December 31, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The Christian Heart of American Exceptionalism (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, Dec. 30, 2014, WSJ)

[T]ake a look at the survey the Pew Research Center released without much fanfare two weeks ago. Among its principal findings: 73% of U.S. adults believe that Jesus was born to a virgin; 81%, that the baby Jesus was laid in a manger; 75%, that wise men guided by a star brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh; and 74%, that an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds. Fully 65% of Americans believe all four of these elements of the Christmas story, while only 14% believe none of them.

Although Republicans are more likely to espouse these beliefs than are Democrats and Independents, each group endorses them by a two-thirds majority or more. As expected, conservatives are more likely to espouse them than are moderates and liberals. But here again, majorities of each group endorse each belief. Among liberals, 54% profess a belief in the virgin birth.

What about the growth of secular thought in young Americans? As the Pew report dryly notes, there "is little sign of a consistent generation gap on these questions." That's an understatement. Seventy percent of adults age 18 to 29 believe that Jesus was born to a virgin; 69% that an angel announced his birth; 80% that he was laid in a manger; and 74% that the wise men made their gift-laden trek.

To be sure, the most-educated Americans are less likely to profess belief in the Christmas story. But even among adults with postgraduate degrees, 53% affirm the virgin birth of Jesus, with comparable or larger majorities for the story's other elements.

These public beliefs have constitutional consequences. When it comes to church and state, many Americans are soft rather than strict separationists. When asked whether religious symbols like Christian nativity scenes should be permitted on government property, 44% said yes, whether or not the symbols of other religions are present. An additional 28% said that Christian symbols would be acceptable only if accompanied by symbols of other faiths. Only 20% took the position that no religious symbols should be allowed.

We went to DC for Christmas and the number of trees in public space was just astonishing, including one plunked down right at the angle in the Vietnam War Memorial. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Jeb Bush declines invitation to Iowa summit organized by immigration hard-liner (MICHAEL J. MISHAK, 12/31/14, Associated Press)

Separating himself from much of the emerging Republican presidential field, Jeb Bush has declined an invitation to speak at a political event organized by one of Congress' most strident immigration critics.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


U.S. Government Bonds Strengthen to Close Out a Big Year (MIN ZENG, Dec. 31, 2014, WSJ)

U.S. government bonds strengthened Wednesday on the last trading session of 2014, capping the biggest annual rally in three years.

A number of global economic, geopolitical and market scares throughout the year have boosted investors' demand globally for ultrasafe Treasury bonds.

The yearlong price strength in ultrasafe U.S. government debt has stunned many investors, traders and analysts because the safe-haven bond market rallied along with record-high stock prices. 

The biggest threat facing the world economy is the prospect of our declining debt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Here Comes Fast Track Again (Ed Kilgore, 12/31/14, Washington Monthly)

Those observers who think Democrats need to make a clean break with the Obama administration may be about to have their wish come true. in 2015 a long-awaited duo of trade expansion measuers are expected to obtain votes in Congress. The most substantive is the mega-trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It would bind twelve countries--Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam--to a set of measures ranging from tariff reduction to intellectual property protection to restrictions on export subsidies and currency manipulation. But before it is finalized, the administration wants a restoration of "fast-track trade negotiation authority" that will give the deal and up-or-down vote in Congress.

It's fast-track that seems to have created the most immediate Democratic revolt, as noted by the New York Times' Landler and Weisman:

Republicans inclined to give the president trade-negotiating authority are still seething at his executive action deferring deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. Many conservatives are in no mood to give Mr. Obama anything, said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, and a former United States trade representative in the George W. Bush administration....

Democrats may be the bigger problem. Mr. Froman has met dozens of times with Representative Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction on trade. And Mr. Levin said he wants to work with the administration on the T.P.P., down to the finest details.

But he said he was not about to allow Mr. Obama to negotiate the partnership on his own, then present it to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no opportunity to change it. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


"The Interview" really does subvert North Korea's regime. (Rich Klein, December 24, 2014, Washington Post)

That is why the North Koreans have reacted so aggressively. Because if this movie is seen by audiences around the world, and if copies are pirated in to North Korea, it is a very real challenge to the ruling regime's legitimacy.

In The Interview, Seth Rogen and James Franco, as celebrity interviewer and aspirant hard news producer invited to question Kim Jong Un on live TV, openly ask why the country can spend billions of dollars on a nuclear weapons program but needs $100 million in UN aid each year to feed its people.

The hagiography of Kim Jong Un is relentlessly mocked - the idea of the Dear Successor as superhero meets military genius with a little style icon and dolphin whisperer thrown in plays for big laughs.

North Korea's domestic narrative, where the calendar begins with the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's founder, and now lives in the year 103, is explained to show how disconnected the place is from the rest of the world.

There are serious riffs on North Korea's gulags and horrifying human rights record, decades of famine, brainwashing propaganda, and cartoonish self-importance.

When The Interview veers in to these sociopolitical realities and with some 45 million people worldwide having watched Rogen's last two movies, it becomes quite subversive to the Pyongyang government.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Pentagon Confirms Drone Strike Killed Al-Shabaab Spy Chief (DION NISSENBAUM, Dec. 31, 2014, WSJ)

The Pentagon confirmed Wednesday that a U.S. drone strike in Somalia had killed the intelligence chief for the country's militant al-Shabaab insurgent group. U.S. forces operating a drone fired several missiles at a vehicle carrying Abdishakur Tahlil on Monday, the Defense Department said. [...]

The attack was the latest blow to al-Shabaab in recent months. Last week, Somali forces captured another al-Shabaab leader, Zakariya Ismail Ahmed Hersi. In September, another U.S. drone strike killed al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


America needs to study the enemy within (JARED DIAMOND, 12/26/14, LA Times)

 In 1973, after decades of democratic elections, Chile's armed forces overthrew then-President Salvador Allende. The resulting Chilean military government, under General Augusto Pinochet, set modern world records for inventing sadistic sexual tortures too revolting to describe in print. It aimed to exterminate its opponents, "disappearing" and killing thousands of Chileans and driving a hundred thousand more into exile. Pinochet held on to power for 17 years.

In retrospect, there had been abundant signs of trouble brewing in Chile for years before the coup. The country's left, right and center political parties, which drew roughly equal numbers of votes, couldn't agree on how to address Chile's chronic economic and social problems, which kept the Congress in a state of gridlock. Allende had been elected by a narrow 36% plurality of voters, and his party coalition controlled neither house of Congress, yet he nevertheless tried to introduce radical political and economic changes.

When the armed forces finally launched their coup and imposed a right-wing dictatorship, it initially received broad support from centrist Chileans, frustrated by years of government gridlock and the declining Chilean economy. Moderate Chileans reasoned that the military dictatorship would be just a brief transitional stage necessary to restore functional democracy to Chile.

Chile is by no means the only place where government gridlock and breakdown of political compromise led ultimately to military dictatorship, the end of democracy and (in some cases) civil war. Examples include Egypt today, Indonesia in 1957, Spain in the late 1930s and Austria just before the Nazi era.

So, should we worry about possible parallels between Chile in 1968 and the U.S. today?

...that all the major political parties in the Anglosphere today are Pinochetist.  Indeed, elections are won by whichever party is most closely identified with advancing his sort of Third Way agenda.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Where Will All the Workers Go? (Nouriel Roubini, 12/31/14, Project Syndicate)

Technology innovators and CEOs seem positively giddy nowadays about what the future will bring. New manufacturing technologies have generated feverish excitement about what some see as a Third Industrial Revolution. In the years ahead, technological improvements in robotics and automation will boost productivity and efficiency, implying significant economic gains for companies. But, unless the proper policies to nurture job growth are put in place, it remains uncertain whether demand for labor will continue to grow as technology marches forward. [...]

The rapid development of smart software over the last few decades has been perhaps the most important force shaping the coming manufacturing revolution. Software innovation, together with 3D printing technologies, will open the door to those workers who are educated enough to participate; for everyone else, however, it may feel as though the revolution is happening elsewhere. Indeed, the factory of the future may be 1,000 robots and one worker manning them. Even the shop floor can be swept better and cheaper by a Roomba robot than by any worker.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Steve Scalise Falls Prey to Scandal Politics He Once Practiced (Michael Scherer,  Dec. 30, 2014, TIME)

Long before he admitted on Monday to accidentally speaking before a 2002 conference organized by white supremacists, the Louisiana Congressman was playing offense and winning. His target was Van Jones, a former Obama Administration official who had worked on clean energy initiatives. "The last green jobs czar we had left in disgrace because he expressed comments embracing communism and actually tried to blame the government, the American government, for September 11th attacks," Scalise said in 2011.

The facts surrounding Jones' views on the Sept. 11 attacks were far less cut and dry. Jones' name had been added to a 2004 online petition that suggested President George W. Bush "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen, perhaps as a pretext for war." When the petition surfaced, Jones said the document "does not reflect my views now or ever." He said his name had been added by mistake, and he had never read the document. But as the game is played, Jones lost the round. He was tagged as the Obama Administration official who had signed a truther petition, and resigned his job.

More than five years later, Scalise finds himself in the same uncomfortable position.

Scalise didn't know? Who's he kidding? (JAMES GILL, Dec. 31, 2014, N.O. Advocate)

To accept an invitation from Howie Farrell and Kenny Knight, then act surprised they were fronting for David Duke, is like turning up at a rally with Goebbels and Goering and wondering how come there are swastikas all over the place.

When Steve Scalise gave a speech to Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization in 2002, no sentient being around here could have been unaware who Farrell and Knight were. They had for years been Duke's top henchmen, playing leading roles in his campaigns during a brief, but spectacular, political ascendancy. They never lost faith in his racist ideology and, Duke says, were the ones who arranged for Scalise to deliver his speech.

Back in 2002, Scalise was a GOP state rep from Metairie, as Duke had been a decade earlier. Duke had represented a different district, but when Scalise spoke to EURO, he had no reason to fear losing votes as a result. Although Duke had failed to get elected as a U.S. senator or governor, he had won a majority of the white vote both times, and the white vote was what counted on Scalise's side of the 17th Street Canal.

And the Right wonders why blacks distrust Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Campus Sexual Assault: Real and Imagined (ANNE HENDERSHOTT, 12/31/14, Crisis)

The only problem is that much of what is reported about a so-called "epidemic" of campus sexual assault is false. A study released last month by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that the rate of rape and other sexual assault over the past two decades was 1.2 times higher for non-students of college age than for students on college campuses. In fact, campus sexual assault has actually declined from 9.2 per 1,000 college students in 1997 to 4.4 per 1,000 in 2013. Far from being a site of violence, the study found that female college students are safer from sexual assault while in college than at any other time in their lives.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Tony Blair says Labour is too left wing and predicts Miliband will lose election to Tories (Sean Martin, December 31, 2014, IB Times)

Speaking to the Economist, the former PM said: "I am still very much New Labour and Ed would not describe himself that way, so there is obviously a difference there.

"I am convinced the Labour Party succeeds best when it is in the centre ground."

Once he was pushed by the magazine for a winner in the election, Blair conceded that it is likely to be the David Cameron-led Conservatives who will win power.

Blair also questioned Miliband's argument that the economic crisis had realigned the political grounds in the UK towards the left.

"I see no evidence for that. You could argue that it has moved to the right, not left," said Blair.

December 30, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 PM


Program that funded Solyndra failure producing success stories (Henry C. Jackson, December 30, 2014, Washington Post)

[R]oughly six years on, there are more signs that the program is working. In California, Tesla Motors has flourished, paying back a $465 million loan nearly 10 years early. A handful of companies have opened solar energy sites and signed long-term contracts to sell power to utility companies.

And then there is the Abengoa biorefinery in Hugoton, where Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz visited in October for the opening. He was joined by two Kansas Republicans who voted against the stimulus package: Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback, a former senator.

"This program, let me say, not only here in Hugoton, but across the board has been a tremendous success," Moniz said. "I mentioned $30 billion in loans with a 2 percent default rate -- that is a pretty enviable in any portfolio."

Roberts and Brownback say they voted against the stimulus package for other reasons.

"The governor strongly supports the Abengoa project," said Eileen Hawley, a spokeswoman for Brownback.

Despite the program's failures, the department projects a profit of between $5 billion and $6 billion during the next 20 to 25 years. Overall, 20 of the program's 30 enterprises are operating and generating revenues, according to the department.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


How Public Sector Unions Divide the Democrats : Paying for all those pensions inevitably means less money for parks and schools. It's a conundrum Democrats can no longer ignore. (Daniel DiSalvo, 12/29/14, Daily Beast)

In the wake of the midterm elections, the Democratic Party's centrist and populist factions have been locked in a bitter family feud. Public employee unions are a little-acknowledged driver of this conflict. The reason: activist government and unionized government often work at cross purposes. It's not easy to be both the "party of government" that Chuck Schumer praises and a "party of interest groups," including unions representing the government's employees, that Jim Webb disparages.

Public sector unions create a genuine political conundrum for Democrats. On the one hand, they are genuinely powerful, and Democrats rely on their money and manpower during elections. Teachers unions, AFSCME, and SEIU are among the biggest donors to Democratic candidates and are organizationally braided into the party apparatus. However, public employee unions drive up government costs and depress productivity, weakening the state's capacity to assist the poor and middle class.

There's the rub. Insofar as public unions secure for their members better pay, more generous benefits, and work rules shielding them from management discretion government doesn't perform as well--and, consequently, neither do Democrats. Therefore, some Democrats are under pressure to take policy actions their union allies oppose. But taking such action puts them at odds with the most powerful and best-organized segment of their coalition.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Playing Baseball (And How Baseball Coined the Word "Jazz") (Open Culture, December 30th, 2014)

"When they study our civilization two thousand years from now, there will only be three things that Americans will be known for: the Constitution, baseball and jazz music. They're the three most beautiful things Americans have ever created." -- Gerald Early talking to Ken Burns.

In this clip unearthed by the Smithsonian earlier this year, we find two great American traditions intertwined -- baseball and jazz.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


The year the job broke (Kyle Chayka, 12/30/14, Pacific Standard)

The job was once something we felt we could depend on. A stable relationship, the job created a consistent link between the work we performed and the recompense we received. We were given roles to play and guaranteed livings -- whether that meant sewing crops in a Neolithic farm to gain access to the fruits of our hunter-gatherer colleagues' expeditions or manning the front desk at an insurance company in exchange for a paycheck and health care.

We once learned from our jobs. Bargaining portions of our lives away in apprenticeships to be trained in particular skill sets like the manufacture of wooden cabinetry or forging of iron tools, we gained a sense of unique purpose. Some jobs, such as smithing or the management of horses, became common surnames, such was the extent to which we identified ourselves with them. The job was a directed pursuit toward a practical discipline, not just a meaningless scramble for the ingredients necessary to sustain ourselves in an unkind world.

Until recently, our jobs defined us as members of a structured society moving toward unified goals. "Probably no other sentence comes up at a party as often as: 'So, what do you do?,'" the Berlin critic Patrick Spaet recently wrote in the Baffler. "There is an unspoken question behind this: 'Are you useful?' Work determines our social status: tell me what your job is -- and I'll tell you who you are."

"The work fetish has become deeply ingrained in the DNA of western industrial nations," Spaet continues. And why should it not? The job has been our friend, a contract between an individual and a larger group thereof that they will not be left behind so long as they continue to fulfill their duties. But our commitment to the job has wavered, and our fetish for work is wavering as the nature of labor and who benefits from it has changed.

This past year, 2014, was the year the job broke.

No one actually thinks the point of a job is to add value for the employer any more--it's a pure social construct these days.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM

3 FOR 3:

The Best Stats of 2014 (Robert Samuelson - December 26, 2014, Washington Post)

-- Nine percent of Americans carry no cash, and half carry $20 or less. [...]

-- On average, children run a mile 90 seconds slower than their counterparts 30 years ago. [...]

-- Only half of American men shave daily.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Buddy DeFranco obituary (John Fordham, 26 December 2014 12, The Guardian)

The role of the clarinet in jazz changed from vital to marginal in little more than a decade, between the last hurrahs of the big swing bands at the end of the 1930s, and the rise of the unsentimentally byzantine style of bebop. The traditionally woody-toned instrument turned out to be no match for the fiercer saxophone on bop's edgy melodies, except in the hands of a rare exception in the American musician Buddy DeFranco, who has died aged 91.

In the 21st century, the instrument's unique personality has reappeared in contemporary jazz through the work of artists including the Americans Don Byron, Joe Lovano and Anat Cohen, and the UK's Shabaka Hutchings - but during the first wave of the bebop revolution, the prodigious DeFranco was almost alone.

December 29, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 PM


Top 10 Reasons to Abolish the Corporate Income Tax (JOHN STEELE GORDON, Dec. 29, 2014, WSJ)

What positive effects would abolishing the corporate income tax have? Many. Here's my Top 10:

First, that engine of tax complexity disappears. And with it disappears an army of lobbyists in Washington working to get favorable tax treatment for corporations.

Second, corporate managers are currently most concerned with after-tax corporate profits, because that is what the stock market cares about. But after-tax profits are largely an artifact of lobbying success in Washington. With no corporate income tax, management would concentrate on what is now pretax profits, an artifact of actual wealth creation.

Third, there would be no reason to tax dividends at lower rates to compensate for the fact that they now are paid out of after-tax profits. They would be taxed at the full rate, removing a perennial tool of leftist demagoguery.

Fourth, with suddenly increased profits, corporations would increase both dividends and investment in plant and equipment, with very positive effects for the economy as a whole and increased revenue to the government through the personal income tax.

The main reason is that Republicans will trade corporate taxes for taxes on consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


House Majority Whip Scalise confirms he spoke to white nationalists in 2002 (Robert Costa and Ed O'Keefe, December 29, 2014, Washington Post)

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the House majority whip, acknowledged Monday that he spoke at a gathering hosted by white supremacist leaders while serving as a state representative in 2002, thrusting a racial controversy into House Republican ranks days before the party assumes control of both congressional chambers.

Scalise election could mean slim chance for immigration (Cristina Marcos, 06/26/14, Washington Post)

 In the past, he has aligned himself with the staunchest opponents of immigration reform in the GOP, including Rep. Steve King of Iowa. 

When King put forth a pair of bills that would have ended birthright citizenship and established English as the nation's official language, Scalise signed on as a co-sponsor.

You only have to listen to hear what they're saying.
Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


A Prototype Battery Could Double the Range of Electric Cars (Kevin Bullis, December 23, 2014, MIT Technology Review)

An experimental lithium-ion battery based on materials developed at a U.S. Department of Energy lab stores twice as much energy as the batteries used in most electric cars.

If the technology can be commercialized, it could give affordable electric cars a range of over 200 miles per charge, says Hal Zarem, CEO of Seeo, a startup that's working on the technology. Today the cheapest electric cars, which cost around $30,000, typically have a range of less than 100 miles.

Alternatively, the improved storage capacity could be used to cut the size of battery packs in half while maintaining the current driving range, making electric vehicles considerably cheaper. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Iranian Aid Convoys Ready to Leave for Christians in Iraq's North (Aleteia, 12/29/14)

Iranian aid convoys are awaiting an entry permit from the government in Baghdad to distribute humanitarian aid among suffering Christian communities in the north of the country.

This was reported to Iranian news agencies by the Christian parliamentarian Yonatan Betkolia, representative of the Assyrian and Chaldean communities.

Betkolia added that Iran has already sent humanitarian aid to religious minorities brutalized by the militia of the Islamic State group. Now convoys with food, tents, clothing, and medical and health care for Christians who have taken refuge in Erbil and other areas of Iraqi Kurdistan are ready to leave. Iranian officials operating in the area, said Betkolia, have already contacted local Christian communities to coordinate the distribution of aid.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


This Era of Low-Cost Oil Is Different (Mohamed A. El-Erian, 12/29/14, Bloomberg View)

[I]n serving as the swing producer through the years, Saudi Arabia learned an important lesson: It isn't easy to regain market share. This difficulty is greatly amplified now that significant non-traditional energy supplies, including shale, are hitting the market.

That simple calculation is behind Saudi Arabia's insistence on not reducing production this time. Without such action by the No. 1 producer, and with no one else either able or willing to be the swing producer, OPEC is no longer in a position to lower its production even though oil prices have collapsed by about 50 percent since June.

This change in the production model means it is up to natural market forces to restore pricing power to the oil markets. Low prices will lead to the gradual shutdown of what are now unprofitable oil fields and alternative energy supplies, and they will discourage investment in new capacity.  At the same time, they will encourage higher demand for oil.

This will all happen, but it will take a while. In the meantime, as oil prices settle at significantly lower levels, economic behavior will change beyond the "one-off" impact.

As costs fall for manufacturing and a wide range of other activities affected by energy costs, and as consumers spend less on gas and more on other things, many oil-importing nations will see a rise in gross domestic product. And this higher economic activity is likely to boost investment in new plants, equipment and labor, financed by corporate cash sitting on the sidelines.

The likelihood of longer-lasting changes is intensified when we include the geopolitical ripple effects. In addition to creating huge domestic problems for some producers such as Russia and Venezuela, the lower prices reduce these nations' real and perceived influence on other countries. Some believe Cuba, for example, agreed to the recent deal with the U.S. because its leaders worried they would be getting less support from Russia and Venezuela.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Russian recession fears as economy shrinks for first time in five years (Jill Treanor, 29 December 2014, The Guardian)

The Russian economy has contracted for the first time in five years after falling oil prices and sanctions imposed by western governments began to take their toll.

The prospects for the country's economy are expected to remain weak after President Vadlimir Putin's government revealed that GDP in November was 0.5% lower than in the same month a year ago.

December 28, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


The Islamic State is failing at being a state (Liz Sly, December 25, 2014, NY Times)

The Islamic State's vaunted exercise in state-building appears to be crumbling as living conditions deteriorate across the territories under its control, exposing the shortcomings of a group that devotes most of its energies to fighting battles and enforcing strict rules.

Services are collapsing, prices are soaring, and medicines are scarce in towns and cities across the "caliphate" proclaimed in Iraq and Syria by the Islamic State, residents say, belying the group's boasts that it is delivering a model form of governance for Muslims.

That's what Huntington failed to grasp : History Ended everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


South Korea, U.S., Japan to Sign Intelligence Pact (JULIAN E. BARNES, Dec. 26, 2014, WSJ)

[S]pokeswoman Maureen Schumann said the three countries have been working on stepped-up information sharing.

"The greater trilateral coordination with our nations and particularly the information sharing will increase stability in the northeast Asia region," she said.

A spokesman for South Korea's defense ministry said in a press release emailed on Friday that South Korea, the U.S., and Japan are close to signing a trilateral deal on sharing intelligence. Seoul's Yonhap news agency, citing unnamed Korean defense officials, said vice defense ministers of the three countries will individually sign a memorandum of understanding on the deal on Monday.

The intelligence-sharing deal may signal that relations between South Korea and Japan, which have been at a two-decade low,—are poised to improve. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Jeb Bush can win it all (Julian E. Zelizer, Mon December 22, 2014, CNN)

The most important asset Jeb Bush offers is that he is a known commodity, someone who is greatly respected in Republican circles. In this day and age of freewheeling primaries, the comfort level that experience and familiarity provides to potential donors and voters means a lot.
Republicans are desperate to win back the White House after eight years of Democratic rule. Their recent success in the midterms whet their appetite for gaining control over the government. Republicans know that the electoral math will be extremely difficult for them in 2016 as more voters, particularly among Democrats, are likely to come to the polls and the electoral college map favors blue.

Republicans have watched many of their candidates crash and burn in recent primaries, so they are eager to find someone who make it through to the finish line for the nomination and present a strong case in the general election.

Bush can survive the pressure from the right in the primaries. All the speculation as to whether someone like him will be done in by the Tea Party in primaries is vastly overblown. Most importantly, other than on immigration reform and education policy, Bush is a conservative and has a record to prove it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Liberman demands answers on timing of graft probe (STUART WINER, December 28, 2014, Times of Israel)

Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman demanded on Sunday that State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan explain why a corruption investigation into his party is being propelled forward during election season, accusing judicial officials of employing a "double standard." [...]

Liberman pointed out that the state prosecution had requested a postponement of court proceedings and testimony in a lawsuit filed by Menny Naftali, a former custodian at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's home, until after March's Knesset elections.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Why I'm now a former Conservative Jew (JESSE ARM December 28, 2014, Times of Israel)

My name is Jesse Arm. I am a grandson of a former Conservative rabbi, a former student of a Conservative Jewish day school, a former president of the Detroit chapter of USY, and a former Conservative Jew.

The last of those characteristics is the newest one attached to my identity. In fact, I made the decision to no longer classify myself in this fashion less than 24 hours ago, upon reading of the recent change in standards decided upon at USY's international convention. Formerly, to take on a leadership position in the USY youth movement, it was considered a requirement that board members commit themselves to refrain from, "relationships which can be construed as interdating." The language was changed to, "The Officers will strive to model healthy Jewish dating choices. These include recognizing the importance of dating within the Jewish community and treating each person with the recognition that they were created Betzelem Elohim (in the image of God)."

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 10:19 AM


Dexter Gordon with Junior Mance At Montreux

As I've mentioned before, the sound of the tenor saxophone is what initially drew me to jazz and that sound (or, I should say "sounds," as each great player has a unique voice) remains one of the things I love most about the music.  And, despite my admiration for the playing (and sounds) of Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Stan Getz, Joe Henderson and countless others, when I hear a tenor sax in my head, I hear Dexter Gordon

By melding the huge tone and swagger of Coleman Hawkins with the melodic and rhythmic sensibilities of Lester Young and the harmonic advances of Charlie Parker, Gordon became the first great bebop tenor player and a key influence on the playing of both John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.   I regularly listen to recordings from across the span of Gordon's career, starting with his great early sides for Savoy and Dial in the 1940's, through his wonderful albums for Blue Note in the 60's his triumphant return to the U.S. in the mid-70's and his swan song on the soundtrack for the motion picture 'Round Midnight, in which Dexter starred...and received an Oscar nomination for best leading actor (!!!).  But I've selected this recording with pianist Junior Mance from the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1970, as it is a great example of Dexter at his swinging, shouting best.

From the opening notes of the first tune, Gordon's "Fried Bananas," you'll hear Dexter's distinctive sound: a bold, brassy and broad tone matched with a sophisticated harmonic sense, a laid-back rhythmic feel that often finds him playing slightly behind the beat, boundless energy, a masculine romanticism and a sense of humor (demonstrated by his numerous "quotes" of other pop songs within his solos...the musical equivalent of puns).  The album has a mix of strong tunes, including two by Monk, and two wonderful ballads, Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" and that great test piece for all tenor men, "Body and Soul" (see All That Jazz #5), here using the rhythmic vamp first deployed by Coltrane in his recording of the tune (instead of each 8 beats feeling like they are divided into 2 equal measures of 4 beats each, each 8 beats is organized into 3 groups: 1-2-3/1-2-3/1-2).  Mance (piano), Martin Rivera (bass) and Oliver Jackson (drums) provide strong support throughout, but I keep coming back to this album to hear Long Tall Dexter and to refresh that tenor sound of my imagination.

December 27, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


New study suggests marijuana use in Colorado is increasing (The Week, 12/27/14)

Colorado is now the state with the second-highest percentage of regular marijuana users, according to a study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 

December 26, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


An unstoppable avalanche toward Palestinian statehood? (RAPHAEL AHREN, December 26, 2014, Times of Israel)

[T]he large number of parliaments that have voted in favor of recognition -- including in Britain, France, Spain, Ireland, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg and the European Union -- is more than just a symbolic gesture.

While Europe cannot create a state where there is none, it could be argued that the mere fact that more and more countries want to recognize Palestine accords this entity a certain status approaching statehood.

The former chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Friday that the Palestinians will submit their UN Security Council statehood resolution to a vote by Monday at latest. However it fares, the snowball of international recognition for "Palestine" is gathering pace.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Russia empties the vault to prop up the ruble (Virginia Harrison, December 26, 2014, CNNMoney)

Russia's central bank is running down its stash of foreign cash to try to stop its currency from plunging and contain the crisis threatening its economy.

So far this year the central bank has burned through more than $110 billion in foreign currency supplies. That's more than a quarter of what it has in reserves right now.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God : The odds of life existing on another planet grow ever longer. Intelligent design, anyone? (Eric Metaxas, 12/25/14, WSJ)

At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn't assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

There's more. The fine-tuning necessary for life to exist on a planet is nothing compared with the fine-tuning required for the universe to exist at all. For example, astrophysicists now know that the values of the four fundamental forces--gravity, the electromagnetic force, and the "strong" and "weak" nuclear forces--were determined less than one millionth of a second after the big bang. Alter any one value and the universe could not exist. For instance, if the ratio between the nuclear strong force and the electromagnetic force had been off by the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction--by even one part in 100,000,000,000,000,000--then no stars could have ever formed at all. Feel free to gulp.

Multiply that single parameter by all the other necessary conditions, and the odds against the universe existing are so heart-stoppingly astronomical that the notion that it all "just happened" defies common sense. It would be like tossing a coin and having it come up heads 10 quintillion times in a row. Really?

Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who coined the term "big bang," said that his atheism was "greatly shaken" at these developments. He later wrote that "a common-sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with the physics, as well as with chemistry and biology . . . . The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question."

Theoretical physicist Paul Davies has said that "the appearance of design is overwhelming" and Oxford professor Dr. John Lennox has said "the more we get to know about our universe, the more the hypothesis that there is a Creator . . . gains in credibility as the best explanation of why we are here."

The greatest miracle of all time, without any close seconds, is the universe. It is the miracle of all miracles, one that ineluctably points with the combined brightness of every star to something--or Someone--beyond itself.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 AM


How do we know real art when we see it? (Roger Scruton, 12/21/14, BBC Magazine)

Three words summarise my answer - beauty, form and redemption.

For many artists and critics, beauty is a discredited idea. It denotes the saccharine sylvan scenes and cheesy melodies that appealed to Granny. The modernist message, that art must show life as it is, suggests to many people that, if you aim for beauty, you will end up with kitsch. This is a mistake, however. Kitsch tells you how nice you are. It offers easy feelings on the cheap. Beauty tells you to stop thinking about yourself, and to wake up to the world of others. It says: "Look at this, listen to this, study this - for here is something more important than you." Kitsch is a means to cheap emotion. Beauty is an end in itself. We reach beauty through setting our interests aside and letting the world dawn on us. There are many ways of doing this, but art is undeniably the most important, since it presents us with the image of human life - our own life and all that life means to us - and asks us to look on it directly, not for what we can take from it but for what we can give to it. Through beauty, art cleans the world of our self-obsession.

Our human need for beauty is not something that we could lack and still be fulfilled as people. It is a need arising from our moral nature. We can wander through this world, alienated, resentful, full of suspicion and distrust. Or we can find our home here, coming to rest in harmony with others and with ourselves. And the experience of beauty guides us along this second path. It tells us that we are at home in the world, that the world is already ordered in our perceptions as a place fit for the lives of beings like us. That is what we see in Corot's landscapes, Cezanne's apples, or Van Gogh's unlaced boots.

This brings me to my second important word - form. The true work of art is not beautiful in the way an animal, a flower or a stretch of countryside is beautiful. It is a consciously created thing, in which the human need for form triumphs over the randomness of objects. Our lives are fragmented and distracted - things start up in our feelings without finding their completion. Very little is revealed to us in such a way that its significance can be fully understood. In art, however, we create a realm of the imagination, in which each beginning finds its end, and each fragment is part of a meaningful whole. The subject of a Bach fugue seems to develop of its own accord, filling musical space and moving logically towards closure. But it is not an exercise in mathematics. Every theme in Bach is pregnant with emotion, moving with the rhythm of the listener's inner life. Bach is taking you into an imagined space, and presenting you, in that space, with the image of your own fulfilment. Likewise Rembrandt will take the flesh tints on an ageing face and show how each one captures something of the life within, so that the formal harmony of the colours conveys the completeness and unity of the person. In Rembrandt we see integrated character in a disintegrating body. And we are moved to reverence. [...]

If we look at the true apostles of beauty in our time - I think of composers like Henri Dutilleux and James Macmillan, of painters like David Inshaw and John Wonnacott, of poets like Ruth Padel and Charles Tomlinson, of prose writers like Italo Calvino and Georges Perec - we are immediately struck by the immense hard work, the studious isolation, and the attention to detail which have characterised their craft. In art, beauty has to be won and the work is harder as the surrounding idiocy grows. But the task is worth it, and this brings me to my third important word - redemption.

In the face of sorrow, imperfection and the fleetingness of our affections and joys, we ask ourselves: "Why?" We need reassurance. We look to art for the proof that life in this world is meaningful and that suffering is not the pointless thing that it so often appears to be, but the necessary part of a larger and redeeming whole. Tragedies show us the triumph of dignity over destruction and compassion over despair. In a way that will always be mysterious, they endow suffering with a formal completion and thereby restore the moral equilibrium. The tragic hero is completed through his fate. His death is a sacrifice, and this sacrifice renews the world.

Tragedy reminds us that beauty is a redemptive presence in our lives.

December 25, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM

A NEW JUDD FAMILY TRADITION (profanity alert):

If Moms Played Cards Against Humanity, Because Really, Don't You Want To Spend Some Quality Time Together? (GABRIELLE MOSS, 12/22/14, Bustle)
On the spectrum of things that you want to witness your mom do, "play Cards Against Humanity" probably falls somewhere between "hear her talk about how good your dad is at frenching" and "listen to her reveal that she once spent a year following the Dead with a guy named Seagull Dream, in a van with a unicorn painted on the side." But we should re-examine our knee-jerk stereotypes -- why shouldn't moms play Cards Against Humanity, the infamously disgusting and misanthropic card game? 

After all, if there's one thing anyone who's pushed a human being out of their vag knows, it's how disgusting life is; and if there's anything moms probably feel after a lifetime of dealing with children's tantrums, strangers who butt in to give their two cents about how to you raise your kids, offensive stereotyping about what moms can and can't do, and those jag-offs on the PTA, it's misanthropy.

So, in the spirit of this season of family togetherness, we think you should play Cards Against Humanity with you mom. 

What about playing with your Mom, Dad and Grandma...on Christmas Eve....

The game is definitive proof that all comedy is conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Inside the Mammoth Backlash to Common Core : How a bipartisan education reform effort became the biggest conservative bogeyman since Obamacare. (Tim Murphy, September/October 2014, Mother Jones)

COMMON CORE EMERGED from the ashes of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education reform law that tied federal funding for the nation's schools to new, mandatory standardized tests. It was a time of sometimes-chaotic trial and error among educational reformers, who feared American students were falling further behind their counterparts in Finland or (gulp) China. But many teachers and parents were frustrated by an approach that seemed to punish schools for problems beyond their control, and the lack of uniformity from state to state--even zip code to zip code--made it impossible to tell how well kids were actually performing.

Common Core set out to change that. This time, the overhaul would be initiated by the states, not Washington. It would create a set of key educational benchmarks--concepts and skills students should be learning, but not specific curricula. The jumble of jam-packed, state-specific tests ushered in by No Child Left Behind would be replaced by new tests, consistent across state lines, that measured not rote learning, but the critical-thinking skills that demonstrated a real understanding of concepts.

It didn't take long for some conservatives to conclude that the Obama administration, which helped to bankroll the standards' rollout, was planning to program a new generation of godless socialist worker drones. One Florida lawmaker alleged that Common Core will "attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can." Glenn Beck, who wrote a book declaring the standards "slavery," rhapsodized about the "sci-fi, Gattaca kind of thing"--like a "wireless skin conductance sensor" and a "posture analysis seat"--that he claimed would find its way into schools in the name of Core-compliant data collection.

Common Core won't turn your kids gay (or Muslim, as one activist suggested to me). Still, it is an ambitious vision--not the Marxist pipe dream that tea partiers have decried, but the brainchild of corporate-bred reformers such as Bill Gates. And it could consolidate power over public education in the hands of a small cadre who, along with the for-profit textbook and testing companies that lobbied for its adoption, stand poised to cash in.

Yet what made Common Core such a potent wedge is that it mobilized not just the usual suspects, but also the suburban communities that sat out the last round of ed reform battles. In the era of No Child Left Behind, reformers like Michelle Rhee in Washington, DC, would take charge of a poor, struggling, urban school district, earn plaudits for shaking things up, and leave behind shuttered schools, angry teachers, and a riled-up electorate. According to its supporters, what Common Core did, by applying a more rigorous testing standard across the board, was pull back the curtain on the problems that had existed everywhere else. It turned out that a lot of suburban schools weren't doing so well either, although the system didn't show it. They had been administering the wrong kind of tests and teaching the wrong kind of math, and now it was their students and teachers who would feel the heat of the "accountability" ethic implemented by a group of technocrats. Now it was white suburban parents who felt betrayed by their elected officials. And now, finally, politicians were listening.

THE DEBATE behind Common Core is as old as public education itself: Who controls how--and what--children learn? But the standards are the more immediate creation of two men, David Coleman and Jason Zimba. They met as Rhodes Scholars in the class of 1993, and afterward Coleman headed to McKinsey while Zimba became a physics professor at Bennington College (where Coleman's mother happened to be president).

In 2000, they reunited to launch the Grow Network, an organization that helped large school systems make sense of the flood of data derived from No Child Left Behind-inspired tests. They found no shortage of clients.

"If you were from Maryland, you didn't have to learn trigonometry, but your neighbors in Virginia did. Maybe they have less triangles," Bill Gates quipped.
In 2008, Coleman and Zimba unveiled an ambitious plan for overhauling education in an essay for the Carnegie Corporation. "The standards must be made significantly fewer in number, significantly clearer in their meaning and relevance for college and work, and significantly higher in terms of the expectations for mastery of what is covered," they wrote. In reading, for example, they said schools should deemphasize literature and rely more on "informational texts"--speeches, magazine articles, government reports. As Coleman would later put it, "It is rare in a working environment that someone says, 'Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood.'"

Coleman and Zimba determined that most K-12 math lacked real-world applications, too. They wanted the focus to be on real learning rather than rote memorization. These were not groundbreaking theories; they were distilled from years of thinking among educators, but many states had neglected to incorporate those ideas. Instead, states would simply add new concepts to existing standards, which became so unwieldy that it was a struggle to cover everything in the course of a school year, let alone in a test with any real merit. Washington, DC's standards had swelled to the point where 80 percent of the math concepts students were tested on were superfluous, by Coleman's estimation. Fixing education meant doing less, not more: America, he said, needs "an eraser, as well as a pen."

Coleman and Zimba weren't alone in seeking a fix. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), a national organization of education commissioners, had been stymied by the same issues Coleman and Zimba had faced: whether the tests measured any actual learning. Adding another layer of complication, under No Child Left Behind, each state's tests and standards were different, making it hard to determine who was really improving, and frustrating colleges and business leaders who wanted to be sure of what their applicants knew.

Coleman and Zimba's plan attracted widespread support within the commissioners' group and the National Governors Association. The two organizations decided to work together to devise "a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12"--something that could put the United States on the same level as the fabled Scandinavians. It wasn't a curriculum: For, say, statistics, Common Core would suggest a standard like "use random sampling to draw inferences about a population"--and leave it up to schools to figure out how to get kids there.

But the reformers soon realized that as cash-strapped states confronted the Great Recession, funding a sweeping education initiative would be nearly impossible. So in 2008, Coleman and a top CCSSO official flew to Seattle to pitch Bill Gates.

For Gates and his wife, Melinda, it's not hard to see why the idea of achieving uniformity would have a unique appeal. Gates has built his fortune by taking a standardized platform--Windows--and crafting a platter of services to fit it. He compares Common Core to the electric socket--under the old system, it was as if appliance makers had to make a different plug for each state. "If you were from Maryland, you didn't have to learn trigonometry, but your neighbors in Virginia did. Maybe they have less triangles," Gates quipped to an audience of teachers in DC this past March.

Gates, who had already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into public education, bought in, and his foundation began spreading grants around to think tanks that could get the ball rolling politically, as well as to the governors' and state school officials' groups. He has channeled more than $200 million toward Common Core's implementation, with the money flowing to dozens of universities, state departments of education, policy institutes, and trade groups--recipients ranged from the progressive Center for American Progress to the conservative US Chamber of Commerce, which was awarded $1.38 million last year to whip up support for the standards.

Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan, liked the Common Core concept and wanted to aid the implementation process by offering states major incentives to sign on. During his campaign, Obama had vowed to "fix the failures of No Child Left Behind." Now, he offered a carrot: If states agreed to adopt new "college and career readiness standards," they could compete for funds from a $4.35 billion Department of Education program called Race to the Top. The program awarded extra credit to states that tracked students' development from kindergarten through high school. No Child Left Behind had, for the first time, collected a huge amount of data about schools, but Duncan wanted schools to drill down deeper, zeroing in on individual students as they progressed through the education system. [...]

Common Core itself did not call for data collection (it was the federal Race to the Top Program that incentivized it), but the standardization it sought was a major goal for educational number crunchers. In the previous decade, studying student data had been a bit like comparing stats in a basketball league in which all the hoops were a different height. Common Core would ensure the rims were at the same level across the board.

And the reformers had bigger goals for student data: The Gates Foundation, along with the Carnegie Foundation and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., created a $100 million nonprofit database called inBloom, which would allow schools and testing companies to share information they collected about individual students, from attendance records and parents' names to test results. In the name of innovation, the data would also be made available to for-profit companies seeking to peddle a variety of educational products and services to school districts. (This spring, inBloom was scrapped over privacy concerns.)

With the education industry on board, the governors and school officials got to work. At a joint meeting in 2009, the two groups tapped Coleman and Zimba to lead working groups of math and language arts educators who would draft the new standards. Forty-eight governors agreed to participate in the development, with only Texas' Rick Perry and Alaska's Sarah Palin holding out.

Even the American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation's largest teachers' unions and a frequent skeptic of high-stakes testing, hailed the project as "essential building blocks for a better education system." Coleman was triumphant. "Tell me a significant domestic policy area where Republicans and Democrats have gotten together and gotten something done outside of education," he later boasted. [...]

Far from reassuring Quackenbush, Common Core's bipartisan backing only made her more suspicious. She brought up George Soros, the liberal financier; Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida and possible Republican presidential candidate, who has made the standards a central mission and has a financial stake in them through his education ventures; and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and social-conservative icon, who was an early supporter.

"We have George Soros, we have Bill Gates, we have Jeb Bush, we have Huckabee, and you would think that those would be very strange bedfellows, but in fact they are the corporate elitists," she told me.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Oil's Swift Fall Raises Fortunes of U.S. Abroad (ANDREW HIGGINS, DEC. 24, 2014, NY Times)

After a precipitous drop, to less than $60 a barrel from around $115 a barrel in June, oil prices settled at a low level this week. Their fall, even if partly reversed, was so sharp and so quick as to unsettle plans and assumptions in many governments. That includes Mr. Putin's apparent hope that Russia could weather Western sanctions over its intervention in Ukraine without serious economic harm, and Venezuela's aspirations for continuing the free-spending policies of former President Hugo Chávez.

The price drop, said Edward N. Luttwak, a longtime Pentagon adviser and author of several books on geopolitical and economic strategy, "is knocking down America's principal opponents without us even trying." For Iran, which is estimated to be losing $1 billion a month because of the fall, it is as if Congress had passed the much tougher sanctions that the White House lobbied against, he said.

Iran has been hit so hard that its government, looking for ways to fill a widening hole in its budget, is offering young men the option of buying their way out of an obligatory two years of military service. "We are on the eve of a major crisis," an Iranian economist, Hossein Raghfar, told the Etemaad newspaper on Sunday. "The government needs money badly."

Venezuela, which has the world's largest estimated oil reserves and has used them to position itself as a foil to American "imperialism," received 95 percent of its export earnings from petroleum before prices fell. It is now having trouble paying for social projects at home and for a foreign policy rooted in oil-financed largess, including shipments of reduced-price petroleum to Cuba and elsewhere.

Amid worries on bond markets that Venezuela might default on its loans, President Nicolás Maduro, who was elected last year after the death of Mr. Chávez, has said the country will continue to pay its debts. But inflation in Venezuela is over 60 percent, there are shortages of many basic goods, and many experts believe the economy is in recession.

But the biggest casualty so far has probably been Russia, where energy revenue accounts for more than half of the government's budget. Mr. Putin built up strong support by seeming to banish the economic turmoil that had afflicted the rule of his predecessor, Boris N. Yeltsin. Yet Russia was back on its heels last week, with the ruble going into such a steep dive that panicked Russians thronged shops to spend what they had.

"We've seen this movie before," said Strobe Talbott, who was President Bill Clinton's senior Russia adviser in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's 1991 collapse and is now president of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

Russia's troubles have rippled around the world, slashing bookings at ski resorts in Austria and spending on London real estate; spreading panic in neighboring Belarus, a close Russian ally; and even threatening to upend Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, which pays players in rubles.

"It is a big boost for the U.S. when three out of four of our active antagonists are seriously weakened, when their room for maneuver is seriously reduced," Mr. Luttwak said, referring to Russia, Iran and Venezuela.

As for the impact of low prices on US shale, Levi says, even if the market figures out a breakeven price for American producers (which is hard, because it varies from well to well), that's going to change in two years and even more in five years, as the technology continues to develop.

All of the above said, Levi cautions against thinking of Saudi Arabia as some sort of mastermind of the global energy story. It's unclear how many steps ahead the Saudis actually are. 

"Don't overestimate the strategy of OPEC," he says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Medicaid Rolls Surge Under Affordable Care Act (Margot Sanger-Katz, 12/18/14, NY Times)

In Idaho, the number of people who signed up for Medicaid has jumped by 13.4 percent. In Georgia, it's up 12.9 percent. In North Carolina, the rate has climbed 12.4 percent.

None of those states opted to expand their Medicaid programs as part of the Affordable Care Act, but all have seen substantial enrollment increases in state health insurance.

The explanation for the change is a phenomenon sometimes called the woodwork effect or the "welcome mat effect." I've written about the idea before: Essentially, people who were always eligible for a public program will often enroll when there's publicity about an expansion. That's what appears to have happened with the Affordable Care Act. Even though state policy wasn't changing everywhere, all the talk about new health insurance options and the resources devoted to helping people sign up led to a surge among people who had always been eligible for the program.

Altogether, enrollment in the nonexpansion group of states has increased by 6.8 percent, or about 1.5 million people.

Of course, the increases in states that have expanded Medicaid are more extreme. In Kentucky, the state with the biggest increase, the Medicaid rolls have grown by 71 percent. Overall, states that expanded Medicaid saw substantially larger reductions in the number of people without health insurance.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


Musica Sacra : James MacMillan and his sacred music for our time (Kevin McCormick, 11/27/12, Catholic World Report)

The son of a welder and teacher, MacMillan's childhood included study of piano and trumpet. He began composing at an early age, and by secondary school already had a penchant for the sounds of Renaissance church music. Eventually making his way to undergraduate work at Edinburgh University, he passed on the opportunity of the more focused conservatory life for the broader experience offered in the university setting. 

This early choice is indicative of MacMillan's interest in a wider appreciation of the language of music, a trait which informs much of his writing. Like his British predecessor Benjamin Britten, he composes compelling vocal melodies with rich choral arrangements with ease. And like Debussy, he possesses an evocative musical vocabulary which allows him great latitude in his compositional structures. Perhaps not coincidentally he shares with both of those composers an enthusiasm for the sounds of the East Asian hammered-bell instrument called the gamelan, which sometimes overtly, other times more subtly, finds its way into his music. That is not to say that his music shares the trance-like meditative quality of much of the music of East. He infuses an intensity into his scores, one which reflects the fundamental struggle between good and evil inherent in the human drama.

Though his early writings include Marxist leanings from liberation theology, MacMillan admits in his more recent interviews that he is a "lapsed lefty." MacMillan has been courageous in confronting the "liberal assumption" that is often militantly and sneeringly guarded by captains of the "Arts élite." Growing up in a community that he regarded as often hostile to his Catholic religion and its community, MacMillan knows the struggle of living in contradiction to the majority around him. 

Perhaps it was this struggle which allowed him, from the earliest stages, to compose more freely and with less concern for being blown by the whimsical winds of the avant-garde. Whatever the case, MacMillan's solid grounding in classical compositional structures have provided him a freedom in blending styles and moods into a synthesis which is historically contiguous with past masters.

He draws from a broad palette of influences to paint portraits and landscapes upon which he stages powerful musical dramas. Dramatic tension and resolution are major components of his writing. His brief "After the Tryst" for violin and piano is the perfect example, contrasting a sudden violence intermittently giving way to a delicate and poetic accompaniment. His orchestral work, "Brittania" pairs folk-like melodies with explosive intrusions. Clearly MacMillan is not interested in lulling the listener to sleep. "I need to create dramas and the best stories are the ones that have resolutions of conflict, not just resolution," he has said.

Because his works include a considerable number of instrumental pieces, he is able to bridge the sacred-secular divide in a way that is more difficult for those trying to challenge the standard guards of opera or theater or even much of today's choral music. In 1992, he collaborated with another young and upcoming Scot, renowned deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie, in a concerto for percussion and orchestra called Veni, Veni Emmanuel. From a formal musical standpoint the 25-minute piece draws on 15th-century French plainchant for its harmonic content while a tense conversation plays out between soloist and orchestra. But as the title suggests, there is a theological underpinning to the work, not only of Christ's nativity, as one might guess, but also hints of his death and resurrection. To the casual listener (if there can be such a thing for music of such passion) it is a simply a dramatic work for percussion, challenging the soloist through a tremendous range of virtuosic passages and a variety of instruments.  For those more attentive, and certainly for the composer himself, the work evokes the tension of the great Labor of Love of the Creator entering his own creation. MacMillan describes the work as an attempt to mirror in music "the promised day of liberation from fear, anguish, and found in Luke 21: 'There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony.'" MacMillan brings to such a work a theological depth to his instrumental writing which, while common and expected at the height of the classical era, is remarkable in our highly secularized times. 

Not surprisingly this theological approach informs much of his vocal writing as well. His earliest musical memories are of the ritual of the Mass and the balance of his considerable list of works leans heavily toward sacred choral, and often specifically liturgical, music. He has composed prayers and cantatas, motets and Masses with a brilliant use of harmonic tension and resolution. Much of this vocal music exudes a haunting quality found in the work of other contemporary sacred composers, like the well-known work of Arvo Pärt and John Tavener.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


The best movie ever made (Phil Boatwright, December 18, 2014, Baptist Press)

I can recall countless moments in "Jesus movies" that have touched, taught and inspired me. "The Passion of The Christ," for example, dynamically reenacts the physical horrors Christ endured. The movie is not really about what mankind did to Him, but about what He did for us.

But I would submit that It's A Wonderful Life shows Christ's teachings being put into action by a Believer.

