the fact that there is rabid anti-Arab racism in Israel explain why Israelis see Gaza as a bastion of potential or real terrorists. It is difficult to have compassion for a population seen as as threatening the heart of your society.

SPIEGEL: Is that also a function of the fact that Israeli society has become increasingly militaristic?

Illouz: Israel is a colonial military power, a militarized society and a democracy all folded into one. The army, for example, controls the Palestinians through a wide network of colonial tools, such as checkpoints, military courts (governed by a legal system different from the Israeli system), the arbitrary granting of work permits, house demolitions and economic sanctions. It is a militarized civil society because almost every family has a father, son or brother in the army and because the military plays an enormous role in the ordinary mentality of ordinary Israelis and is crucial in both political decisions and in the public sphere. In fact, I would say that "security" is the paramount concept guiding Israeli society and politics. But it is also a democracy, which grants rights to gays and makes it possible for a citizen to sue the state. [...]

Illouz: I think Israelis have lost what we can call a "humanitarian sensibility," the capacity to identify with the suffering of a distant other. In Israel, there has been a change in perception of the "Palestinian other." The Palestinian has become a true enemy in the perception of Israelis, in the sense that "they are there" and "we are here." They ceased having a face and even a name.  [...]

SPIEGEL: How do you explain this paradox -- the hate on the one hand and Israel's emphasis on its liberal values on the other?

Illouz: Israel started as a modern nation. It derived its legitimacy from the fact that it had democratic institutions. But it was also building highly anti-modern institutions in wanting to create a Jewish democracy by giving power to rabbis, in creating deep ethnic inequalities between different ethnic groups such Jews of Arab countries vs. Jews of European descent; Arabs vs. Jews; Jews vs. non-Jews. It thus blocked universalist thinking.

SPIEGEL: Would you say that the Jewish character of the country has subsumed the democratic character?

Illouz: Yes, definitely. We are at the point where it has become clear that Jewishness has hijacked democracy and its contents. It happened increasingly when the school curriculum started getting changed and emphasizing more Jewish content and less universal content; when the Ministry of the Interior expelled foreign workers because Shas party members were afraid non-Jews would inter-marry with Jews; when human rights are thought of as being left-wing only because human rights presuppose that Jews and non-Jews are equal.

August 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


U.S., Africa Aim to Boost Trade (WILLIAM MAULDIN in Washington and DREW HINSHAW in Accra, Ghana,  Aug. 4, 2014, WSJ)

U.S. and African leaders meeting in Washington on Monday kicked off a campaign to renew a program that gives exemptions on U.S. tariffs and quotas in an effort to boost trade and stimulate the economies of sub-Saharan African countries.

Leaders in the U.S. and Africa are looking to spur economic ties at a time when trade between the two is sinking and China's hunger for commodities is boosting Beijing's influence on the continent.

American officials and lawmakers say extending the 14-year-old African Growth and Opportunity Act, or Agoa, is crucial to preserving trade ties with fast-growing African countries, especially when U.S. trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization and with other major economies have stalled.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Is Israel's blockade worth fighting for? (Michael Robbins and Amaney Jamal August 4, 2014, NY Times)

Weakening Hamas is one of the key reasons for maintaining the controversial blockade of Gaza. Hamas says that there will be no truce without a lifting of the blockade, while Israel's central demand is a disarming of the Gaza Strip. What do we really know about the effectiveness of the blockade in achieving this aim? Has the blockade of Gaza in fact substantially weakened Hamas?

Not really. The available evidence demonstrates that at least in terms of Palestinian public opinion, Hamas is now stronger than when these policies went into effect.

...they're fighting to maintain an act of war.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Do you really need that medical test or treatment? ( LISA ZAMOSKY, 8/04/14, LA Times)

For some time there has been a nationwide effort to cut back on unnecessary medical tests, over-prescribed drugs and surgery that doesn't end up helping people feel better.

But old habits die hard.

Dr. Emma Trejo knows that only too well. As an internist practicing in the South Bay city of Lawndale, she says patients frequently come to her office with their minds set on what medical services they want.

And sometimes, the doctor says, it doesn't matter that her experience tells her there's a better way to treat what ails them.

"Oftentimes, the patient is already convinced.... They come with their list and that's all they want from you," she says. From these patients, she says she often hears: "I don't need you to tell me if I need the treatment or not."

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Israel, Trapped by Nationalism (Pankaj Mishra, 8/03/14, Bloomberg View)

Israelis are right to claim that their country is unfairly singled out for acts of self-defense, such as the most recent invasion of Gaza. Many of its critics may not even be aware of the killing in 2009 of 40,000 Tamils, mostly civilians, by the Sinhalese-dominated army in Sri Lanka's civil war, or the subsequent electoral triumph of ruthless religious majoritarians.

Still, even a broader, nonpartisan view will find Israel among the nations where the political mood of the majority, manipulated by opportunistic politicians, has turned bellicosely nationalistic. The latest Gaza war suggests that more Israelis are entering what the Israeli writer David Grossman calls a "cruel and desperate bubble," terrifyingly obedient to its "law of violence and war, revenge and hatred."

Ironically, Israel, which is blessed with a robust high-tech sector, also embodies the greatest contradiction today between the imperatives of old-style territorial nationalism and a modern globalized economy. Take, for instance, the cancellation of several European and U.S. flights to Tel Aviv after a Hamas rocket landed near Ben-Gurion International Airport. This was correctly seen as economically damaging by a country that relies upon extensive trade outside its Middle Eastern neighborhood.

Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made the dynamic Israeli economy a cornerstone of his security policy, the fragile pillars of which include Palestinian disunity, the isolation of the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, and steadfast support from the U.S. Congress, if not the White House. Yet even those who agree with Netanyahu that Israel faces an existential threat still have to answer the hard question: Can his ambitious edifice survive the new world disorder?

No.  The Palestinians are a nation too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM

60 IN '14:

Jeff Bell's surging Senate race against Cory Booker (Post Editorial Board, August 3, 2014, NY Post)

In his Senate run against Cory Booker, Republican Jeff Bell is doing nothing the experts tell you a candidate should do -- and everything they say you shouldn't.

But here's the extraordinary thing: He continues to close the gap against a man who is supposed to be "unbeatable."

One thing's for sure: Bell is confounding the experts. A recent New York Times-CBS poll has Bell within seven points of Booker. That's an improvement over a mid-June Rasmussen poll that put the gap between Bell and Booker at 13 points.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Protective hedge : The decision to pull troops out of Gaza is analyzed, second-guessed and defended, as wide support for the leadership starts to give way to a war of words in the press (JOSHUA DAVIDOVICH, August 4, 2014, Times of Israel)

In Yedioth, though, Shimon Shiffer says the pullback is ultimately another case of Netanyahu mismanaging the war.

