January 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Jeb Bush has become the GOP front-runner for 2016 -- so now what? (Karen Tumulty and Matea Gold, January 31, 2015, Washington Post)

Republicans have a tradition of picking an anointed one early. That establishment candidate almost always ends up with the nomination, although not without a fight and some speed bumps along the way. [...]

Bush was already assembling a formidable army of fundraisers and talented operatives, including poaching Romney's top Iowa strategist, David Kochel, to be his national campaign manager.

That process appears to be intensifying after the 2012 GOP presidential nominee bowed out on Friday.

"It's a great day for Jeb Bush," said Brian Ballard, a lobbyist who led Romney's 2012 fundraising effort in Florida and switched to Bush this time around. "I think Jeb had 75 percent of the money folks here. This brings in the other 25 percent."

Chicago private-equity executive Bill Kunkler and his wife, Susan Crown, had been top fundraisers for Romney in the last election and had expected to be there again for him in 2016.

Now, Bush is "the only one my wife and I will work for," Kunkler said. "If it's not Jeb, we're done for this cycle. I know in my heart that Jeb is the only one who passes the presidential test. . . . We'll be all in for him."

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Cutting spending would boost the economy and raise living standards (Ryan Bourne, 31 January 2015, The Guardian)

It is both necessary and desirable that this adjustment comes on the spending side. The receipts any government has obtained from taxes have averaged around 35% over the past 50 years, with an absolute maximum of 38%. Recent changes to GDP have revised down our tax-to-GDP figure, but we are certainly above the historic average and not far off the historically implied maximum taxable capacity of the UK.

Cutting spending would be better for the economy. There is much evidence that countries with smaller government sectors enjoy faster productivity growth in the medium term. This raises living standards. Extra spending and tax hikes impose significant deadweight losses from distortions to working, investment and other activities.

Many commentators are concerned, though, that cutting back to a state of around 35% of GDP (which has wrongly been compared with the 1930s) is infeasible without hugely adversely affecting the quality of public services. This may well be true for remaining services if we say we cannot touch health, pensions, aid, schools and other areas outlined for ring-fencing, and it is absolutely essential for government to undertake everything it currently does. But there's no reason for it to be true in general.

Australia, Ireland, Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong Kong and the US have all had overall government spending levels around or below 35% of GDP in recent times. It is true that all have a degree of private funding for health, pensions or both. But they are perfectly reasonable and pleasant places to live, and in many cases have services and outcomes demonstrably better than our own.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Test of gun finds only DNA of deceased Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman (The Associated Press,  Jan. 31, 2015)

Testing of the pistol used to kill a prosecutor who had leveled incendiary charges against Argentina's president has found traces of DNA only belonging to him, the lead investigator in the case said Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


London mayor: Jihadists are sexually frustrated losers (JUSTIN JALIL, January 31, 2015, The Times of Israel)

"If you look at all the psychological profiling about bombers, they typically will look at porn. They are literally wankers (masturbators). Severe onanists," Boris Johnson told UK tabloid The Sun, citing an MI5 report.

"They are tortured. They will be very badly adjusted in their relations with women, and that is a symptom of their feeling of being failures and that the world is against them," said the Conservative Party member, adding that they sought others forms of spiritual comfort because they were not "making it with girls."

Johnson further contended that turning to radical Islam was a form of compensation for men with deflated egos and a lack of purpose: "They are just young men in desperate need of self-esteem who do not have a particular mission in life, who feel that they are losers and this thing makes them feel strong -- like winners."

Lee Harris touched on the boy gang nature of these groups in his fascinating Civilization and Its Enemies.Of course, the key point is that this is an ideological war, not a military one, and this is how we should portray the salafists regardless.

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 AM


Everyone is scared: Nobel Prize winner Shiller (CNBC , January 28, 2015)

In London after a trip to the World Economic Forum, he said that the Davos event had helped him understand that there is not just pessimism about the global economy, but worry.

"There's this increasing fear of technology, information technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, 3-D printers, the internet and all these different forms," he said. Technology, he added "seems to be changing life in such a fundamental way and what it's leaving people thinking is 'where will I be in 30 years? Look how fast everything is changing now. Where will my children be? I want to leave something for them because they could be in terrible straits'."

Yeah, why wouldn't you be scared that subsequent generations will have more wealth with less labor?

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Russian economy ministry sees 2015 GDP falling 3 percent: Interfax (Reuters, Jan 31, 2015)

But analysts polled in late January by Reuters saw the Russian economy falling by 4.2 percent this year and Moody's rating agency said earlier this month that GDP fall may by as much as 5.5. percent. Analysts at Danske in Copenhagen said in a recent note GDP may contract by 8 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


The Organic Food Movement Is an Insufferably Classist Waste of Money (Andrea Della Monica, Jan. 29, 2015, TIME)

I hate the whole organic food movement. Notice I said "movement," because it is the mindset that is perverse and insufferable.

My hatred stems from the fact that this trend is a repudiation of my own working class background. Eating organic is eating more expensively and, in my opinion, often unnecessarily.

Just this morning as I was drinking my morning coffee with milk (more on this later), I almost choked when I saw the latest report on "Good Morning America." The "next big super drink" sweeping the country in 2015, according to GMA, is organic birch tree water. The water is actually the sap from birch trees tapped in early spring. Sounds very pastoral, almost nostalgic of a simpler era, something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Think again.

A quick search with Amazon suppliers indicates that this tree sap is like liquid gold. It is hard to come by, except if you happen to be a native of a Slavic country. A case of this forest juice, which equates to 10 bottles, is $24.95 -- without shipping. Give me my store-brand bottled water or, better yet, water that comes out of my kitchen faucet.

I do not think it is wise to have to budget for simple hydration. Can you say fad? Remember coconut water?

People who eat primarily organic are the same hipsters who make their little ones toil in community gardens after picking them up from child care cooperatives. What they can't harvest, they buy in small shops that sell two dozen kinds of honey, and enough soy and tofu to choke a cow.

I don't know about you, but the only time I ever had honey as a kid was when I was sick. It was added to my mug of Lipton tea and came out of a little golden bear-shaped squeeze bottle. (And in my budget challenged household, we re-used the tea bag.)

And as for cows, they are regarded as one moo short of pure evil by people who fear the possibility they may be treated with antibodies or growth hormones and steroids. The organic foodies raise children who may never experience the lush, velvety feel of a milk mustache. Instead, they get the flat, chalky aftertaste of some almond-based alternative milk product.

Rather than dunk Oreos rich with refined sugars, they wash down carob biscuits baked with agave.

We used to eat birch bark off of neighborhood trees when we were kids.  It was free.
Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Anti-Putin' Oscar nominee Leviathan gets wide Russian release (Alec Luhn, 30 January 2015, The Guardian)

Even as Russia's Academy-award nominee Leviathan was winning prizes at half a dozen illustrious film festivals and garnering glowing reviews at arthouse cinemas in New York and London, doubts remained as to whether it would even be shown in its home country. Besides a week-long showing in one St Petersburg theatre in September to meet Oscar entry requirements, the film's release date was postponed, as officials criticised its grim take on modern Russia and many called for it to be banned.

That's about to change on 5 February, when director Andrei Zvyagintsev's dark morality tale will begin showing on at least 638 screens around the country, producer Alexander Rodnyansky has told the Guardian in an interview. He said the film has online piracy to thank for that: where state television has mostly ignored the many accolades Leviathan has won, including a Golden Globe for best foreign-language film, an estimated 1.5 million Russians have taken interest and downloaded the film illegally.

In confirmation of the old adage "there's no such thing as bad publicity", the heated debate over the film has made it into a "major public event" and won the movie more than double the 300 screens its producers thought they could get, Rodnyansky said.

"The unexpected thing, which we never experienced before, is that a few million people have watched it online, [now that] it's been pirated," he said. "A lot of cinemas and theatrical chains approached us because of all the controversy around the movie."

is that their top film is anti-Russian and ours is American Sniper.

What American Sniper's Success Tells Us : We're hungry for pro-America movies. (Roger L. Simon, 30 January 2015, City Journal)

American Sniper is a runaway hit. It's so popular, in fact, that it's on track to become the highest-grossing war film of all time, passing Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan. Domestic grosses are approaching a staggering $300 million. This tells us what we should already have known: a gigantic, underserved audience exists in this country for movies that paint our troops as sympathetic human beings--or indeed have any basically pro-American theme. That audience has been thirsting for films like American Sniper with the intensity of Lawrence of Arabia crawling for an oasis in the Sahara. No wonder liberal critics are throwing a fit.

Further, the film's success reminds us that investors on the right are leaving a hunk of change on the table. This may ultimately be the most important takeaway from Eastwood's movie. Right-tilting investors are way overdue to establish film and television companies with conservative or libertarian leanings. The problem here, of course, is that conservatives have long been suspicious of culture. Some of this is dumb prejudice, but much of the skepticism makes sense. The arts have been dominated by the Left for so long that it's difficult to see them as anything but treacherous. But right-wing investors should get over themselves. The local symphony is not the only cultural endeavor worth supporting. Popular culture is a far more powerful way of reaching the public, and films, as American Sniper proves, remain one of the most potent--and remunerative--of those avenues.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Neoconservatism, Vigilantism, and Batman (Benjamin Welton, 1/31/15, Imaginative Conservative)

While most see the Hard Hat Riots and indeed the whole of Richard Nixon's presidency as part of a greater seismic shift towards political divisiveness in the United States, the truth is that the Hard Hat Riots and the rioting construction workers themselves are emblematic of a new breed of conservative--the often reviled neoconservative. Like the construction workers and their leadership, the founders of the neoconservative movement were all themselves former liberals and Democrats (some were even former Trotskyists). Their shift towards the Republican Party was caused in large measure by the takeover of the Democratic Party by college-trained Marxists, the anti-war young, and special interests groups such as the Black Panther Party, welfare-rights organizations, and the feminist movement.

Of course, there is more to neoconservative philosophy than just anti-Leftism. Indeed, one can argue that neoconservatives are in reality liberals of an older school, and despite all the focus on founders such as Leo Strauss and Irving Kristol, the real backbone of the neoconservative movement is its initial followers--blue-collar New Yorkers and other members of the urban working class who were less driven by ideology and more driven by anger. By the 1970s, there was a lot to be angry about, especially crime, which was reaching unprecedented levels in places such as Detroit, Chicago, and, most importantly, New York. The crime wave of the 1970s and 1980s, besides giving birth to the "tough on crime" type of urban Republican and turning Irving Kristol's well-known phrase "A conservative is a liberal who is mugged by reality" into a literal experience, also helped to give birth to three cultural products that helped to define this twenty-year period: the vigilante film, graphic novels, and New York-style hardcore punk. Batman, as DC Comic's premiere avenger and an indisputable New Yorker, absorbed all three genres, and thus the Batman comics of the 1980s remain some of the best expressions of the neoconservative rage that was the byproduct of urban decay. [...]

While the Hard Hat Riot explicitly showed the disconnect between those American students who had known only postwar prosperity and a large portion of the working class, the 1974 film Death Wish showed in gripping detail just how easily the average middle-class, New York liberal could turn into an angry vigilante. Death Wish is then the story of neoconservative conversion told in exploitative broad strokes. In short, Death Wish is the story of architect Paul Kersey (played by Charles Bronson), who takes up a nickel-plated .32 Colt after the police prove too slow in apprehending the men responsible for the rape of his daughter, Carol (played by Kathleen Tolan), and the death of his wife, Joanna (played by Hope Lange). From here, Mr. Kersey becomes the embodiment of the frustration felt by law-abiding citizens in Mayor John Lindsey and Mayor Abraham Beame's New York. His vigilantism throughout the film is not too far off from the vigilantism of comic-book superheroes, and Paul Kersey's heroic stature exists not only because of how his actions are portrayed, but also because of the differences between him and the effete hesitancy of his son-in-law Jack (played by Steven Keats).

Although the almost gleeful violence of Death Wish is the most-often remembered aspect of the film, Mr. Kersey's transformation from a former conscientious objector in Korea with all the trappings of bourgeoise life to a hardened vigilante is more important than the film's bloodletting. [...]

Three years before Death Wish, another vigilante appeared in movie theaters, and he too would star in five total films that would stretch over multiple decades. Inspector Harry Callahan, better known as "Dirty Harry," is the byword for both the stereotypical American vigilante and police brutality. Like Paul Kersey, Mr. Callahan is a solitary man of "the System" stuck inside one of America's most liberal cities (in this case San Francisco), and he too finds the gun to be the perfect expression of his brand of justice.

Both films, which point out the limitations of the American legal system, were loathed by critics. Roger Ebert declared that Dirty Harry promoted a "fascist moral position," while Pauline Kael claimed that the film was a "single-minded attack against liberal values." Vincent Canby hated Death Wish so much that he wrote two long articles denouncing the film, and in one instance decried that the film was "a despicable movie, one that raises complex questions in order to offer bigoted, frivolous, oversimplified answers." Although Mrs. Kael had loved the violent epic Bonnie and Clyde, and although Mr. Ebert and Mr. Canby were often quick to laud supposedly "realistic" portrayals of sympathetic criminals and their motivations, they and many like them all condemned the vigilante film craze of the 1970s with almost religious passion. Even to this day, vigilante films are widely criticized, even though as Anthony Paletta pointed out in a 2012 article for The National Review, they are widely loved by audiences. Conversely, the vigilante films of the 1970s directly inspired the groundbreaking Batman graphic novels of the 1980s, which in turn forever altered the character and comic books generally. [...]

Batman almost did not live to see the 1980s. The damage from the ABC television show proved long-lasting, and during the early 1970s, Gotham's favorite caped citizen was nearly cancelled due to poor sales and general uninterest. Comic book fans in the 1970s, hardened by years of news reports from Vietnam and the urban slums of their own country, no longer seemed interested in a vigilante crime fighter who had been neutered through Pop Art. By 1970, Batman titles were collectively selling south of 300,000 a month, which was a far cry from the 1966 peak of 898,000 copies per month.

Besides the lingering dislike of the childish ABC television show, Batman creators also faced a far more competitive field, with a resurgent horror comics industry riding a wave that had started in the early 1960s, fueled by what Crime Factory contributor John Harrison has termed the "Monster Kids" of the postwar era, who had grown up with reruns of the Universal monster films on late-night television and magazines such as Forrest J. Ackerman's Famous Monsters of Filmland. Under the team of writer Dennis O'Neil and artists Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, and Gene Colan, Batman took a turn towards the gothic in the 1970s, which, though it made for great reading and certainly gave Batman some of his earlier grittiness back, also helped to weaken further the character's traditional stance as an independent dispenser of justice. Killing supernatural vampires is one thing; killing real-life social leeches is quite another.

Besides the monster books, Marvel, DC's main competitor, was taking some of their titles into formerly unchartered territory. In 1979, a nine-story arc in The Invincible Iron Man entitled Demon in a Bottle dealt with the very adult topic of alcoholism. In the David Micheline-scripted series, Tony Stark, the millionaire behind the Iron Man suit, struggles to overcome his dependence on drink in ways that are made all the more visceral through the brilliant artwork of John Romita, Jr., Bob Layton, and Carmine Infantino. Although DC had attempted something equally as adult-oriented with a short-lived run of Green Lantern/Green Arrow in 1970 (which was yet another collaboration between Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams), DC did not sustain the style in the way that Marvel did throughout the 1970s.

No Marvel characters would prove more influential on the later development of Batman than Daredevil and the Punisher. Although he debuted as a villain in 1974's The Amazing Spider-Man #129, Frank Castle, alias the Punisher, quickly became an anti-hero whose popularity revealed a collective neoconservative turn in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After his family was murdered in New York's Central Park, the Punisher, a gun-toting Vietnam veteran and a synthesis of all the then-popular vigilante film tropes, is a ruthless killer who wages a one-man war on crime that frequently rankles more traditional superheroes like Spiderman and Batman, who do not kill their adversaries. Initially written as a minor character, the Punisher became a recurring figure in many Marvel titles throughout the decade because the fans demanded it. Eventually, the character received his own series and continues in print today.

Just as the Punisher was blossoming into Marvel's greatest anti-hero, Matt Murdock, alias Daredevil, was undergoing a makeover. Previously a second-tier title with little popular interest, the so-called Man Without Fear got a much-needed boost when in 1981 a young artist and writer from Vermont named Frank Miller was tapped to be the series's full-time writer. Joined by artists Klaus Janson (who would later work with Mr. Miller on the groundbreaking Batman: The Dark Knight Returns arc) and David Mazzucchelli (who would also work with Miller on a Batman series, this one being Batman:Year One), Mr. Miller turned the fledging, blind lawyer Daredevil into a noir superhero full of emotional complexities. In such standout arcs as Daredevil: Born Again, which touches upon the issues of drug addiction, organized crime, militarism, and Matt Murdock's relationship with his Irish-Catholic faith and his Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, and  in issues #183-184, which see Daredevil squaring off against the Punisher in a battle of left-wing vs right-wing ideologies years before the much more well-known struggle between Batman and Superman in The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller introduced not only his trademark hardboiled style of writing, but also his Ayn Rand-influence worldview. In The Romantic Manifesto, a text that played a crucial role in Mr. Miller's development as a storyteller, Ayn Rand poses a crucial question: "Why is the soul of a murderer worth studying, but not the soul of a hero?" Rand asked the question in order to show the philosophical problems associated with Naturalism, but she incidentally gave Frank Miller a driving rationale--an inspiration to study at length his heroes while at the same time completely removing any potential sympathy with their antagonists. If nothing else, Mr. Miller's world is black and white, despite flashes of noir-inspired grays.

Without question, Frank Miller forever altered Batman and how we view him in our popular culture. Mr. Miller made Batman punk rock by, in his own words, "giving Batman his [manhood] back." The high inflation rates of President Ronald Reagan's second term, coupled with New York's deeper and deeper regression into criminal anarchy helped to make Frank Miller's tales all the more relevant, and so too did Hollywood's continued interest in vigilante tales. In the same year as the release of Mr. Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, another vigilante film, Sylvester Stallone's Cobra, packed the theaters with a rough justice tale that was less about plot and more about flying lead and muscle cars.[1] The 1980s, in film and comic books, proved to be even more bloodthirsty than the 1970s.

A time traveller from 1985 to 2015 would be shocked by nothing moreso than the disappearance of crime from American life in general and as a political topic in particular.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Super Bowl 49 Key Matchup: Tom Brady takes on Legion of Boom (Jared Dubin, 1/28/15, CBSSports.com)

Seattle's version of Cover-3 sees Richard Sherman control the deep third on the offense's right side of the field, Byron Maxwell on the offense's left and Earl Thomas in the middle. They very rarely stray from that alignment. Sherman lined up to the offense's right on 91.3 percent of his snaps this season, according to ESPN, and he's lined up to the offense's left for only 90 defensive snaps (out of 2,839) in his career. [...]

The Patriots won't have to make nearly as drastic an offensive shift if they wish to avoid throwing Sherman's way. Check out the distribution of Tom Brady's passes this season, courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

Brady threw to the left side of the field -- where Maxwell will be lined up -- far more often (28.7 percent of the time) this season than he did to the right (16.4 percent). He also completed a far greater percentage of his passes (64.8 percent to 56.9 percent) when throwing to his left, and though he was intercepted more, his passes turned into touchdowns at a significantly higher rate when throwing that way (7.3 percent) than when he threw to the right side of the field (4.9 percent). It's already a natural New England strength to go away from Sherman, and that likely won't change much on Sunday.

Brady's favorite target when throwing left is unsurprisingly tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk had 38 catches for 532 yards and 10 touchdowns on throws to the left side of the field alone. Brady and the Pats love to split Gronk out wide near the goal line to get him matched up one-on-one with a corner or a safety, most of whom are not nearly big or strong enough to handle him.

The result of plays like this is almost never favorable for the defense. Gronk is actually more effective when split out wide than when he's lined up in line as a tight end or in the slot. [...]

In any event, the Seahawks actually struggled to cover tight ends more than they did any other receiving option this season. While Seattle ranked fourth in pass defense DVOA against No. 1 receivers, sixth against No. 2 wideouts and fourth against the slot, they were only 18th against both tight ends and running backs. Gronkowski working seam routes or digs in the middle of the field, behind the linebackers and in front of Thomas, is something that could work very well for the Patriots on Sunday.

Similarly, while he's been marginalized in recent weeks in favor of LeGarrette Blount, Shane Vereen could be very useful both out of the backfield and split out wide in the Super Bowl. Vereen is an excellent receiving back, and it's worth exploring how the Seahawks wish to match up with him when he lines up wide to either side or motions out of the backfield. If they use a linebacker rather than one of their corners, it's a matchup that could be exploited. Vereen has busted open for big plays down the field multiple times this season, including once against the Ravens a few weeks ago. Had Brady not underthrown the ball, it would have been a touchdown.

One of the keys to forcing Brady into bad throws like that is getting pressure in his face. Brady was pressured on only 27.3 percent of his throws this season, the sixth-lowest figure in the league. When opposing teams did manage to get pressure on him, though, his numbers collapsed, and that's a trend that goes back a few years now. Judging by his quarterback rating, Brady turns from Aaron Rodgers into Heath Shuler when opponents put pressure on him.

The Seahawks have the goods to bring pressure with the best of them. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are possibly the best duo of pass-rushing defensive ends in the league, and though Jordan Hill is out with an injury, guys like Bruce Irvin, Kevin Williams and O'Brien Schofield can help bring supplemental pressure from the edge and inside.

Of course, Brady is one of the NFL's best at countering pressure by getting rid of the ball quickly before it has a chance to hit home. He held the ball for an average of 2.39 seconds before throwing this season, second-fastest in the NFL to only Peyton Manning. When holding the ball for 2.5 seconds or less before delivering, Brady was unstoppable, completing 70.7 percent of his passes and registering a 101.1 quarterback rating. If he had to hold the ball longer than that, though, his completion percentage dropped down to 50.0 percent and his quarterback rating dipped to 89.3.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


Carroll says refs will help Seahawks figure out Patriots' formations (Michael David Smith, January 29, 2015, Pro Football Talk)

[A]ccording to Carroll, the officials will change their mechanics so that it's clearer to the defense whether each player is eligible or ineligible. That's an advantage to the Seahawks, and something the Ravens and Colts wish would have been done for them.

The Pats are the only team the NFL would change the rules against for the final gamne of the season, but Belichick will just use the new rule to his advantage too.

January 30, 2015

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:07 PM


Who is this guy? (Wright Thompson, ESPN)

You don't notice Ernie Adams at first, but he's always there in his own peculiar way. Walking the halls in the Patriots' complex, lost in his own thoughts, he will often ignore co-workers. In meetings, he has been known to fall asleep. After practice, he is almost always the first person Bill Belichick consults. On game day, he's in the press box with a headset on, running numbers, computing percentages and, some around the league insinuate, overseeing more insidious operations.

When Belichick is taking those lonely walks up and down the sideline, his head bowed as if in prayer, you can bet it's Ernie Adams yapping away in Belichick's ear. Some call him the smartest man they've ever met. A longtime NFL watcher compares him to "Q," James Bond's master of espionage and gadgetry. Author David Halberstam called him "Belichick's Belichick." No other team has anyone like him on its payroll. And yet, save for football insiders, he is virtually unknown. In an era of media oversaturation, there is exactly one more picture of Bigfoot on The Associated Press photo wire (two) than there is of Adams (one). And it's of the back of his head.

So here, in the ballroom of the Phoenix Convention Center, just six days before New England will attempt to complete a perfect season that Adams played a significant role in creating, I want to know what the almost-perfect Patriots think about their secret weapon: a guy with thick glasses and the sartorial sensibility of Mister Rogers; a guy who lived with his mother until she died three years ago. Who, exactly, is Ernie Adams?

"I don't know what his job title is," linebacker Adalius Thomas says. "I didn't even know his last name was Adams."

"Ernie is a bit of a mystery to all of us," offensive tackle Matt Light says. "I'm not sure what Ernie does, but I'm sure whatever it is, he's good at it."

Finally, I approach receiver Wes Welker. "I'm writing a story about Ernie Adams," I tell him.

"Who?" he says.

"The guy who's always with Belichick who doesn't ever really talk."

"Oh," he says, recognition washing over his face. "Ernie."

He thinks for a second. "He's got to be a genius," he says, "because he looks like one."


This is why God created best friends. Inside a cavernous church, Ernie Adams sat through his mother's funeral, the saddest day of a man's life, and by his side, where he'd been for years, was Bill Belichick. Sept. 25, 2004 was a beautiful New England day, a Saturday morning during the Patriots' bye week. In the tree-lined suburb of Brookline, Mass., a small crowd had gathered in the Gothic Revival Episcopal Church on the corner of St. Paul Street and Aspinwall Avenue. The stone bell tower rose cold and medieval against the fall blue sky.

The mourners had come to say goodbye to Helen Adams, a woman who loved education and adored her son even more. Ernie and Helen lived together, like something out of a Victorian novel, one friend said, with much doting and an occasional trip to the old continent. At the end, Ernie took care of his mother. In the crowd were friends from childhood, high school and college. One of them was the headmaster of Dexter School, where Ernie went to elementary and junior high. "I was struck by the loyalty of Belichick to Ernie," Bill Phinney says.

That bond is the cornerstone of the Patriots' dynasty. In many ways, the traits we associate with Belichick and the Patriots are traits commonly ascribed to Adams. The humble pie? Classic Ernie, frequently described as having no ego. The rumpled hoodie? Again, classmates remember, classic Ernie. Together, Adams and Belichick have created the transcendently successful franchise they dreamed of creating back in high school.

"It's really the story of a friendship," says Michael Carlisle, a successful literary agent who was Adams' high school roommate at Andover.

Adams and Belichick met in 1970. Adams had been at Phillips Academy in Andover, an elite New England boarding school, for three years. In that time, he'd become a campus legend, famous for his quirky attire and habits. He wore high-top cleats and old-fashioned clothes, looked and talked like something from the 1940s. His three obsessions were Latin, naval history and, strangely, football.

...that if it were April you'd assume he was another Sidd Finch.

[originally posted: 1/31/08]

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


Obama amnesty would save feds $7.5 billion: CBO study (Stephen Dinan, 1/29/15, The Washington Times)

Halting President Obama's deportation amnesty will end up hurting Uncle Sam's bottom line, the Congressional Budget Office said Thursday in a new report that is bound to cause more problems for Republicans trying to block the White House's executive action.

While keeping illegal immigrants in the shadows would save the government billions on spending, it would also mean billions in taxes that never get paid, leaving the federal budget a total of $7.5 billion worse over the next decade than it would be if Mr. Obama's amnesties take effect as scheduled, the CBO said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


'The government invites you to be wary of those who do not eat baguettes' : A French government infographic designed to help fight jihadist ideology gets widely shared online - but with a heavy dose of sarcasm. (BBC, 1/30/15)

The most cutting remarks were about the warning that those who change their eating habits - indicated in the infographic by a cross over a baguette-shaped object - are likely to become extremists. "The government invites you to be wary of those who do not eat baguettes," said one user, in a theme that was echoed by many others.

Picture of baguette with a cross on it

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Rise of the robots at AOL lead to job cuts (Kaja Whitehouse, 1/30/15, USAToday)

Media company AOL laid off roughly 150 employees Friday, or 3% of its staff.

The bulk of the layoffs, or close to 100, were in sales, a result of the company's surging growth in so-called programmatic ad sales, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation who was not authorized to speak on the record.

The remaining cuts will come from AOL's corporate offices, including legal and HR, as well as from a planned consolidation of certain media sites, this person said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Not a Very P.C. Thing to Say : How the language police are perverting liberalism. (Jonathan Chait, 1/27/14, New York)

Political correctness is a style of politics in which the more radical members of the left attempt to regulate political discourse by defining opposing views as bigoted and illegitimate. Two decades ago, the only communities where the left could exert such hegemonic control lay within academia, which gave it an influence on intellectual life far out of proportion to its numeric size. Today's political correctness flourishes most consequentially on social media, where it enjoys a frisson of cool and vast new cultural reach. And since social media is also now the milieu that hosts most political debate, the new p.c. has attained an influence over mainstream journalism and commentary beyond that of the old.

It also makes money. Every media company knows that stories about race and gender bias draw huge audiences, making identity politics a reliable profit center in a media industry beset by insecurity. A year ago, for instance, a photographer compiled images of Fordham students displaying signs recounting "an instance of racial microaggression they have faced." The stories ranged from uncomfortable ("No, where are you really from?") to relatively innocuous (" 'Can you read this?' He showed me a Japanese character on his phone"). BuzzFeed published part of her project, and it has since received more than 2 million views. This is not an anomaly.

In a short period of time, the p.c. movement has assumed a towering presence in the psychic space of politically active people in general and the left in particular. "All over social media, there dwell armies of unpaid but widely read commentators, ready to launch hashtag campaigns and circulate Change.org petitions in response to the slightest of identity-politics missteps," Rebecca Traister wrote recently in The New Republic.

Two and a half years ago, Hanna Rosin, a liberal journalist and longtime friend, wrote a book called The End of Men, which argued that a confluence of social and economic changes left women in a better position going forward than men, who were struggling to adapt to a new postindustrial order. Rosin, a self-identified feminist, has found herself unexpectedly assailed by feminist critics, who found her message of long-term female empowerment complacent and insufficiently concerned with the continuing reality of sexism. One Twitter hashtag, "#RIPpatriarchy," became a label for critics to lampoon her thesis. Every new continuing demonstration of gender discrimination -- a survey showing Americans still prefer male bosses; a person noticing a man on the subway occupying a seat and a half -- would be tweeted out along with a mocking #RIPpatriarchy.

Her response since then has been to avoid committing a provocation, especially on Twitter. "If you tweet something straight­forwardly feminist, you immediately get a wave of love and favorites, but if you tweet something in a cranky feminist mode then the opposite happens," she told me. "The price is too high; you feel like there might be banishment waiting for you." Social media, where swarms of jeering critics can materialize in an instant, paradoxically creates this feeling of isolation. "You do immediately get the sense that it's one against millions, even though it's not." Subjects of these massed attacks often describe an impulse to withdraw.

...if you don't make your allies hysterical you've been assimilated.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


When Bread Bags Weren't Funny (Megan McArdle, 1/29/15, Bloomberg View)

Or take the matter of food. There is nothing so romanticized as old-fashioned cookery, lovingly hand-prepared with fresh, 100 percent organic ingredients. If you were a reader of the Little House books, or any number of other series about 19th-century children, then you probably remember the descriptions of luscious meals. When you reread these books, you realize that they were so lovingly described because they were so vanishingly rare. Most of the time, people were eating the same spare food three meals a day: beans, bread or some sort of grain porridge, and a little bit of meat for flavor, heavily preserved in salt. This doesn't sound romantic and old-fashioned; it sounds tedious and unappetizing. But it was all they could afford, and much of the time, there wasn't quite enough of that.

These were not the nation's dispossessed; they were the folks who had capital for seed and farm equipment. There were lots of people in America much poorer than the Ingalls were. Your average middle-class person was, by the standards of today, dead broke and living in abject misery. And don't tell me that things used to be cheaper back then, because I'm not talking about their cash income or how much money they had stuffed under the mattress. I'm talking about how much they could consume. And the answer is "a lot less of everything": food, clothes, entertainment. That's even before we talk about the things that hadn't yet been invented, such as antibiotics and central heating.

In 1901, the average "urban wage earner" spent about 46 percent of their household budget on food and another 15 percent on apparel -- that's 61 percent of their annual income just to feed and clothe the family. That does not include shelter, or fuel to heat your home and cook your food. By 1987, that same household spent less than 20 percent on food and a little over 5 percent of their budget on apparel. Since then, these numbers have fallen even further: Today, families with incomes of less than $5,000 a year still spend only 16 percent of the family budget on food and 3.5 percent on apparel. And that's not because we're eating less and wearing fewer clothes; in fact, it's the reverse.

The average working-class family of 1901 had a few changes of clothes and a diet heavy on beans and grain, light on meat and fresh produce -- which simply wasn't available for much of the year, even if they'd had the money to afford it. Even growing up in the 1950s, in a comfortably middle-class home, my mother's wardrobe consisted of a week's worth of school clothes, a church dress and a couple of play outfits. Her counterparts today can barely fit all their clothes in their closets, even though today's houses are much bigger than they used to be; putting a family of five in a 900-square-foot house with a single bathroom was an aspirational goal for the generation that settled Levittown, but in an era when new homes average more than 2,500 square feet, it sounds like poverty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Russia Retreats From Ruble Defense in Surprise Interest-Rate Cut (Anna Andrianova, January 30, 2015, Bloomberg) 

Russia unexpectedly backed away from its efforts to prop up the ruble, cutting interest rates just weeks after taking them to an 11-year high and signaling policy makers are now focused on mitigating an economic slump that threatens to destabilize the financial system.

The central bank lowered its benchmark rate to 15 percent from 17 percent, spurring a wave of ruble selling that drove it down as much as 4 percent against the dollar to levels not seen since panic swept across Moscow's financial markets last month.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Obama tells Democrats: 'Get informed, not by reading the Huffington Post' (Ed O'Keefe January 30, 2015, Washington Post)

President Obama urged fellow Democrats Thursday night to "keep your powder a little dry" as he begins working with Republicans on securing fast-track trade authority.

He also called on them to "get informed, not by reading the Huffington Post," as Congress prepares to debate giving him the authority to complete work on the broad Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


U.S. Workers Still Waiting for Wage Growth (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, 1/30/15, WSJ)

The employment-cost index, a broad gauge of wage and benefit expenditures, rose a seasonally adjusted 0.6% in the fourth quarter last year, the Labor Department said Friday. That's down from 0.7% in the two earlier quarters and jibes with other data showing only limited wage pressure across the U.S.

Wages and salaries, which account for about 70% of compensation costs, climbed 0.5%, a slowdown from the third quarter's 0.8% pace. Benefit costs rose 0.6%, matching the prior quarter.

The data is better than recent hourly earnings figures, which showed wages declining in December despite a postrecession low for the unemployment rate.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 PM


The Patriots And Seahawks Are The Best. This Could Be The Worst Super Bowl Ever. (NATE SILVER, REUBEN FISCHER-BAUM and NEIL PAINE, 1/30/15, 538)

So what if the pregame story lines have been asinine and absurd? On Sunday, the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks will be among the most talented teams to take the field in the Super Bowl.

According to FiveThirtyEight's NFL Elo ratings, this year's Seahawks are the fifth-best team to participate in a Super Bowl since the AFC-NFC merger. And the Patriots aren't far behind. The average Elo rating of the teams this year is the second-best in a Super Bowl since that merger, trailing only Super Bowl XIII when the Dallas Cowboys played the Pittsburgh Steelers. [...]

But it's not only that the Seahawks and Patriots are strong teams: They're just about evenly matched. The Vegas line opened as a pick 'em, and most sports books have the Patriots as mere one-point favorites. Elo, which loves the Seahawks, differs slightly here: It has Seattle as 2.5-point favorites. But that's partly because the system, in its simplicity, punished the Patriots for their meaningless Week 17 loss against Buffalo. Without that game, the Patriots' Elo rating would be 1756, which would make Seattle only one-point favorites and which would vault this matchup ahead of Super Bowl XIII into the top slot of all time.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


The End of Deflategate : Science acquits Belichick and Brady. Even though we know in our hearts that they're guilty of something. (Johnathan V. Last, 1/29/15, Weekly Standard)

First up was ESPN's Sports Science series, which showed how the pressure differentials in footballs manifest in the real world. They found that a typical NFL player could depress a deflated ball by less than an additional 1 mm. Further, the deflated ball weighed a less a regulation ball. How much less? About the weight of a dollar bill. Work in additional air-speed resistance and its not clear that any material advantage would be gained by deflating the balls in the way the Patriots were alleged to have done.

Then a group called HeadSmart Labs ran an experiment analyzing what effect changes in temperature and humidity would have had on the internal pressure of the footballs. They tried to replicate the conditions of the AFC championship game--you can watch the video here or read the full report here.

But the take away is that under the conditions of the Colts-Patriots game, all of the footballs HeadSmart Labs tested experienced a drop in pressure--and the average drop was 1.82 psi. Or, right about in the range that was observed at the game.

What the Pats should do now is really mess with the Seahawks : have Brady report as an eligible receiver on the first play from scrimmage; have wideouts speak into their hands as if they were talking to coaches; periodically point into one section of the stands and yell out something in Klingon; have a coach hold up a sign with random pictograms on it.  Get Seattle so concerned about cheating that they ignore the actual game.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Labour's failures 'worse than Kinnock', says David Hare (Ben Quinn, 30 January 2015, The Guardian)

Labour is now comprehensively failing to provide a convincing narrative on a scale bigger even than during Neil Kinnock's doomed 1992 election campaign, according to the influential playwright David Hare.

In an excoriating analysis of Labour's leadership, he suggests that Miliband struggles to connect with the public, saying "you can only make a great speech if you have a great analysis". But he also turns on the entire political class, saying it is their fault that they are now perceived as a "self-interested cartel".

...when they need to return to Blairism to be relevant.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


The Philippines has 'transitioned to a tiger economy' : A Philippine official recently said the country no longer deserved to be branded the "sick man of Asia" given its fast economic expansion. DW speaks to economist Rajiv Biswas about what is driving growth in the country. (Deutsche-Welle, 1/29/15)

DW: What do you make of the Philippine official's claims that the country is no longer the "sick man of Asia?"

Rajiv Biswas: The Philippines economy has undergone a remarkable transition from a pussycat into a tiger economy over the last decade. Prior to this, the Philippines had for several decades been performing poorly, with weak growth, low inward investment and a very uncompetitive business environment aggravated by high levels of corruption.

However, the Philippines economy has shown much more rapid growth over the last decade, helped by significant improvements in the fiscal deficit and gradual economic reforms. The Philippines economy now has the capacity for robust long-term economic growth of around 4.5 percent to 5.0 percent per year over the 2016 to 2030 time horizon. This will transform the Philippines economy from its current 280 billion USD economy to a 680 billion USD economy by 2024, with a projected GDP of 1.2 trillion USD by 2030.

IHS forecasts that total GDP per person in the Philippines will rise from around 2,800 USD in 2014 to around 5,800 USD by 2024. This has considerable implications for the size of the Philippines consumer economy. These significant increases in per capita GDP will create one of ASEAN's largest consumer markets of the future, as the middle class rapidly expands over time.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


The GOP Pre-emptively Surrenders to Obama on Trade (PATRICK J. BUCHANAN, January 30, 2015, American Conservative)

[W]hat is the first order of business now in the Ways and Means Committee of Paul Ryan and Senate Finance Committee of Orrin Hatch?

"The first thing we ought to do," says Ryan, "is pass trade promotion authority." Trade promotion authority, or "fast track," is a synonym for Congress's surrender of all rights to amend trade treaties, and a commitment to confine itself to a yes or no vote on whatever deal Obama brings home.

Watching the GOP's reversion to form calls to mind the term the neocons gave the French for refusing to join Bush II's big march to Baghdad: "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." With the huge Trans-Pacific Partnership in negotiations, Obama wants Boehner and McConnell to agree in advance not to tamper with it. "Hands off!" he demands. If this GOP agrees to this, it will, in its first great decision, be engaging in an act self-castration.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Do we really mean 'never again'? (Charles Krauthammer, January 29, 2015, Washington Post)

The rise of European anti-Semitism is, in reality, just a return to the norm. For a millennium, virulent Jew-hatred -- persecution, expulsions, massacres -- was the norm in Europe until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly wherein anti-Semitism became socially unacceptable.

Imagine Western leaders turning out in the street to support Der Sturmer if Jews had attacked it in the 30s....

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Obama's 529 walkback signals the end of the progressive dream (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, January 30, 2015, )

As I have argued previously, the fact that this tax plan was never proposed with the idea that it would actually become law makes it all the more significant, because it essentially represents a political statement of how the progressive movement sees the future. And one feature of the future, for the progressive movement, is (much) higher middle-class taxes. 

Progressives have made no secret of their belief that the government should spend a lot more money. Entitlements should not be touched, despite Americans' increased life expectancy. If anything, the left says, these enormously costly benefits should probably get expanded. Everybody should get comprehensive health insurance. Community college should be free. And so on. 

What progressives are a little more shy about admitting, at least when it comes to politicians, is that financing such a welfare state would require not just tax increases on the rich, but also the middle class. Today's tax code cannot sustainably support today's welfare state, let alone the much more expansive one that progressives imagine when they entertain their wildest dreams. 

Progressives usually ascribe the American political system's resistance to tax increases to dastardly Republicans bankrolled by Big Money. And it is true that the GOP's intransigence plays a role. But there is also a much simpler political reality at play: Americans don't like tax increases. And if you are talking about tax increases that affect middle-class families directly, they will revolt. 

He killed the dream.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Only capitalism can save Nigeria : Deeply divided and full of potential, this country could be headed for a boom - or a coup (Tim Stanley, 31 January 2015, The Spectator)

While the vast majority of the country is dirt poor and visibly malnourished, a few get rich out of exploiting contacts and demanding kickbacks. That's apparent in the army. There the elite officers live like kings, sending their children to English public schools. A junior officer, meanwhile, makes around £350 a month, or less, to fight fanatics. Support is growing for Buhari and his promise to clean things up. Whoever loses, they'll contest the result in courts and the streets. These are conditions that classically support a military coup.

In short, Nigeria has to be delivered from its own government. Happily, that's starting to happen. One rare economic achievement has been the privatisation of the telecommunications industry -- its success is obvious in the fact that everyone in Abuja has a mobile phone and millions are on Facebook. Now the government has sold off its power supply, and it's done so with the help of the UK.

We usually think of international development as charity: Bono laying wells in the desert. But in Nigeria, the Department for International Development has been far more flexible and savvy. For example, it's persuaded the northern city of Karno to reduce the number of local taxes from 200 to 17. The Nigeria Infrastructure Advisory Facility programme has also guided the largest privatisation in African history in the power sector. As the government moves from being a supplier of power to a regulator, so the investment switches from taxes that are misappropriated and misspent to private money that -- by dint of being someone's personal fortune -- is far more likely to be well managed. There is little discipline in a Nigerian bureaucracy rife with corruption. But there is discipline in the marketplace, where competition leads to ruthless efficiency, and failure to bankruptcy.

The frustrating thing is that British business isn't exploiting the opportunities it has opened up. Nigerians don't understand why the UK government helps to liberate their economy, yet it's the Americans and Chinese who offer the investment. Sometimes, perhaps, the Brits are a little too nice for their own good. We are encouraging the growth of solar energy in the north through programmes like Solar Nigeria -- a brilliant idea because one thing they have no shortage of is sunshine. But as someone complained to me, the British tend to sell the idea as an environmental thing and most Nigerians couldn't care less about rescuing the polar bear. They would jump at the project if they were convinced that it would make them money.

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


LeGarrette Blount is just the latest turnaround story for Patriots (JOAN NIESEN, Jan. 29, 2015, S[ports Illustrated)

Consider Corey Dillon. In 2003, the running back was a malcontent on a struggling Cincinnati team. He'd been trying to act and talk his way off the Bengals for years, and when he got the chance to be traded to New England before the 2004 season, he was thrilled. The team was coming off a Super Bowl victory, and after a year with the Patriots, Dillon earned his first and only ring without making so much as an off-field ripple. He concedes that being traded to the Patriots saved his career. "Man, it saved everything," he adds.

Then, in 2007, with a past checkered with marijuana use, reckless driving and indecency, Randy Moss joined the Patriots. He, like Dillon, had complained his way off a losing team (the Raiders), and the Patriots were confident that winning would focus the elite receiver. It did: in his first season in New England, Moss set a career high with 23 touchdowns, and his 1,493 receiving yards were more than he'd logged in all but one prior season.

What's probably the most audacious Patriots pickup came in 2012, when the team traded for Aqib Talib while he was serving an Adderall suspension. That wasn't Talib's first offense, either; he'd previously gotten in a fistfight with a teammate in Tampa Bay, been charged with resisting arrest without violence and simple battery, and was accused of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. (Charges were later dropped.) With the Patriots, though, he evolved into one of the NFL's premier cornerbacks, and his extracurricular activities ceased, or at least ceased to make news.

So when it comes to Blount, there's a precedent. New England has become a safe haven for the ultra-talented, troubled players who dot NFL rosters, which begs the question of why?

"Coach Belichick... always wants to have a tough, smart, physical football team that performs well under pressure," former Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson says. "It's a hard place to play. A lot's demanded of you, expected of you. But I think the reason why they've been so successful continually is because they've kept that attitude. It's always onto the next, what can you do tomorrow, because today or yesterday doesn't really matter."

Dillon says he knows Belichick and then-GM Scott Pioli did their homework on him before okaying the trade that brought him to town. When he arrived in New England, it was straight into a meeting with the two men. They asked about his time in Cincinnati, and Dillon explained that his antics were a result of the team's struggles. "That was the end of the conversation," Dillon recalls. "(Belichick) asked me another simple question: 'Can you play for us?' Without a doubt. Done deal."
​Ivan Fears, the longtime running backs coach in New England, has worked with both Dillon and Blount, and he sees a simple answer to the question of how the Patriots pull off these transformations: wins and clear expectations. Belichick -- recent controversy aside -- is known around the NFL for doing things a certain way, for his tight-lipped attitudes toward the media, for his freakish attention to detail, for his insistence on a subjugation of individual to team. With the consistency the team has had ownership- and coaching-wise over the past decade and a half, players can be assured of what they're stepping into.
"If you're going to be here, you know what the program is," Fears says. "You want to be here. You want to stay here. You don't want to stay here? You know how to get out. ... (Players) choose to come to us. They have already made the change by just choosing to come to us. We didn't change. They know what we are. They either come or don't come based on what they want to do with themselves."