I concede that there is no scene showing George hearing the Gospel and responding to it, so I'm making an assumption. That's another magic of the medium: the best movies let us project our sensibilities onto a film's theme. But when you analyze the consistency of George's caring nature that puts others first, is it really difficult to see him as a man of faith?

Some may not consider my film choice worthy of the title "Best Film" due to my least favorite element in the story -- the goofy angel. Clarence is good for a couple of laughs, but what impresses me with each viewing is the nature of the protagonist.

George is a real person, one with faults and foibles as well as nobility. We're allowed to see him struggle with frustration ("Why do we have to have all these kids!"). He's not a saint, but neither is he the average guy.

George is a complex fellow. While he dreams of adventures, again and again, he sets aside what he wants in order to serve other people. Something has impacted him throughout his life, some element that causes him to continually see the value in others. What makes a man do that even during the depth of self-despair?

Even during a clouded moment when he considers the proposition that he's worth more dead than alive, he abandons his suicidal choice to rescue a drowning stranger. Suddenly, his convictions remind him of life's sanctity.

...He is worth more dead than alive (though only because He lived).

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:52 AM


Is this "Hallelujah" one of the best Christmas songs ever? (Jeremy Lott,  December 15, 2014, Rare)

December 24, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 PM


Jeb Bush's Emails as Governor of Florida Show His Agenda and Goals (JONATHAN MARTIN, DEC. 24, 2014, NY Times)

One month before Jeb Bush was sworn in as governor of Florida, he was already musing about bold plans to reduce the size of the state government.

"One of our goals should be to have fewer government employees each year we are serving," Mr. Bush wrote to two aides in an email in December 1998. "We need a baseline from which to start. Labor has huge potential to be reduced, possibly in half."

The Saturday after he was inaugurated, Mr. Bush forwarded that message to another aide and asked, "Can you make this happen?"

When Mr. Bush left office in 2007 after two terms, the state government in Tallahassee had been transformed by his hard-charging and driven style.

And while he did not slash the number of state employees by half, he did privatize thousands of public jobs. [...]

In an email to a friend who was close to a teachers' union leader about his effort to institute higher-education standards, Mr. Bush instructed his friend to tell the union leader "that a reformed system will be a better one for dedicated teachers."

"I believe they know this, but they also know that it won't be so good for the bottom third of teachers that U.T.D. spends most of its resources defending," Mr. Bush said in March 1999, referring to the union, the United Teachers of Dade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


'When Books Went to War' tells how paperback books helped to win World War II : Recreational reading boosted morale and celebrated free thought for America's World War II troops. (Emily Cataneo  DECEMBER 24, 2014, CS Monitor)

When American troops stormed Omaha Beach during the D-Day invasion of France during World War II, they faced a barrage of German machine-gun fire and almost certain death. Troops that landed on the beach later in the day encountered an incongruous sight: grievously injured soldiers propped up against the base of the cliffs of Normandy who were reading books while waiting for the medics to arrive.

This sobering yet uplifting image is just one of countless examples of how books helped the Allies win World War II, a story chronicled in When Books Went to War, by lawyer and author Molly Guptill Manning. In her new book, Manning charts the efforts of the American public and the US government to provide books to the service members fighting overseas.

The Brothers Judd: The Adventure of Great Literature (Ed Driscoll, 1/16/02, Catholic Exchange)

In the summer of 1998, Stephen was finishing his doctoral studies at the University of New Hampshire, and had room available on a Web server, so he put up a home page, featuring content by the two brothers. Prior to that, he was stationed in Bosnia, as an officer in the Army Reserves. Orrin says, "I sent him boxes of books to read during his rather considerable down time." The two brothers thought that since Orrin was such a voracious reader, it would be fun for him to recommend books as content for the site.

At about the same time The Modern Library had just come out with their 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, and since Orrin had already read many of them, he decided to read them all and then review them. He says he was perplexed by some of the Modern Library's choices. "I was particularly bothered by them putting Ulysses by James Joyce at the top of the list and by the inclusion of Finnegan's Wake. As I reviewed the books from that list I was struck by how many of the books were neither enjoyable nor edifying. It really seemed to me that to make a list of the Top 100 a book should be at least one of those things, preferably both."

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


What the Insurance Industry Can Do to Fix Health Care (Sukanya Soderland, DECEMBER 23, 2014, Harvard Business Review)

Act as true partners to value-based providers. Most payers today are piloting new economic models that pay providers not for the services they provide but for the value they create. Most, however, are neglecting a key opportunity: helping providers change their operating model. To succeed in value-based care, providers need data, analytics, smart clinical-care teams, and managerial support. Insurers are well-positioned to provide all this. They can also help providers become more efficient and assist them in navigating the tricky financial transition from fee-for-service to fee-for-value economics. Most important, insurers can help the very best provider organizations succeed by using them as the core of attractive, competitively priced insurance products. [...]

Explode the PPO model. Today the gold standard for health insurance is a preferred provider organization, a huge collection of doctors assembled to provide something for everyone but no special benefit to anyone. Insurers can do a better job for consumers and create real value by developing hassle-free mass customization. In this new model, consumers can choose from lifestyle-based curated options that offer trade-offs across risk level, health-savings options, primary-care models, alternative networks, network breadth, coaching and navigation programs, rewards programs, contract length, and incentive structures. Transparency tools and crowd-sourced reviews will spotlight value and multi-modal coordinated care delivery (think care teams that seamlessly work with telehealth providers, health coaches, and retail clinics) will help cut costs considerably. Consumers will be able to trade their own health engagement into benefit dollars and rewards that they can use seamlessly. While true à la carte insurance customization is not yet a reality, private exchange platforms are starting to provide a stepping stone to get there. For example, Maxwell Health, a new private exchange platform, presents a beautiful interface with lifestyle-focused packages that make product selection simple and tailored for you.

Sell convenience and personalized service. Most health care could hardly be less convenient. Now that consumers have unprecedented purchasing power (rise of public and private exchanges) and bear unprecedented costs (mounting high deductibles and premiums), they expect iPhone-like service. There is tremendous opportunity for payers to make the health care experience simpler and more supportive with online appointment scheduling, clear data and reviews, personalized suggestions, navigation apps with predictive decision support, reward programs, peer-to-peer support, and many other tools. Making the consumer experience better is smart for payers too. They can build stickier consumer relationships and generate new opportunities to address consumers' growing health and lifestyle needs.

Power healthy behavior change. Some 50% of the determinants of health are driven by lifestyle and personal behaviors. Changing people's behavior is a tall order but is necessary to improve health care. There are already examples of innovators that are succeeding, such as Omada Health with weight loss for pre-diabetics and Zipongo with healthy eating. We've only begun to deploy behavioral science, advanced wearable/monitoring technologies, and machine learning to understand the behaviors and motivations of different groups to predict and prevent acute events and connect people with the solutions that work best for them.

Serve as the bridge between new tools and consumers. In the first half of 2014, venture capital investment in digital health grew by 176%, spawning new consumer-centric companies with interesting approaches to consumer health. But there's a chasm between these unscaled point solutions and the consumers who could use them. Payers can bridge the gap, using Amazon-style analytics and personalization to better understand consumer types and then connect them at the right place and time to the best-suited offerings. Better yet, payers don't need to build the bridge themselves: A growing set of powerful consumer-engagement platforms (e.g., WellTok and Optum's Rally) are moving along this path.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


4 Tips For Cutting Back Winter Energy Bills (Forbes, 12/24/14)

Feel the urge to deck the halls (and rooftop and front lawn and all the windows) a la Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation? Then you should definitely consider switching to energy-efficient LED (light-emitting diode) lights. The advantages of an LED bulb over an incandescent bulb really add up:

Brighter: Higher lumens-to-wattage ratio

Longer lasting: 50,000 hours versus 1,000 hours

Emit minimal heat: Truly cool to the touch, which can reduce risk of fires

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Creativity for Creationists : An evolutionary creationist evangelizes to Christians about science. (William Saletan, 12/24/14, Slate)

Forty percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, and many of them reject evolution. Jeff Hardin, chairman of the University of Wisconsin's zoology department, takes this personally. Hardin is an evangelical, but much of his evangelism is directed at his fellow believers. He wants to persuade them that evolution and Christianity are compatible.

Hardin didn't grow up in a Christian household. His father was an engineer. As an adolescent, Hardin had a religious experience and joined a church. Christianity spoke to his heart, but it didn't change the love of science he had learned from his dad. When Hardin became a biologist and met students who thought they had to choose between faith and science, it tore him apart. He wanted to help them stay whole.

Today, Hardin speaks for an emerging school of Christian thinkers. They call themselves evolutionary creationists. They believe that God authored the emergence of life and humankind but that evolution explains how this process unfolded. 

From there it's just a matter of explaining physics to him and he's a Young Earth Creationist.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


5 Things We Learned From the Jeb Bush Emails (SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, 12/24/14, ABC News)

1. A Look at Constituent Emails, Even the Unpleasant Ones

One of the more fascinating bits of insight we learned from the email release, thanks to the Washington Post, is just how much Bush was directly emailing with constituents, even angry ones. One man wrote Bush, "politicians make me sick, you make me sick." The then-governor replied: "I am truly sorry you feel that way. Have a nice day."

He then added a smiley face, showing he wasn't just an early adopter of email, but emoticon use, as well. In another exchange, a woman wrote to him inquiring about the date of his wife's birthday, and he quickly replied. [...]

3. How He Deals With Angry Conservatives

In the short period of time since Bush announced he will "actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States," there has been some backlash from the more conservative wing of the GOP. It's not a surprise and will likely become much louder when, or if, he officially gets in the race. The emails show it's nothing new for Bush and he has been dealing with angry members of his own party judging his conservative bonafides since he was first elected.

In one exchange, Bush was going through emails after 10pm and he forwarded an angry one to top aides. The email called Bush "NO CONSERVATIVE" and Bush noted he was answering these kind of emails himself. He wrote to his advisers, "Kind of scary and I am very tired." In another from December, 1999, he tried to calm an anti-abortion activist who was angry Bush appointed an attorney to a judgeship because the lawyer had also represented the owner of an abortion clinic. Bush wrote back and told the conservative activist he had not known about the lawyer's history and the attorney had "received recommendations from many people who I respect." He did follow up and asked an aide to send the emailer a list of all the nominees who were currently before Bush. "We have no litmus test for judges -- we are open to hearing from all Floridians," he wrote. Bush then added that the activist "appears concerned about the perceived lack of opportunity to provide input."

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Iran FM says nuclear deal 'within reach' (AFP, December 24, 2014)

 Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that he is confident that a lasting agreement can be struck with world powers over his country's disputed nuclear program.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Never again, in 2015? (ARIEL DORFMAN, 24 December 2014, Open Democracy)

How is it possible that only 29 % of Americans, according to a Pew Research Center poll, believe that the interrogations carried out by the CIA and denounced as torture by the recent Senate Report are wrong? didn't mean we'd never firebomb civilians again, but that we'd never drop our defenses in the face of threats again.

Here's a simple thought experiment : we know the Nazis are running extermination camps at full capacity, but don't know where they are.  We capture a member of the high command who refuses to tell us where they are.  Is the moral position to allow the Holocaust to continue unabated rather than waterboard him?

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Tackling becomes lost in era where offenses rules (PAUL NEWBERRY, 12/24/14, AP)

In football, one of the essential elements of the game -- tackling -- just doesn't get a whole lot of practice time anymore. It's like a baseball infielder who doesn't take grounders before a game, or a hockey goalie who never faces 100 mph shots until it counts.

"We don't tackle live, not in practice," said Bob Sutton, defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. "I don't think anybody in the league does."

The reasons for that are understandable. Tougher restrictions on full-contact drills have taken hold at all levels of football, mostly spurred by a heightened awareness of the devastating long-term damage that concussions can cause.

From high schools to colleges to the pros, the impact of that change is noticeable to everyone -- especially those who are trying to avoid getting tackled.

"It's a lost art," said Falcons running back Steven Jackson, who had rushed for more than 11,000 yards in the NFL.

For pro teams, where the top players are making millions of dollars and rosters are limited to 53 players plus a small practice squad, one of the primary goals during the week is just making sure everybody is healthy for the game. Hitting in practice is simply not feasible, especially at this time of year when most teams are all beat up.

Thankfully, none of the receivers can run routes or catch either....

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


AUDIO BOOK: LibriVox recording of Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter. Translated by Lee M. Hollander (Read by Greg W, Librivox)

December 23, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Inflation Reading Misses Fed's Target for 31st Straight Month (ERIC MORATH, 12/23/14, WSJ)

The overall PCE price index, the Fed' s preferred gauge, fell 0.2% in November and was up 1.2% from a year earlier. That marked the 31th consecutive month that inflation remained below the Fed's 2% annual target.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Over 1,000 jihadists slain by US-led strikes in Syria (AFP, December 23, 2014)

US-led airstrikes in Syria have killed more than 1,000 jihadists in the past three months, nearly all of them from the Islamic State group, a monitoring group said Tuesday.

"At least 1,171 have been killed in the Arab and international airstrikes (since September 23), including 1,119 jihadists of the Islamic State group and Al-Nusra Front," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists and medics across the war-ravaged country for its information.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


A veritable miracle: fine tuning without a fine tuner (Rowan Forster, 24 December 2014, Online Opinion)

Last week's edition (18/12) of ABC TV's science program Catalyst was titled "Custom Universe - Designed for Us?" Presenter and narrator Dr.Graham Phillips began with this observation: "If some of the laws that govern our cosmos were only slightly different, intelligent life simply couldn't exist. It appears the universe has been fine-tuned so that intelligent beings like you and me can be here. To write off the fine-tunings as mere coincidences seems far-fetched."

But atheists need not have feared that Dr.Phillips was heading down a path towards intelligent design. After noting that "some take fine tuning as evidence that God created the universe", he added: "You can imagine physicists' horror at the thought!" From that point on, he gathered a collection of almost uniformly non-theistic theories and opinions from mostly American academics and scientists in fields such as cosmology, astronomy, astrophysics and philosophy. Their contributions included the following, and each was delivered with a perfectly straight face:

"Anything that's possible will happen, right?" (Assoc.Prof.Charlie Lineweaver). "It's true; aliens could have created our universe." (Dr.Sean Carroll.) "There is a real possibility that we are living inside some elaborate computer simulation that some futuristic kid has set up in his garage". (Prof.Brian Greene). "What does it matter if the origin of our universe was the big bang or a kid in his garage? We still have life as we know it, I've got my wife and kids, it's fun! I'm just going to live it as if it were real!" (Prof.Greene again.)

It basically just boils down to theorizing over who the Designer is.
Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


The World Is Not Falling Apart : Never mind the headlines. We've never lived in such peaceful times. (Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack, 12/23/14, Slate)

To be sure, adding up corpses and comparing the tallies across different times and places can seem callous, as if it minimized the tragedy of the victims in less violent decades and regions. But a quantitative mindset is in fact the morally enlightened one. It treats every human life as having equal value, rather than privileging the people who are closest to us or most photogenic. And it holds out the hope that we might identify the causes of violence and thereby implement the measures that are most likely to reduce it. Let's examine the major categories in turn.

Homicide. Worldwide, about five to 10 times as many people die in police-blotter homicides as die in wars. And in most of the world, the rate of homicide has been sinking. The Great American Crime Decline of the 1990s, which flattened out at the start of the new century, resumed in 2006, and, defying the conventional wisdom that hard times lead to violence, proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present. [...]

Violence Against Women. The intense media coverage of famous athletes who have assaulted their wives or girlfriends, and of episodes of rape on college campuses, have suggested to many pundits that we are undergoing a surge of violence against women. But the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics' victimization surveys (which circumvent the problem of underreporting to the police) show the opposite: Rates of rape or sexual assault and of violence against intimate partners have been sinking for decades, and are now a quarter or less of their peaks in the past. [...]

Democratization : [...] 

Democracy has proved to be more robust than its eulogizers realize. A majority of the world's countries today are democratic, and not just the wealthy monocultures of Europe, North America, and East Asia. Governments that are more democratic than not (scoring 6 or higher on the Polity IV Project's scale from minus 10 to 10) are entrenched (albeit with nerve-wracking ups and downs) in most of Latin America, in floridly multiethnic India, in Islamic Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Even the autocracies of Russia and China, which show few signs of liberalizing anytime soon, are incomparably less repressive than the regimes of Stalin, Brezhnev, and Mao. [...]

War. [...]

In a historically unprecedented development, the number of interstate wars has plummeted since 1945, and the most destructive kind of war, in which great powers or developed states fight each other, has vanished altogether. (The last one was the Korean War). Today the world rarely sees a major naval battle, or masses of tanks and heavy artillery shelling each other across a battlefield. [...]

Israel and Palestine. [...]

For all the world's obsession with the Israel-Palestine conflict, it has been responsible for a small proportion of the total human cost of war: approximately 22,000 deaths over six decades, coming in at 96th place among the armed conflicts recorded by the Center for Systemic Peace since 1946, and at 14th place among ongoing conflicts. That does not mean that the violence is acceptable, only that it should not be a cause of fatalism or despair. Worse conflicts have come to an end, not least ones that have embroiled Israel itself, and a peaceful settlement to this conflict should not be dismissed as utopian.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Kurds Get Closer to a State of Their Own (Eli Lake, 12/22/14, Bloomberg View)

[S]tarting in 2015, the U.S. military will be training three brigades of peshmerga and spending more than $350 million equipping them for battle with the fanatics tearing Iraq apart. While the Kurds have been semi-independent since 1991, with their own government, militias and foreign policy, this is the biggest step yet toward Washington allowing them to have a state of their own.

To understand the significance, recall that for the almost the entire Barack Obama presidency, the Kurds and the U.S. have been at odds. In Obama's first term, the White House asked the highest-ranking Kurd in Iraq's government, President Jalal Talabani, to resign his post in favor of Iyad Allawi, the secular Arab whose party won the most parliamentary seats in the 2010 election. (Talabani declined.) Obama's diplomats consistently acceded to the sensitivities of Iraq's Shiite-led government and refused to send promised equipment and weapons directly to Kurdish fighters. When the Kurds tried to fend for themselves by selling oil on the international market, U.S. diplomats warned oil companies not to purchase it.

But then came the Islamic State.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


3-D printing moves toward mainstream (Deutsche Welle, 12/22/14)
Kathrin Winter carefully hangs a Christmas decoration on a fir tree standing in a pot in the corner of her store.

But the plastic stars and Christmas balls hanging on the tree are somewhat special. Instead of being made in a factory, Winter printed the ornaments herself on a 3-D printer in the 3-D store she owns together with her partner, Daniel Zimmermann.

The store, called Mr Make, opened recently smack-dab in the middle of the high street of Karlsruhe, a city in Germany's southwest.

"Most people have heard of 3-D printing," says Zimmermann, a computer scientist by trade. "But the average consumer still doesn't have a concept of what that actually means. So our idea is to make 3-D printing more accessible."

The 12-year old is making 3-D objects in middle school.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


George W. Bush's Graceful Silence (Cass R. Sunstein, 12/22/14, Bloomberg View)

In the domain of foreign affairs, 2014 has brought heated national debates on an impressive range of subjects: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Syria, Ebola, immigration policy and, most recently, torture, North Korea and Cuba. One of the more remarkable features of all these discussions has been the consistent grace of President George W. Bush.

This month, Bush offered a rare comment on a public debate. Responding to the Senate's release of the CIA torture report, he said, "We're fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf. These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base." Note that Bush paid tribute to the employees of the CIA -- and pointedly declined to take a shot at the Barack Obama administration.

No one doubts that, on some important questions, Bush is in profound disagreement with his successor. Nonetheless, he has maintained silence. In March, he explained, "I don't think it's good for the country to have a former president undermine a current president; I think it's bad for the presidency for that matter." [...]

Public figures are ordinarily rewarded for what they say, not for what they don't. Grace is an underrated virtue; gracelessness is an insufficiently acknowledged vice. For his understated remarks about the CIA and his continued silence about his successor, a salute to George W. Bush -- along with hope that, when he leaves office, Obama will follow the example.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Jeb Bush should have Democrats worried (Tom Keane, DECEMBER 21, 2014, Boston Globe)

Clinton appears to have a lock on the Democratic nomination. [...]

But is she really running? Ever since Obama was reelected, people have been asking, and Clinton hasn't been answering. [...]

Meanwhile, yet another Bush looks set to run, thrilling establishment Republicans. The name, the connections, and the money could make Bush so formidable in the primaries that he wouldn't need to pander to his party's right wing. There would be no repeat of the shenanigans of 2012, with its anybody-but-Romney refrains and cast of crazy characters at each other's' throats, each at some point at the top of the polls. [...]

[I]t's realistic to think he can consolidate the field early.

And then, of course, would come the general election. The true-reds and true-blues will vote as expected. But those in the middle -- more pragmatic and less ideological -- will look for someone with whom they can feel comfortable. At this juncture, the moderate former Florida governor seems to fit the bill.

Democrats should be worried. Even though Clinton now polls ahead of Bush in general election matchups, a different nominee -- Warren or perhaps Clinton pushed to the extreme -- would not have the same appeal to centrists. Liberal stalwarts may not care, thinking ideological purity should trump crass concerns about winning. But the upshot might be a third Bush in the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Japan: 'Solo weddings' for single women (BBC, 12/22/14)

A travel agency in one of Japan's most beautiful cities, Kyoto, has started organising bridal ceremonies for single women. [...]

The company's president, Yukiko Inoue, tells Kyodo she created the package "to encourage women to have positive feelings about themselves", but admits that "some people have said it would be 'lonely, miserable and sad' to use it". "Nationwide, more Japanese are living alone for a number of reasons - among them aging, urbanization, later marriage age and rising divorce rates," The Japan Times notes in a recent article. It quotes the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research as saying that the country's population is expected to decline between 26% and 38% by 2060.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


The religious right isn't retreating -- it's reforming (Bonnie Kristian, December 22, 2014, The Week)

What such responses fail to recognize (and what even the original First Things article fails to note) is that divorcing religious and civil marriage is not retreat but reform. It is not a new idea, but a return to the way Christian marriage operated for 1,500 years. And it is thoroughly orthodox, if the endorsement of no less a figure than C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity carries any weight.

It wasn't until the 16th (or even 18th) century in Europe that the government had any involvement in deciding who was or wasn't married. In early American history, too, marriage requirements were largely decentralized. Couples typically wed in church and were supposed to register their marriages with the government, but "common law marriages," a sort of automatic marital status based on long-term cohabitation, were widely recognized.

In the years after the Civil War, however, marriage laws in the United States changed dramatically, as marriage licenses were introduced as a racist method of social control. Nearly 40 states used marriage licenses to outlaw unions between whites and non-whites, legally reinforcing the racism of the day. Likewise, some states refused to grant licenses to prisoners, divorced people, addicts, and those deemed mentally ill.

Thus, when the First Things article states that, "In the past, the state recognized marriage, giving it legal forms to reinforce its historic norms," it operates from a post-Civil War view of an institution which has existed for millennia.

And while First Things worries about allowing the government to "redefine marriage," I'd suggest that redefinition already happened -- and it started hundreds of years ago. What was supposed to be a covenant between two people, their families, and God has become a legal formality that can only occur with the state's permission.

By putting marriage in the hands of the government, we've already said that God's perspective isn't the last word. By taking marriage out of the church and into the halls of Congress, we make a sacred covenant into a secular contract. And by legislating marriage in any way, we cede this holy ground to the state.

But theology aside, there is a strong political argument for re-privatizing marriage, which we libertarians have been making for years. If we take the state out of marriage entirely, we allow each side of the gay marriage fight to make their own decisions for their own lives. Neither side is required to recognize relationships they don't support. Neither side is able to tell the other what to believe. Neither side "wins" the culture war -- and neither side loses.

On a practical level, this move would require decoupling marriage from the many legal shortcuts it boasts today, on issues like taxes, parenting, and hospital visitation. These have become issues which, understandably, motivate much of the push for legalizing gay marriage. This is a significant project, certainly, but it should not be an overwhelming objection. Plus, those wishing to include a legal contract in their marriage could still do so; standardized, legally-binding forms would undoubtedly be just a Google search away.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Pope Blasts Roman Curia (NICOLE WINFIELD, 12/22/14, Associated Press

Pope Francis issued a blistering critique Monday of the Vatican bureaucracy that serves him, denouncing how some people lust for power at all costs, live hypocritical double lives and suffer from "spiritual Alzheimer's" that has made them forget they're supposed to be joyful men of God.

Even the most sclerotic bureaucracy shopuldn't have taken 500 years to figure that out.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Oil Price Drop, Nuclear Deal Delay Unsettle Iran's Economy (BENOÎT FAUCON and  BILL SPINDLE, Dec. 22, 2014, WSJ)

The renewed economic travails are eroding gains that accompanied President Hasan Rouhani 's surprise election 18 months ago. Mr. Rouhani, whose political fortunes rest largely on an economic recovery, has been scrambling to contain the damage. In a recent address to parliament, he touted a radical but difficult plan to address what he called an unprecedented oil slump: cutting dependence on oil income by boosting industrial exports and hiking taxes.

He has also proposed dramatic fiscal tightening in the new Iranian year that begins in March.

"Iran is moving to a very austere budget," said Fereydoun Khavand, an Iran expert and senior lecturer at Paris Descartes University.

Iran's economic progress came after significant reforms, bolstered by a leap in optimism that the president would be able to get international sanctions over Iran's nuclear program lifted through an agreement with the West.

Inflation had stopped accelerating over the past year, falling to about 20% on an annual basis currently compared with 35% in recent months, according to the government.

The rial lost two thirds of its value against the dollar in 2012 as banking sanctions tightened. It has regained some ground since then, but lost 5% in a week against the dollar when the deadline for reaching a nuclear deal was extended beyond November.

President Rouhani continues to focus on nuclear talks. He advocated for a deal again in remarks carried by Iranian state media in recent days, directly challenging hard-liners who oppose any agreement with the West. Such an agreement would bring access to oil funds blocked abroad and foreign investment that "would largely make up for the oil slump," Mr. Khavand said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM

1864 AGAIN:

The Real Threat to Hillary Clinton: Jim Webb (JACOB HEILBRUNN, DEC. 22, 2014, NY Times)

[I]t isn't really the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren who should worry the Clinton camp. It's the former Virginia senator Jim Webb, a Vietnam War hero, former secretary of the Navy in the Reagan administration, novelist and opponent of endless wars in the Middle East. Late last month, Mr. Webb formed an exploratory committee. "He's a very long shot," Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, told me. "He has to become a serious candidate. At that point she would find him much more complex than dealing with liberals. He's not a liberal, but a lot of what he says might appeal to liberals. He does not get carried away by humanitarian intervention."

Mr. Webb's attacks on free trade and economic elites, coupled with a call for America to come home again, might well prove a potent combination in the early primaries, attracting antiwar progressives as well as conservative-minded Southern white men whom he believes the party can win back. 

The GOP can't be lucky enough to get to run against a Confederate in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Don't Scoff: Bipartisanship Is Possible In 2015 (Karl Rove, 12/18/14)

It will be important in the new Congress that Republicans advance a reform-minded conservative governing agenda that has bipartisan support. Before scoffing at this, consider that House Republicans have already passed scores of bills with Democratic support, only to see them die in the Senate.

The GOP should set a bipartisan tone by taking these bills up again, starting with measures to help the economy. For example, this past session 158 House Democrats voted for a GOP measure expanding access to charter schools. Another 130 House Democrats backed a Republican bill to end the expensive wave of junk lawsuits over patents.

While Mr. McConnell says the Senate will first take up the Keystone XL pipeline, there are other opportunities on energy: 46 House Democrats voted with Republicans to expedite exports of liquefied natural gas, 28 to expand oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, and 26 to expedite infrastructure for the development of natural gas.

Between 32 and 36 House Democrats also backed GOP measures to ban taxes on Internet access, to make it easier and less costly to invest in small businesses, to make government rule-making more transparent, and to stop an EPA proposal that would subject every stream, pond and ditch to federal jurisdiction.

Since Republicans want to move a comprehensive corporate tax-reform package, the fact that 53 House Democrats supported making permanent the immediate expensing of new equipment and software purchases, and 62 voted to make the research and development tax credit permanent, is a sign some Democrats will help make the tax code more growth-oriented.

There's also evidence Democrats will help undo some of ObamaCare's damaging provisions, like its definition of full-time work as 30 hours a week and its employee and employer mandates.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Poll: Support increases for lifting Cuba embargo, travel restrictions (Scott Clement, December 23, 2014, Washington Post)

A large majority of Americans support establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba, and even larger -- and growing -- majorities support an end to trade and travel bans to the country, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The national survey finds little erosion in public support after President Obama announced sweeping changes in U.S.-Cuba policy, despite his weak approval ratings nationally. Sixty-four percent support establishing ties with Cuba, similar to 66 percent in a 2009 Post-ABC poll asking whether the United States should do so.

Sixty-eight percent support ending the trade embargo with Cuba -- up 11 points from 2009 -- and 74 percent support ending travel restrictions to Cuba -- a jump of 19 points from five years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


France waves discreet goodbye to 75 percent super-tax (Hannah Murphy and Mark John, 12/23/14, Reuters) 

When President Francois Hollande unveiled a "super-tax" on the rich in 2012, some feared an exodus of business, sporting and artistic talent. One adviser warned it was a Socialist step too far that would turn France into "Cuba without sun".

Two years on, with the tax due to expire at the end of this month, the mass emigration has not happened. But the damage to France's appeal as a home for top earners has been great, and the pickings from the levy paltry.

"The reform clearly damaged France's reputation and competitiveness," said Jorg Stegemann, head of Kennedy Executive, an executive search firm based in France and Germany.

"It clearly has become harder to attract international senior managers to come to France than it was," he added.

Hollande first floated the 75-percent super-tax on earnings over 1 million euros ($1.2 million) a year in his 2012 campaign to oust his conservative rival Nicolas Sarkozy. It fired up left-wing voters and helped him unseat the incumbent.
Yet ever since, it has been a thorn in his side, helping little in France's effort to bring its public deficit within European Union limits and mixing the message just as Hollande sought to promote a more pro-business image. The adviser who made the "Cuba" gag was Emmanuel Macron, the ex-banker who is now his economy minister.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


How Christmas Won the War on Christmas (Stephen L. Carter, 12/23/14, Bloomberg View)
Not long after some grumpy administrative Grinch at the University of Maine warned employees against the placement of "religious-themed" decorations on campus -- including candy canes -- NASA announced that Christmas lights have become so bright that they are visible from outer space. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration released satellite imagery, both still and video, to show how much U.S. cities glow during the holidays.

This sort of brightness is important at moments of national gloom. Part of the secular significance of Christmas is to bring cheer. It's often as simple as that. Many people who decorate their homes aren't trying to spread a religious message. They just want to make their neighborhoods brighter. Last year, in the Connecticut town where my wife and I live, it seemed as though the decorations stayed up longer than usual. People didn't want the cheer to end.

This function of Christmas is often missed by secularists like the unhappy soul who produced the memo at the University of Maine. The ban on ornaments, he suggested, would display the campus's commitment to diversity. One of those less-is-more moments, perhaps. Had anyone taken him seriously, the campus would probably have been less cheery. As it happened, the university hastily withdrew the memo as not consistent with its policies.

The federal government shows no such delicacy about Christmas. The White House this year features no fewer than 26 Christmas trees.

The Wife bought two rolls of Hannukah wrapping paper at CVS the other night and the clerk wished her a Merry Christmas.  Of course, The Mother Judd gave me a Bacon Bowl for Channukah....

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Excess Weight May Help Heart Failure Patients, Study Contends (Steven Reinberg, Dec. 22, 2014, HealthDay News) 

Obese heart-failure patients appear to live longer than people of normal weight who develop the disabling condition, a new study suggests.

Researchers tracked nearly 1,500 heart failure patients, most of whom were overweight or obese before their diagnosis. They found that 38 percent of obese and 45 percent of overweight patients died over 10 years, compared with 51 percent of normal-weight patients.

December 22, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


If Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio both run for president, Florida loyalty belongs to Bush (Alex Leary and Adam C. Smith, 12/19/14, Tampa Bay Times)

But even if Rubio proceeds, mentor Bush presents major obstacles that underscore his status as the undisputed king of Florida Republicans. Bush would command the loyalty of top donors and the support of the political establishment.

Florida -- and its 29 electoral votes -- is essential to Republican hopes to retake the White House, and two candidates competing in the same space looks improbable.

"It's nothing against Marco," said John Thrasher, a former legislator who is now president of Florida State University. "Jeb has built up political capital over the years. It's not just capital. These are people who have worked with him, understand him, and feel his time is here."

Rubio, who at 43 is nearly two decades younger than Bush, enjoys loads of enthusiastic supporters among Florida's deep pool of elite GOP fundraisers, but few, if any, of those top bundlers prefer him over Bush. It's a simple fact of life for any Republican elected leader in Florida that even eight years after he left the governor's office, Bush overshadows all.

"I love Marco Rubio. I was his general campaign chairman when he ran for Senate," said Al Hoffman, a developer and former Republican National Committee finance chairman from North Palm Beach. "Marco is a great guy and has a tremendous future, but I have to support Jeb first."

"It's about loyalty. For so many of us who got into this game, you don't forget the one who brought us to the dance. Jeb and his dad and his brother did that for us," said Mike Hightower, another top fundraiser and former Duval County GOP chairman. "I'd say to Marco, 'Sorry, but on this one I can't help you. It's not personal.' "

Such comments were echoed by a string of veteran Florida GOP fundraisers, some of whom have been helping Jeb Bush since George H.W. Bush ran for president in 1980. Not everyone will say it publicly, but among these veterans, almost everyone sees Bush, 61, as a nearly insurmountable obstacle to Rubio raising sufficient money to mount a strong campaign.

"If I had to prognosticate, I would say that Marco would be running for Senate in 2016," said Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg developer and former Republican National Committee finance chairman who was a national finance co-chairman for Mitt Romney in 2012.

Rubio's current seat is up for re-election this next cycle, complicating his future more. He has time to explore a presidential run but ultimately cannot do both because of state law and will feel pressure from a battery of ambitious Republicans who would love to take his place in the Senate.

"Most people that do like them both would say something similar, that Marco's got lots of time to focus on being a good senator and if Jeb does definitely decide to run, we're going to be with him," said former Florida GOP chairman Van Poole, who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for George W. Bush's campaigns.

A Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll of more than 150 of the state's most plugged-in political players conducted after Bush's big step toward running found that 8 in 10 said Bush would be stronger than Rubio in the Republican primary, and nine in 10 said the former governor would be stronger in the general election. [...]

On the morning Bush announced his plans to explore a run for president, he called Rubio. It was a sign of their friendship, forged years ago when Rubio was a baby-faced politician from West Miami. Aided by Bush and other key Republicans, including Al Cardenas, a lawyer and former chairman of the state GOP, Rubio quickly became a favorite son in Tallahassee.

If Mr. Rubio is serious about being president he needs to get himself elected governor.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Why Saudis Decided Not to Prop Up Oil (JAY SOLOMON in Washington and  SUMMER SAID in Dubai, Dec. 21, 2014, WSJ)

Shale-oil production in places like Texas and North Dakota has boosted U.S. output, displacing exports to the U.S. from OPEC members and adding to global oversupply.

Mr. Dossary's October message signaled a direct challenge to North American energy firms that the Arab monarchy believes have fueled a supply glut by using new shale-oil technologies, said the people familiar with the session.

Saudi officials became convinced they couldn't bolster prices alone amid the new-crude flood. They also concluded many other OPEC members would balk at meaningful cuts, as would big non-OPEC producers like Russia and Mexico. If Riyadh cut production alone, Saudi officials feared, other producers would swoop in and steal market share.

Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi tested that conclusion just 48 hours before the Nov. 27 OPEC decision, meeting in Vienna with oil heads of several big producer nations to suggest a coordinated output cut. As he suspected going in, he couldn't get an agreement, said people familiar with the meeting.

The option left: Let prices slide to test how long, and at what levels, American shale producers can keep pumping.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Pakistan to execute 500 convicted militants (Deutsche Welle, 12/22/14)

Pakistan has announced plans to execute 500 convicted extremists after a moratorium on capital punishment was lifted in response to last week's Taliban school massacre that killed over 130 children. [...]

"The Interior Ministry has finalized the cases of 500 convicts who have exhausted all the appeals, their mercy petitions have been turned down by the president and their executions will take place in coming weeks," a senior government official said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


North Korea Experiencing Severe Internet Outages (Associated Press Dec. 22, 2014)

North Korea is experiencing widespread Internet outages. One expert says the country's online access is "totally down." [...]

The White House declined to comment Monday. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters that of the federal government responses, "some will be seen, some may not be seen."

Doug Madory (Muh-DOOR-ee), director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, said the Internet connectivity problems were discovered in the last 24 hours and have gotten progressively worse to the point that "North Korea's totally down."

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Behold, atheists' new Ten Commandments (Daniel Burke, 12/20/14, CNN)

Enter the "10 'Non-Commandments' Contest," in which atheists were asked to offer modern alternatives to the famous Decalogue. And, to sweeten the pot, the contest offered $10,000 in moolah to the winning would-be Moses. [...]

Here are the "Ten Non-Commandments" chosen as the winners:

1. Be open-minded and be willing to alter your beliefs with new evidence. [...]

9. There is no one right way to live.

It's cute that they feel compelled to ape real religion, but, the reality is that the open mind always ends when it meets the closed fist, at which poing the believer suddenly finds the authority to dictate the behavior of the other.

Meanwhile, to base your beliefs on Science is to chase passing fads : How massive galaxy cluster could upend theory of universe evolution (Pete Spotts, DECEMBER 22, 2014, CS Monitor)

At 400 trillion times the sun's mass, a mere 800 million years old, and some 9.6 billion light-years away, the cluster could represent a hint that the most widely accepted explanation for the evolution of universe is flawed, according to the team reporting the measurements in a paper accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

The theory that has received the most support from observation sets out a timeline in which so-called cold, dark matter initially gathered in small clumps as the universe cooled and settled into a stately expansion following the formative, sudden release of energy known as the big bang and a brief period during which the universe expanded exponentially.

The dark-matter clumps merged over time to provide the gravitational foundations for galaxies, galaxy clusters, and even larger structures. Dark matter earned its name because no one has yet directly detected it. Instead researchers infer its presence by its gravitational effects on matter astronomers can see.

The question the new cluster poses is whether it's too massive given the the pace at which the universe's large-scale structure would have been forming 9.6 billion years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM


Do We Need the C.I.A.? (NY Times, 12/21/14)

Central Intelligence Agency Jim Watson/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images
Since Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan introduced bills in 1991 and 1995 to abolish the Central Intelligence Agency and transfer its powers to the State Department, many have continued to share his concerns about the agency's competence and performance. The Senate intelligence committee's report on the use of torture is the latest example of the agency's controversies.

Would the security needs of the United States be better served if the C.I.A. were dismantled?

The kids at Hanover H.S. have gone crazy for the Marketwatch stock market game.  At first they were all day-trading and buying stuff they like--Apple, etc.--but then selling the second prices started to drop.  But they quickly learned to invest more wisely and patiently.  And that's testosterone-addled boys.

Just convert US intelligence into an Iowa Markets-type deal.  Open Source it all

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


An Autopsy for the Keynesians : We were warned that the 2013 sequester meant a recession. Instead, unemployment came down faster than expected. (JOHN H. COCHRANE, Dec. 21, 2014, WSJ)

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne wrote in these pages Dec. 14 that Keynesians wanting more spending and more borrowing "were wrong in the recovery, and they are wrong now." The land of John Maynard Keynes and Adam Smith is going with Smith.

Why? In part, because even in economics, you can't be wrong too many times in a row.

Keynesians told us that once interest rates got stuck at or near zero, economies would fall into a deflationary spiral. Deflation would lower demand, causing more deflation, and so on.

It never happened. Zero interest rates and low inflation turn out to be quite a stable state, even in Japan. Yes, Japan is growing more slowly than one might wish, but with 3.5% unemployment and no deflationary spiral, it's hard to blame slow growth on lack of "demand."

Our first big stimulus fell flat, leaving Keynesians to argue that the recession would have been worse otherwise. George Washington's doctors probably argued that if they hadn't bled him, he would have died faster.

With the 2013 sequester, Keynesians warned that reduced spending and the end of 99-week unemployment benefits would drive the economy back to recession. Instead, unemployment came down faster than expected, and growth returned, albeit modestly. The story is similar in the U.K.

These are only the latest failures. Keynesians forecast depression with the end of World War II spending. The U.S. got a boom. The Phillips curve failed to understand inflation in the 1970s and its quick end in the 1980s, and disappeared in our recession as unemployment soared with steady inflation.

Still, facts and experience are seldom decisive in economics.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Jeb Bush's Ties to Donors Put Rivals in a Bind (PATRICK O'CONNOR and  BETH REINHARD, Dec. 21, 2014, WSJ)

Jeb Bush's announcement that he will explore a White House bid threatens years of painstaking spadework by other Republicans who have cultivated many of the wealthy donors loyal to the former Florida governor's family.

Mr. Bush is heir to a vaunted network of Republican contributors built over his family's two presidencies, his own governorship and other campaigns. It is one of the most formidable assets in GOP politics and could hamper the fund-raising of Republican potential rivals, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie .

The donors' ties to the Bushes also could undercut possible interest in a third White House campaign by Mitt Romney . If the 2012 GOP presidential nominee runs, he would compete for the same contributors, many of whom helped finance his latest campaign.

Early signs suggest that devotion to the Bush clan may trump newer relationships.

As importantly, they aren't going to be able to woo the religious away.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Angela Merkel has faced down the Russian bear in the battle for Europe (Timothy Garton Ash, 22 December 2014, The Guardian)

As she never tires of repeating, her strategy has three prongs: support for Ukraine, diplomacy with Russia and sanctions to bring Putin to the negotiating table. To see Germany leading the way in economic sanctions against Russia is extraordinary. In the early 1990s, I wrote a history of West Germany's Ostpolitik, culminating in German unification, and the first commandment of that Ostpolitik was that eastern trade should always go on. Sanctions were called for by the US and resisted by Germany. Today, Germany has more trade with Russia than any other European power. Its energy, machine-tool and other eastward-oriented businesses form a powerful lobby, not least within Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union. Yet she has taken them down the path of sanctions.

Of course Putin and the Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine helped, especially with the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner in July. But, unlike in the eurozone crisis, she has led rather than followed German public opinion. She has faced down the so-called Putinversteher - those who show such "understanding" for Putin's actions that they come close to excusing them. She has made the larger arguments, from history, about Europe, and they have resonated. I was particularly impressed by an interview I read with the boss of a German machine-tool company whose exports to Russia have been roughly halved following the imposition of sanctions. Yet this German industrialist said he fully supported them: "If [Neville] Chamberlain had imposed some sort of sanctions on Hitler, things would have been different. Both Hitler and Putin held their Olympics, and after his Olympics, Hitler went to war."

What is more, she has made the case for sanctions powerfully to more reluctant members of the EU, notably Italy, but also smaller east European countries where Russia wields much influence. To be sure, the formal chair of last week's European Council was the former Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk. It is a notable day in European history when a Pole speaks to Russia not just in Europe's name but with the whole economic and political weight of a European Union behind him. But Tusk is Merkel's trusted ally. Everyone knows she is Europe's real chair. In her Sydney speech, she again emphasised the vital importance of European states "speaking with one voice".

And then she has been lucky - an essential attribute for any successful stateswoman or statesman. (I can't bring myself to write statesperson.) Without a spectacular fall in the price of oil, the sanctions, which are still patchy, and not supported by China and other important economic partners of Russia, would not have had this dramatic impact.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


America's Greece? : Illinois risks default if it fails to tackle its public-pension crisis (The Economist, Dec 20th 2014)

Illinois is like Greece in one obvious way: it overpromised and underdelivered on pensions and has little appetite for dealing with the problem, says Hal Weitzman of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. This large Midwestern state, with a population of 13m (Greece has 11m, though a far smaller GDP than Illinois), has the most underfunded retirement system of any state and the largest pension burden relative to state revenue. It also has the highest number of public-pension funds close to insolvency, such as the one looking after Chicago's police and firemen. According to the Civic Federation, a budget watchdog, Illinois has piled up a whopping $111 billion in unfunded pension liabilities (see chart), in addition to $56 billion in debt for health benefits for pensioners. The state devotes one in four of its tax dollars to pensions, which is more than it spends on primary and secondary education. [...]

The main reason for the pension debacle is decades of underfunding. "Everything was always done with a short-term view," says Laurence Msall, head of the Civic Federation. "Unique to Illinois is the idea that you don't have to pay for pensions and you don't have to follow actuarial recommendations."

December 21, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Ready for $20 Oil? (A. Gary Shilling, 12/21/14, Bloomberg View)

How low can oil prices go? In the current price war, the global market price needed to support government budgets isn't really the main issue. Nor are the total costs for exploration, drilling and transportation.  

What matters are marginal costs -- the expense of retrieving oil once the holes have been drilled and pipelines laid. That number is more like $10 to $20 a barrel in the Persian Gulf, and about the same for U.S. shale-oil producers.

Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


Al-Qaeda 'bursting with pain' over Pakistan school attack (AFP, 12/21/14)

Al-Qaeda's regional branch on Sunday said its hearts were "bursting with pain" over the Taliban's massacre at a Pakistan school and urged the militants to target only security forces.

The attack on Tuesday killed 149 people -- mostly children -- in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.

"Our hearts are bursting with pain and grief over this incident," Osama Mehmood, spokesman for Al-Qaeda South Asia chapter said in a four-page emailed statement.

Muslims and Islam Were Part of Twin Towers' Life (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN, September 10, 2010, NY Times)

Sometime in 1999, a construction electrician received a new work assignment from his union. The man, Sinclair Hejazi Abdus-Salaam, was told to report to 2 World Trade Center, the southern of the twin towers.

In the union locker room on the 51st floor, Mr. Abdus-Salaam went through a construction worker's version of due diligence. In the case of an emergency in the building, he asked his foreman and crew, where was he supposed to reassemble? The answer was the corner of Broadway and Vesey.

Over the next few days, noticing some fellow Muslims on the job, Mr. Abdus-Salaam voiced an equally essential question: "So where do you pray at?" And so he learned about the Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the south tower.

He went there regularly in the months to come, first doing the ablution known as wudu in a washroom fitted for cleansing hands, face and feet, and then facing toward Mecca to intone the salat prayer.

On any given day, Mr. Abdus-Salaam's companions in the prayer room might include financial analysts, carpenters, receptionists, secretaries and ironworkers. There were American natives, immigrants who had earned citizenship, visitors conducting international business -- the whole Muslim spectrum of nationality and race. [...]

"We weren't aliens," Mr. Abdus-Salaam, 60, said in a telephone interview from Florida, where he moved in retirement. "We had a foothold there. You'd walk into the elevator in the morning and say, 'Salaam aleikum,' to one construction worker and five more guys in suits would answer, 'Aleikum salaam.' "

One of those men in suits could have been Zafar Sareshwala, a financial executive for the Parsoli Corporation, who went to the prayer room while on business trips from his London office. He was introduced to it, he recently recalled, by a Manhattan investment banker who happened to be Jewish.

"It was so freeing and so calm," Mr. Sareshwala, 47, said in a phone conversation from Mumbai, where he is now based. "It had the feel of a real mosque. And the best part is that you are in the epicenter of capitalism -- New York City, the World Trade Center -- and you had this island of spiritualism. I don't think you could have that combination anywhere in the world."

How, when and by whom the prayer room was begun remains unclear. Interviews this week with historians and building executives of the trade center came up empty. Many of the Port Authority's leasing records were destroyed in the towers' collapse. The imams of several Manhattan mosques whose members sometimes went to the prayer room knew nothing of its origins.

Yet the room's existence is etched in the memories of participants like Mr. Abdus-Salaam and Mr. Sareshwala. Prof. John L. Esposito of Georgetown University, an expert in Islamic studies, briefly mentions the prayer room in his recent book "The Future of Islam."

Moreover, the prayer room was not the only example of Muslim religious practice in or near the trade center. About three dozen Muslim staff members of Windows on the World, the restaurant atop the north tower, used a stairwell between the 106th and 107th floors for their daily prayers.

Without enough time to walk to the closest mosque -- Masjid Manhattan on Warren Street, about four blocks away -- the waiters, chefs, banquet managers and others would lay a tablecloth atop the concrete landing in the stairwell and flatten cardboard boxes from food deliveries to serve as prayer mats.

During Ramadan, the Muslim employees brought their favorite foods from home, and at the end of the daylight fast shared their iftar meal in the restaurant's employee cafeteria.

"Iftar was my best memory," said Sekou Siby, 45, a chef originally from the Ivory Coast. "It was really special."

Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


NYC crime falls but concern about police tactics rises (Tom Hays and Colleen Long, 12/20/14, Associated Press)

Even as New York's police department takes heat for its tactics in the outrage over the Eric Garner chokehold case, year-end crime statistics show two clear trends: low-level arrests are holding steady and overall crime continues to fall.

The numbers could be seen as an affirmation of Police Commissioner William Bratton's signature "broken windows" tactic, the idea that enforcing smaller crimes like fare beating and public drunkenness help prevent bigger crimes.

The irony is that stories about police tactics and torture only have traction because the wars on Terror and Crime have already been won by them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


If Not David to the U.S. Goliath, Cuba Asks What Its Role Is Now (DAMIEN CAVE and VICTORIA BURNETT, DEC. 20, 2014, NY Times)

As Cubans absorb the news that the United States will begin normalizing relations with their government after more than five decades of hostility, they are contending with a rush of both excitement and uncertainty about what could be the end of a long global drama in which Cuba has played a prominent role.

The country's leaders in particular, after decades of battling and blaming the United States and powerful Cuban exiles -- calling them worms, ingrates and far worse -- now find themselves without the usual excuse for Cuba's economic failures and human rights restrictions , at a time when the population's expectations are soaring. The challenge of managing the opening up of Cuba will be colossal, forcing the government to grapple with its own faults and the possibility of becoming just another sun-drenched Caribbean island rather than an often-admired communist holdout against the power of the United States. 

We and they have paid a high price for JFK not using the sling when they gave us a convenient pretext.

Posted by orrinj at 10:37 AM


How Obama (and Bush) helped drive down oil prices (Rick Newman, December 18, 2014, Yahoo)

[T]he forces reshaping the oil market have been aligning for nearly a decade, with part of the impetus coming from Washington.

In 2007, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which President George W. Bush promptly signed. The EISA raised federal mileage requirements for passenger cars for the first time since 1990, in an effort to reduce U.S. gas consumption and make America less dependent on foreign oil.

The new rules required automakers to achieve average fuel economy of 35 miles per gallon among all the new vehicles in their fleet by model year 2020 -- up sharply from a requirement of 27.5 MPG for cars and 22.2 MPG for light trucks (pickups and SUVs) at the time.