"Over the weekend Netanyahu decided to pull out of the Strip, without a deal and without making it official. He chose to continue to weaken the Israelis in a war of attrition with no ending date. Plain and simple. 'The responsible adult' and 'King Bibi,' who saw in himself during the days of the war in Gaza someone who 'acts wisely and judiciously,' has been discovered, to great distress, as someone who picks goals for the IDF with insights that even those who try to find good in him have trouble understanding, from 'quiet will be answered with quiet' to 'collapsing the tunnels.' And what of the rockets?"

Shiffer's critique represented an unusually harsh critique of Netanyahu's management of the war, considering many have been holding their tongues while the fighting continues.

But Haaretz's Amos Harel says that with the battle winding down, politicians, pundits and others will soon feel free to let loose with verbal arrows in the coming battle over the war's narrative and conclusions.

"In the coming days, politicians will be freed of even the limited restraints they imposed on themselves while soldiers were being killed in Gaza. They will claim that had it not been for the hesitancy of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the generals, Hamas would have been defeated once and for all," he writes. "Netanyahu, Ya'alon and senior officers will claim a great victory was achieved. The Iron Dome anti-missile system kept Hamas's rockets from doing much damage; the tunnels were destroyed (at the cost of 64 soldiers), and Hamas will be deterred for a long time to come. But many ordinary Israelis remain skeptical about the war's results. This may yet turn out to be another case of Israel winning every battle against a terrorist organization but still not winning the war."

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


WORLD WAR I: 100 YEARS LATER : The U.S. Confiscated Half a Billion Dollars in Private Property During WWI (Daniel A. Gross, JULY 28, 2014, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

The internment of immigrants required a remarkably low standard of evidence. The historian Adam Hodges, for instance, discovered that local law enforcement used federal internment policies to justify the arrest of labor organizers and perceived political radicals. At the federal level, one high-profile case involved the conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Karl Muck. Despite newspaper reports that he was a patriotic German, Muck was in fact a citizen of neutral Switzerland. He was accused of refusing to play the Star-Spangled Banner at a concert (a charge later shown to be false) and disparaging the American government in love letters. Muck was sent to Fort Oglethorpe, along with 29 members of his orchestra, and the famed conductor was ultimately deported.

America certainly wasn't unique in its imprisonment of civilians during the war. If anything, its policies seem relatively lax compared to those of England, for example, where at least 30,000 enemy aliens were interned starting in 1915. In Germany, several thousand British citizens and large numbers of French and Russian citizens were sent to camps, according to an American legal history written just after the war. (These figures are separate from the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were captured during combat.) Internment supposedly prevented immigrants from spying or joining the military of their home countries, but given that women and children also experienced imprisonment in Europe, the basic rationale was easily manipulated. In many countries, members of government not only had public approval for these policies--they faced public criticism if they didn't support internment.

In retrospect, American internment policies are troubling, but they're dwarfed by a quieter and more sweeping practice of property seizure. Under the Trading with the Enemy Act, President Wilson appointed an "Alien Property Custodian" named A. Mitchel Palmer to take control of property that might hinder the war effort. Among other things, this meant all property belonging to interned immigrants, regardless of the charges (or lack thereof). "All aliens interned by the government are regarded as enemies," wrote Palmer, "and their property is treated accordingly."

The basic argument was that property seizure prevented immigrants from financially or materially supporting enemies of America. Under Palmer's direction, the Office of the Alien Property Custodian grew to employ hundreds of officials and used several high-profile cases of espionage and industrial sabotage to defend its work. German chemical companies in the United States were particularly vulnerable to seizure: not only did dye and pharmaceutical companies divert raw materials from the war effort, they could also in theory produce explosives. 

The agency's powers were remarkably broad, however. In Munsey's Magazine, Palmer described the Alien Property Custodian as "the biggest general store in the country," noting that some of the companies seized were involved in "pencil-making in New Jersey, chocolate manufacture in Connecticut, [and] beer-brewing in Chicago." There were small holdings seized from individuals, too. "Among them," he continued with an odd hint of pride, "are some rugs in New York; three horses near Joplin, Mississippi; [and] a carload of cedar logs in the South." (Historians will probably never figure out why Palmer wanted those rugs in New York.) The historian Adam Hodges found that even women who were American citizens, if married to German and Austro-Hungarian immigrants, were classified as enemy aliens--and they alone lost a combined $25 million in property to the government.

The war ended in November 1918, just a year after the passage of the Trading with the Enemy Act. In that time, the Alien Property Custodian had acquired hundreds of millions of dollars in private property. In a move that was later widely criticized--and that political allies of the Alien Property Custodian likely profited from directly--Palmer announced that all of the seized property would be "Americanized," or sold to U.S. citizens, partly in the hopes of crippling German industries. (His attitude echoed a wider sentiment that the Central Powers deserved to pay dearly for the vast destruction of the war.) In one high-profile example, the chemical company Bayer was auctioned on the steps of its factory in New York. Bayer lost its U.S. patent for aspirin, one of the most valuable drugs ever produced.

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Why corporations shouldn't pay any taxes -- zero, zilch, nada (James Pethokoukis, 8/04/14, The Week)

Workers bear 70 percent of the corporate tax burden, according to the Congressional Budget Office. American Enterprise Institute economists Kevin Hassett and Aparna Mathur have found higher corporate taxes lead to lower wages, with a 1 percent increase in corporate tax rates associated with a 0.5 percent drop in wage rates. No wonder the OECD found corporate taxes to be "the most harmful for growth" of all taxes.

Indeed, the corporate income tax is so harmful that we should just get rid of it. That would really help America's struggling middle class. Economic modeling conducted by Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff finds "a very strong, worker-based case" for swinging the ax. Fully eliminating the corporate income tax, he writes, would cause "rapid and dramatic increases" in U.S. investment, output, and real wages. More investment means more jobs, higher productivity, and higher wages. Real wages of unskilled workers would rise 12 percent over the long term, and those of skilled workers would increase 13 percent. Now, Kotlikoff's findings are probably at the high end of estimates. But they are tantalizing nonetheless.

You can imagine, too, how multinational corporations currently based in low-tax countries might suddenly see the huge advantage of headquartering themselves in the no-tax U.S.

As we shift people into universal stock and HSA accounts, it is particularly importanbt to maximize corporate profit.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


The Soviets had a secret plan to demoralize the French (Michael Peck, 8/04/14, War is Boring)
Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


The Meltdown of the Anti-Immigration Minuteman Militia : Why the the self-appointed border patrollers are nowhere to be seen. (Tim Murphy, Aug. 4, 2014, Mother Jones)

In early July, Chris Davis issued a call to arms. "You see an illegal, you point your gun right dead at them, right between the eyes, and say, 'Get back across the border, or you will be shot,'" the Texas-based militia commander said in a YouTube video heralding Operation Secure Our Border-Laredo Sector, a plan to block the wave of undocumented migrants coming into his state. "If you get any flak from sheriffs, city, or feds, Border Patrol, tell them, 'Look--this is our birthright. We have a right to secure our own land. This is our land.'"