When Blount arrived in November, Fears says, he knew what the team was doing, knew what he was buying into. The only nudge the coach felt necessary was a quick reminder of what flies and what doesn't, and that was that. There was never a worry that Blount would do the same thing to New England as he had to Pittsburgh. These are the Patriots, and the Patriots win, and winning is the best kind of babysitter.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


The Great Defender : How ingenious defensive tactics, unrivaled precision, and a father's example made New England's Bill Belichick the NFL's best coach (CHRIS B. BROWN, JANUARY 30, 2015, Grantland)

Unlike the many coaches who identify with a particular style or tree, Belichick isn't locked into a singular ideology. He seems to effortlessly shift between tactics from week to week, and he's always bristled at attempts to neatly characterize his defenses, once calling the notion that he prefers a 3-4 defense a "media fabrication." For Belichick, there are no pure defensive systems, only objectives and constraints and a hyperrational evaluation of each: "You decide defensively how you want to defend them in the running game. Do you want to defend them with gap control? Do you want to two-gap? Do you want to try to overload the box with extra guys and play eight against seven or seven against six? Those are all the choices you make. With every decision, there's going to be an upside, there's going to be a downside. There will be advantages to playing certain things, there will be disadvantages." This is the kind of multi-tiered thought process Belichick calls "pretty straightforward." Right.

Thanks to that mentality, Belichick's greatness has never stemmed from the Big Idea, unless the Big Idea is the relentless application of many Little Ideas. For example: With the Giants, one of Belichick's best tactics was something he called BTF, or Blitz the Formation, an idea he gleaned from Buddy Ryan's famed 46 defense with the Chicago Bears. Instead of calling for specific players to blitz the quarterback, Belichick would make a BTF call, and once the offense showed how it was lining up, his players would check to a specialty blitz designed for when that particular opponent used that particular formation. In recent years, however, Belichick has expanded on this idea by having his players adjust their blitz assignments not only based on the offense's formation, but by having them trade assignments after the play begins.

On most NFL passing plays, the center is usually the key to understanding how the offense is trying to protect the quarterback. Defenses prefer to rush away from the center, which creates a mismatch in favor of the defense by forcing the running back to block a blitzing NFL linebacker (and also eliminates a potential receiver out of the backfield). If the running back isn't staying in to block, or if he is but whiffs, the defense has an unblocked blitzer, which is even better.

Today's offenses are nimble enough to redirect their pass protection schemes toward the most likely blitzers at the line. Belichick, however, enables his defenders to regain the advantage by teaching them to read the offense, specifically the center. For example, Belichick frequently calls blitzes with potential rushers lined up to the offense's left and right, with each reading the center's movement. If the center slides toward the keyed defender, he drops into coverage, and if the center slides away from the keyed defender, he turns kamikaze and blitzes the quarterback. [...]

In Week 16, with the Patriots clinging to a 17-16 lead with just more than six minutes left, the Jets faced third-and-4 from New England's 24-yard line. Just before the snap, New England's entire defensive front shifted, as defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Chris Jones moved inside and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower -- the defenders Belichick had designated for a tag-team "Rain" blitz -- moved just outside the tackles. As the play began, New York's center slid to his left, so Collins dropped back, right into Geno Smith's throwing lane, while Hightower flew into the backfield and sacked Smith for a 10-yard loss.

With the ball pushed back, Wilfork blocked Nick Folk's 52-yard field goal attempt, the Jets failed to threaten to score again, and Belichick notched another victory, once again subtly and masterfully upending his opponent.

Ironically for a guy known as cold-hearted when it comes to player/personnel decisions, his loyalty to the Super Bowl winning defenders cost the team a ring when they lost to the Colts in the 2006 Championship game, blowing a big lead as they tired out.

January 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Nearly 30 Percent of Americans Skimp on Meds to Save Money (Kimberly Leonard,  Jan. 29, 2015, US News)

Seniors are known to skip, delay or space out medications because of cost concerns, but new data show that working-age adults are actually twice as likely to engage in these methods.

In the National Health Interview Survey, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 8.5 percent of adults ages 18 to 64 surveyed didn't take medications the way their doctor had told them to, 5.3 percent reported they missed a dose on purpose, 5.6 percent took less than they were told to and 7.2 percent delayed filling a prescription.

The money is actually useful.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Average 401(k) balance hits record $91,300 (Melanie Hicken, January 29, 2015, CNNMoney)

401(k) balances reached a record high last year, thanks to a soaring stock market and larger contributions from workers participating in the savings plans.
At Fidelity, the average 401(k) balance hit $91,300 by the end of 2014. While that's up just 2% from 2013, it's a jump of more than 30% from 2011's average balance of $69,100, Fidelity reported.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


The Barriers to Black-Brown Unity (SALIM MUWAKKIL, 1/29/15, In These Times)

[I]n the 32 years since Washington's election, relations between the city's two largest minority groups have soured.

The first rifts appeared soon after Washington's death in 1987. When the black base split over which alderman should succeed Washington, Latino supporters were set adrift, and the remnants of the city's infamous Democratic Machine exploited that uncertainty. After Richard M. Daley defeated Washington's placeholder successor, Eugene Sawyer, the Daley administration kept the black-brown coalition off balance by pitting the gains of one group against the other--replacing black officials with Latinos, for instance--in order to forestall the unity necessary for any serious Daley challenger.

That is not to say that there aren't organic differences between the two groups. As a long-time observer of these black-brown coalition attempts, I've seen a number of factors hamper them. Most glaring are the language differences and distinct historical experiences. The legacy of conquest and colonialism in Latin America is considerably different than that of U.S. slavery and Jim Crow, and there are too few attempts to familiarize each group with the other's history. Latinos are also more culturally diverse than black Americans. And some African Americans resent Latinos for enjoying the gains of the Civil Rights Act without having invested as much effort in the movement.

In the face of all this, few political campaigns in the United States (except for high-stakes presidential races) have successfully brought the two groups together. 

The GOP should exploit this animosity nationally and fold brown into red.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


With Liberal Views Like These, Ben Carson's Going to Have a Tough Time Winning the GOP Nomination (Tim Murphy, Jan. 28, 2015, Mother Jones)

Tea party favorite Ben Carson has said some out-there stuff. The former neurosurgeon, author, and possible Republican presidential candidate once compared women who get abortions to dog-abuser Michael Vick, blamed the decline and fall of the Roman Empire on gay marriage, and concluded that believing in evolution was like thinking that "a hurricane blowing through a junkyard could somehow assemble a fully equipped and flight-ready 747."

But in his writings and public remarks, he has also voiced views on hot-button issues--immigration, foreign policy, gun control--that place him well outside the tea-party mainstream. He once embraced a universal catastrophic health care plan, and some of his other past positions--gasp!--sound downright liberal. Here are some of the comments that may put him at odds with the conservative GOP base.

Stop the deportations:

Even today we exploit our fellow human beings for work. Is it moral for us, for example, to take advantage of cheap labor from illegal immigrants while denying them citizenship? I'm sure you can tell from the way I phrased the question that I believe we have taken the moral low road on this issue. Some segments of our economy would virtually collapse without these undocumented workers--we all know that--yet we continue to harass and deport many individuals who are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their families. (From his 2012 book, America the Beautiful.) [...]

Make alternative fuels, not war:

Whether America's ensuing steps into war in Afghanistan and Iraq will be seen as positive or negative remains to be seen, but I can't help thinking there may have been a better way to react that would not have cost us so many lives and financial capital. I believe that if the president had seized the moment and declared that we would become petroleum independent within the next ten years as part of our effort to strip terrorism of its resources, that business, industry, academia, and everyone else would have been foursquare behind him, and we would have been much further ahead in the fight against terrorism than we are today

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Low Oil Prices Could Shake up Africa's Petro States (Jill Shankleman,  12 January 2015, ISN)

Poverty and income inequality have remained high in the largest and oldest petroleum producers on the continent. 2008-09 household survey in Angola revealed income distribution among the most unequal in sub-Saharan Africa, with the top 10 percent of earners accounting for one third of total income and a poverty rate of 58 percent in rural areas. In the case of Nigeria, while income per capita has more than quadrupled since 1990, the proportion of people living in acute poverty has stayed stable at more than 60 percent.

Politically, most established African oil states are characterized by weak or absent democracy and either long-standing leaders (Equatorial Guinea, Angola, Algeria, and Chad) or violent internal conflict (Nigeria, South Sudan, and Libya).

2015 will present additional challenges to these and others African states hoping to begin extracting hydrocarbons in the near future. In early January 2014, crude oil averaged more than $100 a barrel; a year later it has fallen to $50. 

Thus, taxing gas.
Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Paris mayor vows to ban coaches and trucks (The Local, 28 Jan 2015)
Anne Hidalgo announced her vision for a cleaner Paris on Tuesday, starting with a ban on the "the coaches and trucks that are the most polluting" from July 1st this year. 
She said that by the same time next year, the ban would extend to include all polluting vehicles. 

The one thing they do have is a useful subway system.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Brooklyn imam repudiates 'cancer' of radical Islam (AVI LEWIS January 28, 2015, Times of Israel)

In startling remarks in Arabic posted online in the wake of the deadly Paris terror attacks earlier this month, a Brooklyn-based imam called on fellow Muslims to rid themselves of extremist ideology and hatred toward other religious groups, while denouncing terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam.

The footage, posted on January 9 and translated into English by the Washington DC-based Middle East Media Research Institute, shows imam Tareq Yousef Al-Masri delivering a sermon before followers at the Oulel-Albab Mosque in Brooklyn NY. [...]

Al-Masri claimed that Salafist ideology was largely responsible for the animus that has gripped the Muslim world in recent years, and accused renegade clerics of hijacking the true message of the Koran and peddling an extreme version of Islam incompatible with Western culture.

The Reformation (as The Church's) is beinbg led from America.
Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


What's Up with "Deflategate"? (Sarah Lewin, 1/29/15, Scientific American)

According to chemistry's ideal gas law, reducing the temperature of a gaseous system in a confined space also reduces the pressure of the system--Could nature itself then be the culprit? The basic physics is covered very well in this video by Ainissa Ramirez, materials scientist and co-author of Newton's Football, for Time magazine--plus, she discusses whether a deflated ball would have offered an advantage to start with.

Ramirez notes that a deflated ball benefits many players: it's easier for a quarterback to grip, a receiver to catch, a runner to carry as well as easier to kick. (This Houston Chronicle article describes the lengths players would go--kickers especially--to tamper their way to the perfect ball, along with the efforts the NFL takes to curb them.)

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


The Democratic Bench Is Shockingly Weak (JAY COST, 1/29/15, Weekly 

This item from Mike Allen is simply gobstopping:

Hillary Clinton, expecting no major challenge for the Democratic nomination, is strongly considering delaying the formal launch of her presidential campaign until July, three months later than originally planned, top Dems tell Playbook. The delay until summer, from the original April target, would give her more time to develop her message, policy and organization, outside the chaos and spotlight of a public campaign.

Let's think about this. Hillary Clinton is expecting no competition for the Democratic nomination. When, in the era of primaries, has this ever happened?

The answer is: never. It has never happened. It is unprecedented.

This hardly suggests Hillary Clinton is an overawing candidate. She has strengths, no doubt, but she was beatable eight years ago by an upstart rookie senator from Illinois. She's beatable today.

What it really suggests is: the Democratic bench is now so thin that the party cannot even give its voters a real choice. 

Americans are governed by Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Study: New safety technology lowers chance that driver will die in a car crash (JOAN LOWY, 1/29/15, Associated Press)

The chances of a driver dying in a crash in a late-model car or light truck fell by more than a third over three years, and nine car models had zero deaths per million registered vehicles, according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

One of the reasons it's hilarious that people think cars are more expensive than they used to be.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Solar power in the UK almost doubled in 2014 (Press Association,  29 January 2015)

Solar power almost doubled in the last year, with 650,000 installations ranging from solar farms to panels on homes, figures showed.

By the end of 2014 there was almost five gigawatts (5GW) of solar photovoltaic panels installed, up from 2.8GW at the end of 2013, the Department of Energy and Climate Change figures showed.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


When Jeb Bush and Bill Belichick Were High School Classmates : The young Jeb wasn't always straitlaced. There were his Andover years, when he and classmates (like the future Patriots head coach) cut loose. (Alec MacGillis, 1/28/15, Slate)

Jeb had arrived on the campus in the midst of a period of astonishing flux: Andover itself was experiencing its own countercultural coming-of-age moment as the upheaval underway on not-so-distant university campuses rippled outward. Where the prep schoolers' natural aspiration to be like their elder collegiate siblings had once meant mimicking their sports jackets and nicknames, it now meant copying their protest pose--a shift that the younger Andover faculty only encouraged. "It was like a college campus in so many ways--there was very little supervision, and many of the faculty were themselves fully into the '60s," George Church, a Harvard geneticist who was one class behind Jeb, tells me. "We were all much more grown up than we should have been, trying to be like our revolutionary colleagues at colleges." In this context, he said, Jeb's sampling of mind-altering substances--touched on recently by Vanity Fair--was par for the course. "There were a lot of experiences to be had in the '60s in this high school that was like a college, and Jeb availed himself of them, as we all did," Church says.

The biggest cultural break came at the end of the school year in 1969, halfway through Jeb's tenure at the school. After much self-searching, Andover resolved to scrap its strict dress code, which had previously called for a coat and tie to be worn pretty much at all times, even when going to check one's mail, and a full suit for twice-weekly chapel. The school went beyond that to jettison the vast majority of its code of behavior. "We got together and would sit together in these little groups and say, 'What should the rules be?' And the response was, 'No rules,' " says Church. "The rulebook shrank by a factor of five. The next year, we were just a campus of hippies."

There to witness this transformation, along with Jeb, were his fellow members of the Class of '71, a group that also included Lincoln Chafee, who would eventually assume his father's seat in the U.S. Senate, and Tom Foley, who would to go on to become a successful venture capitalist and George W. Bush's ambassador to Ireland before twice losing bids to become Connecticut's governor, in 2010 and 2014. (Just one and two years behind them, respectively, were authors Buzz Bissinger and Michael Beschloss.) And at the start of their senior year, they were joined by Belichick, who had come north for a postgraduate year after attending high school in Annapolis, where his father was working as a talent scout for the Naval Academy's football team, to improve his odds of getting into a premier college.

The imagination reels at the thought of young Jeb and Bill engaged in marijuana-infused late-night bull sessions. Alas, such bonding would have been limited, because Jeb absented himself for three months of that school year for what was, essentially, the apotheosis of his adolescent walk on the wild side. That fall, he signed up for an experimental anthropology course with the expansive title of "Man and Society." Students read Octavio Paz and Beyond the Melting Pot, Nathan Glazer's new book on ethnic integration in New York. With this preparation, they headed off for a three-month immersion in an exotic locale--either the Irish working-class bastion of South Boston or the only slightly more foreign destination of León, a shoemaking hub in central Mexico. Jeb chose the latter, along with a dozen classmates and an irreverent young Andover teacher who served as the nominal chaperone. "It was this kind of incredible junket that the school wanted us to spend a winter in Mexico," classmate Peter Halley, now an artist in New York, tells me. "The atmosphere was like the TV show MASH."

Jeb lived with a local family and taught English. (Some accounts have him helping out with school-building as well.) More crucially, he fell in love with a local girl named Columba, a pretty, petite, devoutly Catholic 16-year-old who had been raised by her grandfather after her father abandoned her mother when she was young. Jeb decided to attend the University of Texas instead of Yale, the usual destination for Bush men, which allowed him to be closer to her, and proposed to her at a Mexico City restaurant before he'd even graduated--and before he'd introduced her to his parents. But his countercultural rebellion lasted only so long: After graduating, he got a job with Texas Commerce Bank, which had been founded by the family of his father's political ally (and future Secretary of State) James A. Baker III. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Yes, Oil Is Behind a Lot of Wars : Economists check the claim that a thirst for oil motivates interventions in civil wars, and they find out it's right. (NATHAN COLLINS JAN 28, 2015, Pacific Standard)

 It's rare for researchers to focus on economic considerations.

That's a serious oversight, argue academics Vincenzo Bove, Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, and Petros Sekeris in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, especially considering that external powers--states and international organizations such as the United Nations--intervened in two of every three civil wars in the second half of the 20th century. "This is all the more remarkable as economic incentives are often held to exert a crucial role on the onset and duration of civil war," they write.

To investigate how economic incentives affect the chances of intervention, the trio constructed an economic model of conflict in which there are a small number of oil-producing nations, one of which is in the midst of a civl war, and a large number of countries with no oil to pump out of the ground. Intuitively, their analysis suggests that the richer a government is in oil reserves and the fewer oil-producing states there are, the more likely other states will intervene, even if the intervening state is itself an oil-producing nation. Similarly, states are more likely to intervene when they import more oil.

It remained to be seen, however, whether those predictions are actually borne out in the data on civil wars. To find out, the researchers collected data on civil war interventions, oil reserves, oil prices over time, and a number of other factors. Taking into account factors like a potential intervener's ability to swing the war in their own favor, the team confirmed their predictions--third parties are more likely to enter into civil conflicts when they have sufficient military power and are thirsty for oil, and, of course, when there's a great deal of oil at stake.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Placebo Power: The Superior Efficacy of 'Expensive' Fake Drugs : New research finds people suffering from Parkinson's responded more strongly to a placebo if it was described to them as an expensive drug. (TOM JACOBS, 1/28/15, Pacific Standard)

Previous studies have shown that Parkinson's disease--which is the result of the death of certain dopamine-generating cells in the brain--is receptive to placebos. A standard treatment is levodopa, a synthetic substance that is converted in the brain to dopamine. When patients are informed that they are receiving a dose of the drug--or, better yet, a more expensive alternative--their brains often respond to feelings of "heightened expectation and positive anticipation" by (you guessed it) releasing dopamine.

In the journal Neurology, a research team led by Dr. Alberto Espay of the University of Cincinnati describes a small-scale study of 12 people with moderate to severe Parkinson's disease. On their first visit, all were given their standard medication; after it took effect, their motor skills were assessed to determine the degree to which the medicine had helped them.

Their second visit, which occurred within a week of the first, was more complicated. Participants were told they would be trying two new drugs: one "cheap" ($100 per dose) and the other "expensive" ($1,500 per dose). In fact, they were simply injected with saline solution.

Half received the faux expensive drug first, followed by the faux cheap drug four hours later. Before and after each injection, their motor skills were tested, and their brain activity was measured using fMRI technology.

The key result: "A larger motor benefit was achieved by a 'costlier' intervention, particularly when given first," the researchers write. Specifically, they found a nine percent greater overall improvement with the "expensive" placebo compared to the cheap one--a difference that rose to 14 percent when the "expensive" one was given first.

January 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Skull discovery suggests location where humans first had sex with Neanderthals (Ian Sample,  28 January 2015, The Guardian)

An ancient skull found in a cave in northern Israel has cast light on the migration of modern humans out of Africa and the dawn of humanity's colonisation of the world.

For most palaeontologists that might be enough for a single fossil, but the braincase has offered much more: a likely location where the first prehistoric trysts resulted in modern humans having sex with their heavy-browed Neanderthal cousins.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Expands Medicaid Under Obamacare (Jeffrey Young, 01/27/2015, Huffington Post)

GOP governors and legislators in states like Arkansas, Ohio and Pennsylvania have extracted concessions, including increasing the role of private health insurance plans in Medicaid, from President Barack Obama's administration, which is eager to provide Medicaid coverage to as many poor Americans as possible. Including Indiana, 28 states and the District of Columbia have expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Pence's plan is the biggest departure from traditional, government-run Medicaid yet. The so-called Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, as Pence dubbed it, ties benefits to monthly payments by beneficiaries below the poverty line, a first for Medicaid, and includes other features Pence billed as conservative and market-based.

"We have worked hard to ensure that low-income Hoosiers have access to a health care plan that empowers them to take charge of their health and prepares them to move to private insurance as they improve their lives," Pence said in a press release.

The Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, or HIP 2.0, differs greatly from traditional Medicaid, under which people with low incomes and people with disabilities are covered by a government program that pays for their medical care.

Pence's program builds on the state's 7-year-old Healthy Indiana Plan, which currently covers 60,000 people with high-deductible health insurance and health savings accounts. Adults without disabilities who are currently enrolled in traditional Medicaid will be moved to the Healthy Indiana Plan, also known as HIP.

The most novel aspect of the so-called HIP 2.0 is that enrollees will have to make contributions into "POWER accounts," modeled after private-sector health savings accounts. People with incomes above poverty, which is about $11,500 for a single person, must deposit between $3 and $25 into these accounts per month. People who fail to make these payments can get their benefits taken away for six months. These contributions are optional for people making below poverty wages, but if these beneficiaries don't contribute, they receive less generous health coverage. Individuals who use these POWER accounts and receive required preventive health services will pay less for their benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Public supports O-Care subsidies threatened by Supreme Court case (Elise Viebeck, 01/28/15, The Hill)

Most Americans want ObamaCare subsidies to be available to people in all states, regardless of whether the state established its own exchange, a new poll suggests.

The latest tracking survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, released Wednesday, found that 64 percent wants Congress to pass a law guaranteeing subsidies if the Supreme Court invalidates those distributed through federally run exchanges.
The poll underscores the high stakes of the King v. Burwell decision, which could stop billions of dollars in ObamaCare subsidies and create chaos for the fledgling system.

Another 59 percent of people in states with federally run exchanges said their states should establish their own marketplaces if the justices rule for the plaintiffs.

This view is held by majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independent voters.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Democrats Blast Obama's Offshore Drilling Plans (Kate Sheppard, Jan. 28, 2015, Mother Jones)

A group of Senate Democrats from the Northeast is pushing back on the Obama administration's proposal to open new areas of the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas drilling.

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker called the move "absolutely unacceptable" in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Joining in the press conference were fellow Democrats Ed Markey (Mass.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Ben Cardin (Md.).

"If drilling is allowed off the east coast of the United States, it puts our beaches, our fisherman, and our environment in the crosshairs for an oil spill that could devastate our shores," said Markey. "We're going to make it clear we're very unhappy with this plan...You're looking at the beginning of an alliance to put pressure on this administration to withdraw this proposal."

January 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


White House drops 529 college savings proposal (Jim Acosta, 1/27/15, CNN)

The White House is giving up on a costly fight with Congress over the Obama administration's increasingly unpopular proposal to effectively end 529 college savings plans.

That was a pointless bit of self-harm.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Europe: 'Too old for its own truths and victories'? (Rémi Brague, 1/23/15, Clarion Review)

If there was an "old European" culture, what is "new European" culture? What is Modernity? This is a moot question that I can hardly hope to deal with properly here.14 A safe way to take one's bearings is to remind us of two obvious, rock-bottom points. They are geographic and historical in nature: 1) as for geography, be Modernity what it may, it certainly took place in Europe and spread thence all over the world; 2) as for history, regardless of where we draw the dividing-line between Modernity and what came before, the modern name for this period being "Middle Ages", we certainly are after this watershed.

Two consequences can be drawn therefrom: 1) we Europeans or our forebears somehow bear the responsibility for whatever unpleasantness happened in the whole world as a consequence of Modernity; 2) we can't possibly go backwards and simply escape Modernity. The way out that we will have to look for will lead us through modernity itself.

As for the content of our new culture, modern Europe has got rid of any outer reference point. It has learnt to avert its glance from the heavens. We can call this process by the names of secularization, desacralisation, etc.15
Moreover, modern Europe has been taught by Bacon or, in his wake, by Descartes to look down at nature - nay, to look down on it, as a mere thing without any sacred aura, as a field to be subdued, as a pantry of sorts that should cater to our needs.16

Finally, modern Europe has been trained to consider that other cultures can't possibly be our models. Nostalgia for less developed societies and their allegedly unspoiled mores are hardly more than a toy for aesthetes who would hate to live in such societies. As for ancient Greece or Rome, philology does not look at the works it studies as endowed with any special value. On the contrary, almost the first step for a student in "Classics" nowadays consists in debunking the very idea of "classical" education.

Now, we still don't know whether a culture can really give up any reference to external credenda et miranda and survive all the same. Leading thinkers of Modernity were still aware of the risk and emphasized more and more consciously the idea that truth must be an essai, an experiment, a Versuch, from Montaigne to Nietzsche, including John Stuart Mill's "experiments of living".17 We have been for some centuries conducting an experiment, or laying a wager. Now, nothing warrants that the experiment will be successful short of traces of a naïve trust in something like Providence.

Nietzsche is among the few, or perhaps he is the only one, to have considered the possibility of an irretrievable failure and to have honestly acknowledged it. In a passage that remained unpublished, he has his Zarathustra say, "We are making an experiment (Versuch) with Truth! Perhaps mankind will thereby founder! Never mind, go ahead (wohlan)!"18 This is quite a brash formula. We might sober up and ask: What if, in fact, the experiment yields a negative result? What if mankind invents contrivances and/or adopts modes of behaviour that endanger its own survival in the long run? The trouble is that, if the experiment does fail, so that mankind in its entirety walks the plank, who will have another try?

...resides in our rejection and avoidance of Modernity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Patton's Pathetic Pandering : Patton Oswalt tries desperately to regain his fans (ETHAN EPSTEIN, 1/27/15, Weekly Standard)

It's been several weeks since the actor and comedian Patton Oswalt (you may remember him from his star turn as "Toast A Bun Manager" in 2009's Observe and Report) outraged his tens of thousands of Twitter followers with the following suggestion: 

The reaction from Oswalt's apparently overwhelmingly left wing and seemingly humorless fans was swift and merciless. By proposing laughter, Oswalt--a (white straight cis male, don't you know?)--was "victim blaming." His tweet was "problematic."

If they found stuff funny they wouldn't be Leftists.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


The Cost-Cutting Power of Medicare (Peter R. Orszag, 1/26/15, Bloomberg View)

[A]fter years of slow cost growth, health care is reaching a crucial tipping point. In fiscal year 2014, inflation-adjusted Medicare spending per beneficiary actually declined compared with the previous year. Yet the next year or two will determine whether the recent era of slow cost growth becomes the new normal, or instead is reversed.

The consequences are enormous, for everything from the nation's debt to workers' take-home pay, and the risk of reverting back to faster cost growth is rising. While Medicare spending itself appears to remain subdued, spending outside Medicare may be going up, anecdotal evidence suggests. This isn't shocking: In commercial insurance, the weak economy played a big part in the slowdown, and as the economy picks up, we should expect Americans to spend more on health care.

The largest hospital system in the nation, for example, reports that admissions are ticking up. Employment growth in the sector has also risen, and that's a useful indicator because labor accounts for such a large part of health-care costs. In 2007 and again in 2008, health-care jobs increased by 2.7 percent. From 2009 to the first half of 2014, they grew just 1.7 percent per year. But in the past three months, the increase jumped back up to 2.8 percent.

Containing these pressures requires sending a strong signal to health-care executives that the era of fee-for-service payment really is over. After all, when we pay for quantity, that's what we get. And Medicare, the gorilla of health care, is the place to send that message; it's large enough to set norms throughout the sector.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Why Physician Self-Referrals Have To Stop Now (Dan Munro, 1/26/15, Forbes)

Financial reasons aside, there are other reasons to end this practice as well. Here are two of the biggest.

The first is based on the idea that we don't always know what works. H. Gilbert Welch referenced this when he wrote about two of the more prevalent methods of cancer screening ‒ the PSA test for prostate cancer and mammography's for breast cancer.

How would you have felt ‒ after over a decade of following your doctor's advice ‒ to learn that high-quality randomized trials of these standard practices had only just been completed? And that they showed that both did more harm than good? Justifiably furious, I'd say. Because these practices affected millions of Americans, they are locked in a tight competition for the greatest medical error on record. The problem goes far beyond these two. The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don't know what works. But we pay for it anyway. Testing What We Think We Know ‒ H. Gilbert Welch, MD and professor of medicine at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice

Those last two sentences are worth repeating. "The truth is that for a large part of medical practice, we don't know what works. But we pay for it anyway."

The second argument against self‒referrals is a variation in medical mistakes called the silent misdiagnosis. Obviously a misdiagnosis can be direct and overt (affecting as many as 12 million Americans each year), but often it's more subtle and favors the clinical over the patient preference. This is referred to as a silent misdiagnosis and was summarized in this article in the U.K. for The Kings Fund (2012).

For example, doctors believe that 71 per cent of patients with breast cancer rate keeping their breast as a top priority. But what is the actual figure reported by patients? 7%. Furthermore, doctors believe that 96% of breast cancer patients considering chemotherapy rate living as long as possible a top priority. But what is the actual figure reported by patients? 59%. Patient's Preferences Matter ‒ Stop The Silent Misdiagnosis, by Al Mulley ‒ MD, Glyn Elwyn ‒ MD and Chris Trimble

Both of these reasons speak directly to the general practice of all referrals, so the issue is much larger than just a financial one ‒ often it's simply the authoritative (and wrong) clinical preference.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Obama signals opening up Atlantic Ocean to drilling for first time, removes areas off Alaska (DINA CAPPIELLO, 1/27/15, Associated Press)

The proposal envisions auctioning areas located more than 50 miles off Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to oil companies no earlier than 2021, long after President Barack Obama leaves office. For decades, oil companies have been barred from drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, where a moratorium was in place up until 2008.

The plan also calls for leasing 10 areas in the Gulf of Mexico, long the epicenter of U.S. offshore oil production, and three off the Alaska coast.

"This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a conference call with reporters. "The areas off the table are very small in comparison to areas on the table."

Posted by orrinj at 2:01 PM


Bending the Cost Curve (Carl Straumsheim, 1/27/15, Inside Higher Ed)

Between 2006 and 2013 -- the latest round of IPEDS data available -- fully online bachelor's degrees got a price cut, the researchers write. Weighted for enrollment, the median cost (in 2014 dollars) of a full-time online undergraduate degree dropped by 34 percent, while an equivalent face-to-face education at a nonselective public institution rose 9.2 percent. Tuition for traditional programs at large for-profit and nonprofit institutions, meanwhile, posted a more modest decline of about 8 percent.

The researchers also found "modest evidence" that colleges and universities that grew their fully online student populations cut the cost of tuition. Between 2006 and 2013, they found, a 10 percent growth in an institution's online student population lowered the cost of tuition for all students by 1.5 percent. That finding only applied to the for-profit and public sectors of higher education, however -- the researchers found "no detectable impact" at private colleges and universities.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Critical of Obama's past actions, GOP now wants to give him more power on trade (David Nakamura January 27, 2015, Washington Post)

GOP leaders in both chambers are close to introducing legislation that would grant the administration broad authority to finalize one of the largest free-trade pacts in the nation's history. Lawmakers would not be allowed to amend the terms, and Congress would be required to hold a relatively quick up-or-down vote that could not be filibustered.

The aim of such fast-track legislation, formally known as trade-promotion authority (TPA), is to give U.S. negotiators more leverage to complete a deal by assuring their international counterparts that changes could not be made after the fact. Obama called for the powers in his State of the Union address, and his push represents a rare area of common cause with Republicans.

Though the GOP has spent the past several months accusing the president of abusing his powers by sidestepping Congress on a number of issues, only a small number of conservative lawmakers has lobbied against granting Obama the additional authority on trade. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Al-Shabab leader says he has quit al-Qaida-linked terror group and renounces violence (ABDI GULED, 1/27/15, Associated Press) 

A leader of Somalia's Islamic extremist group al-Shabab with a $3 million bounty on his head announced Tuesday he has quit the insurgency and renounced violence perpetrated by the al Qaida-linked group.

Zakariya Ismail Hersi, who was al-Shabab's intelligence chief, called for reconciliation while speaking to the media for the first time since his surrender to Somali authorities in late December.

"I can confirm that as of today I am no longer a member of Al-Shabaab and I have renounced violence as a means of resolving conflict and I will aim to achieve my goals towards peaceful means, and through reconciliation and understanding," Hersi said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Everybody Hates Chris Christie (HARRY ENTEN, 1/26/15, 538)

Since 1980, two types of candidates have won presidential nominations when an incumbent president wasn't running in their party: those who were unfamiliar to voters early in the campaign, and those who were both well known and well liked.

Chris Christie, the Republican governor of New Jersey, is well known but not particularly well liked. [...]

Some nominees, such as Democrats Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, weren't well known at this point in the campaign. Some, such as Republicans Bob Dole and Ronald Reagan, were very well known and popular. There was George W. Bush in 1999, who was particularly well liked, even if he wasn't universally known. But no prior nominee had a net favorability rating more than 10 percentage points below where you'd expect given his name recognition.

Christie is 25 percentage points off the pace. His net favorable rating among Republicans in an average of YouGov polls so far this year, a December Monmouth University poll and a late November Quinnipiac University poll is just +19 percentage points. That was despite 77 percent of Republicans being able to form an opinion of him. Given his high name recognition, you would expect him to have a net favorable rating of +45 percentage points.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


CBO projects that ObamaCare will cost 20 percent less than expected (Peter Weber, 1/27/15, The Week)

On Monday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its latest update on the Affordable Care Act, or ObamaCare. The report is mostly good news for supporters of the law. Over the next 10 years, the law will cost the federal government 20 percent less than the last projections, the CBO said, and by the end of President Obama's second term, 24 million fewer Americans will lack health insurance, adding to the 12 million drop in the uninsured so far. That would leave only 8 percent of eligible Americans without insurance by the end of 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Russia's Preemptive Counter-Revolution (Alexander Etkind, JAN 27, 2015, Project Syndicate)

In any case, though portrayed as a powerful leader, Putin cannot be said to be following Russia's ultimate strongman, Stalin, in any meaningful respect. Under Stalin, enthusiastic self-sacrifice and scientific rationality were promoted as ideals. Industrial development and military victories, though coming at an intolerable human cost, were real. The regime depended on show trials and gulag labor, and used unprecedented violence to consolidate the power of dogmatic, ascetic bureaucrats. Corruption was a crime that was punished.

Today, corruption is the norm, and show trials, though still occurring, do not happen on Stalin's industrial scale. Putin and his circle are mainly concerned with survival and enrichment. He fears Ukraine's 2014 uprising as a "revolutionary plague" only because it might erupt in Moscow's own squares. Putin's desire to preempt such an outcome explains the Kremlin's brutal response.

Putin's regime is simply a Russian version of clientelism, with wealth and economic opportunity distributed on the basis of political fealty. The system's crimes have been evident for years, and it is tragic that no international power has been able to punish it. Westerners who think otherwise and have acquiesced in Russia's actions in Ukraine do so for no other reason than their own greed, fear, or self-deception.

Indeed, after sucking resources and money from Russia and its citizens, Putin and his obedient oligarchs have been allowed to invest their ill-gotten gains in European and US banks and real estate, paying fat fees that have fueled profit growth for Western firms.

The West's gain, however, continues to cause enormous discomfort for ordinary Russians. After almost a quarter-century of so-called "liberal" economic policy, everything from imported goods to bank mortgages are still far more expensive than in the West. And recent sanctions have only worsened conditions.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Yeti braves blizzard to lurk around Boston (The Week, 1/27/15)

Yes, someone wearing an abominable snowman outfit is wandering the cold streets and tweeting about it, using the handle @BostonYeti2015.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Romney, ahead of 2016 run, now calls Utah home, talks openly about Mormon influence (Philip Rucker, January 2, 2015, Washington Post)

If he runs again in 2016, Romney is determined to re-brand himself as authentic...

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:43 AM


Phil Woods: Songs for Sisyphus

Video (from a live concert): 

I don't even know where to start writing a post about Phil Woods.  I've been listening to him for almost as long as I've been listening to jazz; he was one of my favorite sax players when I was in high school in the late 70's and remains on the short list of my all-time guys.   The first time I snuck (under age) into a club to hear live jazz it was to hear Phil.  And the second time.  And the third. (Houston Person would have been the fourth, but I finally turned 18.)

Born in 1931, Woods came along on the alto sax in the early 50's as Charlie Parker was revolutionizing that instrument and all of jazz.  As a young man, Woods was certainly a hard-core bebopper, and that led to him being dubbed "the new Bird" and dismissed by some as a Parker imitator.  (The fact that he was, for a time, married to Parker's widow, probably didn't help quell the comparisons.)  Woods's influences, however, also reached back to the pre-Bird giants of the alto, Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter.

Although Woods is a thoroughly unique jazz voice, as I've learned more about the music I've come recognize individual traits in his playing that remind me of so many other jazz greats: Louis Armstrong's joy and sheer love of the music, Coleman Hawkins's swagger, Dizzy Gillespie's quicksilver technique, Johnny Hodges's passion when playing a ballad, Sonny Rollins's penchant for plucking obscure tunes from the Great American Songbook, Dexter Gordon's affinity for the well-placed musical quotation, and Benny Carter's arranger's sensibility and self-control (like Carter, Woods rarely takes more than two or three choruses for his solos).  And here's one more thing about Woods...other than Louis Armstrong and Toots Thielmans, he is likely to be the only musician prominently mentioned in these posts that you've all heard as he's the sax player on the Billy Joel hit "Just the Way You Are."

Songs for Sisyphus, recorded in 1977, is a terrific introduction to Phil's playing and composing (he wrote the title track and the quirky, Thelonious-inspired "Monking Business").  He also generously provides solo showcases for his sidemen, guitarist Harry Leahy on Django Reinhart's lovely and haunting "Nuages" and pianist Mike Melillo with a Gershwin-esque take on Irving Berlin's "When My Dreams Come True" (a tune that probably hadn't been recorded since it was the theme song for the Marx Brothers' first film, The Cocoanuts, in 1929).  Three numbers in particular capture Woods at his best.  Phil brings intense passion to the Harold Arlen-Yip Harburg ballad "Last Night When We Were Young," moving into double time on the bridge and building into an ecstatic frenzy before relaxing back into the last eight bars of the tune and ending with a satisfied sigh.  "Change Partners" is another Berlin song, this one written for Fred Astaire, and Phil deftly dances his way through the melody before launching into a single chorus solo that is a fiery and hard-swinging race over the changes, enlivened with shouts, growls, smears, one-note rides and even a song quote ("Chattanooga Choo Choo"?).  After Melillo solos, the band returns for a counterpoint episode that has all of the instruments playing independent lines leading up to a final statement of the tune.  Finally, the album ends with a reminder of Woods's bebop roots as he leads the band on a romp through the Gillespie-Parker classic "Shaw Nuff."

Post script: I hadn't planned on writing about Woods until I could better organize my thoughts...in fact, I had been working on a review of an Art Blakey album that OJ dug up at the thrift store a couple of weeks ago.  But early last week I heard on the radio that Phil would be performing last Friday night as part of a local jazz festival.  Well, I couldn't pass that up.  Phil is 83 and suffering from emphysema.  His wife wheels an oxygen tank on stage with him, and he hooks up to it before lifting his horn.  He plays seated, his solos were even shorter than I remember 30+ years ago (when I always left his shows wishing he had played more), and he laid out on 2 of the 6 songs during the 1-hour set.  But when he played, oh my, he still SOUNDED like Phil Woods.  So, on the drive home I decided that my next post had to be about Phil.

In the lyric to his tune, "My Man Phil," Benny Carter summed it up pretty well:
Adolphe Sax, before he made that horn,
Must have known someday a Phil Woods would be born.
Jack or John, Bob or Bill,
Let them say what they will.
But goodness knows nobody blows like,
My man, Phil.

January 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


How Obama's $3 Trillion Health-Care Overhaul Would Work (John Tozzi January 26, 2015, Businessweek)

The Obama administration has announced plans to accelerate a shift in how the U.S. pays its $2.9 trillion annual health-care bill. Officials at Medicare, which covers one in six Americans, want to stop paying doctors and hospitals by the number of tests and treatments they do. Instead, the government wants to link payments to how well providers take care of patients, not just how much care they provide.

This transition is already under way. Millions of Americans are now covered in experimental programs created by the Affordable Care Act designed to reduce unnecessary care and incentivize doctors to focus on quality, not quantity. The administration wants to vastly expand such programs to include half of all Medicare payments by the end of 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Teachers Take Union Dues to Supreme Court (Allie Bidwell, Jan. 26, 2015, US News)

A group of public schoolteachers on Monday petitioned the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to laws allowing teachers unions to require dues from nonmembers who disagree with union positions and policies.

A decision in the teachers' favor could change how public employee unions operate nationwide.

The lawsuit, first filed in April 2013, takes aim at the 300,000-member California Teachers Association and the affiliated National Education Association. The plaintiffs - 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International - claim California's "agency shop" law is unconstitutional and violates teachers' First Amendment rights by forcing them to pay union dues regardless of whether they support or are a member of the union. Twenty-six states currently have such laws in place.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


The liberation of Kobane and other signs of trouble for the Islamic State (Dan Murphy, JANUARY 26, 2015, CS Monitor)

Is the Islamic State, the jihadi group that's become notorious for beheading and enslaving captives, in trouble? Recent news - from the murder of a Japanese hostage to reports that the group has been mostly driven out of the Syrian border city of Kobane - point in that direction.

The IS siege of Kobane began four months ago, putting to work a lot of the heavy weaponry IS fighters seized when the Iraqi military collapsed in the north of that country over the summer. The ethnic-Kurdish town ultimately drew military support from Iraq's autonomous Kurdish enclave and a coalition of international powers led by the United States. The coalition conducted dozens of airstrikes around the city, coordinating its efforts with its defenders, in an attempt to drive back the militants.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Cuban youth build secret computer network that allows 1000s to play games, chat, share media (MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN, Associated Press) 

Cut off from the Internet, young Cubans have quietly linked thousands of computers into a hidden network that stretches miles across Havana, letting them chat with friends, play games and download hit movies in a mini-replica of the online world that most can't access.

Home Internet connections are banned for all but a handful of Cubans, and the government charges nearly a quarter of a month's salary for an hour online in government-run hotels and Internet centers. As a result, most people on the island live offline, complaining about their lack of access to information and contact with friends and family abroad.

A small minority have covertly engineered a partial solution by pooling funds to create a private network of more than 9,000 computers with small, inexpensive but powerful hidden Wi-Fi antennas and Ethernet cables strung over streets and rooftops spanning the entire city. Disconnected from the real Internet, the network is limited, local and built with equipment commercially available around the world, with no help from any outside government, organizers say.

Hundreds are online at any moment pretending to be orcs or U.S. soldiers in multiplayer online games such as "World of Warcraft" or "Call of Duty." They trade jokes and photos in chat rooms and organize real-world events like house parties or trips to the beach.

"We really need Internet because there's so much information online, but at least this satisfies you a little bit because you feel like, 'I'm connected with a bunch of people, talking to them, sharing files," said Rafael Antonio Broche Moreno, a 22-year-old electrical engineer who helped build the network known as SNet, short for streetnet.

Cuba's status as one of the world's least-wired countries is central to the new relationship Washington is trying to forge with Havana. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Harry V. Jaffa, RIP (ROBERT R. REILLY, Winter 2015, University Bookman)

Jaffa's great project was the resuscitation of natural law through his explication of Lincoln's thought and actions, going back to their roots in the Founding (and further to Aristotle). He knew that the "self-evident" truths of the Declaration were only intelligible in the natural-law context in which they were spoken and from which they arose. Lose that standard of rightness and all is lost. Jaffa knew exactly the game that is being played with the rhetoric of human rights. Today, he said, "individual rights become individual preferences." He strove mightily against this tendency by always speaking of "natural rights subject to natural law."

In the short space here, my purpose is to give a personal reminiscence of Jaffa and of what I learned from him. For four years in the mid-1970s, I was in Claremont, California as the Western director of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. During this time I also attended Claremont Graduate School. Jaffa generated considerable enthusiasm from his students because it was clear he was no ordinary teacher, but a political philosopher who was Socratically reaching for the truth and endeavoring to instill in his students the pursuit of the noble and the good.

Apparently, some East Coast Straussians thought that Jaffa was cheerleading for the American regime and that this was an unworthy endeavor. He was supposed to be making skeptical political philosophers, not loyal citizens. (In our relationship, I think one of the things that pleased Jaffa most was when I sent him one of my publications with an inscription thanking him for "teaching me how to love my country.") Some Jaffa critics, who were supposedly searching for truth, but based upon an epistemology that made it impossible to find, were really dogmatic skeptics who considered the American regime worthy only to the extent that it maintained the conditions for them to pursue their skepticism.

Jaffa knew better. In his great book, A New Birth of Freedom, he wrote: "'We hold these truths to be self-evident' is an assertion at once of a necessity and of a freedom inherent in reason and nature. It implies a freedom in the mind to apprehend truth, and a necessity in nature, a necessity external to the mind, that determines what the truth is. In the last analysis, freedom is the ability to be determined by the truth." To be determined by the truth, one must first know it.

Jaffa had something to fight for, and fight he did. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


How the Patriots Built a Offense With NFL Scraps (MICHAEL SALFINO, Jan. 26, 2015, WSJ)

The New England Patriots once again possess one of the league's most electric and intimidating offenses--one that has carried them to a matchup with the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this offense is that it is filled with players who were once NFL afterthoughts. Quarterback Tom Brady is famous for being an unheralded sixth-round draft pick who rose to stardom, but most of his offensive teammates were equally obscure when they first entered the league.

The Patriots will line up against Seattle on Sunday with only one offensive player who was a first-round pick: tackle Nate Solder. In fact, Solder is the only first-round pick among all of the Patriots offensive players who will be in uniform. According to Stats LLC, of the 98 Super Bowl teams including this season, the Patriots are just the fifth team with only one first-round player on offense. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Autism genomes add to disorder's mystery (GEOFFREY MOHAN, 1/26/15, LA Times)

Less than a third of siblings with autism shared the same DNA mutations in genes associated with the disorder, according to a new study that is the largest whole-genome sequencing for autism to date.

Canadian researchers sequenced whole genomes from 170 siblings with autism spectrum disorder and both their parents. They found that these sibling pairs shared the same autism-relevant gene variations only about 31% of the time, according to the study published online Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.