President Obama raised the MPG goal further in 2012, requiring average fuel economy of 54.5 MPG for all new vehicles sold by model year 2025. Automakers argued that the technology developments necessary to reach those levels would add thousands of dollars to the cost of a car, but so far they've been making progress without causing sticker shock for car buyers. A combination of electric vehicles, hybrids, diesels and far more efficient gas engines has helped improve overall average fuel economy by 5.3 MPG during the last seven years, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. That's a big improvement that would cut the typical driver's gas consumption by about 70 gallons a year.

Overall, the MPG improvements have been working, with lower U.S. oil and gas consumption achieved

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Cuomo the Craven -- governor to upstate: Drop dead (Bob McManus, December 18, 2014, NY Post)

The fruits of Andrew Cuomo's first term went on display one after another this week -- and what a withered bunch of grapes they turned out to be.

There was the governor's fracking ban -- announced Wednesday in Albany and perhaps the single most irresponsible gubernatorial act since the entire Paterson administration.

There were the casino-placement revelations -- including one for a flood plain in Schenectady, a town plagued by high water every spring but full of Democrats, which clearly mattered.

And there was the improbable news that a scant 1.9 percent of New York's teachers are officially incompetent -- a startlingly low figure in a state where fewer than 40 percent of high-school students can meet even Albany's undemanding reading and math standards, and where Cuomo once declared himself to be the "students' lobbyist." [...]

Four years ago, the plan was to transform Upstate -- largely, he hinted, through a tightly regulated regimen of natural-gas extraction in the Southern Tier. Hydraulic fracturing -- fracking -- was the key.

But that would've taken guts, always in short supply in the Cuomo administration -- and so no surprise that on Wednesday the governor caved to ferocious "progressive" pressure and killed fracking, but couldn't even summon the courage to do it himself.

After four years of show-a-little-leg, then-pull-it-right-back dissembling, Cuomo assigned a deputy do the job. "I will be bound by what the experts say," he declared -- pointing directly at his temporary health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, who promptly gave the game away.

"I consider the people of the state of New York as my patients," Zuck­er said. "I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York" -- adding that he, himself, would not live anywhere fracking is practiced.

Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


Five Industries Set To Benefit From The U.S.-Cuba Thaw (Micheline Maynard, 12/21/14, Forbes)

For two generations, Cuba has been tantalizingly out of reach of American investment. U.S. companies have watched their European, Latin American and Asian competitors establish beachheads on an island that used to be dominated by American interests.

Now, with full diplomatic relations in the works, U.S. firms can again look at Cuban opportunities. Many companies have had Cuban development plans stashed away for years, waiting for the day when they'll be able to explore Cuban investments.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Ridley Scott and Missing the Point of the Book of Exodus (Fr. Robert Barron, 12/19/14, Catholic World Report)

Many commentators have focused their critical attention on the portrayal of the angel as an annoyed little boy, but in itself that choice didn't bother me. Let's face it: it's next to impossible to represent God in a cinematically adequate way. For Charlton Heston, the God of Mt. Sinai was a disembodied voice (actually Heston's own, dramatically slowed down) and flashes of fire. I'm not at all sure that this was better than Ridley Scott's version, and in point of fact, the weird kid caught something of the unnerving, unsettling, more than vaguely frightening quality of the God disclosed in the Old Testament. 

The problem is the way the relationship between Moses and the God of Israel is presented. In the Biblical telling, Moses, like many of the other heroes of Israel, was compelled to pass through a long period of testing and purification in order to prepare himself to receive the divine word. Only when he had been sufficiently humbled and purified was he able to take in the presence of God and to accept the dangerous mission of liberation that God gave him. 

Ridley Scott's Moses did indeed spend years in the desert to the east of Egypt, but he seems little changed from the self-absorbed, violent, and worldly prince of Egypt that he had been. And thus, he accepts the angel's charge, not with joy and spiritual enthusiasm, but with a kind of resentment. And whenever the child appears to Moses in the remainder of the movie, the liberator seems annoyed, put upon. 

In the book of Exodus, on the other hand, Moses is utterly fascinated by God and drawn ever deeper into union with God's mind and purpose. So transformed was he after one encounter that his face shone with the brightness of divine glory. How far this is from Christian Bale's brooding Moses who seems to wish that God would just leave him alone! 

This misconstrual of the rapport between God and Moses leads to a second major problem with Scott's film, namely, the reduction of the Exodus to the story of political liberation from a tyrannical system of government. Never does Scott's Moses tell the people that their God had directed him to free them, and when the tribes of Israel make their way successfully across the Red Sea, no one mentions God or breathes a word of thanks to him. 

On the Scriptural telling, of course, the crossing of the Red Sea is followed immediately by an ecstatic song of thanksgiving: "I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea. My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he is been my savior...Who is like to you among the gods, O Lord? Who is like to you, magnificent in holiness?" (Ex. 15:1-2; 11) In point of fact, that last line is, arguably, the key to interpreting the entire book under consideration. Seen aright, Exodus is not telling a story primarily of political liberation (though that is part of it), but rather a story of spiritual liberation from false gods. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Tunisians choose president in run-off elections (Naveena Kottoor, 12/21/14, BBC)

Tunisia was the first country to depose its leader in the Arab Spring and inspired other uprisings in the region.

Mr Essebsi, who turned 88 this week, held office under both deposed President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali and Tunisia's first post-independence leader, Habib Bourguiba.

He is popular in the wealthy, coastal regions, and has based his appeal to voters on stability and experience.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Is String Theory About to Unravel? : Evidence that the universe is made of strings has been elusive for 30 years, but the theory's mathematical insights continue to have an alluring pull (Brian Greene, January 2015, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

But what happens in the event--likely, according to some--that the collider yields no remotely stringy signatures?

Experimental evidence is the final arbiter of right and wrong, but a theory's value is also assessed by the depth of influence it has on allied fields. By this measure, string theory is off the charts. Decades of analysis filling thousands of articles have had a dramatic impact on a broad swath of research cutting across physics and mathematics. Take black holes, for example. String theory has resolved a vexing puzzle by identifying the microscopic carriers of their internal disorder, a feature discovered in the 1970s by Stephen Hawking. 

Looking back, I'm gratified at how far we've come but disappointed that a connection to experiment continues to elude us.

No matter what Jackie said, we should generally believe rape claims (Zerlina Maxwell, December 6, 2014, Washington Post)

Now the narrative appears to be falling apart: Her rapist wasn't in the frat that she says he was a member of; the house held no party on the night of the assault; and other details are wobbly. Many people (not least U-Va. administrators) will be tempted to see this as a reminder that officials, reporters and the general public should hear both sides of the story and collect all the evidence before coming to a conclusion in rape cases. This is what we mean in America when we say someone is "innocent until proven guilty." After all, look what happened to the Duke lacrosse players.

In important ways, this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM

SHOW US YOUR BUNS, BABY! (self-reference alert)

Man-buns are the sexiest thing in the world. This is why they drive us wild (Tshepo Mokoena and Megan Carpentier, 21 December 2014, The Guardian)

Disbelieve us all you want. But when you catch a woman (or man) in your life staring at not just a man's upswept hair but that intimate spot at the nape of a man's neck, framed by his bun and transformed into a detail on display for us ... well, don't say we didn't warn you.

A man-bun occupies that erotic space between androgynous and hypermasculine, simultaneously feminine in its length and masculine in it's devil-may-care updo - because a man-bun is never, ever tightly wound. It's just about the sexiest thing on the sidewalk. A reappropriation of the hard semi-androgyny of a ballet dancer's hair and the messy 'dos of a fashion runway, an iconoclastic moment of genderfuck, it's a style choice that is both high- and low-maintenance at once. Most of all, the man-bun makes us want to slowly take your hair down and run our fingers through it. And then it makes us want to do something else.

A well-kept man-bun sends all kinds of mixed signals without saying a word - but it definitely invites us to wonder.

Straddling both masculine peacocking and historically feminine hair length, the man-bun wearer knows that he is inviting the heteronormative female gaze - and he doesn't shy away from the glances of gay and bisexual men. The man-bun signals an adherence to completely messing with people's heads: with a suit, for instance, it also masterfully debunks stereotypes about long-haired men as slackers, hippies and low-ponytailed metalheads.

Man-buns ruffle feathers - and send hearts aflutter - because they embody a gender subversion without being arrogant or pretentious. When a man sweeps his hair into a bun and walks out the house, he says something - Yeah, this is me, and my face, and most likely my neck - in a manner we're used to seeing on women with long hair. He flips on his head (quite literally) the idea of an updo as a woman's look. Short haircuts show off men's faces as much as a bun, but they don't (and can't) compare to the bun's brashness.

So that upsweep of hair from your back isn't considered sexy nowadays?

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Japan's pet owners shower furry ones with holiday gifts, cakes and even vacations (Anna Fifield December 20, 2014, Washington Post)

Forget the kids. What are you doing for your dog this Christmas? How are you going to celebrate with your cat?

That's the question on the minds of many here in Japan, where, as in the United States, the number of pets far outstrips the number of children. And a candy cane-striped chew toy just isn't going to cut it. [...]

Such measures may sound over-the-top, but for many in Japan, pets are replacing children.

More Japanese are choosing to marry later or not at all. A Health Ministry report released this year showed that the number of weddings last year was the lowest since the end of World War II.

That's contributed to a fertility rate that is now about 1.4 -- well below the 2.07 needed to sustain Japan's population. If things continue this way, the population will plummet by almost a third by 2060.

That means that four-legged furries are increasingly the "offspring" of choice. There are 16 million people younger than 15 living in Japan but more than 20 million cats and dogs, according to the most recent figures from the Japan Pet Food Association.

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


NASA just 'emailed' a wrench to space for the first time (Rachel Feltman, December 19, 2014, Washington Post)

Now that the International Space Station has a 3-D printer, engineers can design new tools on the ground and then beam them up to space.

In September, Made In Space, Inc shipped a 3-D printer to the astronauts at ISS. In November it printed its first object -- a replacement part for itself.

But this is the first time it has printed a specially-designed tool on-demand, which is exactly the kind of work its designers hoped it would do.

"The socket wrench we just manufactured is the first object we designed on the ground and sent digitally to space, on the fly," Made In Space founder Mike Chen wrote on Medium. "This is the first time we've ever "emailed" hardware to space."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Retreating IS fighters call Kurds 'dogs of Israel' (LAZAR BERMAN December 21, 2014, Times of Israel)

Ties between Israel and the Kurds run deep. A Mossad officer named Sagi Chori was sent to help his close friend, the late iconic Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani, manage the Kurds' battles against the Iraqi army in the 1960s. There have also been persistent reports of Israel training Kurdish commandos. Nationalist Kurds tend to see Israel as a role model for an independent Kurdistan: a small nation surrounded by enemies and bolstered by a strategic partnership with the United States.

IS fighters retreated as the peshmerga closed in on the town of Sinjar, south of the mountain that bears the same name, and Tal Afar, to its east. If successful, the move would significantly alter the map of the Islamic State group's self-declared cross-border caliphate and isolate its Mosul hub.

The autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region's troops reached the flanks of Mount Sinjar with food and other aid three days after launching a vast operation in the region, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes.

They get it : it's war of Arab Salafists against Shi'a, Kurds, Turks, Indians, Christians and Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


U.S. Stocks Wrap Up Another Strong Year (BRETT ARENDS, Dec. 20, 2014, NY Times)

It has, for example, been an extremely nice year on the U.S. stock market. U.S. shares, including dividends, are up 11% so far this year, as measured by MSCI U.S. Stock Index. To put that in context, since the mid-1920s stocks have produced average annual total returns of about 9.5%, according to data tracked by the New York University Stern School of Business.

More importantly, stocks this year have outpaced the official inflation rate by about nine percentage points--an astonishing gain in "real" purchasing-power terms, and far above the historical average.

It ought to go without saying that the point of an economy is to create wealth.  How wealth gets distributed once it is created is a political question.

Joy to the world : What Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim can tell us about economics (The Economist, Dec 20th 2014)

If income is an imperfect proxy for quality of life, are there any plausible alternatives? In recent years many have instead focused on happiness. The United Nations has been publishing an annual "World Happiness Report" since 2012. The British government measures "personal well-being" across the country on an annual basis. Yet happiness has its own shortcomings, argues Martha Nussbaum of the University of Chicago. While Scrooge found it easy to count his riches, happiness is harder to pin down. People are prone to what philosophers call "adaptive preferences", meaning that they may fail to report their "true" happiness. "Tiny Tim" Cratchit, the annoyingly saintly hero of "A Christmas Carol", should not, by rights, be happy: he is crippled and desperately poor. Scrooge, despite his fabulous wealth and good health (Yuletide hallucinations aside), is miserable. Yet it would seem odd to conclude that Tiny Tim is better off.

If measuring happiness is so difficult, what else could economists look at? Amartya Sen, of Harvard University, argues that "capabilities" are the way to go. The definition of a capability is a bit fuzzy: at its simplest, a capability is something that people have reason to value. The list of potential capabilities is endless: the opportunity to live a long and healthy life, the freedom to take part in political life or to be well nourished. Capabilities, says Mr Sen, are ends that economists should strive to maximise: income is just one of the many means by which we get there.

That begs the question of which capabilities a society should maximise. Some worry that the capability approach is deeply paternalistic, with governments deciding what is best for their citizens. Leading theorists have reinforced that perception: Ms Nussbaum goes so far as to recommend "ten central capabilities" that are essential for a good life. For economists, who tend to be lovers of freedom, this is controversial stuff.

But the capability approach may be less illiberal than it seems. Insisting that GDP is the true measure of economic progress is itself a value-judgment. What is more, according to Mr Sen and Ms Nussbaum, people must have the freedom to select which capabilities they ultimately pursue. Freedom of choice has an impact on well-being; if you give people decent opportunities, what they ultimately decide to do gets less important. Someone who chooses to forgo a Christmas dinner with family and friends (as Scrooge does) is better off than someone who does not have any invitations to turn down, even though both people seem to end up in the same position. Everyone need not go to a Christmas dinner, even though many people get a lot from it.

Note the confusion they cause themselves by treating political/social questions as economic ones?  

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 4:26 AM


Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, I'm in the Mood for Swing


Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, When Lights Are Low

Both sessions in their entirety are available in various compilation CD's, including The Lionel Hampton Story.
Although these 2 sides are identified as Lionel Hampton sessions, they owe their greatness in large part to the compositions, arrangements and playing of Benny Carter  After spending almost 4 years in the mid-1930's living and playing in Europe, Benny returned to the United States in 1938.  Although his time in Europe was personally and professionally rewarding, the truth is that, with the exception of a half dozen songs recorded with group featuring guitarist Django Reinhardt and his old friend and compatriot Coleman Hawkins (found on Django with his American Friends), the quality of the musicians on the other side of the Atlantic was not up to the standards of their American counterparts, especially the rhythm players.  When Benny returned to the U.S., he was eager to once again play with, and have his music played by, the world's best jazz musicians. 
He didn't have to wait long.  Less than two months after he returned, Benny recorded four sides with Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra (with "Orchestra" perhaps overstating it since the group consisted of Hampton on vibes, one trumpet, three saxophones and a rhythm section).  Benny provided the arrangements for all four tunes, played solos on three of them and composed one, the session's first number, I'm in the Mood for Swing.  The record starts with Benny's catchy A-A-B-A melody.  The theme is played on open trumpet by Harry James, supported by riffing saxophones, with the saxes taking the bridge in harmony before James plays the recap of the A section.  The melody is followed by terrific solos from Benny and Hampton, both propelled along by the still-riffing sax section.  Carter's solo is particularly notable for its use of space, which gives each phrase its own special weight and, paradoxically, helps create a sensation of forward movement.  The solos are followed by 16-bars of the saxes playing in harmony a melodic line that sounds like it could have been one of Benny's improvised solos.  (This type of sax "soli" was a Carter trademark and one of his great contributions to the art of jazz arranging.)  Finally, Hampton comes in to solo over the bridge and final eight bars while the band (the saxes and James) play a counter melody.  Drummer Jo Jones keeps things swinging with his elegant timekeeping.  Here, in less than three minutes, are all of the elements of a great swing band recording: a fine tune, an arrangement which neatly balances ensemble playing with terrific individual solos and a first-rate rhythm section providing a danceable beat.
A little over a year later, Benny returned to the studio with another group called "Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra."  And although the lineup for the 1938 session was impressive (Hampton, Benny, Harry James, Herschel Evans on tenor and Jo Jones), this time Hampton assembled a truly astounding collection of talent: in addition to the leader, there was an all-time, all-star sax section of Carter and the great tenor men Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Ben Webster; Charlie Christian on guitar; Milt Hinton on bass; Cozy Cole on drums; and, oh yeah, some kid named Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet.  As with the 1938 session, this date started with an arrangement of a Benny original, this time his best-known and most enduring composition, When Lights Are Low.  After the first two A sections of the melody are played by the band, Hampton solos on the bridge, and Benny solos over the last eight bars.  After Hampton's 32 bar solo, Hawkins rides an interlude into his own 16 bar statement.  The final eight bars (plus four bar tag) have the horns re-imagining the melody while Hampton improvises on top.
In his book Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence musicologist Andre Hodeir wrote that this recording of When Lights Are Low may be regarded as "the apex of the ascending curve that symbolizes the evolution of swing."  I've never actually tried to plot the evolution of swing on graph paper (clearly, "year" would go on the x-axis, but what is the y-axis?), but I will say that as much as I love the great hits of Ellington, Basie, Goodman and the rest, I'd be hard-pressed to name two swing band records I like more than these versions of I'm in the Mood for Swing and When Lights Are Low.
Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all and thanks for reading these posts and sending comments.

December 20, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM


Two New York policemen 'assassinated,' says chief (JENNIE MATTHEW December 21, 2014, AFP)

New York Daily News named the attacker as 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, purportedly a gang member from Baltimore who first shot and wounded his girlfriend there before driving to Brooklyn.

Local media said the shooter boasted on his purported Instagram account just hours before the attack that he would kill police officers.

"They Take 1 Of Ours... Let's Take 2 of Theirs," read a comment next to a photo of a silver handgun, referencing the deaths at the hands of police of Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Ayn Rand Reviews Children's Movies (MALLORY ORTBERG, 12/19/14, The New Yorker)

"Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"

An industrious young woman neglects to charge for her housekeeping services and is rightly exploited for her naïveté. She dies without ever having sought her own happiness as the highest moral aim. I did not finish watching this movie, finding it impossible to sympathize with the main character. --No stars. [...]

"Old Yeller"

A farm animal ceases to be useful and is disposed of humanely. A valuable lesson for children. --Four stars. [...]

"Mary Poppins"

A woman takes a job with a wealthy family without asking for money in exchange for her services. An absurd premise. Later, her employer leaves a lucrative career in banking in order to play a children's game. --No stars.

"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory"

An excellent movie. The obviously unfit individuals are winnowed out through a series of entrepreneurial tests and, in the end, an enterprising young boy receives a factory. I believe more movies should be made about enterprising young boys who are given factories. --Three and a half stars. (Half a star off for the grandparents, who are sponging off the labor of Charlie and his mother. If Grandpa Joe can dance, Grandpa Joe can work.) [...]

"Charlotte's Web"

A farmer allows sentimental drawings by a bug to prevail over economic necessity and refuses to value his prize pig, Wilbur, by processing and selling him on the open market. Presumably, the pig still dies eventually, only without profiting his owners. The farmer's daughter, Fern, learns nothing except how to become an unsuccessful farmer. There is a rat in this movie. I quite liked the rat. He knew how to extract value from his environment. --Two stars.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


'The Interview' Release Would Have Damaged Kim Jong Un Internally, Says Rand Expert Who Saw Movie At Sony's Request (Lisa de Moraes, December 19, 2014, Deadline)

Rand Corporation senior defense analyst Bruce Bennett, who says he was asked by Sony chief Michael Lynton to look at The Interview, said today the depiction of Kim Jong Un in the movie would have harmed the North Korean leader once the "elite" in his country got hold of the DVD and began sharing it. That's why North Korea hacked Sony, he speculated. [...]

Bennett says Sony chief Michael Lynton sits on the Rand board of trustees and asked him, as a favor, to look at the movie. "I told him I thought it was coarse, that it was over the top in some areas, but that I thought the depiction of Kim Jong Un was a picture that needed to get into North Korea. There are a lot of people in prison camps in North Korea who need to take advantage of a change of thinking in the north."

Bennett told Blitzer if the DVD gets into the country, it will have an effect "over time."

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Technical Advances Mean Every Day Is Christmas (Ross Pomeroy, December 19, 2014, RCP)

Just look at a few of the advances that happened this year:

-- Only 10 weeks after Christmas 2013, the holiday returned in March. Chemists at Notre Dame created a new class of antibiotics to do battle against the infamous MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria. Drug-resistant bacteria currently claim an estimated 700,000 lives each year. That may rise to 10 million by 2050 if the most dire predictions come true. Researchers are resolved to make sure they don't.

-- It felt like Christmas Day on April 30, when physicists announced that they had constructed a tractor beam that can pull microscopic objects with sound waves. According to Hamish Johnston, who reported on the breakthrough for Physics World, the technology could be used to deliver encapsulated drugs to the precise location inside the body that requires treatment.

-- Christmas came early in September, when Apple announced a watch that's like a gadget out of "Star Trek." The Apple Watch wraps an incredible amount of technology around your wrist. Even more importantly, it offers a medium for other tinkerers to toy with. A single app can transform the device from a simple timekeeper to a life-improving gadget.

-- It came again in October, when Lockheed Martin unveiled plans for a compact nuclear fusion reactor that can fit on a truck and power a city of 100,000 people, with almost no pollution. Sewing this vision into reality will be an uphill task, but imagine if it worked. Fusion, quite literally the power of the stars, has the potential to uplift civilization as few other inventions can, producing clean, practically limitless energy.

Twice this month it has already felt like Christmas morning. On Dec. 9, a team of scientists reported that they had engineered artificial skin that's sensitive to heat, humidity, and pressure, bringing us closer to the crafting of prosthetic limbs as functional as the real things. The technological artistry involved was staggering. "The bulk of the new skin is composed of a flexible, transparent silicone material called polydimethylsiloxane -- or PDMS. Embedded within it are silicon nanoribbons that generate electricity when they're squished or stretched, providing a source of tactile feedback," Sarah Fecht described in Popular Science.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


Lesbian employees earn 8% more than straights in UK, while gay men get 5% less (Jerin Mathew, December 19, 2014, IBT)

Lesbian employees in the UK earn 8% more than their straight counterparts, while gay men are paid 5% less than straight men, according to a study.

The study commissioned by the World Bank and the economic research institute IZA World of Labor found that sexual orientation is seemingly affecting job access, satisfaction, earning prospects and interaction with colleagues.

Studies for the period 1989-2014 for lesbian workers suggest that the earnings differences between lesbians and heterosexual women of comparable education, skills, and experience vary by country.

In the US, lesbians' pay is 20% higher than straight women, while it is 15% higher in Canada and 11% higher in Germany.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


IS said to execute 100 foreign fighters who wanted to quit (AFP, December 20, 2014)

IS fighters in Raqqa said the group has created a military police to clamp down on foreign fighters who do not report for duty. Dozens of homes have been raided and many jihadists have been arrested, the FT reported.

Some jihadists have become disillusioned with the realities of fighting in Syria, reports have said. [...]

Since a US-led coalition began a campaign of airstrikes against IS in August, the extremist group has lost ground to local forces and seen the number of its fighters killed rise significantly.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders (Shikha Dalmia, December 19, 2014, The Week)

Regimes change course only when the cost of maintaining the status quo exceeds the cost of enacting change. This is not to minimize the cost of scores of innocent young lives. But to Pakistan's political leaders, the price of these children's lives is still lower than the toll of a veritable civil war with an intelligence service that has long played footsie with extremist groups it finds geopolitically useful.

Ever since its inception over six decades ago, Pakistan has been obsessed with countering its neighbor, India. Some fear is obviously warranted given that nuclear-armed India is six times bigger in both size and population, and its predominantly Hindu population has no love lost for Pakistan. But Pakistan's fears have taken almost pathological proportions. And India's secular democracy has done a relatively decent job of keeping its own belligerence in check (even when the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power, although the jury is out on the party's current prime minister, Narendra Modi, who has a track record of tolerating anti-Muslim violence).

Thanks partly to exaggerated fears about India, Pakistan has built its army and its intelligence arm, the Inter-Intelligence Service (ISI), into all-powerful entities that are scarcely answerable to civilian rulers. Indeed, no Pakistani government can survive without their support. The army and ISI know it, and demand free rein over the nation's foreign and defense priorities.

They threw in Pakistan's lot with America during the Cold War not because they appreciated American democracy and freedom, but simply as a counterweight to India's alliance with the Soviet Union. But after the U.S.-backed Afghani guerrillas defeated Russian forces in the 1980s, Pakistan helped the Taliban defeat its rivals and take control rather than allowing Kabul to return to secular monarchical rule, lest it ally with India. Furthermore, although Pakistan denies it, ISI has colluded with the Taliban to train and arm Islamist terrorist groups to conduct a proxy war in Kashmir, the Muslim-dominated border state that Pakistan wants to wrest out of India's control.

This is also why it was vital for ISI to reinstate the Taliban in Afghanistan after NATO forces toppled the group in the wake of 9/11. Even though the Taliban had become a pariah in the world thanks to its retrograde ideology and harboring of al Qaeda, ISI offered it sanctuary, training, camps, expertise, and fundraising advise. "ISI support was critical to the survival and revival of the Taliban after 9/11," notes the Brooking Institute's Bruce Riedel, "just as it was critical to its conquest of Afghanistan in the 1990s."

ISI even allowed a rump group of Pashtun Taliban fighters driven out of Afghanistan by American forces to settle in North Waziristan and open a Pakistani chapter. Since then, however, this group has chafed at the ignominy of having to live under Pakistani rule and wants to impose sharia on the whole province -- if not all of Pakistan.

If Waziristan is permanently ungovernable, then it must be made permanently unlivable.  A sovereign is a precondition of modern life.

Pakistan's 9/11? (AYESHA SIDDIQADEC. 19, 2014, NY Times)

[P]akistan's leaders want to keep at least some militants around to fight India and re-establish some influence in Afghanistan. Even as the Pakistani military was conducting its anti-Taliban offensive in North Waziristan in recent months, it refrained from going after the Haqqani Network, an insurgent group that staged several attacks in Afghanistan this summer, or the thousands of militants in Punjab and Sindh who the military thinks might one day serve as proxy fighters against India.

One popular narrative distinguishes these various terrorist groups according to three broad categories: those fighting other sectarian groups in Pakistan, those fighting in Afghanistan and those fighting in India. But these differences are illusive. Lashkar-e-Taiba, whose primary purpose is to challenge India's control over Kashmir, also calls for jihad generally: Its supporters leave graffiti in streets throughout Pakistan calling for war against the United States and the West. Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Muhammad are revivalist Sunni groups that call for the establishment of a Shariah-based political system, but they multitask, too.

All are tolerated by the government. Jaish-e-Muhammad, which is known to cultivate links with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, is allowed to run madrasas in South Punjab and to produce literature that calls for killing religious minorities and burning alleged blasphemers. Hafiz Saeed, the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, has appeared on television advocating jihad against India.

The party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N, is accused of maintaining close ties with the leaders of Punjab-based militants. The opposition PTI is seen as a Taliban sympathizer: Its leader, Imran Khan, said at a political rally earlier this year that the Taliban "did not want to enforce Shariah in the country at gunpoint," but "wanted to liberate it from the U.S. war," according to Dawn, a Pakistani newspaper. The power base of the PPP, the social-democrat party of the Bhutto-Zardari clan, includes right-wing politicians and their militant partners in the southern province of Sindh.

More important, none of these political actors has the strength to challenge the military's policy of tolerating terrorist groups that are hostile to India. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


A Model Senator (Andrew Ferguson, December 29, 2014, Weekly Standard)

Much of Coburn's appeal lies in an apparently bottomless insouciance. (He once mentioned that he was well into college before he even heard of marijuana, which proves that Merle Haggard was right: They really didn't smoke it in Muskogee.) In his most passionate moments he seemed baffled that the workings of politics and government don't operate disinterestedly and out in the open, for all to see, as the Founders intended. He spent a fair amount of time in his farewell speech offering apologies. "To those of you through the years whom I have offended, I truly apologize," he said, though even the sincerest apology couldn't make him cross his view of the Constitution. "I believe the enumerated powers meant something," he went on. "When I have offended, I believe it has been on the basis of my belief in Article I, Section 8." That's the section listing the things Congress is permitted by the Constitution to do. Senators might want to get staff to look it up. 

A pest and a gentleman and a man of firm principle--but not an ideologue, the off-the-shelf epithet tossed at him by a ditzy press and exasperated colleagues. His pragmatism is another reason he was always worth paying attention to. The lack of ideological rigidity most often served to expose the rigidity of others. When he sponsored a bill to cut agriculture subsidies to people who make more than $1 million a year, he was blocked by the same Democrats who complain that millionaires are undertaxed. When he grudgingly supported the timid tax increases in the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction proposal, he was disparaged by Republicans who say our debt is a form of national suicide--but nothing to raise taxes over. Most of the time he was asking his colleagues to put their money where their mouths were. And no one ever caught him in double-dealing or hypocrisy. That cut in agriculture subsidies, for example: It applied to millionaires in Oklahoma too. They voted for him anyway.

After his farewell speech, his fellow senators gave Coburn a standing ovation. We join his countless admirers in the general applause, but we can't help but wonder: Were the senators cheering his speech or his decision to retire and--finally--leave them alone?

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


US drone missile attack kills five Taliban in Pakistan (Munir Ahmed, 12/20/14, Associated Press)

A U.S. drone fired two missiles at militant hideout in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least five Taliban fighters, two security officials said.

In a separate operation, the military said Pakistani security forces killed five "terrorists" on the outskirts of Peshawar, where the Pakistani Taliban carried out a school massacre earlier this week, killing 148 people, mainly children.

Many Pakistanis saw the massacre as an incomparable horror and called for the government to retaliate.

We did.
Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Next Up in America: The Liberal Retreat : The Obama administration may represent "Peak Left" in American politics. As a result, what we are getting from the left these days is a mix of bewilderment and anger as it realizes that this is as good as it gets. (WALTER RUSSELL MEAD, 12/19/14, American Interest)

As the United States staggers toward the seventh year of Barack Obama's tenure in the White House, a growing disquiet permeates the ranks of the American left. After six years of the most liberal President since Jimmy Carter, the nation doesn't seem to be asking for a second helping. Even though the multiyear rollout of Obamacare was carefully crafted to put all the popular features up front, delaying less popular changes into the far future, the program remains unpopular. Trust in the fairness and competence of government is pushing toward new lows in the polls, even though the government is now in the hands of forward-looking, progressive Democrats rather than antediluvian Gopers.

For liberals, these are bleak times of hollow victories (Obamacare) and tipping points that don't tip. For examples of the latter, think of Sandy Hook, the horrific massacre in Connecticut that Democrats and liberals everywhere believed would finally push the American public toward gun control. Two years later, polls show more Americans than ever before think it's more important to protect gun access than to promote gun control.

Sandy Hook isn't the only example. There was the latest 2014 IPCC report on climate change that was going to end the debate once and for all. The chances for legislative action on climate change in the new Congress: zero or less. There was Ferguson and the Garner videotape showing the fatal chokehold, both of which set off a wave of protests but seem unlikely to change public attitudes about the police. There was the Senate Intelligence Committee "torture report" that was going to settle the issue of treatment of detainees. Again, the polls are rolling in suggesting that the public remains exactly where it was: supportive of "torture" under certain circumstances. And of course there was the blockbuster Rolling Stone article on campus rape at UVA, the story that, before it abruptly collapsed, was going to cement public support for the Obama administration's aggressive attempt to federalize the treatment of sexual harassment on campuses around the country.

In all of these cases, liberals got what, from a liberal perspective, appeared to be conclusive evidence that long cherished liberal policy ideas were as correct as liberals have always thought they were. In all of these cases the establishment media conformed to the liberal narrative, inundating the airwaves and flooding the cyberverse with the liberal line. Some of the stories, like the UVA rape story, collapsed. Some, like the Ferguson story, became so complex and nuanced that some of their initial political salience diminished. But even when, as with Ferguson, other follow-up stories seem to reinforce the initial liberal take (the Garner case, for example), the public still doesn't seem to accept the liberal line or draw the inferences that liberals want it to draw. It's becoming hard to avoid the conclusion that many Americans will continue to disagree with many liberal policy prescriptions no matter what.

Not to mention that, when the history books are written, the Obama Administration will be remembered for just three things : the Heritage health plan; massive expansion of free trade; and the invariant continuation of W's WoT.  Peak Liberal turns out to have been moderate Republican.  He is their Nixon.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


The reason oil could drop as low as $20 per barrel (Anatole Kaletsky, December 19, 2014, Reuters)

The history of inflation-adjusted oil prices, deflated by the U.S. Consumer Price Index, offers some intriguing hints. The 40 years since OPEC first flexed its muscles in 1974 can be divided into three distinct periods. From 1974 to 1985, West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, fluctuated between $48 and $120 in today's money. From 1986 to 2004, the price ranged from $21 to $48 (apart from two brief aberrations during the 1998 Russian crisis and the 1991 war in Iraq). And from 2005 until this year, oil has again traded in its 1974 to 1985 range of roughly $50 to $120, apart from two very brief spikes in the 2008-09 financial crisis.

What makes these three periods significant is that the trading range of the past 10 years was very similar to the 1974-85 first decade of OPEC domination, but the 19 years from 1986 to 2004 represented a totally different regime. It seems plausible that the difference between these two regimes can be explained by the breakdown of OPEC power in 1985 and the shift from monopolistic to competitive pricing for the next 20 years, followed by the restoration of monopoly pricing in 2005 as OPEC took advantage of surging Chinese demand.

In view of this history, the demarcation line between the monopolistic and competitive regimes at a little below $50 a barrel seems a reasonable estimate of where one boundary of the new long-term trading range might end up. But will $50 be a floor or a ceiling for the oil price in the years ahead?

There are several reasons to expect a new trading range as low as $20 to $50, as in the period from 1986 to 2004. Technological and environmental pressures are reducing long-term oil demand and threatening to turn much of the high-cost oil outside the Middle East into a "stranded asset" similar to the earth's vast unwanted coal reserves. Additional pressures for low oil prices in the long term include the possible lifting of sanctions on Iran and Russia and the ending of civil wars in Iraq and Libya, which between them would release additional oil reserves bigger than Saudi Arabia's on to the world markets.

The U.S. shale revolution is perhaps the strongest argument for a return to competitive pricing instead of the OPEC-dominated monopoly regimes of 1974-85 and 2005-14. Although shale oil is relatively costly, production can be turned on and off much more easily - and cheaply - than from conventional oilfields. This means that shale prospectors should now be the "swing producers" in global oil markets instead of the Saudis. In a truly competitive market, the Saudis and other low-cost producers would always be pumping at maximum output, while shale shuts off when demand is weak and ramps up when demand is strong. This competitive logic suggests that marginal costs of U.S. shale oil, generally estimated at $40 to $50, should in the future be a ceiling for global oil prices, not a floor. that the Sa'uds and the Shi'a will fight each other with oil prices.  And the loss of oil revenues will reform both regimes.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Uh Oh: Tom Brady Is Celebrating Again (KEVIN CLARK, Dec. 18, 2014, WSJ)

Catching touchdowns from Brady, the New England Patriots' superstar quarterback, is the easy part this season. The hard part is dealing with his celebrations.

"You've got to--got to--be prepared for his head-butts and high-fives, because they are coming...You've got to brace yourself. It doesn't look like much coming at you but it's intense," said Patriots wide receiver Brian Tyms. "If he throws the ball 50 yards and you run 50 yards and score, he's going to run all 50 yards and head-butt the hell out of you."

The message is clear: Keep your head on a swivel, because Brady might be pumped up.

As the 37-year-old Brady has gotten older, teammates say he has developed a type of celebration that calls for constant preparedness: the random head-butt, high-five or both. Brady has thrown 391 career touchdown passes, the fifth-most all-time, yet somehow he is getting more excited than before.

Normally, anyone would want to be seen with Brady, a three-time Super Bowl winner who is arguably the coolest guy in the NFL. But if Brady is fired up, it is best to keep a safe distance.

Almost every teammate--defensive players included--has been the victim of a sudden Brady head butt this season.

He's a walking concussion crisis.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


A global conspiracy of health (Michael Gerson,  December 18, 2014, NY Times)

There are a variety of reasons for increased child survival, including improved prevention of malaria and HIV. But according to a recent report in the Lancet, about half of these gains came from reductions in pneumonia, diarrhea and measles -- diseases addressed by vaccination. We are seeing the continuation of what is perhaps the greatest scientific contribution to human well-being: the artificial preparation of the immune system to ward off bacteria and viruses.

The provision of vaccines is a particularly clear instance of what economists call a global public good. A tetanus shot, for example, is a very good thing for the individual getting it; he or she doesn't end up with lockjaw. But it is not, strictly speaking, a public good. Only the treated person benefits. The broad provision of the pneumococcal vaccine, in contrast, creates herd immunity and reduces antimicrobial resistance. The circulation of pneumonia in children is diminished, helping protect the elderly as well. Once this public good is produced, everyone can enjoy it without reducing anyone else's share.

What is exceptional about this particular public good is how much of it has been generated by a single source. People love to speculate about shadowy global institutions -- the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission. But one little-known global institution based in Geneva -- Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance -- supports vaccination for nearly 60 percent of the world's children. It is a global conspiracy of health.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Putin's Bubble Bursts (Paul Krugman, 12/18/14, NY Times)

[W]hile oil has indeed plunged, the ruble has plunged even more, and the damage to the Russian economy reaches far beyond the oil sector. Why?

Actually, it's not a puzzle -- and this is, in fact, a movie currency-crisis aficionados like yours truly have seen many times before: Argentina 2002, Indonesia 1998, Mexico 1995, Chile 1982, the list goes on. The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad -- specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country.

In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation's currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses -- which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros -- implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more. And Russia fits the standard playbook.

Except for one thing. Usually, the way a country ends up with a lot of foreign debt is by running trade deficits, using borrowed funds to pay for imports. But Russia hasn't run trade deficits. On the contrary, it has consistently run large trade surpluses, thanks to high oil prices. So why did it borrow so much money, and where did the money go?

Well, you can answer the second question by walking around Mayfair in London, or (to a lesser extent) Manhattan's Upper East Side, especially in the evening, and observing the long rows of luxury residences with no lights on -- residences owned, as the line goes, by Chinese princelings, Middle Eastern sheikhs, and Russian oligarchs. Basically, Russia's elite has been accumulating assets outside the country -- luxury real estate is only the most visible example -- and the flip side of that accumulation has been rising debt at home.

Where does the elite get that kind of money? The answer, of course, is that Putin's Russia is an extreme version of crony capitalism, indeed, a kleptocracy in which loyalists get to skim off vast sums for their personal use. It all looked sustainable as long as oil prices stayed high. But now the bubble has burst, and the very corruption that sustained the Putin regime has left Russia in dire straits.

Putin put all his chips on peak oil.  Of course, he wasn't the only one who fell for the canard, The Finite World (PAUL KRUGMAN, December 26, 2010, NY Times)

Oil is back above $90 a barrel. Copper and cotton have hit record highs. Wheat and corn prices are way up. Over all, world commodity prices have risen by a quarter in the past six months.

Is it speculation run amok? Is it the result of excessive money creation, a harbinger of runaway inflation just around the corner? No and no.

What the commodity markets are telling us is that we're living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. 

Cuba hopes to spur oil industry  (JENNIFER KAY and JONATHAN FAHEY, 12/20/14, Associated Press)

One of the most prolific oil and gas basins on the planet sits just off Cuba's northwest coast, and the thaw in relations with the United States is giving rise to hopes that Cuba can now get in on the action.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Netanyahu shatters Israel's image (Alon Ben-Mei, 12/19/14, Asia Times)

No Israeli government has shattered Israel's international image more than the administration of Benjamin Netanyahu has done over the past six years. Not only have Netanyahu and his cohorts systematically engaged in rancorous public narratives against the Palestinians, they have taken action that could only attest to his unwavering commitment to expand the settlements and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. 

Although the Palestinians have also contributed to the enmity and distrust between the two sides, the conduct of Netanyahu and company has left Israel isolated and scorned while dramatically shifting international public opinion in favor of the Palestinians. 

To promote his political scheme, Netanyahu has skillfully linked every conflicting issue with the Palestinians to Israel's national security. He masterfully manipulated public opinion over the years to justify his misadventures and continued occupation in the name of national security, while bringing the peace process to a grinding halt. 

He has engaged in double talk; on the one hand, he publicly endorsed the two-state solution, yet on the other hand he missed no opportunity to proclaim Israel's inherent right to the whole "Biblical land of Israel", which makes the establishment of a Palestinian state a farce. 

He, like many of his predecessors, continued the expansion of settlements, except that Netanyahu went about it with zeal, gradually diminishing the prospect of a Palestinian state while defying the international community's plea to halt this illegal enterprise. 

He's made the case in a way the Palestinians themselves failed to, by removing even the illusion of regret over the occupation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


That time Obama called on only women at a press conference (Nia-Malika Henderson, December 19, 2014, Washington Post) 

President Obama did something remarkable on Friday. He held his last press conference of the year, and the only people in the entire press corps who were called on to ask questions were women. Yes, this was on purpose; it had to be.

...that when you do that you degrade them?  After all, you just explicitly chose them based on their gender, not their qualifications.  And, of course, you limited the ability of the men in the room to do their jobs based exclusively on their gender. He essentially made it National Quota Hire Day.

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


The End of Cuba's Double Despotism (Robert Sirico, 12/20/14, RCP)

I was in Cuba in 1998 when St. John Paul II visited the island and called for "opening the world to Cuba and Cuba to the world." Pope Francis, as the first Latin American pope and who is no stranger to the plight of the oppressed, is reported to have played a critical role in the restoration of diplomatic ties. Since the beginning of his pontificate he has been relentlessly calling for an economy of inclusion. What, indeed, could be more inclusive than trade and travel?

After all, serious human rights violations are not effectively addressed through sanctions and protectionism. Open trade involves more than economics, but include cultural exchange opportunities as well, increasing the occasions for outsiders to observe and report on conditions. At the same time greater prosperity in Cuba will tend to give the Cuban people more options and resources to direct their own lives, even if, the regime maintains all the internal restrictions in place.

A synthesis of free market economics within an overall moral framework requires a consistent application of the principle that free trade and human rights ought to mutually complement each other. The kind of embargo that was erected against Cuba a half century ago has not only been politically fruitless and economically harmful to the very people we say we want to help; it is morally dubious as well. Who really thinks that we can get people to be more like us when we enact policies (in this case, restriction of trade) when we act more like them?

Free trade is not the solution to all economic, social and political problems. Nor does anyone expect it to be. That said, on my visits to Cuba and China, I have yet to meet anyone who thought restricting trade or travel helped, all of which will have to be negotiated once relations are normalized. Mutatis mutandis, those unfortunate to have to live under oppressive regimes are among the first to long for U.S. companies to setting up shop in their countries, gain new markets for their own products and will increase contact and opportunity for themselves. To have more exchanges with Americans at every level, whether it is through tourism, educational, trade or technological exchange, is what many Cubans want.

...soeties you just have to accept that you won and move on.

The Cuban Regime Is a Defeated Foe : In time, normalized relations will serve the cause of freedom. (PEGGY NOONAN, Dec. 18, 2014, WSJ)

If a change in policy is in the American national interest, then it is a good idea. If it is not, then it is a bad idea, and something we should not do.

In another era that would be so obvious as not to bear repeating. But seeing to our national interests (just as we expect other nations to see to theirs) has been rather lost along the way by our leaders the past dozen years, and now sounds almost touchingly quaint.

But with that guiding principle, some questions on establishing new and closer ties with Cuba:

Was it ever in our nation's interests to have, 90 miles off our shore, an avowed and active enemy?


Is it now in our nation's interests to have, 90 miles off our shore, an avowed and active enemy?


Is it in the national interest to attempt to change this circumstance, if only gradually and hopefully, but with a sense that breaking the status quo might yield rewards?

Yes. If the new policy succeeds and leaves an old foe less active and avowed we will be better off, and it's always possible, life being surprising, that we'll be much better off. If the policy fails we'll be no worse off than we were and can revert back to the old order, yanking out our embassy and re-erecting old barriers.

An Island of Regret : Republicans should have been the ones to change U.S. policy toward Cuba. (Jean Card Dec. 19, 2014, US News)

Finally, I admit that I struggled with a feeling of regret on behalf of my party -- that feeling of "I wish we'd done this first."

And don't even try to tell me that a lot of conservatives didn't feel the same way. It's tough to launch straight into full-throated criticism on this one if you believe in the potency of liberty -- that opening the door, even if just a crack (and this week's announcement appears to resemble a crack rather than a large opening), so an oppressed people can see what freedom looks like, feels like, sounds like, can help freedom take root. If you believe that, you want the leaders on your side to be the ones to crack that door open. Or better yet, to throw it open in a dictator's face.

When I was an appointee in the Bush administration, I surprised colleagues with my belief that the U.S. should lift the Cuba trade embargo. I tried to explain to my fellow appointees that "freedom and free-trade totally go together!" This admittedly-over-simplified argument fell mostly on deaf ears. A few colleagues even called me a "liberal" for saying it, which I found baffling.

A more substantive conversation at the time with a co-worker who was Cuban-American and a true, philosophical free-market conservative ended in this blunt statement: "We don't have a Cuba policy. We have a South Florida policy."

December 19, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Hamas bolstering its capabilities and coming up with new strategies in the wake of the war, reports say (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 19, 2014)

The Hamas terror group has been redoubling its efforts to restore the cross-border offensive tunnels that were destroyed by Israel during last summer's war in the Gaza Strip, Israeli media reported Friday morning.

According to the reports, some of the cement and other materials being delivered to the coastal Palestinian territory, as part of an international rebuilding effort, has been diverted to the tunnels.

Hamas has realized that the tunnels, which were used to stage attacks on Israeli military targets during the war, provide it with a psychological edge over residents of Israeli border towns in the area, Israel Radio reported in an unsourced report.

However, military sources told The Times of Israel on Friday that Hamas was being careful not to divert cement that is being supplied to the Strip for rebuilding. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Gaza group has also begun restocking its depleted rocket arsenal, the Hebrew media reports said. Some rockets are imported through smuggling tunnels from Egypt and others are manufactured in the Strip. Many of the smuggling tunnels -- one of Hamas's main sources of revenue -- were still open for business, despite massive efforts by Egypt to crack down on them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Obama says he wants to work with GOP Congress on tax reform, infrastructure spending (Associated Press, Dec. 19, 2014)

President Barack Obama says he will try to undertake an overhaul of the tax system with the new Republican majorities in Congress. He says the "devil is in the details."

He says the tax system needs to be simpler and fairer.

Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


U.S. ends TARP with $15.3 billion profit (Chris Isidore, December 19, 2014, CNNMoney)

The U.S. government essentially closed the books on TARP with a $15.3 billion profit.

Treasury sold its remaining shares Friday in Ally Financial, its last remaining major stake from the $426 billion bailout of banks and the U.S. auto industry.

...that it would be too successful.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Romney: Release 'The Interview' for free online (Cory Bennett - 12/17/14, The Hill)

Mitt Romney, the Republican's 2012 presidential nominee, wants Sony Pictures to release its controversial comedy, "The Interview," for free online.

The movie studio decided Wednesday to pull the film, which depicts the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, in response to violent threats from hackers.

Hours later, the former Massachusetts governor tweeted at Sony.
".@SonyPictures don't cave, fight: release @TheInterview free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight #Ebola."

...why not buy the rights, post it online, and precede it with a one minute ad extolling our 1st Amendment rights.

Posted by orrinj at 2:47 PM



Bette Davis once said, "When a man gives his opinion, he's a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she's a b***h." But the films that champion strong females break the rule with so many exceptions. From Eleanor of Aquitaine (The Lion in Winter) to Cheryl Strayed (Wild), this series puts independent, clever and brave women front and center.


December 18, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


More bad news for Putin: Russia's banks need to be bailed out now (Matt O'Brien, December 18, 2014, Washington Post)

The latest news is that Russia's banks are going to need a bailout, and soon. The interest rate they charge each other on short-term loans--which shows how much they believe in each other's solvency--shot up to 28.3 percent on Thursday, higher than it was even during the 2008 crisis. And, to give you an idea how big the black hole in Russian bank balance sheets must be, this is all happening despite the fact that the central bank just said that banks could pretend that they don't have losses. Okay, it didn't exactly say that, but close enough. Specifically, Russian banks can stop marking their losses to market, and use the old exchange rate to calculate the "value" of the assets on their books. Potemkin balance sheets, though, aren't enough to fool the bankers themselves. They know how screwed their banks are, so they don't trust any others. The Russian government is going to have to inject money--and real money, like dollars--into the banks to end this credit crunch.

That's money that Russia is going to start running out of. It spent $80 billion unsuccessfully defending the ruble this year, and although it has over $400 billion left, only half of that may really be useable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Iran unveils monument to Iran-Iraq War Jewish 'martyrs' (JTA, 12/18/14)

Iran unveiled a monument to Jews who died during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

IRNA, the official Iranian news agency posted photos of the ceremony Monday, headlined "Monument to Jewish Martyrs Unveiled in Tehran."

The page was captioned, "Iran on Monday unveiled a monument to the Jewish citizens who lost their lives in the 8-year Iraqi imposed war on Iran."

The monument, a gold colored slab with inscriptions in Persian and topped by an artistic representation of the Hebrew phrase, "Peace Forever," appears to be set in a Jewish cemetery.

Another slab bears a tiled depiction of a gold seven-stemmed Menorah set against a royal blue background.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Are Drone Strikes More Defensible Than Torture? (Victor Davis Hanson, December 18, 2014, Real Clear Politics)

Since 2004, drones have killed an estimated 2,400 to 3,888 individuals in Pakistan alone, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London. An estimated 345 to 553 individuals in Yemen have been killed in drone strikes over the same period. The BIJ reports that the Obama administration has "markedly stepped up the use of drones. Since Obama's inauguration in 2009, the CIA has launched 330 strikes on Pakistan -- his predecessor, President George Bush, conducted 51 strikes in four years."

On some occasions, drones blew up women and children in the target area. According to the BIJ, casualties of the drone strikes include 480 to 1,042 civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.