Davis' video was publicized by local newspapers and the Los Angeles Times. But the militia never materialized in Laredo, and Davis walked back his comments. (The video has been taken down.) Over the last few weeks, a smaller force under Davis' watch has appeared along the southern border, spread thinly across three states. The fizzling of this grand mobilization was another reminder that the current immigration crisis has been missing a key ingredient of recent border showdowns: Bands of the heavily-armed self-appointed border guardians known as Minutemen.

During the past four years, the Minuteman groups that defined conservative immigration policy during the mid-to-late-2000s have mostly self-destructed--sometimes spectacularly so. Founding Minuteman leaders are in prison, facing criminal charges, dead, or sidelined. "It really attracted a lot of people that had some pretty extreme issues," says Juanita Molina, executive director of the Border Action Network, an advocacy group that provides aid to migrants in the desert. "We saw the movement implode on itself mostly because of that." An analysis by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors right-wing extremist groups, found that the number of Minuteman groups in the Southwest had declined from 310 to 38 between 2010 and 2012.

America is a hard place to sustain hatred.

August 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


The "Sharing Economy": Will Americans Embrace The Entrepreneurial Revival? (Austin Hill, Aug 03, 2014, Townhall)

Despite the socialistic sounding name, the essence of "the sharing economy" is actually very positive. The term is used to describe individuals and organizations providing, on a very basic and freelance basis, products and services to people who want to pay for them, and the seller and buyer are usually brought together through a website or online community.

Take for example Uber.Com, a San Francisco-based venture that matches people who need a ride from one end of a city to another with people who have cars and are willing to travel. Visit the company's website, download the app, and search for people who are ready right now to shuttle you about. If you want to be a provider, Uber.Com has a screening process whereby you can register to deliver transportation services.

This very basic " seller-hooks-up-with-buyer" type of transaction is happening at an increasing rate in cities all across the country, all on a freelance non-professional basis and mostly all via online connections. Need someone in your area to run errands or perform household chores? TaskRabbit.Com might help you find a provider who's ready right now. Got an extra room to rent for people visiting your town? AirBnB.Com connects travelers with in-home accomodations.

With people freely choosing to sell their services - and others freely choosing to buy them - it may seem confusing why anbody would object to this type of productivity. But established business owners - small business owners and large corporations alike - don't like the competition, labor unions hate it because the service providers aren't "organized," and politicans think they're "losing tax revenue" that otherwise rightfully belongs to them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


When Workers Own Their Companies, Everyone Wins : How a very old economic model could help the new economy (Sean McElwee, 8/01/14, New Republic)

In 1921, the Olympia Veneer Company became the first worker-owned cooperative to produce plywood. By the early 1950s, nearly all of the plywood produced in the United States was manufactured by worker-owned cooperatives. Today, however, worker-owned cooperatives seem few and far between. Say "co-op" and most people think of Park Slope foodies or strictly guarded apartment buildings. Worker ownership may seem a relic of the past, but it could actually play a significant role in reviving the union movement, bolstering the green economy, and stemming the tide of deindustrialization. 

Today, there are only about 30,000 cooperatives, strictly defined, employing 856,000 workers in the United States. Most of these cooperatives are consumer cooperatives, owned by consumers, rather than workers. (Technically, cooperatives are defined by incorporation, ownership, and tax-filing status.) But about 47 percent of American workers participate in profit-sharing arrangements of some sort. Employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs), for instance, involve around 10 million workers and range from plans that are essentially cooperatives (in which workers have decision-making power) to plans in which workers have stock, but no ownership or decision-making power--these are essentially profit-sharing by a different name. Procter and Gamble, the twenty-seventh largest corporation in America is estimated to be 10 to 20 percent employee-owned. Among the Fortune 100, many companies have employee ownership plans, including Exxon Mobile, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, GM, Ford, Intel, UPS, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Cisco, and Morgan Stanley.

Against this backdrop, it's not so surprising that some are making the case for co-ops. Union leaders, in particular, argue that there is significant opportunity to expand the coop model by associating it more closely with unions. This make sense: Unions are looking for new allies and methods for increasing worker control, while cooperatives can benefit from the organizational skill and scalability of unions. Associating with coops would also allow the unions to extend their reach. While the union movement is concentrated in manufacturing, a recent study by Hilary Abell finds that 58 percent of cooperatives are in the retail and service sectors. "If you go back to the beginning of the labor movement," says activist Carl Davidson, "unions and cooperatives used to go together like bread and jelly."  [...]

The appeal of worker-ownership in the United States could even cross partisan lines. The two biggest supporters of ESOPs are the conservative Dana Rohrabacher and socialist Bernie Sanders. In 1999, they co-sponsored "The Employee Ownership Act of 1999" which would grant companies with a threshold of worker ownership an exemption from the federal income tax. Sadly, more recent cooperative bills have been primarily supported by liberals. But conservative policy wonks talk about an "ownership society," and cooperatives are an ideal way to promote ownership and responsibility. 

According to Democracy Collaborative, the world's largest 300 cooperatives together constitute the ninth largest national economy. America is a land of ownership and democracy--and yet these values are generally ignored in the workforce. Cooperatives can change that.

As an owner of my company why would I want the work rules and wage hikes that unions demand?

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Wiretapped: Israel Eavesdropped on John Kerry in Mideast Talks (Der Spiegel, 8/03/14)

SPIEGEL has learned from reliable sources that Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on US Secretary of State John Kerry during Middle East peace negotiations. In addition to the Israelis, at least one other intelligence service also listened in as Kerry mediated last year between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states, several intelligence service sources told SPIEGEL. Revelations of the eavesdropping could further damage already tense relations between the US government and Israel.

During the peak stage of peace talks last year, Kerry spoke regularly with high-ranking negotiating partners in the Middle East. At the time, some of these calls were not made on encrypted equipment, but instead on normal telephones, with the conversations transmitted by satellite. Intelligence agencies intercepted some of those calls. The government in Jerusalem then used the information obtained in international negotiations aiming to reach a diplomatic solution in the Middle East.

There's a great story--maybe even apochryphal--about Israel picking up the radio transmissions from Desert One which our inept 70's military was broadcasting openly across the Middle East and jamming them for us when they realized what we were doing.

If the State Department wanted to keep the conversations secret they should have at least tried a little harder.  Israel obviously has a national security interest in what he was saying.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


The man who helped save 50 million lives (Lin Lin Ginzberg, 8/03/14, BBC)

Hirschhorn's work built on both what Dr Phillips had done, and the work of another colleague David Sachar.