More than a third of the mutations believed to be relevant to autism arose in a seemingly random way, the study also found.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Russia downgraded to junk status for first time in decade (Jill Treanor, 26 January 2015, The Guardian)

Russia has been downgraded to junk status for the first time in a decade due to the collapsing oil price, the tumbling value of the rouble and sanctions imposed because of its intervention in Ukraine.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


CBO: Federal deficit will drop to lowest level since Obama took office (The Week, 1/26/15)

The Congressional Budget Office said Monday that the budget deficit should this year shrink to its lowest level as a percentage of the economy since 2007.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


The Impact of Unemployment Benefit Extensions on Employment: The 2014 Employment Miracle? (Marcus Hagedorn, Iourii Manovskii, Kurt Mitman,  January 2015, NBER Working Paper)

We measure the effect of unemployment benefit duration on employment. We exploit the variation induced by the decision of Congress in December 2013 not to reauthorize the unprecedented benefit extensions introduced during the Great Recession. Federal benefit extensions that ranged from 0 to 47 weeks across U.S. states at the beginning of December 2013 were abruptly cut to zero. To achieve identification we use the fact that this policy change was exogenous to cross-sectional differences across U.S. states and we exploit a policy discontinuity at state borders. We find that a 1% drop in benefit duration leads to a statistically significant increase of employment by 0.0161 log points. In levels, 1.8 million additional jobs were created in 2014 due to the benefit cut. Almost 1 million of these jobs were filled by workers from out of the labor force who would not have participated in the labor market had benefit extensions been reauthorized.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Obama's Appearance at India's Republic Day Sends Message to China (GORDON FAIRCLOUGH,  Jan. 26, 2015,  WSJ)

U.S. President Barack Obama joined Indian leaders on the reviewing stand at a military parade here Monday in a display of strengthened ties between the world's largest democracies as an increasingly assertive China shifts Asia's power balance.

The American president's appearance at India's symbolically important Republic Day celebrations came a day after a summit meeting at which the two countries agreed to deepen cooperation on defense and economic-development at a time of mounting global tensions.

China is allied with North Korea.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Baby Nutella a no-go: How we might be overthinking baby names (Lane Brown, JANUARY 26, 2015, CS Monitor)

A French court has ruled that parents in France must re-name their baby, after writing "Nutella" on their daughter's birth certificate in September.

According to a translation from Time of a French newspaper report on the court ruling, a judge ruled that in addition to being trademarked, it is contrary to the child's interest to have a name which will lead to teasing and disparaging thoughts. 

...to heal an injustice, The future-Wife swore that if we had twins she'd let me name them Cool-Whip and Genghis--which would easily have been the most awesomest kid names ever.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Right-wing party promises Syriza support in Greece coalition (Deutsche-Welle, 1/26/15)

Greece's anti-austerity Syriza party has made a pact with the small, right-wing Independent Greeks party to form a government.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


NATHAN MYHRVOLD, MYTH BUSTER : He was the physicist who went to Microsoft and made his fortune. These days he's a tycoon, philanthropist, dino-hunter, bestselling author and barbecue champion, who has discovered the most scientific way to enjoy claret. (Alex Renton, January/February 2015, Intelligent Life)

EVERY YEAR A list of the world's 100 greatest thinkers appears in Foreign Policy magazine, and most years Nathan Myhrvold is on it. An inventor, scientist, patent tycoon and Bill Gates's "second brain" in Microsoft's tiger years, Myhrvold is not well known outside geekdom and the arcane world of intellectual property. But he may be more useful than most great thinkers. When did Stephen Hawking or Pope Francis actually do something that might improve your daily life? Myhrvold, who had a post-doctoral fellowship under Hawking, achieves that quite frequently. I meet him in Vancouver, where he is giving the keynote speech to a conference of intellectual-property traders and lawyers. Few people combine pleasure and business with the gusto of Myhrvold, who has been touring Vancouver's best restaurants. At one it was decided that a bottle of Bordeaux wasn't quite right. "We were sending it back, and I said 'No, wait a minute--let's put salt into it.' Which was actually excellent. Then we took it into the kitchen and blended it. That really freaked the sommelier out." Myhrvold cackles his contagious laugh, a pitch higher than you'd expect from his solid frame.

Adding salt to wine, a tiny pinch to a glass, is a new idea, not yet fully tested. But blending wine--or, in Myhrvold's phrase, hyper-decanting--has already rattled the wine world ("It has made the experts frothing mad," he giggles). With the chefs and scientists who work with him on his "Modernist Cuisine" books he set out to try all the mechanical methods of making sure wine is at its best when it is time to drink it, from an old-fashioned decanter to aerators that draw oxygen into the stream as it is poured.

The most effective was simple and cheap: frappé it in a blender at top speed and drink it within an hour or so. Myhrvold has risked a bottle of 1982 Château Margaux, worth several thousand pounds, on this: it is one of his most famous feats. As we walk along a Vancouver street, a passer-by stops us to tell Myhrvold of his hyperdecanting experiences at pompous parties. For the man, it's a happy way to challenge received wisdom and discomfort smug experts. For Myhrvold, too, these are favourite pastimes.

He and the team are convinced that hyperdecanting "invariably improves red wines", but, of course, they cannot prove it. Matters of taste are frustrating, that way. There is little absolute evidence of success in food and drink--how do you measure the best?--which may explain why scientists do not often stray into the kitchen. Myhrvold's team recruited wine experts to do triangle tests (with three glasses of the same wine, two blended, one not) to establish the value of hyperdecanting. But they turned out to be less consistent even than ordinary people: in triangle tests, the Masters of Wine could not give the same verdict on two glasses treated identically.

This failure gives Myhrvold great joy. "Wine experts! They cannot tell white from red, if you blindfold them. There's a famous experiment, where they tinted a white wine with food colouring, and they end up writing them up like a red wine." (I looked up this cruel exercise and found that it was done by Frédéric Brochet of the oenology department of the University of Bordeaux in 2001. He fooled 54 critics into thinking two glasses of the same white wine were different, simply by adding food colouring to one of them. The red was praised for being "jammy" and having a savour of "crushed red fruit".) "The thing is that taste in wine is quite context-dependent. There was another great experiment where they took a bunch of wines and took the wine critics' descriptions of each and asked them--'Can you match them?' Could they? No!" He bubbles with laughter, a mischievous, beguiling imp.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Can Torture Ever Be Moral? (GARY GUTTING and JEFF MCMAHAN,  JANUARY 26, 2015, NY Times)

G.G.: But you do agree that torture can, in extreme cases, be moral. Why do you reject the absolute view that any instance of torture is immoral?

J.M.: Torture can be morally justifiable, and even obligatory, when it is wholly defensive - for example, when torturing a wrongdoer would prevent him from seriously harming innocent people. It could do that by forcing a person to reveal the location where he has planted a bomb, or hidden a hostage who will die if not found. It can be morally justifiable to kill a person to prevent him from detonating a bomb that will kill innocent people, or to prevent him from killing an innocent hostage. Since being killed is generally worse than being tortured, it should therefore be justifiable to torture a person to prevent him from killing innocent people. In cases in which torture is defensive in this way, the person tortured is not wronged. Indeed, he could avoid the torture simply by doing what he is morally required to do anyway - namely, disclose the location of the bomb or hostage.

Could it ever be moral not to torture terrorists (wrongdoers) who have targeted the citizenry (innocents) for information about potential attacks?


Posted by orrinj at 3:03 PM


Is European unity built on sand? : The EU promised perpetual peace and perpetual prosperity but failed to deliver. What comes next? (George Friedman | 21 January 2015, MercatorNet)

The recent leaks have made it clear the European Central Bank is implementing quantitative easing in this way because many eurozone governments are unable to pay their sovereign debt. European countries do not want to cover each other's shortfalls, either directly or by exposing the central bank to losses, a move that would make all members liable. In particular, Berlin does not want to be in a position where a series of defaults could cripple Europe as a whole and therefore cripple Germany. This is why the country has resisted quantitative easing, even in the face of depressions in Southern Europe, recessions elsewhere and contractions in demand for German products that have driven German economic growth downward. Berlin preferred those outcomes to the risk of becoming liable for the defaults of other countries.

The major negotiation over this shift took place between European Central Bank head Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Draghi realized that if quantitative easing was not done, Europe's economy could crumble. While Merkel is responsible for the fate of Germany, not Europe, she also needs a viable free trade zone in Europe because Germany exports more than 50 percent of its gross domestic product. The country cannot stand to lose free access to Europe's markets because of plunging demand, but it will not underwrite Europe's debt. The two leaders compromised by agreeing to have the central bank print the money and give it to the national banks on a formula that has yet to be determined -- and then it is every man for himself.

The European Central Bank is providing the mechanism for stimulating Europe's economy, while the eurozone member states will assume the responsibility for stimulating it -- and living with the consequences of failure. It is as if the Federal Reserve were to print money and give some to each state so that New York could buy its own debt and not become exposed to California's casual ways. The strangeness of the plan rests in the strangeness of the European experiment. California and New York share a common fate as part of the United States. While Germany and Greece are both part of the European Union, they do not and will not share a common fate. If they do not share a common fate, then what exactly is the purpose of the European Union? It was never supposed to be about "the pursuit of happiness," but instead about "peace and prosperity." The promise is the not right to pursue, but the right to have. That is a huge difference.

The sole purpose is to keep the Germans from the rest of their throats.  But demographics has already ended the danger.

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


17 killed in pro-democracy protests in Egypt on anniversary of 2011 uprising (Patrick Kingsley, 25 January 2015, The Guardian)

At least 17 people were killed across Egypt on Sunday as disparate groups of demonstrators gathered to mark the fourth anniversary of the country's 2011 uprising.

Policemen were accused of shooting dead several protesters in the suburbs of northern and western Cairo, in isolated areas known for their weekly Islamist demonstrations. Trouble also flared in the coastal city of Alexandria, where mourners buried a woman killed by police on the eve of the anniversary, and dissidents set fire to a tram.

"Down with military rule," chanted many protesters, in a reference to the untrammelled influence of Egypt's authoritarian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, a former army chief, and his coterie of military advisers.

...they can't prevent it and when it returns they'll lose again.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


Boehner, McConnell Open to Bigger Child-Care Tax Breaks (KRISTINA PETERSON, Jan. 24, 2015, WSJ)

House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) indicated in a 60 Minutes television interview that they were open to one piece of President Barack Obama 's tax overhaul proposal: increasing tax breaks for child care.

The State of the Union was about what cuts the UR wants in exchange for GOP cuts.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Technology Repaints the Payment Landscape (Nanette Byrnes, January 26, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

In developed economies, money has been digitizing for decades. Few Westerners touch a paycheck anymore. Through direct deposit, digital money is transferred electronically from our employer to our bank account every pay period. A similar process moves contributions into our 401(k) accounts or zaps money over to pay the rent, the utility bill, a student loan, or any other expense.

Yet it remains a cash-based world, with 85 percent of consumer transactions worldwide done with bills and coins. While some countries, like Singapore and the Netherlands, now use cash in a minority of payments, consumers in such diverse economies as India, Mexico, Italy, and Taiwan still execute more than 90 percent of transactions with cash, according to research by MasterCard Advisors. Even in the United States, they find, cash accounts for 55 percent of payments. New technologies, including digital wallets, cryptocurrencies, and mobile peer-to-peer payments, aim to tip that balance. They're accelerating the move away from cash in countries where alternatives to banks and credit cards are well established, and they're doing the same in developing economies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


Super Bowl predictions 2015: Madden 15 simulation (April McGee, 1/26/15, Fansided)

Super Bowl XLIX is six days away and Madden NFL 2015 has released its predictions of who will be the victor. We'll watch the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots take on each other this Sunday but Electronic Arts Inc. is giving you Super Bowl action before the big game.

The video game gods have spoken and it's a one hell of a game.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


Africa's quiet solar revolution : The continent skipped land lines for mobile phones. Now a new generation of start-ups is trying to bring sun power to rural Africa - and leapfrog the fossil fuel era.  (Lorena Galliot, JANUARY 25, 2015, CS Monitor)

Until recently, the lack of electricity in many poor areas was seen as something of an inevitable fact of life. Building power grids across long distances to reach remote communities is slow and costly, and when the people in those communities are subsistence farmers living on less than $2 a day, the returns often fail to justify the massive investment.

Now, however, a new solar energy movement is bringing kilowatts to previously unlit areas of Africa - and changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. The idea behind the latest effort isn't to tap the power of the sun to electrify every appliance in a household. Instead, it is to install a small solar panel not much bigger than an iPad to power a few lights, a cellphone charger, and other basic necessities that can still significantly alter people's lives.

Going smaller better fits the budgets of the rural poor. People use the money they normally would spend on kerosene to finance their solar systems, allowing them to pay in small, affordable installments and not rely on government help. The concept is called pay-as-you-go solar. 

January 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


The End of the Suburbs and Four Other American Migration Myths (NEIL SHAH, 1/23/15, WSJ)

People tend to focus on migrants entering and exiting the U.S., but movement within our borders is arguably a much bigger deal. In 2013, about 27% of the U.S. population was born in one state, but lived in another. Compare that to just 15% of the population that was born overseas. "Interstate" migration, in other words, is basically double international migration. And all these domestic movers shape local economies in myriad ways: They rent apartments, buy homes, lease cars, purchase groceries, have children and vote. [...]

Perhaps the biggest myth is that Americans are moving to cities in droves. Yes, Americans have been departing sparsely populated rural areas for metropolitan areas, which contain urban "cores" surrounded by suburbs. But that's not the same thing as moving to cities. While there is definitely a cultural shift among young people toward urban lifestyles--since many are putting off marriage and kids--most young people simply aren't moving at all. The 2007-09 recession, which was especially hard on 20- and 30-somethings, along with demographics and weak incomes, is making movement harder. As a result, urban cores, or "principal cities," have seen population growth recently that has rivaled suburbs in percentage terms. But the above trends likely will delay, not reverse, suburbanization. In a study of home prices and U.S. Postal Service data released Thursday, Trulia's chief economist, Jed Kolko, says "old patterns have returned" and "suburbs are now gaining population faster than urban neighborhoods." Surveys by both Trulia and the National Association of Home Builders suggest millennials still desire suburban homes. An aging U.S. population probably means slightly more suburban living, Mr. Kolko notes. And beyond demographics and the recession, the bigger point is this: Many, many more Americans move to suburbs from cities each year than the other way around--a trend the Economist noted last month. U.S. suburbs added 5.8 million domestic migrants between 2012 and 2013, and only lost 3.2 million. "Principal cities" actually saw a net loss of domestic migrants. Migration, simply put, favors lower-density suburbs over higher-density urban areas. Families, especially black and Hispanic ones, want space and better schools, even if educated 20-somethings are hanging out in Denver. The prospect of a sweeping generational shift is tempting, but much of America's migration, Mr. Stone reminds us in his posts, is intensely local.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Bill Belichick and The Big Seep (NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF, 1/25/15, The New Yorker)

Belichick is the sport's longest-tenured and most-revered head coach, because in this age of salary cap-induced parity, only his team consistently wins. To other coaches he is The Master, a brilliant tactician and motivator whose commitment to victory is absolute. Patriot games are beautiful Harvard Business School-like case studies of how to win at football. Defense is Belichick's specialty, and New England defenses are famed for deception--shrewdly disguised coverage schemes and pass-rushing pressures. Whatever the Patriots show the opposing quarterback pre-snap is not likely to imply what's really coming.

Similarly, on offense, from week to week the game plan may radically shift in emphasis from mostly run to mostly pass. Everything gets re-imagined: plays historically employed in one formation will, without warning, be shifted to another; pass routes created for a receiver may suddenly instead stipulate the tight end. A receiver who played quarterback in college, like Julian Edelman, may throw, and an offensive lineman with tacky palms, like Nate Solder, may receive. In the N.F.L.'s surfeit of rules, Belichick sees opportunity. The Patriots substitution patterns and creative use of receiver eligibility make a mockery of teams that don't scour the small print.

Pettine, of the Browns, also likes to say, "There are no moral victories in this league." The Patriot's week-to-week expertise can only be accomplished with a rigorous attention to detail, and a ruthless lack of sentiment. Belichick has said, in another press conference, that his approach to football follows that of Dwight Eisenhower's to military tactics: "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable." I spent a year embedded with The New York Jets, and the coaches used to talk about Belichick's immersion in everything. He made himself familiar, they claimed, with each N.F.L. field; he thought about the surfaces in relation to weather and footwear. One year, the coaches said, the Patriots beat the Bears in Chicago under stormy skies in part because the Patriots had traction and "The Bears were slipping all over the place." Make no mistake, the Patriots feature excellent players. But they, too, better not slip up. The list of former stars Belichick has abruptly traded or released onto the street, as they say in N.F.L., is not short. In November, young Patriots running back Jonas Gray ran for more than two hundred yards and four touchdowns against the Colts, earning him the cover of Sports Illustrated. The next week his alarm failed to sound and he was late arriving to the facility. Belichick removed him from the game plan more or less for good.

Belichick's success naturally makes him compelling to others, but the man mostly remains aloof. His press conferences after games are so notably unrevealing that that the Patriots may as well play Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" instead. In private, Belichick is said to discourse about his sport in riveting ways, but good luck to the rest of us. Belichick never explains. His hooded personal style reflects his introverted football approach, and, as other teams note his success and go similarly quiet, it's Belichick we have to thank for the paranoid style in American football. Pretty to watch for an hour on Sunday, but not a lot of fun otherwise.

Brady is the coach's tuxedo-poised, efficient on-field expression of self. The quarterback is also Michael Jordan to Belichick's Phil Jackson in the sense that the ingenious tactician triumphed at the lead only when abetted by a great player. Belichick was a losing head coach until, in 2001, serendipity in the form of injury to another quarterback put the low sixth round draft choice under center for the Patriots. That good fortune, incidentally, is also another example of Belichickian acumen. He prefers to trade down during the college draft, exchanging high choices for extra low ones, amassing as many choices as possible, reasoning that, since drafting science is inexact, more picks mean better odds of hitting on a Pro Bowler. Football players are young people; you can't be sure what kind of a man they'll grow into. At the N.F.L.'s Scouting Combine for draft-eligible players, Brady looked gangly and unathletic. Nobody, including Belichick, could have known how competitive Brady was, how he would drive his talent with study and application and exercise to join Peyton Manning as one of the two lethal modern impresarios of the game's most important position.

Last week, defensive lineman Chris Canty, of the Baltimore Ravens, appeared on NBCSN's "Pro Football Talk," and said, "The Patriots are habitual line-steppers." The Jets thought the same: when the team travelled to play in Foxborough, Massachusetts, I was advised by more than one person to leave my playbook at home because "funny things tend to happen up there." After the game, all the trashcans the Jets players used were emptied and everything was carted away--just in case. There were rumors of Patriots defensive players calling out Jets plays before the snap. In 2007, when the Jets coach was a former Patriots assistant, the Patriots illegally videotaped the Jets defensive signals, in a scandal that came to be known as Spygate. Something that brazen, which could offer the Patriots only a small advantage, told other teams that Belichick might try anything to get an advantage. Creating such a distracting anxiety in opponents was itself an edge for Belichick. But the Jets coaches I knew, including head coach Rex Ryan, admired Belichick, and considered him, in Ryan's emphatic words, "the best"--the Ur football coach. "He's true to himself," Ryan used to say approvingly of his dour rival. Mike Pettine often says that the coaches for whom players won't extend themselves are those who affect qualities unnatural in them. The game is so blunt and physical it can't tolerate a phony.

A week that could been filled with lively back and forth anticipating a promising Super Bowl between the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks, two marvellous, well-balanced teams, devolved into a national debate over whether and why Belichick keeps scuffing his peerless, leaderly standing with jim-jim maneuvers that afford him what appear to be trivial advantage. Since Belichick is footballs' most suspicious mind, it would seem that his character-destructive flaw is that he is so driven he validates his own suspicions. Every football coach wants to win. Belichick's darkness, it would seem, is that he wants to win too much.

How is it anyway that the N.F.L. allows quarterbacks to choose their own game balls? Isn't this just inviting trouble, ushering a Saint Bernard into a meat locker and then shouting treachery when all the sirloin's gone? Baseball pitchers have to take what the umpire gives them. Why do quarterbacks get all the soft treatment? The reason is touchdowns. America loves touchdowns, and just as the N.F.L.'s blocking, tackling, and pass-defense rules have skewed towards the protection of quarterbacks and the freedom of their receivers, allowing Brady and his positional cohort to get a good grip is good business.

In such a fast, precise game, where passing windows are narrow and quick to close, ball preference matters. Just as another Boston perfectionist, the Red Sox's Ted Williams, was particular to the fraction of an ounce about the heft of his bats, it stands to reason that quarterbacks can be very fussy about their equipment. So can cornerbacks. During my time with the Jets, on Friday afternoons following practice, I often joined a group of defensive players and coaches in a game called "crossbar." The object was to stand thirty yards from the goal post and try to hit the crossbar with a thrown football. To begin, a bag of footballs was emptied and each contestant selected his ball for use. Given a choice, everyone had preferences. Some of these preferences were strong. After balls were thrown, it was the job of two rookies standing under the goal post to retrieve and toss them back out to us. Once, somebody threw me the ball that All-Pro cornerback, and current Patriots star, Darrelle Revis had been using. Rev is a wonderful guy, but don't get between him and his crossbar gamer. He ripped it out of my out-stretched hands, pivoting off of my extended index finger in such a way that there was splintering sensation.

We've established a few facts in this kerfuffle--atmosphere impacts psi (lowering it in colder weather) and Tom Brady likes the ball set at the lowest legal psi to begin with--but a number have gone begging.  Here are a few that would be interesting to know:

(1) what psi does Andrew Luck prefer and what were the Colts' balls at when they were measured?  If he likes them at the max and they measured closer to the min during the in-game weigh-in, then that's a point in the Pats' favor.  If they were still at the max that's damaging.

(2) what psi do the rest of the qbs in the League prefer?  Is Brady the only one who is setting them at minimum?  We've already heard that Aaron Rodgers prefers them over-inflated.  If the preference is generally at the max (or over), then the Pats do stand to reap a big advantage from the underinflation that occurs later in the season, especially at Foxboro, where they're generally playing until the Super Bowl.

(3) does the NFL have any record on in-game measurements, or was this a one off?  If re-weighs historically show that balls always remaion at their initial psi, that's pretty damaging for the Pats.  If this is such a rarity that there is no data, then the Pats will have to get a pass.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Why Labor Force Participation Is Still so Low (Allison Schrager, January 19, 2015, Businessweek)

The latest U.S. jobs report, released on Jan. 9, found that unemployment in the U.S. is nearly back to normal, at 5.6 percent. Still, a more telling statistic, the share of Americans in the labor force (people working or looking for work), barely budged at just 62.7 percent. That figure was significantly higher before the recession, at around 66 percent, but labor force participation started to fall in 2009 and has since been trending down.

It has quite a ways to drop before it gets to historic norms (even recent history) following the social experiment of adding blacks and women to the work force.

Even if it only drops these 4 points, it completely eliminates wage pressure and means protracted if not semi-permanent deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Jeb Bush Sounds Sympathetic Note for Immigrants (NICK CORASANITI, JAN. 23, 2015, NY Times)

Speaking at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention and exposition, Mr. Bush seemed at times to be responding to President Obama's State of the Union address, during which the president pushed for government benefits like more generous tax credits for the middle class. [...]

The speech was the first offered by Mr. Bush since he announced on Facebook that he was actively exploring a run for the presidency. He avoided specifics as he laid out his foreign policy and economic views.

He said it was time for Congress to undertake a major overhaul of the tax code, much as it did in 1986. A simpler tax code, Mr. Bush said, would help rein in government.

He also called for "a patriotic energy policy," saying the president should give the go-ahead for the Keystone XL pipeline and generate more energy industry jobs.

"The first thing we should do is approve the XL pipeline, for crying out loud," Mr. Bush said. "That is a no-brainer."

The former governor's manner was studious and guarded, radiating the same unassuming, cerebral charm that has endeared him to voters in the past, while occasionally speeding up his diction as he rattled off facts and figures.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Jill Leovy's 'Ghettoside' : a review of GHETTOSIDE : A True Story of Murder in America By Jill Leovy  (JENNIFER GONNERMAN, JAN. 21, 2015, NY Times Book Review)

In her timely new book, Jill Leovy examines one of the most disturbing facts about life in America: that African-American males are, as she puts it, "just 6 percent of the country's population but nearly 40 percent of those murdered." Leovy describes neighborhoods steeped in pain: A mother, dressed in a baggy T‑shirt adorned with her murdered son's picture, spends all day indoors, too terrified to step outside; the brother of a homicide victim purposely meanders through violent streets in the hopes that he too will meet the same fate; grieving parents all wear the same haunted expression, the empty stare that one police chaplain calls "homicide eyes." Leovy's focus is South Los Angeles, though similar stories abound in many of the nation's poorest communities. [...]

As Leovy sees it, the problem in a place like Watts is not only the high homicide rate, but the fact that so many people who commit murder are never punished. In the 13 years before the homicide that opens her book, she writes, "a suspect was arrested in 38 percent of the 2,677 killings involving black male victims in the city of Los Angeles." This lack of accountability is the primary cause, she argues, of the high homicide rate in some African-­American neighborhoods: "Where the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death," she writes, "homicide becomes endemic."

There are more than 2.2 million people now confined in American prisons and jails, and yet, in her view, the criminal justice system is not only"oppressive" but also "inadequate." "Forty years after the civil rights movement, impunity for the murder of black men remained America's great, though mostly invisible, race problem," she writes. "The institutions of criminal justice, so remorseless in other ways in an era of get-tough sentencing and 'preventive' policing" -- like stop-and-frisk -- "remained feeble when it came to answering for the lives of black murder victims."

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


MLB'S HISTORY OF ALTERED EQUIPMENT (Tracy Ringolsby, 1/25/15, Sports on Earth)

Bobby Valentine, when he managed the Rangers, accused the maintenance crew at the Metrodome of having a large fan behind home plate blow air toward the outfield when the Twins were batting. One game, he even tied ribbons to the screen in front of the fan to try and prove his point.

Valentine also was involved in an incident at Tiger Stadium with groundskeeper Frank Feneck over the "sandbox" around home plate, which Valentine claimed was softened to aid Tiger pitcher Doyle Alexander. Unhappy with Feneck's effort to correct the problem, Valentine grabbed a rake and began to work the dirt himself, which prompted a confrontation between the two men.

Tiger general manager Bill Lajoie, concerned a fight was going to break out, quickly called the pressbox and ordered public relations director Dan Ewald to "start the National Anthem now," seven minutes ahead of scheduled. It worked. The music started and the two men at home plate dropped their rakes and looked at the flag.


Hitters have had their moments, too. Several have been known for doctoring bats to help hit balls farther, including Albert Belle, who was suspended for 10 games for using a corked bat against the White Sox on July 15, 1994. Any hope of Belle appealing probably ended when it was discovered that after umpire Dave Phillips locked the bat in the umpire's room at Comiskey Park, Indians pitcher Jason Grimsley crawled through the ceiling to the umpire's room, dropped down and switched bats.

Tigers first baseman Norm Cash admitted after the 1961 season, in which he hit .364 with 41 home runs and 132 RBIs, that he used a corked bat. He even showed Sports Illustrated how to cork it.

Graig Nettles was suspended in 1974 when in the at-bat after hitting a home run, the bat came apart and six superballs flew across the infield. In the '70s, players were known to order unfinished bats, and there was a facility in Newport Beach, Calif., that would coat the bats with a substance made from super balls.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


When you wish upon a star: nuclear fusion and the promise of a brighter tomorrow (Alok Jha,  25 January 2015, The Guardian)

Visiting the Iter site, I meet Steven Cowley, who has been working on the theoretical physics of nuclear fusion for three decades and is now chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA). The last time he saw the site, there was still mud at the bottom of the main pit. Standing over the recently finished concrete platform, he gestures to where the super-hot plasma will one day start burning and fusing atoms. "It's not ordinary by any stretch of the imagination and when it's working, you know, it will be one of the great wonders of the world."

Cowley has been waiting for Iter his whole career. His commitment to it is not just driven by a desire to answer scientific questions that have occupied his mind for so many decades, though. "We don't know where we are going to get our energy from in the second half of this century, and if we don't get fusion working we are going to be really stuck," he says. "We have to make [Iter] work. It's not just because I work in it that I think that: it has to work and all this effort of thousands of people all the way round the world is to make sure that in 2100 you can flick a switch on the wall and have electricity."

Nuclear fusion is different from the more familiar nuclear fission, which involves splitting heavy atoms of uranium to release energy and which is at the heart of all nuclear power stations. The promise of fusion, if scientists can get it to work, is huge - unlimited power without any carbon emissions and very little radioactive waste.

The process goes on at the core of every star and the idea that mimicking it could become a source of power on Earth has been around since the years after the second world war. But for many decades fusion has seemed out of reach, requiring materials and an understanding of the chaotic behaviour of hot plasmas that was beyond the technology of the time. However, decades of smaller experiments have led to Iter, the giant project in which fusion scientists have their best possible chance to finally show that this technology could work.

Iter has its roots in a summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev towards the end of the cold war, in 1985. They agreed on very little but, almost as an afterthought, they mentioned developing fusion as a new source of energy that could benefit all mankind. Europe and Japan joined the Americans and Russians on the tentative project soon after it was conceived and, today, it also includes China, India and South Korea - in total there are 35 countries involved.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


TV talk show pioneer Joe Franklin, who gave breaks to Al Pacino and Bill Cosby, dies at 88 (KAREN MATTHEWS, 1/25/15, Associated Press)

Franklin often is credited with developing the standard TV talk show format, sitting behind a desk while interviewing wanna-be celebrities, minor celebrities and the occasional bona fide celebrity.

The host of "The Joe Franklin Show" started in TV in 1950. By the early 1990s, he often said, he had chatted with more than 300,000 guests, including Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli and Madonna. But the notables often had to share air time on his low-budget show with a tap-dancing dentist or a man who whistled through his nose.

Garrin recalled how Franklin, who was parodied by Billy Crystal on "Saturday Night Live," hired a young Bette Midler as his studio singer and gave a chance on his show to every up-and-comer trying to make it big: Bruce Springsteen, Woody Allen and Dustin Hoffman among them.

"He was a wonderful guy," Garrin said Sunday. "He gave everybody an opportunity." [...]

Tuesday was the first scheduled broadcast Franklin had missed in more than 60 years, said Garrin, who worked with him for 20 of those years, booking all his interviews and recording the shows in his studios in Times Square between 1991 and 2010.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Obama and Modi to Discuss Ways to Invigorate Trade (ANANT VIJAY KALA, 1/25/15, WSJ)

[B]oth the U.S. and India think trade between their two counties could be much higher if some barriers could be lowered.

India's total trade with the U.S., including of services and goods, currently stands at about $100 billion. The two countries want to raise that figure to $500 billion.

Increasing the opportunities for trade in defense, aviation and nuclear-energy products, where the U.S. has an advantage, will be among the areas of focus during Mr. Obama's visit.

America "would like to see U.S. companies get greater market access over the next four or five years," said N.R. Bhanumurthy, an economist at think-tank National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.

In particular the U.S. wants India open its market to more international completion and investment in industries like retail, power and banking. It also wants clearer guidelines on how multinational companies are taxed.

One area where U.S. has out gunned China has been foreign direct investment. Over the past 15 years American companies have invested a total of $13 billion in India. China's FDI in India hasn't even reached $500 million.

Obama, Modi announce nuclear power deal (Deutsche-Welle, 1/25/15)

Addressing a joint press conference on the first day of Obama's visit to India, Modi said in the capital New Delhi that both countries had achieved a breakthrough with regard to nuclear technologies.

"I am pleased that six years after we signed our bilateral agreement, we are moving towards commercial cooperation, consistent with our laws (and) international legal obligations," Modi said at the joint press conference with Obama.

From a historical persp;ective, the UR's presidency will be remembered as being obsessed with free trade and the War on Terror.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Republican Governors Buck Party Line on Raising Taxes (ADAM NAGOURNEY and SHAILA DEWAN, JAN. 24, 2015, NY Times)

At least eight Republican governors have ventured into this once forbidden territory: There are proposals for raising the sales tax in Michigan, a tax on e-cigarettes in Utah, and gas taxes in South Carolina and South Dakota, to name a few. In Arizona, the new Republican governor has put off, in the face of a $1 billion budget shortfall, a campaign promise to eliminate the unpopular income tax there.

"It's not based on partisanship; it's based on common sense and good government," said Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, a Republican who has urged voters to support a ballot measure that would raise $1.9 billion by increasing the sales tax and gas tax. "We've been underinvesting in Michigan for some time, so I view it as a way to, long term, save us resources."

Republican governors are now in office in 31 states -- the highest number since 1998 -- and they have certainly not stepped away from the party's bedrock platform of smaller government and lower taxes. Indeed, some of the proposed tax increases, like one from the governor of South Carolina, are part of broader proposals that would result in net tax reductions, usually by cutting income taxes.

What do partisans care for common sense and good government?  The transition from taxing income to taxing consumption is occurring with or without them.
Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


The algorithmic CEO : Get ready for the most sweeping business change since the Industrial Revolution.  (Ram Charan  JANUARY 22, 2015, Fortune)

The single greatest instrument of change in today's business world, and the one that is creating major uncertainties for an ever-growing universe of companies, is the advancement of mathematical algorithms and their related sophisticated software. Never before has so much artificial mental power been available to so many--power to deconstruct and predict patterns and changes in everything from consumer behavior to the maintenance requirements and operating lifetimes of industrial machinery. In combination with other technological factors--including broadband mobility, sensors, and vastly increased data-crunching capacity--algorithms are dramatically changing both the structure of the global economy and the nature of business.

Though still in its infancy, the use of algorithms has already become an engine of creative destruction in the business world, fracturing time-tested business models and implementing dazzling new ones. 

January 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 PM


31 Times Republicans Applauded Obama During the SOTU (Video) (Steven Dennis and JM Rieger, Jan. 21, 2015, Roll Call)

Republicans applauded President Barack Obama some 31 times over the course of the 2015 State of the Union address, and we've helpfully clipped them into a three-minute video.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


THE GREAT CHARTER AT 800 : WHY IT STILL MATTERS (Charles J. Chaput, 1 . 23 . 15, First Things)

Here's my premise. Our political system presumes a civil society that pre-exists the state. It's an idea that is already emerging in Magna Carta's demand for recognition of the rights of the Church, and the rights of persons in their legal relations with one another and with their rulers. In the American model, the state is meant to be modest in scope. It's constrained by checks and balances. Mediating institutions like the family, churches, and fraternal organizations feed the life of the civic community. They stand between the individual and the state. And when they decline, the state fills the vacuum they leave. So protecting these mediating institutions is vital to our freedoms. The state rarely fears individuals. Alone, individuals have little power. They can be isolated or ignored. But organized communities--including communities of faith--are a different matter. They can resist. They can't be ignored. And that's why they pose a problem for social engineers and an expanding state.

We need to remember that democracy is not an end in itself. Majority opinion doesn't determine what's good and true. Like every other form of power, democracy can become a means of repression and idolatry.

The scholar Robert Kraynak argues that democracy--for all its strengths--also carries the seeds of its own kind of social tyranny. The reason is simple. Democracy advances the forces of mass culture. Those same forces tend to narrow the aims of life from beauty, heroic virtue, and transcendent meaning to the pursuits of work, material consumption and entertainment. Human life settles into "a one-dimensional materialism and [a diminished moral] existence" that undermine human dignity and eventually tend to a withering of the spirit.

To put it another way: The right to pursue happiness does not include a right to excuse or ignore evil in ourselves or anyone else. When we divorce our politics from a grounding in virtue and truth, we transform our country from a living moral organism into a kind of golem of legal machinery without a soul.

This is why working for good laws is so important. This is why getting involved politically is so urgent. This is why every one of our votes matters.We need to elect the best public leaders, who then create the best policies and appoint the best judges. This has a huge impact on the kind of nation we become. Democracies depend for their survival on people of conviction fighting for what they believe in the public square--legally and peacefully, but zealously and without apologies. That includes all of us.

Critics often accuse religious believers of pursuing a "culture war" on issues like abortion, sexuality, marriage and the family, and religious liberty. And in a sense, they're right. We are working hard for what we believe. But of course, so are the people on the other side of all these issues--and no one seems to call them "culture warriors." In any case, neither they nor we should feel bad about fighting for our convictions. Democracy thrives on the struggle of competing ideas. We steal from ourselves and from our fellow citizens if we try to avoid that struggle. Two of the worst qualities in any human being are cowardice and acedia--and by acedia I mean the kind of moral sloth that masquerades as tolerance but leaves a soul so empty of courage and character that even the devil Screwtape would spit it out.

In real life, democracy is built on two practical pillars: cooperation and conflict. It requires both. Cooperation, because people have a natural hunger for solidarity that makes all community possible. And conflict, because people have competing visions of what's right and true. The more deeply they hold their convictions, the more naturally people seek to have those convictions shape society.

We have a duty to treat all persons with charity and justice. We have a duty to seek common ground where possible. But that's never an excuse for compromising with grave evil. It's never an excuse for being naive. And it's never an excuse for standing idly by while our liberty to preach and serve God in the public square is whittled away. We need to work vigorously in law and politics to form our culture in a godly understanding of human dignity and the purpose of human freedom. Otherwise, we should stop trying to fool ourselves that we really believe what we claim to believe.

There's more. To work as the Founders intended, America needs a special kind of citizen. It needs mature, well-informed men and women able to reason clearly and rule themselves prudently. If that's true--and it is--then the greatest danger to our liberty today is not religious extremism. It's a culture of narcissism that cocoons us in vulgarity, distraction, and noise, while excluding God from the human imagination.

Kierkegaard once wrote that "the introspection of silence is the condition of all educated intercourse," and that a culture of constant chattering "is afraid of the silence which reveals its emptiness." Silence feeds the soul. Silence invites God to speak. And silence is exactly what American life no longer allows. Securing the place of religious freedom in our society is therefore not just a matter of law and politics, but of prayer and our own interior renewal.

What I'm suggesting is this. The America of memory is not the America of the present moment or the emerging future. Sooner or later, a nation basing itself on a degraded notion of liberty, on license rather than real freedom--in other words, a nation of abortion, confused sexuality, consumer appetites, and indifference to immigrants and the poor--will not be worthy of its founding ideals. And on that day, it will have no claim on the virtuous heart.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Obama's Tax-Cut Plan Could Start a Political Bidding War (JOHN CASSIDY, 1/19/15, The New Yorker)

[P]erhaps the most interesting aspect of Obama's plan is what it augurs for the G.O.P. nomination fight. To be sure, there's very little chance that any of the Republican candidates will embrace the idea of raising tax levies on the rich. Many of those expected to run have signed Grover Norquist's pledge never to raise taxes under any circumstances; reneging would plunge them into an unholy war with the right. "Raising taxes on people that are successful is not going to make people that are struggling more successful," Senator Marco Rubio, who also appeared on "Face the Nation," said. "The good news about free enterprise is that everyone can succeed without punishing anyone."

But just because Rubio and his fellow Presidential hopefuls won't support the first half of Obama's plan doesn't mean they can't embrace the tax-cutting half. To the contrary, it's easy to imagine middle-class tax cuts emerging as a central issue in the G.O.P. primaries, with the candidates vying to outdo one another. And, unlike Hillary and her economic advisers, the G.O.P. hopefuls are unlikely to be overly concerned with how to pay for the giveaways they propose.

Not only should the Peace Dividend be returned to the American people, but the dangers of a balanced budget or surplus are massive. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Liberman's party calls to disqualify new united Arab faction (TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 24, 2015)

The Yisrael Beytenu party, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, said Saturday that it would file a petition with the Central Elections Committee asking to disqualify the new united Arab party from running in the national elections on March 17. [...]

Yisrael Beytenu called on other parties to join the petition against the united Arab list "to avoid an absurd situation in which members of Knesset act against the state."

Tough to beat trotting out the old divided loyalties canard in the Jewish state itself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Urban Headwinds, Suburban Tailwinds (Trulia, 1/22/15, Forbes)

In November, Trulia asked more than 2,000 American adults whether they lived in an urban, suburban, or rural area, and where they wanted to live in five years. We didn't define urban, suburban, and rural, but instead left them open to interpretation. (See note.) Rural areas were the winner. Just 21% of respondents said they were rural residents, but 28% said they would like to be living in a rural area in five years.

Urban residents feel the tug of the suburbs. For every 10 suburbanites who said they wanted to live in an urban area in five years, 16 urban dwellers said they wished to live in the suburbs. Even among young adults aged 18-34-- who are more likely to live in urban areas than older adults are--more wanted to move from city to suburbs than the other way around, though the sample size was small.

To put it another way: Urban residents were the least likely to want to live in a similar area in five years. 

We can't liberate the inner city poor fast enough.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


All change : The power industry's main concern has always been supply. Now it is learning to manage demand (The Economist, Jan 17th 2015)

THE BASIC MODEL of the electricity industry was to send high voltages over long distances to passive customers. Power stations were big and costly, built next to coal mines, ports, oil refineries or--for hydroelectric generation--reservoirs. Many of these places were a long way from the industrial and population centres that used the power. The companies' main concern was to supply the juice, and particularly to meet peaks in demand. Most countries (and in America, regions) were energy islands, with little interconnection to other systems.

That model, though simple and profitable for utilities and generators, was costly for consumers (and sometimes taxpayers). But it is now changing to a "much more colourful picture", says Michael Weinhold of Siemens, a big German engineering company. Not only are renewables playing a far bigger role; thanks to new technology, demand can also be tweaked to match supply, not the other way round.

As a result, the power grid is becoming far more complicated. It increasingly involves sending power at low voltages over short distances, using flexible arrangements: the opposite of the traditional model. In some ways the change is akin to what has happened in computing. A 2010 report for BCG, a consultancy, drew a parallel with the switch from mainframes and terminals to cloud storage and the internet.

Traditional power stations and grids still play a role in this world, but not a dominant one. They have to compete with new entrants, and with existing participants doing new things. One example is the thriving business of trading what Mr Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute has named "negawatts": unused electricity. The technique is known as "demand response"--adjusting consumption to meet supply, not the other way round.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Auschwitz 70th anniversary: one survivor goes back to the camp (Darren Richman, 23 Jan 2015, The Telegraph)

It starts with a number and that number is 84303.

My grandfather, Zigi Shipper, often uses the word "lucky" in relation to his life; an interesting attitude towards enduring the hell on earth that was Auschwitz. However, one way in which he is fortunate is that he does not have the number tattooed on his person, unlike so many who were interned in the concentration camp; for reasons he still doesn't quite understand.

I once asked him how he can remember the number, a lifetime after these things occurred.

He said: "The question should not be how can I remember but how can I forget?" He explained that, more often than not, he will think 84303 is his PIN, and begin to type it into the card machine when paying for his shopping at a supermarket. He usually ends up having to call my grandmother for a reminder.

The horrors he witnessed remain his first thought when he wakes, his last before falling asleep.

Zigi was born in 1930 in Lodz, Poland. He was 13 when he arrived in Auschwitz, in 1944. After years in the ghetto, he was so hungry that when he arrived and saw smoke rising from the chimneys, he instantly assumed fresh bread was being baked. It is a memory that will never leave him.

Nevertheless, at the end of last year, my grandfather, now 85, went back to Auschwitz. I went with him, along with several other members of my family. After the horrors he witnessed there, it would be understandable if he never wanted to set foot in the place again. But instead, this man, who spends his days talking about his experiences in schools for the sole purpose of educating and inspiring young people, wanted to go, and encouraged us to join him.

I had been to the camps before, as a teenager, a day that I spent quoting TV shows with a friend in a bid to shield ourselves from it all. This trip was very different, and its intensity never let up. My overwhelming sensation, for most of the day, was a desire to hold someone.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Ernie Banks, Hopeful Mr. Cub, Dies at 83; His Mantra Was 'Let's Play 2' (RICHARD GOLDSTEIN, JAN. 23, 2015, NY Times)

The most popular Cub ever in a franchise dating to the 1870s, Banks became as much an institution in Chicago as the first Mayor Daley, Studs Terkel, Michael Jordan and George Halas.

Banks cut a slender figure at the plate in his right-handed stance, at 6 feet 1 and 180 pounds, but he whipped a light bat with powerful wrists, hitting 512 home runs. He was named the most valuable player in the National League in 1958 and 1959, the first to win the award in consecutive years, although the Cubs finished tied for fifth place each time. He was an All-Star in 11 seasons and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1977, his first year of eligibility.

Banks became the Cubs' first black player on Sept. 17, 1953, six years after Jackie Robinson broke the modern major league color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Like Robinson, he had played for the Kansas City Monarchs, one of the Negro leagues' best-known ball clubs, and when he joined the Cubs, many major league teams were still all white. He was among the first black stars of the modern game, along with Robinson, Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe of the Dodgers, Larry Doby with the Cleveland Indians, Hank Aaron with the Milwaukee Braves and Monte Irvin and then Willie Mays with the New York Giants.

Banks received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President Obama in 2013. "I handed the president a bat that belonged to Jackie Robinson," he told Sports Illustrated the next year. "The president held the bat in his hands -- that was a thrill."

Apart from Banks's slugging feats, Mr. Obama hailed his "cheer and his optimism and his eternal faith that someday the Cubs would go all the way."

"And that's serious belief," Mr. Obama added, to laughter. "That is something that even a White Sox fan like me can respect."

Long after retiring, Banks recalled the sweltering midsummer's day in 1969 when he bubbled over in a phrase that became his trademark.

"We were in first place, and all the reporters were already in the locker room when I arrived at Wrigley for a game with the Cardinals," Banks told The Arizona Daily Star. "I walked in and said: 'Boy, it's a beautiful day. Let's play two.' They all thought I was crazy."

As if we needed further reason to believe this is the year the Cubs finally do it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


End Obamacare, and people could die. That's okay. (Michael R. Strain January 23, 2015, Washington Post)

Among the many needed reforms to our health-care system, one should be that we move closer to universal insurance coverage -- on this point, the president is correct. But what should universal coverage look like? It requires a nuanced answer.