How is assassinating a suspected terrorist -- and anyone unfortunate enough to be in his general vicinity -- with a drone missile morally or legally different from waterboarding a confessed terrorist at Guantanamo Bay? At least the waterboarded suspect survives the ordeal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Stephen Hawking's God-Haunted Movie (Robert Barron, 12/18/14, Real Clear Religion)

The great British physicist Stephen Hawking has emerged in recent years as a poster boy for atheism, and his heroic struggles against the ravages of Lou Gehrig's disease have made him something of a secular saint. The new bio-pic A Theory of Everything does indeed engage in a fair amount of Hawking-hagiography, but it is also, curiously, a God-haunted movie.

In one of the opening scenes, the young Hawking meets Jane, his future wife, in a bar and tells her that he is a cosmologist. "What's cosmology?" she asks, and he responds, "Religion for intelligent atheists." "What do cosmologists worship?" she persists. And he replies, "A single unifying equation that explains everything in the universe." Later on, Stephen brings Jane to his family's home for dinner and she challenges him, "You've never said why you don't believe in God." He says, "A physicist can't allow his calculations to be muddled by belief in a supernatural creator," to which she deliciously responds, "Sounds less of an argument against God than against physicists."

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


This Is Now the Average Life Expectancy Worldwide (Justin Worland, Dec. 17, 2014, TIME)

Life expectancy across the globe has increased by more than six years since 1990 to 71.5 years, according to a new study.

"The progress we are seeing against a variety of illnesses and injuries is good, even remarkable, but we can and must do even better," said lead study author Christopher Murray, a University of Washington professor, in a press release.

The study, published Wednesday in the Lancet journal, showed declines in the number of deaths from cancer and cardiovascular disease in high-income countries as well as in deaths from diarrhea and neonatal complications elsewhere. Both of these trends contributed to the overall decline. Importantly, medical funding for fighting infectious diseases has grown since 1990 and helped drive the improvement, according to Murray.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Norks Nix Yanks' Pix (Mark Steyn, December 17, 2014)

I was barely aware of The Interview until, while sitting through a trailer for what seemed like just another idiotic leaden comedy, my youngest informed me that the North Koreans had denounced the film as "an act of war". If it is, they seem to have won it fairly decisively: Kim Jong-Un has just vaporized a Hollywood blockbuster as totally as if one of his No Dong missiles had taken out the studio. As it is, the fellows with no dong turned out to be the executives of Sony Pictures.

I wouldn't mind but this is the same industry that congratulates itself endlessly - not least in its annual six-hour awards ceremony - on its artists' courage and bravery. Called on to show some for the first time in their lives, they folded like a cheap suit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Why Liberals Really, Really Hate Us (Spengler, December 18th, 2014, PJM)

The antics of the "small and arrogant oligarchy" that controls the temples of liberal orthodoxy have turned into comic material that Monty Python couldn't have dreamed up a generation ago. There are now dozens of prospective genders, at least according to the gender studies departments at elite universities. What do the feminists of Wellesley College do, for example, when its women become men? The problem is that no-one quite knows what they have become, as a recent New York Times Magazine feature complained:

Some two dozen other matriculating students at Wellesley don't identify as women. Of those, a half-dozen or so were trans men, people born female who identified as men, some of whom had begun taking testosterone to change their bodies. The rest said they were transgender or genderqueer, rejecting the idea of gender entirely or identifying somewhere between female and male; many, like Timothy, called themselves transmasculine.

Use the wrong terminology and you're burned for a bigot. There used to be jokes such as: "How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, and it's not funny." You can't tell that sort of joke about  Wellesley because the LGBTs never will agree on the lightbulb's gender. There are rare cases of babies born with ambiguous genitalia, to be sure. There also are a few individuals obsessed from early childhood with the idea that they were born in the wrong body. They have difficult lives and deserve sympathy (but not public mandates for sex-change operations). Gender ambiguity in its morphological infinitude as a field of personal self-development, though, has become the laboratory for cutting-edge liberal thinking, the ultimate expression of self-invention. LGTB Studies (or "Queer Studies") departments have or soon will be established at most of America's top universities, classifying, advocating and defending an ever-expanding number of newly-categorized gender identities.

Newly-invented identities are as fragile as flower petals, and those unfortunate enough to bear them know it better than anyone else. The Queer Studies crowd is particularly ripe in that regard, but the same applies to all the ethnic-cum-racial identities incubated in American universities. Look at them cross-eyed, and you're a racist. That accounts for the new Inquisition against covert racism, whose silliest expression is "Micro-Aggression." Heather Mac Donald at City Journal reports on the witchhunt at Berkeley against a professor of impeccable liberal credentials, Val Rust, for such micro-aggressive crimes against "scholars of color" as encouraging them to employ the punctuation and capitalization standards of The Chicago Manual of Style in their PhD. dissertations. "Asking for better grammar is inflammatory in the school," Mac Donald quotes a teaching assistant.  "You have to give an A or you're a racist."

For the crime of imperialist punctuation, the unfortunate Prof. Rust was confronted with a "Manifesto" that stated:

The silence on the repeated assailment of our work by white female colleagues, our professor's failure to acknowledge and assuage the escalating hostility directed at the only Male of Color in this cohort, as well as his own repeated questioning of this male's intellectual and professional decisions all support a complacency in this hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.

People who write such rot know they are ridiculous, and demand from the rest of us that we do not giggle. Berkeley recalls the scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian where the centurions try desperately not to laugh at the name of Pontius Pilate's friend.

Can you microapologize for a microaggression?

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


How modern art became trapped by its urge to shock : There are two kinds of untruth - lying and faking. The person who is lying says what he does not believe. The person who is faking says what he or she believes, though only for the time being and for the purpose in hand (Roger Scruton, 12/06/14, BBC)

With the decline of religion during the 19th century there came about a new kind of faking. The romantic poets and painters turned their backs on religion and sought salvation through art. They believed in the genius of the artist, endowed with a special capacity to transcend the human condition in creative ways, breaking all the rules in order to achieve a new order of experience. Art became an avenue to the transcendental, the gateway to a higher kind of knowledge.

Originality therefore became the test that distinguishes true from fake art. It is hard to say in general terms what originality consists in, but we have examples enough: Titian, Beethoven, Goethe, Baudelaire. But those examples teach us that originality is hard: it cannot be snatched from the air, even if there are those natural prodigies like Rimbaud and Mozart who seem to do just that. Originality requires learning, hard work, the mastery of a medium and - most of all - the refined sensibility and openness to experience that have suffering and solitude as their normal cost.

To gain the status of an original artist is therefore not easy. But in a society where art is revered as the highest cultural achievement, the rewards are enormous. Hence there is a motive to fake it. Artists and critics get together in order to take themselves in, the artists posing as the originators of astonishing breakthroughs, the critics posing as the penetrating judges of the true avant-garde.

In this way Duchamp's famous urinal became a kind of paradigm for modern artists. This is how it is done, the critics said. Take an idea, put it on display, call it art and brazen it out. The trick was repeated with Andy Warhol's Brillo boxes, and then later with the pickled sharks and cows of Damien Hirst. In each case the critics have gathered like clucking hens around the new and inscrutable egg, and the fake is projected to the public with all the apparatus required for its acceptance as the real thing. So powerful is the impetus towards the collective fake that it is now rare to be a finalist for the Turner Prize without producing some object or event that shows itself to be art only because nobody would conceivably think it to be so until the critics have said that it is.

Original gestures of the kind introduced by Duchamp cannot really be repeated - like jokes they can be made only once. Hence the cult of originality very quickly leads to repetition. The habit of faking becomes so deeply engrained that no judgement is certain, except the judgement that this before us is the 'real thing' and not a fake at all, which in turn is a fake judgement. All that we know, in the end, is that anything is art, because nothing is.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


America should be more like Disneyland : The country needs Walt Disney's optimism and investment in infrastructure and human happiness ( David Cay Johnston, 12/12/14, Al Jazeera)

Every night Disneyland gets freshened up. When the park closes at midnight, the lights go up, and crews steam gum off the sidewalks, daub fresh paint where needed, water the flowers, polish the streetlights and examine the walkways. I had to look hard just to find unrepaired cracks on Main Street and the paved walkways. By chance, I got to walk backstage, where the asphalt and concrete surfaces were in near perfect shape, the walls painted, the handrails free of rust.

The Walt Disney Co. invests in infrastructure because it makes the company money. The park draws on average 43,000 people a day willing to bear a basic ticket price of $92 for those 10 or older.

Yet outside the gates, America fails to invest in its infrastructure, costing us lives from accidents, floods, sinkholes from water-main failures and explosions from faulty natural gas lines. Sidewalks buckle or heave after winter freezes, making many hazardous to walk on. America's roads deteriorate, costing the economy in efficiency, though the front-end-alignment shops and tire dealers do well. How strange that the roads I traveled this year in the impoverished Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa were smoother than those I drove in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Boston; Cleveland; New Orleans; Syracuse, New York; and Los Angeles.

The water fountains at Disneyland all worked, while in city halls and airports, many barely dribble because there is no budget to replace their filters before sediment clogs them. Instead, we give tens of billions in subsidies to profitable corporations.  

People are willing stand in line for half an hour or so for about 90 seconds on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the flying Dumbo elephants and a bit longer on the Autopia, the Matterhorn bobsleds and the Mark Twain Steamboat. But as a society, we resist paying a bit more in taxes so that our mass transit works on time and traffic flows smoothly.

Like Disneyworld, cities should host jobs and entertainment then empty out at night, refilling daily via rail.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Why Has Switzerland Switched Rates to Negative? ( Brian Blackstone, 12/18/14, WSJ)

Why did the Swiss take this step?

Switzerland is a small, open economy with a strong banking system, making it a safe haven in times of global financial stress. That puts upward pressure on its currency as more money pours into its banks. Because Switzerland is highly export intensive, particularly to the eurozone, a higher Swiss franc weakens the economy and raises deflation risks. The Swiss have, since 2011, had a ceiling on the franc's value against the euro. "The introduction of negative interest rates makes it less attractive to hold Swiss franc investments," the SNB said.

Who else has tried this?

Denmark installed a negative deposit rate in 2012 and after briefly taking it positive in April, moved it back into the red three months ago. The European Central Bank took its deposit rate to -0.1% in June and cut it an additional 10 basis points in September.

Who might be next?

Sweden's Riksbank may be under pressure to follow suit, particularly if its currency strengthens on the back of the Swiss move. The bank has said a negative interest rate is one option if it needs to loosen policy further.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


No Sign Yet of Labor Cost Inflation in U.S. or U.K. (PAUL HANNON, 12/18/14, WSJ)

Despite falling unemployment rates, there are few signs that rising wages will soon start to push inflation higher in either the U.S. or the U.K., where central banks are expected to raise their benchmark rates next year and in early 2016 respectively. [...]

[A]n internationally comparable measure of labor costs released Thursday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed no sign of a buildup in inflationary pressures from that source in either country.

Indeed, the Paris-based research body recorded a 0.1% drop in unit labor costs in the U.S. during the third quarter, which followed a 0.6% decline in the second quarter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


3 Senior ISIS Leaders Killed in US Airstrikes in Iraq (LUIS MARTINEZ, 12/18/14, ABC News)

Three senior ISIS leaders have been killed in recent weeks by U.S. airstrikes inside Iraq, including the terror group's right-hand man, the Pentagon confirmed. The news comes as the American commander leading the U.S. effort against ISIS in Iraq and Syria says coalition efforts are having a "significant impact" on the terror group's operations.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, disclosed the strikes against the ISIS leaders in an interview Thursday with the Wall Street Journal.

"It is disruptive to their planning and command and control," Gen. Dempsey said. "These are high-value targets, senior leadership."

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


India's bride trafficking fuelled by skewed sex ratios (Anu Anand, 17 December 2014, The Guardian)

Just 90 minutes' drive from the thriving city of Gurgaon, near Delhi, a business hub in India and home to corporate giants Google and Microsoft, Hari Singh Yadav, landowner, farmer and eldest of seven brothers sits outside his front door and bemoans his bachelor status.

"There are not enough girls from my caste in our village, and I'm already 34 years old, so now no one wants to marry me," he says. Only three of his brothers have found wives. "Here, if you don't marry, people shun you. I want to go to [the southern city of] Hyderabad and get a wife but it will cost $1,500. Will you loan it to me?"

In the north-west of India, the business in brides is booming. Skewed sex ratios in states including Haryana, where there are only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys (pdf) and young women being lured away to jobs in India's booming cities, means men like Yadav are increasingly left with few options when it comes to finding a wife.

"Among land-owning castes in rural areas, female foeticide is rampant because people bitterly oppose laws which say girls should inherit equally," said Reena Kukreja, who teaches gender studies at Queens University in Ontario, Canada. "So they make sure daughters are never born."

Nearly 50 years after the introduction of ultrasound technology, which campaigners say has led to the sex-selective termination of up to 10 million healthy female foetuses, families in search of wives are increasingly turning to traffickers to counter their sons' diminishing marriage prospects.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Deflation Stalks the Globe (Mark Gilbert, 12/19/14, Bloomberg View)
In the U.S. Treasury market, dealers have dissected the securities into so-called STRIPS -- Separately Traded Interest and Principal Securities -- at a pace that's swollen the market to $211 billion, its biggest since 1999. Strips, which lose value quicker than just about anything else if inflation accelerates, have instead posted returns approaching 50 percent this year, Susanne Walker reported for Bloomberg News this week. U.S. bondholders are so relaxed about inflation that they're almost horizontal.

And in Germany, investors are paying for the privilege of stashing their cash in government debt -- another sign that they don't expect inflation to erode the value of their returns.

Some countries are already in deflation. In Sweden, consumer prices dropped for a fourth consecutive month in November, prompting the central bank yesterday to commit to keeping its main interest rate at zero until the second half of 2016. Spain, which is at the mercy of the ECB's policies, has seen deflation for the last five months, with prices dropping by 0.4 percent in November.

Even in the U.K., where the economic recovery is relatively robust, figures yesterday showed inflation at its slowest in more than a decade, with November consumer prices rising just 1 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Judd Gregg sizes up Jeb Bush (John DiStaso on Dec 17, 2014, NH Journal)

"We are going to have an extremely strong field this time around," Gregg said, "as opposed to last time, when we had only one candidate qualified to be President and the others were writing their next book.
"This is a deep and talented field," he said. "There is a first tier and a second tier and undoubtedly, Governor Bush is in the top tier.
"I would not call him a prohibitive favorite, but I would call him a substantive favorite," Gregg said, also naming Mitt Romney, should he decide to run, and New Jersey Gov. Christie in that category. But he said, "It's going to be a wide open field." Gregg said he did not hear from Bush prior to his announcement on Tuesday that he "actively explore" running for President.
"I do tend to think that the next nominee will come from a governorship rather than Congress," Gregg said, "because Congress has been somewhat dysfunctional and I believe the American people are tired of the dysfunction."

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Poll: GOP gets a bounce from midterm wins (Dan Balz and Scott Clement, December 17, 2014, Washington Post)

Republican victories in the midterm elections have translated into an immediate boost in the party's image, putting the GOP at its highest point in eight years, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. [...]

In the new poll, 47 percent say they have a favorable impression of the Republican Party, compared with 33 percent in the month before the midterm elections. An equal percentage have an unfavorable view, which marks the first time in six years that fewer than half of Americans said they saw Republicans negatively.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Trade Costs, Conflicts, and Defense Spending (Michael Seitza, Alexander Tarasovb, Roman Zakharenkoc, Journal of International Economics)

This paper develops a quantitative model of trade, military conflicts, and defense spending. Lowering trade costs between two countries reduces probability of an armed conflict between them, causing both to cut defense spending. This in turn causes a domino effect on defense spending by other countries. As a result, both countries and the rest of the world are better off. We estimate the model using data on trade, conflicts, and military spending. We find that, after reduction of costs of trade between a pair of hostile countries, the welfare effect of worldwide defense spending cuts is comparable in magnitude to the direct welfare gains from trade.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


After years of effort, Vermont gov. reportedly gives up pursuing single-payer health care (Sarah Kliff, December 17, 2014, Vox)

Vermont has long had a two-pronged approach to building a single-payer health care system. First, they would figure out what they would want the system to look like. Then, they would figure out how to pay for it.

The state passed legislation outlining how the single-payer system would work in 2011. And ever since, the state has been trying to figure out how to pay for a system that covers everybody. Most estimates suggest that the single payer system would cost $2 billion each year. For a state that only collects $2.7 billion in revenue, that is a large sum of money.

What Shumlin appears to be saying today is that the "time is not right" to move forward on the financing of the single-payer system. And that means putting the whole effort aside, with no clear moment when the debate would be reopened.

Back to the universal HSA drawing board...

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


Governor in Chief : Jeb Bush's remarkable eight years of achievement in Florida. (FRED BARNES, 6/12/06, Weekly Standard)

Why is Jeb Bush the best? It's very simple. His record is the best. No other governor, Republican or Democrat, comes close. Donna Arduin, perhaps the most respected state budget expert in the country, has worked for four big-state Republican governors--John Engler of Michigan, George Pataki of New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, and Bush. Even while she worked for Schwarzenegger, she told me Bush is "absolutely" the nation's premier governor. "He's principled, brilliant, willing to ignore his pollsters, and say no to his friends," she says.

Engler, now head of the National Association of Manufacturers, knows Jeb Bush well and has watched the course of his governorship. He says flatly: "Jeb Bush is the finest governor in the country." Jim Gilmore, the ex-governor of Virginia, declines to rank governors. But he says Bush, as governor of a big state, "had a big challenge and he met it."

In a state with a surging population, Bush has presided over a booming economy with the highest rate of job creation in the country and an unemployment rate of 3.0 percent (the national average is 4.6 percent). Florida has no state income tax, but Bush has nonetheless found a way to cut taxes every year of the eight he's been in office. Meanwhile, he's trimmed the state employment rolls by 11,000.

"Politics is a game for risk takers," says Mike Murphy, a political strategist for Bush and other governors, including Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Schwarzenegger. And Bush is an extraordinary risk taker and innovator. He's made Florida, in the jargon of bipartisan experts, a "laboratory of democracy." He's mined state and local think tanks for ideas that might streamline state government and make it more effective.

He's the first governor to impose stringent testing and accountability on Florida elementary and secondary schools, along with three voucher programs, the most ambitious of which was struck down this year by the (liberal and majority Democratic) state supreme court. This achievement went beyond the No Child Left Behind program of his brother, President Bush, who dropped vouchers in a compromise with Democrats in 2001.

On health care, no governor has attacked Medicaid, whose costs are swamping state budgets, more boldly than Bush. He wangled a breathtakingly broad waiver from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to privatize Medicaid in two populous counties, Duval (Jacksonville) and Broward (Fort Lauderdale). The new program, affecting more than 200,000 Medicaid recipients, goes into effect July 1.

Two more things. Bush, after handling eight hurricanes and four tropical storms in 14 months in 2004 and 2005, has become the undisputed national leader in emergency management. Imagine if he had been governor of Louisiana when Katrina hit last summer.

He really just doesn't have a peer in the GOP field.

December 17, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Inflation basically does not exist (Paul R. La Monica   @lamonicabuzz December 17, 2014, CNNMoney)

If you still have one of those Whip Inflation Now buttons lying around from the 1970s, you can probably throw it away. Inflation pretty much doesn't exist.

The government reported Wednesday morning that consumer prices have risen just 1.3% over the past 12 months. When you exclude the prices of food and energy, prices were up just 1.7%.

Overall prices fell 0.3% in November, driven largely by the dramatic fall in gas prices. This is the biggest drop in the monthly inflation rate and gas prices since December 2008. Prices actually rose 0.1% last month when you factor out oil and food costs. [...]

And with inflation being so low right now, Americans do have more purchasing power. Although average wages are up just 2.1% over the past 12 months, that's still much higher than the increase in consumer prices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The promise for American businesses if Cuba sanctions are lifted (Jose Pagliery, December 17, 2014, CNNMoney)

"Cuba is the largest country in the Caribbean, so there's some exciting possibilities," said Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell, noting that there are ports and some cruising infrastructure already on the island.

The news sent the value of Herzfeld Caribbean Basin (CUBA) soaring 35%. It's a mutual fund that's invested in companies likely to benefit from increased trade with Cuba, such as cargo-ship operator Seaboard Corp. (SEB) and Watsco 
(WSO), which would distribute air conditioning equipment to the tech-challenged island.

American companies that make consumer products -- such as soap and packaged foods -- are likely to benefit first, said Andres Diaz, a former Obama administration trade official who now does management consulting in Latin America. 
They're inexpensive, and the Cuban population can't currently afford much.

"And we'll be seeing these legendary Cuban products -- like cigars and rum -- circulating in the U.S.," he said. Although the embargo persists, travelers can now return to the United States with $100 worth of cigars or alcohol and $400 of any other item.

Also, Cuban-Americans can now send more money back to family and friends on the island, given that Obama has risen the cap on remittances. And there's a lot of potential for telecommunications companies to connect more Cubans to the Internet.

A national trade group of American farmers -- who notably receive U.S. government subsidies that make their products cheaper for foreigners -- says they'll stand to benefit if banking and credit restrictions are lifted.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Vladimir Putin vs. the Currency Markets: What to Know About the Ruble's Collapse (Neil Irwin, 12/15/14, NY Times)

The continued slide of the ruble is all the more remarkable given economic sanctions imposed in retaliation for Russian aggression toward Ukraine that make Russian money unwelcome at many global banks.

Perhaps the higher interest rates will make those moving money out of Russia think twice, and a resulting reversal in currency markets will lead speculators to conclude that betting against the ruble is no longer a sure thing.

But the move shows how Russian policy makers are stuck with no good options. Already the central bank has reportedly been intervening to try to short-circuit the sell-off, buying rubles to try to arrest the declines.

The problem is that if you try to defend your currency and lose, you are essentially throwing your money at currency traders for nothing. As Russia has deployed its reserves to (so far unsuccessfully) stop the currency collapse, it has made traders betting against the ruble richer while leaving the Russian government poorer. Poorer by $80 billion, to be precise.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


The other Bush on taxes (Jeanne Sahadi, 12/17/14, CNNMoney)

 As Florida governor, from 1999 to 2007, Bush signed a number of tax cuts and tax-break expansions.

Biggest among them was a reduction and then a repeal of the state's tax on personal assets such as investments, said Kurt Wenner, vice president of research at Florida Tax Watch, a government watchdog group.

Don't tax what you do want.

December 16, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Pakistan attacks draw worldwide condemnation (Deutsche welle, 12/16/14)

At home in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called the attack a "national tragedy unleashed by savages."

"These were my children. This is my loss. This is the nation's loss, " said Sharif. He pledged to step up efforts against the Taliban. "The fight will continue. No one should have any doubt about it," Sharif warned. "We will take account of each and every drop of our children's blood."

The leaders of Pakistan's neighbors, Afghanistan and India, also voiced their solidarity. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi took to Twitter to denounce the violence.

The attack has been claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as revenge for Pakistan's major military offensive against it in the region. The group said it had told the attackers to target older children.
Taliban militants in neighboring Afghanistan decried the killing spree, calling it "un-Islamic."

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


New Russia Sanctions Bill Will Be Signed by Obama, White House Says (PETER BAKER, DEC. 16, 2014, NY Times)

President Obama has decided to sign legislation imposing further sanctions on Russia and authorizing additional aid to Ukraine, despite concerns that it will complicate his efforts to maintain a unified front with European allies, the White House said on Tuesday.

The legislation calls for a raft of new measures penalizing Russia's military and energy sectors and authorizes $350 million in military assistance to Ukraine, including antitank weapons, tactical surveillance drones and counter-artillery radar.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Ted Cruz: An isolated figure in a minority of the minority (Jennifer Rubin, December 16, 2014, Washington Post)

The National Review reports:

To hell with the independents. That's not usually the animating principle of a presidential campaign, but for Ted Cruz's, it just might be.

His strategists aren't planning to make a big play for so-called independent voters in the general election if Cruz wins the Republican nomination. Several of the senator's top advisers said that Cruz sees a path to victory that relies instead on increasing conservative turnout, trying to attract votes from groups that have tended to favor Democrats (Jews, Hispanics and millennials), and, in the words of one Cruz strategist, "not getting killed with independents."

Either Cruz is not as smart as some people say, or he has decided to give up on being a serious national Republican in favor of becoming the next Sarah Palin. I'm with Henry Olsen -- and others who can do math -- who is quoted as saying this is a "fantasy." ("The Republican base, he says, simply isn't large enough to win an election nationally, and the Republican nominee must 'energize establishment Republicans and people who don't call themselves conservatives.' ")

In 2012 and 2008, Republicans were 32 percent of the general electorate. In George Bush's reelection in 2004, that number got as high as 37 percent. In 1980, Cruz's hero Ronald Reagan won with only 28 percent of the electorate identifying as Republicans because he got 56 percent of independents -- Cruz doesn't want any of them, I guess -- and 27 percent of Democrats. Cruz, or any Republican, has zero chance of becoming president without votes of non-Republicans. Cruz's hero shouldn't be Reagan but Barry Goldwater.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Teen Drinking Continues to Decline in the U.S. (Kimberly Leonard Dec. 16, 2014, US News)

Drinking underage and binge drinking have continued to decline in recent years, and have reached their lowest levels since data started to be collected in 1975, a new government survey shows.

The 2014 Monitoring the Future Survey, jointly released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan, used data from more than 41,000 students from 377 public and private schools throughout the U.S. It found alcohol consumption rates among eighth, 10th and 12th graders have continued their long-term decline, reporting past month use of 9, 23.5 and 37.4 percent respectively, compared to 10.2, 25.7, and 39.2 percent during 2013.

 Enforcement of Drunk Driving Laws Makes Roads Safer, Study Finds (Alan Mozes, 12/16/14, HealthDay News) 

With the holiday party season fast approaching, a new study reveals that states that routinely perform randomized traffic stops and make DUI arrests have fewer drunk drivers on their roads.

The finding suggests that states that enforce drunk driving laws more vigilantly are better able to deter inebriated revelers from getting behind the wheel in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Jeb Bush's Audacity of Hope (Francis Wilkinson, 12/16/14, Bloomberg View)

Jeb Bush's nascent presidential candidacy is predicated on one big bet and one small one. The big bet is that the Great Republican Anti-Government Tantrum is over, and that American conservatism is prepared to revert to a more moderate mission as a force for nimble government, efficient markets, powerful military and acceptance of a minimal social safety net as a necessary hedge against untrammeled capitalism.

The small bet is that Bush himself, and his campaign, will have the character and discipline to hew to principle even after the Republican base discovers his deviant positions on immigration and education, and begins to suspect that Bush can't be trusted as a vessel carrying the base's sacred myths. [...]

Unlike Christie and Romney, two guys who talk tough but shrink from confrontation with the party base, Bush seems determined to run as someone who really does call it as he sees it. It's an admirable stance and perhaps Bush is sufficiently authentic that it's the only one possible for him. Call it the audacity of hope. For there is no evidence that his party is eager for anything like straight talk.

After all, there's a reason Romney's presidential run devolved into caricature a little more than two years ago. He and his strategists concluded that conservative truths and good will were no match for conservative myths and enmities. Romney changed himself to suit the party. Bush appears to be demanding that the party now change to suit him. Audacious indeed.

Of course, it's only a myth that the base opposes amnesty. The base is, first of all, Christian.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


The Best Christmas Music You've Never Heard: Goosebumps Guaranteed : The despair and gloom of a sinful world gives way to an explosion of hope and unbridled joy (SUSAN E. WILLS, 12/16/14, Aleteia)

If there are any Christians among our readers who find themselves so preoccupied with the traditions and trappings, the lights and the carols, that they haven't set aside the time to examine the meaning of the Nativity, it's not too late. Today, I offer you a bit of inspiration to get started: Alfred Reed's magnificent "Russian Christmas Music."

Reed called music "the greatest of all the communicative arts," and "Russian Christmas Music" is Exhibit A. It begins with the mournful sounds of a world mired in sin, without joy or hope. In the final strains of the closing movement, when the Son of God has broken through eternity into time, when He's left his throne in heaven to assume our mortal flesh, and the angelic host fill the sky proclaiming the miracle of Christ's birth, the music swells to a glorious crescendo of pealing bells, thundering percussion, and brass. This is the kind of music that captures the awesome wonder of Christ's Incarnation and birth, and it is guaranteed to give you goosebumps. 

There's a fascinating story behind the composition, explained on Music Program Notes. In 1944, Reed was doing his military service with the Army Air Corps Band and only 23 years old--
when he was called upon to create what has become a masterpiece of the wind literature. It was in 1944, when optimism was running high with the successful invasion of France and Belgium by the Allied forces. A holiday band concert was planned by the city of Denver to further promote Russian-American unity with premiers of new works from both countries. ... The Russian work was to have been Prokofiev's March, Op. 99, but [the music director] discovered that it had already been performed in the United States ... . With just 16 days until the concert, ... Reed [was asked] to compose a new Russian work for the concert. Scouring the Corps' music library, Reed found an authentic 16th-century Russian Christmas Song "Carol of the Little Russian Children" to use for an introductory theme. Drawing on his investigations of Eastern Orthodox liturgical music for other thematic ideas, he completed the score of Russian Christmas Music in 11 days; copyists took another two days to prepare parts for rehearsal. The music was first performed on December 12, 1944, on a nationwide NBC broadcast. A concert performance was given in Denver two days later. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Peru Is Indignant After Greenpeace Makes Its Mark on Ancient Site (WILLIAM NEUMAN, DEC. 12, 2014, NY Times)

An expression of concern by the environmental group Greenpeace about the carbon footprint was marred this week by real footprints -- in a fragile, and restricted, landscape near the Nazca lines, ancient man-made designs etched in the Peruvian desert.

The Peruvian authorities said activists from the group damaged a patch of desert when they placed a large sign that promoted renewable energy near a set of lines that form the shape of a giant hummingbird.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM



Remarkably, the gap between torture supporters and opponents widens between voters who are Christian and those who are not religious. Just 39% of white evangelicals believe the CIA's treatment of detainees amounted to torture, with 53% of white non-evangelical Protestants and 45% of white Catholics agreeing with that statement. Among the non-religious, though, 72% said the treatment amounted to torture. (The poll did not break down non-Christian religions in the results.)

Sixty nine percent of white evangelicals believe the CIA treatment was justified, compared to just 20% who said it was not. (Those numbers, incidentally, roughly mirror the breakdown of Republican versus Democratic voters among white evangelicals.) A full three-quarters (75%) of white non-evangelical Protestants outnumber the 22% of their brethren in saying CIA treatment was justified. White Catholics believe the treatment was justified by a 66-23% margin.

But a majority of non-religious adults, 53%, believe the CIA actions were not justified, with 41% of the non-religious saying the treatment was justified.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


The Reagan-Clinton Template for Success : Divided government doesn't have to be a prescription for stalemate. Past bipartisan achievements point the way. (PHIL GRAMM And  MICHAEL SOLON, Dec. 15, 2014, WSJ)

While Reagan's 1981 budget and tax cuts passed with some Democrat support, two other achievements were strong bipartisan efforts from beginning to end.

The first was in 1983, when Reagan worked with Democrat House Speaker Tip O'Neill to avert the imminent insolvency of Social Security and gradually raised the retirement age to 67 from 65. Such a bipartisan effort today could begin with President Obama's proposal to change the consumer price index now used to adjust Social Security benefits for inflation so the CPI more accurately measures the impact of inflation on purchasing power. President Clinton made similar changes to the CPI in 1998. That change alone would strengthen Social Security and reduce the deficit by $232 billion over the next decade. Additionally, everyone knows that Social Security's normal retirement age must gradually be raised to 70 from 67, and the sooner this happens, the more secure everyone's benefits will be.

The second bipartisan effort was a revenue-neutral tax reform in 1986 that lowered the top marginal tax rate to 28% from 50%, consolidated 14 different rates into two tax brackets, reduced special-interest provisions, increased efficiency and spurred economic growth. The law passed with strong support from Democrats like Bill Bradley and Dick Gephardt, and the votes of 70% of Democrats in the House and Senate. The tax reform gave a second wind to the 1982 expansion. A similar reform today would spur growth and swell revenues.

President Clinton faced a Republican Congress for his final six years. This did not preclude achieving a bipartisan reform of federal welfare in 1996 and the Balanced Budget Act in 1997. Repeating the 1997 BBA spending restraint agreed to by President Clinton and the GOP Congress, adjusted for the size of today's government, would save $1.9 trillion over the next decade.

The Congressional Budget Office projected in 1996 that the balanced budget plan would generate a "fiscal dividend" of some $254 billion in total deficit reduction during 1996-2002, but the CBO later found that the actual deficit reduction from surging revenues alone totaled $1.267 trillion, five times the original projection. This triggered a balanced budget much sooner than anyone forecast and huge, totally unexpected budget surpluses.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Study: Productivity -- and monetary earnings -- decrease on hotter days (Meghan DiMaria, 12/16/14, The Week)

A new study from economists at the University of Illinois and the University of California, Berkeley, found that when average daily temperatures are above 59 degrees, people work less and earn less money. The findings were published in a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The kids have a saying : it's over 60, Daddy's cranky.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


Russia has just lost the economic war with the west (Larry Elliott, 12/16/14, the Guardian)

The west knows all about the vulnerability of Russia's economy, its creaking factories and its over-reliance on the energy sector. When the introduction of sanctions over Russia's support for the separatists in Ukraine failed to bring Vladimir Putin to heel, the US and Saudi Arabia decided to hurt Russia by driving down oil prices. Both countries will face some collateral damage as a result - and this could be considerable in the case of the US shale sector - but both were prepared to take the risk on the grounds that Russia would suffer much more pain. This has proved to be true.

Now for the good (or perhaps less bad) news. Eventually, lower oil prices mean stronger global growth, because consumers will have more money to spend and businesses will have more spare cash to invest. At that point, the price of oil will rise and the rouble with it.

Even so, Russia looks vulnerable. It has reached the end of the road with interest rate increases and has only two options: to allow the rouble to find its own level, in the hope that declining oil prices will prove temporary or to introduce capital controls. These are seen very much as a last resort by Moscow, but may prove necessary if the rouble rout continues.

The phrase "perfect storm" is over-used, but the combination of a collapsing currency, a collapsing economy and punitive interest rates make it apposite.

All of them will only feed into what was already a nation-killing demographic collapse.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Poland takes up German slack for Amazon (Deutsche Welle, 12/16/14)

As Amazon employees in Germany go on strike, the company has opened three new logistics centers in Poland. They will largely serve the German market, as Amazon does not have e-commerce operations in Poland.
The comments in Polish newspapers were a little smug: "Poles work while Germans strike." The 4,500 permanent and 7,500 seasonal employees at online retail giant Amazon's three Polish distribution centers have plenty to do - and that includes fulfilling Christmas orders from Germany.

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


The Great Budget Sellout of 2014: Do We Even Have a Second Party? (ROBERT KUTTNER, DECEMBER 16, 2014, American Prospect)

[I]n the great budget sellout of December 2014, fully 57 House Democrats voted with the Republicans to narrowly pass this deal. Key Senate Democrats close to Wall Street, such as Chuck Schumer of New York, were its enablers.

In the end game, President Obama, continuing his signature fighting style, blinked first. He evidently feared that another government shutdown would be blamed more on him than on the Republicans; or that even worse would be in store after January. The Republicans, once again, played chicken and prevailed.

So we were treated to a spectacle of the Democrats being split several ways, both on ideology and on tactics. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, a progressive, after sending mixed signals earlier in the week, decided that the bill had to be opposed. But President Obama, his chief of staff Denis McDonough, along with Pelosi's more conservative second-in-command, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, actively lobbied Democrats to back the deal. So, in the end, the 57 House Democrats--about one-third of the caucus--joined 162 Republicans to narrowly pass the budget.

Meanwhile, over on the Senate side, the Democrats split as well. Only six Democratic progressives, led by Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, voted against cloture. Then, once the bill was assured of passing, several Wall Street-friendly Democrats from relatively liberal states cast a crocodile-tears record vote against, such as Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

So, while the Democratic Party should be carrying the banner of working families, making it clear that the rules are rigged against regular people and that Republicans are the riggers-in-chief, the reality is far more blurred. The Democrats not only lost this vote on issues they allegedly care about; they lost their role as a credible opposition.

To be the credible opposition in the 21st Century Anglosphere, you need to be the more Third Way party, not the most 1st Way or most 2nd Way.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:04 AM


Nick Brignola - On a Different Level

"Softly As in a Morning Sunrise" (from the album):

"My Foolish Heart" (from a local public television concert): 

The baritone sax, unlike its higher-pitched brothers has never made much of a mark outside of jazz.  And within jazz its star practitioners have been far less numerous than the great alto and tenor players.  This is due, most obviously, to the large size of the instrument and the practical challenges it takes a lot of strength to play it and even more just to carry it around.  (In an old Robert Klein routine, he tells of his father castigating him after he takes up the bari in high school: "Don't be a shmuck, play the flute.  It folds up; you can carry it in your pocket.")   It is a beautiful instrument, though - singing, yet masculine, in the upper register; barking gruffly in the lower.  And while the number of star bari players is relatively small, they represent a collection of unique jazz voices: Harry Carney, the first great baritone player, provided the sonic foundation for Duke Ellington's band for over 40 years; Gerry Mulligan was the leading proponent of the West Coast/Cool School style; Serge Chaloff, one of Woody Herman's "Four Brothers," proved that the technical intricacies of bebop could be wrestled out of the big horn, showing the way to such bop/hard bop stylists as Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams, Ronnie Cuber and today's featured artist, Nick Brignola.

Brignola is the nominal leader of this 1989 session, but he is joined by a rhythm section of absolutely top-rank stars, each of whom could have been giving top billing: Kenny Barron (piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums).  This great band tackles a wonderful and interesting selection of tunes, including compositions by classic jazz masters (Ellington and Benny Carter) and more modern jazzmen (Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Tadd Dameron), a couple of standards from the Great American Songbook (both, coincidentally, with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstien), and an original by one of the band (Holland's country rock-inflected "Backwoods Song"). 

While Brignola is featured and in great form throughout, three tracks in particular highlight the skills and contributions of each player.  "All the Things You Are," a Jerome Kern standard that was a favorite of beboppers, is taken at a suitably brisk pace and shows off DeJohnette's active and colorful drumming.  With his snare drum rolls and accents, cymbal hits and tight swing on the high hat, he's not just marking time, but effectively playing a duet with Brignola and Barron during their solos.  Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" was a ballad showpiece for Carney, and here Barron lays out, giving plenty of space to bassist Holland, who plays with a bow for the first 16 bars, before the trio goes into double time for the balance of the head and the solos.  "Key Largo" is also normally a ballad, but here is played with an up-tempo Latin beat that suits the tune perfectly.   Kenny Barron solos first, with his usual joyful mix of melodicism and rhythmic drive.

December 15, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Iran's President Pledges to Face Down Forces Opposing a Nuclear Deal (THOMAS ERDBRINK, DEC. 15, 2014, NY Times)

Risking his political standing, Iran's president stressed on Monday that he was determined to cinch a nuclear deal and prepared to take on the conservative forces who would prefer not to see an agreement with the West, even if that means continued economic sanctions on Iran.

"Some people may not like to see the sanctions lifted," the president, Hassan Rouhani, said as Iranian negotiators and their United States counterparts resumed talks in Geneva. "Their numbers are few, and they want to muddy the waters."

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


​Sorry, Putin. Russia's economy is doomed (Matt O'Brien, December 15, 2014, Washington Post)

A funny thing happened on the way to Vladimir Putin running strategic laps around the West. Russia's economy imploded.

The latest news is that Russia's central bank raised interest rates from 10.5 to 17 percent at an emergency 1 a.m. meeting in an attempt to stop the ruble, which is down 50 percent on the year against the dollar, from falling any further. It's a desperate move to save Russia's currency that comes at the cost of sacrificing Russia's economy. So even if it "works," things are about to get a lot worse.

It's a classic kind of emerging markets crisis. It's only a small simplification, you see, to say that Russia doesn't so much have an economy as it has an oil exporting business that subsidizes everything else. [...]

Putin's Russia, like the USSR before it, is only as strong as the price of oil. In the 1970s, we made the mistake of thinking that the USSR's invasion of Afghanistan meant that we were losing the Cold War, when the reality was that they had stumbled into their own Vietnam and could only afford to feed their people as long as oil stayed sky-high. The USSR's economic mirage, though, became apparent to everybody--none less than their own people, who had to scrounge in empty supermarkets--after oil prices bottomed out in the 1980s. That history is repeating itself now, just without the Marxist-Leninism. Putin could afford to invade Georgia and Ukraine when oil prices were comfortably in the triple digits, but not when they're half that. Russia can't afford anything then.

Putin might be playing chess while we play checkers, but only if we lend him the money for the set.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Iran condemns deadly Sydney cafe siege (AFP, December 16, 2014)

Tehran on Monday condemned the deadly hostage-taking in Australia reportedly by an Iranian-born gunman, branding it an act foreign to Islam, state media quoted a government official as saying.

"Undertaking such inhuman acts and provoking fear and panic in the name of merciful Islam is not in any way justifiable," Iranian foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said, according to IRNA news agency.

Hostage-taker, Man Haron Monis, an Iranian granted political asylum in Australia in 1996, was killed along with two of his 17 hostages when police stormed a Sydney cafe early Tuesday to end a day-long siege.

"The psychological state of mind of this individual, who took refuge in Australia almost two decades ago, has been discussed several times with Australians officials, who knew his (mental) condition," said Afkham

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Meeting Ayn Rand on the Las Vegas Strip : For eight days last summer, a new generation of Randians was indoctrinated in the auditoriums of The Venetian. Where better to absorb Atlas Shrugged 's teachings than in a city of extremes? (JOHN PAUL ROLLERT, DEC 15 2014, Atlantic Monthly)

A city that works by extremes is an appropriate place to celebrate Ayn Rand--or, more specifically, Objectivism, the philosophy she conceived and the occasion for the conference I was in Las Vegas to attend. Rand made a name for herself writing novels in the 40s and 50s before trying to articulate the worldview they implied. The Romantic Manifesto, The Virtue of Selfishness, and Capitalism:  The Unknown Ideal have never enjoyed the popular appeal of The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged, but then again, they weren't meant to. If art, for Rand, was "the integrator of metaphysics," the precepts themselves warranted description.

Ayn Rand's intellectual legacy is mixed at best. Anecdotal evidence suggests that elements of her philosophy have made their way into "lit crit" seminars and (a supreme irony) gender studies, and for many years I have assigned her essay "What Is Capitalism?" to my business-ethics classes. Yet, when it comes to "real" philosophers--a designation that, for better or worse, indicates a perch in a Philosophy Department--Objectivism mostly goes unmentioned.

In this respect, Rand's academic reputation resembles Karl Marx's. The unfinished saga that is Das Kapital is now essentially ignored by its intended adversaries, the superintendents of an "economic science," whereas faculties across the humanities still plumb works like On the Jewish Question, The Holy Family, or Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, an effort Marx thought so highly of he abandoned it in a desk.

Atlas Shrugged ranked second behind the Bible in a 1991 survey asking about the single work that had "made a difference" in the lives of respondents.
But the trajectory of their intellectual legacies isn't the only resemblance. Much like Marx, Rand's relevance to scholars is largely underwritten by her ideological influence. Even if academics remain unconvinced by her arguments about aesthetics, ethics, and political economy, they have good reason to read Rand for her abiding significance to the conservative movement.

That relationship can hardly be described as cozy. Set aside the College Republicans and Chamber of Commerce types who occasionally look in the mirror and hope to find a glimpse of John Galt. An unapologetic Objectivist is about as welcome in conservative circles as a Trotskyite in liberal ones. The ambivalence is not so much a matter of policy disputes--though, in both cases, they are so great as to constitute a difference of kind, not degree--but of the patience required to accommodate the nervous tic of the political radical, the inevitable tendency to make the good the enemy of the perfect.

When I told a cousin who works for a libertarian think tank about attending an Objectivist conference, he rolled his eyes and muttered, "The Bible." He was referring, of course, to Atlas Shrugged, the nearly 1,100-page tome that William F. Buckley, Jr. once copped to having "flogged" himself to get through. In the late 50s, the reactionary editor of the National Review dispatched Whittaker Chambers--the former Soviet spy whose conversion story, Witness, Ronald Reagan credited with flipping him from a New Dealer to a right-wing warrior--to write a scorched-earth review that would serve as a forcible parting of ways between the Objectivists and the upstart conservative movement. Chambers famously obliged. "Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained," he wrote of Atlas Shrugged. "Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal."

For Chambers, the problem with the novel was not so much the views it espoused--"a great many of us dislike much that Miss Rand dislikes, quite as heartily as she does"--but the manner in which they were prosecuted. "It supposes itself to be the bringer of a final revelation," he said of the book's ideological call to arms. "Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible."

If Buckley, by way of Chambers, aimed to make it acceptable for conservatives to shun Rand and her acolytes, she did little to dispel the stereotype of the implacable ideologue. Just as Marx strained to distance himself from the utopian socialism of Saint-Simon and Proudhon, Rand didn't hesitate to stiff-arm groups that, to the untrained eye at least, seemed like natural allies. "Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to 'do something,'" she warned her followers in the Objectivist newsletter. Such groups included conservatives and libertarians, both of whom perverted capitalism, the first by substituting "theocracy for capitalism," the second "anarchism for capitalism." For Rand, the free market was neither a shortcut to the common good nor the commercial incarnation of "all is permitted." Instead, the system best embodied the only principle of distributive justice she recognized: To each according to his ability--period. [...]

All vacations promise some kind of escape, but escapism is the allure of Las Vegas. The city--with its shows, its clubs, even its casinos--is ultimately incidental. You come to leave your self behind.

Escapism of a different sort is also the allure of a radical philosophy. It seduces not by promising a temporary solution to the contest between the grosser passions and personal integrity--the very conflict that can sometimes make escaping the "real world" so enticing--but by providing an alternative vision of what the "real world" constitutes. Base and Superstructure. Unconscious and Conscious. The City of God and the City of Man. These dichotomies assume that the world we see is not the one that must be reckoned with, that there is another world, with its own shadowy forces, its own systemizing logic, its own uncanny story. Here is the world that matters, says the radical philosophy. Not only does it precede the apparent world, it predominates.

Being invited to glimpse such a world can be beguiling, especially for the lost and lonely, for nothing affirms a sense of significance, even superiority, like believing yourself a keeper of the ultimate secret. And yet, if the evangelists of a radical philosophy have the forehand advantage of flattery, they still have to contend with the hazard of false consciousness. They must convince the uninitiated that many of the problems they see in the world--indeed, often the very ones that make them liable to conversion in the first place--are irrelevant, moot, or even mistaken.

The afterward of Brook's talk provided an illustration. A catechumen made his way to the microphone to ask the kind of question one might expect to be addressed by a session titled "The Inequality Debate." Having spent a few days in Las Vegas, the young man was distressed by the evidence of poverty he had seen on the Strip, which can be considerable, given that Nevada's tourism and housing industries were devastated by the financial crisis and the state still has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country. So much of the presentation seemed to revolve around a dispute between elites over the philosophical implications of inequality, he said, but what about "the street junkies? They are so miserable and they sleep on the street." His question was simple: "Why isn't the free market hiring those people?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


GQ Icon: Stevie Wonder : Though blinded at birth, Stevland Hardaway Judkins discovered a different  vision on the streets of Fifties Detroit. Through his music he brought colour to the world only he had ever seen, but after five decades of inspiration, who really knows the truth about this wonderful life of mystery, melancholy and magic? (GEORGE CHESTERTON 09 DECEMBER 14, British GQ)

Stevland Judkins was born on 13 May 1950 in the worn-down manufacturing town of Saginaw. Or was that Steveland Hardaway? Or Stevland Morris? It certainly wasn't "Stevie Wonder" written on the side of the incubator that would both save his life and wreck his eyes.

His mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, had been born near the evocatively named Hurtsboro, Alabama, but was abandoned by her own mother and raised by an aunt and uncle. In 1943, when she was 13, she took a train to stay with her absentee father in east Chicago. After a fortnight, Noble Hardaway packed his daughter off to a second aunt, the wife of a church deacon. In 1948 she became pregnant and was thrown out in disgrace, taking refuge with yet another relative, this time in Saginaw.

After the birth of Milton Hardaway she married Calvin Judkins, a man as old as her father and who had much else in common besides. Judkins was a drunk, a gambler and a small-time pimp, but Lula Mae was infatuated and she clung to this relationship despite being coerced into prostitution by her own husband. A second son, Calvin Judkins Jr, arrived soon after, but Lula Mae's third pregnancy was fraught with debilitating pain and sickness. Stevland emerged two months premature and at not even 4lb was rushed to an incubator. His name remains mysterious. It was Judkins at school, Morris (chosen by his mother) on legal documents and Hardaway in other sources. Steveland and Stevland appear interchangeably. Regardless, the baby's retinas were being damaged beyond repair by the extra oxygen pumped into his incubator. In the Forties and early Fifties there was an epidemic of what is now known as retinopathy of prematurity and he was one of many thousands of babies affected.

Wonder's early years followed the manic pattern set by his parents, as Lula Mae protected and fed her children in spite of their father's negligence and exploitation. In 1953 she stabbed Judkins - he filed charges against her, which he then dropped. One of the terms of their short-lived reconciliation was to move the family to Detroit, where they found a home beside the multi-tower Brewster-Douglass housing project, whose other inhabitants included William "Smokey" Robinson and Diana Ross. Here Wonder asserted a benign defiance that he was a "normal boy" looking for mischief with friends and girls.

Whatever he did, he wanted to grow, to keep moving - to jump. It became the theme of his life. "I wanted to do all the things the sighted kids could - hopping from woodshed to woodshed and climbing trees. In my mind I was very adventurous." His mother's default reaction to this troublemaking was the "magic ironing-cord whipping" - a period and a punishment immortalised in the song "I Wish".

There is no doubt mother and son adored each other, though Lula (she dropped the Mae) continued to mourn for her son's condition. "It bothered me that my mother was crying all the time," he said. "She thought God might be punishing her for something. She lived during a time when things were particularly difficult for a woman in her circumstances... So I just told her I was happy to be blind and I think she felt better after that." About his father he has said almost nothing in the 60 or so years since Calvin Judkins was ousted from the family home.

As with almost all his contemporaries, the church provided the first public stage on which to demonstrate his unearthly abilities. It began with percussion - toy drums and bongos first - then harmonica, then keyboards. The swirling head movements of his live performances were first seen by worshippers at the White Stone Baptist Church on Fenkell Street, where he would sing in the choir then stay and play anything else he could get his ever-grasping hands on. But the Church's banners did not fly over all the territory of his young life.