Sachar had shown that the body could still transport sodium when glucose was added - something key in fighting dehydration.

Proportions were key - too much or too little of any of the ingredients and not only might the solution not work, but it could also cause severe harm.

Dr Hirschhorn said: "The proof of concept was that they would absorb the fluid and diminish the amount of diarrhoeal fluid coming out.

"The proportions are crucial. In order to get the optimal absorption of water you need the same amount of glucose and sodium.

"Moreover the proportions of electrolytes need to be close enough to the body's own fluid composition so that it can adjust and keep balance."

It was a small study, of just eight patients in which the rehydration therapy was given straight into the intestine using naso-gastric tubes - but it proved that specific combination worked.

However the introduction of the therapy wasn't simple, even then.

Dr Hirschhorn says there was disbelief something so simply could be so effective and outperform the carefully-dosed, hospital-administered IV therapy

"Its simplicity was its own enemy. But it took a long time; it took a very long time to convince paediatricians that this was safe, to convince them that you could get out there and reach mothers, reach the community directly."

The Lancet has described oral rehydration therapy as "potentially the most important medical advance" of the 20th century with UNICEF adding that no other medical innovation of the century "has had the potential to prevent so many deaths over such a short period of time and at so little cost".

Now the effectiveness is well known and it is used around the world administered by doctors in clinics as well as at home by parents of children.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) warns diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five, and is responsible for killing around 760 000 children every year.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Man United-Real Madrid friendly at Michigan Stadium sets attendance record for soccer match in the U.S. (Brooks Peck, 8/03/14, Yahoo)

Despite only being a preseason friendly, Manchester United's match against Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium drew a sell-out crowd of 109,318 -- a new record for a soccer match in the United States. The previous record of 101,799 was set by the 1984 Olympic gold-medal match between France and Brazil at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

The massive crowd at Michigan Stadium gave the match between two of the world's biggest clubs a much more lively atmosphere than these teams usually find on their preseason tours. And with tickets ranging from $45 to $189, fans paid a hefty price for the privilege to make history and watch the likes of Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale ease their way into the new season.

...the real money is in smaller clubs playing regular season home games here. Consider that the league doesn't require home teams to share attendance revenue equally and that when Man United plays QPR at home their stadium seats 50,000 more spectators than QPR's does.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


SpaceX is launching rockets made with parts produced by a 3-D printer (CHAD GARLAND, 8/03/14, LA Times)

SpaceX is printing rocket parts, including the thrust chamber on the engines for its Dragon V2 spacecraft, which it hopes will one day deliver NASA astronauts to the International Space Station.

The Hawthorne rocket maker announced Thursday that a Falcon 9 launch in January marked the first time it flew a part into space that was created using an additive manufacturing technique, popularly known as 3-D printing.

One of nine Merlin engines on the Falcon 9 included a printed part, known as a main oxidizer valve body, that houses the valve controlling the flow of liquid oxygen into the engine's combustion chamber. It operated successfully under super-cold temperatures and high vibration, the company said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Why Your Employees' Happiness Matters -- And What To Do About It (Eric Siu, 7/30/14. Forbes)

Professor Alex Edmans of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania discovered that businesses with high levels of employee satisfaction perform better than those without. Research from the University of Warwick says happiness makes people 12 percent more productive.

And yet a report from Gallup demonstrates that 63 percent of employees today are 'not engaged' (24 percent are 'actively disengaged') in their jobs. This essentially means that 87 percent of employees have no passion for their work, lack motivation to get the job done and are unhappy. This has an impact on the bottom line, too - according to Tower Perrin, companies with a low level of employee engagement have a 33 percent annual decline in operating income and an 11 percent annual decline in growth.

We'd rather surf the web from home.
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Peak oil proponents still dancing around reality (Robin Mills, August 3, 2014 The National)

A few years ago, "peak oil" advocates were claiming that new oil was poor quality because it was too heavy - now they say it is too light, because of condensates from shales. This lightness does require some rebalancing of refineries, but natural gas liquids are relatively easy substitutes for oil in vehicle engines, petrochemical feedstocks and home heating.

It is true that most recent non-Opec growth has come from US shales and Canadian oil sands. The mid-2000s argument that unconventional resources could not be brought on-stream quickly has been quietly forgotten in the face of history's largest production surge.

Elsewhere, mature areas such as the North Sea have indeed continued to slump, while major frontier projects such as Kazakhstan's giant Kashagan field have suffered technical delays. Security disruptions the in smaller non-Opec producers Syria, Yemen and South Sudan also contribute.

But it is not surprising that capital is flowing to North America. It offers political stability, moderate taxation, a huge resource opportunity and efficient services. North American shales are simply outcompeting oil reserves holders elsewhere, who have not moved fast enough to open up to investment, improve fiscal terms and unlock their own unconventional resources. Exploration and production companies operating elsewhere are short of capital, while successful North American players such as Occidental, Apache, Murphy and Hess are under shareholder pressure to sell their overseas assets.

By focusing on the head of the pin - the narrow details of what counts as "oil" - and ignoring the grander factors of geopolitics and Opec, it is indeed possible to make it seem that oil prices can only go up. But this latest peak oil debate is unlikely to be the last.

Which is why you tax it to force the transition.

August 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Hamas's Chances (Nathan Thrall, 8/21/14, London Review of Books)

The current war in Gaza was not one Israel or Hamas sought. But both had no doubt that a new confrontation would come. The 21 November 2012 ceasefire that ended an eight-day-long exchange of Gazan rocket fire and Israeli aerial bombardment was never implemented. It stipulated that all Palestinian factions in Gaza would stop hostilities against Israel, that Israel would end attacks against Gaza by land, sea and air - including the 'targeting of individuals' (assassinations, typically by drone-fired missile) - and that the closure of Gaza would essentially end as a result of Israel's 'opening the crossings and facilitating the movements of people and transfer of goods, and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas'. An additional clause noted that 'other matters as may be requested shall be addressed,' a reference to private commitments by Egypt and the US to help thwart weapons smuggling into Gaza, though Hamas has denied this interpretation of the clause.

During the three months that followed the ceasefire, Shin Bet recorded only a single attack: two mortar shells fired from Gaza in December 2012. Israeli officials were impressed. But they convinced themselves that the quiet on Gaza's border was primarily the result of Israeli deterrence and Palestinian self-interest. Israel therefore saw little incentive in upholding its end of the deal. In the three months following the ceasefire, its forces made regular incursions into Gaza, strafed Palestinian farmers and those collecting scrap and rubble across the border, and fired at boats, preventing fishermen from accessing the majority of Gaza's waters.

The end of the closure never came. Crossings were repeatedly shut. So-called buffer zones - agricultural lands that Gazan farmers couldn't enter without being fired on - were reinstated. Imports declined, exports were blocked, and fewer Gazans were given exit permits to Israel and the West Bank.