The insurance system should be designed to financially protect people from low-probability events, rather than provide comprehensive coverage for all health events, as Obamacare envisions. People should be free to pay for whatever care they like, but the government should not take money out of their paychecks to subsidize small-scale events that will happen with near-certainty (such as my annual sinus infection) or truly elective procedures (some states choose to cover acupuncture and most cover chiropractic care under their interpretations of the law). Instead, universal coverage should concern itself with the catastrophic expenses associated with serious medical events that will affect a minority of the population. People who can afford such coverage should be incentivized to purchase it, and those who can't should receive a government subsidy to do so.

Such a plan would lower premiums and offer more choice than Obamacare. It would require less spending, fewer tax dollars, less coercion and less regulation, leaving more money for other important government programs or for taxpayers to spend as they wish. A few conservative plans along these lines already exist, and not just among economists and think tank scholars. GOP Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah), along with former senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), have a well-developed, well-known proposal, the thrust of which has growing support among many conservative intellectuals and members of Congress.

The Burr-Coburn-Hatch plan would repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate to purchase insurance, and leave the current system of employer-sponsored coverage largely in place. It would cap the tax preference for employer-provided coverage (though only for extremely generous plans) and use the revenue to provide a tax credit for people who don't get their health insurance through their jobs. [...]

Repealing Obamacare and replacing it along these lines may result in more people dying -- or fewer. That's a pretty tough forecast to make. But as with speed limits, gun laws, agency regulations and many other policies, including Obamacare, the shape of future health-care policy will require trade-offs. There are only so many resources, so choices between directing them to health care and allowing them to flow to other uses are inevitable. (Thankfully, such choices are both reversible and adjustable.)

If Obamacare perishes -- and I hope it does -- conservatives should be ready to coalesce around a concrete replacement plan, like I've described here. And liberals should be ready to debate them, knowing all the while that they, too, are advocating policies that will fail to save some of the sick and injured from the fate that ultimately awaits us all.

We all know where we're headed : a mandate for those who can afford their own catastrophic plan and HSA (with a simple model plan available to all Americans); subsidies for those who can't; taxes on plans that provide more comprehensive coverage (because they drive costs); and means-testing for Medicare.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Behind Drop in Oil Prices, Washington's Hand (Eduardo Porter, 1/20/15, NY Times)

What's missing from the discussion is an understanding of how the oil market got to this juncture and, notably, who brought it here.

The answer is surprising. It was the United States, mostly. Last year, the United States produced more oil than it had in 25 years, surpassing Saudi Arabia as the world's largest producer.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of this story is that one of the main participants in this revolution is the American government. [...]

Interest in shale deposits was driven by a search for gas, not oil.

But the oil embargo gave them a big boost. Congress passed the Energy Reorganization Act of 1974, creating the Energy Research and Development Administration -- which would soon become the Department of Energy.

This kick-started a period of heavy government investment in research and development to recover gas from shale. The agency provided funds for "directionally deviated" drilling, a precursor to the horizontal drilling used today. It subsidized the development of polycrystalline diamond compact bits to cut through the shale. It performed the first big hydraulic fracturing. Energy Department labs created a multi-well fracking test site.

Research at the Sandia National Laboratories into underground imaging -- based on microseismic monitoring once used to detect coal mine collapses -- was critical to map fractures and position wells.

George Mitchell, the shale fracking pioneer, got help from the government, including in the deployment of a horizontal well and microseismic mapping.

The government did not always get it right. In fact, research into fracking initially took a back seat to efforts to produce "synthetic fuels" from things like "oil shales" -- which to date have delivered little in terms of cost-effective energy.

The government could also stand in the way. Price regulation was a significant barrier to investment into "unconventional" gas deposits until it was freed during the Reagan administration.

Of course, the government assistance would have come to nothing without private entrepreneurs who took risks and followed market signals. Fracking was mostly reserved for gas until gas prices started falling a few years ago, shifting producers' efforts to oil, which could be exploited using similar technologies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


What was behind Israel's strike in Syria that killed an Iranian general? (Jerusalem Post, 1/23/15)

Perhaps, according to the former commander of Israel's southern front, Yoav Galant, timing was dictated by the Israeli election cycle. As the number two man in the rising Kulanu party, it might be prudent simply to chalk up this claim to his need to challenge Prime Minister Netanyahu's motivations.

And perhaps that is all it is. Although Galant has since retracted his accusation, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has examined the record of especially audacious military initiatives in Israel's history with an eye on the political calendar. What the reporter discovered was that the June 1981 strike against the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak; the 1996 invasion of Lebanon; the 2009 invasion of Gaza; and the 2012 Gaza war were all launched when the incumbent prime minister faced a close election, or there was a political reputation at stake. There's an organic link between domestic politics and foreign policy in virtually all countries, so this wouldn't necessarily be a huge surprise.

With less than two months to election day, polls now show a slightly leftward tilt away from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Al-Qaeda's Forerunner : An interview with author and journalist Yaroslav Trofimov, on his latest book describing the 1979 takeover of the Grand Mosque in Mecca (Michael Young | September 27, 2007, Reason)

"Indeed, as Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, the governor of Asir province and son of King Faisal, put it a few years ago, "we have eliminated the individuals who committed the Juhayman crime, but we have overlooked the ideology that was behind the crime. We let it spread in the country as if it did not exist."

He said this because in order to secure religious assent from the clergy, or ulama--assent without which many Saudi troops refused to fight in the holy shrine--the royal family had to promise the clerics that it would reverse the slow modernization that had been occurring in the kingdom up until then. The royals fulfilled their promise. In the weeks after the siege ended, female newscasters were taken off television; the enforcement of the ban on alcohol became much more severe; and vast amounts of oil money started flowing into the clerics' Wahhabi proselytizing campaign around the world. And it's precisely this missionary effort all over the Muslim world that subsequently created a pool of eager recruits for Al-Qaeda."

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Jeb Bush Attacks Obama Policies, Says GOP Needs 'Hopeful' Message in 2016 (ALEJANDRO LAZO, Jan. 23, 2015, WSJ)

Mr. Bush laid out a series of attacks on the president and Washington, taking on rules laid out by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Dodd-Frank Act, the Affordable Care Act, and the president's foreign policy, among other issues. He referred to politicians in Washington as the "Maytag repairman," saying "nothing gets done."

The former Florida governor--whose father and brother are both former presidents--said the next president has a "duty" to roll back some of Mr. Obama's executive actions both "where the president has gone beyond his constitutional authority," and when he hadn't.

During a question-and-answer session following the address, Mr. Bush described the absence of a high-level American official in Paris following the recent terrorist attacks in that city as "a huge missed opportunity."

He also emphasized "a patriotic energy policy" with cautious regulation of hydraulic fracturing, an "economically-driven" immigration system, and touted his education record in Florida.

January 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


All aboard the 'Lolita Express': Flight logs reveal the many trips Bill Clinton and Alan Dershowitz took on pedophile Jeffrey Epstein's private jet with anonymous women (DAILYMAIL.COM, 22 January 2015)

Just released flight records show Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has been flying with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein on the financier's private jet dubbed the 'Lolita Express' since as early as 1997, despite public statements that they were only acquaintances.

The high-profile lawyer has been distancing himself from Epstein ever since a young woman named Virginia Roberts filed a lawsuit claiming she was recruited to work as a 'sex slave' for Epstein when she was just 15, naming both Dershowitz and Prince Andrew as two of her molesters.

The flight records, obtained by Gawker, also show former President Bill Clinton rode on Epstein's jet at least 11 times, and often with two of Epstein's female associates believed to have provided the dozens of underage girls to their boss and his well-connected friends. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Patriots Always Keep a Tight Grip on the Ball (MICHAEL SALFINO, Jan. 23, 2015, WSJ)

New England has had an uncanny ability to hold on to the football for quite some time. According to data compiled by Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Patriots fumble far less than any other team that plays outdoors, where the elements can make the football harder to handle. Beginning in the 2010 season, Patriots players have fumbled (whether lost or recovered) once every 73 touches from scrimmage, which is 52% better than the league average. The next best team is the Ravens, who have fumbled once every 55 touches.

Additionally, according to Stats, LLC, the six players who have played extensively for the Patriots and other teams in this span all fumbled far less frequently wearing the New England uniform. Including recovered fumbles, Danny Amendola, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker, Brandon LaFell and LeGarrette Blount have lost the ball eight times in 1,482 touches for the Patriots since 2010, or once every 185.3 times. For their other teams, they fumbled 22 times in 1,701 touches (once every 77.3).

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


SCIENTISTS FIGURE OUT HOW TO UNBOIL EGGS (Mary Beth Griggs, 1/23/15, Popular Science)

It has often been said that you can't unscramble an egg. But you might be able to unboil one.

When you boil an egg, the heat causes the proteins inside the egg white to tangle and clump together, solidifying it. New research published in ChemBioChem by scientists at UC Irvine shows how they can essentially reverse the clumping process by adding chemicals to a cooked egg.

"Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg," UCI biochemist Gregory Weisssaid in a statement. "In our paper, we describe a device for pulling apart tangled proteins and allowing them to refold."

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Red Army: Spirited documentary about Soviet hockey goes deep (BEN REITER, Jan. 22, 2015, Sports Illustrated)

Three summers later Gretzky issued a more formal proposal. He invited the Green Unit to his parents' home in Brantford, half an hour away from the game site in Hamilton, for a barbecue. The offer was accepted, with one condition. The players were to be accompanied by their KGB minders--whose official titles ranged from deputy chief of the delegation to stick boy--as well as by their dour, autocratic coach, Viktor Tikhonov.

So it was that Larionov, who was then 26, Krutov, 27, Makarov, 29, Kasatonov, 27, and Fetisov, 29, ended up in the backyard of the modest ­three-bedroom house owned by Walter Gretzky, a repairman for Bell Canada, and his wife, Phyllis. The Soviets brought caviar; the Gretzkys served steaks, corn on the cob and baked potatoes. Walter showed the Russians the unofficial museum, dedicated to Wayne's accomplishments, that he maintained. "What can I say, I never seen so much trophies," the now 56-year-old Fetisov says. "Doesn't need any translation."

Eventually Gretzky made his move. While his father distracted Tikhonov and the KGB agents by attempting to chat with them, largely unsuccessfully, in his fluent Ukrainian, and with Charlie Henry guarding the basement door, Gretzky led the Russian players downstairs and presented them with something their shark-eyed coach would never have allowed: an ice-cold six pack of Molson Canadian.

For half an hour or so, as they sipped their illicit beers, the men swapped stories--the ­English-speaking Larionov and Fetisov translated--and compared their hopes and dreams. They easily found common ground. Gretzky's grandfather had emigrated from Belarus; if not for that, Gretzky might have been playing alongside them. They asked about playing in the NHL, which was something to which they all aspired. "It was an eye-opener for all of us--for them, for me," Gretzky says. "[I learned] about their lives and what they'd gone through."

"It's the beauty of sport, you know?" says Fetisov. "One of the greatest players ever decides to invite his enemies to his house. You respect that for the rest of your life. It's one of the things you memorize for a long, long time. We knew it already, but it's proof one more time: They look the same, they think the same way, they are the same as us."

The barbecue doesn't appear in Red Army, the kinetic and enthralling new documentary about the great Soviet teams of the late 1970s and early '80s, but the film is a portal into the Gretzkys' basement on that afternoon in '87 all the same. Those teams are remembered in the West largely as collections of indistinguishable automatons, quasiprofessional puppets of a villainous state whose unthinkable loss to a team of American collegians at the 1980 Winter Olympics touched off a surge of patriotism in the U.S. "Yes, I've seen Rocky IV," ­Fetisov says. "Hollywood made big money out of Russians, making them bad."
Red Army shows, as Gretzky long ago discovered, that there was more to these men than most Westerners imagined. First, there was their style of play, which, far from being mechanical, was artistic and elegant. Gabe Polsky, the film's director, wisely sets clips of their weaving attacks to the classical music that partly inspired them. Anatoli Tarasov, the grandfatherly pioneer of Russian hockey, was influenced by the Bolshoi Ballet, as well as by the chess of grandmaster Anatoly Karpov, when he was developing what would become his nation's approach to the game.

The movie showcases the men who fulfilled Tarasov's vision, bringing them into focus not as robots ("Robots don't hurt when they lose," says Gretzky) but as individuals. There is the haunted Krutov, who died of liver failure a month after filming his interview; the morally troubled Kasatonov; and, most memorably, the prickly and amusingly droll Fetisov, who early on waves a middle finger at Polsky and emerges as the film's heart.

The players were inseparable, bonded by the privations of Soviet life, which Red Army exposes with archival footage: the cramped living quarters (Fetisov grew up in a 400-square-foot apartment); the scarcity of food, which made "Fish Thursdays" a celebrated occasion; and the interminable lines for everything imaginable, including seven- or eight-hour waits for children who wanted to try out for Tarasov's teams. As the members of the Green Unit grew into stars, their ties became unbreakable due to a common enemy--the oppressive Soviet system that made them its pawns, as represented, most immediately, by the dictatorial KGB apparatchik Tikhonov. The players liked to say that if they ever required a heart transplant, they wanted the coach's organ, as it had never been used. In Red Army, their relentless brilliance becomes not a display of Communist might but a rebuke of it. The ice was the only place where they were truly free.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Wisconsin Stubborn (John Fund, 1/23/15, National Review)

[A]s he prepares to take his record to the nation, Walker is getting blowback from back home. Republicans won clear control of both houses of the state legislature last November, and many are eager to press an aggressive conservative agenda this year. Topping their priority list is a right-to-work bill under which private-sector workers can't be forced to join a union or pay union dues. A total of 24 states -- including Iowa -- are right-to-work. The latest additions to the list were heavily unionized Michigan and Indiana.

Yet Governor Walker has made it clear that he views the push for right-to-work as a distraction from his buttoned-down agenda of business, tax, and education reforms. Wisconsin state-senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald told WISN-TV last Sunday that "not much will happen" on the issue in the next few months. Fitzgerald said he understood Walker's desire to avoid large protests like those seen in 2011, when Act 10, a law restricting public-sector unions, passed. "He's concerned that if right-to-work would turn into Act 10, and that the Capitol is suddenly swarmed with protesters and everything we went through during Act 10, that it sends a strange message to people outside of Wisconsin that maybe Wisconsin isn't the place to expand your business or, to certainly locate to," Fitzgerald said.

Still, he has also warned Walker that "we can't tiptoe through this session without addressing this."

Indeed, he's right. Right-to-work makes sense for Wisconsin. Studies show that it can attract jobs and enhance business formation -- especially if it's combined with the kinds of reforms Walker has already implemented. It's also popular -- a new survey by a University of Chicago professor found Wisconsin residents favoring the idea by 62 percent to 32 percent. AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka boasts that politicians who oppose Big Labor will "pay a steep political price," but it turns out that labor-law reform is popular. In Indiana, Republicans picked up legislative seats after right-to-work passed there in 2012. Ditto for Michigan after its law passed in 2012. Wisconsin Republicans now dominate the legislature in part because Act 10's reforms are seen as helping to restrain property taxes and making government workplaces more flexible. Government-union membership fell by almost 30 percent in the state between 2011 and 2013.

Another issue where Governor Walker will have to tread carefully in Iowa is the expansion of state-approved gambling. Walker will have to decide by February 19 whether to approve a proposed $800 million Menominee Indian tribal casino in Kenosha. "Influential social conservatives in Iowa are warning Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that approving a proposed Kenosha casino next month could hurt his presidential bid" was the lead paragraph of a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article this month. Newly elected Iowa U.S. senator Joni Ernst joined 600 other Republicans in sending Walker a petition urging him adopt a "No Expanding Gaming" policy. Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative in Iowa who led the successful defeat in 2010 of three Supreme Court justices who had approved same-sex marriage, has also written a letter to Walker highlighting the "increased societal problems of divorce, bankruptcy, debt, depression, and suicide" that gambling can produce. In 2012, Vander Plaats's last-minute endorsement of Rick Santorum helped propel the former Pennsylvania senator to a photo-finish victory over Mitt Romney in Iowa.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Don't believe the gloom-mongers: deflation will be good for Britain (The Spectator, 1/24/15)

Deflation is feared because it is an unknown, being beyond the experience of virtually anyone alive in Britain today. But look at what's happening in Spain. Deflation arrived last August and has intensified since. If the gloomy economists were correct, the bamboozled Spanish would be staying away from the shops, counting their money and waiting until it could buy more later. In fact, the Spanish have been delighted by the falling prices and have flocked to the shops - the Christmas retail sales were the best in seven years and car sales are up 18 per cent. In Madrid, the effect of deflation can be summed up in a non-technical word: ka-ching.

Could it happen in Britain? It could - and it did.  Bouts of deflation were a regular feature of economic life throughout the 19th century, a period which saw an explosion in production and wealth on a scale never seen before. Between 1873 and 1896 wholesale prices fell by a third -- and our cities continued to thrive and expand while living standards ratcheted upwards. What mattered was real incomes, which continued to increase.

Even without this historical perspective, it ought to be obvious that the pessimism of many economic commentators is overdone. If people really did put off purchases in the expectation of prices being lower in future then they would never buy electronic goods, which -- regardless of high general inflation for some of the period -- have been in deflation for 50 years. When inflation was nudging 30 per cent in 1975, the price of pocket calculators was falling sharply. Yet people continued to buy them, because they wanted them then, not in a year's time -- and Sir Clive Sinclair grew rich. And the deflation that Britain is now set to experience will be in food and fuel -- both of which people cannot delay buying. So when they become cheaper, it is a moment for celebration.

There is one big change since Victorian times which has made deflation potentially rather less benign: the rise in consumer and government debt. When prices fall, the real value of debt rises. The £1.47 trillion national debt could rapidly become ever larger if falling prices cause a collapse in tax revenues. Yet the cost of servicing debt would fall rapidly too. If deflation persisted in Britain, it is likely that the Treasury would find itself able to do what the Swiss and Danish governments did this week, and issue bonds at negative interest rates -- effectively charging investors for the privilege of lending money to the government.

The virtuous combination of rising wages and falling prices has meant that real incomes are now suddenly increasing strongly for the first time since 2008. Ed Miliband was right -- if a little late -- in identifying a cost-of-living crisis. Yet week by week, the crisis is abating. It is hard to believe that less than 18 months ago his promise of an energy price freeze promised to be a big vote winner. A freeze now sounds like an expensive threat to consumers now that wholesale prices are plummeting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


The fight for the middle class (Michael Gerson, January 22, 2015, Washington Post)

The tax portion of Obama's approach is typically redistributive. Contrary to popular belief, many Republicans are open to raising additional revenue from the wealthy -- if it comes in the form of loophole-closing. Put another way, GOP leaders might accept taxes on consumption by the wealthy (say, by limiting the mortgage deduction for second homes), but they won't support additional taxes on savings and investment. Obama knows this. His proposal -- which includes an increase in the capital gains tax rate -- seems designed to make Republican support impossible.

Yet the new ideas found in the State of the Union speech -- increasing the child-care tax credit, providing additional help to make community college affordable, paid maternity leave -- are anything but boldly progressive. They are middle-sized proposals addressed to middle-class needs. They can be faulted for poor design or the manner in which they are funded. But they have none of the ideological ambition of the Affordable Care Act, or even Obama's plan for universal preschool education.

I recently faulted Obama for abandoning Bill Clinton's New Democrat ideology. But the policy approach taken in this year's State of the Union was distinctly Clintonian. Or at least Schumerian. Last year at the National Press Club, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) argued, "When Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, 'The Democrats aren't paying enough attention to me.' " Obama's ­"middle-class economics" seems responsive to that critique.

Republicans have no choice but to contest this ground.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Was JFK Wrong? Does Rising Productivity No Longer Lead to Substantial Middle Class Income Gains? (STEPHEN ROSE, 12/16/14, )ITIF)

Piketty and Saez and other advocates of the message that productivity no longer benefits average American workers are wrong. Lower and middle class workers have gained and are likely to continue to gain going forward from increases in productivity. 

If progressives want to help raise the incomes of average American workers, a robust economic growth strategy with a strong focus on the key drivers of productivity growth - technological innovation and digital transformation of the economy - will be critical. This does not mean that other strategies to ensure more equal distribution of that productivity (e.g. higher minimum wages, more progressive taxes, universal health care, and the like) are not needed to more closely match median and average income growth. But the lesson from this analysis is that progressives ignore productivity growth at their own peril, and more importantly, at the peril of average working Americans.

The technological/digital transformation of the economy is about replacing inherently inefficient and expensive human labor.  If progressives (and conservatives) want to see the benefits of that productivity increase distributed more evenly they need to stop trying to use employment as the means. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


How mathematicians are storytellers and numbers are the characters (Marcus du Sautoy, 23 January 2015, The Guardian)

Mathematicians are storytellers. Our characters are numbers and geometries. Our narratives are the proofs we create about these characters.

Many people believe that doing maths is a question of documenting all the true statements about numbers and geometry - the irrationality of the square root of two, the formula for the volume of the sphere, a list of the finite simple groups. According to one of my mathematical heroes, Henri Poincaré, doing maths is something very different:

"To create consists precisely in not making useless combinations. Creation is discernment, choice. ...The sterile combinations do not even present themselves to the mind of the creator."

Mathematics, just like literature, is about making choices.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Generation Y Prefers Suburban Home Over City Condo (KRIS HUDSON, Jan. 21, 2015, WSJ)

 The [National Association of Home Builders] survey, based on responses from 1,506 people born since 1977, found that most want to live in single-family homes outside of the urban center, even if they now reside in the city.

"While you are more likely to attract this generation than other generations to buy a condo or a house downtown, that is a relative term," said Rose Quint, the association's assistant vice president of survey research. "The majority of them will still want to buy the house out there in the suburbs."

The survey, which was released at the association's convention in Las Vegas, found that 66% want to live in the suburbs, 24% want to live in rural areas and 10% want to live in a city center. One of the main reasons people want to relocate from the city center, she said, is that they "want to live in more space than they have now." The survey showed 81% want three or more bedrooms in their home.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


House Republicans propose shrinking federal workforce, cutting service contracts (Josh Hicks, January 23, 2015, Washington Post)

House Republicans pitched two bills this month that would drastically reduce the federal workforce and the government's use of contractors.

Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) proposed legislation on Wednesday that would shrink the federal workforce through attrition by 10 percent over the next five years, saving an estimated $35 billion during that span. The cuts would not affect postal employees.

The measure would also impose a hiring freeze on agencies that exceed a limit of one new hire for every three departing staff members.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Why is deflation continuing in Europe and Japan? (Tyler Cowen, January 22, 2015, Marginal Revolution)

1. Most countries have labor market incumbents with sweet real wage deals, deals which could not be renegotiated anew today because the world has seen a repricing of labor downwards for the wealthy countries.

2. Higher rates of price inflation would cut into those deals and thus high rates of price inflation are unpopular.  Voters don't quite understand the monetary economics here, but they have a vague sense that "inflation screws them."

3. We are no longer at the point where two percent inflation is easy to achieve in Europe or Japan.  Central banks are doubted.  To achieve two, they would have to shoot for four, and thus announce a target of four.  Few voters wish to hear this, and furthermore a credible stab at four percent inflation might in fact bring three percent inflation or maybe more.  A non-credible central bank can indeed still debase its currency, yet the achievable targets are given by lumpy notches, not a smooth sliding scale.  In the case of the eurozone, too high an inflation target is probably illegal as well, given the sole mandate of price stability.

4. We thus end up stuck having central banks which announce a target of two percent but undershoot it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Solar is taking off (Paul Barwell/Soplar Trade Association,January 22, 2015, Prospect)

Moore's Law, named after one of the co-founders of Intel, Gordon E. Moore, showed how the processing power of computer chips doubled and continues to double every two years, producing ever smaller, faster and cheaper devices.

The same is true of the computer chip's silicon sister technology: solar photovoltaics. The cost of solar per watt has fallen over 99 per cent since the 1970s. Much of this freefall in costs--called Swanson's Law--has taken place over the last five years, accompanied by ever more efficient panels that squeeze more energy out of the same area.

Ever cheaper solar is good news for our climate and good news for energy bill payers faced with increasingly expensive fossil fuel electricity.

And this isn't just a technology for sunnier climes. Despite our infamous weather, solar in the UK generates two-thirds as much power as in Madrid, and the panels work more efficiently in cooler British temperatures. And by a happy coincidence, our roofs are pitched at just the right angle to capture maximum sunlight at this latitude.

Solar makes no noise, creates no waste and emits no carbon. On rooftops, it is a "fit and forget" technology. In solar farms screened from view with hedgerows, you often don't even know it's there. And good solar farms do not displace agriculture. Sheep can graze the land in between the panels, and the farms can become a haven for local wildlife.

The one thing that limits solar is of course that it doesn't generate power at night--but this makes it a particularly good match with wind, and cheap battery storage packs are already beginning to overcome this.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Head of new united Arab party aims to prevent right-wing election win (LAZAR BERMAN AND TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF, January 23, 2015)

A day after Israel's Arab parties signed a historic unity deal to run on a single ticket in March's Knesset elections, the joint list presented its Knesset candidates on Friday and asserted it be would be the third largest faction in the Israeli parliament, "stronger than [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Liberman's" Yisrael Beytenu. Its leader said the goal was to prevent the Israeli right-wing from winning the coming elections. [...]

"The right is called the 'nationalist camp,' [Isaac] Herzog and [Tzipi] Livni founded the 'Zionist Camp,' and we just founded the 'democratic camp," said Odeh at a press conference in Nazareth Friday."Arabs are a big percentage of the population, and we will put all our weight behind the effort to prevent the right from winning the elections.This will be our contribution." Some 23% of Israel's 8-million citizens are not Jewish.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Early Census data shows electoral college advantage for Republicans (Reid Wilson, January 23, 2015, Washington Post)

Continued population migration to the South and West could give Republicans an electoral leg up after the decennial reapportionment process, according to preliminary Census Bureau figures. [...]

[B]lue states would lose a net of four electoral votes, and red states would gain a net of two, a shift of six total electoral votes, the equivalent of flipping a state the size of Iowa from the blue column to the red column.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Tired of Bushes and Clintons? We have some bad news for you. (Aaron Blake, January 22, 2015, Washington Post)

The American people, you see, aren't really that concerned about seeing the same names on the ballot over and over again. In fact, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, about six in 10 registered voters say that it makes no difference to them who the candidates' husbands, fathers or brothers are, nor that they failed to win their previous campaigns for president.

And in fact, in the primary, it's pretty hard to argue that it's not actually a net benefit for all three.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Membership Rate Falls for U.S. Unions in 2014 (MELANIE TROTTMAN, Jan. 23, 2015, WSJ)

The percentage of the workforce represented by unions fell slightly in 2014 to 11.1%, down from 11.3% the year before, continuing a trend of stagnation that suggests labor will have to work harder to rebound from its decadeslong slide.

Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics said union membership in the private sector in 2014 fell to a rate of 6.6% from 6.7% in 2013. [...]

The membership rate in the public sector--once a bright spot for union growth that has taken a hit in recent years amid the sector's employment declines--rose slightly to 35.7% last year from 35.3% in 2013. The uptick occurred against a backdrop of declining public-sector employment and was driven by an increasing number of members at the local levels, primarily teachers.

There's much more deflation to come.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Saudi Arabia's new king may struggle to maintain stability (Michael Binyon, January 23, 2015, Prospect)

The biggest challenge facing the new king will be to maintain his country's leading position as guardian of the two holy places--Mecca and Medina. Islam holds a unique place in Saudi Arabia, dominating all aspects of law, politics and lifestyle. But the religious establishment is intensely conservative, and the Grand Mufti, Skeikh Abdul Aziz al-Skaykh, has issued decrees that have appalled many liberal Muslims. He has, for example, called for girls to be allowed to marry at the age of 12, for the destruction of all churches in Saudi Arabia, for an end to any inter-religious dialogue and for the demolition of many tombs, including that of the Prophet Muhammad, near the holy Kaaba in Mecca.

The House of Saud long ago made a compact with the Wahhabis, but has found itself increasingly at odds with their opposition to any reform. The late King Abdullah tried to introduce change quietly and gradually, and did much to boost women's education and give women greater access to jobs. He also insisted on sending an entire generation of young graduates to the West for further study, knowing that only this way might he be able to introduce Western technology and thinking and change the conservative Saudi mindset.

But the religious wars in the Middle East, and especially the threat of terrorism from extremist Islamists--many of whom studied at Muslim institutions funded by Saudi Arabia--have made it difficult to accommodate the ultra-conservative Wahhabi establishment with Saudi Arabia's economic and security needs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


The 2015 State of the Union was a punt to Republicans (Ed Rogers, January 21, 2015, Washington Post)

President Obama's sixth State of the Union address was mostly a punt. The president patted himself on the back and gave us plenty of nice platitudes and the usual rhetoric -- but beyond that, he didn't really mount a charge. He didn't break any new ground with the particulars he did offer, from government-mandated sick leave to an increase in the minimum wage. 

He really should have had Mitch McConell deliver the speech.

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 AM


Obama's Bad Economic Ideas (GLENN HUBBARD, JAN. 21, 2015, NY Times)

So how can we enhance growth, work and opportunity? Four steps can help get us there.

The first is to move to a simple business tax system, with a lower marginal tax rate and no special industry preferences. There would be no separate corporate tax, only a single business income tax for all businesses. Ideally, investment would be expensed, and its cost deducted in the year it was made, rather than deducted gradually. Businesses would be able to bring back overseas profits free of additional United States taxes. A one-time modest tax on current overseas earning could be used to help finance reform. Such a business income tax would encourage both growth and investment opportunities in the United States, while offering more jobs and higher wages to American workers.

The second step is to use the individual income tax to better reward work. The top tax rate for most Americans would be the same as the business income tax rate. To maintain progressivity, a surtax on wages would be collected on very high earners. To make work more attractive, low-income workers, including single workers, would receive an expanded earned-income tax credit and a tax credit to buy health insurance (as opposed to the more complex subsidies that exist under the Affordable Care Act). The earned-income tax credit would be phased out gradually.

Workers would have the choice of switching to options available under current law for employer-provided health insurance and a health savings account, or a tax deduction for their own health insurance and health savings account as incomes rise. Reductions in marginal tax rates to support work would be paid for by limits on tax deductions for more affluent households.

If the goal is growth, income, investments and savings, why would we tax business and income at all?  Tax consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Deflategate's ridiculous, empty moralizing (Jon Terbush, January 23, 2015, The Week)

This is about as weak as sports scandals get. All teams, all quarterbacks, doctor footballs to their liking. Eli Manning's game balls take months to scuff up just right. Aaron Rodgers inflates his as much as possible. Brad Johnson, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in 2002, claimed he paid a couple of guys $7,500 to secretly scuff up the footballs used in the championship game.

Like doctoring baseballs, the practice of tinkering with pigskins is widespread and commonly accepted as just something everyone does. The only rule: Don't get caught.

Which is why it's so maddening, though unsurprising, that Deflategate has been overblown into a morality play. (Patriots bad; football good.) This includes everything from the pompous self-flagellation of the diehard Boston sports fan, to the hollow whining of the local beat reporter. A representative example:

For all the Patriots playoff games this year, my sons and I have all donned our No. 12 Tom Brady jerseys. We wore them because Brady is so darn good, so darn handsome and so full of the values of hard work and perseverance that you want your sports icons to embody. Or so we thought. Did he have any knowledge or any involvement in deflating footballs? Oh God, I hope not. [CNN]

Not the children! Won't somebody please think of the children? How can you explain to them that Touchdown Tommy is not an infallible hero "full of values," but rather an actual human being? Never mind that he ditched his pregnant ex for a super model, or that he's an unrepentant shill for Uggs. How do you explain that he may have -- gasp! -- bent an unwritten rule to his advantage during a game?

All the pearl-clutching is even more galling when you consider we're talking about the NFL here. This is a sport where dudes ravage their brains and bodies in between Bud Light commercials, all for a league that is comically indifferent to violence both on and off the field. Deflating a few footballs is hardly on the same moral plane as, say, domestic abuse and a front office coverup of it.

It's not like there are no weightier ethical dilemmas surrounding the NFL right now either. Days before the Deflategate game, Colts linebacker Josh McNary was charged with rape. Hours before the game, in the NFC Championship, the Seahawks appeared to skimp on the league-mandated concussion protocol after a violent hit to QB Russell Wilson. In a more general sense, if this really is about ethics in gaming and not just an excuse for blowhards to engage in some hollow posturing, how about addressing the fact that the Seahawks lead the NFL in PED suspensions -- you know, actual cheating.

The guy who should be outraged is Randy Moss.  No wonder Brady can't complete a pass over ten yards past the line of scrimmage, he's throwing frisbees.

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Jeb Bush's Blitz to Lock In Donors Aims to Squeeze Potential Rivals (PATRICK O'CONNOR,  BETH REINHARD and  HEATHER HADDON, Jan. 22, 2015, WSJ)

Jeb Bush is crisscrossing the country on a 60-event fundraising blitz aimed at raising enough money to give other Republicans second thoughts about entering the race.

The fundraising effort, which Mr. Bush's team has dubbed a "shock and awe'' campaign, could be particularly meaningful for Mitt Romney , who is competing with Mr. Bush for support from the same small circle of longtime Republican donors.

Many of Mr. Bush's early events have included members of Mr. Romney's finance team from 2012, a sign of overlap between the two biggest donor networks in the GOP and of the potential for a Romney-Bush showdown to splinter the party's top patrons.

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


King Abdullah embodied the wickedness of Saudi Arabia's regime (Andrew Brown,  23 January 2015, The Guardian)

We can always look on the bright side of the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the accession of Prince Salman. It shows that, if reports of his ill-health are true, dementia can't stop you reaching the very top - at least if you have the right parents. It is a danger for many political systems that they end up being run by men whose faculties are no longer up to it: think of Pope John Paul II in his long decline, Churchill after his strokes, Ronald Reagan or the Soviet gerontocracy. But Saudi is unique in the modern world in choosing as leader a man believed to be in decline even before he comes to power.

It is a final touch of absurdity in a kingdom that is wicked in itself, and a source of wickedness and corruption elsewhere in the world. Saudi Arabia practices torture and arbitrary judicial murder. Women are beheaded in the street, liberal thought is punishable by flogging, which can be a death sentence even more horrific, because it is more prolonged than having your head hacked off with a sword. It is a raft of fear and hatred lashed together, floating on unimaginable amounts of money, at least for the lucky few. Among the poor, not all of whom are slaves or foreigners, there is tufshan, a special word defined by an anthropologist as "subtle and incapacitating torpor".

Saudi's influence on the outside world is almost wholly malign. The young men it sent to fight in Afghanistan turned into al-Qaida. The Sunni jihadis whom Saudis have funded in Iraq and Syria turned into Isis. It has spread a poisonous form of Islam throughout Europe with its subsidies, and corrupted western politicians and businessmen with its culture of bribery. The Saudis have always appealed to the worst forms of western imperialism: their contempt for other Muslims is as great as any American nationalist's.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


Defenders of Tradition in Keystone Pipeline Fight (MITCH SMITH, JAN. 22, 2015, NY Times)

An unpainted wooden barn sits in a snow-dusted cornfield along a gravel road, one of many that dot the rural horizon here.

This barn, however, contains no horses, tractors or farming tools. Its roof is covered with solar panels, there is a windmill out front, and the interior is plastered with signs with slogans like "Build Our Energy" and "#NOKXL," in protest of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which could run under the property if President Obama approves the project.

The 1,179-mile pipeline, first proposed in 2008, would carry oil from Canada into the United States, connecting with existing pipelines in southern Nebraska. In Congress, the Senate continues to debate a bill to approve the pipeline, and the House has already passed a bill to approve its construction. [...]

This week, TransCanada, the company proposing the pipeline, began eminent domain proceedings in Nebraska county courts, seeking to gain access to almost 90 properties where the owners have not agreed to terms. Many of those landowners have said they have no intention of allowing construction.

...sometimes a more lucrative private business use has to trump property rights.

Posted by orrinj at 11:02 AM


Why States Like Sin Taxes (Megan McArdle, 1/23/15, Bloomberg View)

Consumption taxes are economically efficient. When you tax something, you get less of it. That's simply inherently true of any tax. However, the distortions are not equal across taxes, so good tax policy will try to lean on taxes that introduce the least harmful distortions.

In the case of sin taxes, some of the distortions might actually be positive -- less cancer and drunken driving, for example. But even when that is not the case, we still might consider some distortions better than others. For example, income taxes discourage not only work, but also saving, because they raise the "price" of saving. Every saving decision is ultimately a decision whether to forgo saving now in order to increase your future consumption. Taxing the earnings on savings means that you have to save more now in order to consume a given amount later -- and since most people prefer a bird in the hand to two in the bush, some people will say "to hell with it, I'd rather just enjoy spending it now." That makes us all poorer in the future.

Consumption taxes don't introduce this sort of temporal distortion; as long as the tax is roughly stable, it raises the price of current consumption and future consumption by the same amount. This is why economists like them, and why most developed countries have a value-added tax.

January 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Democracy Is Good for Business (Noah Smith, 1/12/22, Bloomberg View)

MIT economist Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson of Harvard, famous for the idea that "inclusive institutions" are the key to national development, teamed up with Suresh Naidu and Pascual Restrepo to tackle the problem. They use a large number of different statistical techniques to examine the effect of democratizations. They also use an alternate technique, where they look at waves of democratization.

All of the methods give the same answer: Democracy increases gross domestic product  by about 20 percent in the long run.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


A knee replacement surgery could cost $17k or $61k. And that's in the same city. (Jason Millman January 21, 2015, Washington Post)

The Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, whose member organizations cover about one in three Americans, for the first time on Wednesday released prices that its insurers are charged by health-care providers. The group's report cover prices for knee and hip replacement surgeries, which are among the fastest growing procedures in the country.

The report, which analyzed three years of BCBSA companies' claims data in 64 markets, found that the average price for a knee replacement surgery is $31,124. But that price, which doesn't reflect what the patient actually pays, can vary greatly within the same city. In Dallas, for example, a knee surgery will run anywhere between $16,772 and $61,585 depending on the hospital. That's a 267 percent price variation, the largest within any of the markets that BCBSA analyzed.

The analysis reinforces that in health care, cost doesn't bear much relation to quality, said BCBSA chief strategy offier Maureen Sullivan. And with consumers generally bearing more of the cost of health insurance these days -- in the forms of higher deductibles and co-pays -- people are also becoming more price-conscious.

Consumers could be surprised by the savings if they shopped around more, though reliable information could be difficult to obtain. Prices varied by at least 100 percent in 11 other markets, according to the claims data.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


GOP lawmakers oppose Obama proposal to boost education tax credit, cut college savings plans (STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, 1/22/15, Associated Press) 

President Barack Obama's plan to scale back the tax benefits of college savings accounts is running into opposition from Republicans in Congress.

GOP lawmakers say they have no intention of raising taxes on families trying to save money for their children's education.

There's a policy Democrats want to be defending, eh?

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Seahawks, Pete Carroll collectively penalized, fined for CBA violation (Tom Pelissero, 8/26/14, USA TODAY)

The NFL has stripped the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks of two days of minicamp practice next year as punishment for violations of the collectively bargained rules on contact in offseason practices, league spokesman Greg Aiello told USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday.

The team and coach Pete Carroll were also fined for the violation, which occurred during their June minicamp, a person with knowledge of the decision said, adding that the team was considered a repeat offender over multiple years.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the league did not confirm the fine, first reported by ESPN, which said the Seahawks and Carroll were collectively docked more than $300,000.

Packers' Aaron Rodgers prefers overinflated footballs, likes to push the limit (Cindy Boren January 2015, Washington Post)

There's been an awful lot of hot air about the cold air that inflated -- or did not inflate -- the New England Patriots' footballs Sunday night. While the NFL investigates whether the footballs complied with the rule book, which mandates that balls be inflated to 12.5-13.5 with pounds per square inch, Aaron Rodgers admitted that his preference is for an overinflated ball.

On his ESPN Milwaukee radio show Tuesday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers quarterback said that, while there is an advantage to an underinflated ball (especially for quarterbacks with small hands), he favors a rule mandating only a minimum amount of air. There's no benefit, he said, to an overinflated football and, because he has big hands, that's what he prefers. And, he added referees often remove air from balls during games because they prefer them on the flatter side (via Tom Silverstein).

That echoed a  conversation between Jim Nantz and Phil Simms during the CBS broadcast of the AFC title game Sunday night. It revealed alot about how quarterbacks think and just how far they're willing to go to push the envelope. 

January 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Football's Joker : Why Bill Belichick and his antics make the NFL a better place. (Luke O'Neil, 1/21/15, Slate)

Belichick is a bit less emphatic in his anarchist glee, but it's still exceedingly apparent in the form of his often-playful in-game manipulations. The team's victory over the Baltimore Ravens two weekends ago brought another round of accusations of cheating against the coach, simply for using a wonky offensive line formation. Those who've long followed Belichick know that he must have delighted in unfurling this perfectly legal play and having it portrayed as a grand deception, simply because it was something no one had ever thought of before. After a certain level of success, there's nothing left for a villain to do besides start seeing what he can get away with. Remember his unshelving a dropkick on an extra point by Doug Flutie in 2006? That play hadn't been successfully completed in more than 60 years, partly because there's no need for it with modern kickers, but also because it's just sort of goofy. For Belichick, that was the point. How about employing receivers as defensive backs, or linemen as receivers? Or consider his constant gamesmanship when it comes to the injury report, or his turning the NFL into a real-life video game in the record-breaking 2007 season, seemingly as a middle finger to those who accused him of cheating after the Spygate scandal, yet another one of his wacky schemes. Watching Belichick coach is like a real-life version of "Breaking Madden." He pushes at the edges of the sport to see what will break, partially because it ends up highlighting the absurdities of the NFL's byzantine rule book, but also, quite simply, because it's fun.

Heroes are admirable, we tell ourselves, but in sports, and in fiction, what they're really about is regressing to the status quo. They represent a conservative outlook, in which balance must be restored, order reinforced, rules upheld. Villains, on the other hand, want to change things. We may not always admire the methods they use to do it, but the journey requires them to be more imaginative and creative along the way. Some men simply want to watch the world burn.

The League has depended on drug use/abuse since at least the '60s, but ball inflation is supposed to be a major transgression?

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


State of the Union Drew Lowest TV Audience in 15 Years (BYRON TAU, 1/21/15, WSJ)
President Barack Obama's 2015 State of the Union address drew the lowest television viewership for any such speech in the last 15 years, according to new data from Nielsen.

Not much drama in watching a guy say, "Ditto."

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Senate: Climate Change Is Real; Humans' Role, Maybe Not (Alan Neuhauser, Jan. 21, 2015, US News)

In one of the most surreal congressional moments in recent memory, the upper chamber voted 98-1 Wednesday in favor of a measure declaring that "climate change is real and not a hoax." [...]

[R]epublican senators appeared to sign on to the measure - an amendment from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., to a bill allowing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline - precisely because it did not cite human activity as the source of global warming.

"The climate is always changing," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., chairman of the chamber's Environment and Public Works Committee and author of "The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future."

Sporting a tie dotted with tiny polar bears seemingly awash in an ice-free sea and joining the amendment as a co-sponsor, Inhofe said the real hoax is not that the climate has warmed, but "that there are people who think they can change climate." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Obama's diagnosis of America's economic problem is right. His cure is all wrong. (James Pethokoukis, January 21, 2015, The Week)

President Obama finally found a tax cut Republicans don't like.

In his State of the Union speech last night, Obama formally, if obliquely outlined his proposal for nearly $200 billion (over ten years) in middle-class tax relief. It includes an expansion of the existing child-care and earned income tax credits, as well as a new $500 "second earner" tax credit for married couples.

Now, it would hardly break Uncle Sam's bank if Obama had chosen not to pay for these tax reductions. They would add just 2 percent to the projected level of debt accumulation over the next decade. That's a rounding error. But Obama did decide to pay for them, by raising taxes on wealthier Americans. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Islam's Demotion of Reason : a review of The Closing of the Muslim Mind : How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis By Robert R. Reilly  (FATHER C. JOHN MCCLOSKEY 01/16/2015, National Catholic Register)

At the heart of Reilly's book is his argument that the "denigration of dialogue is due to the demotion of reason that took place in the ninth-century struggle between the rationalist theologians, the Mu'tazilites and their anti-rationalist theologians, the Ash'arites. Unfortunately, for those who prefer dialogue, the Ash'arites won."

He writes, "The Ash'arites' position was that reason is so infected by men's self-interest that it cannot be relied upon to know things objectively. What is more, there is really nothing to be known, because all created things have no nature or order intrinsic to themselves, but are only the momentary manifestations of God's direct will. Since God acts without reason, the products of his will are not intelligible to men. Therefore, in this double disparagement, reason cannot know, and there is nothing to be known."

All of this may prompt memories of the Islamic world's outrage when the just-elected Pope Benedict XVI told his audience in Regensburg, Germany, that not only is violence in the service of evangelization unreasonable and therefore against God, but that a conception of God without reason or above reason leads to that very violence. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger, in his 2005 address in Subiaco, Italy, said:

"From the beginning, Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the 'Logos,' as the religion according to reason. In the first place, it has not identified its precursors in other religions, but in the philosophical enlightenment which has cleared the path of tradition to turn to [the] search of the truth and toward the good, toward the one God who is above all gods."

Reilly writes, "Ultimately, this theological view developed into the realist metaphysics of Aquinas, which became the metaphysical foundation of modern science, as Father Stanley Jaki, a Hungarian theologian and physicist, explained in his voluminous writings on the origins of modern science. Jaki laid out, as well, the reasons modern science was stillborn in the Muslim world after what seemed to be its real start."

How the West Won--but "Western Civ" Lost (Rodney Stark, February 10, 2014, Intercollegiate Review)

In early times China was far ahead of Europe in terms of many vital technologies. But when Portuguese voyag­ers reached China in 1517, they found a backward society in which the privi­leged classes were far more concerned with crippling young girls by binding their feet than with develop­ing more productive agriculture--despite frequent famines. Why?

Or why did the powerful Ottoman Empire depend on Western foreigners to provide it with fleets and arms?