When he was ten years old he learnt Braille at a school for the blind, which nurtured his interest in world history, as well as the fearful millennialism that has always seemed to haunt him. He was growing up in other ways too. Sex is one of many subjects about which Wonder prefers to remain deliciously enigmatic, but anecdotal testimony from throughout his early career suggests that aside from music he thought of little else.

In  1960 he formed a duo with a friend, John Glover, with whom he improvised around the neighbourhood. Glover later recalled without bitterness that, "I have a feeling he knew something about me when he befriended me, something he thought might be valuable." That something was a somebody. Glover's cousin was Ronnie White, a member of The Miracles, at the time the Motown label's most important act. A year later, White agreed to check out the young prodigy.

Motown is often described as a "family". It is true that Motown grew strong on familial love, survived familial squabbling and thrived under a unified sense of purpose and pride - not least in the face of everyday and corporate racism - but it was more of a small kingdom with big plans for conquest, and its king was Berry Gordy. In order to reach Gordy's privy chamber at 2,648 West Grand Boulevard, Wonder would have to pass through the anterooms of his lieutenants, who were all impressed with this impish boy in sunglasses, but put off by the prospect of working with a minor. Gordy listened to the eleven- year-old and made a decision. After days of wrangling between the company and Lula, Wonder signed the standard Motown contract with an "X" under the name Steveland Morris. He was given a monthly wage of $200 and told his earnings would go into an escrow account, minus expenses.

In 1962 his name changed again. There are many stories about who first came up with the name "Wonder" but on the reason there is unanimity. Wonder was merely a description: it was what he was, even if Gordy, and Wonder's musical director and surrogate father, Clarence Paul, were still scratching their heads over what to do with him. His first album, The Jazz Soul Of Little Stevie was a mishmash, which, if not commercially successful, at least put Wonder in the studio night and day. (Marvin Gaye, another Motown misfit waiting for his chance to strike, helped out on drums.)

Wonder joined the Motortown Revue on its first tour in October 1962 and soon caught the eye with skits of such exuberance he would have to be yanked away by Paul to placate the angry acts waiting to come on. He was literally stealing the show. It is easy to imagine many talented Motown writers and performers enduring a Salieri moment while listening to this soulful Amadeus.

The tour was a formative experience, exposing Wonder to the ingrained prejudice of the Deep South as well as his first large audiences. On the way to Birmingham, Alabama, the bus was shot at. He was passing through the land of sharecroppers, the land of "whites only" signs: the land of his mother - and he would remember the stench of injustice and wasted potential. But thanks to the wild reaction of audiences, Gordy followed a hunch and released a live single. "Fingertips Part 2", a harmonica riff with some well-placed hollering, reached No1 in the Billboard and R&B Singles chart in August 1963. The albumRecorded Live: The 12 Year Old Genius also went to No1, Motown's first since it was founded four years earlier. Wonder was precocious, but still a boy, and a lonely one. "So, at 13 years old, you know you're a big star," he said. "OK, fine, but I want to go and watch Huckleberry Hound."

In commercial terms, the three years that followed "Fingertips" were fallow, as Motown searched down one cul-de-sac after another. Wonder then had a growth spurt: suddenly he was pushing 6ft and his face was changing from cute to handsome - but dips into lukewarm jazz standards and surf-movie soundtracks only heightened the fear that his sales would never quite match his talent.

His mid-teens were pocked with bouts of depression and isolation, a retreat that reflected his fears for the future. He had an operation to remove two nodules from his vocal cords, which drew a line through singing for most of 1964 and led to even more anxiety. A route out of this slump was provided by the Michigan School For The Blind, which became a sanctuary from the drug-fuelled politics of Motown and the attentions of Lula. Here, he divided his time between his tutor and latest father-figure, Ted Hull, and the music department. As the prodigy accelerated into his 15th year, Gordy described Wonder's now broken voice as a "controlled, powerful, versatile instrument". But he needed a hit. He found it with new writing partner, Sylvia Moy, who channelled his energy into more modern-sounding lyrics. "Uptight (Everything's Alright)", a song that makes being trampled by a marching band sound like fun, was the first fruit of this hip pairing and an international success. A year and a few hits further down the line Wonder released his version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In The Wind", which, however much of a curio, proved he was prepared to fight for his artistic freedom, forcing its release against the wishes of the Motown hierarchy. It also proved Gordy was right about that voice, which had never sounded so resonant or rich in complex emotion.

He followed that with a series of joyous sub-three-minute gems that stand tall beside the other great works of pop music's gilded window of 1966-69, including "I Was Made To Love Her", "My Cherie Amour" and "For Once In My Life". But as the Sixties ended, so too did Wonder's Motown-induced optimism. The 1971 album Where I'm Coming From is the often-cited breaking of the dam, but the truth is that almost everything he'd done since "Uptight" had been a grope for freedom. His world was in flux. In 1968 he graduated from high school and his relationship with Hull began to fracture in arguments over the war in Vietnam and Wonder's waning respect for the political establishment (the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy appalled and terrified him). Detroit itself had suffered repeated civil unrest, ignited by police brutality, unemployment and slum housing. As if this tumult wasn't enough, Wonder began to write with, and fall for, Motown starlet Syreeta Wright, whom he married in 1970.

Where I'm Coming From is a collection of disparate ideas held together by bloody-minded rebellion and the impetus of his partnership with Wright. Songs about race, civil rights and war were fired off on his Hohner clavinet, the stringed electric keyboard that became the great signifier of smouldering Seventies funk, and the instrument of which he became the undisputed master.

Now 21, all that remained was to loosen the chains of Motown itself. He called Gordy's bluff and opted out of a new contract, but of his estimated $3.5 million earnings since 1962, the company handed over only $100,000 - the rest had been chipped away as expenses. He then fled to New York just as Motown decamped to Los Angeles. Now there was a continent between them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Jeb Bush to Grads: 'Dream Big and Shake Things Up' (BETH REINHARD, 12/15/14, WSJ)

On Monday, he urged graduates of the University of South Carolina: "Don't let anyone tell you how big to dream...Don't be afraid to shake things up. And don't be afraid of change."

Mr. Bush, who has said his decision depends on whether he can run "joyfully", also urged graduates to "find joy in life."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


How computers will replace your doctor (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, 12/15/14, The Week)

[L]ook at the future of the general practitioner of medicine. This is considered the epitome of the high-skilled, secure, remunerative job. Four years of college! Four years of medical school! Internship! Residency! Government-protected cartel membership!

And yet, this profession is going the way of the dodo bird.

To understand why, the first thing you need to understand is that multiple studies have shown that software is better able to diagnose illnesses, with fewer misdiagnoses. Health wonks love this trend, known as evidence-based diagnosis, and medical doctors loathe it, because who cares about saving lives when you can avoid the humiliation of having a computer tell you what to do.

Then you need to look at companies like Theranos, which allow you to get a blood test cheaply and easily at Walgreens, and get more information about your health than you'd get in a typical doctor's visit.

Then look at a company like Sherpaa, whose mobile app provides you diagnoses, helps you get your prescriptions filled, refers you to specialists, and so on. Right now, Sherpaa works with doctors. But there's no reason to think it couldn't eventually work with software (and in the meantime, work with cheaper Indian doctors rather than morbidly expensive American doctors).

But, you say, we won't be able to get rid of the human general practitioner absolutely. People will still need human judgment, and the human touch.

You are right -- absolutely right. But the human we need is someone with training closer to a nurse's than a doctor's, and augmented by the right software, would be both cheaper and more effective than a doctor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Poll: More Americans Think CIA Program Was Justified Than Not (FELICIA SCHWARTZ, Dec. 15, 2014, WSJ)

Americans who believe the Central Intelligence Agency's post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention program was justified significantly outnumber those who don't think it was warranted, according to a poll released Monday.

A survey conducted by Pew Research Center found 51% of Americans think the CIA practices were warranted, compared with 29% who said the techniques were not, and 20% who didn't express an opinion. A majority of those polled, 56%, believed the interrogation methods provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks. Hiroshima and Nagasaki; did anyone really think we were going to mind dunking a handful of terrorists?
Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


The Bush brand: Not so bad anymore (Nia-Malika Henderson, December 15, 2014, Washington Post)

While it isn't quite time to bust out your "Miss Me Yet," gear, there is no doubt that the Bush brand is seeing a resurgence.  This is good news for Jeb Bush, who is likely weighing Bush fatigue as he considers a White House run in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


A new 2016 poll has Joe Biden at 2 percent. Really. (Aaron Blake, December 15, 2014, Washington Post)

Joe Biden is a sitting, two-term vice president of the United States -- a position that often entitles you to frontrunner status in your party's next presidential primary. And Biden has made clear that he's pretty interested in giving it a go.

A new poll from Monmouth University, though, should give him some pause. It shows that very same Joe Biden languishing badly in the 2016 primary. In fact, he's at just 2 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Russia heading for crash as ruble plummets (Mark Thompson, December 15, 2014, CNNMoney)

Russia's economy is crashing and its currency appears to be in free fall.

The ruble plunged by about 12% Monday, meaning it's lost nearly 50% against the dollar this year.

A double-whammy of collapsing oil prices and Western sanctions is driving up inflation. Cash is flooding out of the country and the risk that some Russian companies may default is increasing.

Russia's central bank has raised interest rates five times this year, and spent nearly $90 billion trying to defend the ruble and prevent prices spiraling out of control.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Five reasons Christie will never be president (Tom Moran, December 12, 2014, Newark Star-Ledger)

 It ain't going to happen. And here are five reasons why. [...]

His record: New Jersey has roughly 300,000 people seeking jobs, and is producing less than 600 a month. In the last year, the state's rate of job growth ranked dead last in the contiguous United States.

The budget is a mess, too. We have the nation's second lowest bond rating, and Wall Street recently warned that it could get worse. The state's roads and bridges are crumbling, much worse than most, and the fund to fix them is broke. [...]

Jeb: Let's assume that Republicans in 2016 do what they always do: Flirt with the extremists, but choose a moderate in the end. That's Christie's path to the nomination.

But now it seems that Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, is likely to jump in. Every poll shows Bush beating Christie. Bush is especially strong among Latinos, a key concern of the GOP. He has better record as governor. He has no Bridgegate problem. And he doesn't scream and pick fights.

On the other hand, Jeb could easily pick him for VP, where you want an attack dog, and then he's a heartbeat away....

December 14, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Many Choose Not to Save in the Health Marketplace (ABBY GOODNOUGH, DEC. 11, 2014, NY Times)

If they do nothing, most of the 6.7 million people who remained enrolled as of last month will automatically be re-enrolled in their current plans or similar ones. More often than not, the premiums for those in the most popular plans will increase, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform.

The Obama administration is urging them to shop around, and with good reason: Many can find a better deal or at least keep their costs steady. That is especially true in states like Arizona, where the competition is robust, new insurers have entered the marketplace, and the price for the cheapest plans in many areas has dropped.

At the same time, the availability of less expensive "benchmark" plans means that the federal subsidies that help many lower-income Arizonans pay their premiums will go down, because subsidies are pegged to those plans. That means customers who stay in more expensive plans will have to pay a larger share of the price.

Another potential problem is that subsidy recipients will receive the same amount in 2015 as they did in 2014 unless they ask for a recalculation. That means some people could be required to pay back part of their subsidy at tax time.

Despite those issues, the data so far suggests that many customers are keeping what they have and not even window-shopping. As of Dec. 5, only about 720,000 customers had returned to the federal exchange serving 37 states to re-enroll or switch plans, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Here in Arizona, insurance agents and enrollment counselors last week reported a steady stream of customers seeking advice. But the demand has not yet been huge, they said, indicating that many enrollees may be succumbing to inertia, are willing to pay more to their keep their networks and level of coverage, or are unaware that they have a choice. About 120,000 residents of Arizona signed up for exchange plans this year, according to federal data.

"I'm concerned about the confused," said Kathleen Oestreich, the chief executive of Meritus, a new insurer, which, after dropping its rates by 23 percent on average, is offering many of the lower-priced plans here for 2015. "That natural inclination to simply not change because it's too much effort: How will it affect the population of low-income people in particular?"

Shanna Goldenberg of Phoenix, who works two jobs and pays $160 a month for her exchange plan, said she had no idea if her premium was going up. But Ms. Goldenberg, 27, said she would probably let her plan be automatically renewed, because the enrollment process last year was so confusing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 PM


Saudi Arabia's oil war against Iran and Russia (Ralph Peters, December 14, 2014, NY Post)

If oil prices remain low through next year, the effect on rogue governments, from the Russian Federation to Venezuela, will go from damaging to devastating.

But Western economies (and China's) stand to benefit, with cheap oil possibly tickling Europe's snoozing markets awake. Even most underdeveloped states will get a welcome break.

This price plunge has been driven by Saudi Arabia, OPEC's dominant power. While it's true that part of Riyadh's actions respond to the energy renaissance in North America, the greater motivation is breaking Iran's will.

The Saudis believe they can no longer rely on the US to contain Tehran's imminent nuclear threat, so they're out to do what our lukewarm sanctions couldn't.

There's no love lost between the Saudis and the Russians, either. The Saudis want the Assad regime in Syria to go. Moscow props it up.

OPEC isn't scared of $40 oil (Gregory Wallace, December 14, 2014, CNNMoney)

OPEC won't rush to cut oil production even if prices fall as low as $40 per barrel, one of the cartel's members said Sunday.

The energy minister for the United Arab Emirates told Bloomberg at a Dubai conference that the middle eastern oil producers believe "the market will stabilize itself."

"We are not going to change our minds because the prices went to $60 or to $40," Suhail Al-Mazrouei said.

Even as it has watched prices dip, OPEC declined to cut back on production at its November meeting. Some observers had expected a production cut to boost the price of crude.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


The Imitation of Marriage (Ross Douthat, DEC. 13, 2014, NY Times)

Near the end of "Labor's Love Lost," his illuminating new book on the decline of the working-class family, the Johns Hopkins sociologist Andrew Cherlin cites research suggesting that many working-class men, far from being trapped in an antique paradigm of "restricted emotional language," have actually thrown themselves into therapeutic, "spiritual but not religious" questing, substituting Oprah-esque self-help for more traditional forms of self-conceiving and belonging.

Cherlin, working from progressive premises, sees this as potentially good news: a sign that these men are getting over Gary Cooper and preparing to embrace the more egalitarian and emotionally open patterns of the upper class.

But given that this shift has coincided with lost ground for blue-collar men, another interpretation seems possible. We may have a culture in which the working class is encouraged to imitate what are sold as key upper-class values -- sexual permissiveness and self-fashioning, spirituality and emotivism -- when really the upper class is also held together by a kind of secret traditionalism, without whose binding power family life ends up coming apart even faster.

Social experimentation is for the subhumans, not for our kids.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Down and Out: The Democratic Party's losses at the state level are almost unprecedented, and could cripple it for a long time to come. (Jamelle Bouie, 12/14/14, Slate)

As Amy Walter notes for the Cook Political Report, Democrats lost big at all levels of government, including the states. "Today," she writes, "about 55 percent of all state legislative seats in the country are held by Republicans. That's the largest share of GOP state legislators since the 1920s." What's more, "just 11 states have an all Democratic-controlled legislature," and Democrats hold single-party control in just seven states. By contrast, "Republicans have a legislative majority in 30 states, including the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina," and single-party control in most of the South.

This, Walter says, is a slow-moving disaster for congressional Democrats. She's right. Absent major gains in 2016, 2018, and 2020, Democrats will be shut out of the next round of redistricting. If, she writes, "Democrats can't get a seat at the redistricting table in 2020, they may find themselves locked out of a congressional majority for another 10 years." And even if they do get a seat at the table, argues Greg Sargent for the Washington Post, there's still the problem of population distribution; even in blue states, most Democratic voters are crammed in a handful of urban areas, which dilutes their strength in House elections. Sargent quotes David Wasserman (also of the Cook Political Report): "If Democrats were to get neutral maps drawn by God in all 50 states, they would still fall well short of winning back the House," says Wasserman. "What Democrats really need is a massive resettlement program."

With that said, there are more costs to Democratic weakness in the states than just House elections. States are where parties build talent and try new ideas. Here, the GOP is instructive. Its brightest stars are either governors (Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Chris Christie) or former state officeholders (Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Joni Ernst). And Republican-controlled statehouses have been incubators for conservative ideas, from experiments in tax cutting (Bobby Jindal's Louisiana and Sam Brownback's Kansas) to full-fledged assaults on public-sector unions (Walker's Wisconsin and Christie's New Jersey). In all likelihood, the next Republican president will either come from the states, or will borrow his approach from the present generation of GOP governors. Likewise, if Democrats win the White House for a third term, they'll face opposition from Congress and empowered Republican majorities at the state level. Indeed, if not for statehouse Republicans, the Affordable Care Act would be a smoother project, with broader buy-in for exchanges and the Medicaid expansion.

And where they have Governorships, they have to govern as conservatives, An experienced Jerry Brown vows to build on what he's already done (SEEMA MEHTA, MICHAEL FINNEGAN, 10/19/14, LA Times)
Making a case for reelection, Gov. Jerry Brown said in an interview that he would hold the line on state spending despite "pent-up" demand for more, further boost local governments' authority and keep California's tangle of regulations from growing in a fourth and final term as governor.

Rather than announce a host of sweeping new policies, Brown said he would largely build on what he's already done, particularly in transferring some education and criminal justice authority to local jurisdictions.

And he would make sure that fellow Democrats' push to spend billions of dollars more on state services, now that the recession is over, doesn't endanger California's newfound fiscal health.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 AM


Obama getting $1.1 trillion spending bill from Congress after late Senate vote (DAVID ESPO and DONNA CASSATA, 12/14/14, Associated Press)

Congress cleared a $1.1 trillion spending bill for President Barack Obama's signature after a day of Senate intrigue capped by a failed, largely symbolic Republican challenge to the administration's new immigration policy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Rapport-building interrogation is more effective than torture (British Psychological Society Research Journal)

Past research (pdf) suggests that using torture as a way to extract information or confessions from terror suspects isn't just unethical, it's also ineffective. The advantage of rapport-building interrogation strategies (including respect, friendliness and empathy towards suspects) over more coercive techniques is highlighted once again in a new study that involved interviews with law enforcement interrogators and detainees.

The research involved 34 interrogators (1 woman) from several international jurisdictions including Australia, Indonesia and Norway. And there were 30 international detainees (1 woman), most of whom had been held on suspicion of terrorism, including people suspected of involvement with the Tamil Tigers or the Islamist group Ansar al Ismal based in Norway. One in five of the detainees reported being subjected to practices that constitute torture. Note, these were separate groups - the interrogators had not dealt professionally with the participating detainees.

The research team led by Jane Goodman-Delahunty asked the interrogators and detainees to recall a specific interrogation session, to describe the interrogation practices used, and the outcomes in terms of information shared, cooperation and confessions. The results were striking - disclosure was 14 times more likely to occur early in an interrogation when a rapport-building approach was used. Confessions were four times more likely when interrogators struck a neutral and respectful stance. Rates of detainee disclosure were also higher when they were interrogated in comfortable physical settings.

...they could have studied whether it is quicker to breakdown terrorists using torture and then rapport-building or only rapport-building.  

In the terrific Vice interview of "The Architect" of the interrogation program, James Mitchell suggests that he put in place a structure that asumes the former and scoffs at the very notion that the information sought would be revealed during the torture.  Meanwhile, the video of the journalist being water-boarded shows that he couldn't very well say much then, but he expresses his strong desire not to undergo the experience again.  If water-boarding makes them pliant more quickly then we should use it.  If it simply prolongs the process we shouldn't.  The point, after all, is to obtain actionable intelligence in the most timely fashion.  Mr. Mitchell would support whichever works fastest.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


The Many Faces of Jeb  (Frank Bruni, DEC. 13, 2014, NY Times)

As Jeb Bush seemingly leans toward a presidential run, many observers are casting him as a centrist. And there are indeed elements of his current message that suggest that if he won "the nomination as well as the presidency, it could reshape Republican politics for a generation," as Jonathan Martin wrote in The Times late last week. But Martin noted other elements of Bush's message and record as well, the ones that explain why a separate camp of observers look at him and see someone else. For instance, in Politico Magazine, the journalist S. V. Dáte observed that for him and others "who covered Jeb's two terms in Tallahassee," characterizations of Bush as a moderate are "mind-boggling." [...]

BUSH'S categorization as a moderate owes much to the passion he brings to the issues of immigration and education and his dissent from hard-line conservatives on both. These rebellions are meaningful.

So was his commentary from the sidelines of the 2012 presidential race. After a Republican primary debate in which all eight candidates said that they would refuse a budget deal that included $10 of reduced spending for every $1 in tax increases, he made clear that he didn't agree with the pack. And he said that his party had drifted rightward enough that someone like Ronald Reagan would have difficulty finding a receptive home in it.

That assessment suggested one reason Bush is now deemed a centrist: The poles have moved.

But much of his record in Florida is that of the "headbanging conservative" he claimed to be during a first, unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1994. (He won the next time, in 1998.) He slashed taxes. He was a friend to gun owners: Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law was enacted on his watch.

In the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman deemed by many physicians to be in a persistent vegetative state, he intervened on the side of her parents -- but against the wishes of her husband, who was her legal guardian -- to prevent the removal of a feeding tube. And he was an assertive opponent of abortion rights. He still opposes them, and same-sex marriage.

But he learned between his 1994 defeat and 1998 victory to reach out to minorities and speak inclusively and hopefully. When he recently told an audience in Washington that a person had to be willing to lose the Republican primary to win the general election, he was in part alluding to that lesson, and he was telegraphing the tone that a Bush campaign would take. He was also signaling a suspicion of labels and boxes.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


They Made Me Write About Lena Dunham : P.J. O'Rourke stares into Brooklyn's heart of darkness. (PJ O'Rourke, 12/14/14, Daily Beast))

My editor called and said, "Do a column on this Lena Dunham flap!"

And I said...

Actually, back up. What I did NOT say was, "Who the hell is Lena Dumbwhat?"

I'm a 67-year-old guy. I live in rural New Hampshire. I don't subscribe to US Weekly, assuming that still exists. I watch football, basketball, and hockey on TV and sometimes "The Bass Pros" on Outdoor Channel.

The only Lena I know of is Lena Horne, a wonderful performer, who is not involved in any flaps, and who is also dead.

But I'm a writer. That is, I was a writer for 40 years. Now I'm a "content provider." And the Internet has declared that "content is free." So when I get a call from someone who--startling as this is in our times--pays me...

But the Internet isn't all bad. I can Google "Lena Dunham."

I watch baseball and soccer, rather than basketball, and while I had heard of Ms Dunham before this kerfuffle, that was only because Peter Augustine Lawler has written often about her show. But to make me watch a minute of it you'd have to strap me in a chair and prop my eyes open, like Alex at the end of Clockwork Orange...

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


The Center Won Thursday Night. Can It Win Again in the 114th Congress? : Despite griping from left and right, the odd coalition that passed the omnibus bill could form again next year to tackle tough challenges. (DANIEL NEWHAUSER AND SARAH MIMMS, 12/12/14, National Journal)

As messy and uncertain as Thursday's nail-biting vote to keep the government running was, amid a push for confrontation from the farthest ideological ends of both parties, a dynamic formed that could be the key to legislative success in the 114th Congress: The center prevailed.

As Sen. Ted Cruz and House conservatives demanded Republicans challenge the president over immigration and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Elizabeth Warren insisted Democrats stand firm against Wall Street and big money, an odd coalition formed in the middle to pass a sweeping appropriations bill no one loved, but everyone recognized must pass.

In other words, Congress legislated. [...]

This time, Obama and Boehner were whipping votes on the same side of the issue, teaming with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, and an assortment of other strange bedfellows to herald the spending bill to ultimate passage.

"Tonight, working across the aisle collaboratively, against the fringes--well, excuse me, the more vocal, more ideological wings of our party--is good for both parties," Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly said after the vote. "That is a welcome message for voters. They want to see that, and we don't lose a thing."

The omnibus spending bill now heads to the Senate, where a similar coalition of the willing waits to pass it. Reid, who long ago undercut Pelosi's strategy on the omnibus, will be joined by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in whipping members in favor of the bill, while senators as diverse as Patrick Leahy and Lindsey Graham are pushing their colleagues to support the omnibus as well.

As in the House, liberal Senate Democrats like Sens. Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Bernie Sanders have united against the bill, putting themselves in the same camp as Sens. Cruz, Tom Coburn, and Mike Lee--though for decidedly different reasons. But the measure will need just 60 votes to move through the Senate and even Coburn has said he'll allow the omnibus to move forward. The majority of Senate Democrats who, like Warren, opposed the bill's Dodd-Frank provision resigned themselves to the fact that if the House wasn't able to do anything about it, neither would they.

At best, those on the far left and the far right can delay the spending bill, but a vote is inevitable and it appears clear that the middle majority will pass it.

The next two years will not be easy for either party and Congress will be called upon numerous times to approve vital legislation on a deadline. McConnell and Boehner recognize that although they will both control majorities beginning next month, there's still a Democrat in the White House. They won't be able to ignore the other party if they hope to get anything of real substance done over the next two years.

This is what McConnell has been talking about: returning to regular order and allowing the committees to do their work. The only reason that the omnibus was able to pass the House, and is likely to pass the Senate, is that it is a carefully crafted compromise bill. Appropriators, both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, spent months haggling over every last detail before presenting the package to members. The final omnibus bill has the fingerprints of not just a few members of leadership, but dozens of members from all sides of the political spectrum.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Why Airbus May Be Ditching the A380 Jet (Businessweek, 12/14/14)
Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Belt Tightening 101 : Mitch Daniels has helped Purdue keep costs down for students. (AARON M. RENN, Autumn 2014, City Journal)

Prior to his arrival in 2012, tuition at Purdue had gone up every year for 36 years, with annual hikes averaging close to 6 percent in the previous decade. Daniels has frozen tuition for three straight years and slashed room and board costs by 10 percent. "Instead of asking our students and their families to accommodate their budgets to our spending," he says, "let's see if we can't adjust our spending to their budgets." Purdue's class of 2016 may graduate without ever having seen a tuition hike.

Erica Smith, a recent communications graduate from Michigan City, says that the tuition freeze was long overdue. She financed her education with loans she'll be repaying for at least 25 years. "I feel hopeless almost," she says. "But most of my friends have as much debt as I do. We joke about paying it till we die." Smith says that cost hikes while she was a student added between $4,000 and $6,000 to her overall debt. "If tuition continues to rise, Purdue will be out of reach for middle-class people, like my niece," whom she hopes will one day follow her to West Lafayette.

Daniels achieved the tuition freeze in part by postponing raises for some administrators, and some faculty members volunteered to forgo raises as well. Information-technology consolidation, bulk purchasing, eliminating off-campus storage, disposing of surplus property, and improving cash management also contributed--all techniques from Daniels's playbook as governor. The former Indiana governor's efforts to control costs have attracted national attention. "Daniels should teach an online course for college administrators," USA Today editorialized. "Call it Belt Tightening 101." The tuition freeze is "a courageous step in the right direction," says Danette Howard of the Indiana-based Lumina Foundation, which makes grants for postsecondary education. Howard speaks from experience, having served as secretary of higher education in Maryland after a four-year freeze in that state sent average tuition from eighth-highest in the country down to 27th.

As is, Jeb should make him chief of staff.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


What If The Road Could Harvest Energy Every Time You Used Your Brakes? (Ben Schiller, 12/13/14, Co.Exist)

The company Energy Intelligence is focused on one area: kinetic energy from braking vehicles. The Massachusetts startup is developing a mat that would sit in front of toll plaza and parking garages and provide power to nearby systems.

"It's a flat mat that sits on top of the road to generate electricity from the motion of vehicles," says CEO Daniel Shani. "When you slow down to approach a parking garage or truck weigh station, you're dissipating lots of energy we aim to make better use of."

The mat contains a pressurized fluid and a series of mechanical levers. As you slow down, the liquid shifts and drives the levers, generating power which goes out through an inverter that conditions the electricity for general use.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Jeb Bush to write e-book and release 250,000 e-mails (Philip Rucker December 13, 2014, Washington Post)

Bush said he was releasing the e-mails from his two terms in office, between 1999 and 2007, because he wanted to be transparent.

"Part of serving or running, both of them, is transparency, to be totally transparent," he said. "So I'll let people make up their mind. There's some funny ones, there's some sad ones, there's some serious ones."

December 13, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM

60-40 NATION:

Americans strongly support a path to citizenship  (Aaron Blake, November 20, 2014, Washington Post)

About six in 10 support a new pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, according to a new poll from NBC News and Wall Street Journal. And that number jumps to a whopping 74 percent if you qualify that the undocumented immigrants must take steps like paying back taxes.

As long as you fudge the wording and leave folks the illusion they're being law-and-order, even two-thirds of Republicans consistently support amnesty.
Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


After Barren Years in Somalia, Signs of Growth by the Bunch (ISMA'IL KUSHKUSH, DEC. 13, 2014, NY Times)

After years of warfare that decimated an industry that was once the largest in Africa, the banana is making a tentative comeback in Somalia. Farms are stepping up production and eyeing overseas markets that have been dormant for years.

"Last April we exported to Saudi Arabia for the first time in 23 years," said Kamal Haji Nasir, 30, whose father, owns this plantation in Afgooye, a town on the Shebelle River, about 45 minutes' drive from Mogadishu. "We are excited and hopeful."

For more than two decades, Somalia was the epitome of a failed state -- a country rife with war, anarchy, famine, piracy and terrorism. Many of those problems persist -- there has been a recent surge in attacks by Shabab militants, the government is riven with infighting and the United Nations has been warning of a growing risk of famine -- but the country has nonetheless made some progress in the past few years.

Somalia elected a new president and adopted a constitution in 2012, bringing some stability, and attracting pledges of aid from international donors. Somali pirates, who once threatened international shipping in the Indian Ocean, have largely been contained and the Shabab have lost their grip over many towns.

"By any measure, Somalia today is in a better situation than it has been for the past 23 years," said Nicholas Kay, the United Nations' special representative for Somalia.

That stability has allowed farmers like Mr. Nasir, who studied agriculture at Mogadishu University, to return to a business that has been in his family for four generations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


'Princeton Mom' on CNN (Elahe Izadi, December 12, 2014, Washington Post)
Susan Patton -- or "Princeton Mom," as she's now known -- got herself booked on CNN Thursday to talk about rape. It went as you'd probably expect. [...]

Anyway, Patton is still saying things that many people find objectionable. On Thursday, when CNN's Carol Costello asked Patton about campus rape, she responded: "What makes this conversation so particularly prickly is the definition of rape. It is no longer when a woman is violated at the point of a knife or gun. What we're really identifying as rape is a clumsy, hook-up melodrama."

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


South Dakota shutters 'Don't Jerk and Drive' campaign (The Week, 12/13/14) else are you supposed to pass the time?

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Palestinian man slams car into concrete barrier near military post (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 13, 2014)
Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Tolkien's myths are a political fantasy (Damien Walter, 12 December 2014, The Guardian)

Tolkien's myths are profoundly conservative. Both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings turn on the "return of the king" to his rightful throne. In both cases this "victory" means the reassertion of a feudal social structure which had been disrupted by "evil". Both books are one-sided recollections made the Baggins family, members of the landed gentry, in the Red Book of Westmarch - an unreliable historical source if ever there was one. A balanced telling might well have shown Smaug to be much more of a reforming force in the valley of Dale.

And of course Sauron doesn't even get to appear on the page in The Lord of the Rings, at least not in any form more substantial than a huge burning eye, exactly the kind of treatment one would expect in a work of propaganda.

We're left to take on trust from Gandalf, a manipulative spin doctor, and the Elves, immortal elitists who kill humans and hobbits for even entering their territory, when they say that the maker of the one ring is evil. Isn't it more likely that the orcs, who live in dire poverty, actually support Sauron because he represents the liberal forces of science and industrialisation, in the face of a brutally oppressive conservative social order? find a conservative willing to argue against an assertion that we resemble Gandalf and the Elves while the Progressives resemble Scientific Sauron and the orcs.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


How Crude Oil's Global Collapse Unfolded (RUSSELL GOLD,  Dec. 12, 2014, WSJ)

Since the 1970s, Nigeria has sent a steady stream of high-quality crude oil to North American refineries. As recently as 2010, tankers delivered a million barrels a day.

Then came the U.S. energy boom. By July of this year, oil imports from Nigeria had fallen to zero.

Displaced by surging U.S. oil production, millions of barrels of Nigerian crude now head to India, Indonesia and China. But Middle Eastern nations are trying to entice the same buyers. This has set up a battle for market share that could reshape the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and fundamentally change the global market for oil.

On Friday, crude prices dropped to their lowest level in five years after the International Energy Agencycut its forecast for global oil demand for the fifth time in six months. That signaled to investors that the world economy would struggle in the coming year, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling by 315.51 points, or 1.8%, to 17280.83. That's the Dow's biggest weekly percentage loss in three years.

Since June, the IEA has cut its demand forecast for 2015 by 800,000 barrels, while it says U.S. oil output will rise next year by 1.3 million barrels a day.

The drop in global oil prices from over $110 a barrel to under $62 on Friday has been portrayed as a showdown between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., two of the world's biggest oil producers. But the reality is more complex, involving Libyan rebels and Indonesian cabdrivers as well as Texas roughnecks and Middle Eastern oil ministers. It reflects both the surging supply of crude and the crumbling demand for oil.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Behind the GOP Statehouse Juggernaut (ALLYSIA FINLEY, Dec. 12, 2014, WSJ)

[F]lorida political veteran Bill McCollum, who laid out a battle plan that produced the party's statehouse coups. Over a recent lunch in downtown Orlando, Fla., he explained how Republicans did it, how they can capitalize on the wins, and what lessons the successes might hold for the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. McCollum is chairman of one of the least-known important outfits in American politics--the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), an outgrowth of the Republican National Committee formed in 2002 that plays in legislative, lieutenant governors' and secretary of state races. But "it was only in 2010 that the legislative campaign committee came into its own," Mr. McCollum says, establishing "a large network of relationships that allowed us to go out and play in a lot of legislative races."

You might say they overachieved: In 2010 Republicans picked up 675 legislative seats, flipped 21 chambers, and won complete control of 25 statehouses. This year Mr. McCollum credits a "perfect storm" of strong candidates, effective strategy and a highly charged political atmosphere that delivered 69 of 99 state legislative chambers to Republican hands, exceeding the party's previous high-water mark of 64 in 1920.

Republicans this year flipped nine state legislative chambers: the Colorado Senate; Maine Senate; Minnesota House; Nevada Senate and Assembly; New Hampshire House; New Mexico House and West Virginia House and Senate.

Next year, the GOP will control the legislatures and governorships in 23 states, while Democrats will enjoy hegemony in seven--California, Delaware, Oregon, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Bolstering the GOP's ranks in state government, Republicans will have 31 lieutenant governors, 28 secretaries of state and 27 attorneys general.

Mr. McCollum credits RSLC President Matt Walter and his predecessor, Ed Gillespie --who served as chairman from January 2010 until this winter, when he stepped down to run, unsuccessfully, for the U.S. Senate in Virginia--for building the outfit into a political powerhouse. This election cycle, the RSLC raised nearly $26 million, up from about $11 million a decade ago. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the RSLC's counterpart on the left, trailed badly, bringing in a little more than $9 million.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


What progressives don't want to talk about in the Rolling Stone scandal (Freddie deBoer, December 12, 2014, The Week)

By creating the expectation that all rape accusations must be presumed true regardless of circumstance, anti-rape activists have tied the credibility of their efforts to every individual accusation, and in so doing perversely undermined our efforts to end sexual assault.

From both supporters of the original reporting and doubters alike, a central question has emerged: Why did Sabrina Erdely, the story's author, fail to interview any of the accused? This question was initially pressed by The Washington Post's Erik Wemple and Slate's Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt. It would seem to be a glaring and obvious omission; as much as her story concerned campus rape in general, its central, most powerful passage concerned the fraternity gang rape. A story of that prominence and emotional power was inevitably going to take on the lion's share of attention. So how could Erdely have failed to do proper diligence, especially with a story so certain to generate attention and controversy? More generally, why did Erdely not do more to vet Jackie's story, which could have potentially saved Erdely, Rolling Stone, and Jackie a great deal of embarrassment and trouble?

In fact, in the context of today's elite media culture, the failure makes sense. In progressive online circles, particularly Twitter, a powerful social norm has emerged: Decent people have a moral obligation to believe all rape accusations, and failure to do so amounts to anti-feminism or worse. Recently, the writer and lawyer Zerlina Maxwell advocated for exactly that at The Washington Post. Others, such as Jessica Valenti, have suggested the same. Spend any time in the progressive corners of the internet and you'll see the power of this norm.

Indeed, both Wemple's and Rosin and Benedikt's initial pieces questioning Erdely's reporting earned complaints of rape denial on Twitter. The social risks of being seen to express skepticism towards any given accusation of rape are now so powerful that many people avoid even the suggestion of doubt. Those who are willing to question individual accusations, like Cathy Young, are subject to repeated and vociferous criticism. In such an environment, it's no wonder Erdely felt little urge to interview the alleged assailants. To do so in our media culture was to invite risk and little reward.

But as the ensuing days have proved, there is considerable danger in applying this standard to journalism, and not merely for the accused. Ultimately, refusing to subject accusations of rape to rigorous review hurts accusers, by failing to build the strongest case on their behalf, and other victims, by producing ambient skepticism in the culture.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


The mechanized future of warfare  (The Week, 12/13/14)

Modern soldiers are equipped with a wide array of highly sophisticated, computer-enhanced weapons systems that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago. About 40 percent of the U.S. aerial fleet consists of unmanned combat drones, and the Air Force now trains more drone operators than bomber or fighter pilots. Robotic ground vehicles have also flooded the battlefield, with more than 6,000 deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan to haul gear, climb over obstacles, and provide advanced reconnaissance. The military is now testing a more advanced version called a Legged Squad Supports Systems robot that looks like a mechanical mule, and can carry 400 pounds of cargo over uneven terrain. With even more futuristic devices in the pipeline, some officials are estimating that up to 25 percent of infantry forces could be replaced by robots in the coming decades. Like aerial drones, most of the current systems are operated by remote control, but experts say some devices will soon be capable of carrying out designated tasks with minimal human oversight.

Even if humans didn't universally desire self-governance, the ability of the US to strike any regime, anywhere, anytime, at no risk to ourselves, would doom the likes of the Taliban and ISIS.
Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Weak Ruble Keeps Russians at Home (JAMES MARSON and  ALEXANDER KOLYANDR, Dec. 12, 2014 , WSJ)

The ruble's plunge against the euro and the dollar is upending the lives of many in Russia's middle class, which in recent years has gotten used to vacations abroad and Western products from gadgets to food.

Booming oil prices helped Russia's middle class grow to 60% of the population in 2010 from 30% a decade earlier, according to the World Bank.

Now, the plunging oil price and sanctions imposed on Russia by the West because of its intervention in Ukraine have sent the ruble plummeting, leaving many of those who at one time could afford the latest smartphones, furniture from IKEA and cheese from France facing a new reality.

A mid-November survey by the FOM pollster found 45% of Russians say the weak ruble has had a significant impact on their lives. The ruble has slipped further since the survey, touching record lows of nearly 58 to the dollar on Friday compared with just over 32 at the start of the year.

It's only Russia, so winning hardly counts, but the UR has.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


In Latin America, Growth Trumps Climate (Eduardo Porter, 12/09/14, NY Times)

The tension between climate and development crops up all over Latin America. Chile, poor in fossil fuels and rich in wind and sun, might seem like a natural base for a low-carbon economy.

Yet Aldo Cerda, who heads corporate affairs at the country's budding climate exchange, says the intensity of Chile's carbon use is set to grow significantly over the next 15 years.

The tension is also evident in Peru, host of the climate change talks, where the government watered down environmental regulations over the summer to try to pump up flagging growth.

"Peru is still a work in progress," said Joe Keenan, who heads the Nature Conservancy in Latin America. "Some people in the government are trying to put together a forest protection plan. But there are also plans to put new highways into the Amazon."

Resolving this tension is proving difficult, at best. Take the report issued this year by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. It worked on the assumption that every country would cut annual carbon emissions from energy to only 1.6 tons per person by 2050.

Brazil, where emissions from energy rose to almost 2.4 tons per person last year, is unlikely to agree to that anytime soon.

"Brazilians are very far from understanding that the climate question is an obstacle that slows Brazil's exploitation of natural resources," Mr. Leitão, the Greenpeace representative, told me. "On the contrary, Brazil believes that it still has the right to some quota of increased emissions."

In a 2012 study, Elizabeth A. Stanton, an environmental economist at Synapse Energy Economics, noted that projections by the International Energy Agency, on which leading climate models are based, assume that the least developed countries will fail to close the prosperity gap with the rich of the world.

Income per person in the world's poorest countries -- about one-27th of that of people in the rich world -- would inch ahead to one-20th in the year 2105.

"This assumption -- that economic development will fail in the poorest countries -- results in lower business-as-usual global emissions, allowing emissions reduction targets to be less stringent in richer countries," she wrote. "What if low-income countries experience genuine economic development?"

The world's poorest countries may well fail to overcome their misery. Still, the development imperative will beat the climate imperative every time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Democrats Still Piling On Treasury Nominee Antonio Weiss (DAMIAN PALETTA, 12/12/14, WSJ)

Lazard Ltd. banker Antonio Weiss, President Barack Obama's pick for a senior Treasury Department post, hasn't even met with a single lawmaker on Capitol Hill yet. But a growing number of Democrats have already decided they don't like him, and the list keeps growing.

Late Wednesday, Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) joined Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D., N.H.), Joe Manchin (D., W.V.), Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) in announcing opposition to Mr. Weiss, who the White House wants to serve as under secretary for domestic finance.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Torture Is Who We Are : A country, like a person, is what it does. (PETER BEINART, DEC 11 2014, The Atlantic)

Torture, declared President Obama this week, in response to the newly released Senate report on CIA interrogation, is "contrary to who we are." Maine Senator Angus King added that, "This is not America. This is not who we are." According to Kentucky Congressman John Yarmuth, "We are better than this."

No, actually, we're not. There's something bizarre about responding to a 600-page document detailing systematic U.S. government torture by declaring that the real America--the one with good values--does not torture. It's exoneration masquerading as outrage. Imagine someone beating you up and then, when confronted with the evidence, declaring that "I'm not really like that" or "that wasn't the real me." Your response is likely to be some variant of: "It sure as hell seemed like you when your fist was slamming into my nose." A country, like a person, is what it does.

The implication of the statements by Obama, King, and Yarmuth is that there is an essential, virtuous America whose purity the CIA defiled. But that's silly. Aliens did not invade the United States on 9/11. In times of fear, war, and stress, Americans have always done things like this. In the 19th century, American slavery relied on torture. At the turn of the 20th, when America began assembling its empire overseas, the U.S. army waterboarded Filipinos during the Spanish-American War. As part of the Phoenix Program, an effort to gain intelligence during the Vietnam War, CIA-trained interrogators delivered electric shocks to the genitals of some Vietnamese communists, and raped, starved, and beat others.

America has tortured throughout its history. And every time it has, some Americans have justified the brutality as necessary to protect the country from a savage enemy. Others have called it counterproductive and immoral. At different moments, the balance of power between these two groups shifts. But neither side in these debates speaks for the "real America." The real America includes them both. Morally, we contain multitudes. [...]

After 9/11, while George W. Bush was announcing that God had deputized America to spread liberty around the world, his government was shredding the domestic and international restraints against torture built up over decades, and injecting food into inmates' rectums. 

If we accept the numbers of those who oppose water-boarding, it was done to something like four or five people.  If we accept the numbers of those who oppose the removal of the Ba'athist regime in Iraq it l;ed to the deaths of 1.5 million Iraqis. If we pick a casualty number for WWII, we killed 350,000 Japanese civilians.  And in our own Civil War, we may have killed as many as 750,000 of each other.

To define ourselves as the nation that tortured 5, apparently out of pure enjoyment of the act, rather than the nation that has been willing to kill millions over its history in order to extend liberty throughout the world, is farcical.  And the hope of the Left, that torture is so horrible that having engaged in it will deter us from future wars of liberation, is simply anti-historical and aAmerican.

After every American war we pause to wring our hands over the brutality with which we won it.  And then we fight the next one...


Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


A Planet of Suburbs : The world is becoming ever more suburban, and the better for it (The Economist, 12/12/14)

THIRTY kilometres south of central Chennai, just out of earshot of the honking, hand-painted lorries roaring up Old Mahabalipuram Road, you seem to have reached rural India. The earth road buckles and heaves. Farmers dressed in Madras-checked dhotis rest outside huts roofed with palm leaves. Goats wander about. Then you turn a corner, go through a gate, and arrive in California.

Lakewood Enclave is a new development of 28 large two-storey houses, wedged tightly together. The houses are advertised as "Balinese-style", although in truth they are hard to tell apart from any number of suburban homes around the world. Outside, the houses are painted a pale pinkish-brown; inside, the walls are white, the floors are stone and the design is open-plan. They each have three bedrooms (middle-class Tamil families are small these days) and a covered driveway to protect a car from the melting sun. Just one detail makes them distinctively Indian: a cupboard near the door for Hindu gods.

A quarter of a century ago your correspondent taught in a school not far from these houses. It was a rural area; bonnet macaques would sometimes invade his shower. Now farmers are selling their small parcels of land to housebuilders for sums beyond previous imagining. Commuters are rushing in so that, every morning, they can rush out again. Chengalpattu, the district where Lakewood lies (see map on next page--where the new development is also pictured), now contains more than half a million people. Lakewood looks likely to be the rule, not the exception. "The force of human nature means it will happen," says Balaji Narasimhan of SSPDL, its developer. "You can't stop it."

The shift in population from countryside to cities across the world is often called the "great urbanisation". It is a misleading term. The movement is certainly great: the United Nations reckons that the total urban population in developing countries will double between 2010 and 2050, to 5.2 billion, while the rural population will shrink slightly. But it is nothing like as obviously urban. People may be moving towards cities, but most will not end up in their centres. Few cities are getting more crowded downtown; between 2001 and 2011 Chennai added just 7% more people while Chengalpattu swelled by 39%. In developed and developing worlds, outskirts are growing faster than cores. This is not the great urbanisation. It is the great suburbanisation. [...]

Just how powerful and widespread this centrifugal trend will be is suggested by the work of Shlomo Angel, a geographer at New York University. By using satellite images, old maps and population data, Mr Angel has run a ruler over some 3,600 metropolitan areas. He finds that, with few exceptions, they are less dense in wealthier countries (see map). Paris is less than one-third as densely populated as Cairo and barely one-seventh as dense as Mumbai. Even rich cities that seem packed are sparsely populated compared with poorer ones. Tokyo is only one-fifth as densely populated as Dhaka, for example.

Mr Angel also finds that almost every city is becoming less dense. In 1920 Chicago squeezed 59 people into each hectare of land; now, by his reckoning, it manages just 16. The urbanised area of Mexico City is about half as densely populated as it was in 1940. Beijing's population density has collapsed from 425 people per hectare in 1970 to just 65 people per hectare, or about the same as Chicago at its most crowded. Few metropolises are becoming more crowded, and most of those that are were exceptionally spread out to begin with, such as Los Angeles and Johannesburg.

The simple truth is that as people become richer they consume more space, just as they consume more energy, more goods and more services. Even if they live in towers, those towers are likely to be widely spaced, and the households that live in them will be small--wealth also being associated with small families. Mr Angel finds that population densities tend to drop when Chinese cities knock down cheaply built walk-up apartments and replace them with high towers. And many people will opt not to live in towers but in even less dense detached or semi-detached houses.

Wealth fuels sprawl. [...]

A few years ago, when foreclosure and rising petrol prices held American suburbs in a vice, confident predictions were made about their abandonment and the repopulation of city centres. William Frey of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, has shown that urban counties are indeed growing in population more quickly than they did a decade ago, while suburban growth has slowed. The two are now roughly equal (see chart). This does not, however, mean that Americans are now equally drawn to central cities and to suburbs. The fastest-growing parts of the country are now nearly all suburban (the exceptions are urban New Orleans, still bouncing back from Hurricane Katrina, and rural North Dakota, which is fired by a shale-gas boom). Between 2007 and 2011 the 25 biggest county-to-county migrations in America were all from more urban counties to more suburban ones.

Between 2012 and 2013 the areas that the Census Bureau calls "principal cities" absorbed 3.3m migrants from elsewhere in America--but they shed 5.4m people, leaving a net loss due to in-country migration of 2.1m. Foreign immigrants and babies saved them from outright depopulation. The suburbs, meanwhile, added 5.8m domestic migrants and only lost 3.2m, suggesting their pull remains enormously strong. A big part of the attraction is schools; they are still often dire in the middles of cities.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Two years later, Newtown has meant almost nothing to the gun debate (Aaron Blake, December 11, 2014, NY Times)

The tendency of all political analysts -- The Fix included -- amid a major news story is to over-estimate its impact on the political zeitgeist. And that's especially the case these days, with an increasingly polarized public and an intransigent Congress that can rarely agree on anything.

Perhaps no event has driven this home like the 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Conn.

After 26 died, Democrats and the White House made an all-out push for new gun laws. They wound up focusing on increased background checks -- something polls showed as many as nine in 10 Americans supported (in theory). A few Republican senators even jumped on board. But it failed.

With the two-year anniversary of Newtown this weekend, support for gun control has reached a new low.

A Pew poll shows, for the first time, a majority of Americans prioritize gun rights (52 percent) over gun control (46 percent). As recently as 1999, two-thirds of Americans picked gun control over gun rights. After Newtown, it was 51-46 in favor of gun control.

December 12, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


A Centenary Salute to Patrick O'Brian : Toasting the master who commanded all things nautical in the Aubrey-Maturin fiction series. (JAMIE MALANOWSKI, Dec. 11, 2014, WSJ)

For those unfamiliar with the books, the two men meet cute. On the opening page of "Master and Commander," the 1969 debut of what would become a fiction series with devotees around the world, Aubrey is attending a musical performance at the Governor's House in Port Mahon, Minorca. A large man--his "big form overflowed his seat, leaving only a streak of gilt wood to be seen here and there"--the young lieutenant loses himself in the music and starts to keep time with gusto. This causes the small, dark man next to him, Dr. Maturin, to whisper, "If you really must beat the measure, sir, let me entreat you to do so in time, and not half a beat ahead."

Aubrey broods on the rebuke and decides to challenge the man to a duel, though this is entirely a case of misplaced anger: He is far less bothered by the remark than by the dismal state of his career. Aubrey's mood soars, though, when he receives unexpected word that he has been given command of a sloop. "There you are, sir,'' says Aubrey when he sees Maturin the next day. "I owe you a thousand apologies, I am afraid. I must have been a sad bore to you last night, and I hope you will forgive me. We sailors hear so little music--are so little used to genteel company--that we grow carried away. I beg your pardon."