Israel had committed to holding indirect negotiations with Hamas over the implementation of the ceasefire but repeatedly delayed them, at first because it wanted to see whether Hamas would stick to its side of the deal, then because Netanyahu couldn't afford to make further concessions to Hamas in the weeks leading up to the January 2013 elections, and then because a new Israeli coalition was being formed and needed time to settle in. The talks never took place. The lesson for Hamas was clear. Even if an agreement was brokered by the US and Egypt, Israel could still fail to honour it.

Yet Hamas largely continued to maintain the ceasefire to Israel's satisfaction. It set up a new police force tasked with arresting Palestinians who tried to launch rockets. In 2013, fewer were fired from Gaza than in any year since 2003, soon after the first primitive projectiles were shot across the border. Hamas needed time to rebuild its arsenal, fortify its defences and prepare for the next battle, when it would again seek an end to Gaza's closure by force of arms. But it also hoped that Egypt would open itself to Gaza, thereby ending the years during which Egypt and Israel had tried to dump responsibility for the territory and its impoverished inhabitants on each other and making less important an easing of the closure by Israel.

In July 2013 the coup in Cairo led by General Sisi dashed Hamas's hopes. His military regime blamed the ousted President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its Palestinian offshoot, for all of Egypt's woes. Both organisations were banned. Morsi was formally charged with conspiring with Hamas to destabilise the country. The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and hundreds of Morsi's supporters were sentenced to death. The Egyptian military used increasingly threatening rhetoric against Hamas, which feared that Egypt, Israel and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority would take advantage of its weakness to launch a co-ordinated military campaign. Travel bans were imposed on Hamas officials. The number of Gazans allowed to cross to Egypt was reduced to a small fraction of what it had been before the coup. Nearly all of the hundreds of tunnels that had brought goods from Egypt to Gaza were closed. Hamas had used taxes levied on those goods to pay the salaries of more than 40,000 civil servants in Gaza.

Hamas's former allies and primary supporters, Iran and Syria, would not help it unless it betrayed the Muslim Brotherhood by switching its support in the increasingly sectarian Syrian war to the Alawite Bashar al-Assad against what had become an overwhelmingly Sunni opposition. Hamas's remaining allies had their own problems: Turkey was preoccupied with domestic turmoil; Qatar was under pressure from its neighbours to reduce its support for the Brotherhood, which the other Gulf monarchies perceive as their primary political threat. Saudi Arabia declared the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation; other Gulf states continued to repress it. In the West Bank, Hamas couldn't wave a flag, hold a meeting, or give a speech without facing arrest by Israel or the Palestinian Authority's security forces.

With pressure mounting and no strong ally to turn to, Gaza's descent was quick. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Don't Fear Driverless Cars : They could solve a host of urban transportation problems. (BRANDON FULLER, 1 August 2014, City Journal)

Currently, drivers have weak incentives to curb fuel consumption. Drivers park private cars, often free of charge, on public streets, taking up valuable space. Private cars' "land consumption" while in motion is even greater. A parked car consumes about 150 square feet of street space; a car moving at close to 20 miles per hour occupies nearly 700 square feet.

Driverless cars can save on energy and space. Because their reaction times are faster than those of human drivers, driverless cars are safer and less likely to crash. They can be built lighter, making them more energy-efficient than regular cars. When traveling together in "pods," driverless cars can also cut down on energy expenditures by reducing "drag." Smaller, lighter cars also take up less space, both in motion and at rest. Because driverless cars can park themselves, they can park closer together.

When shared, driverless cars can operate like on-demand taxis, increasing urban mobility. Fleets of shared driverless cars could reduce the need for prolonged parking altogether, freeing up urban spaces outside of commercial and residential buildings as well as bike lanes, sidewalks, and parks for better uses. Outside the urban core, shared fleets of driverless cars could offer door-to-door trips for any itinerary, free from mass transit's time constraints. Paired with computerized ride-share systems, driverless technology will also make carpooling more appealing. Easy coordination of passengers based on trip itinerary and time will increase the number of passengers per vehicle and reduce the space and energy intensity of car commutes.

As Bertaud points out, driverless cars also have the potential to complement public-transit networks. They can take people to and from transit hubs, potentially boosting transit ridership, especially on rapid rail routes between or across large metros. Someone taking a high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles still needs a way to get around in L.A.; driverless cars can provide flexibility for the last few miles of the trip. (Toyota is testing its i-Road car-sharing program--a fleet of three-wheeled electric vehicles--as an extension of heavy rail in Japan and France.)

Driverless technology is not limited to cars. Applied to buses and mini-buses, it can reduce the cost of providing mass transit to underserved areas--which, in turn, could improve people's access to jobs and effectively increase the size of the metropolitan labor market, making it easier for firms that can't afford city-center rents, such as startups, to thrive.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


The Possessed: James Brown in Eighteen Minutes (DAVID REMNICK, 7/30/14, The New Yorker)

Emceed--adorably, cornily--by the rock-and-roll duo Jan and Dean at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the T.A.M.I. show (the Teenage Awards Music International) was a departure from the "Shindig"-style pop programming of the time. The lineup was long and included white acts like Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, the Beach Boys, Lesley Gore, and, as headliners, the Rolling Stones, but it was heavily weighted with black acts of all sorts: Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and James Brown and the Famous Flames.

The Stones had come to the States from England determined to play black R. & B. for a mainly white audience that did not know its Son House from its Howlin' Wolf. They were already stars, and the T.A.M.I. producers had them scheduled to close the show. James Brown did not approve. "Nobody follows James Brown!" he kept telling the show's director, Steve Binder. Mick Jagger himself was hesitant. He and Keith Richards were boys from Kent with an unusual obsession with American blues. They knew what Brown could do. In Santa Monica, they watched him from the wings, just twenty feet away, and, as they did, they grew sick with anxiety.

Brown, who had played the Chitlin Circuit for years, was genuinely incensed that the producers would put him on before pallid amateurs (in his mind) like the Stones. His performance, he later admitted, was a cutting contest that he refused to lose. As Brown puts it in his memoir, "James Brown: The Godfather of Soul," "We did a bunch of songs, nonstop, like always. . . . I don't think I ever danced so hard in my life, and I don't think they'd ever seen a man move that fast." It was a four-song set: the staccato blues number "Out of Sight"; an astonishing inside-out revival of "Prisoner of Love," which had been recorded by smoothies like Billy Eckstine and Perry Como; the dramatic centerpiece "Please, Please, Please"; and the closer, "Night Train," which the boxer Sonny Liston would play to get himself going in the gym.