Or, to change the focus, why did science and democracy originate in the West, along with represen­tational art, chimneys, soap, pipe organs, and a system of musical notation? Why was it that for sev­eral hundred years beginning in the thirteenth century only Euro­peans had eyeglasses or mechanical clocks? And what about telescopes, microscopes, and periscopes?

There have been many attempts to answer these questions. Several recent authors attribute it all to favorable geog­raphy--that Europe benefited from a benign climate, more fertile fields, and abundant natural resources, especially iron and coal. But, as Victor Davis Han­son pointed out in his book Carnage and Culture, "China, India, and Africa are especially blessed in natural ores, and enjoy growing seasons superior to those of northern Europe." Moreover, much of Europe was covered with dense hardwood forests that could not read­ily be cleared to permit farming or grazing until iron tools became avail­able. Little wonder that Europe was long occupied by cultures far behind those of the Middle East and Asia.

Other scholars have attributed the success of the West to guns and steel, to sailing ships, or to superior agriculture. The problem here is that these "causes" are part of what needs to be explained: why did Europeans excel at metallurgy, ship­building, and farming? The same objection arises to the claim that science holds the secret of "Western domina­tion," as well as to the Marx­ist thesis that it was all due to capitalism. Why did science and capitalism develop only in Europe?

In attempting to explain this remarkable cultural singularity, we must, of course, pay attention to material factors--obviously history would have been quite different had Europe lacked iron and coal or been landlocked. Even so, explanations should not--cannot--rest primarily on material conditions and forces. It is ideas that matter (though this basic premise, too, is quite unfashionable in contempo­rary scholarly circles). As the distinguished economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey observed, "Material, economic forces . . . were not the original and sustaining causes of the modern rise." Or, as she put it in the subtitle of her fine book: "Why economics can't explain the modern world." Quietly mocking Karl Marx, McCloskey asserted that Europe achieved moder­nity because of "ideology."

If Marx was sincere when he dismissed the possibility of ideas being causative agents as "ideo­logical humbug," one must wonder why he labored so long to communicate his socialist ideas rather than just relaxing and letting "economic determinism" run its "inevitable" course. In fact, Marx's beloved material causes exist mainly as humans perceive them--as people pursue goals guided by their ideas about what is desirable and possible. Indeed, to explain why working-class people so often did not embrace the socialist revolution, Marx and Friedrich Engels had to invent the concept of "false conscious­ness"--an entirely ideological cause.

Similarly, it is ideas that explain why science arose only in the West. Only Westerners thought that sci­ence was possible, that the universe functioned according to rational rules that could be discovered. We owe this belief partly to the ancient Greeks and partly to the unique Judeo-Christian conception of God as a rational cre­ator. Clearly, then, the French histo­rian Daniel Mornet had it right when he said that the French Revolution would not have occurred had there not been widespread poverty, but nei­ther would it have occurred without revolutionary philosophies, for it was "ideas that set men in motion."

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


What Bible Verse Did Texas Gov. Rick Perry Underline for His Successor in Texas' Most Coveted Bible? (SAMUEL SMITH , 1/20/15, Christian Post))

In keeping up with a long-standing Texas gubernatorial tradition on Monday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry passed down Texas' historic governors' Bible to his successor, and underlined text from Matthew 20:25-28 to help guide Gov.-elect Greg Abbott to success in his tenure as Texas' new executive.

In a tradition that began in 1925, when Gov. Pat Neff handed down the same leather-bound Bible to his successor Gov. James Ferguson and marked the words from Psalm 119, Texas governors have since shared the gospel from this nearly century-old Bible with their successors. [...]

Matthew 20:25-28 reads: "Whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister, and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant, even as the son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for many."

"You are called to be a servant first," Perry explained to Abbott.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


What It Means to Be Evangelical (Rob Schwarzwalder, 1/21/15, Real Clear Religion)

A number of thoughtful Evangelical commentators (captured here by my brave and faithful friend Owen Strachan) have responded pointedly to Elizabeth Dias's Time story, "Inside the Evangelical Fight Over Gay Marriage." They have demonstrated logically, theologically and philosophically why the movement to abandon Scripture's teaching on human sexuality in order to accommodate supposedly Evangelical advocates of normalizing same-sex "marriage" and attraction is an offense to God and the Gospel. [...]

1. Those professed Evangelicals who are willing to jettison the Bible's teaching regarding homosexuality can no longer claim to be persons of the Gospel -- Evangelicals. In terminating their allegiance to the bi-testamental instruction about homosexual conduct, they are diminishing what God's Word teaches about sin, the eternal penalty for which God's Son died on the cross. Their exegetical gymnastics admit to a sense of desperation: We have to get the Bible on our side or we can't make our case to those who believe in it. The problem is, contort Romans 1, et al, as they might, Paul and Moses and, yes, Jesus still say what they say: Homosexual behavior is wrong in the sight of the Creator.

Matthew Vines, Brandan Robertson, and their kindred theological pleaders have every right to make their case and persuade others with it. But they are not Evangelicals. They might take counsel from Abraham Lincoln, who, in late 1862, was having a discussion with a Congressman named George Julian and told the following story to make a political point: There was "a boy who, when asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, replied, 'Five,' to which the prompt response was made that calling the tail a leg would not make it a leg."

2. Elevation of personal affection and sentiment over the truth of God's Word is sin. Consider the words of a pastor named Ryan Meeks, quoted in the Time article: "I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from Communion or a marriage covenant of the beauty of Christian community. It is a move of integrity for me -- the message of Jesus was a message of wide inclusivity."

To use a profound theological term: Bosh. Jesus's message was indeed inclusive -- inclusive of those who would turn from their sin and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Jesus will include in His kingdom only those who will follow Him, the Messiah Who affirmed the entire Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:18). It pointedly excludes those who will not (Matthew 7:14).

God loves every person. He purposefully created every individual from his or her conception. But He never condones sin, even as He grieves for the sinner (Ezekiel 18:32). I know of no man or woman allegiant to the Gospel who hates anyone. Indeed, refusal to affirm as right that which is wrong is loving, because heralding the truth means not only proclaiming the evil of sin but the astonishing hope of redemption in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. That's what it means to be Evangelical. Anything else, by whatever name, is falsehood, and can never be affirmed as anything else.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


The audacity of Jeb Bush: A governor goes all in on the Terri Schiavo case (Alex Leary and Adam C. Smith, January 16, 2015, Tampa Bay Times)

Time has moved on, but the Schiavo ordeal is a stark reminder of how conservative the governor was and how he could dig in when he felt he was right, as was almost always the case. The most wrenching and human crisis Bush endured in his two terms provides a window into a leader who was as commanding as he was polarizing.

"This was all about his personal feelings. It had nothing to do with running the state. To make allegations, when he didn't even know Terri, it was just unbelievable," Michael Schiavo, a registered Republican, said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. "He never called me, and if he was so interested why didn't he come see her?" he added, recounting how Bush made time to appear on ABC's Extreme Home Makeover show in St. Petersburg but not to see Terri Schiavo, who was minutes away.

Bush did communicate with Terri Schiavo's parents and brother, Bobby, who now runs the nonprofit Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network.

"While my family and I wished Gov. Bush could have done more, I think he probably did as much as possible within his jurisdiction at the time," Bobby Schindler said in an interview. "He has never backpedaled from his position since Terri's death. I wish I could say the same about other politicians who were supportive in Terri's case but who, subsequent to her death, changed their positions with the political tide to avoid controversy."

The safe thing for Bush would have been to avoid the war between Terri Schiavo's husband and her parents. It began in 1990 when Terri's heart stopped beating because of a potassium imbalance possibly related to an eating disorder. She entered a "persistent vegetative state," according to medical experts. She had never written a will. Her husband sought treatment, but, with no sign of recovery, family friction grew. There were allegations of abuse and fighting over a $1 million medical malpractice settlement.

A messy conflict that played out in court gained national attention in 2003 as Michael Schiavo, who contended his wife would not want to be kept alive, accumulated legal victories. Her parents argued that Michael was an unfit guardian, that their daughter was not in a chronic vegetative state, and that she would not want to end her life.

The case had made its way through the courts for five years when Bush waded into uneasy constitutional territory -- and applied overt political pressure -- by asking Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge George Greer for a guardian to review the case before Terri Schiavo's life support was cut off.

"I normally would not address a letter to a judge in a pending legal proceeding," Bush wrote in late August 2003. "However my office has received over 27,000 emails reflecting understandable concern for the well-being of Terri Schiavo." Greer, a Republican, was not swayed.

The emails Bush cited -- and tens of thousands of others covering a range of issues from his eight years in Tallahassee -- have long been part of the public record but are getting a new look from reporters and opposition researchers as the 61-year-old strongly considers a run for president.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Patriots' Deflategate Isn't Really Cheating (Kavitha A. Davidson, 1/21/15, Bloomberg View)

Beyond questions of just how much of an impact deflated balls can have on the outcome of a game, we're confronted yet again with a fundamental question of competitive advantage: Is it cheating if everyone does it?

In 2013, an anonymous college football equipment manager told Yahoo Sports that ball tampering is pretty much standard practice. "It's just common. It's just the way it works. Everybody does it," he said. "You know you're not supposed to do it, but nobody thinks it's that big of a deal. I don't think anybody looks at it as cheating." Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers weighed in as well, telling ESPN Milwaukee that he actually likes his footballs over-inflated because he finds them easier to grip, and that Green Bay will "push the limit" of what's allowed.

So if it really comes down to a quarterback's personal preference, and most people in football don't care all that much about the air pressure, what's the point of regulating to this level of minutiae? Standardization is important in sports, but from a pragmatic standpoint, we should question the validity of rules that are constantly ignored. 

If the NFL were truly concerned about maintaining the integrity of the game balls, it would omit teams from the pregame chain of custody altogether, an all-too-rational idea floated by former Colts general manager Bill Polian. But as Deadspin's Barry Petchesky points out, a 2006 rule championed by Tom Brady and Peyton Manning calls for both offenses to provide their own footballs. This is ostensibly so each quarterback can "break in" the balls, getting a feel for them and making sure they're to their liking before kickoff. 

It's fair to ask where the line should be drawn when it comes to regulating balls, and why, if it's really that important, the league doesn't just adopt a simple solution like Polian's.

The $25k fine is pretty much an invitation to do whatever you want with the balls.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Thanks, Obamacare! Health insurer stocks soar (Paul R. La Monica, January 21, 2015, CNNMoney)

[T]here's one big industry group that owes a huge debt of gratitude to President Obama: health insurers. UnitedHealth (UNH) reported earnings that topped forecasts Wednesday morning and its stock rose 3% to a new all-time high as a result.

More coverage = higher revenue and profits. UnitedHealth has outperformed the broader stock market by a wide margin since the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, was signed into law in March 2010.

The stock also beat the market last year as most of the provisions of the ACA went into effect and consumers started to receive coverage.

Simply put, greater access to health insurance has led to more customers for the insurance giants. And UnitedHealth is not the only company to benefit.

The other four members of the so-called Big Five health insurers -- Aetna (AET), Cigna (CI), Humana (HUM), and Anthem (ANTM) (formerly WellPoint) -- have all beaten the S&P 500 over the past five years or so as well.

January 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


351 Studies from 13 Nations Prove Benefits of Households with a Dad, a Mom and Their Kids (Steven W. Mosher, 1/20/15, Aleteia)

The Mexican sociologist Fernando Pliego has examined the sociological evidence on the question of whether the current multiple "family" structures produce the same level of well-being. He gathered together all of the reliable studies on this question that had been carried out in 13 democratic countries. He found 351 studies that relied upon censuses, national surveys and  scientific studies of 800 cases or more to compare different family structures. These contained some 3,318 statistical analyses of data on health, education, poverty, access to basic services, family violence, sexual violence, suicide or addictions rates, etc., comparing these various structures.

The results of these studies, carried out in 13 different countries located on five different continents, are astonishingly consistent. Nearly all demonstrate that where a father and mother are living together with their natural or adopted children there are tremendous benefits. The members of these traditional families enjoy better physical health, less mental illness, higher incomes, and steadier employment. They and their children live in better housing, enjoy more loving and cooperative relationships, and report less physical or sexual violence. Moreover, when the bonds between parents and children are more positive, drug, alcohol and tobacco use is lower, children are better socialized and cooperative, they commit fewer crimes, and they perform better in school.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


UN: Iran honoring pledge to temporarily freeze nuke program (AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 21, 2015)

 Iran is honoring its commitment not to expand atomic activities that could be used to make weapons while it negotiates with six world powers on a lasting nuclear deal, according to a confidential UN report released Tuesday. [...]

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi told the Al Hayat newspaper that the US and Iran are well on their way to an agreement on Iran's nuclear program.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Japan, India agree to beef up trilateral alliance with U.S. (Japan Times, JAN 18, 2015)

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj agreed Saturday to strengthen the trilateral alliance with the United States amid the rise of an increasingly assertive China in Asia, Japanese officials said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Amid rising pessimism over global economy, survey finds US more attractive to CEOs than China (PAN PYLAS, 1/20/15, Associated Press)

Amid growing concerns over the global economy, the United States has overtaken China as the number one investment destination among chief executives around the world, a survey found Tuesday.

That's the first time the U.S. has topped the list since accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, or PwC, first started asking the question five years ago. It's a clear sign that the business community is increasingly encouraged by the U.S. economy's vital signs at a time when China's growth is coming off the boil and executives are increasingly pessimistic over the global outlook.

"The U.S. for the first time in a number of years is the number 1 destination point for investment coming from CEOs,"

"I think you are seeing a real movement to economies that offer some real degree of stability from a business investment point of view, and that's interesting trend from what we've seen in the past," Dennis M. Nally, the firm's chairman told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of the gathering of the business elite at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Computers Are Learning How To Treat Cancer And Diabetes By Playing Poker And Atari (OLIVER ROEDER, 1/20/15, 538)

Poker has been solved. Michael Bowling, a computer science professor at the University of Alberta -- along with co-authors Neil Burch, Michael Johanson and Oskari Tammelin -- published findings to that effect earlier this month in the journal Science. For a specific poker game -- heads-up limit hold 'em -- a computer algorithm is now indistinguishable from perfect.

What's more, the program -- dubbed Cepheus1 -- is self-taught. Over two months, it played trillions of hands against itself. It learned what worked, what didn't, and it improved. The game is now "solved" in the sense that you could play poker against Cepheus all day, every day for a lifetime and not be able to distinguish the program from the Platonic ideal of a poker player. [...]

[B]oth Bowling and Schaeffer emphasized that, in the end, their work is not really about games at all.

"We're not doing research into games. I'm not here doing work that will allow humans to play better checkers," said Schaeffer. "We're interested in finding ways to make computers perform tasks that you normally think humans should be doing." Games are just the test bed.

"We do have computer programs that are capable of doing very specific tasks very, very well. But that doesn't say a lot for what humans are good at, which is doing a very general space," said Bowling.

Perhaps, rather than interacting with age-old board games or dusty video games, these algorithms can interact with other things -- biological or medical information, say.

Databases used by Schaeffer's checkers program were hundreds of gigabytes large -- very large indeed in 1994 -- and had to be compressed to be useful. So he figured out how. Two years later, Schaeffer founded a company called BioTools. Why? The company was doing analysis of the human genome, to better understand DNA and protein. The DNA sequencing generated massive amounts of data. Data that had to be compressed to be useful.

Bowling's poker work has spilled over into diabetes treatment. Rather than finding the optimal strategy in a poker hand, a similar algorithm can provide optimal treatment recommendations for adjusting insulin injection formulas. The "game," in this case, is dealing with the worst-case responses of a patient to a given treatment. "We have a proof-of-concept paper that shows that robustness according to a certain class of risk measures can be optimized" by solving this carefully constructed game, Bowling explained.

He also has hope for security application, like at an airport. "We're starting to look at the area of game theory for security, where you are trying to find a defender strategy for protecting strategic infrastructure from an attacker trying to exploit your policy. Game theoretic solutions have already been deployed by Milind [Tambe]'s group [at USC], but this result shows our ability to scale to problems of unprecedented size, which can enable new problems to be tackled, or more complex models of existing situations," Bowling said in an email.

And, of course, there's the famous case of Watson. The IBM supercomputer famously defeated Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter at the game show "Jeopardy!" It's now being put to use to improve the treatment of cancer and PTSD.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Obama Should Push to Give Workers a Stake (Peter R. Orszag, 1/20/15, Bloomberg View)

Economists used to worry that shared-capitalism plans would cause shirking: If each worker receives a share of the company's profits regardless of individual effort, it might create an incentive to let someone else do the hard work. Collectively, then, the workers don't do enough work. But a 2008 study found the opposite, that shared-capitalism plans lead workers to encourage one another to be more productive. In surveys of workers taken before and after their company adopted a profit-sharing plan, Douglas Kruse and Joseph Blasi of Rutgers University and Richard Freeman of Harvard University found that afterward, workers said they were more likely to intervene with a lazier co-worker or report the situation to a manager -- because not doing so would cost them money.

Other analyses have found that shared-capitalism plans reduce turnover, improve workers' job satisfaction and raise their compensation. In a separate study, Kruse, Blasi and Freeman examined shared-capitalism models within Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For in America." They found that even among companies distinguished by their good labor practices, employees of those that "make more extensive use of group incentive pay" get more involved in company decisions, share more information with one another, trust their supervisors more and "report a more positive workplace culture."

Shared-capitalism plans help companies, too, by raising productivity an average of almost 5 percent, dozens of studies have shown. 

Make every worker a capitalist.
Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


High Court raps Jerusalem over postal inequality for Arabs (ELHANAN MILLER January 20, 2015, Times of Israel)

According to data provided by ACRI, only eight post offices function in Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods, serving a population of over 300,000. Meanwhile, West Jerusalem's Jewish population of 530,000 is serviced by 44 post offices.

With street names and addresses being introduced to most of Arab neighborhoods only recently, just 11 postal workers currently deliver mail in the areas in question.

Mail is often deposited at the doorstep of local mosques or grocery stores, or in some 8,000 post office boxes. About 45,000 households have no access to the service.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


The Keystone XL pipeline: How environmentalists may have lost sight of the real enemy (Neil Bhatiya, January 20, 2015, The Week)

The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that will allow oil from Alberta tar sands to be brought to existing refining infrastructure in the Midwest, has grow to outsized importance both for activists who see it as symbol of Big Oil's destruction of the climate, and for businesses that see it as contributing to their bottom line as well as America's energy security.  [...]

[O]ver 80 percent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2°C." For the United States alone, a full 95 percent of its existing coal reserves need to remain unburned.

This is a tall order for a world in which coal is the second-highest source of energy generation, accounting for 40 percent of the world's electricity needs, according to the International Energy Agency (the percentage is roughly the same for the United States). The Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan is meant to ensure that a transition away from coal is realized in the United States, piggybacking on a renaissance in natural gas, which has been aggressively displacing coal as an electricity fuel.

Global demand, however, is still expected to increase from now through at least 2040, even taking into account recent moves by the Chinese meant to pave the way for a "peaking" of their coal usage. Even with the drop in price in renewables like wind and solar, coal is relatively cheap and abundant in places such as India, where crippling energy poverty necessitates an "all-of-the-above" energy strategy. The Nature study concludes that India and China combined can only burn about 23 percent of their coal reserves to avoid breaking their share of the global carbon budget.

Most activists are, of course, aware of these facts, and, to their credit, they have resorted to grassroots activism to fight the export of U.S. coal overseas. Yet they nonetheless miss a lot of nuance in subsuming specific concerns about coal together into a general indictment of the fossil fuel industry's short-sightedness. This is a self-defeating strategy.

Coal is the near-term enemy -- an issue that deserves much more immediate thinking. It is a matter of grave concern to the developing world, where the climate change battle will be ultimately won or lost. Oil is the long-term enemy, a problem that will be with us for much longer. It cannot be defeated with opposition to one pipeline. There are, after all, alternatives to coal as an electricity generation fuel, as difficult as they are to deploy on a large-scale. For oil as a transportation fuel, however, competition is hard to come by. Even with advances in electrical vehicles, most people have and will continue to have traditional gasoline-powered cars and trucks. Stopping an oil pipeline will be a hollow victory when the demand infrastructure for oil will be in place for at least a generation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:37 PM


Technology disrupting the American Dream (Richard Cohen, January 19, 2015, Washington Post)

Mercedes-Benz wants to develop a driverless car. Google already has one. This is exceedingly bad news for auto body shops, ambulance-chasing lawyers and others. Soon, truck drivers might be replaced by driverless trucks. What then will happen to the nation's 3.5 million truck drivers, not to mention truck stops, of which there are 276 in Texas alone?

The notion that liberating American men from trucks is a crisis is the height of imbecility, Why truck driving is one of the deadliest jobs in America (Keith Veronese, 8/14/12, i09):

Becoming a professional truck driver combines low pay, a lifestyle that leads to poor health, and continual stress stemming from making stops and finding a place to sleep at night. Is it a desirable job? Maybe to some. Is the job necessary to sustain modern lifestyles? Absolutely. Let's hope we can alleviate these health and lifestyle problems before this necessary part of our service-based society erodes away.

We've done even better; we've made the service unnecessary.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


President, Republicans Aim to Forge Trade Deals (WILLIAM MAULDIN, Jan. 19, 2015, WSJ)

Improved economic and political winds look set to give President Barack Obama a new opening to complete at least one sweeping trade deal, despite reservations within his own party.

The president and Republican congressional leaders are highlighting trade as a top area for cooperation this year, and Mr. Obama is likely to ask for expanded powers on the trade front when he addresses Congress Tuesday night. [...]

Still under negotiation, the Pacific agreement would set rules for everything from the environment to drug patents, and cover nations with about 40% of global economic output and a third of world trade. The U.S. also is working on a trade deal with the European Union.

Last year, efforts to move legislation to smooth the passage of the Pacific deal foundered amid election-year politics and resistance from leading Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Harry Reid , the former majority leader.

Now, the "economic and political forces [are] kind of aligning to be able to get something done," said Mr. Obama's trade representative, Mike Froman.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Your next bank teller could be a robot (Pamela Boykoff and Junko Ogura, January 20, 2015, CNNMoney)

ATMs are so last century. For one Japanese bank intent on embracing the future, the time has come for the robot bank teller.

Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, one of the world's largest banks, will introduce a humanoid robot intro branches starting this spring.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Obama has worst State of the Union record since Ford, study shows (Stephen Dinan, January 20, 2015, Washington Times)

Judging by his recent history, it doesn't really matter what President Obama says in Tuesday's State of the Union address -- Congress is going to ignore him anyway.

Mr. Obama has the second-worst record of getting his State of the Union policy requests enacted into law of any president in the last five decades, according to an analysis by two scholars that puts him only above the unelected two-year presidency of Gerald Ford.

...when he's only rhetorically a Democrat?

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Testing Time : Jeb Bush's educational experiment. (ALEC MACGILLIS, 1/19/15, The New Yorker)

Jeb's program...was of a piece with his larger agenda to privatize state-run services, from prisons to Medicaid. He also recognized the long-term political benefits of upending the system. According to Jim Warford, a county school superintendent in North Florida, whom Bush selected to be his K-12 schools chancellor in 2003, "He saw the teachers' unions as one of the foundations of the Democratic Party, and he saw a great advantage--that anything he could do to undercut the teachers' union would have a political return."

Advisers to both brothers saw little evidence that they discussed the issue. "They operated through their staffs," Warford said. "If anything, a more accurate comparison would be two N.F.L. coaches trying to steal each other's playbooks and game plans." But if Jeb was envious when George was elected President, in 2000, he did not express it. "If he has any of that feeling, he doesn't show it," Lucy Morgan, who covered him for the St. Petersburg Times and knows him socially, said. Instead, he further immersed himself in education research, and brought in national experts, such as Reid Lyon, a brain-development researcher at the National Institutes of Health, for private briefings. Even his opponents concede that he was very well informed. Dan Gelber, a Democrat who served in the Florida legislature, recalls an e-mail debate with Bush about the rating system for test scores. "We ended up having this very esoteric exchange, and I remember thinking, He either has a roomful of experts writing these e-mails or he really knows something."

During his first term, Bush's agenda suffered some setbacks. Voters approved a referendum capping class size at twenty-five students in high school and required smaller classes in lower grades. Courts ruled his main voucher program unconstitutional, because it sent taxpayer money to religious schools. In response, he adopted a funding model in which corporations donated to the program in return for tax credits. Still, after a term that also featured a big tax cut for wealthy Floridians, he was easily reëlected, in 2002.

By then, President Bush was implementing his signature legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act, which required schools to meet gradually higher scores on annual tests, set by the states, in order to receive additional federal funding. Jeb Bush made it known that he thought his own approach superior, because it sought to grade schools on improvements in individual students' scores, rather than just on schools' performance in a given year. "There were lots of conversations about the work in Texas and how Florida had improved on that," Warford said. According to education officials, Jeb's team had little respect for Rod Paige, the former Houston schools superintendent whom George W. Bush had named Secretary of Education. "It was a little prickly in Florida," Sandy Kress, who worked on the implementation of No Child Left Behind, said. "It was 'We're going to do it our way and can do it better.' 

Florida's population grew by 2.5 million during Bush's eight years as governor--almost the equivalent of adding another Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and St. Petersburg. Suburbs colonized the former swamplands beyond the Miami airport, the orange and palmetto groves east of Tampa, and the farmland near Fort Myers. The growth, which created jobs in construction and real estate, was fuelled, notoriously, by lax mortgage-lending practices. But it was also fuelled by charter schools.

Developers of new subdivisions teamed up with companies that were opening up charter schools less as a means to innovate than as a way to benefit from Florida's boom. The "McCharters," as they became known, were paid for with public money--not just their daily operations but often their buildings, too, since Florida was one of a few states that allowed taxpayer revenue to be used for the construction of charters. But, as charters, the schools were free of public oversight and collective-bargaining agreements. In Osceola County, outside Orlando, a charter school was built next to a traditional public school to absorb students from an expanding subdivision--a "win-win-win for everybody," Bush said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Under the 1996 law, only nonprofit groups could apply to open a charter school. To get around that, for-profit charter companies set up foundations to file the application and then hire those companies to operate the schools. The St. Petersburg Times reported that by 2002 for-profit companies were managing three-quarters of the state's newly approved charter schools. According to the newspaper, the companies typically took at least a twelve-per-cent cut of a school's budget--about two hundred thousand dollars a year for an elementary school and double that for a middle school or a high school. At the same time, the charters were spending about two thousand dollars less per student than traditional public schools (which received relatively low funding, by national standards), a practice that often resulted in inexperienced teachers and spartan facilities. Still, many parents were attracted by the schools' selective aura, smaller class size, and strict behavior codes. The principal of Ryder Elementary, which served families employed at the Miami headquarters of the Ryder trucking company, explained, "We really operate like a private school."

This struck some people as being far from the spirit of charter reform. "Should we be paying money for real-estate companies posing as charter schools?" Sherman Dorn, an education-policy expert who taught at the University of South Florida, said to me. Teachers' unions and some Democratic legislators spoke out against the for-profit schools. But, in 2002, Bush signed a law allowing charter operators who were denied approval by local school boards to appeal to the state. In 2003, he signed a law to eliminate the state's cap on the number of charters, which had been set at twenty-eight in the largest counties. Republican lawmakers fought to increase the amount of taxpayer money available for charter construction, and to let developers build schools using the subdivision homeowner fees that they used for pools and other amenities.

Bush, like other proponents of education reform, wanted parents to have the freedom to choose from various schools. "Florida has the largest, most vibrant charter-school movement in the country," he said at the opening of a for-profit charter high school in Fort Myers. He had no personal financial stake in the school boom, a point that his spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, emphasizes. "Governor Bush does not personally profit in any way from his education-reform advocacy work," she said. (Bush declined to be interviewed for this article.) But some of his political allies in the state did. In 1997, Jonathan Hage, a former Heritage Foundation staffer who had helped Bush set up the Liberty City Charter School, started Charter Schools USA. Hage told the St. Petersburg Times that he had simply identified a "classic business opportunity." Charter Schools USA, whose headquarters occupy a building across from a Jaguar dealership in the Fort Lauderdale suburbs, now manages seventy schools in seven states and has nearly three hundred million dollars in revenue.

In 2004, Robert Cambo, a former Codina Partners employee who had started his own building firm, worked with Hage's company to develop two schools. Al Cardenas, who became the chairman of the Florida Republican Party in 1999, went on to be a lobbyist for Charter Schools USA and the Florida Consortium of Charter Schools. (Until recently, he was the chairman of the American Conservative Union.) Octavio Visiedo, a Bush family friend, was the superintendent of the Dade County school system. He retired in 1996 and started a company that evolved into Imagine Schools, which now has thirty-four thousand students nationwide. Cardenas, who advised Visiedo as he set up the company, told me that the Governor's support for the growing industry was pivotal: "Bush was helping me get the movement going." When asked about the money to be made in for-profit charters, Cardenas said, "I don't care about how much money someone makes. I care about how they're educating kids. It's kind of socialistic to decry an organization for making money. What people should be concerned about is what's the quality of it."

The quality was difficult to assess. By 2006, Jeb's last year in office, there were more than three hundred charter schools (for-profit and nonprofit) in Florida, with more than a hundred thousand students, most of them in big metropolitan areas such as Miami and Tampa. But the state made only sporadic efforts to track their performance. The 1996 law called for annual statewide reports on the schools, but none were produced until November of 2006. Test scores in lower grades were found to be slightly higher than at traditional public schools, and slightly lower in the higher grades. The reading test-score gap between black students and white students in elementary grades decreased at about the same rate as in traditional schools, but in the charter high schools the gap widened. However, direct comparisons were difficult, because the charters took about twenty per cent fewer low-income and special-needs students. It was even harder to track the impact of vouchers, because the private and parochial schools that accepted them were not required to administer state tests.

As Bush saw it, some schools and companies were inferior, but that situation would sort itself out over time. Kristy Campbell told me, "Expanding school choice was a priority for his administration." However, she added, just as with traditional public schools, Bush "believes charter schools should be closed if students aren't learning." Frank Brogan, Bush's lieutenant governor, told me, "The Governor is a free-market guy." But Andy Ford, the president of the Florida Education Association, the teachers' union that was trying to halt the spread of for-profit charters, believes that although Bush "does genuinely care about trying to make kids' lives better," his approach created "a closed circuit of people making a lot of money on so-called 'reform.' "

By the end of Bush's second term, fourth-grade reading scores in the state had improved sharply, though eighth- and tenth-grade scores were more middling. (Since Bush left office, gains in test scores at all levels have been relatively incremental; graduation rates have steadily increased, but they remain among the nation's worst.) Nevertheless, Bush saw his education record as his central accomplishment. "The fact is that more kids are learning now and we're not dumbing down the curriculum," he said. [,,,]

By [2008], school reform had become a bipartisan national movement. No Child Left Behind had made its mark across the country, as local leaders, such as the mayors Michael Bloomberg, in New York, and Cory Booker, in Newark, championed their roles in raising scores, and many Democratic leaders, including the newly elected President, Barack Obama, and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, accepted the necessity of testing-based accountability.  [...]

As governor, Jeb Bush had been among those who noted one of the biggest problems with the No Child Left Behind law: standards varied greatly from state to state, depending on how ambitiously officials designed their tests and defined their success. In 2009, a coalition of governors and state education officials came together and, with financial support from the Gates Foundation and the implicit backing of the Obama Administration, devised a new set of standards intended to raise the calibre of instruction nationwide. The states broke into two consortia, each of which designed a set of tests around the new standards, called the Common Core.

The effort was bipartisan, and, at the beginning, all but four states signed on to it.

January 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


A modern founding father (Nicholas Burns, AUGUST 28, 2013, Boston Globe)

Here is why I believe King is the most significant American since Lincoln in his impact on how we live and work together in the world's oldest democracy.

King changed America forever. It was largely his movement that finally extinguished Jim Crow in the South, ending the overt racism and segregation that had persisted for a century after the Emancipation Proclamation. In a very real way, King picked up where Lincoln had left America at the end of the Civil War. That America had yet to overcome what Condoleezza Rice calls the "original sin" of our Constitution: African-Americans were not treated as fully human.

King led that fight more skillfully and convincingly than any American in our history. He offered a hopeful, transcendent idea of how America could be truly great. Meacham observed in Time that during his memorable speech at the Aug. 28, 1963, march on Washington, "King -- like Jefferson and Lincoln before him -- projected an ideal vision of an exceptional nation . . . In doing so, King defined the best of the nation as surely as Jefferson did in Philadelphia in 1776 or Lincoln did at Gettysburg in 1863."

King also found a way to touch the conscience of white Americans all too complacent about the need for change during the tumultuous decades of the civil rights struggle from Birmingham to Little Rock, Selma, and beyond. It was not preordained that the most important black leader would wave a flag of nonviolent civil disobedience and redemption rather than hatred and revenge.

...lay in framing the argument in the terms of the Founding, making it undeniable to any American.

[originally posted : 8/28/13]

Posted by orrinj at 2:31 PM


Iranian minister slams coverup of sanctions damage (AFP, January 19, 2015)

A government minister launched a rare attack Monday on Iran's downplaying of the impact of international sanctions, saying that "lying" to the public over the measures had left the country "backward."

Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, the industry, mining and trade minister, delivered the broadside at a conference in Tehran, claiming years of statements about sanctions not hurting the country were false.

"Why should we abandon logic and swear instead or have empty gestures?" Nematzadeh asked. "Do you think the world doesn't get it that our gestures are empty? That our remarks are empty?"

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Thoughts on the March on Washington From Sammy Davis, Jr. (Burt Boyar, 08/27/2013, Huffington Post)

“I was scared. You know, ‘wonder what’s going to happen?’ The anticipation of what was going to happen. They were saying things like, ‘if 10 thousand people show up it’'ll be something. You know, maybe 20 thousand at best. And all the police! Within around three hours of arriving, you knew there was not going to be a riot. Everybody was smiling. And the malcontents were kept so far away that they couldn'’t interfere. You saw everybody, you saw them all. Lerone Bennett and a few other of the guys from Johnson Publications, Ebony and Jet, a few of the photographers, black and white photographers that I knew. We were standing on the steps before the speakers started. Then King got there. And I'’m standing, looking down from Lincoln down to the Washington Monument, and going, ‘it'’s going to be a good day, man,” and everybody started smiling and you knew there ain'’t going to be no trouble. This is going to be great. This is what we prayed for. And it was like a virus that spread among the people. It was everybody. I saw little vignettes of things. People touching, holding hands, probably –black people who had never touched white people, or hugged or had a physical line of communication before in their lives. And vice versa. White people who had never been next to a poor, humble black woman and her child that she’s holding –and everybody had love, it was unbelievable. It really was an unbelievable day, and I remember somebody saying to me, ‘come on, sit on the podium.’ And I said, ‘no. I can’t see from the podium. I want to see it. I want to be out front. And one of the guys from Ebony said, ‘well, Sam, come sit down here,’ and I went down like in the first, second row because I was taking pictures and I wanted to be where I could see what was happening, as opposed to being up there looking out at the people. And then afterwards I came up and there were some pictures taken and I walked up to Martin, and everybody was crying, and I just remember saying, ‘thank you. Thank you,’ and I couldn’t say anymore than that. And he grabbed me and hugged me and I hugged him, and they swept him away.

“It was a monumental day in many respects. First of all, more than any single incident, the galvanizing of what the civil rights movement was about was that day. It showed that we could live together, the black and whites and Hispanics and everybody else, that we should be pulling together.

“I think it was the most American day in the history of our country, save for perhaps the Battle of Bunker Hill. Or, maybe the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’'s to be put on that level, for me, it’'s on the level of that kind of an occasion.

[originally posted: 8/28/13]
Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Terrorism in Paris, Sydney the legacy of colonial blunders (Stephen Kinzer  JANUARY 18, 2015, Boston Globe)

It is a mistake to see the various political and military conflicts now shaking the Middle East as isolated from each other. All are part of a broad struggle to shape a new map of the region. That map will look quite different from the one that Bell and her fellow imperialists bequeathed to us.

Some countries in the Middle East are doomed. They are unfortunate accidents of history. Lamentably, their collapse will take years, with an immense cost in human suffering.

The prospect of Israeli and Palestinian peace may seem more distant than ever. But a two-state solution is still the only path forward.

Syria, which was created as a French protectorate, exists today only in name. Iraq, originally dominated by Britain, is likely to be the next to go. The way these countries were created -- by outsiders concerned only with their own interests -- all but guaranteed that they would ultimately collapse.

Elsewhere in the neighborhood, Yemen is in deep turmoil. Bahrain is quiet only because its Sunni government has temporarily managed to suppress the Shiite majority. Even long-stable Oman may be in trouble after its ailing sultan passes from the scene.

Two small countries that also emerged from the imperial spasms of the 1920s, Lebanon and Jordan, may survive the coming years of war, but that is far from guaranteed. In the outer ring of the region, the long-term future of Libya is bleak, and Pakistan's prospects are highly uncertain.

The most intriguing candidate for collapse is Saudi Arabia. [...]

In a region full of fake, made-up countries, one Muslim power is sure to survive: Iran. It is the opposite of a fake country. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are less than a century old. Iran has existed -- more or less within the same boundaries, with more or less the same language -- for 2,500 years. Colonialists never managed to divide it, and it stands today as an island of stability in a volcanically unstable region.

If you could go back in history and change just one thing, you could do worse than making Woodrow Wilson focus on self-determination instead of the League of Nations--sovereignty instead of transnationalism.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


The Next Big Health-Care Shift Is Coming (Christopher Flavelle, 1/19/15, Bloomberg View)

Republicans who support decoupling insurance from employment, on the grounds that doing so would free people to change jobs more easily, may see the decline of employer-based insurance as something to cheer.

But there's another view, one that's less happy for Republicans. The sooner employer-based coverage becomes something that only a minority of Americans enjoy, the greater the challenge to the psychological barricades against government-sponsored health care -- whether that's Obamacare, as my colleague Megan McArdle has noted, or something more sweeping.

Whether this trend is good or bad depends how you feel about big government. Conservatives who oppose the growth of the redistributive welfare state may find it harder to explain the dangers of government insurance to an electorate that increasingly has no alternative.

The most important single fact about wealth inequality and the welfare state is that America is a democracy.  It's not a question of whether we're going to have a universal health system, just what kind.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 2:00 PM


Why We Keep This Creed (Michael Gerson, July 4, 2007, Washington Post)

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that America has a "schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself." But we are redeemed, he argued, by our creed, expressed in the Declaration of Independence, which manages "to forever challenge us; to forever give us a sense of urgency; to forever stand in the midst of the 'isness' of our terrible injustices; to remind us of the 'oughtness' of our noble capacity for justice and love and brotherhood." Americans, he said, believe in "certain basic rights that are neither derived from nor conferred by the state. . . . They are God-given, gifts from his hands."

"You may take my life," King said, "but you can't take my right to life. You may take liberty from me, but you can't take my right to liberty." And this creed of "amazing universalism" calls "America to do a special job for mankind and the world . . . because America is the world in miniature and the world is America writ large."

The privileged and powerful can love America for many reasons. The oppressed and powerless, stripped of selfish motives for their love, have found America lovely because of its ideals.

It is typical of America that our great national day is not the celebration of a battle -- or, as in the case of France, the celebration of a riot. It is the celebration of a political act, embedded in a philosophic argument: that the rights of man are universal because they are rooted in the image of God.

Which is why the nativist, with his particularist claim that America is for him and his, can not succeed in the long run.

[originally posted: 7/05/07]

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Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Here's why wages aren't growing: The job market is not as tight as the unemployment rate says it is (Jared Bernstein, 1/12/15, Washington Post)

[N]ominal wage growth] has been stuck at about 2 percent since 2010. [...]

As the pace of job growth has picked up, the labor force has stabilized, and that's a good sign. But the participation rate is still low and some economists, including me, believe there are significant numbers of people who are not officially in the labor force -- they're neither working nor looking for work -- but would come back if decent jobs were available.

If that's true, then two other things should be true: 1) Part of the decline in the labor force is just slack that's not measured by the unemployment rate, and 2) putting the labor force rate in my model should improve its out-of-sample prediction of the wage data.

And that's just what you see in the green line in the figure. Adding the labor force participation rate to the same model, stopping the estimation in 2012 and predicting wage growth going forward, this version shows no acceleration and cuts right through the actual wage trend.

As Fed Chairman Janet Yellen has observed, "Some 'retirements' are not voluntary, and some of these workers may rejoin the labor force in a stronger economy . . . a significant amount of the decline in participation during the recovery is due to slack."

So, you want to know why wages aren't rising yet? It's because there's still too much slack in the job market. Yes, there are more jobs, but there are still either too many workers chasing them or waiting in the wings to do so that employers don't have to bid wages up to get the workforce they need.

So we start from the fact that wage growth is higher than inflation and then when we consider employment participation levels the question should be why both wage growth and inflation(deflation) aren't even lower.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


Surprised commuters in Iran's capital at rush hour share subway with President Hassan Rouhani (Associated Press, Jan. 19, 2015)

Rouhani, along Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and others in his government, took the subway and other mass transit in Tehran to work Monday. It was part of their effort to mark "National Clean Air Day."

Rouhani spoke to male and female passengers on the subway, as well as waved to surprised commuters. He also had time to hug and talk to a young boy on his trip to work.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


GOP learns from 2012 debate debacle, takes control of 2016 (Joseph Curl, January 18, 2015, Washington Times)

On Friday, the RNC announced it will sanction just nine debates in the 2016 presidential election cycle -- and none on MSNBC -- as it overhauls a debate policy that proved disastrous in the 2012 campaign.

Fox will get three (with one televised on Fox Business), CNN has two, NBC has two (with one on CNBC), and the other two networks, ABC and CBS, will each get one.

"The committee chose to limit the number of debates, spread the debates across the country by sanctioning no more than one debate per state, allocate the debates over the course of seven months, include a larger conservative media presence and allow campaigns to know and plan for the debate schedule early," the RNC said in a statement.

They're just an opportunity for the fringe to snipe at the electable.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM



It's troubling that Westerners claiming to be lovers of human rights would overlook, or downplay, Al-Sisi's policy record--which features a military coup against a democratically elected president, large-scale massacres of civilian protesters, the imprisonment of tens of thousands of people (including many journalists), the shutting down of all oppositional medial outlets, and the banning and effective elimination of key political competition, among other gross human rights violations.

Many Western writers have demonstrated a near-complete lack of contextual awareness. Read through the lens of Egypt's political context, Al-Sisi's talk of a "religious revolution" is about political domination, not religious reform. The 2013 military coup was not a confrontation against extremism: it was an attempt by Egypt's "deep state" to reverse the nation's democratic gains and to once again assume complete control over its political economic system.

It's important to note that Egypt's military coup was carried out against the Muslim Brotherhood, a moderate Islamist group that had dominated Egypt's first-ever election season in 2011 and 2012. In all, the Brotherhood won five consecutive elections, and only one of the five votes was closely contested. With no indication that the Brotherhood could be defeated at the polls in the immediate future, procedural democracy became the enemy of Egypt's corrupt state institutions--the army, police and judiciary. Bypassing elections and political competition was seen as necessary for the survival of Egypt's ancien régime.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Simon de Montfort: The turning point for democracy that gets overlooked  : In June the world will celebrate 800 years since the issuing of Magna Carta. But 2015 is also the anniversary of another important, and far more radical, British milestone in democratic history (Luke Foddy, 1/19/15, BBC Magazine)

Almost exactly 750 years ago, an extraordinary parliament opened in Westminster.

For the very first time, elected representatives from every county and major town in England were invited to parliament on behalf of their local communities.

It was, in the words of one historian, "the House of Commons in embryo".

The January Parliament, which first met on 20 January 1265, is one of the most significant events in British democratic history. The election of two knights from every shire and two burgesses from the towns helped establish the two-member county constituencies that endured until the 20th Century. [...]

The story behind this radical reform is a medieval classic of revolution and rebellion - a drama fuelled by idealism, pragmatism and ambition whose legacy is still felt today.

Circa 1250, Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester, wearing a suit of armour and equipped with sword and shield
And like many extraordinary moments in history, it was the product of extraordinary times.

The ruling king in 1265 was Henry III, but Henry wasn't really ruling anything. It was Simon de Montfort, the rebel earl of Leicester, who was in control, having seized power the year before.

Montfort, who called the January Parliament, was the leader of a political faction that sought major reform of the realm. Fed up with Henry's misrule, as they saw it, these barons had confronted the King and, at a parliament in Oxford in 1258, forced him to adhere to a radical programme of reform. This resulted in an appointed council sharing power with the monarch.

These reforms were enshrined in the Provisions of Oxford, which for the first time defined the role of parliament in government.

One of the great historical novels you'll ever read is Sharon Kay Penman's Falls the Shadow.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


An almost chosen nation (Joseph Loconte, 1/21/13, CNN)

Lincoln never doubted the universal appeal of the nation's experiment in self-government, a "promise to all people of the world" that would endure across the centuries. Unlike modern liberals, Lincoln was no cultural relativist: He believed firmly in natural and inalienable rights that belonged to all people, from every corner of the globe, by virtue of their common humanity. Despite the cancer of slavery and racism that had infected the body politic, no nation was more devoted to securing those rights than the United States. Indeed, Lincoln insisted that America had a God-given role in advancing this cause in the world:

"I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in accordance with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle."

Lincoln's description of America as an "almost chosen people" captured brilliantly the qualified and uncertain character of the nation's democracy: deeply and grievously flawed, but nonetheless caught up in the righteous purposes of God. Unlike many of his religious contemporaries, Lincoln stopped short of identifying America as the new Israel; no spiritual covenant between God and the United States could be presumed. Lincoln well knew the capacity of religious zeal to poison our politics. Nevertheless, he insisted that America's commitment to liberty and equality was consistent with the character and intentions of the Almighty.

Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister, shared Lincoln's political theology. In a way that many liberal and secular-minded Americans would now find offensive, King wielded passages and principles from the Bible like an ax to assault the racist assumptions that degraded the lives of millions of African-Americans. Like Lincoln, he appealed to America's spiritual legacy in order to renew its democratic mission.