The novel continues: " 'My dear sir,' cried the man in the black coat, with an odd flush rising in his dead-white face, 'you had every reason to be carried away. I have never heard a better quartetto in my life.' "

And with that exchange, a great literary friendship begins. Aubrey persuades Maturin to become his ship's doctor, and off they go, to jungles and South Sea isles, around the Mediterranean and to the Galapagos, to an Algerian palace and a Parisian prison and the admiralty offices in London. They sink and get sunk, get captured and escape, enjoy splendid triumphs and more than a few reverses.

At first, the two have little in common except music, which is perhaps why they are such a perfect fit: Aubrey is jovial, confident, intrepid, a master of the human and seafaring complexities of the war machine he commands on the water, and rather inept in the family and business issues he confronts on terra firma. Maturin is ironical, sarcastic and skeptical, viewing his enemies with a "dangerous, pale, reptilian eye." Along with his medical knowledge, he is a linguist and a natural philosopher who subsumes his Irish resentment of the British to join the fight against the despot Napoleon.

Aubrey is an apostle of duty, an advocate of order, and yet he knows that leading his men depends less on his power to punish them than on his power to inspire. Maturin has a far greater appreciation of freedom, rebelliousness, even anarchy, and yet possesses a fierce sense of right and wrong. Together they embody the values of freedom and democracy that allowed Britain to lead the world.

Theirs is one of the great loves in literature.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


How Chicago saved its small businesses (Mayor Rahm Emanuel, December 12, 2014, CNNMoney)

"We're open for business."

The most important words a business owner can say are often the hardest to achieve. In Chicago, our Innovation Delivery Team has developed new programs and streamlined city hall to help make those words a reality for thousands of entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses.

Small businesses support nearly half of Chicago's workforce, and they are major drivers of community and economic growth in the city. Yet these businesses are also the most at risk, often struggling to access the necessary capital, resources and skills to succeed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


US Producer Price Index down 0.2% in Nov  (Reuters, 12/12/14)

[A] core measure of producer inflation, which excludes food, energy and trade services, was flat. That could be worrisome for Federal Reserve policymakers who are expected to debate next week whether to keep a pledge that borrowing costs will stay at rock bottom for a "considerable time."

When compared to a year earlier, that core index was up just 1.5 percent, and the annual reading has been dropping a tenth of a point each month since September.

Another core reading that only strips out food and energy was also flat on the month and up 1.8 percent from November 2013.

Fed officials largely view the current low inflation environment as transitory and believe the likelihood of inflation running persistently below the U.S. central bank's 2 percent target has diminished somewhat since early this year.

Who's winning the price wars? Consumers (Kathryn Vasel, December 12, 2014, CNNMoney)

The pricing wars heated up with Wal-Mart (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY) unveiling price-matching policies and Target (TGT) offering free shipping on all online orders for the holidays. And Wal-Mart just announced it's slashing prices on Apple iPhones.

Data from mobile shopping app ShopSavvy showed that on average, Wal-Mart is the cheaper option on more than 50% more products than Amazon and Best Buy, across all categories analyzed.

"A couple of years ago, Amazon was the only one matching prices," said Mark LoCastro, spokesperson for deal aggregator DealNews. "But now other people are in the game ... Amazon is trying new tactics to keep people in their eco-system." [...]

The price battle is far from over, but there's already a clear winner: consumers. "The longer they fight, the better it is for the consumer," said LoCastro. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


A torture report for the dustbin (JOHN YOO, 12/09/14,  NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

As a Justice Department lawyer who worked on the legality of the interrogation methods in 2002, I believed that the federal law prohibiting torture allowed the CIA to use interrogation methods that did not cause injury -- including, in extraordinary cases, waterboarding -- because of the grave threat to the nation's security in the months after the 9/11 attacks.

I was swayed by the fact that our military used waterboarding in training thousands of its own soldiers without harm, and that the CIA would use the technique only on top Al Qaeda leaders thought to have actionable information on pending plots.

The United States had just been attacked, with the loss of 3,000 civilians lives and billions in damage; intelligence indicated that more attacks were coming, perhaps using weapons of mass destruction; we knew little about Al Qaeda, and believed only interrogations could reveal the full extent of their plans.

CIA officers have said that they used waterboarding on only three terrorist leaders, and that the interrogations yielded valuable intelligence on Al Qaeda.

I would want to know if they lied to me and other Bush administration officials, as the Feinstein report asserts. that, on the one hand, torture is so uniquely terrible a weapon to use that it is beyond the pale, but, on the other hand, the tortured won't reveal any useful intelligence.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Mauritius opposition wins surprise landslide victory (Deutsche Welle, 12/12/14)

Final results released on Friday showed an opposition coalition led by ex-President Anerood Jugnauth winning Mauritius' parliamentary elections by a large margin.

Jugnauth's center-right Alliance Lepep snatched 47 of the 62 seats in parliament, leaving Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam's coalition to lick its wounds with just 13. [...]

The vote was seen as a referendum on constitutional reform, with a majority of voters apparently balking at a recent government proposal to boost presidential powers by holding direct elections for the post. Mauritius' president, a largely ceremonial position, is currently elected by parliament.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Women flood ranks of GOP (Jonathan Easley, 12/12/14, The Hill)

Republicans believe they had a breakthrough year with female candidates, electing several with unimpeachable resumes to Congress in 2014.

The GOP will send Capitol Hill its youngest-ever woman, 30-year-old Rep.-elect Elise Stefanik (N.Y.); its first black female Republican, Rep.-elect Mia Love (Utah); and the first female Republican senators from two states, Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa), who is also the first female combat veteran to be elected to the chamber.

"These were strong female candidates that had to get through tough primaries, even before the general election," a representative for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) told The Hill. "They had great backgrounds and could go tell voters what they planned to do. They were all very impressive." [...]

Following the 2012 election cycle, when President Obama beat Mitt Romney (R) by double digits among female voters, Republicans made it a focus to recruit more female candidates.

The NRCC launched the Growing Republican Opportunities for Women initiative to recruit and elect female candidates, and outside groups with similar goals sprang up. Gage launched a consulting firm called Burning Glass with the aim of improving GOP messaging to female voters, and numerous PACs have begun funneling money to female candidates within the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


4 things I got wrong about the Great Recession (Mark Thoma, 12/11/14, The Fiscal Times)

[H]ere are some of the things I got wrong about the Great Recession:

It's hard to change the inflation rate in a deep recession: Prior to the Great Recession, I thought central banks could create inflation pretty much at will, even in a deep recession. All that was needed was to crank up the printing press, get the money into the hands of people who will spend it, and the extra demand will drive up the prices of goods and services. At the same time, inflationary expectations would increase driving down the real interest rate, and that would increase demand even more. If the increase in the money supply is sufficiently large, inflation would be the inevitable result.

But the Fed doesn't create money directly, it increases bank reserves and it's possible for those reserves to get stuck in bank vaults or in deposits held at the Fed. When that happens, the money supply doesn't increase -- balances held within the Federal Reserve System are not part of the money supply -- and the desired increase in demand doesn't occur.

The lesson for me is that if you want the inflation rate to increase, demand has to increase. That requires more than simply creating a bunch of reserves that sit idle in banks. long as labor costs are declining. 
Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


The Relentless Production of Shale Oil Is Breaking OPEC's Neck (Peter Coy and Matthew Philips December 11, 2014, Business Week)

Theories as to why OPEC didn't reduce quotas at its meeting in Vienna on Nov. 27 are as cheap and abundant as crude in North Dakota. One holds that the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia want to hurt the Shiites of Iran, who need high-priced oil to finance their government. Another, expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is that the whole thing is a conspiracy to undermine Russia, the world's biggest oil producer. Yet another is that the Saudis hope to drive oil prices below where it makes sense for American shale producers to invest in new production. But shale producers have lowered their costs so much that in key fields they can make profits at $50 to $70 a barrel. That's above core OPEC members' exploration and production costs but below what many need to cover their government spending. "If my calculations are correct, this will go down as one of the worst commodity trading decisions ever," Wilbur Ross, billionaire investor and chairman of WL Ross (IVZ), wrote in an e-mail.

In fact, prices are being forced down not by any action (or inaction) of the Saudis but by the American shale producers, who are simply producing all the oil they can to maximize their profits. "Collectively, they're not the most sophisticated folks, especially when it comes to world markets," says Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow in the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

With apologies to Ebinger, the shale producers don't need to be sophisticates. Each operator is so small, it can increase production without pushing down the market price. That makes them price "takers," not price setters. And because shale wells are short-lived, producers don't have to plan far ahead, says Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist in Amarillo, Texas. Singly the shale busters are nothing. Collectively, their breakneck production is breaking OPEC's neck. This is the remorseless, leaderless free market at work.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Obama Angers Liberals in Budget Vote (Kenneth T. Walsh Dec. 12, 2014, US News)

President Barack Obama combined forces with opposition Republicans to win a narrow budget victory in the House of Representatives Thursday night, but it came at a high political cost because he alienated many liberals who opposed parts of measure.

There's no cost; they'll oppose the rest of the Obama/GOP agenda as well.


Nancy Pelosi lost on the Cromnibus vote. But she made her point.  (Chris Cillizza, 12/12/14, Washington Post)

The House Thursday night passed a $1 trillion spending bill that averts a shutdown and funds the vast majority of the government for the next year.  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) was on the losing side of the ledger. But she made her point.

Assuming the point was that Democrats and the Right oppose the GOP and the President but are rather powerless?

Did Democrats Get Hosed on the Budget Bill? (PAUL WALDMAN, DECEMBER 12, 2014, American Prospect)

[S]ince Democratic votes were needed to pass the budget, there must have been some goodies tossed in there for the liberals, too. Right?

Actually, not really.

But before we get to that, here's a list of some things in the bill that will warm conservative hearts (you can read about more here):

Wall Street's derivatives trading provision
A rule allowing donors to give ten times as much to political parties
A block on DC's marijuana legalization
A loosening of nutrition requirements for school lunches (take that, Michelle Obama!)
A series of anti-environmental riders, including barring funds to help developing countries cut carbon emissions
A large cut to the EPA budget; staffing at the agency will be reduced to its lowest level since 1989
A provision blocking the EPA from applying the Clean Water Act to certain kinds of farms
A large cut to the IRS budget
A cut to the Affordable Care Act's Independent Payment Advisory Board
A cut to the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), and a requirement that the program's nutrition vouchers can be used to buy potatoes (inserted at the behest of the potato lobby)
An elimination of funding for Obama's Race to the Top education initiative
That's a lot that conservatives can be happy about. So what about liberals? In the press briefing White House spokesperson Josh Earnest held yesterday, he tried to explain what the White House was getting out of the deal. He noted that they got the funding to combat Ebola that they wanted, which is good, but it isn't exactly an item off the liberal wish list. He mentioned money to fight ISIL--again, something the White House wants, but not a treat for the left. Then pretty much everything else he cited was the absence of cuts to important programs, or cuts that weren't as large as they might have been.

In other words, the Republicans got a bunch of things they wanted, while Democrats avoided getting too much taken away from them. It's as though two kids showed up at your door on Halloween, and you dropped a handful of Twix bars into Superman's bag, but told Princess Elsa, "Your treat is that I'm not going to reach into your bag and take those KitKats."

He's a strange sort of gay Muslim Socialist, huh?

Tensions Surface Between Obama, Congressional Democrats (BYRON TAU, 12/12/14, WSJ)

The differences between many in the party and the president were on full display in the spending fight, as House Democrats played hardball on a $1.1 trillion omnibus must-pass bill despite the White House publicly backing it and calling for bipartisan compromise.

And on other issues -- including the nomination of an investment banker to a Treasury Department post, a tax package negotiated by the Senate's top Democrats, and Mr. Obama's stated determination to push two major free trade deals in the final year of his administration -- have caused unusually public rifts between the administration and Capitol Hill.

December 11, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


Obama touts trade, tax overhaul  (Associated Press, Dec. 11, 2014) 

President Barack Obama is meeting with corporate advisers and pushing for a simpler tax code for businesses and expanded trade, two policy proposals that are certain to put him at odds with some fellow Democrats as he enters the last two years of his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Santa's Not-So-Little Helper :You know Santa: cheeks like a rose, nose like a cherry. Now meet the Krampus, a boozy, goat-horned menace that whips European children during the first days of December. Clay Risen, 12/10/14, The Morning News)

Santa Claus may be a wonderful symbol of the holiday spirit, but time and consumer society have warped him to the point where he makes little sense. The idea behind Santa, originally, was to carrot-and-stick little boys and girls into good behavior--he's got a list, he's checking it twice, and if you fall under the 'naughty' category it's switches and coals for you. But what child in America is at all afraid of receiving a lump of coal under the tree? What child even knows what a 'switch' is? Thanks to a range of factors--Dr. Spock and Mattel are high on the list--Santa's beneficence is a fait accompli.

Alpine Europe, on the other hand, doesn't have this problem. This is because years ago St. Nick's job was split--while the jolly old elf delivered the goods, an evil, goat-horned spirit called the Krampus brought switches and bad dreams to the boys and girls of Austria, southern Germany, Switzerland, and far northern Italy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


'Cromnibus' Is a Big Win for the GOP (Peter Roff Dec. 11, 2014, US News)

It includes no new funding for Obamacare. It prohibits the transfer or release of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba into the United States, meaning no civilian trials. It blocks funding of the risk corridors that, under the Affordable Care Act, could lead to a government bailout of the insurance companies. It maintains all the existing pro-life policy and funding provisions and adds three more while cutting the funds for the Independent Payment Advisory Board (which is the body that would be recommending any rationing of health care) by $10 million.

The bill also cuts funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by $60 million, which is the fifth consecutive year the agency's budget has been cut and may finally convince the bureaucrats who run the place they cannot go beyond what they are legally authorized to do without congressional approval. And it hits the Internal Revenue Service particularly hard, cutting its allocation of federal dollars by $345.6 million, prohibiting it from targeting organizations because of the way they chose to exercise their First Amendment rights or on an ideological basis, punishes it for its profligate abuse of taxpayer dollars on expensive, needless videos and conferences at luxury resorts, and prohibits the White House from ordering the review of any organization's tax exempt status.

There's more, but the general drift of the thing is toward smaller, leaner, more transparent, more honest government than has been the case over the last six years. [...]

The other piece of what turns out to be an exceptionally intricate puzzle is that by funding almost all of the government through the end of fiscal year 2015, the new Congress can focus on the spending plan for the following year. The new majority is free to turn its thoughts, focus and energy toward the future without having to split its time doing work that should already have been done. It opens the door to the creation of an agenda for spending (and for tax reform) that builds on where things are already headed under Ryan-Murray

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Who Would Jesus Torture (Mark Tooley, 12/10/14, Juicy Ecumenism)

We can be confident of course in God's love for all people. But until God sets forth the new heavens and new earth, temporal security will indeed require threats of harm or weapons of war.

Enhanced interrogation was a desperate attempt, with bipartisan support, to prevent another 9-11. Its defenders insist, against the Senate Democrats' report, that it was successful. Even if immoral in full or in part, as some religious voices declare, the 39 captives subjected to it, one of whom reportedly died, should be seen in the larger context of 3000 killed on 9-11, tens of thousands subsequently killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and several million killed in wars globally across the last 12 years, most in unreported wars, such as in Sudan and Congo.

Unvarnished torture affects thousands today around the world, inflicted by dozens of tyrannical regimes, not on murderous terrorists and their accomplices, but often on innocent persons guilty primarily of dissent from the regime.

...the moneylenders.  And He did it personally.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Why debates over inflation are pointless (Scott Sumner, 12/07/14, Library of Economics & Liberty)

Here's one thought experiment. Get a department store catalog from today, and compare it to a catalog from 1964. (I recently saw Don Boudreaux do something similar at a conference.) Almost any millennial would rather shop out of the modern catalog, even with the same nominal amount of money to spend. Of course that's just goods; there is also services, which have risen much faster in price. OK, so ask a millennial whether they'd rather live today on $100,000/year, or back in 1964 with the same nominal income. Recall the rotary phones and bulky cameras. The cars that rusted out frequently. Cars that you couldn't count on to start on a cold morning. I recall getting cavities filled in 1964, without Novocaine. Not fun. No internet. Crappy TVs, where you have to constantly move the rabbit ears on top to get a decent picture. Lame black and white sitcoms, with 3 channels to choose from. Shorter life expectancy, even for the affluent.

Age-old truth (The Spectator, 13 December 2014)

We are living longer, healthier and more prosperous lives than ever -- it's one of the greatest advances of our time, and yet our politicians prefer to see it as a disaster.  [...]

Who would have thought, for example, that pensioners would be driving the British job-creation miracle? David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith rightly boast that there are more people in work now than ever. But we seldom hear that a third of the rise in employment is accounted for by the over-65s. There are now more than a million pensioners who are -- from choice or necessity -- working and paying taxes, twice the number of a decade ago. So it is rather simplistic to say that pensioners are an ever-heavier burden on working-age people. They are carrying a share of the burden themselves.

Norman Lamb's panicked predictions are part of a refrain that can be heard throughout Whitehall: 'Oh my God, we're all going to live.' Officials still make assumptions based on the bizarre premise that people become economically useless on the day they turn 65. Employers, on the other hand, are delighted to keep hiring a generation of people who have a strong sense of duty and an old-fashioned work ethic.

And this is just conventional work. How many young couples have their working (and personal) lives made much easier by support from their parents, who nowadays often have the good health and stamina required to let them provide a free taxi service and babysitting? The old line --  'Darling, let's have babies while our parents are still young enough to look after them' -- has ceased to be a joke. When people are healthier for longer, they are far more able to support their families for longer -- the importance of which is impossible to quantify. Improvements in medicine mean more people are active for longer -- helping the older generation, their families, their employers, their volunteer groups and society at large.

It is forgotten that today's pensioners are also fit enough to care for their own parents. Again, it's hard to put a figure on it, but Carers UK estimates that 1.3 million pensioners are caring for disabled or older loved ones, saving the economy £120 billion a year. And even these figures do not recognise the amount of voluntary work which so many people take up in their retirement. Nor do they factor in the most valuable contribution of all: the wisdom and love which is being passed down the generations.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Che Guevara's son starts 'motorcycle diaries' tour in Cuba (Claire Boobbyer,  05 Dec 2014, The Telegraph)

The youngest son of Che Guevara, whose The Motorcycle Diaries is one of the most iconic travelogues of all time, is launching motorbike tours of Cuba this month.

Ernesto Guevara's La Poderosa Tours ( will run trips for bikers on two routes across Cuba using Harley-Davidsons.

Filthy running dog Capitalist!

December 10, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Budget Deficit in U.S. Narrows as Employment Growth Accelerates (Jeanna Smialek,  Dec 10, 2014, Bloomberg)

The Treasury in October said the shortfall in the 12 months ended Sept. 30 was $483 billion, or 2.8 percent of gross domestic product, and the Congressional Budget Office said in August that it expects the deficit to shrink to 2.6 percent of GDP this fiscal year.

"The trend is toward smaller and smaller deficits," Paul Edelstein, U.S. economist and director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight in Lexington, Massachusetts, said before the report. "The improving economy is boosting tax revenues."

Cutting military spending in half wipes out the deficit and gets uis back towards historic defense levels.
Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


Senate interrogation report distorts the CIA's success at foiling terrorist plots (John McLaughlin, December 9, 2014, Washington Post)

The most incredible and false claim in the Senate intelligence committee's report on the CIA interrogation program is that the program was neither necessary nor effective in the agency's post-9/11 pursuit of al-Qaeda. The report, written by the committee's Democratic majority and disputed by the Republican minority and the CIA, uses information selectively and distorts facts to "prove" its point.

I won't try to convince you that the program was the right thing to do -- reasonable people will differ. Nor will I discuss the management of the program, other than to say that the record clearly shows the agency went to extraordinary lengths to assure it was both legal and approved -- and the CIA halted the program when uncertain. What I want to address instead is the committee's assertion that the intelligence produced by the interrogation program was not required to stop al-Qaeda terrorists.

The Democratic staffers who drafted the report assert the program contributed nothing important, apparently to bolster a bogus claim that the CIA lied. But let's look at a few cases...

Ex-CIA Directors: Interrogations Saved Lives (The following response is from former CIA Directors George J. Tenet, Porter J. Goss and Michael V. Hayden (a retired Air Force general), and former CIA Deputy Directors John E. McLaughlin, Albert M. Calland (a retired Navy vice admiral) and Stephen R. Kappes, 12/10/14, WSJ)

What is wrong with the committee's report?

First, its claim that the CIA's interrogation program was ineffective in producing intelligence that helped us disrupt, capture, or kill terrorists is just not accurate. The program was invaluable in three critical ways:

• It led to the capture of senior al Qaeda operatives, thereby removing them from the battlefield.

• It led to the disruption of terrorist plots and prevented mass casualty attacks, saving American and Allied lives.

• It added enormously to what we knew about al Qaeda as an organization and therefore informed our approaches on how best to attack, thwart and degrade it.

A powerful example of the interrogation program's importance is the information obtained from Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda operative, and from Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, known as KSM, the 9/11 mastermind. We are convinced that both would not have talked absent the interrogation program.

Information provided by Zubaydah through the interrogation program led to the capture in 2002 of KSM associate and post-9/11 plotter Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Information from both Zubaydah and al-Shibh led us to KSM. KSM then led us to Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, East Asia's chief al Qaeda ally and the perpetrator of the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia--in which more than 200 people perished.

The removal of these senior al Qaeda operatives saved thousands of lives because it ended their plotting. KSM, alone, was working on multiple plots when he was captured.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


WE CAN HANDLE THE TRUTH : The lies and fabrications progressive opinion demands we all live have now come to a head. (Ross Kaminsky - 12.9.14, The American Spectator)

What do the recent University of Virginia gang-rape charges made in Rolling Stone magazine, rape implications against an Oberlin College "campus conservative" by talented-but-annoying darling-of-the-left Lena Dunham, and the unending "Hands up, don't shoot!" and "die-in" pantomimes of murder-by-racist-cop regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have in common?

The obvious answer is that all three stories are unsupported by actual evidence. While something tragic certainly happened in Ferguson and something bad may have happened to a young woman in Virginia, the aspects of the stories that made them national sensations were fabrications.

(Given Lena Dunham's admissions that she was drunk and high on both illegal and prescription drugs, and that she willingly had sex with someone even after he had done something exceptionally inappropriate to her in public, no part of her insinuation of rape seems credible... and further scrutiny demolishes it entirely.)

The more important answer is that in each case liberal activists, whether "feminists" (the true motivation of too many being hatred of men) or race hustlers like Al Sharpton (who needs to raise a few bucks to pay down $4.5 million in tax liens), are telling us that the truth doesn't matter.

Writing for Politico, a young woman named Julia Horowitz, an assistant managing editor at UVA's student newspaper, argues that "to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake" because "only eight to nine percent of sexual assault reports are later determined false." (Other studies suggest the rate of false rape claims is much higher, but even at that number, how would you like to be the one out of eleven men falsely accused of a terrible crime? But hey, we're just men.)

Per Horowitz, not only is checking the veracity of the explosive Rolling Stone article barely useful, but it threatens "progress." The story, she pleads, "struck a chord with us." In other words, confirming your worst fears about young men is more important than the truth. the blue-lighted emergency phones that dot the Dartmouth campus, as safe a place as exists on the planet.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Israel expects no reaction to Syria strike, official says (AP, December 10, 2014)

Israel doesn't expect a response by Syria or Lebanon to an airstrike in Syria attributed to Israel earlier this week since they are too tied up with that country's bloody civil war and can't afford to open another front, a senior Israeli military officer said Wednesday.

The officer said Hezbollah guerrillas had the capability, but not the motivation, at this time to harm Israel and there was no "logic" to picking a fight with Israel while it was knee-deep in battling a Sunni insurgency.

December 9, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 PM


Doctors no match for computers at accurately recording patient symptoms, study finds (STUART PFEIFER, 12/09/14, LA Times)

A computer system was more effective than doctors at recording patient symptoms, highlighting the potential of computers to improve medical results, according to research by Cedars Sinai.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Big Labor eyes Hillary warily : Union leaders vow they won't be taken for granted in 2016. (MAGGIE HABERMAN and MIKE ELK, 12/9/14, Politico)

Frustrated by President Barack Obama and wary of Hillary Clinton's perceived closeness to Wall Street, several leading figures in organized labor are resisting falling in line early behind the former secretary of state as the inevitable Democratic presidential nominee.

Top officials at AFL-CIO are pressing its affiliates to hold off on an endorsement and make the eventual nominee earn their support and spell out a clear agenda. The strategy is designed to maximize labor's strength after years of waning clout and ensure a focus on strengthening the middle class, but it could provide an opening for a candidate running to Clinton's left to make a play for union support.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Why Obama Won't Prosecute Torturers (Eric Posner, 12/09/14, Slate)

The release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture under the Bush administration has revived calls for the Obama administration to prosecute those responsible for violating the law. Critics argue correctly that if torturers are not punished, then torture could happen again. But Obama has acted rightly by refusing to authorize prosecutions. He acted rightly because prosecutions would have failed to secure convictions; and he acted rightly as a matter of principle. Criminal punishment of a partisan opponent who engages in illegal behavior for policy rather than personal reasons can pose a risk to democracy. [...]

So how could Obama spare the torturers? As we have just learned from the debate about immigration, the president enjoys broad prosecutorial discretion. Just as he can decide not to prosecute foreigners who violate our immigration laws, he can decide not to prosecute Americans who violate our torture laws. that they did so with the full support of at least two-thirds of that democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


We've seen evolution enacted with early-Earth chemicals, with hermaphroditic robots, and even entirely virtually, using mathematical models. In each, scientists or engineers give the experiment some starting conditions, let it run... then see what happens dozens or hundreds of generations later. There's something appealing about such experiments. Who wouldn't want to play evolution?

Here's the latest evolution experiment I've found, which takes a tack I've never encountered before. The setup shows that evolution can occur in pretty minimal conditions. Other scientists could also use the setup to study how chemical structures evolve outside of biology. The experiment, run by a team of chemists from the U.K.'s University of Glasgow, is based entirely on oil droplets floating in a water-based solution. The study didn't include any biological molecules, although the robot in charge did follow important biological principles, including reproducing "fit" individuals and killing off unfit ones.

We never tire of proving Intelligent Design.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Yen Is Falling! (William Pesek, 12/09/14, Bloomberg View)

How low might the yen go? Opposition lawmaker Takeshi Fujimaki, a former banker, may be off-base when he warns the currency could eventually hit 200 per dollar. But with growth faltering and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe doing far more talking than restructuring, Japan is depending on a weaker exchange rate to boost export earnings. A rate nearer to 150 is hardly out of the question.

There's a view in Tokyo -- and a certain tolerance in Washington for it -- that if a weaker yen helps Japan whip deflation, then the end justifies the means. But this reasoning suffers from two big flaws. First, while the yen's plunge has filled the coffers of large exporters and boosted tourism receipts, overall it's doing more harm than good by making imports much more expensive. Windfall corporate profits are lifting the onus off Japan Inc. to innovate and Abe to deregulate the economy.

The second problem involves the economic and geopolitical fallout of the yen's swoon. Just as the Federal Reserve needs to think carefully about how raising U.S. interest rates will affect developing nations, Japan must consider the damage caused by a continuing freefall. It's no coincidence that China's yuan plunged the most in six years yesterday, spurring fears of a new currency war in Asia.

"The Bank of Japan's effort to weaken the yen is a beggar-thy-neighbor approach that is inducing policy reactions throughout Asia and around the world," Nouriel Roubini warned in a recent op-ed. "Central banks in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Thailand, fearful of losing competitiveness relative to Japan, are easing their own monetary policies, or will soon ease more."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Drop in Inflation Gauge May Complicate Outlook for Interest Rates (Min Zeng, 12/09/14, Dow Jones Business News)

An inflation gauge closely watched by Federal Reserve officials has fallen to the lowest level since the financial crisis, potentially complicating the interest-rate outlook as investors brace for a likely Fed rate increase as soon as mid-2015. [...]

The falling inflation expectations help to explain the sharp decline this year in benchmark Treasury yields. The 10-year U.S. note on Tuesday yielded 2.22%, down from 3% at the end of 2013 and far below the forecasts that many Wall Street strategists started the year with. Many investors and analysts continue to expect yields to rise this year as U.S. growth picks up, though falling inflation readings have softened many of the most aggressive forecasts.

Adding to the swirl, a broad selloff in the energy markets since the summer has further reduced inflation readings. Many economists expect lower oil prices to boost growth in the U.S. and elsewhere, but the timing of the gains is unclear.

The point, of course, is that not only should interest rates not go up but they are abnormally high.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


The Geography Of Happiness: Where Americans Are Happiest And Why (Ben Schiller, 12/09/14, Co.Exist)

[Stephan Goetz, a professor at Penn State,]  says suburban counties tend to be happier than urban or rural ones, and that non-white counties tend to be happier than whiter ones. People were also happier when they commuted less, moved homes less often, and lived in places deemed to have more closely-knit communities (higher levels of "social capital").

For example, a 1% increase in the share of non-whites in a county reduced the average number of poor mental health days by 0.08%--which is actually a larger number than it might seem, when you consider the whole country. "After controlling for other factors including income, educational attainment, place of residence, commuting time, social capital, there is still a residual, unexplained factor that leaves whites a little bit less happy than non-whites," Goetz says via email. "One possible factor that may explain this difference could be religious adherence, to the extent that it varies between whites and non-whites."

Goetz says suburbanites can have the best of both worlds. They can be close to their jobs but also near enough to activities downtown. They can avoid being around a lot of other people, but then they're not too far away either. However, the effect is dulled by commute times: The research found the longer people spend traveling, the less happy they feel.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Who Wants to Buy a Politician? (BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, 12/09/14, NY Times Magazine)

Even the 2012 presidential election, which recorded $2.6 billion in campaign spending, underperformed many forecasts. And spending has declined in each of the last two congressional elections. Candidates and other interested parties spent $3.7 billion on this year's midterms, down from an inflation-adjusted total of $3.8 billion in 2012, which was less than the $4 billion spent in2010, according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics. (These figures do not include a few hundred million dollars in unreported spending on issue ads.) In fact, spending has dropped as the economy has grown and despite a series of contests in which at least one house of Congress was plausibly at stake. "Dire warnings rang out that the decision would herald a new era in politics," wrote Adam Bonica, a Stanford University political scientist, in a 2013 paper about the effects of Citizens United. "Three years on, there is little evidence that these predictions have come to pass." Over the past year, Americans spent more on almonds than on selecting their representatives in Congress.

Stephen Ansolabehere, a professor of government at Harvard University, says that the facts are surprising only if we subscribe to an incorrect view. In a 2003 paper, "Why Is There So Little Money in U.S.Politics?" he argued that people and corporations actually view giving money as an ineffective way to influence politicians. Donations, Ansolabehere says, are best understood as a form of consumption, akin to making a charitable contribution. Donors are supporting a cause they believe in, and they take pleasure in doing so. "We basically think that giving money makes you feel good," Ansolabehere told me.

Most campaign money, after all, comes in smaller chunks from individual donors. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Duke Ellington's Best Album--One of the Best in Jazz--Is Also One of His Least-Known : And on a new reissue, it sounds better than ever. (Fred Kaplan, 12/09/14, Slate)

The best album ever made by Duke Ellington--which is to say, one of the best albums in jazz--is also one of his least-known. It attracted scant attention upon its release, in 1951, and no particular acclaim when reissued on CD in 2004, after decades in out-of-print limbo. Now a leading audiophile record label, Analogue Productions of Salina, Kansas, has brought it out on pristine vinyl (it's also, despite its vintage, one of the best-sounding jazz albums ever), and the time has come to take notice.

It's called Masterpieces by Ellington, and the stuffy title might have been part of the problem. The whole product likely struck jazz fans of the time as baffling, if they noticed it at all. First, it was released on Columbia Records' Masterworks imprint, which was associated with classical music. Second, the cover copy boasted "uncut concert arrangements" of four Ellington songs, including three of his biggest hits from the 1930s ("Mood Indigo," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Solitude"), but the only versions most home listeners knew were the three-minute tracks on 78 rpm discs, so what were these "concert arrangements"?

But the main reason for the album's dim sales, I suspect, was technological. This was Ellington's first 12-inch long-playing record, and one of the very early LPs (as they were called) by any musician. Few consumers, and fewer jazz fans, owned one of the newfangled phonographs that could play these records.

Yet this is also one reason for the album's stunning artistic achievement.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Rouhani confronts Iran's hardliners on corruption (Najmeh Bozorgmehr, 12/09/14, Financial Times)

Iran's president on Monday launched a strongly-worded attack on his hardline political rivals, warning that widespread corruption was jeopardising the Islamic republic and implying that the entrenched power of the Revolutionary Guards was a major source of fraud.

"Continuation of corruption, expansion of corruption and deepening of corruption means the [political] system and the [1979] revolution are at stake," Hassan Rouhani told an audience of senior officials at a conference in Tehran.

"If guns, money, newspapers and propaganda all gather in one place, one can be confident of corruption there," he said, in a clear reference to the hardline military force. "Even Abuzar and Salman [allies of Prophet Mohammad] would have become corrupt under one organisation that has accumulated everything."

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


The Malaria Fighter (DONALD G. McNEIL Jr., 10/20/14, NY Times)

Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, head of the strikingly successful President's Malaria Initiative, has been quietly fighting the disease, cutting yearly malaria deaths to about 600,000 from one million. David Corcoran and Jeffery DelViscio
"All the organizations fighting malaria work more closely than they did eight years ago," said Ray Chambers, the private equity investor and co-founder of Malaria No More who is now the United Nations Secretary General's Special Envoy for Malaria. "I think that's due in no small part to Tim and his personality. He's not seeking individual credit and he works for the team -- but his trains run on time."

Since he took the job in 2006, worldwide malaria deaths have dropped 40 percent, to about 600,000 a year from one million.

"He never seeks the limelight, but he deserves a lot of credit for that," said Mikkel Vestergaard Frandsen, owner of Vestergaard, the world's biggest mosquito net maker.

Many countries now use the tactics Admiral Ziemer adopted after demanding proof that they worked. For prevention, they include free distribution of nets impregnated with insecticide, indoor pesticide spraying and routine doses of malaria medicine for pregnant women. For diagnosis and treatment, they include rapid blood tests and pills that combine a new fast-acting Chinese drug, artemisinin, with one of several longer-lasting drugs.

He was touring rural Myanmar because the region is the cradle of drug-resistant malaria and his agency is fighting it by subsidizing two-drug pills. If artemisinin becomes ineffective, malaria experts say, it would be a disaster equivalent to losing chloroquine, a former "miracle cure."

Admiral Ziemer's self-effacing, penny-pinching approach -- he flies coach everywhere, even when executives of other relief organizations traveling with him buy business-class tickets, an aide said privately -- has helped make him a political survivor.

Since he was appointed by President George W. Bush, he has outlasted three global AIDS czars.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


When Tap Met Bebop (WILL FRIEDWALD, Dec. 8, 2014, WSJ)

In 1964, Duke Ellington approached Bunny Briggs, the great tap-dancer who died just before Thanksgiving at the age of 92, with an idea for a special project he was working on. The pre-eminent American composer-bandleader described it as a "Concert of Sacred Music," which was a highly radical idea.

Fifty years ago, even the notion of jazz orchestras playing any place but ballrooms and gin joints was still a relatively new one, and for jazz musicians to perform in a church setting was unprecedented. Jazz was still associated with bootleg liquor and loose morality, but Ellington wanted to achieve the dual purpose of cleaning up the music's reputation and expressing his own ecumenical emotions. There was only one dancer in the world who could deliver that combination of reverence and joyful abandon that Ellington wanted, who could fully represent the African-American vernacular dance form in the same way that Ellington and his orchestra were representing jazz, who could simultaneously make religion fun and make fun into something undeniably spiritual. [...]

It was hardly the first time Briggs had radicalized tap-dancing by bringing it into a bold new setting. In the mid- to late 1940s, the dancer--who had been born Bernard Briggs in Harlem in 1922 and nicknamed Bunny early on because of his impressive speed--became to tap-dancing roughly what Ella Fitzgerald was to scat singing. He was the first to take an existing, specific form of expression and update it for the new musical language that was then known as bebop. There's a short 1950 film--in which Briggs appears in the company of two progressive swing veterans, Nat King Cole and Benny Carter--wherein his routine is only two minutes long but gives a clear impression of everything that he can do. Briggs enters to an exciting, dissonant fanfare reminiscent of Dizzy Gillespie, which is a sign that he's already incorporated the musical vocabulary of modern jazz into his dance routines, and throughout he works mainly to a bop-era rhythm section of piano, bass and drums in a super-fast tempo that is, again, thoroughly boppish.

What testifies more than anything to Briggs's special brilliance is what might be called his dancer's sense of dynamics, not only conveying the difference between loud and soft, as a horn player might, but between small intimate gestures and big dramatic ones.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


In the states, the GOP is in its best position since the Great Depression (Aaron Blake, December 9, 2014, Washington Post)


Republicans will control at least 246 out of 435 seats. That's tied for the most since the 1929-30 Congress (the GOP also had 246 seats in 1947-48 1948-49). And if McSally wins -- she currently leads -- it will be the single biggest GOP majority since the onset of the Depression. [...]


Republicans will control 54 out of 100 seats. That's tied for their fourth-highest number of seats since that same 1929-30 Congress, but the larger three were majorities of 55 seats -- i.e. only one more seat.


Republicans will control 31 out of 50 seats. That's tied for their fourth-biggest number since -- you guessed it -- 1929 and 1930, according to the National Governors Association. But again, the three previous highs were 32 seats -- just one more seat.

State legislatures

Republicans control more than 4,100 out of 7,383 seats -- about 56 percent. That's their highest since 1920, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They also control 69 out of the 99 state legislative chambers (including Nebraska, which is technically nonpartisan and has only one chamber, but which is for all intents and purposes under GOP control) -- the highest since at least 1900, which is the oldest data NCSL has.

Combine it all, and it's pretty clear the GOP's position in the states is better than it has been since the Great Depression.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


TIME TO CHALLENGE NO-FAULT DIVORCE (Thomas F. Farr and Hilary Towers, 12 . 8 . 14, First Things)

High in the catalogue of social pathologies afflicting marriage and the family in America stands our system of family law, the central purpose of which is to enforce no-fault divorce. In a letter to the Holy Father and the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family, almost fifty international scholars and religious leaders joined us in urging the Church to consider the effects of no-fault divorce, along with other barriers to faithful, lifelong marriage.

State laws on divorce began to be implemented in the late 1960s, but today have been absorbed into the legal and cultural mainstream nationwide. The logic of no-fault divorce is that spouses should not be trapped in marriages that make them unhappy, or forced into the expense and psychological trauma of proving "fault" in divorce court. If one spouse wants out, the judge's mandate is to manage the breakup of the family and to protect the interests of the children.

Like the increase in abortions after Roe v. Wade, divorce rates increased significantly with the onset of the policy. As with Roe, there were other contributing factors, especially the sexual revolution, which multiplied the "liberating" effects of the new legal regime. The clear losers in both were children--aborted in ever increasing numbers after Roe, and wounded socially, economically, and spiritually in the wake of no-fault divorce.

The other casualties, far less studied, have been abandoned spouses, the institution of marriage, and American society itself. A dearth of transparency and accountability within family courts, and a consequent lack of data, have discouraged the study of causal connections between no-fault divorce and its effects on women, rates of cohabitation, and rates of out of wedlock births.

At a minimum, we should require any tax benefits derived from the marriage to be repaid.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


Class Prejudice Resurgent (David Brooks, DEC. 1, 2014, NY Times)

Widening class distances produce class prejudice, classism. This is a prejudice based on visceral attitudes about competence. People in the "respectable" class have meritocratic virtues: executive function, grit, a capacity for delayed gratification. The view about those in the untouchable world is that they are short on these things. They are disorganized. They are violent and scary. This belief has some grains of truth because of childhood trauma, the stress of poverty and other things. But this view metastasizes into a vicious, intellectually lazy stereotype. Before long, animalistic imagery is used to describe these human beings.

This class prejudice is applied to both the white and black poor, whose demographic traits are converging. But classism combines with latent and historic racism to create a particularly malicious brew. People are now assigned a whole range of supposedly underclass traits based on a single glimpse at skin color.

During the civil-rights era there was always a debate about what was a civil-rights issue and what was an economic or social issue. Now that distinction has been obliterated. Every civil-rights issue is also an economic and social issue. Classism intertwines with racism.

It's often said after events like Ferguson that we need a national conversation on race. That's a bit true. We all need to improve our capacity for sympathetic understanding, our capacity to imaginatively place ourselves in the minds of other people with experiences different from our own. Conversation can help, though I suspect novels, works of art and books like Claude Brown's "Manchild in the Promised Land" work better.

But, ultimately, we don't need a common conversation; we need a common project. If the nation works together to improve social mobility for the poor of all races, through projects like President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative, then social distance will decline, classism will decline and racial prejudice will obliquely decline as well.

In a friendship, people don't sit around talking about their friendship. They do things together. Through common endeavor people overcome difference to become friends.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


The Truth About Interrogation : The enhanced techniques work. (Stephen F. Hayes, December 9, 2014, Weekly Standard)

Now, for the first time, one of the lead interrogators is attempting to tell the other side of the story. Writing under the pseudonym Jason Beale, he has produced a provocative 39-page document in an effort to counter the narrative pushed by Democrats and amplified by journalists eager to discredit the program. The document--which Beale says was reviewed, redacted, and cleared by a U.S. government agency--does not reveal Beale's precise role in the program. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency would not confirm that the CIA was the agency that reviewed Beale's document. And in an email interview, Beale refused even to acknowledge that he conducted interrogations in the CIA program. "The opinions I expressed on interrogations in the document I sent you," he wrote, "are representative of the insight I've gained during my career as an interrogator. While I am aware that you and others may draw some inference from the approved portion of the text as to the basis of my arguments regarding enhanced techniques, I am not presently in a position to elaborate on how I formed those opinions."

Sources familiar with the program independently confirm that Beale served as a senior interrogator beginning in 2004.

Beale's document covers many aspects of the debate over enhanced interrogation--the morality of enhanced interrogation techniques, the use of EITs on U.S. servicemen and women during their survival training, the hypocrisy of public officials who approved the program and later pretended that they opposed it, the unearned authority of several top critics of the program, and, most important, the effectiveness of the techniques. 

News accounts of the forthcoming Feinstein report make clear that a central claim of that narrative will be its most contentious: The techniques didn't work. Beale challenges that contention on the basis of his experience in the U.S. military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) course taken by intelligence and military personnel exposed to a high risk of capture. Tens of thousands of Americans have been subjected to EITs as part of their SERE training. Beale participated in the course first as a student, then as an interrogator.

As a student, I learned that I could resist, and occasionally manipulate, a talented interrogator during my numerous "soft-sell" interrogations--the rapport-building, we-know-all, pride-and-ego up/down, do-the-right-thing approaches. I had my story relatively straight, and I simply stuck to it, regardless of how ridiculous or implausible the interrogator made it sound. He wasn't doing anything to me--there was no consequence to my lies, no matter how transparent.

I then learned the difference between "soft-sell" and "hard-sell" by way of a large interrogator who applied enhanced techniques promptly upon the uttering of my first lie. I learned that it was infinitely more difficult for me to remember my lies and keep my story straight under pressure. I learned that it became difficult to repeat a lie if I received immediate and uncomfortable consequences for each iteration. It made me have to make snap decisions under intense pressure in real time--and fumble and stumble through rapid-fire follow-up questions designed to poke massive holes in my story. 

I learned that I needed to practically live my lie if I were to be questioned under duress, as the unrehearsed details are the wild-cards that bite you in the ass. I learned that I would rather sit across from the most talented interrogator on earth doing a soft-sell than any interrogator on earth doing a hard-sell--the information I had would be safer because the only consequences to my lies come in the form of words. I could handle words. Anyone could. 

Ask any SERE Level C graduate which method was more effective on him or her--their answer should tell you something about the effectiveness of enhanced techniques, whether you agree with them or not. In my case, I learned that enhanced techniques made me want to tell the truth to make it stop--not to compound my situation with more lies. The only thing that kept me from telling the truth was the knowledge that at some point it had to end--that there were more students to interrogate and only so many hours in a day. Absent that knowledge, I would have caved.

As a TDY [temporary duty] interrogator in the SERE course, I learned that the toughest, meanest, most professional special operations soldiers on earth had a breaking point. Every one of them. And of all the soldiers I interrogated, all of the "breaks" came during hard-sell interrogations--using as many enhanced techniques as necessary to convince the soldier that continuing to lie would result in immediate consequences. It worked--time and again, it worked.

The techniques were effective, Beale claims, not only with U.S. soldiers being prepared for what they might encounter if captured by an enemy, but also with senior al Qaeda prisoners. Defenders of EITs point to the extraction of important information on al Qaeda's couriers to make their case. The information on one courier in particular--Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti--led to the location of Osama bin Laden's safe house in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

In a heavily redacted section of his document, Beale writes that the EITs were essential to obtaining that information. Others have reported that two high-value detainees subject to enhanced interrogation--Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libi--went to great lengths to conceal information about the courier. That they did so after providing a steady stream of accurate and valuable information suggested to interrogators and analysts that the information about al-Kuwaiti was important.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Here's Another Big Way Obamacare Is Working As Planned (DYLAN SCOTT, DECEMBER 8, 2014, TPM)

A new report from federal health officials, which concludes that health spending had grown at a historically slow rate in 2013, says the so-called MLR provision is helping drive the broader easing of spending growth in the industry.

The medical-loss-ratio requirement mandates that insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual health benefits. It is one of the various provisions intended to help shape the behavior of insurance companies, making the market more efficient and cost-effective for consumers. Administrative costs are kept down, meaning that more of people's money is going to real care.

"The medical loss ratio requirement and rate review mandated by the ACA put downward pressure on premium growth," officials from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wrote in their report. Overall private insurance spending, of which premiums are a part, grew at a 2.8-percent rate -- the lowest since at least 2007.

As Larry Levitt, vice president at the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, put it to TPM in an email: "That is how it's intended to work."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


Publisher to Alter Lena Dunham Book After Rape Story Questioned, Attorney Says (Paul Bond, 12/08/14, Hollywood Reporter)

Attorney Aaron Minc said he has been in contact with Dunham's lawyers at Ziffren Brittenham in Los Angeles who assure him that future printings of the book, subtitled "A young woman tells you what she's 'learned,' " will come with a disclaimer that "Barry" is not the real name of the man who raped Dunham when the two were students at Oberlin College a decade ago.

Dunham describes Barry in her book as the "campus's resident conservative" who wore cowboy boots, a mustache, hosted a radio show, worked at one of the campus libraries and graduated in December 2005. The description was detailed enough to cast a pall over a former student who has had to defend himself against Dunham's accusation that he raped her, according to Minc. His client not only fits Dunham's description, but his first name is also Barry.

Minc says he has been asking for several weeks for Dunham to absolve his client, but until he set up a legal fund and threatened a lawsuit he hadn't heard from her representatives.

"Miss Dunham and Random House are starting to come around to some of our demands," Minc said. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Security fears loom over CIA report (Kristina Wong, 07/06/14, The Hill)

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer who supports aggressive interrogations, said warnings about violent protests overseas are "make-believe."  [...]
Gerecht said the CIA has nothing to fear from the summary being made public.
"If you can't stand discussing something in the light of day, then you probably shouldn't be doing it in the first place," he said. would be America's #1 show.  But there's nothing wrong with having these phoney-baloney expressions of anst after we've already won the war.  We'll go through the whole cycle next time too.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Cost of Job-Based Health Insurance Outpaces Family Income: Report (Karen Pallarito, Dec. 9, 2014, HealthDay News)

Americans who get job-based health insurance are spending a bigger chunk of their paychecks on health care than they were a decade ago, and they may be getting less financial protection for the money, a new report suggests. [...]

Employers also shifted more of the cost of coverage to their workers.

Employees' share of health plan premiums rose from $606 in 2003 to $1,170 for single coverage in 2013 -- a 93 percent increase, the study found.

At the same time, deductibles for single and family coverage more than doubled. And the percentage of workers in health plans that require deductibles swelled to 81 percent in 2013, from 52 percent in 2003.

Of course, unless they are in an HSA, the insurance money is wasted.

December 8, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


GOP Leaders: Gas Tax Hike Could Fuel Fixes To Bad Roads And Bridges (David Schaper, 12/08/14, NPR)

[Michigan Gov. Rick] Snyder is calling on lawmakers to roughly double Michigan's gas tax over time, to raise more than $1 billion.

"The money I'm talking about is to get us to fair to good roads. They're not even going to be great roads, folks. We can't afford to have great roads in this state given what we need to invest," he continued.

Snyder is one of a growing number of Republicans across the country who see the need to spend big to improve infrastructure, and who are looking to increase gas taxes to pay for it.

"There's kind of been a switch that's been flipped," says Carl Davis, a senior analyst with the nonprofit Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy

Davis says gas tax increases are now on the table in states across the country, from New Jersey to Utah to South Carolina to South Dakota. Democratic governors in Delaware, Vermont and Kentucky, and other states are also looking to possibly raise gas taxes, as has been done in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire and Wyoming in the last two years.

"There have been overwhelming infrastructure needs for quite awhile and now that gas prices are lower, it's a little bit more politically feasible to talk about raising the gas tax," he says.

Davis says states are looking to raise their own gas taxes because the federal highway fund is lacking.

"The federal gas tax hasn't gone up in over 21 years and the states don't have the luxury of just sitting around and doing nothing on this issue. They have to find a way to keep their bridges from falling down and keep their roads from developing too many potholes," he argues.

With the federal gas tax stuck at 18.4 cents a gallon since 1993 and construction costs rising, the Highway Trust Fund nearly went broke last summer before Congress came up with a short-term fix that will only last until May.

While there is some support among a small, but growing number of Republicans in Congress for raising the federal gas tax, including retiring Wisconsin Rep. Tom Petri, and Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, Congress appears unlikely to act before the end of the year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


SAINT JOHN COLTRANE: FIFTY YEARS OF 'A LOVE SUPREME' (S. Brent Plate, 12/08/14, Religion Dispatches)

For a long period of my life, sometime after I stopped attending Christian church services, I made it a ritual to listen to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme in its entirety on Sunday afternoons. I'm not sure where I heard the album first, or what exactly inspired me to do so. I only remember doing it, and feeling I was doing something that was not only good for me, but also important.