What is there to say? If Astaire's dancing was the graceful line of black-tie seduction, Brown's was a paroxysm of sexual frenzy, a blend of Pentecostal possession and erotic release. RJ Smith's "The One" is the book to read on James Brown. (The Profile to read is Philip Gourevitch's brilliant "Mr. Brown," published in 2002, four years before Brown's death. Two veteran critics, Alan Light and Edna Gundersen, have written interesting pieces on the T.A.M.I. performance.) Smith quotes Brown as saying that the T.A.M.I. performance was the "highest energy" moment of his career: "I danced so hard my manager cried. But I really had to. What I was up against was pop artists--I was R. & B. I had to show 'em the difference, and believe me, it was hard."

This was the first time that Brown, while singing "Please, Please, Please," pulled out his "cape act," in which, in the midst of his own self-induced hysteria, his fit of longing and desire, he drops to his knees, seemingly unable to go on any longer, at the point of collapse, or worse. His backup singers, the Flames, move near, tenderly, as if to revive him, and an offstage aide, Danny Ray, comes on, draping a cape over the great man's shoulders. Over and over again, Brown recovers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death collapse, goes back into the song, back into the dance, this absolute abandonment to passion.

"It's a Holiness feeling--like a Baptist thing," Brown said of the act. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Book Review: 'Whatever Happened to the Metric System?' by John Bemelmans Marciano : Gerald Ford once proudly declared the country was 'miles ahead' in converting to the metric system. (SAMUEL ARBESMAN, Aug. 1, 2014, WSJ)

Anyone who grew up in the 1970s, as John Bemelmans Marciano did, was immersed in talk of abandoning this archaic system and replacing it with the pristine beauty of metric measures. The metric system, with its successive orders of magnitude, clear decimalization and consistent scheme of prefixes would sweep away the old ways. Schoolchildren learned the metric system and were told it was just a matter of time until it was finally adopted by the United States, a holdout in the march toward the standardization of measurement.

It never happened. We never switched completely and might never do so. In "Whatever Happened to the Metric System?" Mr. Marciano explores what occurred during this period but also how we got there. How did the metric system arise and spread? And why do we, as Americans, still use our Rube Goldberg contraption of a measurement system?

But "Whatever Happened to the Metric System?" is about much more than just the metric system. It's an indispensable guide for understanding our world's centuries-long process of inching toward standardization. We get a window into the standardization of temperature--thermometers once displayed more than a dozen temperature scales. We learn about standardization in postage, time, money, spelling; even legal codification is swept up into the story.

In fact, though we often think of them separately, many of these standards are connected. Take money. While we now rely on fiat currency--money whose value derives from the government--for centuries coinage was a measure of a weight, such as the ancient shekel, acting as a physical amount of standard value. Early in Mr. Marciano's book, Thomas Jefferson begins to examine how to standardize our currency and champions one aspect of standardization: the decimalization of money, or 100 cents to the dollar. And there begins the author's entertaining romp through American and European history.

The French Revolution ushered in the metric system as we might recognize it. It was advocated by the French Academy as a necessary logical structure, a way of marking progress but also sweeping away an estimated hundreds of thousands of distinct measures used throughout the nation.

We will have no truck with logical necessity.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Israel may seek unilateral end to Gaza operation (TIMES OF ISRAEL, August 2, 2014)

Israel may seek to reach a unilateral end to combat in the Gaza Strip, after the Security Cabinet decided overnight that it would not negotiate with Hamas on yet another truce and would not send a delegation to Cairo at this time, Channel 2 reported Saturday, quoting unnamed senior diplomatic officials.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Michelle Nunn's Campaign Plan : A leaked document gives the public a look.  (Eliana Johnson, 7/28/14, National Review)
Michelle Nunn can come across as a "lightweight," "too liberal," not a "real Georgian." While she served as CEO for the Points of Light Foundation, the organization gave grants to "inmates" and "terrorists." And her Senate campaign must feature images of her and her family "in rural settings with rural-oriented imagery" because the Atlanta-based candidate will struggle to connect with rural voters.

These may sound like attacks from the Senate candidate's Republican rival, but in fact, those are a few of the concerns expressed in her own campaign plan, which sources say was posted online briefly in December and appears to have been drafted earlier that month. Drawing on the insights of Democratic pollsters, strategists, fundraisers, and consultants, the document contains a series of memos addressed to Nunn and her senior advisers.

From all appearances, the document was intended to remain confidential. It outlines the challenges inherent in getting Nunn, who grew up mostly in Bethesda, Md., elected to the Senate in a state with a large rural population. Her father, Sam Nunn, was elected to the Senate when she was six, and Michelle Nunn attended Washington's prestigious National Cathedral School and then the University of Virginia and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government before returning to Georgia to do nonprofit work and, now, to seek higher office.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


The Interior Stadium : Baseball's best writer on how he watches the game. (ROGER ANGELL, February 1971, The New Yorker)

This is a difficult game. It is so demanding that the best teams and the weakest teams can meet on almost even terms, with no assurance about the result of any one game. In March 1962, in St. Petersburg, the World Champion Yankees played for the first time against the newborn New York Mets--one of the worst teams of all time--in a game that each badly wanted to win; the winner, to nobody's real surprise, was the Mets. In 1970, the World Champion Orioles won a hundred and eight games and lost fifty-four; the lowest cellar team, the White Sox, won fifty-six games and lost a hundred and six. This looks like an enormous disparity, but what it truly means is that the Orioles managed to win two out of every three games they played, while the White Sox won one out of every three. That third game made the difference--and a kind of difference that can be appreciated when one notes that the winning margin given up by the White Sox to all their opponents during the season averaged 1.1 runs per game. Team form is harder to establish in baseball than in any other sport, and the hundred-and-sixty-two-game season not uncommonly comes down to October with two or three teams locked together at the top of the standings on the final weekend. Each inning of baseball's slow, searching time span, each game of its long season is essential to the disclosure of its truths.

Form is the imposition of a regular pattern upon varying and unpredictable circumstances, but the patterns of baseball, for all the game's tautness and neatness, are never regular. Who can predict the winner and shape of today's game? Will it be a brisk, neat two-hour shutout? A languid, error-filled 12-3 laugher? A riveting three-hour, fourteen-inning deadlock? What other sport produces these manic swings? For the players, too, form often undergoes terrible reversals; in no other sport is a champion athlete so often humiliated or a journeyman so easily exalted. The surprise, the upset, the total turnabout of expectations and reputations--these are delightful commonplaces of baseball. Al Gionfriddo, a part-time Dodger outfielder, stole second base in the ninth inning of the fourth game of the 1947 World Series to help set up Lavagetto's game-winning double (and the only Dodger hit of the game) off the Yankees' Bill Bevens. Two days later, Gionfriddo robbed Joe DiMaggio with a famous game-saving catch of a four-hundred-and-fifteen-foot drive in deepest left field at Yankee Stadium. Gionfriddo never made it back to the big leagues after that season. Another irregular, the Mets' Al Weis, homered in the fifth and last game of the 1969 World Series, tying up the game that the Mets won in the next inning; it was Weis's third homer of the year and his first ever at Shea Stadium. And so forth. Who remembers the second game of the 1956 World Series--an appallingly bad afternoon of baseball in which the Yankees' starter, Don Larsen, was yanked after giving up a single and four walks in less than two innings? It was Larsen's next start, the fifth game, when he pitched his perfect game.