In "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," King complained that African-Americans had been denied "our constitutional and God-given rights." He declared that "the goal of America is freedom," a mandate from heaven itself. Indeed, King saw the hand of God in the political fight to call America back to its founding ideals: "If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail," he wrote. "We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands."

[originally posted : 1/21/13]
Posted by Orrin Judd at 6:00 AM


Letter from a Birmingham Jail (The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963)

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here In Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty-five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I. compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place In Brimingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self- purification; and direct action. We have gone through an these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro .leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good-faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants --- for example, to remove the stores humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttles worth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained.

As in so many past experiences, our hopes bad been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self-purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves : "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct-action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic with with-drawl program would be the by-product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoralty election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run-oat we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run-off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct-action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling, for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved South land been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue. [...]

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fan in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with an its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured. [...]

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or. unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent-up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides-and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. [...]

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust. [...]

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."

I wish you had commended the Negro sit-inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face Jeering, and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo-Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he k alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us. all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.

As both Gandhi and Dr. King demonstrated, non-violence is an effective weapon of social change. But it is the sad irony of non-violence, lost on most, that it is only effective in societies that are already essentially decent and is effective only when it is consistent with that decency. As Dr. King said in that bolded paragraph, what the Civil Rights movement was about was not radical change and new ideas but merely making those who held power live up to their own ideals. To repress the movement to end Jim Crow and to gain full political rights for blacks would have required whites to renounce the very foundations of the American Republic. This, at the end of the day, we could not do.

It was the genius and the greatness of Dr. King then to recognize that disobedience would confront America with the flaws in its own system--that eventually people would see that it was immoral, within the context of our own belief system, to punish people for seeking the rights that they'd already been promised and, indeed, granted in the Constitution. It just was not possible to treat blacks as indecently as we did and maintain the pretext that we had a decent society. What was required, and what the Civil Rights movement achieved, was to drive that truth home to all of us in the most public and persistent way, until it could no longer be ignored. In a very real sense, he sought not to fracture society but to make it whole and healthy.

He was no saint and by the end of his life he was talking a great deal of nonsense about the war in Vietnam and about socializing the economy. However, he left America a better place than it was. By any measure, that makes him a great man and a Founder of America, no less than the original Founders.

[originally posted: 1/20/03]
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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:54 AM


Letter from Selma: MARCH 27 (RENATA ADLER, April 10, 1965, The New Yorker)

The thirty thousand people who at one point or another took part in this week's march from the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Selma, Alabama, to the statehouse in Montgomery were giving highly dramatic expression to a principle that could be articulated only in the vaguest terms. They were a varied lot: local Negroes, Northern clergymen, members of labor unions, delegates from state and city governments, entertainers, mothers pushing baby carriages, members of civil-rights groups more or less at odds with one another, isolated, shaggy marchers with an air of simple vagrancy, doctors, lawyers, teachers, children, college students, and a preponderance of what one marcher described as "ordinary, garden- variety civilians from just about everywhere." They were insulated in front by soldiers and television camera crews, overhead and underfoot by helicopters and Army demolition teams, at the sides and rear by more members of the press and military, and over all by agents of the F.B.I. Most of them were aware that protection along a route of more than fifty miles of hostile country could not be absolute (on the night before the march, a student who had come here from Boston University was slashed across the cheek with a razor blade), yet few of the thirty-two hundred marchers who set out on Sunday morning seemed to have a strong consciousness of risk. They did not have a sharply defined sense of purpose, either. President Johnson's speech about voting rights and Judge Johnson's granting of permission for the march to take place had made the march itself ceremonial--almost redundant. The immediate aims of the abortive earlier marches had been realized: the national conscience had been aroused and federal intervention had been secured. In a sense, the government of Alabama was now in rebellion, and the marchers, with the sanction and protection of the federal government, were demonstrating against a rebellious state. It was unclear what such a demonstration could hope to achieve. Few segregationists could be converted by it, the national commitment to civil rights would hardly be increased by it, there was certainly an element of danger in it, and for the local citizenry it might have a long and ugly aftermath. The marchers, who had five days and four nights in which to talk, tended for the most part to avoid discussions of principle, apparently in the hope that their good will, their sense of solidarity, and the sheer pageantry of the occasion would resolve matters at some symbolic level and yield a clear statement of practical purpose before the march came to an end.

From this point of view, the first few hours of Sunday morning in Selma were far from satisfying. Broad Street, the town's main thoroughfare, was deserted and indifferent. At the Negro First Baptist Church, on the corner of Sylvan Street and Jefferson Davis Avenue, denim-clad veterans of earlier marches stood wearily aloof from recruits, who ate watery scrambled eggs, drank watery coffee, and simply milled about. On Sylvan Street itself, an unpaved red sand road dividing identical rows of brick houses known as the George Washington Carver Development, crowds were gathering, some facing the entrance to the Brown Chapel Church, others on the steps of the church facing out. Inside the church, more people were milling, while a few tried to sleep on benches or on the floor. For several hours, nothing happened. The church service that was to begin the march was scheduled to take place at ten o'clock, but veterans advised newcomers--in the first of several bitter, self-mocking jokes that became current on the Selma-Montgomery road--that this was C.P.T., Colored People Time, and the service actually began more than an hour behind schedule. In a field behind the housing development, the Reverend Andrew Young, executive director of Dr. Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C., referred to by some of the marchers as Slick), which sponsored the march, was giving marshals and night security guards last-minute instructions in the tactics of non-violence. "Keep women and children in the middle," he said. "If there's a shot, stand up and make the others kneel down. Don't be lagging around, or you're going to get hurt. Don't rely on the troopers, either. If you're beaten on, crouch and put your hands over the back of your head. Don't put up your arm to ward off a blow. If you fall, fall right down and look dead. Get to know the people in your unit, so you can tell if somebody's missing or if there's somebody there who shouldn't be there. And listen! If you can't be non-violent, let me know now." A young man in the standard denim overalls of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C., otherwise known as Snick) murmured, "Man, you've got it all so structured. There seems to be a certain anxiety here about structure." Everyone laughed, a bit nervously, and the marshals went to the front of the church.

The crowd there was growing, still arrayed in two lines, one facing in, the other facing out. There were National Guardsmen and local policemen, on foot and in jeeps and cars, along the sides of Sylvan Street and around its corners, at Jefferson Davis and Alabama Avenues. The marchers themselves appeared to have dressed for all kinds of weather and occasions--in denims, cassocks, tweed coats, ponchos, boots, sneakers, Shetland sweaters, silk dresses, college sweatshirts, sports shirts, khaki slacks, fur-collared coats, pea jackets, and trenchcoats. As they waited, they sang innumerable, increasingly dispirited choruses of "We Shall Overcome," "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round," and other songs of the movement. There was a moment of excitement when Dr. King and other speakers assembled on the steps, but a succession of long, rhetorical, and, to a certain extent (when press helicopters buzzed too low or when the microphone went dead), inaudible speeches put a damper on that. An enthusiastic lady, of a sort that often afflicts banquets and church suppers, sang several hymns of many stanzas, with little melody and much vibrato. Exhaust fumes from a television truck parked to the right of the steps began to choke some of the marchers, and they walked away, coughing. Speakers praised one another extravagantly in monotonous political-convention cadences ("the man who . . ."). An irreverent, irritated voice with a Bronx accent shouted, "Would you mind please talking a little louder!" Several members of the crowd sat down in the street, and the march assumed the first of its many moods--that of tedium.

Then Dr. King began to speak, and suddenly, for no apparent reason, several Army jeeps drove straight through the center of the crowd. ("Didn't realize we were interrupting," said one of the drivers, smiling. He had a D.D., for Dixie Division, emblem on his uniform.) The startled crowd, divided in half for a moment, became aware of its size. Dr. King's speech came to an end, and there was last, unified, and loud rendition of "We Shall Overcome." Then the marshals quickly arranged the crowd in columns, six abreast--women and children in the middle--and the procession set out down Sylvan Street. It was about one o'clock. On Alabama Avenue, the marchers turned right, passing lines of silent white citizens on the sidewalks. On Broad Street, which is also U.S. Route 80 to Montgomery, they turned left, and as segregationist loudspeakers along the way blared "Bye, Bye, Blackbird" and the white onlookers began to jeer, the marchers approached and crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge. And the march entered another mood--jubilation.

[originally posted: 1/20/06]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:34 AM


Natural Law from a Birmingham Jail: Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," was one of the finest modern appeals to natural law. (RONALD J. RYCHLAK, 1/17/11, Inside Catholic)

King's response to the clergymen, his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," was one of the finest modern appeals to natural law. In it, he wrote: "I would agree with St. Augustine that, an unjust law is no law at all." Moreover, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."As such, "One has . . . a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."

King's analysis, of course, raises the question of how to determine whether a law is just. Here, King turned to natural law. He explained: "A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." He then looked to St. Thomas Aquinas: "An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law." Applying that to the case at hand, King explained: "All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority."

Directly responding to the clergymen, King wrote: "In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?" After providing some examples, he explained his problem with the suggestion that they should wait for the courts to act: "It is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber."

King explained that "oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained."

King said that a change had come in his way of thinking: "I have tried [in the past] to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends." Thus, the legal system, while "moral" in and of itself, was at that time in history protecting the immoral system of segregation.

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[originally posted: 1/18/11

Posted by Orrin Judd at 5:30 AM


Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. (Richard John Neuhaus, October 2002, First Things)

I am in the minority with my admiration for Ralph Abernathy's 1989 autobiographical account of the movement, And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Abernathy was beyond doubt closer to King than anyone else. After the assassination, he took King's place as head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), although he knew as well as anyone that he was no Martin Luther King. His book was harshly criticized for its candor about King's sexual vagaries, but other published accounts had been more explicit on that score. What I think got to many reviewers is that Abernathy refused to toe the line on the leftist ideology of the movement and even, in the early eighties, took a conservative turn, offering some favorable words on, of all people, Ronald Reagan.

His gravest violation of conventional tellings is that he declined to see black Americans as a victim class oppressed by white racism, or to depict the movement as a response of revolutionary rage. As he told the story, King was a privileged son of the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta and he, Abernathy, was the heir of a tradition of black dignity in a rural Alabama he describes in almost idyllic terms. Abernathy was daringly "incorrect," and he paid a steep price for it. "Though slavery as an institution was wicked and foreign to the will of our Lord," he wrote, "it was not uniformly cruel and abusive. Some slaves, in the midst of their degradation, were treated with a measure of Christian charity, just as some prisoners of war have always been treated better than others. In the worst of circumstances, the human heart is still a mysterious variable."

His grandparents were slaves, but did not understand themselves to be victims. "In Marengo County during the first half of the twentieth century, the name 'Abernathy' meant integrity, responsibility, generosity, and religious commitment--and it came to mean that largely through the life and testimony of the black Abernathys. . . . So I feel no shame in going by a last name to which my father and mother brought such character and dignity. It was their name. They didn't just borrow it from a long-dead white man. They paid for it with their exemplary lives and therefore owned it outright when they passed it along to me."

Abernathy says that as a boy he was aware of racial segregation, but to him and other blacks in Alabama it was no big deal if the white folks wanted to have their own drinking fountains and a separate entrance at the post office. What did rankle is that white folk wouldn't call his father "Mister." The demand for white courtesy, and respect for the dignity that black folk knew they possessed--that was the issue in what came to be called the civil rights movement. That was the issue when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, a refusal that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott to which Abernathy recruited Martin Luther King, Jr., thus launching them both on a tumultuous course that they could neither anticipate nor control.

A Legacy Not Well Served

That is in largest part the story of And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: how a modest campaign for basic human decency somehow exploded into an out-of-control movement that, picking up a curious mix of causes and characters along the way, was perceived as a revolutionary challenge to the fundamental institutions and beliefs of the country and the world. Oddly enough, Marshall Frady's Martin Luther King, Jr. tells much of the story in the same way, although Frady tends to be condescending, at best, toward Ralph David Abernathy. Abernathy is described as "a stocky, slow badger of a man with a drowsy-eyed, drooping face but a droll and rollicking earthiness, who in their special comradeship over the years was to serve as something like King's Falstaff." At another point: "There was already, of course, the dutiful Abernathy, [King's] baggy, dolorous-faced, waggish Sancho Panza [who was] totally steadfast." It was easy to underestimate Abernathy, as I too learned. He did play the clown at times, but at times of crisis there was no one whose intuitive judgment King trusted more.

On the other hand, Frady has a high estimate of Jesse Jackson. In 1996 he published Jesse: The Life and Pilgrimage of Jesse Jackson, and in the present book he writes: "Jesse Jackson, after founding his own movement organization in Chicago, would eventually convert what was perhaps the largest victory of King's apostleship--the claiming of the vote for all blacks--into two surprisingly impressive guerrilla presidential campaigns in 1984 and 1988: As it turned out, this aide who came latest to King, and was perhaps most mistrusted by him, would come closest to developing into his heir as the single most eloquent symbol of pride and hope for masses of black Americans." All the worse for masses of black Americans, in the judgment of many. Frady attempts to excuse even Jackson's smearing of his shirt with King's blood on April 4, 1968 and then going on television to present himself as the anointed heir.

King mistrusted Jackson with good reason, and the following decades have vindicated that mistrust as Jackson has time and again acted as an opportunist, an ambulance chaser, and a publicity hound, who has skillfully exploited the memory of the movement by turning it into a lucrative extortion racket for shaking down corporate America. With a few honorable exceptions, such as Andrew Young, King's legacy has not been well served by those closest to him.

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[originally posted: 1/19/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:31 AM


Celebrating Dr. King -- The Moral Authority of Law (Charles Colson, 1/17/11, Catholic Exchange)

"A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is out of harmony with the moral law."

It was with these very words, in his memorable Letter from a Birmingham Jail, that Martin Luther King, Jr., threw down the gauntlet in his great Civil Rights crusade. King refused to obey what he regarded as an immoral law that did not square with the law of God.

All across America today, millions of people are celebrating the birthday of this courageous man, and deservedly so. He was a fearless battler for truth, and all of us are in his debt because he remedied past wrongs and brought millions of Americans into the full riches of citizenship.

In schools and on courthouse steps, people will be quoting his "I Have a Dream" speech today. It is an elegant and powerful classic. But I would suggest that one of Dr. King's greatest accomplishments, one which will be little mentioned today because it has suddenly become "politically incorrect," is his advocacy of the true moral foundations of law.

King defended the transcendent source of the law's authority. In doing so he took a conservative Christian view of law.

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[originally posted: 1/17/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:06 AM


Martin Luther King Jr.: Playboy Interview (Playboy, January 1965)

PLAYBOY: Wasn't it another such incident on a bus, years later, that thrust you into your present role as a civil rights leader?

MARTIN LUTHER KING: Yes, it was--in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. E.D. Nixon, a Pullman porter long identified with the NAACP, telephoned me late one night to tell me that Mrs. Rosa Parks had been arrested around seven-thirty that evening when a bus driver demanded that she give up her seat, and she refused--because her feet hurt. Nixon had already bonded Mrs. Parks out of prison. He said, "It's time this stops; we ought to boycott the buses." I agreed and said, "Now." The next night we called a meeting of Negro community leaders to discuss it, and on Saturday and Sunday we appealed to the Negro community, with leaflets and from the pulpits, to boycott the buses on Monday. We had in mind a one-day boycott, and we were banking on 60-percent success. But the boycott saw instantaneous 99-percent success. We were so pleasantly surprised and impressed that we continued, and for the next 381 days the boycott of Montgomery's buses by Negroes was 99 9/10 successful.

PLAYBOY: Were you sure you'd win?

MARTIN LUTHER KING: There was one dark moment when we doubted it. We had been struggling to make the boycott a success when the city of Montgomery successfully obtained an injunction from the court to stop our car pool. I didn't know what to say to our people. They had backed us up, and we had let them down. It was a desolate moment. I saw, all of us saw, that the court was leaning against us. I remember telling a group of those working closest with me to spread in the Negro community the message, "We must have the faith that things will work out somehow, that God will make a way for us when there seems no way." It was about noontime, I remember, when Rex Thomas of the Associated Press rushed over to where I was sitting and told me of the news flash that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared that bus segregation in Montgomery was unconstitutional. It had literally been the darkest hour before the dawn.

PLAYBOY: You and your followers were criticized, after your arrest for participating in the boycott, for accepting bail and leaving jail. Do you feel, in retrospect, that you did the right thing?

MARTIN LUTHER KING: No; I think it was a mistake, a tactical error for me to have left jail, by accepting bail, after being indicted along with 125 others, mainly drivers of our car pool, under an old law of doubtful constitutionality, an "antiboycott" ordinance. I should have stayed in prison. It would have nationally dramatized and deepened our movement even earlier, and it would have more quickly aroused and keened America's conscience.

PLAYBOY: Do you feel you've been guilty of any comparable errors in judgment since then?

MARTIN LUTHER KING: Yes, I do--in Albany, Georgia, in 1962. If I had that to do again, I would guide that community's Negro leadership differently than I did. The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it. Our protest was so vague that we got nothing, and the people were left very depressed and in despair. It would have been much better to have concentrated upon integrating the buses or the lunch counters. One victory of this kind would have been symbolic, would have galvanized support and boosted morale. But I don't mean that our work in Albany ended in failure. The Negro people there straightened up their bent backs: You can't ride a man's back unless it's bent. Also, thousands of Negroes registered to vote who never had voted before, and because of the expanded Negro vote in the next election for governor of Georgia--which pitted a moderate candidate against a rabid segregationist--Georgia elected its first governor who had pledged to respect and enforce the law impartially. And what we learned from our mistakes in Albany helped our later campaigns in other cities to be more effective. We have never since scattered our efforts in a general attack on segregation, but have focused upon specific, symbolic objectives.

PLAYBOY: Can you recall any other mistakes you've made in leading the movement?

MARTIN LUTHER KING: Well, the most pervasive mistake I have made was in believing that because our cause was just, we could be sure that the white ministers of the South, once their Christian consciences were challenged, would rise to our aid. I felt that white ministers would take our cause to the white power structures. I ended up, of course, chastened and disillusioned. As our movement unfolded, and direct appeals were made to white ministers, most folded their hands--and some even took stands against us.

PLAYBOY: Their stated reason for refusing to help was that it was not the proper role of the church to "intervene in secular affairs." Do you disagree with this view?

MARTIN LUTHER KING: Most emphatically. The essence of the Epistles of Paul is that Christians should rejoice at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believe. The projection of a social gospel, in my opinion, is the true witness of a Christian life. This is the meaning of the true ekklesia--the inner, spiritual church. The church once changed society. It was then a thermostat of society. But today I feel that too much of the church is merely a thermometer, which measures rather than molds popular opinion.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


God and Politics: BILLY GRAHAM AND THE RISE OF THE REPUBLICAN SOUTH by Steven P. Miller (ROSS DOUTHAT, NY Times Book Review)

The story of the civil rights era is usually told as a collision between heroes and villains: the marchers on one side and the K.K.K. on the other; the Martin Luther Kings and Lyndon Johnsons making the way straight for justice, and the George Wallaces and Bull Connors standing sneering in their way. But the movement's successes and failures were ultimately determined by the choices of more un­heroic men -- men like Billy Graham.

These choices began with Graham's decision, in the early '50s, to shed the baggage of his segregationist upbringing and recast himself as a racial moderate -- a critic of Jim Crow, albeit a determined gradualist where its elimination was concerned. This was a moral and theological conversion. Miller, a historian, is very good at teasing out the connection between Graham's religious views and his evolving opinions on race, and the way that doctrinal controversies within evangelical Christianity (for instance, the argument between moderates and fundamentalists over whether God is a father to all mankind, or only to all believers) intersected with political debates about racial equality. Yet it was also a career-minded conversion. The young Graham had grand ambitions for his ministry, and to become an international spokesman for Christianity, in the age of the cold war and decolonization, required distancing himself from the South's controversial institutions.

But a similar combination of theological principle and careerist caution meant that Graham's critique of segregation never went nearly as far as civil rights activists wanted him to go. He stressed individual conversion over political change, supporting legal reform in lukewarm terms while insisting that only the Gospel could really improve race relations. He maintained strong friendships with segregationist clergymen and politicians, and his attacks on racism were always tempered by deliberate hedges and straddles -- denunciations of extremists on "both sides" of the debate, suggestions that race relations were worse in the North than in the South, and so forth. Where Martin Luther King used eschatological language as a spur to political change, Graham used eschatology to emphasize the limits of politics. "Only when Christ comes again," he reportedly said after King's speech at the March on Washington, "will the lion lie down with the lamb and the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with the little black children."

At the core of Graham's approach, Mil­ler argues, was an evangelical view of political authority as essentially God-­given and not to be lightly challenged. This made him a natural ally for presidents like Dwight Eisenhower and Johnson, who needed prominent white Southerners to serve as spokesmen for the acceptance of desegregation laws. And it enabled him, as Miller says, to "set the terms of the racial curve" that even as strident a segregationist as Wallace "would eventually round."

But it made him a fair-weather friend to the civil rights activists themselves. Graham supported the era's landmark legislation once it was passed into law, but he was a constant critic of the marches, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience that helped make reform possible. His first commitment was always to law and order, and his first instinct was always to call for an end to further agitation.

...but live in the City of Man.

[originally posted: 4/18/09]

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January 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Obama's myRA retirement accounts are now a reality (Melanie Hicken, January 18, 2015, CNNMoney)

Don't have a 401(k) or pension at your job? The federal government has an option for you called myRA.

President Obama announced his plans for the starter retirement savings accounts in his State of the Union address last year. The accounts will be backed by the government, charge no fees and you'll be able to contribute directly from each paycheck. [...]

Here's how it works: the accounts are basically a new kind of Roth Individual Retirement Account, which means that you can invest after-tax dollars and withdraw the earnings tax-free in retirement. Plus, you can withdraw the funds you put into the account without penalty at any time.

Now make it pre-tax income, allow stock fund purchases, limit withdrawals and means-test SS benefits against them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM


Woman plans to marry her father after two years of dating (FoxNews.com, 1/17/15)

A teenager has revealed in an interview that she plans to marry her father and have children after dating for two years. [...]

After the wedding, the woman says they plan to move to New Jersey where adult incest is legal.

This is the legacy Justice Kennedy has to live with if he decides marriage is a constutional right.

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


Anti-Immigrant Rally Canceled in Germany After Leader Is Threatened (ALISON SMALE, JAN. 18, 2015, NY Times)

An anti-immigrant movement whose weekly rallies in Dresden have swelled to 25,000 participants called off on Sunday this week's scheduled rally, citing warnings of a terrorist threat to its leader.

Where was Twitter in 1923, when we needed it?

Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


Obama to propose tax hikes on investments, inherited property (CAROL E. LEE, COLLEEN MCCAIN NELSON and JOHN D. MCKINNON,  Jan 18, 2015, WSJ)

President Barack Obama will call on the new Republican-led Congress to raise taxes on investments and inherited property and to create or expand a range of tax breaks for middle-income families, laying out an opening position in a debate over taxation that both parties see as a potential area of compromise.

Obama will outline the measures in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. He will propose using revenue generated from the tax increases--which would fall mainly on high-income households--to pay for a raft of new breaks aimed at boosting stagnant incomes for low- and middle-income households.

Those initiatives include tripling the child-care tax credit and creating a new credit for families in which both spouses work, senior administration officials said on Saturday.

The administration plans to consolidate and expand education tax breaks. It would also make retirement savings programs available to many more people, for example by requiring many employers that don't currently offer workers a retirement plan to enroll them automatically in an individual retirement account. The administration says its proposals would make retirement saving programs available to 30 million additional people at the workplace.

Obama's address Tuesday will start the process of determining where he might find common ground with the new Republican Congress. Both the president and GOP leaders have said that a tax overhaul, along with trade, might yield compromises.

The GOP will happily accept middle class cuts in exchange for dropping the increases.

Taxing inheritance is sensible, but taxing investment is obviously idiotic.  All you really have to do is ask : do we not want investment in the economy?

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Rating the Republicans (David Brooks, 1/15/15, NY Times)

 The Ohio governor is easily the most underestimated Republican this year. He just won a landslide victory in the swingiest of the swing states. He carried 86 of Ohio's 88 counties. He won Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, and which President Obama won by 40 points in 2012.

Kasich is the Republican version of Jerry Brown: experienced but undisciplined in an honest, unvarnished way. If he shows he can raise money, and if voters want someone fresh but seasoned and managerial, he might be the guy.

The inaugural address he delivered on Monday was a straight-up values speech. But it wasn't about values the way Pat Robertson used to define them. It was traditional values expressed in inclusive, largely secular form. "I think the erosion of basic values that made our nation great is the most serious problem facing our state and our nation today," he said. "And I'm not talking about those volatile issues."

He built his speech around empathy, resilience, responsibility and other virtues: "You know why this happened? Too fixated on ourselves. It's all about me. And somehow we have lost the beautiful sound of our neighbors' voices. Moving beyond ourselves and trying to share in the experience of others helps us open our minds, allows us to grow as people. It helps us become less self-righteous. Did you ever find that in yourself? I do ... self-righteous."

Kasich has a long conservative record, but in his speech he celebrated government workers, like the woman who runs his job and family services department. He argued that economic growth is not an end unto itself, especially when it's not widely shared.

Kasich, a working-class kid, spoke as a small government conservative who sometimes uses government to advance Judeo-Christian values. His mantra is, "When you die and get to the meeting with St. Peter, he's probably not going to ask you much about what you did about keeping government small, but he is going to ask you what you did for the poor."

If Jeb hadn't run, he'd be formidable.  As is, a Jeb/Kasich ticket puts FL and OH out of play in the general, which is huge.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Holder Does Something Right (John Steele Gordon, 01.18.2015, Commentary)

It's hard to believe, but Eric Holder's Justice Department has actually done a good thing. On Friday, the attorney general barred state and local police from using federal law to seize property from citizens without a warrant or criminal charges. Under a program called Equitable Sharing, police could pull someone over for some minor infraction, and then, if they found, say, a large amount of cash, seize it and the vehicle without any evidence that the cash had been obtained illegally. The citizen would then have to prove his innocence to get it back.

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


Saving President Lincoln : The scholarly achievement of Harry Jaffa. (Andrew Ferguson, January 26, 2015, Weekly Standard)

Here's where Plato and Thrasymachus come in. In The Republic, Plato quotes Thrasymachus on the nature of justice: "Justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger." Today we might call this view relativism--the belief that such truths have no independent existence except as a matter of opinion or as an exertion of power. The power might be pressed, and justice redefined, by an oligarchy, or a monarchy, or even a democratic majority. 

This is the essential point on which Lincoln confronted Douglas. On the cusp of the Civil War Douglas asserted that slavery would be legitimate in any territory where a majority had declared it so. No, said Jaffa's Lincoln: Either some things were just in themselves, or justice had no meaning. Slavery violated the self-evident truth on which the country was founded, that all men were created equal. This was a truth for all men in all places at all times; it varied only in how clearly it was acknowledged and acted upon. No majority vote could alter it. It was a truth that was true without regard to the say-so of passing arrangements of power or fashion. 

Jaffa put it like this, in a paragraph that distills Lincoln's mind better than any words not written by Lincoln himself. 

If self-government was a right, and not a mere fact characterizing the American scene (more or less), then it must be derived from some primary source of obligation. There must be something, Lincoln insisted, inhering in each man, as a man, which created an obligation in every other man. And if any majority anywhere, however constituted, might rightfully enslave any man or men, it could only be because there was nothing in any man which, simply because he was a man, other men were bound to respect.

"That is the issue," Lincoln said in one of the debates. "It is the eternal struggle between these two principles--right and wrong--throughout the world." Throughout the world and throughout time: from Plato to Lincoln, from Thrasymachus to Stephen Douglas, and from their day to ours. Jaffa rescued Lincoln from the petty disputes of the academic historians and the other scholar squirrels and placed him in the company he deserved. The greatest American was returned to his exalted position in the American experiment, and the American experiment to its exalted place in human history. And the rest of us, watching Jaffa pull it off, were floored--delighted--thrilled.

In the end, the republican experiment is a matter of liberty.
Posted by orrinj at 10:08 AM


The Bushes, as Distinct and Alike as Brothers Can Be (PETER BAKER, JAN. 17, 2015, NY Times)

The oldest two sons of George Bush, the 41st president, George W. and Jeb share many traits. Both are deeply religious, schooled in politics, enamored of sports. They are punctual and impatient, rushing through activities, like golf, where others prefer to linger. Both worship their father. Both are conservative on issues like abortion and gun rights while pushing their party away from orthodoxy in areas like education and immigration.

Yet watching them together might confuse the uninitiated. George, 68, likes to work a room. He teases and needles aides, lawmakers or reporters until he gets a rise. He talks about issues in broad strokes, believes in delegating and sometimes mangles his English.

Several inches taller, Jeb, 61, reads footnotes, emails frenetically and talks in full, wonky paragraphs. But in political settings, he sometimes seems to eye the exit, calculating how to get from here to there with the least fuss. "Former President Bush is much more instantly gregarious, a bigger personality," said Ari Fleischer, George W. Bush's first White House press secretary. "When he walks into a room, he just takes it over, by style and by charm. Jeb is more intellectual, more pensive and more articulate."

Jeb Bush has a quick wit, Mr. Fleischer added, but it is softer than his brother's.

"Jeb is very much a policy wonk and comes across that way," he said. "Former President Bush was much more big picture, strong leader, defined things in immediately clear moral terms."

They come at politics from different angles. "Public service seems to be a calling for George Senior and George Junior, whereas for Jeb it is about a mission," said Clint Bolick, who wrote a book on immigration with Jeb Bush. "It's about policy and ideas. I never really got the impression that either his dad or his brother were really motivated by ideas and policies. For Jeb, politics is a means to an end rather than an end in itself."

As it happens, some said, that empirical approach may not inspire as much passion, positive or negative. "George W. Bush stirs these feelings up, love and hate, more than Jeb Bush does," said one Republican close to both, who, like many interviewed, did not want to be identified discussing them personally.

Jeb grew up faster, marrying young and becoming a father at age 23. He was the one the family expected to follow in the family business by running for office. George was not a father until 35, after years of enjoying what he called the four B's -- beer, bourbon and B & B liqueur.

"He was more of a late bloomer; I think his period of 'youthful indiscretions' lasted longer than Jeb's," said Ana Navarro, a former aide to Jeb Bush. "Jeb has a more serious demeanor. He's not the type of guy that reaches out to shoot the breeze or just check in. When he contacts you, it's with a purpose."

Describing himself in a 1988 interview, Jeb Bush said, "I am kind of antisocial," attributing that to his mother, who "dislikes phony formalities." That same year, Marvin Bush, the youngest brother, said: "Jeb is the serious one. We have always thought that he would have a public career." And the oldest brother? "George? George is the family clown." [...]

Recent speeches and interviews have given few indications that Jeb Bush will vary drastically from his brother's record or second-guess decisions like the Iraq invasion. James K. Glassman, founding director of the George W. Bush Presidential Institute, said that for all their personal distinctions, the brothers were in sync on issues. "I never ran into any examples of where they have a difference in policy," he said.

At times, Jeb Bush's message even echoes his brother's from 2000. In a recent speech, he called for "humility" in international affairs, echoing George W. Bush's campaign call for a "humble" foreign policy (an approach he arguably discarded after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001).

Karen Hughes, a longtime adviser to George W. Bush, said Jeb's domestic ideas sounded like her former boss's compassionate conservative theme. "I love his 'right to rise' message, which I believe is similar to Gov. George W. Bush's emphasis on reading as the new 'civil right' and view that government should be limited but also promote opportunity," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


The Shrinking Deficit Means Fewer New Bonds (AKIN OYEDELE, JAN. 14, 2015, Business Insider)

Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg is convinced that the 30-year bull market in US treasuries still has room to run.

One key reason: supply and demand in the bond market.

In a note Tuesday, Rosenberg highlighted that because the federal budget deficit is shrinking, there is less need for the government to borrow money by issuing bonds.

And at the same time, demand for treasuries is robust.

The reality is the world economy can't afford a balanced US budget.

January 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Yabba dabba d'oh! Stone Age man wasn't necessarily more advanced than the Neanderthals (UNIVERSITY OF MONTREAL, Eureka Alert)

A multi-purpose bone tool dating from the Neanderthal era has been discovered by University of Montreal researchers, throwing into question our current understanding of the evolution of human behaviour. It was found at an archaeological site in France. "This is the first time a multi-purpose bone tool from this period has been discovered. It proves that Neanderthals were able to understand the mechanical properties of bone and knew how to use it to make tools, abilities usually attributed to our species, Homo sapiens," said Luc Doyon of the university's Department of Anthropology, who participated in the digs. Neanderthals lived in Europe and western Asia in the Middle Paleolithic between around 250,000 to 28,000 years ago. Homo sapiens is the scientific term for modern man.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Jeb could ruin Hillary's political run (CARL HIAASEN, 1/16/15, MIAMIHERALD.COM)

If you're Hillary, things were looking super solid for 2016 until Jeb started making moves like he was going to run. Now what do you do?

You had counted on locking up the huge Hispanic vote, yet here's a Republican who speaks fluent Spanish and openly favors a more compassionate immigration policy than his party espouses. This will be a problem.

If Jeb were more like Romney, you could depend on him to flip-flop and retreat to an extreme position that would drive away Latino voters in droves. So far, though, Jeb hasn't backed down.

While Sen. Marco Rubio and other possible GOP candidates are still whining about same-sex marriages, Jeb has wisely thrown in the towel and says it's time to respect all sides of the debate, wishing the best for the couples now marrying.

If you're Hillary, you want to pull your hair out. You never planned on running against a Republican who respected gays and lesbians. It's not fair!

If Jeb sustains this tolerant tone, Hillary will be forced to devise a new attack strategy. [...]

On education, Jeb supports the Common Core curriculum in defiance of the GOP's right wing, eliminating another potential weapon from Hillary's debate arsenal.

If you are her, you're left hoping with all your soul that Romney muddies the center of the Republican Party, and saps prime attention and heavy money away from Jeb.

Why go through the whole process when you can't win the general.
Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Soldier, Vicar, Lover, Sleuth (NANCY DEWOLF SMITH, Jan. 15, 2015, WSJ)

The glorious new PBS mystery series "Grantchester" is a revelation on two fronts and unforgettable on both. It turns back the clock to solve crime in a different era, offering respite from the world around us now even as it reveals how little ever changes about the human heart.

Set in 1953 in the English countryside outside Cambridge University, the series is quiet like many of us have never heard or can barely remember. The silence is not just literal--although the stillness, the absence of auditory chaff as if every day were the morning after a heavy snowfall, is a reminder of how harsh the present cacophony of gadgetry, traffic, engines and yakking strangers has become. More astounding, in a time before modern distractions, is the stillness of life itself, through which passions born of yearning or fear or anger occasionally erupt like magma through the placid surface of things.

At the center of it all is a young English vicar, Sidney Chambers (James Norton), who presides over a village parish in the tentative first decade of peacetime. The Anglican reverend is old enough to have taken part in bloody combat as a Scots Guards officer in World War II, which is never far from his mind until he drops asleep at his desk, a sermon unfinished and a whiskey glass still in his hand. But he is young enough to be tormented also, in a way perhaps only the young at heart can be, with longing for a love that will make him feel whole.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM

BUT FOR 9-11...:

Obama Looks to Trim State of the Union Speech (CAROL E. LEE, 1/16/15, WSJ)

One of the White House's goals as President Barack Obama puts the final touches on his upcoming State of the Union address is shortening the speech, people familiar with the process say.

...W woul;d have done us all the favor of returning to a written submission instead of a speech.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Can Compression Clothing Enhance Your Workout? (GRETCHEN REYNOLDS,  JANUARY 14, 2015, NY Times)

A review of more than 30 studies of the effects of compression clothing in sports performance and recovery, for instance, determined that "compression clothing may assist athletic performance and recovery in given situations." Those situations involve sports such as basketball or track and field that require explosive sprinting and leaping, although athletes in other sports, including weight training, have reported feeling less sore if they wear compression clothes than if they don't, the review found.

How the clothes work, though, remains mostly baffling -- and may owe something to input from the mind. "We can't blind people" in exercise studies about whether they are wearing compression garments or not, said Billy Sperlich, a professor of exercise science at the University of Würzburg in Germany, who led the study of blood flow and also was a co-author of the recent review.

So people's expectations of what the clothes will accomplish may color their results.

Which does not mean that any resulting benefits are not real, Dr. Sperlich said. "Since beliefs are strong performance enhancers, I would recommend compression clothing to persons who believe in the performance-enhancing effect," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Green-Energy Inspiration Off the Coast of Denmark (DIANE CARDWELL, JAN. 17, 2015, NY Times)

Monhegan faces challenges as stark as its beauty. Foremost among them -- and the spur for the journey to Denmark -- is dependence on expensive, dirty fuels for heating and electricity. Even with the recent fall in oil prices, Monhegan residents pay among the highest power rates in the nation -- almost six times the national average -- and the electric company, locally owned and operated, struggles to keep the lights on.

Twenty years ago, Samso faced similar problems. Its farming and fishing industries were in decline, and its electricity and heating costs, mostly from diesel and coal, were rising. Its young people were leaving the island to attend high school and choosing not to return.

But in 1997, the island began a long-term transformation. It won a government-sponsored contest to create a model community for renewable energy and, through a combination of wind and solar (for electricity) and geothermal and plant-based energy (for heating), the island reached green energy independence in 2005. That means Samso actually generates more power from renewable sources than it consumes over all. Attached by a power cable to the mainland 11 miles away, the island sells its excess electricity to the national utility, bringing income to the hundreds of residents who own shares in the island's wind farms, both on land and at sea.

Samso has attracted global attention for its accomplishments. Soren Hermansen, 55, and his wife, Malene Lunden, 49, worked for years to develop the program on the island and now have created an institute, the Samso Energy Academy, to spread their story and methods to international visitors.

The Maine islanders, along with students from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, had traveled to Samso to attend the academy and hear the Danes' advice. If all went well, each islander would go home with a team of students dedicated to solving an energy problem using ideas borrowed from Samso.

Beyond that, the planners hoped, new Maine island projects could become templates for broader adoption of renewable energy. Because of their particular geography, islands often lack the resources and infrastructures to meet their own needs. Fuel, like other necessities, is often imported -- sometimes with great difficulty -- and electric grids, when they even exist, are often underdeveloped or out of date, all of which leads to higher prices and less reliable service. With residents open to cheaper and better alternatives, islands are becoming seedbeds of innovation, living labs in which to test and refine technologies and approaches that are too new or expensive to establish on a mainland. And their small size makes the systems easier to manage and analyze.

Denmark is also studying the use of renewables on Bornholm, an even more remote island than Samso, in the Baltic Sea, said Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the country's minister of climate, energy and building. The Carbon War Room, the nonprofit organization started by the Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson, and NRG Energy, an independent power producer, are experimenting with solar, wind and geothermal sources to replace diesel in the Caribbean. And the Alaska Energy Authority has awarded several renewable energy innovation grants to offshore communities.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Opting Out of Unions Gets Boost in States (MARK PETERS, Jan. 15, 2015, WSJ)

A new wave of bills that would allow workers to opt out of joining unions is expected from Maine to New Mexico as Republicans look to capitalize on statehouse gains to put new limits on organized labor.

Nearly half of U.S. states already have such laws--called "right to work" measures by backers--which allow employees in unionized workplaces to refrain from joining a union and paying dues. But only three states have become part of those ranks in the past two decades: Oklahoma in 2001 and Michigan and Indiana in 2012.

Supporters of such laws say November's election could provide new momentum as legislatures reconvene and Republicans have the largest number of state lawmakers since 1920. But such bills would face opposition from labor leaders and Democrats, while some Republicans see the often divisive issue as a distraction.

Backers say workers should be able to choose whether to join a union, and they say the laws can make their states more attractive to employers.

Opponents say the measures effectively depress wages and benefits for everyone, as well as undercut labor's political power, by reducing union membership rolls.

The point is to depress wages and benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


What it means to be a conservative : Roger Scruton's new book shines a philosophical light on conservatism. (Holly Hamilton-Bleakley, 14 January 2015, MercatorNet)

Having been raised by a socialist, Scruton is quick to point out his father's socialism sat side by side with a love of English liberty, the 'freedom to say what you think and live as you will', which the English 'have defended over centuries.'  Yet, even as a young man Scruton could see that socialism was a 'dream'.  And later, when he found himself involved in the former eastern bloc he reports that he 'learned to see socialism in another way - not as a dream of idealists, but as a real system of government, imposed from above and maintained by force.'  Socialism, Scruton argues, is based upon a 'desire to control society in the name of equality, which carries with it a contempt for human freedom.

It is exactly this 'top-down' approach characteristic of socialism that Scruton contrasts again and again with conservatism, which he maintains is about 'society shaped from below, by traditions that have grown from our natural need to associate.'  For Scruton, this is civil society - comprised of families, clubs, schools, work places, church, etc., where 'people learn to interact as free beings, taking responsibility for their actions and accounting to their neighbours'.  And in an important way, this civil society 'built from below' is a pre-political one, in the sense that our political order depends upon civil society in order to work, but cannot createcivil society itself.

For the conservative, then, family and society are prior to government, and therefore government exists to protect these institutions, rather than to reformulate them according to some current liberal elite ideal.  'There is indeed such a thing as society,' argues Scruton, 'but it is composed of individuals.  And those individuals must be free, which means being free from the insolent claims of those who wish to redesign them.'

Freedom is thus an essential part of Scruton's conservatism, but it best thought of as a freedom tempered by a determination to preserve civil society, and to limit government.  It is certainly not the 'freedom' of leftist liberalism or postmodernism.  Scruton shows how the former has led to a culture of 'entitlement rights' which, instead of limiting government, have instead led to its monstrous growth.  And he shows how the latter has bred a scepticism about Western culture and objective truth which has led to 'choice' or 'consensus' as the highest value, with no truths left toinform choice.  Scruton is especially critical of this postmodern idea of freedom; quoting Matthew Arnold he says, 'freedom is a very good horse to ride, but to ride somewhere.'

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


You Could Make More Money Investing In Solar Panels Than Stocks (Ben Schiller, 1/16/15, Co.Exist)

Thinking of putting your money into the stock market? Think again. Solar panels may be a better bet.

With the price of grid electricity going up, and the cost of home-generated solar power going down, the case for investing in PV panels has never been better. In fact, it's so good that the savings may be higher than what you could make with a typical basket of stocks, a new report finds. The N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at North Carolina State University compared 25-year returns from Standard & Poor's 500 stock index with projected returns from a home solar system. In 46 of 50 cities, it found that solar came out ahead.

The analysis says solar power is frequently cheaper than grid electricity. "Of the single-family homeowners in America's 50 largest cities, we estimate that 9.1 million already live in a city where solar costs less than their current utility rates if they bought a PV system outright--and nearly 21 million (93% of all estimated single-family homeowners in those cities) do if low-cost financing is available," the report says. (Low-cost financing means interest rates of 5% on a 25-year lease.)

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that the median cost of residential solar has gone from about $12 a watt in 1998 to about $4.70 a watt in 2013. The calculation is based on the cost of a solar system over its lifetime, adjusted for inflation, and a typical household's power usage.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Tight race as Zambians pick Sata's successor ()
Zambian analyst Boniface Cheembe believes that the split experienced within the ruling party gave the opposition parties a head start for their campaigns. "The disunity within the ruling PF did contribute to the huge momentum that the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) is currently experiencing," he said. It is because of this (PF) split that the UPND have been able to get a number of endorsements that have put them in a core position to compete favorably and at least be in a position to even form the next government, Cheembe told DW.

Although there are eleven candidates nominated for the presidential by-election, the main battle is between Lungu of the ruling PF, Hakainde Hichilema of the UPND and Nevers Mumba of the former governing MMD. Elischer thinks Hichilema is the second strongest contender after Lungu.

Lungu told French news agency AFP that, if elected, he would like to bring all sides into government. "I want to form a government which will be very inclusive including former PF members, opposition politicians, and even those within the PF who viciously opposed my candidacy." He said he now wants the party and the country to move beyond the politics of ethnicity to a national identity.

DW correspondent Kathy Sikombe said most Zambians are hoping for a better economy with good standards of living and more job opportunities for the youth. She adds that the people are looking forward to a review of the constitution which is going to be "people driven." [...]

Cheembe said the race is very tight and that the electorate cannot tell who might win. "When [candidates] are asked what they will do when they lose, none of them seems to want to conceive that there is a possibility of losing." According to Cheembe, the two front runners, that is PF and UPND, believe they will win the first round of voting.

Zambians have shown a high level of interest during the campaigns. Huge numbers turned up for the political rallies held by the different political parties. "I think from those numbers, Zambians appear to be very engaged and wanting to listen to the messages and ideas from their candidates and they have been participating", Cheembe said, adding that in the rural areas there was less interest in the elections as it is the planting season.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Japan and Israel to Work Together in Cyberspace (Franz-Stefan Gady, January 15, 2015, Diplomat)

Japan is continuing to expand its network of partner across the world to tackle growing threats emerging from cyberspace. Next to deepening ties with Europe, Japan has also launched a new cyber security dialogue with Israel. As The Diplomat reported back in October 2014, the number of cyber-attacks on Japan is rising rapidly and Tokyo has embarked on an international campaign aimed at strengthening ties with like-minded countries in cyberspace.

At the beginning of January 2014, the Israeli Cabinet approved an investment plan to bolster Israel-Japan trade ties. The plan involves numerous government ministries in both countries, a major investment over the next three years, and among other things, aims to bolster joint research on space and cybersecurity development. The groundwork for this was laid back in July 2014 when Israel and Japan signed a research and cooperation agreement - the first such agreement ever for Japan. The agreement stipulates the dispersion of funds to Israeli and Japanese companies and research centers to conduct a wide range of research including on information and cybersecurity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Democrats ought to be terrified about losing these 3 critical swing states in 2016 (David Mark, January 16, 2015, The Week)

The 2014 midterm elections were a disaster for the president's party. Republicans picked up nine Senate seats, claiming a majority for the first time in eight years. And House Republicans bolstered their ranks to the party's highest levels since Herbert Hoover was president.