Some people don't get it. But for those who do, the religious experience of it all is palpable. Some blend of harmonics and melodics, tradition and improv, mastery and experimentation, makes A Love Supreme one of the great religious movements in modern life. Recorded in a four-hour session on December 9, 1964, with Coltrane on alto saxophone, Jimmy Garrison on bass, McCoy Tyner on piano, and Elvin Jones on drums, the music does not discriminate, inspiring the secular and the spiritual alike.

To celebrate this week's fiftieth anniversary of this iconic recording, music venues around the world are staging performances of Coltrane's work--including, of course, Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco.

The Coltrane church began in the late 1960s, when Franzo Wayne King and then-girlfriend Marina King heard Coltrane perform in San Francisco. They called their experience of hearing him live, a "sound baptism." This led them to form the "Yardbird Temple," named with Charlie Parker in mind, and with jazz at its base. In 1982 the little independent congregation joined the global fellowship of the African Orthodox Church, a denomination that began in the 1920s as an African-American split from the Episcopalian church.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


G.O.P. Donors Seek to Narrow Field of Presidential Candidates to One (NICHOLAS CONFESSORE, DEC. 8, 2014, NY Times)

Dozens of the Republican Party's leading presidential donors and fund-raisers have begun privately discussing how to clear the field for a single establishment candidate to carry the party's banner in 2016, fearing that a prolonged primary would bolster Hillary Rodham Clinton, the likely Democratic candidate.

The conversations, described in interviews with a variety of the Republican Party's most sought-after donors, are centered on the three potential candidates who have the largest existing base of major contributors and overlapping ties to the top tier of those who are uncommitted: Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida and Mitt Romney.

All three are believed to be capable of raising the roughly $80 million in candidate and "super PAC" money that many Republican strategists and donors now believe will be required to win their party's nomination.

But the reality of all three candidates vying for support has dismayed the party's top donors and "bundlers," the volunteers who solicit checks from networks of friends and business associates. They fear being split into competing camps and raising hundreds of millions of dollars for a bloody primary that will injure the party's eventual nominee -- or pave the way for a second-tier candidate without enough mainstream appeal to win the general election.

"If you are philosophically a center-right donor, I think you have an interest in clearing the field," said Bobbie Kilberg, a top Republican fund-raiser in Virginia with ties to Mr. Romney, the party's 2012 nominee, and the Bush family. "I think that's important because there is clearly going to be a competition of philosophies for who is going to be the presidential nominee. And I firmly believe that person has to be from the center-right."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Ralph H. Baer, Inventor of First System for Home Video Games, Is Dead at 92 (DOUGLAS MARTIN, DEC. 7, 2014, NY Times)

Flash back to the sultry late summer of 1966: Mr. Baer is sitting on a step outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan waiting for a colleague. By profession, he is an engineer overseeing 500 employees at a military contractor. Today, a vision has gripped him, and he begins scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad with a No. 2 pencil.

The result was a detailed four-page outline for a "game box" that would allow people to play board, action, sports and other games on almost any American television set. An intrigued boss gave him $2,000 for research and $500 for materials and assigned two men to work with him. For all three, as they plowed through prototype after prototype in a secret workshop, the project became an obsession.

In March 1971, Mr. Baer and his employer, Sanders Associates in Nashua, N.H., filed for the first video game patent, which was granted in April 1973 as Patent No. 3,728,480. It made an extraordinarily large claim to a legal monopoly for any product that included a domestic television with circuits capable of producing and controlling dots on a screen.

Sanders Associates licensed its system to Magnavox, which began selling it as Odyssey in the summer of 1972 as the first home video game console. It sold 130,000 units the first year.

Odyssey consisted of a master control unit containing all the electronic gear, two player control units that directed players on the TV screen, and a set of electronic program cards, each of which supported a different game. Plastic overlays that clung to the screen to supply color were included. To supplement the electronic action, a deck of playing cards, poker chips and a pair of dice were included.

But the guts of the device were what mattered: 40 transistors and 40 diodes. That hardware ran everything. Odyssey, often called the first home computing device, had no software.

Several months after Odyssey hit the market, Atari came out with the first arcade video game, Pong. Though Pong became better known than Odyssey and was in some ways more agile, Sanders and Magnavox immediately saw it as an infringement on their patent.

They sued Atari in 1974 for usurping their rights. Atari settled with them by paying $700,000 to become Odyssey's second licensee. Over the next 20 years, Magnavox went on to sue dozens more companies, winning more than $100 million. Mr. Baer often testified.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


National Health Spending In 2013: Growth Slows, Remains In Step With The Overall Economy (Micah Hartman1,*, Anne B. Martin2, David Lassman3, Aaron Catlin4, the National Health Expenditure Accounts Team, December 2014, Health Affairs)

In 2013 US health care spending increased 3.6 percent to $2.9 trillion, or $9,255 per person. The share of gross domestic product devoted to health care spending has remained at 17.4 percent since 2009. Health care spending decelerated 0.5 percentage point in 2013, compared to 2012, as a result of slower growth in private health insurance and Medicare spending. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


New Study: California's Epic Drought Probably Wasn't Caused by Climate Change (Tim McDonnell, Dec. 8, 2014, Mother Jones)

[A]ccording to new research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, California's drought was primarily produced by a lack of precipitation driven by natural atmospheric cycles that are unrelated to man-made climate change. In other words, climate change may have worsened the impacts of the drought, but it isn't the underlying cause.

"The preponderance of evidence is that the events of the last three winters [when California gets the majority of its precipitation] were the product of natural variability," said lead author Richard Seager, a Columbia University oceanographer.

"The preponderance of evidence is that the events of the last three winters were the product of natural variability."

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


New Ideas May Spread Through Persuasion, Not Contagion (NATHAN COLLINS, December 08, 2014, Pacific Standard)

It's appealing, the notion that ideas can spread like viruses, but even those fond of the analogy acknowledge it's not necessarily a perfect one. A recent experiment might help clarify the matter, though. Studying the spread of a lab test at Northwestern Memorial Hospital's intensive care unit suggests that, in some contexts, it takes some persuasion on top of exposure for doctors to adopt a new idea.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Report: Morale in the military is low and falling fast (Teresa Mull, 12/08/14, The Week)

A recent Military Times survey of 2,300 active-duty troops found that morale indicators have declined in nearly every aspect of military life over the past five years.

The combination of several years of deep spending cuts, 13 years of war, and the dismissal of tens of thousands of troops have led to significantly lower overall job satisfaction, diminished respect for superiors, and a declining interest in re-enlistment now compared to five years ago.

There are no promotions in peacetime and the gravy train grinds to a halt.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Waterboarding's role in identifying a terrorist (Marc A. Thiessen, December 8, 2014, Washington Post)

Before outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) releases her $40 million partisan report claiming that nothing of value came from CIA interrogations, she might want to save herself some embarrassment and make a few last-minute edits. Over the weekend, Pakistani forces killed the man who was believed to be al-Qaeda's top operational commander, Adnan el Shukrijumah -- a terrorist who was identified thanks to the CIA's interrogation of two senior al-Qaeda operatives.

The Post reported Saturday that "the FBI launched a global manhunt for Shukrijumah in 2003, offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. U.S. officials at the time described him as an 'imminent threat to U.S. citizens and interests.' "

Well, how did the FBI know that (a) Shukrijumah existed, and that (b) he posed an "imminent threat" to the United States? Answer: CIA interrogations.

On March 28, 2002, the CIA captured its first senior al-Qaeda operative, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, in a pre-dawn raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Abu Zubaida was critically wounded in the raid and taken to the first CIA "black site." While still recovering, he was initially questioned by the FBI and offered up some information he thought the FBI already knew. But as he grew stronger, Abu Zubaida became increasingly defiant and evasive. He declared his hatred of the United States and refused to answer further questions. So the CIA took charge of Abu Zubaida's interrogation and began to apply the first proto-enhanced interrogation techniques, which included forced nudity, exposure to cold temperatures and sleep deprivation. It was under these circumstances (but before his waterboarding was approved in August) that Abu Zubaida provided information on a terrorist code-named "Abdullah al-Muhajir," whom he identified as an American with a Latino name. This terrorist, subsequently identified as Jose Padilla, was captured thanks to information provided by Abu Zubaida. FBI agent Ali Soufan tried to take credit for getting this information, but according to the Justice Department's Inspector General, Soufan's own FBI partner, "Agent Gibson," confirmed that Abu Zubaida "gave up" Padilla "during the CIA interrogations."

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


House-Senate negotiators near spending deal : The goal is to have the massive measure ready by late Monday. (DAVID ROGERS 12/7/14, Politico)

Even the president's popular TIGER transportation grants are reduced to $500 million, $100 million below 2014 and less than half of what Obama wanted in 2015. The National Institutes of Health will benefit from new Ebola funds for clinical trials, but its core $29.8 billion budget is expected to grow by just $150 million -- not enough to keep pace with inflation.

Indeed, from Amtrak to Head Start and low-income fuel assistance, much of the domestic budget is flat.

Modest increases are allowed to hire more immigration judges and make good on promises to beef up child care grants. Funding for Pell Grants is preserved and new steps begun to address the problem of college affordability. But Republicans resisted repeated efforts by retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) to allow some cap adjustment for NIH. And despite support from Obama and Western Republicans, it remained a hard sell to allow emergency, off-budget spending for catastrophic wildfires. [...]

[A]t this stage in Obama's presidency, the emphasis on security-related programs over investments at home is still striking. And all signs indicate the pattern will repeat itself in 2016.

Friday's strong jobs report testified to how far the nation has come since the Great Recession, which greeted Obama when he first moved into the White House in 2009. But despite the improved economy, Obama will leave office with fewer real dollars for domestic appropriations than President George W. Bush had before him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


A light on Iran's dark powers (Monitor's Editorial Board  DECEMBER 8, 2014, CS Monitor)

On Monday, Mr. Rouhani boldly stated that Iran should eliminate the consolidation of power "in a single body." Right now, almost all religious and secular authority in Iran lies with an unelected "supreme" leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his network of agents, such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. Candidates for Iran's controlled elections must meet the ayatollah's approval.

In the 2013 election, for example, Rouhani, who was the closest candidate that could be called a reformer, was the supreme leader's least favorite. Yet Rouhani, a Scottish-educated Muslim cleric, won the vote. Now governing as the people's choice, the president felt courageous enough to call for a separation of powers. That universal principle is necessary, he said, to "keep power under control."

"Whatever in the society is not competitive and is monopolistic with monopolized management, is wrong," he said.

He might as well have been quoting James Madison.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Are Electric Buses The Future Of Mass Transit? (Ben Schiller, 12/08/14, Co.Exist)

Most municipal routes in the U.S. are less than 20 miles, making EVs a viable--perhaps even preferable--alternative.

A dozen operators around the country now use electric buses from Proterra, a South Carolina company. Its new 40-foot, 77-seat, vehicle can go 30 to 40 miles on a single charge. And, crucially, that charge doesn't take very long. A ten minute stop renews the supply, meaning the buses can operate more or less round the clock, according to CEO Ryan Popple. [...]

The buses are now operating in Florida, Tennessee, Nevada, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. Proterra's biggest customer is Foothill Transit, east of Los Angeles. Twelve Proterra buses ply the 291 route, with chargers at either end. About 650,000 customers traveled last year.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Christian Bale: One Man's Moses Is Another Man's Terrorist (Candida Moss and Joel Baden, 12/08/14, Daily Beast)

The new biblical epic from director Ridley Scott, "Exodus: Gods and Men," has drummed up a lot of criticism in advance of its release. Most commentators have focused on the issue of race in the casting of the film. But one commentator--who also happens to have been cast in the film--has his own unique feelings about the movie. And when Moses speaks, people tend to listen.

In an interview with ABC's "Nightline," Christian Bale described his character, Moses, as a "freedom fighter." Hey, not so bad, right? Moses is sort of famous for having played a part in freeing his people. But Bale was careful to make sure that we also empathize with the enslaving, murderous, genocidal Egyptians, to whom Moses would have been, according to Bale, a "terrorist."

Moses/God quite literally terrorized the Egyptians into doing the right thing.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


ROLLING STONE AND THE MYTH OF A RAPE EPIDEMIC : Rolling Stone's rape hoax speaks to a new hysteria on US campuses. (SEAN COLLINS, 8 DECEMBER 2014, spiked)
For years now, academics and activists, backed by university administrators and government officials, have promoted the idea that there is a rape epidemic on US campuses, enabled by a 'rape culture' that pervades social life. This notion has created a frenzied and highly emotional atmosphere in colleges, with accusations flying and campus tribunals handing down sentences for what are essentially criminal acts. The stunning news that Rolling Stone now disowns its story that claimed a female student was gang-raped at a University of Virginia (UVA) fraternity shows that the drive to root out 'rape culture' is spinning out of control. We're living through a full-blown panic, akin to the daycare sexual abuse scandals of the 1980s and early 1990s, with bad consequences for both women and men. [...]

Central to the myth of a rape epidemic is a statistic: that one in five women are sexually assaulted on US campuses over four years. The survey from which this statistic derives has been thoroughly debunked by Christina Hoff Sommers and others, who note, in particular, that the survey was based on a small sample (two schools) and a definition of assault so broad as to include uninvited touching and kissing, which even most respondents did not think rose to the level of an attack. In fact, according to more reliable Department of Justice data, sexual assault has fallen by more than 50 per cent in recent years, to a rate of 1.1 per 1,000 women, with similar rates on and off campus.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Banks Urge Clients to Take Cash Elsewhere (KIRSTEN GRIND,  JAMES STERNGOLD and  JULIET CHUNG, Dec. 7, 2014, WSJ)

Hundreds of companies and other bank customers with deposits that exceed the insurance limits could be affected by the banks' actions.

Overall, about $4 trillion in deposits at banks in the U.S. were uninsured, covering more than 3.5 million accounts, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

The rule primarily responsible involves the liquidity coverage ratio, overseen by the Federal Reserve and other banking regulators. The new measure, finalized in September, as well as some other recent global regulations, are designed to make banks safer by helping them manage sudden outflows of deposits in a crisis.

The banks are required to maintain enough high-quality assets that could be converted into cash during a crisis to cover a projected flight of deposits over 30 days.

Because large, uninsured deposits would be expected to leave most quickly, the rule will now require that banks maintain reserves that they cannot use for profitable activities like making loans. That makes it much less efficient or profitable for banks to hold these deposits.

The new rules treat various types of deposits differently, based on how fast they are likely to be withdrawn. Insured deposits from retail customers are regarded as more safe and require that banks hold reserves equal to as little as 3% of the sums.

But the banks must hold reserves of as much as 40% against certain corporate deposits and as much as 100% of some big deposits from financial institutions such as hedge funds.

Some corporate officials said the new rules could make it more expensive for them to keep money in the bank or push them into riskier savings instruments such as short-term bond funds or uninsured money-market funds.

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


Why Evolution Is Undeniable : 'Science guy' Bill Nye explains why the tale told by creationists is totally implausible. (Michael Morella Dec. 5, 2014, US News)

What is your main argument against creationism?

It's just unreasonable. How can you have all these things we observe in nature and then conclude that the Earth is somehow 6,000 years old? Billions of people in the world are devoutly religious, and they're apparently enriched by the communities that they belong to through their religions. But the Earth is not 6,000 years old.

The two obvious problems for Mr. Nye are that : refusing to accept Bishop Ussher's estimate of Creation's age doesn't actually refute Creation, nor prove Darwinism; meanwhile, physics likewise suggests a rather young Creation.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


Florida politicians say Jeb Bush is a true conservative (ADAM C. SMITH, 12/07/14, TAMPA BAY TIMES)

Jeb Bush, a moderate squish?

The governor who treated trial lawyers and teachers union leaders as enemies of the state? Who stripped job protections from civil servants? Who slashed taxes? Whose passion for privatization included enacting the nation's first statewide private school voucher program and extended to privatizing health care for the poor, prisons and child protection services?

This "very good moderate Democrat" defied court after court to try and force the reinsertion of feeding tubes for brain-damaged Terri Schiavo and consistently backed more restrictions on abortions and fewer on gun ownership. He fought for reduced entitlement spending and, deriding nanny-state impulses, repealed the helmet law for motorcyclists in Florida and vetoed a GOP-backed bill requiring booster seats for kids in cars.

"For us who live in Florida, who experienced the eight-year Jeb Bush governorship, it's almost laughable and maybe even hysterical for people who live outside of Florida to claim that he's a moderate," said former House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, himself a conservative Republican who led the opposition to Florida accepting federal money to expand Medicaid to more than 800,000 people.

"This is a guy who probably has as conservative a record as governor as anybody I've ever seen," Weatherford said, "and he has one of the most successful records as governor of anybody I've ever seen."

December 7, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 1:19 PM


Why are blood donors asked their sexual history? (BBC Magazine, 12/04/14)

Although campaigners say they are enthusiastic about lifting the ban, they argue it does not go far enough. "Our goal is to eliminate sexual orientation from the deferral process and instead base the decision on an individual risk assessment," says Ryan James Yesak, founder of the US National Gay Blood Drive.

He says male or female donors should instead be asked if they have had receptive anal intercourse in the last year. But Dr Steven Kleinman, senior medical adviser to the American Association of Blood Banks, says who you have sex with is a better risk indicator than what you're doing with that person.

And in the US, he says, men who have sex with men make up the group in which HIV prevalence is highest. "Maybe the tool we use is crude - it's not a fine scalpel but more of a sledgehammer. But if we use a fine scalpel, we might miss some people."

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


A suburban world : The emerging world is becoming suburban. Its leaders should welcome that, but avoid the West's mistakes (The Economist, Dec 6th 2014)

Until a decade or two ago, the centres of many Western cities were emptying while their edges were spreading. This was not for the reasons normally cited. Neither the car nor the motorway caused suburban sprawl, although they sped it up: cities were spreading before either came along. Nor was the flight to the suburbs caused by racism. Whites fled inner-city neighbourhoods that were becoming black, but they also fled ones that were not. Planning and zoning rules encouraged sprawl, as did tax breaks for home ownership--but cities spread regardless of these. The real cause was mass affluence. As people grew richer, they demanded more privacy and space. Only a few could afford that in city centres; the rest moved out.

The same process is now occurring in the developing world, but much more quickly. The population density of metropolitan Beijing has collapsed since 1970, falling from 425 people per hectare to 65. Indian cities are following; Brazil's are ahead. And suburbanisation has a long way to run. Beijing is now about as crowded as metropolitan Chicago was at its most closely packed, in the 1920s. Since then Chicago's density has fallen by almost three-quarters.

This is welcome. Romantic notions of sociable, high-density living--notions pushed, for the most part, by people who themselves occupy rather spacious residences--ignore the squalor and lack of privacy to be found in Kinshasa, Mumbai or the other crowded cities of the poor world. Many of them are far too dense for dignified living, and need to spread out.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Qassem Suleimani: can this man bring about the downfall of Isis? (Martin Chulov, 12/07/14, The Observer)

Within hours of Isis taking Mosul, Suleimani had arrived in Baghdad, where he has remained in semi-permanent residence ever since, in the home of a senior member of the Iraqi parliament's foreign affairs committee.

From there he has co-ordinated the defence of Baghdad, mobilised Shia militias and rallied his numerous proxies throughout the national legislature. He has also travelled north to prep the Kurds when Isis threatened Irbil in August and marshalled Iranian troops and airmen, who were deployed to Iraq within hours of the Isis rout.

Suleimani has been hailed across Iraq, particularly among the country's Shias, as perhaps the only man who can stop Isis. In Iran, too, where the threat from the blazing insurgency next door is increasingly keenly felt, much hope is being placed in Suleimani to turn things around.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Is Jeb Bush really prepared to lose in order to win? (Dan Balz, December 6, 2014, Washington Post)

 In an interview conducted by Jerry Seib, the Journal's Washington bureau chief, he said that anyone running for president should be prepared "to lose the primary to win the general [election] without violating your principles."

What Bush said is the opposite of the oft-stated idea that presidential candidates run to the left or the right to win their party's presidential nomination and then scamper back to the center as best they can for the general election. That prescription, while sometimes successful, can easily contribute to cynicism among the voters, who watch and wonder whether their politicians have any principles beyond the desire to win at any cost.

Bush offered a different concept, one grounded less to the machinations of typical political campaigns and more dependent on the power of ideas and the confidence to test them in the marketplace. At its core, what Bush was saying is that the best candidates are those who know what they believe, are not afraid to take risks to articulate those convictions and, in some measure, use their campaign to help redefine their party rather than becoming a prisoner of party orthodoxies and constituencies.

...since Goldwater, at the dawn of the open nomination process, no matter what their rhetoric was in the primaries.  And his brother, the most successful Republican president since Ike (maybe Reagan?), ran against the Congressional party to claim the center.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Luke Somers Raid in Yemen: How It Went Wrong (ADAM ENTOUS, Dec. 6, 2014, 2014, WSJ)

To try and preserve the element of surprise, the rescue team landed about five miles away and hiked to the targeted compound through hilly, rough terrain, officials said.

The moon overhead was diminishing in brightness at the time of the operation, which took place at around 1 a.m. Saturday, or 5 p.m. Eastern time Friday. Usually, military planners prefer to carry out such stealthy missions on nights with little to no moonlight.

For days, U.S. intelligence agencies had kept close watch on the location, figuring out how many militants were there and fine-tuning plans for the raid. The large Special Operations team approached without incident to within about 100 yards of the outer compound wall when their cover was blown. [...]

Immediately after the firefight broke out at the entrance to the main compound, one of the AQAP militants rushed inside the building where the hostages were being held, according to U.S. officials briefed on the operation.

The militant was inside for only a few moments. He then ran out. U.S. officials couldn't see what was happening inside the building but believe that is when the two hostages were shot.

U.S. officials said they don't believe stray bullets fired by the U.S. rescue team could have reached the hostages because there was a wall separating the commandos from the building where they were held.

When the Special Operations team, which included medics, entered the building, the two hostages were still alive. The medics immediately started to work to stop the bleeding.

Less than 30 minutes after the firefight first broke out, the two wounded hostages were evacuated under fire from the compound and loaded onto a nearby V-22 Osprey aircraft, which had a surgical team onboard.

One of the hostages died on the Osprey.

The other died on an operating table aboard the USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship that was positioned just off the coast of Yemen.

U.S. officials declined to identify which of the hostages died on the Osprey and which died on the ship.

The U.S. military believes about six AQAP militants were killed during the firefight, but they don't know for sure. The U.S. thought some civilians might have lived inside the compound, but the commandos didn't report encountering any during the raid, officials said.

The commandos emerged unscathed.

For al-Qaeda, every mission is a suicide mission.

US drone strikes kill 13 alleged militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan (Associated Press, 7 December 2014)

A suspected US drone strike on a Pakistani Taliban compound in North Waziristan tribal region killed at least four alleged militants on Sunday, officials said.

Another suspected US drone strike in Afghanistan, meanwhile, killed nine alleged Pakistani Taliban fighters in a rural village near the mountainous border between the two countries, a local official said.

In Pakistan, two missiles fired from a drone hit a compound in the village of Khara Tanga in the Datta Khel area, two Pakistani intelligence officials said. The strike also wounded two militants, they said. The officials said Pakistani Taliban linked to commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur used the compound, but it wasn't immediately known whether Bahadur was there at the time of the strike.

"There is (suspicion) that an important commander was within the compound when missiles struck but this is yet to be verified," one of the intelligence officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


George Orwell's jail time confirmed by unseen court records (Alison Flood, 4 December 2014, The Guardian)

The balance between fact and fiction in George Orwell's investigations of poverty has been questioned ever since an anonymous reviewer of his 1933 memoir, Down and Out in Paris and London, wondered "if the author was really down and out". But now an academic has dug up court records which put one of Orwell's experiments on firmer ground: the author's arrest for being "drunk and incapable" in the East End of London while posing as a fish porter named Edward Burton.

Orwell's unpublished 1932 essay Clink describes a colourful 48 hours in custody in December 1931 after drinking "four or five pints" and most of a bottle of whisky. His intention was to be arrested, "in order to get a taste of prison and to bring himself closer to the tramps and small-time villains with whom he mingled", according to biographer Gordon Bowker.

"When the charge sheet was filled up I told the story I always tell, viz that my name was Edward Burton, and my parents kept a cake-shop in Blythburgh, where I had been employed as a clerk in a draper's shop; that I had had the sack for drunkenness, and my parents, finally getting sick of my drunken habits, had turned me adrift," the author of Animal Farm wrote in a posthumously published essay. "I added that I had been working as an outside porter at Billingsgate, and having unexpectedly 'knocked up' six shillings on Saturday had gone on the razzle."

Now Dr Luke Seaber of University College London has discovered court records in the London Metropolitan archives which he claims, in a paper published in Notes and Queries, offer "unambiguous external confirmation that Orwell did indeed carry out, more or less as described, one of his 'down-and-out' experiments".

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


US officials: Iran made serious concessions for talks extension (BRADLEY KLAPPER AND MATTHEW LEE, December 5, 2014, AP)

The Obama administration is telling members of Congress it has won significant concessions from Iran for extending nuclear talks, including promises by the Islamic republic to allow snap inspections of its facilities and to neutralize much of its remaining uranium stockpile.

Those terms are included in a document that US officials say represents the terms for a seven-month extension in nuclear negotiations between world powers and Iran, agreed to when the last deadline of November 24 passed without an accord. A copy was obtained by The Associated Press.

Of course Iran is losing, but why rub their noses in it?

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


How Technology Could Help Fight Income Inequality (TYLER COWEN, 12/06/14, NY Times)

Technology has contributed to the rise in inequality, but there are also some significant ways in which technology could reduce it.

For example, while computers have improved our lives in many ways, they haven't yet done much to make health care and education cheaper. Over the next few decades, however, that may well change: We can easily imagine medical diagnosis by online artificial intelligence, greater use of online competitive procurement for health care services, more transparency in pricing and thus more competition, and much cheaper online education for many students, to cite just a few possibilities. In such a world, many wage gains would come from new and cheaper services, rather than from being able to cut a better deal with the boss at work.

It is a bit harder to see how information technology can lower housing costs, but perhaps the sharing economy can make it easier to live in much smaller spaces and rent needed items, rather than store them in a house or apartment. That would enable lower-income people to live closer to higher-paying urban jobs and at lower cost.

Another set of future gains, especially for lesser-skilled workers, may come as computers become easier to handle for people with rudimentary skill. Not everyone can work fruitfully with computers now. There is a generation gap when it comes to manipulating electronic devices, and many relevant tasks require knowledge of programming or, more ambitiously, the entrepreneurial skill of creating a start-up. That, in a nutshell, is how our dynamic sector has concentrated its gains among a relatively small number of employees, thus leading to more income inequality.

It's not just that technology is consistently driving down the cost of living, enriching all of us, nor that it is doing the scut work that the lowest classes used to be sentenced to.  The big fact that Mr. Cowen still hasn't processed is that all of the nations with developed economies remain democracies and the capacity to generatre ever greater wealth at ever lower cost means there's more to be redistributed universally.  

Labor was the means of redistributing wealth when manufacturing required labor.  As manufacturing requires less and less labor we won't stop redistributing, we'll redistribute via labor less.

And while the creative elites will have more wealth than everyone else, they'll also be laboring for it.  But no one will quibble about labor inequality except for what he's already argued will be a rather small minority.

Atlas doesn't shrug because he's tired of carrying the weight, but because no one cares if the wealthier have to work for it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Netanyahu said to seek deal to head off elections (MARISSA NEWMAN, December 7, 2014, Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a late-night meeting Saturday with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman in an effort to convince him to form an alternative coalition with the ultra-Orthodox parties and avert early elections, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday morning.

The report cites unnamed political sources to the effect that the prime minister also tried to delay the second and third readings of a bill to dissolve the Knesset, scheduled for Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Kazuo Ishiguro: how I wrote The Remains of the Day in four weeks (Kazuo Ishiguro, 6 December 2014, The Guardian)

[L]orna and I came up with a plan. I would, for a four-week period, ruthlessly clear my diary and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a "Crash". During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I'd get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I'd not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house. Lorna, despite her own busy schedule, would for this period do my share of the cooking and housework. In this way, so we hoped, I'd not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one. [...]

Throughout the Crash, I wrote free-hand, not caring about the style or if something I wrote in the afternoon contradicted something I'd established in the story that morning. The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere - I let them remain and ploughed on. [...]

I should say that by the time I embarked on the Crash, I'd consumed a substantial amount of "research": books by and about British servants, about politics and foreign policy between the wars, many pamphlets and essays from the time, including one by Harold Laski on "The Dangers of Being a Gentleman". I'd raided the second-hand shelves of the local bookshop (Kirkdale Books, still a thriving independent) for guides to the English countryside from the 1930s and 50s. The decision when to start the actual writing of a novel - to begin composing the story itself - always seems to me a crucial one. How much should one know before starting on the prose? It's damaging to start too early, equally so to start too late. I think with Remains I got lucky: the Crash came just at the right point, when I knew just enough.

Looking back, I see all kinds of influences and sources of inspiration. Here are two of the less obvious ones:

1) In the mid-70s, as a teenager, I'd seen a film called The Conversation, a thriller directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In it Gene Hackman plays a freelance surveillance expert, the go-to man for people who want other people's conversations secretly taped. Hackman fanatically wants to be the finest in his field - "the greatest bugger in America" - but becomes steadily haunted by the idea that the tapes he gives to his powerful clients may lead to dark consequences, including murder. I believe the Hackman character was an early model for Stevens the butler.

2) I thought I'd finished Remains, but then one evening heard Tom Waits singing his song "Ruby's Arms". It's a ballad about a soldier leaving his lover sleeping in the early hours to go away on a train. Nothing unusual in that. But the song is sung in the voice of a rough American hobo type utterly unaccustomed to wearing his emotions on his sleeve. And there comes a moment, when the singer declares his heart is breaking, that's almost unbearably moving because of the tension between the sentiment itself and the huge resistance that's obviously been overcome to utter it. Waits sings the line with cathartic magnificence, and you feel a lifetime of tough-guy stoicism crumbling in the face of overwhelming sadness. I heard this and reversed a decision I'd made, that Stevens would remain emotionally buttoned up right to the bitter end. I decided that at just one point - which I'd have to choose very carefully - his rigid defence would crack, and a hitherto concealed tragic romanticism would be glimpsed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


GOP Senate majority grows as Cassidy crushes Landrieu (Jonathan Easley, 12/07/14, The Hill)

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) easily ousted incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) in their Senate runoff on Saturday, capping off a dominating midterm election for Republicans.  

The GOP's victory in the final race of the 2014 cycle cements their nine-seat pickup in the upper chamber, giving them a 54 to 46 advantage over Democrats come January. Though Senate control wasn't in the balance, Cassidy's win is nonetheless an exclamation point on a midterm cycle that saw big gains for Republicans. 

Polls in Louisiana closed at 9 p.m. EST, and the Associated Press called the race in favor of Cassidy at 9:30 pm with only 40 of the 4,018 precincts reporting and the Republican with a 64 percent to 36 percent lead.

Democrats can't even win in a state where Republicans used Jedi-weather-control tricks to try and drown everybody.
Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Hillary Clinton's History as First Lady: Powerful, but Not Always Deft (PETER BAKER and AMY CHOZICK, DEC. 5, 2014, NY Times)

What Mrs. Clinton leaves out about her time as first lady is her messy, sometimes explosive and often politically clumsy dealings with congressional Republicans and White House aides. Now, the release of roughly 6,000 pages of extraordinarily candid interviews with more than 60 veterans of the Clinton administration paints a more nuanced portrait of a first lady who was at once formidable and not always politically deft.

Her triumphs and setbacks are laid bare in the oral histories of Mr. Clinton's presidency, released last month by the Miller Center at the University of Virginia. The center has conducted oral histories of every presidency going back to Jimmy Carter's, interviewing key players and then sealing them for years to come. But more than any other, this set of interviews bears on the future as much as the past.

These were formative years for Mrs. Clinton, a time of daring and hubris, a time when she evolved from that headstrong young lawyer so impressed with the man she would marry into a political figure in her own right. She emerged from battles over health care and Whitewater a more seasoned yet profoundly scarred and cautious politician with a better grasp of how Washington works, but far more wary of ambitious projects that may be unpopular.

Now carefully controlled at 67, then she was fiery and unpredictable, lobbing sarcastic jabs in private meetings and congressional hearings. Now criticized as a centrist and challenged from the left, Mrs. Clinton then was considered the liberal whispering in her husband's ear to resist the North American Free Trade Agreement and a welfare overhaul.

"She's much more politically astute now than she was in early 1993," said Alan Blinder, who was a White House economist. "I think she learned. She's really smart. She learns, and she knows she made mistakes." [...]

She was an independent force within the White House, single-handedly pushing health care onto the agenda and intimidating into silence those who thought she might be mishandling it. She was prone to bouts of anger and nursed deep resentment toward Washington. She endured a terribly complicated relationship with her philandering husband. And yet she was the one who often channeled his energies, steered him toward success and saved him from himself.

"She may have been critical from time to time with temper tantrums and things like that," said Mr. Nussbaum, who went on to become Mr. Clinton's first White House counsel. "But she was very strong, and he needed her desperately. He would not have been president, I don't think, without her."

Mrs. Clinton created her own team in the White House that came to be called Hillaryland, and "they were a little island unto themselves," as Betty Currie, the president's secretary, put it. She inspired more loyalty from them than the president did from his own team, said Roger Altman, who was deputy treasury secretary, probably because she was not as purely political. "She wears her heart on her sleeve much more than he does," he said.

But the Clintons were fiercely protective of each other, acting at times as if it were just them against the world. "I remember one time in one of these meetings where she was blowing up about his staff and how we were all incompetent and he was having to be the mechanic and drive the car and do everything -- that we weren't capable of anything, why did he have to do it all himself," said Joan N. Baggett, an assistant for political affairs.

Mr. Clinton had a similar temper when it came to the arrows hurled at her, and aides learned early on never to question her judgment in front of him. "He really reacts violently when people criticize Hillary," said Mickey Kantor, the 1992 campaign chairman and later commerce secretary. "I mean he really gets angry -- you can just see it. He literally gets red in the face."

He depended on her more than any other figure in his world. It blinded him to trouble, some advisers concluded, most notably about her ill-fated drive to remake the health care system.

But he rarely overruled her, at least not in ways that staff members could detect. "I can't think of any issue of any importance at all where they were in disagreement and she didn't win out," recalled Abner Mikva, who served as White House counsel. [...]

[I]f Mr. Clinton's dalliances were a challenge, some of his aides worried that so was his wife. Some questioned whether he would look emasculated to have such a strong spouse. "They pigeonholed her," said Susan Thomases, a close friend of Mrs. Clinton's who worked on the campaign. "She was so strong a personality that there were people who felt that when they were together her strong personality made him seem weaker."

Mrs. Clinton struggled with that, trying to find a balance. But she was integral to nearly every decision -- from her husband's ideological positioning down to his campaign song. "Every time we suggest something, Hillary vetoes it, and we just can't get a song," Mr. Clinton's longtime consigliere, Bruce R. Lindsey, complained at one point, according to Al From, founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Finally, Mr. From suggested Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," and that passed muster.

More important, Mr. From pushed for Mr. Clinton to run to the middle, and ultimately she signed off on that too. She approached Mr. From at a party. "I thought about it and you're right, and we're going to be a different kind of Democrat by the convention," he remembered her saying. [...]

But the health care effort and its expansion of government involvement in the private sector proved politically toxic and generated deep internal division within the White House. Mr. Magaziner was seen as dismissive and few were willing to confront the president's wife. "There were a lot of people who were intimidated," said Leon E. Panetta, the chief of staff.

Ms. Shalala, who had been named secretary of health and human services, was one of the few who tried. "I told Hillary that this thing is just headed for disaster, and she told me I was just jealous that I wasn't in charge and that was why I was complaining," Mr. Edelman, who served as Ms. Shalala's assistant secretary, remembered Ms. Shalala telling him.

Some of the White House economists were dubious and privately called Mrs. Clinton's health care team "the Bolsheviks." In return, according to Ms. Rivlin, the economists were "sometimes treated like the enemy." Their suggested changes were ignored. "We could have beaten Ira alone," said Mr. Blinder. "But we couldn't beat Hillary."

Indeed, the conflict left the president in a bind. "You can't fire your wife," Mr. Kantor observed.

In the end, the Clintons were stunned by the collapse of the effort in Congress, a defeat that helped lead to the Republican takeover in 1994. "They may be an irresistible force," said William A. Galston, a domestic policy adviser, "but they met an immovable object." [...]

For both Clintons, the Senate race in 2000 became a way to purge the toxins of the scandal. Mr. Gore, now the vice president, wanted nothing to do with Mr. Clinton as he mounted his own White House bid. So the departing president focused his energy on his wife's campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


What It Means to Listen: Free Speech from the Perspective of the Abrahamic Religions (Dominic Burbidge, December 3rd, 2014, Public Discourse)

Free speech arguments in Western Europe or North America often demand that persons subject their beliefs to rational discourse and debate. This is supported in the traditions of Abrahamic religions but not through the separation of believer from belief that is characteristic of liberal individualism. For someone of an Abrahamic faith, beliefs are subject to rational evaluation as coherent wholes, which are therefore refuted by an alternative system of thought that is able to display greater unity, coherence, and breadth of application.

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in the writings of the Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner, who enters into deep and open dialogue with Christianity in his book, A Rabbi Talks with Jesus. After spending the day in an imagined discussion with Jesus, Neusner returns to a rabbi of another town, who asks him what Jesus said that differed from what is found in the Babylonian Talmud:

Rabbi: "What did he [Jesus] leave out?"

Neusner: "Nothing."

Rabbi: "Then what did he add?"

Neusner: "Himself."

The best method of rational discourse between traditions comes not through attacking the other as irrational but through demonstrating greater completeness in one's own position. Indeed, even though Neusner ends with a rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, Benedict XVI found Neusner's account touching and stimulating enough to quote it in his own book, Jesus of Nazareth. This is tradition debating with tradition, done in a way that takes the most coherent and complete views of the other as what is of most interest. It is the same with Islam's appeal to Christianity: Muhammad is the last prophet, completing the accounts of his predecessors. An Abrahamic idea of free speech engages with traditions of thought systematically to arrive at a more consistent and harmonious account.

...a right to speak is not a right to be heard, just an opportunity.

Wordless melodies to soothe the soul What would you think if I sang a 'nigun'? : A neo-Hasidic band from New York spreads the joy of Jewish prayer music (REBECCA WOJNO December 7, 2014, Times of Israel)

"Some people hear 'Hasidism' and immediately shy away because they have negative associations with the word," said guitarist Zachariah 'Juke' Goldschmiedt, 23. "We want to connect with everyone; we want to spread light to the entire world."

The threesome brings their experiences, messages and sound to their recently self-released album, "Zusha," produced and recorded by Mason Jar Music. The six tracks of mostly wordless, lifting melodies are infused with spirituality. But there's no need to be religious to enjoy the sound.

Zusha is trying to create universally relatable music by using fewer words and lyrics, and focusing on nigunim -- those traditional, wordless melodies often used in the synagogue and at the Sabbath table, said percussionist Shlomo Ari Gaisin, 23.

"Nigunim beg the listener to invest his or her own narrative into the very fabric of the song," Gaisin said.

It's also an undefined and all-encompassing kind of sound, he added. That's an important element for the band, which doesn't like to be defined by any one label.

Guitarist Goldschmiedt said the nigun represents the "zero point where we all connect," part of Zusha's goal to connect with people on a level where they see the good in one another, and to stop judging others and focusing on negativity.

Even their neo-Hasidic label is an oversimplified characterization, agreed all three.

"At this point we're all a mix," Goldschmiedt. "I think it's wrong to be 100% Hasidic or 100% of anything for that matter, because it's too closed minded. Nowadays, it's important to be able to see the good in the other's thinking."

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


How I Got Over: The Soul of Aretha Franklin : a review of Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz (Emily J. Lordi, December 6th, 2014, LA Review of Books)

Here's what the outsiders have to say: Franklin consistently idealizes her life to the point of releasing -- the year one of her homes burns down and two of her siblings die -- an album called So Damn Happy. Petty and competitive, she gets mad when Atlantic signs another female soul singer, Roberta Flack; when Natalie Cole successfully records material that Franklin passes on recording herself; and when Beyoncé introduces Tina Turner as "the queen" when everyone should know there's only one. Some of her diva antics are hilarious, as when she shows up longtime rival Barbra Streisand by singing "Funny Girl" in front of her at the1969 Grammy's, and asks that the members of Oprah's studio audience wear gowns and tuxedos to honor her appearance on the show. Some career moves are ruthless, as when she insists on recording an album of songs, Sparkle, which Curtis Mayfield has promised to her sister Carolyn. She is both meaner and more socially committed than one might expect: Ritz highlights her tireless service to Martin Luther King's freedom movement, her public support for Angela Davis, her plan for an unrealized conference that would "deal with how the Black woman specifically and Black people in general are treated around the world," and her appearance at a high-profile same-sex marriage in 2011.

Above all and appropriately, Respect depicts Franklin as an ambitious musical genius whose career is her "essential relationship." As a child she seems exceptional even in a world of gospel wonder-children, to which she arrives as if from a "distant musical planet." "Here's how it worked," her brother Cecil explains, "Aretha heard a song once and played it back immediately, note for note. If it was an instrumental, she duplicated it perfectly. If it was a vocal, she duplicated it just as perfectly. She got all the inflections right [...] Her ear was infallible." She used that infallible ear to arrange many of her own greatest hits, from "Chain of Fools" to "Natural Woman," writing piano lines, background harmonies, and drum breaks. Yet it is not until Amazing Grace, her live-at-church 1972 brainchild, that she receives producer credit.

Few aspects of popular music history are so unyielding as the tendency to locate influence and innovation solely in the work of male artists. It is therefore surprising, although it shouldn't be, to learn that Ray Charles's recording of "Lucky Old Sun," and Otis Redding's version of "Try a Little Tenderness" were both inspired by Franklin's recordings of those songs; that she overdubs her main vocal lines with her own harmonies seven years before Marvin Gaye makes that technique famous on What's Going On; that Eric Clapton was once too intimidated to play guitar with her; that her 1967 recording of Otis Redding's "Respect" set the template for socially conscious and commercially viable soul music for years to come; that Gaye was profoundly validated when she sang his "Wholy Holy" on Amazing Grace -- the album with which, moreover, Franklin helped to "invent modern gospel."

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Unpublished Raymond Chandler work discovered in Library of Congress (Sarah Weinman,  2 December 2014, The Guardian)

An early, never-before-published work by crime novelist Raymond Chandler has been discovered in the Library of Congress in Washington.

The 48-page libretto to the comic opera The Princess and the Pedlar, with music by Julian Pascal, has hidden in plain sight at the library since its copyright was first registered on 29 August 1917.

The work, a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian, was found in March by Kim Cooper, shortly after she published her debut novel, The Kept Girl, featuring a fictionalised Chandler in 1929 Los Angeles.

While looking for more information about Pascal, Cooper discovered a missing link between Chandler's English boyhood and his detective fiction: a witty, Gilbert-and-Sullivan-inflected libretto for a fantasy-tinged romance between Porphyria, daughter to the King and Queen of the Arcadians, and Beautiful Jim, a "strolling Pedlar."

Chandler penned pithy lines for supporting players, and even foreshadowed his own crime fiction career, as when the humpback Gorboyne sings: "Criminals dyed with the deepest dyes/Hated of all the good and wise, Soaked in crime to the hair and eyes/Very unpleasant are we."

December 6, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Smile, You're Speaking EMOJI : The rapid evolution of a wordless tongue. (Adam Sternbergh, 11/16/14, New York)

This elasticity of meaning is a large part of the appeal and, perhaps, the genius of emoji. They have proved to be well suited to the kind of emotional heavy lifting for which written language is often clumsy or awkward or problematic, especially when it's relayed on tiny screens, tapped out in real time, using our thumbs. These seemingly infantile cartoons are instantly recognizable, which makes them understandable even across linguistic barriers. Yet the implications of emoji--their secret meanings--are constantly in flux.

Decoding pictures as part of communication has been at the root of written language since there was such a thing as written language. "What is virtually certain," writes Andrew Robinson in Writing and Script: A Very Short Introduction, is "that the first written symbols began life as pictures." Pictograms--i.e., pictures of actual things, like a drawing of the sun--were the very first elements of written communication, found in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. From pictograms, which are literal representations, we moved to logograms, which are symbols that stand in for a word ($, for example) and ideograms, which are pictures or symbols that represent an idea or abstract concept. Modern examples of ideograms include the person-in-a-wheelchair symbol that universally communicates accessibility and the red-hand symbol at a pedestrian crossing that signals not "red hand" but "stop."

Emoji can somewhat magically function as pictograms and ideograms at the same time. 

It's not magic, it's Evolution.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Jeb Bush Putting Out Feelers in New Hampshire (Scott Conroy, December 4, 2014, RCP)

Two top New Hampshire Republican strategists have been contacted this week by a Jeb Bush confidant to discuss their interest in leading the former Florida governor's prospective presidential campaign there, RealClearPolitics has learned from GOP sources in the Granite State.

The new outreach from Bush's camp was directed at a pair of experienced and well-respected New Hampshire GOP operatives, each of whom has previously helmed presidential campaigns in the state.  

Both were given the proverbial instruction to "keep your powder dry," suggesting that Bush is leaning toward entering the race early next year.  

"I think the decision's been made, personally," said one of the strategists who was contacted by Bush's camp and who spoke to RCP under the condition of anonymity. 

A Blast From the Past : Can Jeb Bush survive his own party? (John Dickerson, 12/04/14, Slate)

 "I kinda know how a Republican can win," he told the paper's Washington bureau chief, Gerald Seib, "much more uplifting, much more positive, much more willing to be practical and ... to lose the primary to win the general." Bush then mused about what a Romney presidency would have looked like and how Bush might run the place. "Here's a problem, let's go fix it," he said. "Put aside, you know, the ideological differences, let's forge consensus around, this is a problem, how do we go from point A to point B to fix it." (No wonder 73 percent of the audience of CEOs picked Bush as their preferred nominee.)

What the former Florida governor means about the relationship between the Republican primary and the general election is that his party's clubhouse contest for picking a nominee is broken. It forces candidates to do things to get elected by Republicans that make them unappealing to the general election audience. When Seib asked what it would look like to run as a candidate who didn't bend to the requirements of his party's process, Bush replied, "Frankly no one really knows that, because it hasn't been tried recently."

If he runs, Bush will either be a revolutionary figure who overcomes his party's nominating patterns or he will be this cycle's Jon Huntsman.* The former Utah governor also shared Bush's critical view of the GOP nominating process. In 2012, Republican primary voters did not like that message and the way he delivered it, and Huntsman flamed out after a third place finish in New Hampshire, where he had stacked all of his chips. 

It hasn't been done since...last cycle.  GHWB, W , Maverick, and Mitt were all out of step with the Beltway Right, but they were good general election candidates so the base chose them.  

That Huntsman bit is especially amusing though.  He wasn't even the strongest Mormon running in 2012, let alone in NH which is always a strong spot for a candidate from MA.

Jeb comes to the race with four overwhelming things in his favor : (1) it's the party of next, and no one is more next than he is; (2) he's a governor, not a senator; (3) the money and organization will come easiest to him; and (4) he's the Evangelical in a race for the Evangelical Party's nomination.

Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


Racial profiling will still be allowed at airports, along border despite new policy (Sari Horwitz and Jerry Markon, December 5, 2014, Washington Post)

[T]he administration will exempt a broad swath of DHS, namely the Transportation Security Administration and key parts of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, according to law enforcement officials.

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


More Competition Helps Restrain Premiums In Federal Health Marketplace (Jordan Rau and Julie Appleby December 1, 2014, Kaiser Health News)

A surge in health insurer competition appears to be helping restrain premium increases in hundreds of counties next year, with prices dropping in many places where newcomers are offering the least expensive plans, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of federal premium records.

KHN looked at premiums for the lowest-cost silver plan for a 40-year-old in 34 states where the federal government is running marketplaces for people who do not get coverage through their employers. Consumers have until Feb. 15 to enroll for coverage in 2015, the marketplace's second year.

The number of insurers offering silver plans, the most popular type of plan in 2014, is increasing in two-thirds of counties, according to the analysis. In counties that are adding at least one insurer next year, premiums for the least expensive silver plan are rising 1 percent on average. Where the number of insurers is not changing, premiums are growing 7 percent on average.

"They are moving in where they see an overpriced area," said Gerard Anderson, a public health professor at Johns Hopkins University.

In the federal marketplaces, the average county premium for the cheapest silver plan is rising 3 percent, from $266 to $273. But it is the inverse in counties where a new carrier is offering the cheapest plan. In those counties, premiums had been high, averaging $284, but they are dropping by an average of 3 percent, bringing them in line with the national average, the analysis found.

No wonder Obamacare borrowed so heavily from conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Poll: 65% Israelis don't want Netanyahu as prime minister (TIMES OF ISRAEL, December 6, 2014)

Almost two-thirds of Israelis do not want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the next government, a poll published Saturday by Channel 2 found.

Asked whether they want the three-term prime minister to take office again after the March 2015 elections, 65 percent of the 500 Israelis polled said they do not want Netanyahu in office while 30% said they want him to be prime minister; 5% declined responding to the question.

Posted by orrinj at 12:06 PM


Rolling Stone apologizes over account of UVA gang rape (Greg Botelho and Melissa Gray, 12/05/14, CNN)

However, the University of Virginia's Phi Kappa Psi chapter did not have a party the night of September 28, 2012, the date when the alleged attack occurred, or at all that weekend, the chapter said in a statement Friday. The chapter's lawyer, Ben Warthen, told CNN email and fraternity records are proof.

Warthen said there were other discrepancies in the accuser's account. For example, the accused orchestrator of the alleged rape did not belong to the fraternity, the fraternity house has no side staircase, and there were no pledges at that time of year.

Jackie told the magazine she hurried out a side staircase after the incident and said her attackers egged each other on, asking, "Don't you want to be a brother?"

"It's not part of our culture," Warthen said. "It's just not true."

Jackie also described her alleged attacker as a fellow lifeguard at the university pool. The fraternity's UVA chapter said an internal investigation found no member who worked at the Aquatic and Fitness Center at the time of the alleged attack. [...]

The Washington Post reported Friday that a group of Jackie's close friends "believe something traumatic happened to her, but they also have come to doubt her account" because details have changed over time.

It's a mental disorder, not a physical reality.
Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Marketing Myopia (Theodore Levitt, JULY 2004, Harvard Business Review)

Since words are cheap and deeds are dear, it may be appropriate to indicate what this kind of thinking involves and leads to. Let us start at the beginning: the customer. It can be shown that motorists strongly dislike the bother, delay, and experience of buying gasoline. People actually do not buy gasoline. They cannot see it, taste it, feel it, appreciate it, or really test it. What they buy is the right to continue driving their cars. The gas station is like a tax collector to whom people are compelled to pay a periodic toll as the price of using their cars. This makes the gas station a basically unpopular institution. It can never be made popular or pleasant, only less unpopular, less unpleasant.