There is always a heavy splash of luck in these reversals. Luck, indeed, plays an almost predictable part in the game; we have all seen the enormous enemy clout into the bleachers that just hooks foul at the last instant, and the half-checked swing that produces a game-winning blooper over second. Everyone complains about baseball luck, but I think it adds something to the game that is nearly essential. Without it, such a rigorous and unforgiving pastime would be almost too painful to enjoy.

No one, it becomes clear, can conquer this impossible and unpredictable game. Yet every player tries, and now and again--very rarely--we see a man who seems to have met all the demands, challenged all the implacable averages, spurned the mere luck. He has defied baseball, even altered it, and for a time at least the game is truly his. One thinks of Willie Mays, in the best of his youth, batting at the Polo Grounds, his whole body seeming to leap at the ball as he swings in an explosion of exuberance. Or Mays in center field, playing in so close that he appears at times to be watching the game from over the second baseman's shoulder, and then that same joyful leap as he takes off after a long, deep drive and runs it down, running so hard and so far that the ball itself seems to stop in the air and wait for him. One thinks of Jackie Robinson in a close game--any close game--playing the infield and glaring in at the enemy hitter, hating him and daring him, refusing to be beaten. And Sandy Koufax pitching in the last summers before he was disabled, in that time when he pitched a no-hitter every year for four years. Kicking swiftly, hiding the ball until the last instant, Koufax throws in a blur of motion, coming over the top, and the fast ball, appearing suddenly in the strike zone, sometimes jumps up so immoderately that his catcher has to take it with his glove shooting upward, like an infielder stabbing at a bad-hop grounder. I remember some batter taking a strike like that and then stepping out of the box and staring back at the pitcher with a look of utter incredulity--as if Koufax had just thrown an Easter egg past him.

Joe DiMaggio batting sometimes gave the same impression--the suggestion that the old rules and dimensions of baseball no longer applied to him, and that the game had at last grown unfairly easy. I saw DiMaggio once during his famous hitting streak in 1941; I'm not sure of the other team or the pitcher--perhaps it was the Tigers and Bobo Newsom--but I'm sure of DiMaggio pulling a line shot to left that collided preposterously with the bag at third base and ricocheted halfway out to center field. That record of hitting safely in fifty-six straight games seems as secure as any in baseball, but it does not awe me as much as the fact that DiMadge's old teammates claim they never saw him commit an error of judgment in a ball game. Thirteen years, and never a wrong throw, a cutoff man missed, an extra base passed up. Well, there was one time when he stretched a single against the Red Sox and was called out at second, but the umpire is said to have admitted later that he blew the call.

And one more for the pantheon: Carl Yastrzemski. To be precise, Yaz in September of the 1967 season, as his team, the Red Sox, fought and clawed against the White Sox and the Twins and the Tigers in the last two weeks of the closest and most vivid pennant race of our time. The presiding memory of that late summer is of Yastrzemski approaching the plate, once again in a situation where all hope rests on him, and settling himself in the batter's box--touching his helmet, tugging at his belt, and just touching the tip of the bat to the ground, in precisely the same set of gestures--and then, in a storm of noise and pleading, swinging violently and perfectly  . . . and hitting. In the last two weeks of that season, Yaz batted .522--twenty-three hits for forty-four appearances: four doubles, five home runs, sixteen runs batted in. In the final two games, against the Twins, both of which the Red Sox had to win for the pennant, he went seven for eight, won the first game with a homer, and saved the second with a brilliant, rally-killing throw to second base from deep left field. (He cooled off a little in the World Series, batting only .400 for seven games and hitting three homers.) Since then, the game and the averages have caught up with Yastrzemski, and he has never again approached that kind of performance. But then, of course, neither has anyone else.

Only baseball, with its statistics and isolated fragments of time, permits so precise a reconstruction from box score and memory. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


The Coming Democratic Midterm Collapse : History tells us the "six-year itch" is a very real thing, and there's little Obama's Democrats can do to stave off a big loss this November. (Michael Barrone, 8/02/14, Daily Beast)

Time has been cruel to many once-revered political assertions. No, all politics is not local. No, the road to the White House does not lead through New Hampshire. The "solid South" hasn't been a solid Democratic redoubt since 1944; "rock ribbed Republican" New England has yielded a grand total of four electoral votes for the GOP in the last six Presidential elections.

If you're looking for a truism that remains true, then reach out and grasp this one: the "six year curse." With one (highly instructive) exception, the party that holds the White House will lose Congressional seats in the six-year midterms. It happened to Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt; it happened to Ike and LBJ and Reagan. It will almost surely happen to Barack Obama this November.

Why? There is no single reason; there are, rather, different forces, any one of which can afflict the party that's held the White House for six years. What makes this November so daunting for Democrats is that almost all of them are at work this time.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Where Is the GOP's Better Deal? (Larry Kudlow - August 2, 2014, Real Clear Politics)

And here's what I see as a big part of the problem: Instead of putting forth a clear growth message -- like a new Contract with America -- congressional Republicans this week voted for a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama's abuse of executive power.

Now, suing the president is different from impeaching the president. But is it so different in the public's eye? And don't most people think this lawsuit will go nowhere? And isn't this just a big distraction from key issues, such as the economy, tax reform, regulatory rollbacks, immigration reform and rewriting Obamacare?

In other words, is the GOP sending voters a clear message about what it will do if it captures the Senate and House?


August 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 PM


Common Core Has a Messaging Problem. It Also Has a Real Problem. (Daniel Luzer, 8/01/14, Washingtoin Monthly)

The first (objection), from conservatives, is the idea that the initiative represents some intrusion of federal power into education.

It does not. All federally backed education reform ideas, from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top, to Common Core, comes from the money provided by the federal government through Title I, which delivers free and reduced lunch to poor children. It's a voluntary program. States are free to avoid any federal education mandates by not taking Title I money. (Common Core is a little more complicated since 45 states have already agreed to the standards, but constitutionally it's the same.)

The second, from liberals and teachers, is just that the reform will tie teacher evaluation closely to unreliable standardized tests and, in the words of Karen Wolfe over at LA Progressive, it is an,

education reform agenda with its call to deregulate schools as a public good, and destabilize labor unions which have historically been huge supporters of the Democratic party.
Well yes, but that's a trend that's far bigger than Common Core and, indeed, even education. Deregulation of public goods and the elimination of organized labor has been going on for decades.