Even worse for Democrats: The apparent loosening of their near-lock on the Electoral College, which actually determines who gets to the White House. In three states that were critical to Obama's wins in 2008 and 2012 -- Nevada, Colorado, and Virginia -- Republicans showed remarkable resurgence and strength in 2014.

These states were very recently thought to be safely in the Democratic column. Demographics had seriously shifted in recent years, thanks in no small part to influxes of Latino voters, Asian residents, and other swaths of non-whites. Bankable wins here meant Democrats could forgo traditional battlegrounds like Florida and Ohio and still win an Electoral College majority.

The three states are worth 28 electoral votes, out of the 270 needed to win. But add that onto the 242 electoral votes Democratic candidates won in the six presidential races from 1992 to 2012, and they're in the White House, with what seems like an all-but-assured win every four years.

Not so fast! Thanks to the GOP's big comeback in 2014, Republicans have plenty of reasons for optimism as the next White House scrum gets going.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


The Effect of Police Body Cameras (Alex Tabarrok, January 13, 2015, Marginal Revolution)

The first randomized controlled trial of police body cameras shows that cameras sharply reduce the use of force by police and the number of citizen complaints.

We conducted a randomized controlled trial, where nearly 1,000 officer shifts were randomized over a 12-month period to treatment and control conditions. During ''treatment shifts'' officers were required to wear and use body-worn-cameras when interacting with members of the public, while during ''control shifts'' officers were instructed not to carry or use the devices in any way. We observed the number of complaints, incidents of use-of-force, and the number of contacts between police officers and the public, in the years and months preceding the trial (in order to establish a baseline) and during the 12 months of the experiment.

The results were that police use of force reports halved on shifts when police wore cameras. In addition, the use of force during the entire treatment period (on shifts both using and not using cameras) was about half the rate as during pre-treatment periods. In other words, the camera wearing shifts appear to have caused police to change their behavior on all shifts in a way that reduced the use of force.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


How Southern Baptists became pro-life (David Roach, January 16, 2015, Baptist Press)

In 1970, a poll conducted by the Baptist Sunday School Board found that 70 percent of Southern Baptist pastors supported abortion to protect the mental or physical health of the mother, 64 percent supported abortion in cases of fetal deformity and 71 percent in cases of rape.

Three years later, a poll conducted by the Baptist Standard newsjournal found that 90 percent of Texas Baptists believed their state's abortion laws were too restrictive. [...]

Not all Southern Baptists supported abortion rights, however. Lewis became strongly pro-life in the late 1960s when he and his wife sought to adopt a child, believing they were unable to have biological children. The Lewises -- who eventually had three biological children -- were told they had to wait five years to adopt due to a shortage of children.

"To me it was incongruous that people would be destroying their babies when there were [couples] who were desperately wanting children," Lewis said.

For Land, a high school science class drove home the reality that unborn babies were humans worthy of protection. A classmate whose father was an obstetrician brought a fetus to school in a jar of formaldehyde as a prop for a presentation and stored it beside Land's desk. When Land told the teacher he was disturbed by the fetus, he was sent to the principal's office, where a school administrator asked, "You're not Catholic, are you?"

A few months later, Land's mother told him doctors had urged her to abort him, believing he would be born with severe abnormalities.

"From that moment forward, I really felt an obligation to speak up for unborn children who couldn't speak for themselves, because I had been in danger," Land, who was president of the CLC/ERLC for 25 years and now serves as president of Southern Evangelical Seminary, said.

As the 1970s progressed, Land, Lewis and thousands of individual Southern Baptists -- including the organization Southern Baptists for Life -- argued for protecting unborn life in all cases except to save the physical life of the mother. Among non-Southern Baptists, apologist Francis Schaeffer and future U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop argued that abortion was immoral and gained increased support for the pro-life cause.

Southern Baptists as prominent as W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, began to shift from a qualified pro-choice view to fully embrace the pro-life position.

Following the Roe v. Wade decision, news sources reported that Criswell said, "I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed."

But, according to Land, Criswell "listened intently" to pro-life arguments during the ensuing years, including arguments Land made while teaching at Criswell College beginning in 1975. When the "Criswell Study Bible" was published in 1979, Criswell included "overtly pro-life" study notes, Land said.

Mirroring Criswell's change of mind were similar changes in the broader evangelical world. Theologians Carl Henry and Norman Geisler, for example, both became ardently pro-life.

"Some of our pastors in those years hadn't really studied what Scripture said about abortion," Jerry Vines, former SBC president and retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., told BP. "But I think the carnage [of increased abortion following Roe v. Wade] drove them back to their Bibles to take a further look at it."

Studying a Greek word from the New Testament "really nailed down the abortion issue for me," Vines said.

The word "brephos," translated as "baby," is used eight times in the New Testament, Vines said. Six of those occurrences refer to children who have already been born, but two speak of John the Baptist in his mother's womb.

"That's pretty convincing evidence that Scripture looks on a baby in its mother's womb as a baby," said Vines, who also noted Jeremiah 1 and Psalm 139 as convincing pro-life passages.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Japan PM pledges $2.5 billion non-military Mideast aid (Times of Israel, January 17, 2015)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged Saturday $2.5 billion in non-military aid for the Middle East as he launched a regional tour that includes visits to Jordan and Israel.
In a speech in Cairo, Abe also pledged $200 million in non-military assistance for countries affected by the Islamic State (IS) group's bloody expansion in Iraq and Syria, which spurred an exodus of refugees to neighboring countries.

"Japan will newly carry out assistance of 2.5 billion US dollars in non-military fields including humanitarian assistance and infrastructure development, intended for the entire region," Abe said, according to an official transcript.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Public Unions vs. the Public : a review of GOVERNMENT AGAINST ITSELF By Daniel DiSalvo (AMITY SHLAES, Jan. 15, 2015, WSJ)

The facts: Public-sector unions are not underdogs. Since 2009, membership in unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the National Education Association has totaled more than the membership in traditional private-sector unions. The United Mine Workers, the union that resulted from the Harlan County conflict, counts under 50,000 active members, while the NEA boasts 2.5 million.

As Mr. DiSalvo shows, public-sector unions are also rich. Taken together, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually lobbying governments on behalf of their members. Our courts have ensured that funding for political activity will flow in the future by upholding rules that require payments from workers. Opponents of public-sector unions must content themselves with minor victories such as the recent Supreme Court opinion in Harris v. Quinn, which grants home-care workers, a narrow group, the right not to pay union dues.

This modern imbalance exists because of some long-ago shifts in federal law. In 1962 President John F. Kennedy signed Executive Order 10988, permitting collective bargaining for federal employees. State and city workers, teachers and firemen were also unionizing.

The very timing of local elections, as Mr. DiSalvo demonstrates, has worked to the unions' advantage. Towns hold elections in off years as well as presidential-election years. Turnout in off-year municipal elections runs about 36% lower. Unions, which can get out the vote, thus enjoy a disproportionate say in off years and schedule their referendums accordingly. But presidential years can yield results as well. When public-sector unions "pull out all the stops," Mr. DiSalvo writes, "they almost always win." By voting for Prop 98--powerfully pushed by the teachers' union--Californians in 1988 guaranteed that four in 10 dollars of California's general fund would henceforth be spent on K-12 education. This pattern of victory replicates itself across the states.

The trend is a shame and a drag on the economy. For the costs of public-sector unions are great. "The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste," the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas.

January 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 PM


The Keystone XL Illusion (Joe Nocera, 1/16/15, NY Times)

Then on Wednesday, [Greg Rickford, Canada's minister of natural resources,] went to Texas for two days. This is the part of his trip that really caught my attention. His main focus in Texas was on two new Canadian-controlled pipelines that became operational in mid-December. One is called the Flanagan South pipeline, which cost $2.8 billion. It covers nearly 600 miles, from Pontiac, Ill., to Cushing, Okla. The other pipeline, called the Seaway Twin, runs an additional 500 miles, from Cushing to Freeport, Tex., where the refineries are. It cost $1.2 billion. Guess where some of the oil that is going to run through those pipelines is coming from? Yep -- the tar sands of Alberta.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Is There Any Relief in Sight for Our Overtested Kids? (Allie Gross, Jan. 13, 2015, Mother Jones)

On the second day of school, instead of playing get-to-know you icebreakers, the students in Room 202 were hunched over worn test booklets filling in bubbles on Scantron sheets. At the time, Michigan, where I taught fifth grade Language Arts and Social Studies from 2010 through 2013, administered its annual tests in October. In a desperate attempt to raise its scores, the underperforming school where I worked announced that September would be dedicated solely to test preparation. What made this mandate unusual was the way it was enforced: Fearing dissent, the superintendent decreed that students would return to their homerooms from the prior year, pretty much stepping back a grade, for the first month. [...]

So who's to blame for this scenario--or any of the countless frustrating testing scenarios a teacher could tell you about? Select the best answer and fill in the appropriate bubble with a No. 2 pencil. (Even though many state tests are now administered by computer.)

A. Administrators and staff who neglect children's learning needs in favor of a "teach to the test" approach?

B. Testing companies that create confusing multiple-choice questions and have a financial stake in maintaining the testing status quo?

C. The states, which spend an average of $27 per student on testing--which encourages a fast-food approach to learning: a cheap and not necessarily satisfying or informative experience?

D. George W. Bush's 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policy, which ushered in an era of high-stakes testing by holding schools to the awesome but unrealistic expectation that all students would be 100 percent proficient in math and English by 2014, and then holding schools accountable by tying Title I federal funding to test scores?

E. President Obama waivers that release states from the strict restrictions of NCLB's Adequate Yearly Progress goals but which do ask states to tie teacher evaluations to test scores?

F. The recently introduced Common Core State Standards, which attempt to create more rigorous academic benchmarks but also come with new, harder and longer mandatory exams.

G. All the above.

Making them teach to the test is how conservatives too control of education away from teachers.  The use if test allows us to determine which teachers to sack, kids to voucherize and schools to close. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


A Contrarian Call for Another Low-Rate Year (Anchalee Worrachate, January 15, 2015, Businessweek)

Steven Major did something most people didn't: He got the bond market right in 2014. While many Wall Street bond forecasters said yields on 10-year Treasuries would approach 4 percent, Major, the London-based head of fixed-income research at HSBC Holdings, correctly predicted in August 2013 they would drop to about 2.1 percent by the end of 2014. "Some investors thought we were completely bonkers," he says. One client called urgently while Major was on a trip to Dubai because he thought 2.1 percent was a typo.

This year, Major is defying the consensus again. Wall Street sees the bond market headed for a big selloff: Accelerating growth, the argument goes, will lead the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates to make borrowing more expensive and keep the economy from overheating (bond prices fall when rates move higher). The median estimate of 74 forecasters in a Bloomberg survey is that the 10-year Treasury yield will hit 3 percent by yearend. Major says yields will keep dropping, possibly to as low as 1.5 percent, before turning up to end the year at 2.5 percent. The yield stood at 1.9 percent on Jan. 13.

Major says central banks won't raise rates while global growth remains weak. He says economic weakness will persist in part because of the vast amounts of debt governments took on during and after the financial crisis.

Rates will stay "low" because of deflation, which, of course, makes them normal to high. Indeed, the main drag on the world economy is probablythe usurious nature of recent rates.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


Grateful Dead to reunite for final concerts in July in Chicago  (Associated Press, Jan. 16, 2015)

The Grateful Dead is coming back to life for final concerts in July.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Iran's Beef (Norman Moss, 1/14/15, ISN)

Iranians remember with chagrin that for a long time, outside powers decided what policies they should follow and who be their leader.

Iran was important to Europe, and particularly Britain, as a source of oil, and Britain dominated its politics. In World War Two it became important because of its strategic position also, and Britain and Russia occupied it. The British deposed Shah Reza Pahlavi and put his son on the throne. When they suspected that the Prime Minister, General Zahedi, was pro-German, a few special forces men marched him out of his office at pistol point.

For a people with a proud history and a monarchy dating back 2,500 years to Cyrus the Great, this was humiliating.

More was to come. In 1950 the elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadeq, nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which dominated the Iranian economy, and sidelined the Shah. The Communist Party gained in popularity. In 1953 the CIA and the British Intelligence Service organised a coup, deposing Mossadeq and installing in his place General Zahedi, the man the British had turned out of the Prime Ministerial office ten years earlier. The Shah disposed of the constitution and ruled autocratically, backed by Savak, his feared secret police. He was a firm ally of the West.

Tom Gabbay's The Tehran Conviction is an unusually good spy thriller that rehearses this history, with a heavy debt to Stephen Kinzer's All the Shah's Men

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


Wind power 'adds resilience to UK energy market' (Mark Kinver, 1/16/15, BBC News)

Installing more wind turbines will make the UK's energy market more resilient to global fossil fuel price shocks, an independent report has concluded.

Dwindling domestic gas and coal supplies mean the nation would become dependent on volatile imports, it adds.

The report, by Cambridge Econometrics for RenewableUK, said wind power saved the UK £579 million in fossil fuel costs in 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Why Republicans can't come up with an Obamacare replacement (Ezra Klein, January 16, 2015, Vox)

In Philip Klein's new book Overcoming Obamacare, Cato's Michael Cannon scolds the right for getting outplayed, again and again, on health care.

"Conservatives are falling into the same trap now that they fell into with fighting the Clinton health plan ... they're conceding the left's premises that the government should be trying to provide everybody with health insurance, or the government should be trying to expand access to health insurance, or the government should be subsidizing health insurance, because some people need help and therefore the federal government should be the one to help them. The problem [comes] because once you accept those premises, all of your solutions look like the left's solutions. They look like Obamacare. And so a lot of conservatives, as much as they want to repeal it and say they want to repeal Obamacare, they're still pushing replace plans that amount to 'Obamacare Lite.'"

Cannon is right. The basic project of health reform, at least as it's been understood in American politics in recent decades, involves the government giving money to poor people so they can buy health-care insurance. That money needs to come from somewhere. The government usually gets it from politically unsympathetic constituencies like the rich and corporations, both of which lean Republican. In the case of Obamacare, Medicare cuts were added to the package, meaning another Republican-tilting constituency -- the elderly -- absorbed the pain.

The problem for conservatives is that making sure poor people have health insurance is politically popular, at least in the abstract. But the plans that achieve it tend to be in tension with both broad tenets of conservatism -- it raises taxes, it redistributes wealth, and it grows the government -- and with key factions of the conservative coalition.

The result is that conservatives have rarely made health reform a priority.

Of course conservative reforms build off of Obamacare, which was the Heritage health plan.  But now that we have the individual mandate we'll use it to force everyone into HSAs, which are permanent personal accounts, just like the ones we'll replace Social Security with.  It's a surreptitious means of making everyone build wealth over the course of their lives in order to reduce their claims on the welfare state in their old age.

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Get Ready For Life Without Oil (Noah Smith, 1/16/15, Bloomberg View)

Musk and Tesla haven't invented the arc reactor, but they are making rapid incremental improvements to a more down-to-earth technology -- the lithium-ion battery. Tesla's planned "gigafactories" in Nevada and (possibly) New York will harness economies of scale to an unprecedented degree, building on improvements that have slashed battery-based energy storage costs during the past two decades.

Just to give you an idea of how fast battery costs have declined, here is a chart (via futurist Ramez Naam) showing how the amount of energy that can be stored in lithium-ion batteries per $100 rose from 1991 to 2005:

That data is from a 2009 study by Duke University. Nor did storage efficiency stop after 2005; according to Naam, the cost of electric-car batteries declined by 40 percent from 2010 to 2013. The Tesla gigafactories are projected to drive costs down at an even faster rate.

These declines, unlike the recent 50 percent drop in oil prices, are not temporary. They are driven by increasing demand, which spurs technological progress -- not by reduced demand, which lowers the oil price. In the case of oil, new technologies such as fracking allow us to get more oil, but always at a higher cost than before -- in the case of batteries, technology just keeps getting better and better.

A 2011 McKinsey & Co. analysis reported that battery prices would have to drop by about three-quarters to make electric cars cost-competitive at gas prices of $2.50 per gallon. But that was four years ago, and battery prices have continued falling. We could see cost-competitive electric cars taking over the road in as little as a decade. That's how fast the cost trend is moving.

January 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Arizona passes nation's 1st law requiring high school students to pass civics citizenship test (BOB CHRISTIE, 1/15/15, Associated Press)

Arizona on Thursday became the first state in the nation to pass legislation requiring high school students to pass the U.S. citizenship test on civics before they can graduate -- part of a growing nationwide effort to boost civics education.

The swift action by the Arizona Legislature comes as states around the country take up similar measures. The proposal requires high school students to correctly answer 60 of 100 questions on the civics portion of the test new citizens must pass.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


U.S. solar jobs grew nearly 22% in 2014 (JAVIER PANZAR, 1/15/15, LA Times)

U.S. solar industry jobs grew 21.8% in 2014 as the price of panels continued to fall and demand increased, according to a new report issued Thursday. [...]

"Products are getting better and cheaper as manufacturers are beginning to produce at scale," said Andrea Luecke, president of the Solar Foundation. "It looks really good for the next couple of years."

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Asian Democracy Surrounds China (James Gibney, 1/15/15, Bloomberg View)

The real threat posed to China by Rajapaksa's surprising loss, however, is different. This marks the third big Asian election in the last 12 months in which voters have installed a new leader: first in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi thumped the incumbent Congress Party; then Indonesia, where Joko Widodo, an outsider, won over voters with his record of competence as governor of Jakarta; and now Maithripala Sirisena's upset victory in Sri Lanka. That kind of turnover at the top must give pause to China's Communist Party leaders, who see the mandate of heaven as an institutional birthright.

A look at the map is instructive: As Freedom House notes, "Over the past five years, the Asia-Pacific region has been the only one to record steady gains in political rights and civil liberties." On China's border, autocratic Myanmar has just gone ahead with the first municipal elections in six decades in Yangon, its biggest city, and plans to hold general elections in late 2015. In Taiwan, the ruling Nationalists (who favor closer ties with mainland China) just got a drubbing in local elections. In China's near abroad, Afghanistan's recent election--for all its flaws--also marked a significant step forward for its fledgling democracy. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Cleric causes a stir in bright yellow outfit (BBC, 1/15/15)

An Iranian cleric has raised eyebrows in Iran by appearing on television in a bright yellow outfit.

Hoseyn Khademian appeared on state-run television wearing a yellow shirt, shoes and even a yellow watch, the Mehr News Agency reports. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Here's What the Swiss Central Bank Just Did and Why It's Such a Shocker (Joe Weisenthal, January 15, 2015, Businessweek)

In 2011, during the scariest times for the euro zone, the country's safe-haven status turned the nation into an island of tranquility. Money poured into it from elsewhere in the euro zone as investors sought a safe place to park their cash.

Of course, with everyone wanting to have their money in Switzerland, the franc exploded in value. In early 2010 one franc was less than 0.7 euro. By the middle of 2011 the franc was nearly at parity against the euro, a massive move in a very short period.

Countries typically don't like it when their currencies zoom like that. The most obvious reason is that it's bad news for domestic exporters, whose goods become less competitive abroad. Switzerland is known for its high-value exports, such as watches and pharmaceuticals, so a surging currency isn't helpful. There are other reasons related to financial-system plumbing that create a problem for a country when a huge slug of foreign cash rushes in.

So in the summer of 2011, the Swiss National Bank announced a cap on the exchange rate between the euro and the franc. The euro wouldn't be allowed to weaken below 1.20 against the franc. The bank maintained the cap by printing francs on a regular basis to buy euros in the market to ensure that the currencies wouldn't breach that line. The cap held without a hiccup for more than three years.

So what happened today?

Without any hint that it was coming, the bank removed the cap, causing the franc to soar against other currencies.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Thunderbirds are go: first look at digitally enhanced Tracy brothers (Mark Sweeney, 1/15/15, The Guardian)

In a nod to the original 1960s series created by Gerry Anderson, who died in 2012, David Graham, the original voice of Parker, is reprising his role.

ITV Studios is working with New Zealand-based Pukeko Pictures and special effects studio Weta Workshop, which worked on Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

The new series will be broadcast exactly 50 years after the adventures of the Tracy clan and International Rescue first aired.

Such has been the global interest in the new show, that in December ITV commissioned a second series of 26 episodes that will air in 2016 and 2017.

Thunderbirds first appeared on ITV in 1965, featuring Anderson's pioneering "supermarionation" puppet techniques.

The enduring popularity of Thunderbirds has seen the franchise undergo a string of reinventions, including a live-action film in 2004 featuring a theme song sung by boy band Busted.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


What Will Become of No Child Left Behind? (MAX UFBERG, January 15, 2015, Pacific Standard)

IN 2009, THE NATIONAL Bureau of Economic Research released a report analyzing the effect of the No Child Left Behind Act on student success. Raking through state-level data of fourth and eighth graders, the authors saw improvements in math scores for both grades, but stagnation when it came to reading. Similarly, a 2010 report by the Brookings Institute found that the No Child Left Behind Act "has had a positive effect on elementary student performance in mathematics, particularly at the lower grades." More encouraging still, the study noted that traditionally disadvantaged populations appear to benefit most from No Child Left Behind.

But even that hopeful bit of information comes with a caveat. Part of the problem, according to some opponents of the bill, is that there's no real basis for comparison with these results. Yes, math scores might go up, but if that progress comes at the expense of other, less "core" classes, is that really worth it? Broadly speaking, do we want to live in a world with a one-dimensional education system?

After all, teaching to the test often comes at the expense of not just art classes, but also history, physical education, and even lunch. (That's especially true in the poorer schools, where extra resources are scarce.) Some of that falls on school administrations, chained to performance-based funding. But sometimes teachers themselves--with a similar fear of testing as a job performance measure--will cut aspects of their curriculum that don't fit into the federal exams.

One of the points of testing is to drive out the fluff.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Falling 10-Year Yield Raises Doubts About Fed 2% Goal (Jon Hilsenrath, 1/15/15, WSJ)

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Mr. Rosengren said falling 10-year Treasury yields, among several factors, were giving him pause about whether the Fed's own inflation expectations are realistic. Yields on 10-year notes have dropped below 2%. Presumably investors expect some return on investments in those bonds after accounting for inflation and taxes. A yield below 2% implies negative real returns. Either investors are so hungry for a safe haven asset that they're willing to accept no return over 10 years, or the market is signaling it doesn't believe the Fed will hit that 2% inflation goal any time soon. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Liberman unveils party slogan placing Israeli Arab city in Palestine (TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 15, 2015)

The sub-slogan of the party, however, promotes the land and citizenship swap: "Ariel to Israel, Umm al-Fahm to Palestine," referring to the West Bank settlement and the northern Israeli Arab city, respectively.

Liberman has long advocated a controversial land swap plan in which towns in "The Triangle" region southeast of Haifa -- including heavily populated Arab cities -- would become part of a Palestinian state in any peace agreement, and their residents would lose their Israeli citizenship and become citizens of Palestine, in exchange for the Jewish settlement blocs of the West Bank. The proposal could affect some 300,000 Israeli Arabs. [...]

"We've reached a crossroads, decisions are needed and we're presenting a novel foreign policy stance in contrast to the anachronistic stance that the others present," he said. "Bennett presents a classic two-nation state, extending sovereignty over [the West Bank] without giving [Arab residents] freedom to vote, which will lend evidence to our enemies for what they want."

"We're presenting a pragmatic approach of the national camp in Israel: Israel as a Jewish state with a faithful population," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Bureaucratic Bloat in Higher Education: Getting Rid of the Middle Men (Randall Smith, January 15th, 2015, Public Discourse)

 In 2012-2014, student loans totaled $248 billion, with federal aid making up roughly $171 billion of that amount. [...]

In the ten years before our current economic collapse, public research universities ramped up spending on lawyers, senior-level administrators, and accountants at nearly twice the rate of expenditures on faculty and instruction. Thus, between 2002 and 2006, while the average tuition at public research universities increased by nearly 27 percent, spending on each student only went up by 1 percent. As an article in Inside Higher Education put it: "Most college students are carrying a greater share of the cost of their education, even as institutions spend less on teaching them . . . tuition hikes have resulted in little if any new spending on classroom instruction."

A recent Goldwater Institute Report shows that schools are creating new administrative positions all the time.

Arizona State University, for example, increased the number of administrators per 100 students by 94 percent [between 1993 and 2007] while actually reducing the number of employees engaged in instruction, research and service by 2 percent. Nearly half of all full-time employees at Arizona State University are administrators.

What do all these new bureaucrats do? Well, according to that same report:

Included in this category are all employees holding titles such as business operations specialists; buyers and purchasing agents; human resources, training, and labor relations specialists; management analysts; meeting and convention planners; miscellaneous business operations specialists; financial specialists; accountants and auditors; budget analysts; financial analysts and advisors; financial examiners; loan counselors and officers; [etc.].

In short, they engage in all manner of activities, none of which has anything to do with teaching. The number of employees engaged in the most traditional faculty support--clerical work, like that of the tried-and-true full-time departmental secretary--has actually been decreasing, even as the number of mid-level bureaucrats to which faculty report has been increasing. America's universities now have "more full-time employees devoted to administration than to instruction, research and service combined."

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


Even Before Long Winter Begins, Energy Bills Send Shivers in New England (KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, DEC. 13, 2014, NY Times)

The utilities argue that they are hamstrung unless they can increase the pipeline capacity for natural gas, which powers more than half of New England. That would not only lower costs for consumers, they say, but also create thousands of construction jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue.

The region has five pipeline systems now. Seven new projects have been proposed. But several of them -- including a major gas pipeline through western Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, and a transmission line in New Hampshire carrying hydropower from Quebec -- have stalled because of ferocious opposition.

The concerns go beyond fears about blighting the countryside and losing property to eminent domain. Environmentalists say it makes no sense to perpetuate the region's dependence on fossil fuels while it is trying to mitigate the effects of climate change, and many do not want to support the gas-extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has made the cheap gas from Pennsylvania available.

January 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


The Russian Threat Runs Out of Fuel (Daniel Gros, 1/14/15, Project Syndicate)

Indeed, the Soviet Union had a similar experience 40 years ago, when a protracted period of rising oil revenues fueled an increasingly assertive foreign policy, which culminated in the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Oil prices quadrupled following the first oil embargo in 1973, and the discovery of large reserves in the 1970s underpinned a massive increase in Soviet output. As a result, from 1965 to 1980, the value of Soviet oil production soared by a factor of almost 20.

Burgeoning oil wealth bolstered the regime's credibility - not least by enabling a significant increase in military spending - and rising economic and military strength gave the Soviet Union's geriatric leadership a rejuvenated sense of invulnerability. The invasion of Afghanistan was not merely an improvised response to a local development (a putsch in Kabul); it was also a direct result of this trend.

Putin's reaction to the Euromaidan demonstrations in Ukraine followed a similar pattern. In both cases, a seemingly low-cost opportunity was viewed as yielding a large strategic gain - at least in the short run. Indeed, while the devastating consequences of the Soviet Union's Afghan adventure are now well known, at the time the invasion was viewed as a major defeat for the West.

The Soviet army's retreat in 1988 is usually ascribed to the Afghan insurgency, led by Pakistan-trained mujahedeen with support from the United States. But the decline in oil prices during the 1980s, which cut the value of Soviet output to one-third of its peak level, undoubtedly played a role. Indeed, it led to a period of extreme economic weakness - a key factor in the Soviet Union's dissolution just three years after its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

During the 1990s, Russia was too preoccupied with its own post-Soviet political turmoil to object to EU or NATO enlargement to the east. Nor did it have the wherewithal, as its own production and oil prices continued to decline, hitting a trough of $10 per barrel in 1999-2000.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Senators Detail Plans for No Child Left Behind Debate (Allie Bidwell, Jan. 14, 2015, US News)

The two top members of the Senate's education committee on Tuesday detailed their plans for overhauling the long-outdated education law No Child Left Behind.

During a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who chairs the education committee, said the law has become "unworkable." He said he plans to meet "virtually every day" this week and next with other members of the committee and staffers to hash out points of agreement and disagreement, with a discussion spurred by his working draft of the legislation.

"The plan I'm suggesting here is to set realistic goals, keep the best portions of No Child Left Behind and restore to states and communities the responsibility to decide whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing," Alexander said. [...]

"All of this boils down to: What is the federal government going to require from states in exchange for tens of billions of dollars each year?" says Andy Smarick, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners. "How can states show Uncle Sam that these funds are being well spent and that all kids are learning more?"

Alexander's draft proposal puts forth two options for a reauthorization bill: one that essentially maintains current law in terms of testing, and one that gives states and school districts a significant amount of leeway in choosing when and how to test their students.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday delivered a speech on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the law, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, hearkening back to its roots of promoting equity in schools. He said he would like to see more support and funding for high-quality preschool, increased spending for K-12 resources and a scaling back of redundant state and local tests in an updated law.Duncan also made it clear that he would not be supportive of a reauthorization bill that removes a requirement for annual testing, although he signaled an area for compromise could come around the types of assessments states and school districts use.

We all want the money, so we'll test.
Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


The Year Montana Rounded Up Citizens for Shooting Off Their Mouths : During World War I, the powers that ran Montana sought any excuse to silence dissent (Patrick Sauer, 1/14/15, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

Some 200 people were arrested, and approximately 125 people went to trial, under the Montana Sedition Law, which criminalized nearly everything said or written against the American government and its conduct when it passed in February 1918. The penalties--a maximum of 10-to-20 years in prison and up to a $20,000 fine--were tough, and the pressure on "disloyal" citizens was relentless. The vast majority of people were rounded up for casual statements, off-the-cuff remarks deemed pro-German or anti-American. Citizens turned against one another, joining "patriotic" organizations like the Montana Loyalty League with its stated goal of keeping the Treasure State from "going over body and soul to the Kaiser." 

Montana's law fortified the restrictions in the Espionage Act, which Congress passed with the full support of the Woodrow Wilson administration in June 1917, two months after America entered World War I. It was intended to root out saboteurs, making it a crime to interfere with U.S. war efforts or to promote the country's enemies, but that wasn't enough for Montana. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


From Welfare State to Innovation State (Dani Rodrik, 1/14/15, Project Syndicate)

A specter is haunting the world economy - the specter of job-killing technology. How this challenge is met will determine the fate of the world's market economies and democratic polities, in much the same way that Europe's response to the rise of the socialist movement during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries shaped the course of subsequent history.

When the new industrial working class began to organize, governments defused the threat of revolution from below that Karl Marx had prophesied by expanding political and social rights, regulating markets, erecting a welfare state that provided extensive transfers and social insurance, and smoothing the ups and downs of the macroeconomy. In effect, they reinvented capitalism to make it more inclusive and to give workers a stake in the system.

Today's technological revolutions call for a similarly comprehensive reinvention. The potential benefits of discoveries and new applications in robotics, biotechnology, digital technologies and other areas are all around us and easy to see. Indeed, many believe that the world economy may be on the cusp of another explosion in new technologies.

The trouble is that the bulk of these new technologies are labor-saving. They entail the replacement of low- and medium-skilled workers with machines operated by a much smaller number of highly skilled workers.

Imagine trying to explain to anyone in human history that the biggest trouble we face is that we have too many labor-saving technologies?

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


US, Iran hold 'substantive' talks to hasten nuclear deal (AFP, January 14, 2015)

 Top diplomats from Iran and the United States held "substantive" talks Wednesday aimed at speeding up negotiations for a nuclear deal, with US Secretary of State John Kerry heading back for a surprise new round.

State Department officials said the talks with Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif ended after about five hours.

But 90 minutes later the two men were set to hold another surprise meeting at an upscale Geneva hotel, a senior State Department official said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Review of How Many Is Too Many? The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration Into the United States by Philip Cafaro (Will Wilkinson, January 14, 2015, Pacific Standard)

Cafaro feels deep compassion for America's streams, waterfowl, and working classes. For the millions of foreigners whom immigration could rescue from poverty--without terrible effect on American workers--his heart is stony to a barbaric degree. He would perpetuate global misery and inequality just to make our country a little more equal. "We have," he says, "different and stronger responsibilities to our fellow citizens than we have to the rest of humanity." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM



One in 1,500 children is born with a partially formed arm, but for every prosthetic device received, hundreds of others go without. Many families simply cannot afford a prosthetic, which often costs thousands of dollars. Others find that, after shelling out for a fancy new hand, it performs poorly, or the child quickly outgrows it.

Now, a massive volunteer-driven movement is striving to solve that problem by creating cheap, durable 3-D-printed hands. Coordinated by a group called e-NABLE, the effort has so far distributed more than 400 plastic hands, which come in a range of colors and go by names such as the Raptor Hand and the Cyborg Beast, to children and adults in need. Interest has grown exponentially: e-NABLE's Google Plus community boasts about 3,000 members and is growing at a rate of roughly 4 percent per week. "We're putting artificial hands in the hands of the people," says Jon Schull, a research scientist at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and founder of e-NABLE. "There are opportunities for everyone to get involved--from hardware geeks to parents to kids."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Lack of Exercise More Deadly Than Obesity, Study Suggests (Steven Reinberg, Jan. 14, 2015, HealthDay News) 

Being sedentary may be twice as deadly as being obese, a new study suggests.

However, even a little exercise -- a brisk 20-minute walk each day, for example -- is enough to reduce the risk of an early death by as much as 30 percent, the British researchers added.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


White-Out: Where Democrats Lost the House : In 2009, 76 Democrats represented primarily white working-class congressional districts. Just 15 of them are still in the House today. (RONALD BROWNSTEIN, January 13, 2015, National Journal)

Republicans have surged to their largest majority in the House of Representatives since before the Great Depression by blunting the Democratic advantage in districts being reshaped by growing racial diversity and consolidating a decisive hold over the seats that are not.

Compared with 2009 and 2010, when Democrats last controlled the House, the Republican majority that takes office this week has essentially held its ground in districts where minorities exceed their share of the national population, a Next America analysis has found. Aided by their control of redistricting after the 2010 census, Republicans over the past three elections have simultaneously established an overwhelming 3-1 advantage in districts where whites exceed their national presence, the analysis shows. Those white-leaning districts split between the parties almost equally during the 111th Congress, in 2009-10.

A majority of the GOP gains since then have come from the Democrats' near-total collapse in one set of districts: the largely blue-collar places in which the white share of the population exceeds the national average, and the portion of whites with at least a four-year college degree is less that the national average. While Republicans held a 20-seat lead in the districts that fit that description in the 111th Congress, the party has swelled that advantage to a crushing 125 seats today. That 105-seat expansion of the GOP margin in these districts by itself accounts for about three-quarters of the 136-seat swing from the Democrats' 77-seat majority in 2009 to the 59-seat majority Republicans enjoy in the Congress convening now.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Who Falls for Conspiracy Theories? (TOM JACOBS, January 14, 2015, Pacific Standard)

New research from the Netherlands suggests the answer is people on the political extremes.

Those on both the far right and far left tend to "adhere to their belief system in a rigid fashion, leading them to perceive their political ideas as the simple and only solution to societal problems," writes a research team led by psychologist Jan-Willem van Prooijen of VU University Amsterdam.

This in turn "induces them to perceive evil conspiracies as causal explanations for various events," they conclude in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


US special forces hand over Ugandan rebel chief Ongwen (Deutsche-Welle, 1/14/15)

American troops handed over Ugandan rebel chief Dominic Ongwen on Wednesday to Ugandan soldiers.

Ongwen has been wanted by the ICC for crimes including murder, enslavement, mutilation, and attacks against civilians. He had been acting as the top commander of a Uganda-based armed fraction when hesurrendered on January 6 in the Central African Republic.

US troops based in CAR transfered Ongwen to the custody of Ugandan soldiers who working for the African Union Regional Task Force there.

US Embassy spokesman Daniel Travis confirmed the transfer hand over, calling it a "major step forward" for the future of the region terrorized by the Lord's Resistance Army.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


CalPERS posts 18.4% return on investments in 2014 fiscal year (MARC LIFSHER, 1/14/15, LA Times)

Amid concern over soaring retiree costs, the state's nearly $300-billion public pension fund issued an annual report that showed solid investment gains.

The report released Tuesday by the California Public Employees' Retirement System showed an overall 18.4% return on investments for the year that ended June 30. That's compared with a 10.4% average annual return for the last three years. The rate of return far exceeded the fund's official 7.5% goal set by the CalPERS board.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Bill Belichick: The NFL's Scary Alex Trebek (KEVIN CLARK and  DANIEL BARBARISI, Jan. 14, 2015, WSJ)

Quick, Bill Belichick has a few questions for you: Describe the third player from the left on the Indianapolis Colts' kickoff coverage team. Is he fast? Is he strong enough to run you over? Where did he play in college?

Whoops, you took too long to answer. Belichick is now angry at you.

This is daily life for any member of the New England Patriots, who are heavy favorites to beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game on Sunday. The Patriots are widely considered the most prepared and well-coached players in the NFL, but that level of preparation comes at a cost. They must be ready, at any moment, for the NFL's version of Alex Trebek: The quiz master Belichick.

"I would hate to walk by him in a hallway on a Thursday if I was unprepared," said Heath Evans, a former Patriots fullback who is now an analyst for the NFL Network. "He's stopping and asking me about a player on special teams. 'Can he wiggle? Who did he match up against last week on kickoffs and how did he win that matchup?' There's no limit to the knowledge Bill expects you to have on an opponent and the craziest part is he has the answers to all of it."

Team meetings in the NFL are always deep dives into the schemes and personnel of the upcoming opponent. Coaches study game film and detail formations or tendencies they expect to see that Sunday. But according to current and former Patriot players, no one commands a depth of knowledge quite like Belichick, who has a habit of blurting out obscure yet crucial questions. These typically come in midweek meetings, but they can happen anywhere in the team facility on any day. [...]

While a wrong answer can lead to laughter in a meeting room, make no mistake, players say: It's a miserable experience for the player who was incorrect.

"It's a chill silence for a few seconds. Bone chilling, at that," Arrington said. "If he doesn't move on from there, and he's just looking at you, oh yeah, it's pretty awkward."

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Wall Street Doesn't Want You Unless You're a Robot (Akane Otani January 13, 2015, Businessweek)

Want to work on Wall Street? Suit up, turn your spell check on, and leave your risk-taking, self-starter attitude home.

When finance industry professionals that interview new MBAs were asked to identify skills they deemed most important in applicants, 75 percent picked communication skills, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek survey of 1,320 recruiters conducted as part of our 2014 MBA rankings (including 212 from financial services, banking, and accounting companies). Recruiters also prized analytical thinking (which 60.8 percent said was highly important), motivation and drive (52.4 percent), and the ability to work collaboratively (also 52.4 percent).

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


A Win-Win-Win-Win Situation : The Republicans can't lose on the Keystone pipeline. But if Obama plays it right, he could also triumph. (Josh Voorhees, 1/14/15, Slate)

Congressional Republicans remain on track for their first major legislative victory of 2015. The push to greenlight construction of the Keystone XL pipeline cleared its biggest procedural hurdle in the Senate on Monday, making its passage in the coming weeks all but inevitable. Republicans are in a win-win situation here: If the president signs the bill into law, the GOP can point to the pipeline as proof they're delivering on their campaign promises. If Obama vetoes, he hands Republicans ammunition to argue ahead of 2016 that it's the Democrats who are responsible for Washington's gridlock. Either way, the new GOP-controlled Congress will be off to a running start. [...]

On the rare occasion Obama has spoken publicly about the 1,700-mile pipeline, he's been careful to make his veto threat about the process, not the pipeline. He has maintained that the State Department simply needs more time to weigh the economic pros against the environmental cons of a project that would carry 830,000 barrels of carbon-heavy crude per day from Alberta's oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries. That wait-and-see approach has left Obama in an awkward position--one that's drawn fire from pipeline supporters and opponents alike--but has arguably proved to be politically beneficial to date. But now that Republicans have the votes to pass their fast-tracking bill, the president can't afford to hide behind the bureaucratic red tape of his own creation any longer.

Pipeline opponents argue that the project would significantly accelerate the development of oil sands, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. Industry groups and their more business-focused friends, meanwhile, can't imagine putting climate concerns above the nation's near-term economic and national security interests. They contend that the oil deposits will be exploited one way or the other, so the United States might as well get in on the action.

So what should Obama do once the Keystone bill reaches his desk? He could try to trade his approval of the project for something else on his environmental wish list. As the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza has pointed out, the pipeline makes for the perfect bargaining chip for Obama: It's a top priority for Republicans' but toward the bottom of the president's list of concerns. While Obama's clearly not a fan of the project, he also appears skeptical of climate advocates' doomsaying when it comes to the pipeline's construction.

...the possibility that the UR considers the pipeline to have some marginal utility, but not enough to be worth alienating his base.  In that case, he can hand the Left a Potemkin victory by vetoing the stanbd-alone bill but thenm "reluctantly" accepting the budget bill the GOP will attach it to.  Then everyone wins.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Republicans have gained more than 900 state legislative seats since 2010 (Chris Cillizza, January 14, 2015, Washington Post)

In the past three elections, Republicans have gained 913 state legislative seats, according to calculations made by Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia. [...]

Why does the lopsided state of legislative control matter to national politics?  For lots of reasons.

1. Policy is made at the state legislative level. That's policy pertaining to states and policy that gets bumped up to the federal level. With Republicans in control of so many state governments, the policy incubator for their side will be vastly superior to what Democrats can do at the state and local levels.

2. State legislatures and governors redraw congressional lines. In most states, how the nation's 435 House districts will look after the 2020 Census will be determined by state legislators and governors. And guess what? Republican legislators (and governors) are more likely to draw lines that are friendly to their side. Unless Democrats can reverse their state House and Senate losses before the 2021 redraw, Republicans could control the House for a very, very long time.

3. State legislatures are the minor leagues. Most of the politicians -- President Obama included -- who have gone on to great things, politically speaking, honed their craft in the state legislature of their home (or adopted home) state.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Austerity in 2009-2013 (Alberto Alesina, Omar Barbiero, Carlo Favero, Francesco Giavazzi, Matteo Paradisi, January 2015, NBER Working Paper No. 20827)

The conventional wisdom is (i) that fiscal austerity was the main culprit for the recessions experienced by many countries, especially in Europe, since 2010 and (ii) that this round of fiscal consolidation was much more costly than past ones. The contribution of this paper is a clarification of the first point and, if not a clear rejection, at least it raises doubts on the second. In order to obtain these results we construct a new detailed "narrative" data set which documents the actual size and composition of the fiscal plans implemented by several countries in the period 2009-2013. Out of sample simulations, that project output growth conditional only upon the fiscal plans implemented since 2009 do reasonably well in predicting the total output fluctuations of the countries in our sample over the years 2010-13 and are also capable of explaining some of the cross-country heterogeneity in this variable. Fiscal adjustments based upon cuts in spending appear to have been much less costly, in terms of output losses, than those based upon tax increases. The difference between the two types of adjustment is very large.

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


French Government Can't Take a Joke, Either (Leonid Bershidsky, 1/14/15, Bloomberg View)

You know how the photos of dignitaries, with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel leading an anti-terrorist march through the streets of Paris were a cynical fake, produced in a sealed-off alley, with security guards impersonating a crowd of demonstrators? Well, France's commitment to "liberte," the freedom of expression for which staffers at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo died, is just as phony.

Today, French police arrested the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne M'bala M'bala for "advocating terrorism." [...]

Like the other 53 people arrested for hate speech in France since the Paris terror attack, Dieudonne did not wield a gun -- he just typed words on a keyboard. 

January 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Hollande reportedly walks out during Netanyahu speech (IRNA, 1/12/15)

French President Francois Hollande has reportedly left a memorial session in a Paris synagogue when the visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the podium at the synagogue to make a speech.

At least that is truly in the spirit of the magazine.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Doctor Android : In the same way that Luther challenged the Catholic Church, smartphones are poised to upend the medical profession. (DAVID A. SHAYWITZ, Jan. 12, 2015, WSJ)

We instinctively reach for our smartphones when we need to take pictures, get directions, deposit checks or reserve a table. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and digital pioneer, thinks that they are ready to perform at least one more task: revolutionize health care. In "The Patient Will See You Now," he argues that smartphones will democratize medicine by bringing data and control directly to the people.

The power of doctors, says Dr. Topol, "can be likened to that of religious leaders and nobility" in centuries past, when knowledge and authority belonged to a small elite. He notes that we've never seen "a discrete challenge to the medical profession" akin to Luther 's challenge to the Roman Catholic Church or democracy's challenge to monarchy and despotism. "But we've not had the platform or landscape for that to be accomplished. Until now." Smartphones, he says, enable a range of medical applications to move from the hospital to the home, and they shift medicine's locus of control from doctor to patient. [...]

The insight at the heart of Dr. Topol's message is that patients know themselves better than anyone else and are deeply invested in their own health. They have an incentive to monitor their health more comprehensively than a physician ever could and pursue treatment with a unique intensity of purpose. Doctors, for their part, must learn to cultivate rather than shun "involved" information-enabled patients and may be surprised to discover that "off-loading data and information is liberating."

The dirty secret is that you're going to hate this technology because it's going to relate a terrifying truth : you're healthy.  All that medicine you want to consume is just self-indulgence, not health care.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


Meet the Newer, Softer Heritage Action for America : The conservative group isn't moderating its principles, but it is focusing more on reform over opposition in the new year. (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, January 13, 2015, National Journal)

While the conservative group makes no apologies for its fights with party leaders, it is embracing ideas from the party's intellectual wing--ranging from Rep. Paul Ryan to New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. In an article published in the winter issue of National Affairs, Heritage Action for America CEO Mike Needham approvingly cites Douthat's and Reihan Salam's recent book Grand New Party for acknowledging that modern-day conservatism struggles to offer policies that would benefit noncollege-educated, blue-collar, "Sam's Club" voters. And he credits Ryan with building a GOP consensus on controversial issues such as Medicare premium support. Needham's article also singles out Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah for praise, calling them among the "most innovative policy entrepreneurs among congressional Republicans."