Reducing its unpopularity completely means eliminating it. Nobody likes a tax collector, not even a pleasantly cheerful one. Nobody likes to interrupt a trip to buy a phantom product, not even from a handsome Adonis or a seductive Venus. Hence, companies that are working on exotic fuel substitutes that will eliminate the need for frequent refueling are heading directly into the outstretched arms of the irritated motorist. They are riding a wave of inevitability, not because they are creating something that is technologically superior or more sophisticated but because they are satisfying a powerful customer need. They are also eliminating noxious odors and air pollution.

Once the petroleum companies recognize the customer-satisfying logic of what another power system can do, they will see that they have no more choice about working on an efficient, long-lasting fuel (or some way of delivering present fuels without bothering the motorist) than the big food chains had a choice about going into the supermarket business or the vacuum tube companies had a choice about making semiconductors. For their own good, the oil firms will have to destroy their own highly profitable assets. No amount of wishful thinking can save them from the necessity of engaging in this form of "creative destruction."

I phrase the need as strongly as this because I think management must make quite an effort to break itself loose from conventional ways. It is all too easy in this day and age for a company or industry to let its sense of purpose become dominated by the economies of full production and to develop a dangerously lopsided product orientation. In short, if management lets itself drift, it invariably drifts in the direction of thinking of itself as producing goods and services, not customer satisfactions. While it probably will not descend to the depths of telling its salespeople, "You get rid of it; we'll worry about profits," it can, without knowing it, be practicing precisely that formula for withering decay. The historic fate of one growth industry after another has been its suicidal product provincialism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


The Witness Still Stands (RON CAPSHAW, 12/04/14, Library of Law & Liberty)

In the Court of Public Opinion (1957), Hiss's post-prison memoir, sticks in a very technical way to the legal aspects of the case. This legalism, which gave off a decorous formality rather than a desperate need for exoneration, was characterized by radical, anti-Hiss journalist Dwight McDonald as "to the point of madness." And this cut-and-dried, confident tone never left Hiss. During the trial, it was displayed when he "directed" the government to look beyond the mounting evidence and compare reputation (Hiss's was stellar, and included words of support from two former Supreme Court justices). After the trial, he calmly pressed and pressed on the theory that he had been framed by a cabal composed of the FBI, anticommunists and big business. Sympathetic reviewers, expecting outrage or any human emotion, were disappointed and pronounced Hiss an enigma.

In stark contrast we have Chambers and his landmark personal statement, Witness, one of the great autobiographies of the 20th century. Penned in 1952, re-released this year in paperback from Regnery, it presented the world with a personality and mind that are unique, and not completely attractive to either liberals or conservatives. If there was a thesis to Witness, it was that the Cold War was really about communism's faith in man pitted against Christianity's faith in God. Chambers as much as said that it was only ex-communists who could effectively fight communism. His emphasis on this was and is off-putting to many.

Liberals, accepting that Hiss was guilty, nevertheless recoiled from Chambers' focus on born-agains. Sidney Hook, an anti-Stalinist who remained a man of the Left all his life, criticized Chambers for "recklessly" lumping atheistic anticommunists in with the communists. Conservatives, while agreeing with Chambers' view that the New Deal sought the same kind of revolution as the communists, nevertheless had trouble wrapping their head completely around Witness. William F. Buckley couldn't accept Chambers' view that anticommunists were on the losing side of History; nor were Buckley or some other activists on the Right happy with Whittaker Chambers' critical view of Joseph McCarthy as a "raven of disaster." Ronald Reagan, probably the most optimistic of conservatives, in awarding Chambers a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, had to cherry-pick passages from Witness that did not bear the book's signature pessimism.

Almost all, though, agreed that Witness was not the product of an American mind. Structuring the book around the Lazarus motif, Chambers exhibited, in the words of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. an "un-American . . . or at least un-Anglo-Saxon intensity." Chambers' biographer Sam Tanenhaus seconded this. When given the opportunity upon the re-release of his book to amend it, he chose the new subtitle of "An Un-American Life."

The Huguenot background of Chambers' maternal grandmother is described in Witness, and also this majestic woman's habit of "breaking into rippling French, in which she thought almost as easily as English." Teaching her grandson to read French, she launched the future translator of Felix Salten's Bambi -and the GRU courier who, having studied German, French, Spanish, and Italian, could also make himself sound Russian to disguise his identity from his underground associates--into a life that was, if not European, European-ish.

That belief in History made Chambers wrong as both a Communist and an anti-Communist.  But his misplaced pessimism ultimately served a great purpose.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Al-Qaida's chief of global operations killed in army raid in Pakistan (Associated Press, 6 December 2014)

Adnan Shukrijumah was killed, along with two other suspected militants, in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area early on Saturday.

A senior Pakistani army officer said: "The al-Qaida leader, who was killed by the Pakistan army in a successful operation, is the same person who had been indicted in the United Stated." .

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Inerrancy: A Cartesian Faux-Pas? (Russell W. Howell, Nov/Dec 2014, Books & Culture)

"If I were asked what was the most disastrous moment in the history of Europe I should be strongly tempted to answer that it was that period of leisure when René Descartes, having no claims to meet, remained for a whole day 'shut up alone in a stove.' " So wrote the normally diplomatic William Temple in chapter three of his Nature, Man, and God, originally given as a series of Gifford Lectures, and published in 1934.

Temple delivered his talks while serving as Archbishop of York, and chose for that chapter the less than diplomatic title "The Cartesian Faux-Pas." For Temple, this "faux-pas" was the belief that philosophical inquiry, to be successful, should proceed according to a geometric or axiomatic model: begin with indisputable truths or axioms ("I think, therefore I am"), and from there engage in airtight logical reasoning to establish further truths--which, prior to their establishment, may have been highly disputed--such as the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Indeed, in the synopsis to his Meditations, Descartes states, "[I]t was my aim to write nothing of which I could not give exact demonstration, and that I therefore felt myself obliged to adopt an order similar to that in use among the geometers, viz., to premise all upon which the proposition in question depends, before coming to any conclusion respecting it."

Temple thought that Descartes' strategy ("Let's pretend I don't exist and see if I can prove that I do") was a violation of common sense, and dismissed the idea that the success of the axiomatic method in mathematics could be extended to philosophy. Furthermore, he claimed that the method produced disastrous results "not only in philosophy, but also in politics and economics, with all that this means for human happiness or misery."

THE POLITICAL CASE FOR AMERICA'S SUPERIORITY (Peter Lawler, 11 . 17 . 09, First Things)

The Americans, as our English friend Chesterton observed with some ambivalence, are the seeming oxymoron, a creedal nation. We are, he memorably said, "a nation with the soul of the church." America, he added, is all about "the romance of the citizen" and "a home for the homeless" everywhere. The American creed is that all human beings are created equal, because there's a personal center of significance in the universe that grants each of us significance. Everyone, in principle, can be a citizen of our country who accepts the "dogmatic lucidity" of that national faith.

That faith is about citizens, because it's the foundation of the way of life shared in our territorial home. But it's a faith that the foundation of citizenship is not a merely national construction; we're at home with the thought that the nation is not the real source of the significance of citizens. And so the true foundation of citizenship lies in the truth about the person and the relationship between being politically at home and our truest home. We've never shared the French view--or even the view of the ancient polis--that citizens are created out of nothing. Nor have we ever shared today's European view that the person must be detached from the citizen to display his true freedom.

The American view is that citizenship is only one part--but a real part--of whole human lives; the person experiences himself as both a political and transpolitical being. The romance of the citizen, for us, displays part of the truth about the equal significance we all share as unique and irreplaceable beings. (That means, as Chesterton learned, in part, from Lincoln, that our Declaration's faith is not merely or most deeply Lockean. There is a foundation for the significance of each particular person in nature itself, and that thought depends at least upon a distinctively Christian sort of Deism that was a product of the Declaration's legislative compromising of Lockean and Calvinist concerns.)

This view of America, which finds its home among conservative Americans today, is the best explanation of why America can be a nation without succumbing to nationalism, of why we are so comparatively adept in reconciling the particularity of the citizen with the universality of personal principle, of why History (with a capital H) never took firm, depersonalizing root here, of why the most Christian of Americans can be the best citizens, of why there are credible Christian and secular accounts of our founding principles that are in some respects in principle irreconciliable but nonetheless are readily compromisable, and of why we are so confident that the nation is the form by which democratic self-government can and should take root everywhere.

Is that we avoided Cartesianism and History altogether and never waivered from faith.

December 5, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


GOP Takes Smoother Path to Fund Government (KRISTINA PETERSON, Dec. 4, 2014, WSJ)

House Republican leaders are displaying a trait seldom seen in this Congress: efficiency.

The GOP-controlled House appeared on track to pass next week a measure keeping the government running after its current funding expires on Dec. 11, with few detours or delays to appease the party's conservative wing.

As part of their strategy, House GOP leaders allowed a vote on a bill seeking to prevent President Barack Obama from shielding millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. It passed 219-197, but the Democratic-controlled Senate is expected to ignore the bill and the White House said Mr. Obama would veto it in any case.

But the vote on that measure, from Rep. Ted Yoho (R., Fla.), helped channel the partisan fight over immigration policy away from the spending measure needed to keep the government running. The bill gave the most conservative Republicans a vehicle for registering their displeasure over Mr. Obama's actions.

Opposition to immigrants is, after all, just hot air.  None of them are serious.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Do Russians only love Putin because he made them rich? (Anne Applebaum, 6 December 2014, The Spectator)

The US, Europe, Australia and Japan responded with sanctions which were deliberately designed to target a small number of wealthy Russians. But Putin broke new ground again. Instead of responding in kind, he banned food imports from the West. Because Russia normally imports at least a quarter and possibly as much as half of its food -- not only Parmesan from Italy but frozen vegetables from Poland -- he ensured that food prices would rise, not just for a small number of people but for the entire nation. It was a calculated risk: the Russian President and his entourage apparently reckoned that the Russian people would agree to pay higher prices for food in exchange for military glory. Unlike decadent Europeans and spoiled Americans, Putin seemed to believe that Russians would stoically suffer on behalf of the motherland at a time of crisis.

Was he right? We are about to find out. This week the rouble, which has lost a third of its value in three months, slid by 9 per cent in a single day. A recession is now predicted. Inflation is predicted too, as high as 8 or 9 per cent. A controversial but long-planned pipeline construction has been abruptly cancelled. Major Russian banks are asking for government loans. Russian companies which earn in roubles and borrow in dollars are suddenly in trouble. Capital has been swiftly flowing out of the country, and some banks are rumoured to be limiting withdrawals. There are so many rumours about capital controls that the prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, has explicitly denied them.

Not all of Russia's economic disruption is caused by sanctions, of course. Since last spring, oil prices have also dropped by nearly 40 per cent. The world's largest oil producer, Saudi Arabia, has just made it clear that it won't lower production in order to push them up again, at least for the time being.

This might not matter as much to other oil producers, but for more than a decade Putin has coasted on the illusion that historically high oil and gas revenues could both support the national budget and disguise Russia's failure to create a more productive economy. High energy prices even paid for the excesses of autocracy and an expansionist foreign policy: the Sochi Olympics, the billionaires' palaces, the adventure in eastern Ukraine, the military exercises on a Cold War scale, even the €9 million loan which a shady Russian bank has just made to the far-right French National Front.

Sanctions have exacerbated the difficulties created by the collapse in oil prices, and in this narrow economic sense, Putin's experiment has failed, or at least proved to be very expensive.

Economics is never narrow.

December 4, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Extreme oil bears bet on $40 crude (Gregory Meyer, 12/04/14, Financial Times)

The oil market rout has made some investors so bearish they are buying contracts that pay out if prices drop below $40 a barrel -- a level last traded during the bleakest chapters of the financial crisis.

Extreme market scenarios are playing out in put options for crude, which give holders the right to sell oil above a set price by a certain date.

Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


Obama Wields 'American Exceptionalism' to Push Agenda (BYRON TAU, 12/04/14, WSJ)

In remarks on Wednesday in front of business leaders, Mr. Obama made the case for continued American economic involved on the world stage -- while pledging to work with Congress to tackle tax policy, immigration and free trade.

"The bottom line is, is that America continues to lead," Mr. Obama said. He added that at the recent G20 summit in Australia, "what was striking was the degree of optimism that the world felt about the American economy -- an optimism that in some ways is greater than how Americans sometimes feel about the American economy.

"A lot of that has to do with the fact that we've got the best workers in the world, we've got the best university system, and research and development and innovation in the world, and we've got the best businesses in the world," he said.

He concluded his remarks to the Business Roundtable chief executive officers on Wednesday with the farewell line, "Happy holidays, everybody. It's good to be in America."

A day before, Mr. Obama used similar language about American leadership at a stop at the National Institutes of Health -- pressing Republicans in Congress to pass a $6.2 billion Ebola funding bill.

"Part of American leadership in the world -- one of the things that has always marked us as exceptional -- is our leadership in science and our leadership in research," Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama said that American leadership on the issue of Ebola had helped mobilize the world and that American pledges of aid helped galvanize the international response.

"American leadership matters every time.  We set the tone and we set the agenda," he said Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Rage in Jerusalem (Nathan Thrall, 12/04/14, London Review of Books)

All Jerusalemites pay taxes, but the proportion of the municipal budget allocated to the roughly 300,000 Palestinian residents of a city with a population of 815,000 doesn't exceed 10 per cent. Service provision is grossly unequal. In the East, there are five benefit offices compared to the West's 18; four health centres for mothers and babies compared to the West's 25; and 11 mail carriers compared to the West's 133. Roads are mostly in disrepair and often too narrow to accommodate garbage trucks, forcing Palestinians to burn rubbish outside their homes. A shortage of sewage pipes means that Palestinian residents have to use septic tanks which often overflow. Students are stuffed into overcrowded schools or converted apartments; 2200 additional classrooms are needed. More than three-quarters of the city's Palestinians live below the poverty line.

Since 1967 no new Palestinian neighbourhoods have been established in the city, while Jewish settlements surrounding existing Palestinian areas have mushroomed. Restrictive zoning prevents Palestinians from building legally. Israel has designated 52 per cent of land in East Jerusalem as unavailable for development and 35 per cent for Jewish settlements, leaving the Palestinian population with only 13 per cent, most of which is already built on. Those with growing families are forced to choose between building illegally and leaving the city. Roughly a third of them decide to build, meaning that 93,000 residents are under constant threat of their homes being demolished.

The government has no shortage of bureaucratic explanations for this unequal treatment, but it doesn't always try to hide the ethno-religious basis of its discrimination. After the recent terrorist attacks by both Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the government demolished the homes only of the Palestinian perpetrators. Palestinians who live in houses abandoned during the 1948 war have been evicted to make room for Jewish former owners and their descendants, but the reverse has yet to occur.

Jerusalem was once the cultural, political and commercial capital for Palestinians, connected to Bethlehem in the south and Ramallah in the north. But the construction of the separation wall cut Jerusalemites off from the West Bank and from one another. The route of the wall was chosen to encompass as many East Jerusalem and West Bank Jewish settlements as possible while excluding the largest possible number of Palestinians. In the Jerusalem area, only 3 per cent of the wall follows the pre-1967 border. The wall divides the Palestinians in Jerusalem into two groups: three-quarters have found themselves on the Israeli side; a quarter are on the West Bank side, and are now forced to wait in long lines at checkpoints to get to schools and other services. Some smaller Palestinian villages are completely encircled by the wall.

Because areas on the West Bank side of the barrier are still within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is forbidden to enter them. But the Israeli police, in common with the providers of other basic municipal services, largely refuse to go to these places. Despite this, residents are still obliged to pay municipal taxes, in order to qualify for healthcare and benefits. These neighbourhoods have become a no man's land where criminals can escape from both Israel and the PA.

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Japan's Economic Dilemma: Comfortable Decline or Painful Revival? ( JACOB M. SCHLESINGER, Dec. 3, 2014, WSJ)

"Recession," "stagnation," "slump," were the ominous labels I constantly read describing Japan before I moved here in late 2009. After I'd settled in, a better word seemed "kaiteki," which means "comfort," and conveys a wide range of virtues like convenience, reliability, safety, even charm. I was struck by the disparity between the world's perception of Japan and the remarkable feeling of prosperity here--compared not just with the bubble-era Japan I saw when last living here 20 years earlier, but with the America I experienced in the interim, during its own boom times.
Tokyo in recession showed none of the distress you would expect in the U.S. or Europe: no boarded-up storefronts, garbage piles, beggars, trashed subway stations or any hint of serious street crime. If anything, the city had spiffed up considerably during the "lost decades" of my absence. Near my financial-center workplace, the dumpy cinder-block office buildings with smoky coffee shops were replaced by gleaming towers anchored by gourmet dining and high-end clothing stores, bustling with customers. In my home neighborhood in a more traditional part of the city, old businesses did frequently shut down--but the space would close only during a frenzied weekend refurbishment, reopening Monday with rows of bouquets outside used to celebrate new openings.

The numbers don't lie. Japan's economy, by many measures, has been in historic decline, causing distress for a growing underclass of workers who lack permanent full-time jobs and for regions far from Tokyo where the population is shrinking. But the country has, by and large, managed a relatively comfortable, peaceful decline. That helps explain why it took so long for an aggressive response, in the form of Abenomics--and why the public has so quickly developed second thoughts.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:15 AM


Christmas Jazz
Even though I celebrate Chanukah and not Christmas, I have always enjoyed Christmas songs...especially when reimagined by great jazz musicians.  So for this week's ATJ, I thought I'd share YouTube links to some of my favorites to help brighten your holiday.
Before we get to the music, let's start with the Father Jazz, Louis Armstrong, telling a story about Father Christmas (although Satchmo undoubtedly would have called him "Pops"):

Armstrong also sings about Santa in "'Zat You, Santa Clause?":

Hearing Vince Guaraldi's piano playing in the perennially popular TV special "A Charlie Brown Christmas" immediately puts even the grinchiest among us in the holiday spirit:

The Heath Brothers bring a modern jazz sensibility to "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem":

One great jazz singer (Mel Tormé) wrote a holiday classic that became a hit for an even greater singer (Nat Cole):

Wynton Marsalis put a hometown stamp on holiday songs on his "Crescent City Christmas Card" album.  Here he plays "Sleigh Ride" with a vocal from Jon Hendricks: 

Many other jazz singers have recorded their own albums of holiday songs.  Among the best are from John Pizzarelli ("Let it Snow"), Diana Krall ("Christmas Time is Here" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" ), and Ella Fitzgerald ("What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?")
Even Charlie Parker got in the act, with this live recording of one of the most popular songs (holiday or otherwise) of all time, "White Christmas": 

Finally, we close with my favorite holiday jazz recording, from my favorite holiday jazz album: Dexter Gordon playing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas": 

December 3, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 PM


If Osborne's plans are followed, public spending will shrink to 1930s levels (Larry Elliott, 3 December 2014, The Guardian)

It is late 2019 and an election is looming. The Conservatives scraped a majority at the last election thanks to a timely boost to the housing market provided by George Osborne, who was rewarded for snatching victory from the jaws of defeat by succeeding David Cameron as prime minister. Osborne sits impassively in the Commons as his chancellor of the exchequer uses the last autumn statement of the 2015-20 parliament to boast that the government has met its manifesto pledge of balancing the books.

So what does Britain look like in these circumstances? In terms of the size of the state, it is like the Britain of the 1930s. Public spending has fallen to below 35%, lower than the postwar low under Macmillan in the late 1950s and back to the pre-welfare-state years when Neville Chamberlain was starting a rearmament programme. Osborne is offering a return to the world of Ukip's dreams without the need to vote for Nigel Farage.

Here's what it means. Public spending on services, administration and grants by central government account for just 12.6% of national output compared to 21.2% of GDP in the last year of Gordon Brown's Labour government. Put another way, spending on public services per head is down from £5,650 to £3,880. Around 40% of that reduction in spending took place between 2010 and 2015; the other 60% came after 2015.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 PM


Obama on corporate tax overhaul: 'Definitely a deal to be done' (JIM PUZZANGHERA, 12/03/14, LA Times)

President Obama told top business executives Wednesday that there was "definitely a deal to be done" on corporate taxes with congressional Republicans, but work needs to begin soon before a limited window closes as the 2106 presidential election approaches.

Obama expressed "cautious optimism" because there is general agreement among many Democrats and Republicans on the need to eliminate some business tax breaks and to lower the 35% corporate tax rate, which is the highest among advanced economies.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


Giving Away Louisiana: Film tax incentives State's program is popular, fast-growing but a major money-loser (GORDON RUSSELL, 12/02/14, The Advocate)

In a year of flops for Hollywood, 2011's "Green Lantern" was a memorable bomb, barely making back its $200 million production budget at the box office.

Happily for Warner Brothers, the studio didn't have to put up all of the money.

Louisiana taxpayers promised $35 million through a generous subsidy program that covers 30 percent of a film's local costs. And if state cost-benefit analyses are to be believed, the state recouped only about $8 million of its investment.

By way of comparison, Louisiana sank more into "Green Lantern" than it is putting into the University of New Orleans this year.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


Obama says he willing to defy Democrats on his support of Trans-Pacific Partnership (David Nakamura December 3, 2014, Washington Post)

President Obama signaled Wednesday that, at least on international trade, he is willing to defy his fellow Democrats and his own liberal base to pursue a partnership with Republicans. Trade represents one of Obama's best chances for a legacy-building achievement in the final two years of his presidency, but he acknowledged that it is an idea he still has to sell to many of his traditional allies.

Speaking at a gathering of business leaders, Obama offered his strongest public defense of his administration's pursuit of a major 12-nation trade deal in the Asia Pacific, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that has been opposed by Democrats, labor unions and environmental groups.

Trade is going to be his legacy, after all.
Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


Half of Americans want separation between church and state in marriage (Bob Allen, 12/02/14, Baptist News)

About half of Americans and a quarter of Protestant ministers believe clergy should say "I don't" to the tradition of solemnizing marriages as agents of the state, according to a new poll by LifeWay Research.

The research arm of LifeWay Christian Resources released results of a survey Dec. 10 showing 49 percent of Americans believe religious weddings should not be connected to the state's definition and recognition of marriage.

More than a third (36 percent) believe clergy should no longer be involved in the state's licensing of marriage. Support for clergy remaining involved in civil marriage is higher among pastors -- 24 percent believe they should get out of the marriage business while 71 percent disagree.

The survey comes at a time when growing acceptance of same-sex marriage is causing many conservative clergy to rethink their role as a wedding officiant acting on behalf of the state. More than 300 people recently signed a pledge sponsored by First Things magazine committed "to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties."

Differentiating a mere civil contract from a solemn institution is the way to go.

Civil partnerships should be for everyone, no exceptions (Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld, 3 December 2014, The Guardian)

When we decided to formalise our commitment to each other last year - on our third anniversary in the snow-capped Pyrenees - we wanted to express it in a way that reflected our values. Like many long-term cohabiting couples, we already saw ourselves as partners, and we thought an official civil partnership would perfectly capture the essence of our relationship. Being civil partners would give us greater legal rights and responsibilities without the social expectations, pressures and traditions surrounding marriage.

It sounds simple in theory, but sadly, in practice, the option of a civil partnership is not available to us, nor to the thousands of long-term cohabiting couples like us. Why? Because we are different genders. As the law stands, only same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships. Same-sex couples can now choose to have a civil partnership or a marriage. However, heterosexual couples do not have this choice.

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Half of Americans want separation between church and state in marriage (Bob Allen, 12/02/14, Baptist News)

About half of Americans and a quarter of Protestant ministers believe clergy should say "I don't" to the tradition of solemnizing marriages as agents of the state, according to a new poll by LifeWay Research.

The research arm of LifeWay Christian Resources released results of a survey Dec. 10 showing 49 percent of Americans believe religious weddings should not be connected to the state's definition and recognition of marriage.

More than a third (36 percent) believe clergy should no longer be involved in the state's licensing of marriage. Support for clergy remaining involved in civil marriage is higher among pastors -- 24 percent believe they should get out of the marriage business while 71 percent disagree.

The survey comes at a time when growing acceptance of same-sex marriage is causing many conservative clergy to rethink their role as a wedding officiant acting on behalf of the state. More than 300 people recently signed a pledge sponsored by First Things magazine committed "to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties."

Differentiating a mere civil contract from a solemn institution is the way to go.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


Iranian Phantom jet strikes the Islamic State in Iraq (Gareth Jennings, 11/30/14,  IHS Jane's Defence Weekly)

An Iranian McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II jet has struck Islamic State targets in the eastern Iraqi province of Diyala, footage shot by regional media shows.

At least one F-4 is seen conducting a bombing run against ground targets in the footage shot by Al Jazeera , which erroneously identified the aircraft as an Iraqi fighter. Iran and Turkey are the only regional operators of the F-4, and the location of the incident not far from the Iranian border, and Turkey's unwillingness to get involved in the conflict militarily, indicate this to be an Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) aircraft.

While the IRIAF is known to have contributed Sukhoi Su-25 'Frogfoot' ground attack aircraft to the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq (ostensibly donated to the Iraqi Air Force, but believed to be crewed by Iranian pilots), this footage is the first visual evidence of direct IRIAF involvement in the conflict.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


Employers Keep Shifting Costs to Workers Under Obamacare (MARK DUDZIC, 12/03/14, In These Times)

As we predicted, the assault on employment-based benefits continues unabated. A recent survey reports that 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies plan to raise employee contributions for their health insurance, and 73 percent have already moved or plan to move to so-called "consumer-directed health plans," a fancy catchphrase for skimpy plans that shift costs onto the consumer.

In addition, 30 percent report that they plan to dump pre-65 retirees onto the health insurance exchanges, and 24 percent are moving to keep part-time hours under 30 per week. Employers are required to provide health insurance for all full-time employees (counted as those working 30 hours or more) or pay a penalty under yet-to-be-enforced ACA rules.

Walmart recently announced it was eliminating health care benefits for 30,000 part-timers who work less than 30 hours per week. It's joined by dozens of other major corporations in the retail and hospitality industries who are eliminating employer-provided benefits for their low-wage and part-time workers.

These actions highlight the contradictory and unstable consequences of the ACA. Many of these workers may be able to access more affordable benefits in the health care exchanges, while Walmart gets away with a huge shift of its employment costs onto the backs of taxpayers.

Cost shifting isn't only affecting low-wage workers. In Philadelphia, an unelected School Reform Commission unilaterally cancelled its contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, pulled out of the existing Health and Welfare Fund, eliminated retiree benefits, and imposed a 10 to 13 percent co-pay on working teachers.

Unions are wrestling with the new bargaining environment created by the Affordable Care Act.

More Cost of Health Care Shifts to Consumers (STEPHANIE ARMOUR, Dec. 3, 2014, WSJ)

Americans increasingly have to dig into their own pockets to pay for medical care, a shift that is helping to curb the growth in health spending by employers and the government.

The trend is being accelerated by the Affordable Care Act because many private plans sold by the law's health exchanges come with hefty out-of-pocket costs, which prompt some people to delay or put off seeking care.

For the exchanges' 2015 policies, which went on sale last month, "bronze- level" plans have an average deductible of $5,181 for individuals, up from $5,081 in 2014, according to a November report from HealthPocket, which publishes health insurance market analyses. Bronze plans generally cover 60% of consumers' medical expenses.

While surveys show steeper out-of-pocket costs lead some people to defer even routine medical care, economists say the trend brings an important upside: It is helping fuel a period of historically low growth in health-care spending, which eases the federal deficit.

GOP reforms to Obamacare will shift more of the burden to consumers, via increased use of high deduictible/HSA plans,
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


$40 oil doesn't scare Big Oil. Here's why (Matt Egan, December 3, 2014, (CNNMoney)

[O]il heavyweights ExxonMobil (XOM) and Chevron (CVX) claim they aren't losing sleep over the oil prices drop. In fact, they could survive oil as low as $40 per barrel.
Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told CNBC on Wednesday his company's massive energy projects are decade-long investment decisions that have been tested to be successful even "at the bottom of the cycle."

"We test across a range all the way down to $40 and up to $120," Tillerson said.

Chevron also believes it could weather the storm down to $40 a barrel, according to Oppenheimer analyst Fadel Gheit, who cited a recent conversation with executives from the energy giant.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


We Are Never Going to Run Out of Oil (David Harsanyi, 12/03/14, RealClearPolitics

In a chilling 2010 column, Paul Krugman declared: "peak oil has arrived."

So it's really not surprising that the national average for a gallon of gas has fallen to $2.77 this week - in 10 states it was under $2.60 - and analysts predict we're going to dip below the two-dollar mark soon. U.S. oil is down to $75 a barrel, a drop of more than $30 from the 52-week high.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Energy Research estimates that we have enough natural gas in the U.S. to meet electricity needs for around 575 years at current fuel demand and to fuel homes heated by natural gas for 857 years or so - because we have more gas than Russia, Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia combined.

With prices returning to ordinary levels and a few centuries' worth of fossil fuels on tap, this is a good time to remind ourselves that nearly every warning the left has peddled about an impending energy crisis over the past 30 to 40 years has turned out to be wrong. And none of them are more wrong than the Malthusian idea that says we're running out of oil.

But the essence of being a Malthusian is never tiring of being wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


CORRUPTION PERCEPTIONS INDEX 2014: RESULTS (Transparency International)

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Landrieu 'extremely disappointed' with DSCC (Sean Sullivan December 2, 2014, Washington Post)

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) lobbed a barb at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Tuesday, saying they effectively abandoned her after the Nov. 4 midterm election.

"I am extremely disappointed in the Democratic Senatorial [Campaign] Committee. I've said that. You know, they just walked away from this race," Landrieu said in response to a Washington Post question about Democratic groups mainly staying on the sidelines during the runoff. She made her remarks after a rally here just steps from City Hall.

The DSCC canceled its television ad reservations shortly after the Nov. 4 midterm election in which Democrats lost control of the Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Abraham Lincoln: American prophet (James Piereson, December 2014, New Criterion)

Harold Holzer is fascinated by Lincoln's skills as a politician, and in particular by his masterful use of the press to advance his career and the Whig and anti-slavery causes with which he was associated. Holzer, a widely published Lincoln scholar and the Roger Hertog Fellow at the New-York Historical Society, may know more about Abraham Lincoln than any other living person, and it shows in his fascinating study of Lincoln's relations with the press barons of his time. In Lincoln and the Power of the Press, the lofty statesman and savior of the Union gives way to the shrewd prairie politician who was more adept than his better-known rivals in the use and manipulation of the press.1

Lincoln entered the journalistic fray early in his political career, joining with others in 1840 to finance a Whig newspaper to support William Henry Harrison's campaign for the presidency. Throughout the 1840s, he contributed unsigned articles to the local Springfield newspaper, the Sangamo Journal, ridiculing Democrats and supporting Whig candidates and, in particular, the political career of Henry Clay. In this way, as Holzer writes, Lincoln could have it both ways, acting in public as a high-minded lawyer and candidate for office and behind the scenes as a bare-knuckled partisan fighter. Later, when he challenged Senator Stephen A. Douglas for his U.S. Senate seat in 1858, Lincoln arranged for The Chicago Tribune to call for a series of "western-style" debates over the extension of slavery into the western territories. Shortly before, Lincoln had kicked off that campaign with his "House Divided" speech before a Republican assembly in Springfield, which he had typeset for immediate distribution in the offices of the Illinois State Journal. During the debates with Douglas, he made a further arrangement with Joseph Medill, the editor and publisher of the Tribune, to send a friendly reporter to cover the exchanges, certain that Douglas would make parallel arrangements with a Democratic newspaper. The press coverage of those debates helped to turn Lincoln into a nationally prominent political figure, and also into one of the main challengers to New York's William Seward for the Republican presidential nomination in 1860.

Lincoln and the Power of the Press is a particularly valuable study for the light it shines on the openly partisan character of the American press in the mid-nineteenth century. As Holzer writes, "The press and politics often functioned in tandem as a single, tightly organized entity in furious competition to win power. " He focuses on the competition between and among three titans of mid-century journalism: Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, Henry Jarvis Raymond, founding editor of The New York Times, and James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald. Greeley, one of the original crusading journalists, was an off-again, on-again supporter of Lincoln; Raymond, who learned the newspaper trade under Greeley, was the steadier and more reliable supporter; Bennett was the vitriol-slinging inventor of the tabloid press, a fervent Democrat, opponent of Lincoln, and all-around bigot. These three established the template for journalistic competition in the 1850s and 1860s as they built loyal followings around partisan causes (not unlike journalistic enterprises today). All had political ambitions: Greeley wished openly to be designated a U.S. Senator, and attended the Republican national convention in 1860 where he maneuvered behind the scenes to deny the presidential nomination to his fellow New Yorker Seward and to deliver it to Lincoln. [...]

Lincoln redoubled his efforts both to use and to court favor with the press during his presidential years. He leaked reports of battles and presidential orders to favored reporters and at times defended his policies toward slavery and the South in letters to editors. His famed statement--"my paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union"--was contained in a brief letter to Greeley in 1862 in response to Greeley's editorial "The Prayer of Twenty Millions," in which he (Greeley) called for the confiscation of Southern property as a step toward the emancipation of slaves (written at a moment when Lincoln had already drafted but had not yet published his Emancipation Proclamation). Lincoln more or less left it to his generals to monitor and often censor reports from the battlefield, or in some cases even to arrest reporters or exile them from the front. When Lincoln announced stringent rules banning commercial intercourse with the South, many officials and supporters read it to apply to the distribution of news and newspapers. The Postmaster General soon banned the distribution of several Democratic newspapers through the U.S. mail. Lincoln, as Holzer acknowledges, went along with censorship of the press, though he did not necessarily encourage it, in the belief that this, like other wartime measures, was one of those temporary expedients required to save the Union.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Health Spending Has Lowest Rate Increase on Record (Kimberly Leonard, Dec. 3, 2014, US News)

The Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services presented the findings at a Health Affairs event Wednesday at the National Press Club in the nation's capital. The increase in spending on health care in 2013 was at 3.6 percent, lower than it has ever been since 1960, when the government began tracking the figure. Total spending on health care increased to $2.9 trillion, or $9,255 per person. 

The government researchers found that health care spending slowed by half a percentage point from 2012 to 2013 - a change they attribute to a slower growth in private health insurance and Medicare spending. Slower growth in spending for hospital care, investments in medical structures and equipment, and spending for doctors and clinical care also contributed to the low overall increase, states the Health Affairs report.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Rolling Stone Never Gave the Villains of Its Gang Rape Story a Chance to Defend Themselves (Judith Shulevitz, 12/02/14, New Republic)

Last week, writer Richard Bradley published an essay essentially applying the criteria of dissimilarity and embarrassment to the by-now world-famous Rolling Stone story about a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. Bradley, who as editor of George was duped by serial fabricator Stephen Glass, says the lesson he took away from that experience is that "one must be most critical, in the best sense of that word, about what one is already inclined to believe." In other words, if a story plays to rather than challenges your biases, you should subject it to tougher scrutiny. It has become a truism that campus rape has reached epidemic levels. The issue is given unflagging attention in the news, by the White House, and even by Congress. Because the story so soundly affirms the prevailing assumptions of our time, writes Bradley, he's inclined to doubt it.

Should he? This morning Reason's Robby Soave went further, asking whether the entire story is a "gigantic hoax," like the infamous Duke case. Bradley and Soave home in on some clear deviations from journalistic norms evident in the Rolling Stone article. First, the saga of the extraordinarily violent gang rape, described in excruciating detail in the first ten paragraphs of the piece, relies wholly on the testimony of one woman, identified only as Jackie in the piece. (It is her real first name.) Second, the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, allowed herself to be bound by a vow she made to Jackie not to contact the alleged rapists, especially the pseudonymous Drew, said to have lured her into the room where seven men raped her. Erdely may not even have tried to identify them. According to a Washington Post profile of Erdely published this weekend, "She won't say, for example, whether she knows the names of Jackie's alleged attackers or whether in her reporting she approached 'Drew,' the alleged ringleader, for comment. She is bound to silence about those details, she said, by an agreement with Jackie, who 'is very fearful of these men, in particular Drew.'" During an interview on Slate's DoubleX podcast this weekend, Atlantic staff writer Hanna Rosin tried to press Erdely on whether she knew who the boys were or ever tried to contact them, but Erdely evaded the question. On Monday evening, The Washington Post published a follow-up piece confirming Erdely's failure even to try to talk to the accused; it observed, "News organizations typically seek comment from those accused of criminal acts or from their attorneys as a matter of fairness and balance, as well as to confirm that the individuals exist."

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


The Quiet German : The astonishing rise of Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world. (GEORGE PACKER, 2014-12-01, The New Yorker)

After the Chancellor, it's the turn of the opposition to speak--such as it is. The ruling coalition of Merkel's Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats has eighty per cent of the seats in the Bundestag. The Greens, who did poorly in last year's election, have had trouble distinguishing their agenda from Merkel's, and often lend her support. On this day, the role of opposition is left to Die Linke, the leftist party of mostly former East German politicians, which has just ten per cent of parliament. Sahra Wagenknecht, an orthodox Marxist in a brilliant-red suit, steps behind the lectern and berates Merkel for her economic and foreign policies, which, she says, are bringing Fascism back to Europe. "We must stop abusing a highly dangerous, half-hegemonic position that Germany slid into, in the ruthless old German style," Wagenknecht declares. She then cites the French historian Emmanuel Todd: "Unknowingly, the Germans are on their way to again take their role as bringers of calamity for the other European peoples, and later for themselves."

Merkel ignores her. She's laughing about something with her economics minister, Sigmar Gabriel, and her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, both Social Democrats. While Wagenknecht accuses the government of supporting Fascists in Kiev, Merkel gets up to chat with her ministers in the back row. She returns to her seat and rummages in an orange-red leather handbag that clashes with her jacket. When she glances up at Wagenknecht, it's with a mixture of boredom and contempt.

The speaker ends her jeremiad, and the only people to clap are the members of Die Linke, isolated in the far-left section of the chamber. One by one, Social Democratic and Green parliamentarians come forward to defend Merkel. "How can you connect us Germans to Fascists?" Katrin Göring-Eckardt, a Green leader, asks, to applause. Another woman from Die Linke throws a quote of Bertolt Brecht at Göring-Eckardt: "Who does not know the truth is simply a fool, yet who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a criminal." Göring-Eckardt is outraged. The vice-president of the Bundestag orders the woman from Die Linke to observe protocol. Merkel keeps ignoring the exchange, at one point turning her back, at another leaving the hall. Later, German news accounts will speak of high drama in the normally drowsy Bundestag, but Merkel's body language tells the story: the drama has been provided by an insignificant minority. Chancellor Merkel has the parliament under control.

December 2, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


This Brilliant Map Renames Each US State With A Country Generating The Same GDP (STEVEN PERLBERG, FEB. 12, 2014, Business Insider)

Here's a map from American Enterprise Institute's Mark Perry that puts America's $16 trillion economy in some global perspective.

The map compares the GDP of U.S. states with other the national GDPs of other nations.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Binyamin Netanyahu's nationality bill is at odds with the Hebrew Bible (Giles Fraser, 28 November 2014, The Guardian)

[T]hroughout the Bible at least, this experience of being strangers in strange lands has another consequence: it amplifies the empathy that the writers of the Hebrew scriptures have for migrants and minorities. Thus, for instance, Deuteronomy 10:19 goes as follows: "And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt." Its not a one-off passage. Again and again precisely this formula of expression is used to encourage identification with people who find themselves living in someone else's country and culture. And this sense of solidarity is such that the Bible insists that both Jews and non-Jews are to be subject to the same laws, the latter having the same legal protections as the former. The Book of Numbers has it thus: "The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord. The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you."

This passage clearly demonstrates that the latest move by the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is a direct contradiction of the Hebrew Bible, both in word and in spirit. For the new nationality bill that he and others are currently fighting to get through the Knesset is designed to deny national rights to non-Jewish Israeli citizens. In its supporters' minds it is supposed to be all about expressing the Jewish nature of Israel, that this is a state whose lifeblood is Judaism. And as its detractors have pointed out, this sets Israel's Jewish character above its democratic character, defying the founding principles of Israel as expressed in the declaration of independence in 1948. This is bad enough, but what makes the move utterly absurd is that it flies in the face of the very religion that it is designed to protect.

Of course, you may not think this matters and that a modern democratic state ought to ignore what is said in a dusty old book. Fair enough. But what needs to be said is that this dusty old book is not a manual for the oppression of foreigners but for their liberation. The Moses movement was a world-historical blow for freedom, and it was the job of the ancient prophets to remind Israel of this, especially during periods of forgetfulness when they were more interested in the development of their own centralised empire under David and Solomon.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Jeb Bush Details Political Vision (BETH REINHARD, Dec. 1, 2014, WSJ)

Mr. Bush, addressing The Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting, ticked off his priorities: an "all-in" energy policy that expands the use of the nation's natural resources; a reduction in business regulations; a simpler tax code; an "economically driven" overhaul of the immigration system; and a "radical transformation'' of the education system.

The changes he proposed regarding education would break up the "politicized, unionized, government-run monopolies" of local school districts and better serve the needs of individual children, he explained.

Mr. Bush spoke forcefully about his interest in overhauling the education system. "The fact is, the end is near if we don't fix this," he said, calling it a tragedy when low-income children are relegated to failing public schools.

He reiterated his support for higher academic standards--whether they are the Common Core national standards or other equally rigorous benchmarks--and for testing to measure whether students are meeting them. "If you don't measure, you really don't care," he said.

"I've lost my patience on this," Mr. Bush said, referring to what he described as an unwillingness among special interests to improve public education.

After all of those issues are addressed, Mr. Bush said, the nation needs to tackle "the other big thing that is not going to happen soon, which is entitlement reform."

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On (Claire Cain Miller, DEC. 2, 2014, NY Times)

[H]ere is the thing: It is no longer true that the divorce rate is rising, or that half of all marriages end in divorce. It has not been for some time. Even though social scientists have tried to debunk those myths, somehow the conventional wisdom has held.

Despite hand-wringing about the institution of marriage, marriages in this country are stronger today than they have been in a long time. The divorce rate peaked in the 1970s and early 1980s and has been declining for the three decades since.

About 70 percent of marriages that began in the 1990s reached their 15th anniversary (excluding those in which a spouse died), up from about 65 percent of those that began in the 1970s and 1980s. Those who married in the 2000s are so far divorcing at even lower rates. If current trends continue, nearly two-thirds of marriages will never involve a divorce, according to data from Justin Wolfers, a University of Michigan economist (who also contributes to The Upshot). [...]

The marriage trends aren't entirely happy ones. They also happen to be a force behind rising economic and social inequality, because the decline in divorce is concentrated among people with college degrees. For the less educated, divorce rates are closer to those of the peak divorce years.

Of college-educated people who married in the early 2000s, only about 11 percent divorced by their seventh anniversary, the last year for which data is available. 

A message from liberal white elites to the lower classes : Do as we do, not as we say:

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


50,000 Fewer Deaths Caused by Hospitals : Government study shows reducing hospital-caused illnesses saves money and lives. (Kimberly Leonard Dec. 2, 2014, US News)

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which wrote the report, from 2010 to 2013 the country saw 1.3 million fewer hospital-acquired conditions - a 17 percent decrease - and saved 50,000 lives. By doing so, about $12 billion was saved in health care costs during the three-year time span, assuming that rates would remain steady. According to Burwell, hospital incidents have included pressure ulcers, central line associated infections, falls and trauma.

December 1, 2014

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


The One Thing Worse Than Big Dairy's Abuse of Cows? Its Abuse of Workers. : While the dairy industry's cruel treatment of cows has been well documented, workers face vile and often dangerous conditions. (JOSEPH SORRENTINO, 12/01/14, In These Times)

New Mexico's dairies, like almost all dairies in the United States, never stop running. Cows are milked two or three times a day, every day. "Cows don't know holidays," says Alfredo Gomez, a 56-year-old dairy worker in southeastern New Mexico. "Here, there's no Christmas." For the vast majority of dairy workers in New Mexico, as in most states, there's also no holiday pay, no overtime, no sick pay and no workers' comp. They work in dirty, difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions for an industry they're convinced values milk over milkers. [...]

Three-quarters of workers are Mexican, and most of the milk produced in New Mexico (and nationwide) comes from concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Cows don't graze in green pastures. Instead, they are kept in corrals, standing on dirt or, more frequently, in the muck that is generated by their urine and feces. A dairy cow expels as much as 150 pounds of manure a day.

"Basically, all the cows are walking in the waste; nothing's clean," says Roberto Achoa, a soft-spoken college student who began working in dairies as a sophomore in high school. Like Gomez and all but two of the workers interviewed for this piece, Achoa requested a pseudonym for fear of retaliation from dairies.

Achoa is what's known as a corralero, the person who drives the cows from their pens to the milking barns. Corraleros get plenty of exercise. "You walk and walk to get the cows and never stop," says José Varela, who worked on dairies for several years. "Maybe you're fat when you start, but in three months, you're a skeleton." It's a dirty and treacherous job. Achoa says, "People sink into the waste, get stuck." Working in pens with 200 or 300 cows has other risks, explains José Martinez, another corralero. During storms, the cows get scared: "They can turn around and run at you. They'll kick you, jump real high."

At milking time, cows lumber from the corral toward the milking barns, the corralero behind them, shouting and often waving a small towel. The cows, who have done this thousands of times, know to file into the milking barn and line up in two rows along raised platforms. Milkers move quickly up and down the platforms, milking 2,000 or more cows in a shift.

"It's nasty [work]," says Matías Soto, a short, strongly built 59-year-old originally from Durango, Mexico, who has worked in dairies in southeastern New Mexico for three years. "We have aprons, [but they get] completely covered in manure and urine." The smell in a milking barn can be noxious. Just a few minutes in one can leave a lasting foul taste in your mouth. But, workers say, you get used to it.

Of course, some work no one will do, Your Food Is Going To Be Grown By Robots, As They Take Over The Farm (Ben Schiller, 12/01/14, Co.Exist):

The automation of agriculture is upon us. There are already dozens of robots churning around the countryside--chopping, weeding, digging, and pot-moving--and, in the future, there'll likely be many more. Dozens of companies are working automated farm machines that reduce costs, extend harvesting periods, and improve safety, or so they say. Here are some projects we came across.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men (Chris Mooney, Dec. 1, 2014, Mother Jones)

An impressive body of psychological research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did.
Science offers an explanation for this paradox--albeit a very uncomfortable one. An impressive body of psychological research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did (though they may have been). The same goes for the crowds that flock to support the shooter each time these tragedies become public, or the birthers whose racially tinged conspiracy theories paint President Obama as a usurper. These people who voice mind-boggling opinions while swearing they're not racist at all--they make sense to science, because the paradigm for understanding prejudice has evolved. There "doesn't need to be intent, doesn't need to be desire; there could even be desire in the opposite direction," explains University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek, a prominent IAT researcher. "But biased results can still occur."

The IAT is the most famous demonstration of this reality, but it's just one of many similar tools. Through them, psychologists have chased prejudice back to its lair--the human brain.

We're not born with racial prejudices. We may never even have been "taught" them. Rather, explains Nosek, prejudice draws on "many of the same tools that help our minds figure out what's good and what's bad." In evolutionary terms, it's efficient to quickly classify a grizzly bear as "dangerous." The trouble comes when the brain uses similar processes to form negative views about groups of people.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Plunging oil takes ruble with it (Virginia Harrison, December 1, 2014, CNNMoney)

Oil prices plunged to their lowest level in five years Monday, piling pressure on Russia and other producers and raising the risk of deflation in Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Amazon Turns to Robots to Help Fill Holiday Orders (Reuters, 12/01/14) Inc has installed more than 15,000 robots across 10 U.S. warehouses, a move that promises to cut operating costs by one-fifth and get packages out the door more quickly in the run-up to Christmas.

The orange 320-pound (145 kg) robots, which scoot around the floor on wheels, show how Amazon has adopted technology developed by Kiva Systems, a robotics company it bought for $775 million in 2012. Amazon showcased to media on Sunday ahead of Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year.

The robots are designed to help the leading U.S. online retailer speed the time it takes to deliver items to customers and better compete with brick-and-mortar stores, where the bulk of Americans still do their shopping.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


What the heck happened to Mary Landrieu? (Chris Cillizza, December 1, 2014, Washington Post)

Remember when the Louisiana runoff between Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) was going to be the most unforgettable and pivotal contest in modern memory? That with the fate of Senate control hanging in the balance tens of millions of dollars and hundreds upon hundreds of staffers would pour into the Bayou State in advance of the Dec. 6 runoff?

Yeah, not so much.  The Nov. 4 election ended all that -- with Republicans netting eight Senate seats and, with it, the majority in the 114th Congress. In the intervening 27 days, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single Democrat in Washington not named "Landrieu" even talking about the race and even fewer (if that's possible) who think she has any chance at winning.

"I don't know anyone outside of her staff who thinks she has a chance to win next Saturday," said Bob Mann, a longtime aide to former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (D) and now the chair of the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


It Could Have Been Reginald the Red-Nosed Reindeer : Inside the very shiny life of a 75-year-old marketing gimmick (Ann Hodgman, December 2014, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

Rudolph was born 75 years ago this Christmas season, at the Montgomery Ward department store headquarters in Chicago. He was the star of a humble coloring book, written by a copywriter, Robert May, who almost named the protagonist "Reginald." May, who'd been lonely as a child, based the character on himself. Store executives fretted that shoppers might think Rudolph's nose was red because he was drunk, but something about Rudolph's story spoke to people. He was an outcast, down on his luck. When Santa gave him a job (it was the Great Depression, after all)--well, something clicked. That Christmas, the company passed out two and a half million copies of the book. 

And so a sales ploy about an oddball redeemed by his big red honking disadvantage became centrally enshrined in American lore. The story became a hardcover children's book, then a Disney-esque cartoon short created by Max Fleischer (who also turned Popeye and Betty Boop into stars), then a Little Golden Book. Rudolph gained and lost various family members over the years. Once he had a son named Robbie; another time, a brother called Rusty. Later he was given a different brother, the cranky and overweight Ralph. 

His genealogy was absent in Johnny Marks' famous song, but that didn't stop Gene Autry's recording from selling almost two million copies in its first Christmas, in 1949. To date, 150 million copies have been sold, and by mid-December, you'll feel as though you've heard all of them. For some people, meanwhile, Christmas isn't Christmas without the 1964 stop-motion animated film. It's 100 percent horrifying. Why was Rudolph's best friend an elf who dreams of being a dentist and knocks out the Snow Monster to extract his teeth?