McCkuskey, however, raises a more fundamental objection: it's just not going to work. As he writes:

For the most part, [advocates] ...simply assert that the Common Core represents high standards, and that's what we need to vault near top place in the world educational and economic competition. This ignores the major empirical evidence I and many others have brought against the Core, and national standards generally, showing that standards - much less the Core itself - have demonstrated no such power.

Holding all children to national standards is useful in that it would allow easy comparison between states, and provide a common idea of where students are falling short. That's vaguely progressive in that it might allow schools to identify problems, but it won't actually fix them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:13 PM


Army to force 550 majors to leave the service (LOLITA C. BALDOR, 8/01/14, Associated Press)

About 550 Army majors, including some serving in Afghanistan, will soon be told they have to leave the service by next spring as part of a budget-driven downsizing of the service.

Gen. John Campbell, the vice chief of the Army, acknowledged Friday that telling troops in a war zone that they're out of a job is a difficult task. But he said some of the soldiers could join the National Guard or the Army Reserve.

The decision to cut Army majors comes on the heels of a move to slash nearly 1,200 captains from the ranks. 

If Morsi had down-sized the military Egypt would be a democracy today.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Tesla Ready to Pump Out 100,000 Cars Per Year by 2015 (Ashlee Vance  July 31, 2014, Businessweek)

The 100,000 figure is sure to keep bullish investors happy. It means that Tesla is seeing no let up in demand for the Model S and that the company must have strong pre-orders for the Model X. A number of Tesla watchers have expected demand for the Model S -- now two years on the market -- to cool with there being only so many people in the world that can pay $100,000 for a car. The desire to buy the all-electric vehicles, though, still seems strong, and Tesla has picked up sales by expanding to Europe and China.

During the call with analysts, Musk noted another way that he expects Tesla to differ from traditional car companies in the months ahead. It has brought in Formula One mechanics to teach Tesla service people how to fix cars in record speed. "Instead of one person per bay and working on a car over several days, a team comes on and attacks (the car)," Musk said. He hopes that Tesla can pick a car up from someone's office and return it to them before their work day is done. "We want to fix the car and give it back to you without you even knowing it was gone," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Carlos Slim says three-day work week should be standard. (Ellen Meyers, JULY 21, 2014, CS Monitor)

Carlos Slim is calling for a "radical overhaul" of how people work. People shouldn't retire when they are 50 or 60 - instead, people should work until they are older, but take more time off during their longer careers, says the Mexican telecoms tycoon, and now the richest man in the world.

"People are going to have to work for more years, until they are 70 or 75, and just work three days a week - perhaps 11 hours a day," he said at a business conference in Paraguay last week, according to, as translated by the Financial Times. A three-day work week would allow people to relax more and lead to a healthier and more productive labor force, Slim says. Plus, working beyond your fifties and sixties would benefit people financially, he added.

Slim isn't the only businessman calling for shorter work weeks. Last month, Google co-founder Larry Page shared his vision for a future where the average person had shorter work weeks and took longer vacations, as the Monitor has reported. Mr. Page said the things that make people happy are housing, security, and opportunity for your children. He also mentioned how Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, is advocating for employers in the United Kingdom to hire two part-time employees rather than one full-time employee. That way, young people can work some hours rather than none at all, Page says.

"Most people like working, but they'd also like more time with their family or to do their own interests," he says.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


How Ronald Reagan Won the Cold War : The president and the pope were men of hope. (GEORGE WEIGEL, 7/30/14, Aleteia)

As for his nuclear abolitionism, Reagan, according to his arms control director, Ken Adelman, was appalled by the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and hated the idea that an American president could wreak immeasurably greater destruction. Thus Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, far from being the cockamamie "Stars Wars" scheme it was promptly dubbed by political adversaries and journalists stuck in the conventional thinking of the era, was the technological expression of the president's moral conviction that nuclear weapons were a grave danger that ought to be taken off-the-board in international public life.

A close examination of Reagan's pre-presidential texts, and the diaries he kept as president, reveal a man with a keen insight into the Soviet Union's vulnerability. Like John Paul II after June 1979, Ronald Reagan intuited that, for all his bluster, the Soviet emperor had far fewer clothes than conventional wisdom imagined. And, again like John Paul II, Reagan understood that the Soviet Union was ideologically vulnerable: that a steady, fact-based, morally-driven critique of communism's abominable human rights record would rattle the men in Moscow, expose cracks in the Soviet system, encourage brave dissidents to exploit those cracks, and hasten the end of what Reagan called, perhaps undiplomatically but certainly truthfully, an "Evil Empire."

What Reagan added to the mix was an understanding of the Soviet Union's economic vulnerability. And he was prepared to exploit that vulnerability by launching a full-throttle American defense expansion that he knew the Soviets, obliged to try to counter by their own doctrine, could not match, given their system's economic, technological, and bureaucratic incapacities. The Strategic Defense Initiative was, in a sense, the final straw here: by reason of his own system and its premises, Mikhail Gorbachev was unprepared to believe, much less accept, Reagan's offer to share any workable missile-defense system; yet Gorbachev knew the USSR could not compete successfully in a new arms race when it was already falling behind in the old one; checkmate. As Ken Adelman puts it a gripping new book, Reagan at Reykjavik: Forty-Eight Hours That Ended the Cold War, "SDI never worked as Reagan wished. It worked better."

Ronald Reagan understood, better than many churchmen, that the Cold War could be won on acceptable terms, rather than merely managed.

...or of the fact that a KGB director, who recognized that Reagan was correct, took the reins of state.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


How 3-D Printing Will Change Our Lives (JAVIER ESPINOZA, July 31, 2014, WSJ)

EARLIER THIS YEAR, a hapless penguin at the Warsaw Zoo lost his lower beak, either in a fall or a fight, and there were concerns that the bird might starve to death because the damage left him unable to eat. Omni3D, a Polish 3-D printer firm, came to the rescue, offering to produce a new beak--based on a dead penguin's, to get an idea of the dimensions--from materials including nylon.

According to Rozi Mikołajczak, a spokesperson for the Poznan-based firm, this is the first time in Europe (and only the second time in the world) that a bird's beak has been reconstructed using 3-D technology. Unsure which material would be best for the penguin, they created three for the zoo to find a match. Modeling the beaks was time consuming: it took two weeks to complete them. As luck would have it, the penguin's beak started to grow back so there was no need for the manufactured one, but this inspirational exercise illustrates how 3-D printing is crossing frontiers all the time, opening up new possibilities.

Ms. Mikołajczak, for one, believes it will become a mainstream technology in the long term. "20 years ago, if you heard the Internet would be in each house, it would have been incredible, but now we can't live without Wi-Fi," she says. "In 10 years' time, 3-D printing will be everywhere; it will be our everyday reality."