"To many reform-minded observers eager to help the Republican Party build a mandate for a conservative governing agenda, this discord appears pointless and counterproductive, undermining Republican efforts to project the steadiness needed to govern while accomplishing little to improve the likelihood of future conservative policy victories," Needham wrote. "Unified Republican control of the Congress now presents an opportunity for a reset, perhaps making possible a fresh start for collaboration between the grassroots and the Republican leadership that has long been reluctant to govern from one house of Congress."

Eviscerating the Tea Party just keeps paying dividends....

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


Chevy Bolt EV rivals Tesla with 200-mile range for just $30K (Viknesh Vijayenthiran,  JANUARY 13, 2015, CS Monitor)

[I]t looks like the Bolt EV will feature a flat-battery pack stored below the cabin. Such a design would allow the flat, flow-through floor featured in the concept.  It adds to the overall roominess of the cabin which has been designed to seat four adults comfortably. The main interface is a 10-inch touchscreen located in the center of the dash.

The driver is able to select operating modes designed around preferred driving styles such as daily commuting and spirited weekend cruising. The modes adjust accelerator pedal mapping, vehicle ride height and suspension tuning. The Bolt EV is also designed to support DC fast charging.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Charlie Hebdo and France's Irreligious Tradition (KENNETH R. WEINSTEIN, 5/13/15, American Interest)

Charlie Hebdo has suddenly become the best-known example of a venerable French tradition: vituperative and unrelenting anti-religious satire, a provocative yet regular phenomenon of French public life. And now--not, alas, for the first time in that nation's history--it has occasioned actual bloodshed.

Lampooning of the Bible, Christian doctrine, and clergy dates back almost 400 years to the "strong thinkers," French learned skeptics in the 16th century. The primary target of anti-religious satire was France's official religion, Catholicism, the Church's ties to the state, and its control over education. And the ridiculing wit long directed against these targets would eventually play a central and crucial role in reducing the status and influence of religion in the French Republic.

This tradition began among a small number of French theology students studying in Italy, where they encountered Renaissance humanism--free of the magisterial synthesis of Aristotelianism and Catholicism provided by St. Thomas Aquinas. Reading Aristotle, and newly re-discovered ancient materialists like Epicurus and Lucretius, as rejecting the immateriality and immortality of the soul, Pietro Pompanazzi (1463-1525) and Cesare Cremonini (1550-1631) fomented skepticism among their French students.

Ever again...

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


God, Gays and the Atlanta Fire Department (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, JAN. 13, 2015, NY Times)

Until last week, Kelvin Cochran was the chief of the Atlanta fire department, where he oversaw a work force of more than 1,000 firefighters and staff.

Mr. Cochran, a veteran firefighter, is also a deeply religious man, and he was eager to bring his Christian faith into the daily functioning of his department -- or, as he put it in a book he authored in 2013, to "cultivate its culture to the glory of God."

But, as the book revealed, his religious beliefs also include virulent anti-gay views. He was fired on Jan. 6 by Atlanta's mayor, Kasim Reed, for homophobic language in the book, "Who Told You That You Were Naked?" Among other things, he called homosexuality a "perversion," compared it to bestiality and pedophilia, and said homosexual acts are "vile, vulgar and inappropriate."

Mr. Cochran had already been suspended for a month in November for distributing the book to staff members. Following an internal investigation, the mayor did the right thing and dismissed Mr. Cochran for what he called poor judgment: specifically, for failing to get approval for the book's publication, for commenting publicly on his suspension after being told not to, and for exposing the city to possible discrimination lawsuits.

The appropriate response is to elect a different mayor.

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


Charlie Hebdo fallout: Specter of fascist past haunts European nationalism (Jacob Heilbrunn January 13, 2015, Reuters)

[T]he more telling event may turn out to be a counter-rally that took place at a 17th-century town hall in Beaucaire, France, that was led by Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front. In Beaucaire, the crowd ended Le Pen's rally by singing the French national anthem and chanting, "This is our home."

Le Pen is at the forefront of a European-wide nationalist resurgence -- one that wants to evict from their homelands people they view as Muslim subversives. She and other far-right nationalists are seizing on some legitimate worries about Islamic militancy -- 10,000 soldiers are now deployed in France as a safety measure -- in order to label all Muslims as hostile to traditional European cultural and religious values. Le Pen herself has likened their presence to the Nazi occupation of France.

Journalists surround Marine Le Pen, France's National Front political party head, who reacts to results after the polls closed in the European Parliament elections at the party's headquarters in Nanterre

Le Pen herself espouses an authoritarian program that calls for a moratorium on immigration, a restoration of the death penalty and a "French first" policy on welfare benefits and employment.

They stand with Charlie.

And, just in case you thought the rallies were about free speech, France moves to crack down on terror speech (The Local, 13 Jan 2015)

French courts have started handing out prison sentences to outspoken supporters of the recent terror attacks in Paris, with a girl as young as 15 apprehended by police for referring to the Kouachis as "my brothers".

The longest sentence so far was handed to a man in the northern French city of Valenciennes on Tuesday after he was found guilty of telling police "there should be more Kouachis. I hope you're the next (victims)".

According to France Info, he was sentenced to four years behind bars.

All over France judges are putting France's recently approved Anti-Terror Act to use, a law spearheaded by Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and geared primarily at stopping terrorists and their sympathizers from condoning barbaric acts and attracting new recruits to their cause on the internet.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


India, Israel sign pact for third phase of agriculture cooperation project (PTI Jan 12, 2015)

India and Israel have agreed to establish a 'joint team' to finalise the 'third phase' of the three years action plan (2015-2018) for further strengthening and widening the scope of bilateral agricultural development cooperation between the two countries, said Indian government officials.

The joint team will submit the action plan by March this year, they added.

In the first phase during 2008-10, five 'Centre of Excellence' for fruits and vegetables were set up in Haryana and Maharashtra, while in the second phase (2012-15), around 22 such centres are being established in different states.

At these centres, experts from Israel have been training Indian officers as well as farmers in nursery management, protected cultivation, post harvest management, use of poor quality water for irrigation, precision farming of micro irrigation and other best agricultural practices.

The joint agriculture project is being implemented as part of the agreement of agri-cooperation signed between India and Israel way back in January 2008. The cooperation was extended till 2015.

The jihadis are surrounded.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


Your computer knows you better than your friends do, say researchers (Press Association, 13 January 2015)

A computer can be a better judge of character than an individual's parents or close friends, research has shown.

All it needs is the right input data - namely the thumbs-up clues left by someone's Facebook "likes". By "mining" for likes, the software was able to predict personality more accurately than friends and family. Only husbands and wives rivaled the computer's ability to sum up broad psychological traits.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Scalise voted against apology for slavery (Scott Wong,  01/13/15, The Hill)

Six years before he spoke to a white supremacist group, while he was a state legislator, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) voted against a resolution apologizing for slavery, according to a 1996 article from New Orleans's Times-Picayune.

Scalise later backed a watered-down version that expressed "regret" for slavery. But the article identifies him as one of two lawmakers on the Louisiana House and Governmental Affairs Committee who tried to kill the original resolution, which apologized to African-Americans for the state's role "in the establishment and maintenance of the institution of slavery." [...]

But two years after that speech, in 2004, as a state representative, Scalise also voted against making Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a state holiday. He voted against a similar measure in 1999.

...about how whips got a federal holiday passed by selling it as a day off after the Super Bowl to Southern congressmen.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


American Amnesia About Immigration : Today's immigrant population resembles that of 100 years ago (PHILIP JENKINS, 1/13/15, Aleteia)
As they contemplate the coming America, experts of all shades of opinion are fascinated by the coming arrival of a "majority-minority" world, in which no single ethnic group (such as non-Latino Whites) will have a simple majority. Since the immigration reforms of the 1960s, certain ethnic groups have come to play a much larger role in the American ethnic landscape: Latinos, of course, but also Africans, East and South Asians, and people from the Middle East. Already, four US states have this majority-minority status, and it will characterize the whole nation by the 2040s. Experts and observers - among whom I include myself - speculate about the political and social consequences, and are particularly intrigued by the implications for American churches.
Not to trivialize this epochal shift, though, it is worth remembering that we have, in a sense, been here before. Let us shift our perspective from the standpoint of 2015 back a century to 1915. We live today in an era of very high immigration, an era quite unprecedented in the nation's history  - well, that is, unprecedented since the last strictly comparable wave, a century ago. The proportion of foreign-born Americans in 1915 was very close to what it is today.
In 1915, the vast majority of those immigrants were from Europe, rather than the Global South. They were Italians and Poles, Hungarians and Serbs, Ukrainians and Germans. They were also religiously different from the old-stock population, in that most were either Catholic or Jewish. No less significant, by the standards of the time, most were not White, any more than are immigrants today.
That point demands explanation. We live in a world where the term "White" has a widely recognized meaning, but that meaning has shifted tectonically over time. Over the past generation, "Whiteness" has been the subject of many academic studies, which trace the stages by which different groups were admitted to that exalted category: first the Irish and Germans, later Slavic and Mediterranean peoples, and then Jews. In a well-known 1995 study, historian Noel Ignatiev traced How the Irish Became White. 
In 1915, though, ethnic categories were still very much in flux. Fearful contemporaries foresaw the imminent creation of a nation where true Whites would no longer represent a majority, among all the Italians, Slavs and Jews. In short, America faced becoming what we would call a majority-minority society.
Making the prospect all the more disturbing was the vast and flourishing literature about the evils that these non-White minorities brought to the country: the ignorance and systematic poverty, criminality and political violence, an utter inability to live as citizens of a mature democracy. According to nativists, that ignorance and immaturity was clearly demonstrated by the child-like superstition of the Catholic faith that so many immigrants brought with them.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


The Unsubtle Mind of Hugh Hewitt (TIMOTHY J. GORDON, 1/13/15, Crisis)

Seeing the "whole" of the Charlie Hebdo issue requires Donohue's message. Commenting on the ostensible goals of James Madison, the Father of our Constitution, poet Robert Frost once wrote: "Now I know--I think I know--what Madison's dream was. It was just a dream of a new land to fulfill with people in self-control. That is all through his thinking ... to fulfill this land--a new land--with people in self-control."

I believe that Frost's call for self-restraint--and Madison's--is no different from Donohue's. Thus, the plain difference between legality and morality must be arranged in its proper order. And Donohue did a phenomenal job in marking this emphasis during his heated interview with Hewitt.

Natural law is (and should be, if that matters) much more expansive than the positive, or human-made legislative, law. Thomas Aquinas wrote that "human laws do not by strict command prohibit every vicious action, just as they do not command every virtuous action."

This means that we enjoy many more legal rights than moral rights--which itself means that true liberty requires non-legislated self-restraint. Donohue got this 100 percent correct ... by saying repeatedly and unequivocally that he seeks "self-censorship" and not legislative censorship. (Through all 23 minutes, against Donohue's straightforward protests, Hewitt consistently recurred to a feigned presumption that Donahue invoked legislative censorship.)

In brief, liberty--as understood by the scholastic tradition--describes a moral freedom oriented to the good; license or false freedom is an abuse of true liberty because it employs freedom for its own sake. And license's false teleology renders it both amoral and indefensible, even while legal in certain cases. In the case of rightfully legal, yet licentious exercises of free speech--like Charlie Hebdo sodomy cartoons, according to Donohue--moral defensibility collapses, even as legal defensibility stands.

What does this mean in the case of Donohue's statements?

Now, Fox News' Megyn Kelly went after Donohue a little, but it was during the Hewitt interview that things grew very ugly very fast. Plainly, Hewitt chose to employ fishwives' shame tactics and to the presumptively infallible popular configuration of the event, instead of an honest or at least embattling line of inquiry.

Whereas Donohue came prepared to defend his statement in a logical and genteel (at least initially) manner, Hewitt couldn't suffer to have Donohue's reasoning pass as anything but shameworthy. In other words, Hewitt wanted to pin a line of ipse dixit, "we already decided you are bad" shame on Donohue. Hewitt couldn't "risk" the tempestuous sea of dialectics, and he seemed genuinely surprised that Donohue wanted to go there.

If any doubt about this was left to the listener, Hewitt sealed it by repeating four times throughout the 23-minute interview that "this is an interview, not a debate." While implying that all reason is reserved for debates and not interviews, Hewitt's tactic was clearly intended to deny Donohue an opportunity to engage in a reasoned dialogue over the moral limitations of freedom. By refusing to engage in a serious discussion, Hewitt conceded the weakness of his own feeble position.

Hewitt attacked Donohue with a rigorless verve that fell short of any vindication. In a genuinely artless blunder, Hewitt actually called it a "silly point" when Donohue articulated skillfully (under heavy fire) that "people have a legal right to insult ... Islam or any other religion, but they have no moral right to do so ... do you get that?!" Hewitt's answer, Mr. Donohue, is that he does not get it.

...not to understand how one can find both the magazine and the killers abhorrent.  

January 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 PM


Scott Walker and Right to Work (WSJ, Jan. 12, 2015)

At his second inauguration last week, Mr. Walker told voters that prosperity comes "from empowering people to control their own lives and their own destinies through the dignity born from work." In the Badger State, he added, "we understand people create jobs, not the government."

He's right, which makes it that much stranger to watch Mr. Walker dodging the right-to-work challenge. In December, after Wisconsin Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald said he was interested in taking up a right-to-work bill, the Governor called it a "distraction." Then he told WKOW-TV "Capitol City Sunday" that despite the chatter about right-to-work momentum, "there's a lot of things that are going to keep the legislature preoccupied for a while," like taxes and education.

That may be, but Wisconsin needs an economic lift and right to work can help. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


ANDRAÉ CROUCH, "THE GREATEST HYMN WRITER OF OUR AGE," DIES AT 72 (Anthea Butler, 1/12/15, Religion Dispatches)

Andraé Crouch, the incomparable songwriter, gospel singer and preacher, died in Los Angeles on January 9, 2015 of a heart attack. Billy Graham once said of Crouch that he was "The greatest hymn writer of our age, the modern day John Wesley." More than any other contemporary gospel singer and songwriter, Andraé Crouch helped to integrate contemporary gospel music, and to bridge the sacred and secular worlds with a clear, simple, yet brilliant presentation of his Christian faith.

In a world full of sappy Christian music--with its dubious theology and soft pabulum--Crouch's music is exceptional for its power.

Like many gospel singers/musicians, Crouch got his start at his father's church with no formal training. To top it off, he was dyslexic and stuttered, which meant that he always felt lonely as a child, and at a disadvantage when making music. His first big hit, "The Blood Will Never Lose its Power" was written when he was only 14.

That's right, 14.

At a backyard BBQ hosted by James Cleveland, and attended by Billy Preston, Crouch heard hearing Preston playing. Feeling a bit inadequate to all of the luminaries at the BBQ, Crouch asked God to give him a song, and while watching BBQ sauce being poured over ribs, heard blood splashing and had a vision of Jesus and people standing behind him. Playing some chords, he asked Billy Preston to come over and play while he sang. Later, thinking the song wasn't good enough, he threw it in the trash, only to have his twin sister Sandra retrieve it from the trash and say, "play it again."

The rest, as they say is history.
Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Most Republican Voters Support Carbon Regs (Alan Neuhauser Jan. 12, 201, US News)

Nearly two-thirds of Republican voters also back granting tax rebates to people who buy solar panels or energy-efficient vehicles, the poll found. [...]

Most GOP voters back regulating of carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

About 56 percent of Republicans - and 70 percent of total registered voters - said they supported regulating carbon dioxide. Another 64 percent of GOP voters - and three-quarters of registered voters - said they backed energy efficiency and solar tax rebates.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


MUSLIMS ARE RIGHT TO BE ANGRY (Bill Donohue, 1/07/15, Catholic League)

Those who work at this newspaper have a long and disgusting record of going way beyond the mere lampooning of public figures, and this is especially true of their depictions of religious figures. For example, they have shown nuns masturbating and popes wearing condoms. They have also shown Muhammad in pornographic poses.

While some Muslims today object to any depiction of the Prophet, others do not. Moreover, visual representations of him are not proscribed by the Koran. What unites Muslims in their anger against Charlie Hebdo is the vulgar manner in which Muhammad has been portrayed. What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them.

Stephane Charbonnier, the paper's publisher, was killed today in the slaughter. It is too bad that he didn't understand the role he played in his tragic death. In 2012, when asked why he insults Muslims, he said, "Muhammad isn't sacred to me." Had he not been so narcissistic, he may still be alive. Muhammad isn't sacred to me, either, but it would never occur to me to deliberately insult Muslims by trashing him.

Anti-Catholic artists in this country have provoked me to hold many demonstrations, but never have I counseled violence. This, however, does not empty the issue. Madison was right when he said, "Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power."

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Black And Hispanic Students Are Making Meaningful Gains, But It's Hard To Tell (MIKHAIL ZINSHTEYN, 1/12/15, 538)

While the overall math averages for 9-year-olds grew by 25 points between 1978 and 2012, average scores among black and Hispanic students increased by 34 and 31 points, respectively.

Among 13-year-olds, math scores for white students increased by 21 points, while results for blacks and Hispanics increased by 34 points and 33 points, respectively. Overall, 13-year-olds improved by 26 points in math.

Seventeen-year-olds, many of whom are one year away from enrolling in college, nudged upward by six points overall between 1978 and 2012 on the math portion of NAEP, but scores for black and Hispanic students increased by 20 and 18 points, respectively.

Overall, scores for 9-year-olds taking the reading assessment grew by 11 points between 1975 and 2012; the scores for black and Hispanic students each rose by 25 points in that same period.

While scores for all 13-year-olds and white students increased by less than 10 points in reading, scores for blacks and Hispanics grew by 21 and 17 points, respectively.

Among 17-year-olds, reading scores for the overall tested population and white students grew by no more than two points between 1975 and 2012; scores for both black and Hispanic students grew by more than 20 points.

So, why haven't minority students' numbers boosted the overall average? There are two main reasons: Black and Hispanic students have grown as a share of all students in the U.S., yet despite the improvements of these groups, their scores still are lower than those of white students. That means the average doesn't represent the considerable student growth at play.

In statistics, this phenomenon is called Simpson's paradox.

"The minority students tend to do worse on the NAEP test, and they're growing as a proportion of the population," said Goldhaber, who also studies education issues at the University of Washington Bothell. "So, the fact that they are growing and have test scores that are below the average of white students, they're going to drag the overall average down, even if their average is rising over time."

There's never a bad time to use hysteria about American education to gain further reforms, but the next one is particularly difficult, the use of vouchers (housing and education) to get these inner city kids into white suburban schools.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Volcker, Reagan & History (Robert Samuelson, January 12, 2015, Washington Post)

From the late 1960s to the early 1980s, there were four recessions.

Inflation became a monster, destabilizing the economy and destroying trust in national leadership. The Gallup Poll routinely asks respondents to select "the most important problem facing the country." From 1973 to 1981, the "high cost of living" ranked No. 1. People lost faith in the future, as they have now.

Krugman's story is simple. The Fed is "largely independent of the political process" and, under chairman Paul Volcker, "was determined to bring inflation down," he wrote. "It tightened policy, sending interest rates sky high, with mortgage rates going above 18 percent." The result was "a severe recession that drove unemployment to double-digits but also broke the wage-price spiral."

Indeed. By 1982, the gain in consumer prices had dropped to 3.8 percent. Volcker crushed inflation.

Story over? Not really.

What Reagan provided was political protection. The Fed's previous failures to stifle inflation reflected its unwillingness to maintain tight-money policies long enough to purge inflationary psychology. Successive presidents preferred a different approach: the wage-price policies built on the pleasing (but unrealistic) premise that these could quell inflation without jeopardizing full employment.

Reagan rejected this futile path. As the gruesome social costs of Volcker's policies mounted -- the monthly unemployment rate would ultimately rise to a post-World War II high of 10.8 percent -- Reagan's approval ratings plunged. In May of 1981, they were 68 percent; by January 1983, 35 percent.

Still, he supported the Fed. "I have met with Chairman Volcker several times during the past year," he said in early 1982. "I have confidence in the announced policies of the Federal Reserve."

This patience enabled Volcker to succeed, though it took about two years of tight money. It's doubtful that any other plausible presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat, would have been so forbearing. During Volcker's monetary onslaught, there were many congressional proposals, backed by members of both parties, to curb the Fed's power, lower interest rates or fire Volcker. If Reagan had endorsed any of them, the Fed would have had to retreat.

What Volcker and Reagan accomplished was an economic and political triumph. 

While we ought not undervalue that component of the Reagan presidency, three others were just as important : winniong the Cold War freed up economies across the globe; pursuit of free trade increased access to cheap labor and goods; and breaking PATCO ended the impetus of the labor movement and halted the seemingly inexorable rise of wages. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Democrats, in a stark shift in messaging, to make big tax-break pitch for middle class (Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane, January 11, 2015, Washington Post)
Senior Democrats, dissatisfied with the party's tepid prescriptions for combating income inequality, are drafting an "action plan" that calls for a massive transfer of wealth from the super-rich and Wall Street traders to the heart of the middle class.

The centerpiece of the proposal, set to be unveiled Monday by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), is a "paycheck bonus credit" that would shave $2,000 a year off the tax bills of couples earning less than $200,000. Other provisions would nearly triple the tax credit for child care and reward people who save at least $500 a year.

That's what it means to be a liberal Democrat at the End of History, your economic message depends on tax cuts.  The party has returned to Reagan.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Both parties agree: Economic mobility will be a defining theme of 2016 campaign (Philip Rucker and Dan Balz, January 11, 2015, Washington Post)

Presidential hopefuls in both parties agree on at least one thing: Economic mobility, and the feeling of many Americans that they are being shut out from the nation's prosperity, will be a defining theme of the 2016 campaign.

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush last week became the latest Republican to signal a readiness to engage Democrats on what historically has been their turf, putting issues of middle-class wage stagnation, poverty and shared prosperity at the forefront of their political messages. [...]

Launching his new political action committee, Right to Rise, Jeb Bush asserted last week in the PAC's mission statement that President Obama's tenure has been "pretty good" for those at the top of the income scale but a "lost decade" for everyone else.

"Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American Dream is now out of their reach; that our politics are petty and broken; that opportunities are elusive; and that the playing field is no longer fair or level," Bush wrote. "Too many of the poor have lost hope that a path to a better life is within their grasp."

Bush's focus adds an unexpected element to the coming debate and puts pressure on the entire field, himself included, to come forward with fresh policies that address the nation's core economic problems.

The Third Way solutions embraced by Bill Clinton and George W. Bush as presidents and by Jeb as governor are populist to their core.  SS retirement accounts, education vouchers, housing vouchers, welfare-to-work, universal HSAs, O'Neill accounts, etc. are all just means of transferring wealth to the lower and middle classes, but investing it in ways that will enrich them and their decendants permanently.

As the economy continues its re-orientation from jobs to profits, the Third Way lets everyone share in those profits.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


How Is It That Economists Still Don't Get Where Inflation Comes From? (John Hilsenrath, 1/12/15, WSJ)

This is not a great moment for either Phillips curve or monetarist strains of economic thought.

Phillips curve economists see tradeoffs between unemployment and inflation. As unemployment falls, they believe, slack diminishes in labor markets and pushes up wages and prices more broadly.

Monetarists believe money is the root of inflation. When the central bank prints lots of money, that diminishes the currency's purchasing power and causes prices to rise broadly.

Well, unemployment is falling and the Federal Reserve printed trillions of dollars' worth of currency that it pumped into the financial system through multiple rounds of quantitative easing. You'd think after all that, inflation would show up somewhere. Yet it is going in the other direction. [...]

I suspect the models and theory also don't put enough weight on modern global factors. On the surface, the U.S. looks like a relatively closed economy. Exports account for just 13% of total economic output. But the economy is deeply linked to the rest of the world by financial markets and multinational supply networks. U.S. workers compete not just against each other, but also against workers in China, Mexico and India. Financial markets transmit shocks and global saving reallocations in milliseconds. Global demand imbalances weigh on commodities prices. All of these factors have important effects on inflation and the financing of bubbles.

...if economics were a science, the failure of reality to comply with theory would require one to alter the latter. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


After Paris, Watch the Xenophobic Marchers (Leonid Bershidsky, 1/12/15, Bloomberg View)

Top U.S. officials' conspicuous absence  was not so much a display of insensitivity as understandable caution: Whom exactly would the U.S. leaders be in solidarity with?

Then there was the matter of the extreme-right Front National. Like everyone else, it is against terrorism. It's also against immigration and not so friendly toward Muslims (and has a history of anti-Semitism, as well). But what if it wanted to march with everyone else? [...]

Everyone who marched did so for their own understanding of what the Charlie Hebdo attack meant. I wouldn't be surprised if the perpetrators of the recent "warning" attacks against French Muslims also joined the crowd.

According to MAMA, a U.K. organization monitoring anti-Muslim attacks, 15 such incidents have taken place in France since last Wednesday. Some have been quite graphic: anti-Arab graffiti on mosques, bullets fired and training grenades tossed at prayer houses, a boar's head and entrails left outside a prayer room with a note saying, "Next time it will be one of your heads."

Xenophobes elsewhere in Europe will also take this chance to assert themselves. Tonight, in Dresden, Germany, the anti-Islamic group Pegida intends to hold what will probably be its biggest rally yet. Since the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Pegida's Facebook page has added about 20,000 supporters. German Justice minister Heiko Maas called on Pegida to cancel the gathering, denouncing the group as "hypocrites" who have protested against the "lying press" and are suddenly full of sympathy for its fallen representatives. The Pegida page's only response has been, "What can one say???"

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Iran eclipses US in Iraq's fight against militants (AP,  January 12, 2015)

 In the eyes of most Iraqis, their country's best ally in the war against the Islamic State group is not the United States and the coalition air campaign against the militants. It's Iran, which is credited with stopping the extremists' march on Baghdad.

Shiite, non-Arab Iran has effectively taken charge of Iraq's defense against the Sunni radical group, meeting the Iraqi government's need for immediate help on the ground.

Posted by orrinj at 2:54 PM


Skip Your Annual Physical (Ezekiel J. Emanuel, 1/08/15, NY Times)

There is only one problem: From a health perspective, the annual physical exam is basically worthless.

In 2012, the Cochrane Collaboration, an international group of medical researchers who systematically review the world's biomedical research, analyzed 14 randomized controlled trials with over 182,000 people followed for a median of nine years that sought to evaluate the benefits of routine, general health checkups -- that is, visits to the physician for general health and not prompted by any particular symptom or complaint.

The unequivocal conclusion: the appointments are unlikely to be beneficial. Regardless of which screenings and tests were administered, studies of annual health exams dating from 1963 to 1999 show that the annual physicals did not reduce mortality overall or for specific causes of death from cancer or heart disease. And the checkups consume billions, although no one is sure exactly how many billions because of the challenge of measuring the additional screenings and follow-up tests.

This lack of evidence is the main reason the United States Preventive Services Task Force -- an independent group of experts making evidence-based recommendations about the use of preventive services -- does not have a recommendation on routine annual health checkups. The Canadian guidelines have recommended against these exams since 1979.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


France probing comedian Dieudonne for Paris shooting remark (AFP January 12, 2015)

French prosecutors said Monday they were investigating notorious comedian Dieudonne for "inciting terrorism" with his Facebook comment that could be interpreted as sympathising with one of last week's attackers in Paris. [...]

The government has in the past banned Dieudonne's shows because it considers them "anti-Semitic".

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


Some welcome GOP candor on Obamacare (Greg Sargent, January 12, 2015, Washington Post)

[R]epublicans have long played a very clever game on the Affordable Care Act. They have regularly claimed that of course they are for repealing that hated thing they call "Obamacare." But the same time, they've carefully left the impression that even if Republicans get their way, people will somehow be able to keep components of it they like, such as the coverage guarantee -- an impression they've created by openly supporting the law's key goals or dangling the possibility of some phantom GOP alternative that would do the same thing. Jindal, refreshingly, suggests Republicans should be willing to admit they support "taking back what Obama has already given."

Republicans have long been able to fulminate in favor of eliminating Obamacare, secure in the knowledge that its benefits aren't going to be taken away from people and that they'd remain insulated from the political consequences of such an outcome. (Even some right-leaning writers have criticized this dodge.)

A SCOTUS decision against the law could upend that dynamic. At that point, the decisions of GOP lawmakers on how to proceed could suddenly have practical consequences for millions. GOP state legislators could set up their own exchanges to keep subsidies flowing, or the GOP Congress could agree to a simple fix. By contrast, not doing those things could mean millions lose coverage and other major disruptions.

...as they've shown themselves to be about the immigration executive orders.  Un.
Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Fox News 'terror expert' says everyone in Birmingham is a Muslim (Raf Sanchez, 1/12/05, The Telegraph)

An American "terrorism expert" on the right-wing Fox News channel has declared that Birmingham is "a totally Muslim" city "where non-Muslims just simply don't go".

Steve Emerson made the claim, which may come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of non-Muslim residents of Britain's second-largest city, during a television discussion about no-go zones in Europe where Muslims are apparently in complete control.

"In Britain, it's not just no-go zones, there are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don't go in," he said.

Mr Emerson, who describes himself as "an internationally recognised expert on terrorism", did not stop there.

"Parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn't dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire," he proclaimed, without giving examples.

He described Birmingham as one of a number of European cities "where sharia courts were set up, where Muslim density is very intense, where the police don't go in, and where it's basically a separate country almost, a country within a country."

That's the danger of the bubble folks refuse to poke their heads out of.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Education Secretary Says Administration Is Committed to Testing (MOTOKO RICH, JAN. 12, 2015, NY Times)

With debates about the appropriate role for the federal government in public education increasingly polarized, the secretary of education, Arne Duncan, insisted on Monday that the administration would not back away from annual testing for students and performance evaluations of teachers based in part on the results of the tests.

In a speech on Monday to outline the administration's priorities for a revision of No Child Left Behind, the signature Bush-era education law, Mr. Duncan said that "parents, teachers and students have both the right and the need to know how much progress all students are making each year towards college- and career-readiness." [...]

In July, the National Education Association, the country's largest teachers' union, called for an end to mandated yearly testing, and a growing group of parents and educators has been pushing back against what they see as rampant testing and test preparation.

January 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Report claims France didn't want Netanyahu at Paris march (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AFP January 11, 2015)

The French government was opposed to the idea of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending Sunday's historic march in Paris, believing the Israeli leader's presence at the rally would be "divisive," Israeli media reported Sunday. [...]

In retaliation to Netanyahu's sudden change of heart, which came in spite of the French government's position, the Elysee Palace extended an invitation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to the report.

The French government reportedly further chose to highlight their invite to Abbas rather than Netanyahu's announcement regarding the event, announcing a planned meeting between French President Francois Hollande and Abbas Saturday night.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


French far-right 'barred' from national unity rally (The Local, 09 Jan 2015)

Just a day after the Charlie Hebdo shooting left 12 dead and had politicians calling for the country to unite, a row between politicians broke out after the National Front were not invited to take part in Sunday's rally for "national unity" in Paris.

For her part Marine Le Pen was furious that the party, who came out on top in the European elections last May, was "excluded" from the march.

"It is very clear," Le Pen said. "They say that the Front National (FN) are not welcome to a meeting where every other party is invited. There is no longer national unity, it's disappeared because of their actions."

The party also fired out a tweet saying: ""The first party of France excluded from the demonstration! It's a moral fault."

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


Kerry in India to push trade ties (Matthew Lee, 1/11/15, Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in India to attend an international investment conference and push trade ties with the giant South Asian nation ahead of visit by President Barack Obama later this month.

Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


These Beautiful Maps Show How Much Of The U.S. Is Paved Over (Adele Peters, 1/07/15, Co.Exist)

While some states like Wyoming show up with only a thin patchwork of roads, many, like Texas, are nearly filled in.

"It's amazing how much pavement there is," Fradet says.

The U.S. is covered in about 4 million miles of roads. And while that's only a fraction of a percent of the total land area in the lower 48 states, it's still enough to have a noticeable impact on the environment--from heat islands, to floods, to pollution runoff in nearby waterways. It's also enough space that some argue roads could be used as solar generators to power the entire country.

Posted by orrinj at 10:48 AM


Bangers v bullets : A gun is now more likely to kill you than a car is (The Economist, Jan 10th 2015)

ACCORDING to data gathered by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC), deaths caused by cars in America are in long-term decline. Improved technology, tougher laws and less driving by young people have all led to safer streets and highways. Deaths by guns, though--the great majority suicides, accidents or domestic violence--have been trending slightly upwards. This year, if the trend continues, they will overtake deaths on the roads.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


The coming Republican failure on immigration (BYRON YORK | JANUARY 11, 2015, DC Examiner)

The only way for a lawmaker to vote to undo Obama's executive action from last November is to vote for the Aderholt measure -- but that would also mean voting to rescind the Morton Memos and administration policy over the last several years. It is not hard to imagine a Democrat saying, "I'm troubled by what the president did in November, but I'm not comfortable voting to overturn his entire policy." The bottom line is that by broadening the effort to overrule Obama in the Aderholt amendment, Republicans are likely making sure that fewer lawmakers will vote for it, especially in the Senate.

By the way, Republicans did have a clean, simple amendment that would have reversed only Obama's November action. It was filed by Roby on Tuesday with the title "Prevention of Executive Amnesty Act of 2015." But by the time the leadership got through with things, the original Roby bill was nowhere to be seen.

There is some dark talk in the Capitol that it's all intentional, that the House leadership is sabotaging its own amendments, structuring them to make them unpassable in the Senate, because it really doesn't want to overturn the president's action. "It's sending a bill to the Senate that is designed not to pass the Senate," says one GOP congressional aide, "because members who are on the fence, whose votes we could have gotten, are going to know they have a pretext to vote no." At the least, such talk is a measure of the distrust of leadership that prevails in some House and Senate circles.

Of course something will pass. Lots of lawmakers will vote for the DeSantis amendment and prioritize enforcement against illegal immigrants who are domestic violence offenders or sexual predators. Why oppose that? And why not vote to say you believe the U.S. should favor American citizens over illegal immigrants? Those are easy votes that don't mean much. But on the main issue -- overturning Obama's executive action of last November -- Republicans have made success less, not more, likely by including other provisions.

Actually rescinding Obama's action was always going to be almost impossible to do. 

Morals/politics should be the one immigration hurdle.
Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Free speech comes with responsibilities (Sally Kohn, 1/10/15, CNN)

In the aftermath of the heinous attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France, many are tweeting and writing in solidarity: Je suis Charlie. But I'm not. Because I am not Charlie.

Of course, I unequivocally support the right to free speech. Period. And I also believe in choosing to exercise that right responsibly and respectfully. That's why I would not have published cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed, insulting 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide in the process (and no, I wouldn't have published many of Charlie Hebdo's cartoons insulting Judaism and Christianity, either).

In no way should this be taken -- as it has been by some on Twitter -- to suggest that I somehow condone the killings of Charlie Hebdo's staff. That's a ridiculously insulting idea and just plain wrong. It's possible to honor and protect the free speech rights of publications like Charlie Hebdo while simultaneously believing such cartoons are unnecessarily disrespectful and offensive.

Free speech absolutists base their defense on the notion that ideas are such powerful tools/weapons that they deserve special protection from (potentially tyrranical) government, which might otherwise protect itself from the freedom-loving by limiting them.  Essentially, it's the same argument that Second Amendment absolutists make. Both are rooted in paranoia and a distrust of one's fellow citizens of the republic.

Left unexamined is the question of whether such freedom is worth the cost.  Second Amendment absolutism gave us over 12,000 gun deaths last year.  Yet the jack-booted thugs and black helicopters remain naught but a symptom of disordered minds.

It's harder to quantify the human costs of protecting hate speech, but hard to believe we gain anything by pretending that Aryan Nations, the Klan and other such groups add anything of value to our social dialogue.  That's not to say that we need to censor such "speech," rather we could use prosecutorial discretion nd jury nullfication to establish that we feel no need to protect it, nor its speakers.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Mitch McConnell sings 'Kumbaya' (Doyle McManus, 1/11/15, LOS ANGELES TIMES)
[T]he core of the speech was a decidedly modest assessment of what voters were saying last November, followed by a lengthy appeal for bipartisan cooperation.

"The American people didn't ask for a government that tries to do everything, and fails; and they didn't demand a government that aims to do nothing, and succeeds," McConnell said. "They asked for a government that works."

"We're going to have to work together," he said. ""We're only going to pass meaningful legislation if members from both parties are given a stake in the outcome."

That, his lieutenants explained, is what McConnell sounds like when he's trying to be warm and fuzzy.

"We are trying to strike a new tone," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). "There's a healthy list of issues on which people from both sides can work together."

As evidence, Portman and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) pointed to McConnell's decision to allow open amendments and debate on the Keystone XL bill next week -- something the last majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), rarely did.

McConnell allies have listed a decidedly non-revolutionary agenda of possible bipartisan legislation: corporate tax reform, infrastructure spending, trade agreements and tweaks to Obama's healthcare law (not a repeal, which a veto puts out of reach).

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


The Rise (and Fall?) of the NFL : There were Giants in the earth in those days .  .  . and Colts (Geoffrey Norman, January 19, 2015, Weekly Standard)

Hard to imagine, as the ratings climb and the revenues roll in, that there could be honest speculation about "death of the NFL." But that is the theme one encounters more and more often, and from sources that cannot be dismissed as crackpots. Troy Aikman (another of those quarterbacks with a name that might have destined him for the role) won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and has gone on to a career in broadcasting. His life, then, has been football. And it has been a good life.

But recently Aikman was quoted as saying, "If I had a 10-year-old boy, I don't know that I'd be real inclined to encourage him to go play football, in light of what we're learning from head injuries. And so what is the sport going to look like 20 years from now? I believe, and this is my opinion, that at some point football is not going to be the No. 1 sport."

Aikman suffered several concussions as a player. They came with the territory. He was tough, stood in the pocket, and took the hits, one of them in a championship game that left him, several hours later, lying in a hospital bed and asking his agent if he had played that day, and if so, how had he done. The next week, he suited up and led the Cowboys to a second consecutive Super Bowl win over the Buffalo Bills. 

Aikman has said he is fine now and feeling no long-term effects. Other players, most of them less celebrated than Aikman, can't say the same. Some former players have experienced the early onset of dementia and other debilitating conditions, to include extreme depression and violent mood swings, that can be traced to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). A number of them have joined in a lawsuit against the NFL that the league is eager to settle. A trial would be exceedingly harmful to the NFL's image, win or lose.

The legal maneuvering goes on in relative obscurity. Not so the suicides of several players and former players with CTE considered at the very least a contributing factor. Junior Seau, a star linebacker, killed himself at 43, two years after his retirement. Interviews with his family suggest that Seau, who had been notable for his ebullience as a player, had become depressed, withdrawn, and subject to silences and exceedingly dark moods that were entirely out of character. He shot himself in the chest so that his brain would not be damaged and, thus, would be available for study.

Research of that sort goes on, and science learns more--none of it good--about CTE. Meanwhile, football, at all levels of play, does what it can about concussions. Players are pulled from games when they show symptoms. They are not allowed to return to games when it has been established that they have, indeed, been concussed. Protective equipment has improved and the rules are rewritten to eliminate, to the extent possible, those hits that cause concussions.

Still, Lombardi (or whoever it was) had it right. Football is a collision sport. The equipment can pad the head but it doesn't do anything about those sudden stops where the brain keeps traveling and slams into the inside of the skull. Eliminate those big hits and you have .  .  . soccer, which works perfectly well, football critics might say, in most of the world.

One can almost sense a movement to ban football coming. It would start, of course, with the children. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that some 4 million concussions occur annually in high school football. A ban would be sold and justified as necessary to protect the health of boys too young to know any better. (And, not incidentally, too young to vote.) Many of their mothers would join the movement or, at least, pray silently for its success.

And there would be lawsuits, class action and otherwise, that could mean bankruptcy for high schools and even colleges without the resources of the NFL. Who would want to be a volunteer referee or coach if there were a risk of being named as a party in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit resulting from an injury suffered under those famous Friday Night Lights? Sponsors, too, might be sued. Why would the owner of a car dealership want to take on the risk? 

This is not a hard scenario to imagine in a world where playground jungle gyms are disassembled and sledding hills closed as a way of avoiding "legal exposure." And it could happen even though one feels certain that almost everyone playing football at what is called a "high level" is willing to live with the risk. Many, no doubt, embrace it, risk being a narcotic of sorts, like adrenaline, which is the first drug that football players become addicted to. Knowing that they will pay, somewhere down the line, makes their time in the arena that much more intense, that much sweeter. As Chicago Bears safety Chris Conte put it recently, "I'd rather have the experience of playing in the NFL and die 10 to 15 years earlier than not play in the NFL and have a long life."

When we were kids, track and field used to be a major tv sport and the participants used to say the same thing.  No one watches track anymore because the athletes acted on that impulse and used PED to corrupt the sport.  Boxing used to be even bigger--Ali fights were pay-per-view at movie theaters.  No one pays any attention to boxing anymore.  

A friend was with the Patriots those last couple years that Seau played and he had to sing the poor guy to sleep at night. The brain damages are too high a price to be paid for mere entertainment.

The solution is technology.  Either helmets become so safe that the brain is protected or the networks show a virtual reality version of Madden.   Viewers won't know the difference soon.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Wimping Out on Obamacare? (Jeffrey H. Anderson, January 19, 2015, Weekly Standard)

Unfortunately, the early signs suggest that House and Senate Republican leaders think voters sent them to Washington to make Obamacare better--on the margins, in ways that appeal to corporate interests. [...]

[W]hy would Republicans want to "fix" the law in this way? The focus of Obamacare's opponents should be on repealing and replacing the overhaul, not on repairing it--and everything they do should be with an eye toward advancing that larger goal. In the short term, therefore, they can look to pull pieces out of Obamacare--particularly pieces whose absence would simultaneously provide relief for Americans and undermine Obamacare. A fine example is the individual mandate: Americans hate it, and Obamacare relies upon it. Another good play is to highlight especially egregious sections that haven't gotten much popular attention, such as the effective ban on building or expanding doctor-owned hospitals--a striking example of Obamacare's rampant cronyism, and one that comes at the expense of a group with whom Republicans would be well-served to align themselves.

It is one thing to take pieces out of Obamacare in a strategic way, however, and quite another to reach inside and start actively tweaking and "fixing" it, a trap that Republicans had essentially avoided to date. If they succeed in changing the definition of full-time work from 30 to 40 hours, Republicans will put their fingerprints on Obama-care, a monstrosity not of their making, taking partial ownership of the president's unpopular namesake.

....Republicans are going to reform the Heritage plan, not repeal it.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


South American nations struggle to find new economic model (John Paul Rathbone in London and Joe Leahy in São Paulo, 1/11/15, Financial Times)

[A]s commodity prices collapse alongside China's slowing economy, Ms Rousseff has begun her second presidential term by saying she wants to rebuild relations with Washington. She has barely mentioned Beijing.

The shift reflects broader changes in South America's commodity-dependent economies, where the abrupt collapse in energy, food and metals prices has opened up dangerous trade and financing gaps that could force deep economic and political change.

The broad implications for South America from this new state of affairs are threefold. First, belt-tightening will slow growth. Brazil is cutting public spending by 2 per cent of GDP, while Colombia has increased taxes to cover revenue shortfalls. "Slower growth is the new normal," said Mr Shearing.

Second, the region needs a new post-boom economic model, especially if local manufacturing were to be hollowed out by cheap Chinese imports. Greater economic orthodoxy may result.

"You have to understand that commodities are subject to deep cycles," said Mr Ramos. "Don't get too carried away during the good years."
Third, there may be a re-emphasis on north-south trade ties that languished during the commodity bonanza. Ms Rousseff's desire to improve US relations -- and even Washington's rapprochement with Cuba, as the latter's benefactor, Venezuela, bounces off the ropes -- may be two early signs of this.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Walter Berns, 1919-2015  (WILLIAM KRISTOL, 1/10/15, Weekly Standard)

[T]hose who want to learn more about Walter may wish to visit the website dedicated to his work, walterberns.org. Walter's student and then friend and colleague Jeremy Rabkin wrote the introduction to the website:

Walter Berns was a student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago in the early 1950s. Like a number of Strauss students of that era--notably, Martin Diamond, Harry Jaffa, and Herbert Storing--his work sought to apply the perspective of classical political philosophy to the study of American government and politics.

Almost all of Berns' important publications reflect his appreciation of the classical view that "government" and "society" cannot be sharply separated. Both are closely related aspects of a political community's "way of life." Much of his writing reflects the classical view that democracy depends on the character of the citizens, so their opinions and beliefs, their personal habits and degree of self-discipline--in a word, their virtues--will matter to the prospects of democratic government.

But Berns also acknowledged--indeed, often emphasized--that early modern thinkers (notably Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Adam Smith) had tried to place politics on a new foundation and the American Founders largely embraced the new approach, with its promise of reducing religious conflict and enlarging opportunities for the creation of wealth. With his primary focus on constitutional law, Berns emphasized the challenge of limited government in an era that had become impatient with limits and confused about their purposes.

We reviewed his Making Patriots.  Brian Lamb interviewed him for Booknotes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Defending the Truth About Marriage (TOM PIATAK, 1/09/15, Crisis)

The Catholic Church is the only major institution that still teaches the truth about marriage: that it is an indissoluble, lifelong union between one man and one woman, open to the transmission of life. And one of the consequences of this truth is that divorced persons who have remarried while their spouse is alive may not receive Holy Communion. This is grounded in the clear words of Jesus Christ, who said, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."

This has also been part of the Tradition of the Church since the early centuries of Christianity, with St. Augustine writing that "it is unlawful for one who leaves her husband, even when she has been put away, to be married to another, as long as her husband lives" and St. Jerome writing that "A husband may be an adulterer or a sodomite, he may be stained with every crime and may have been left by his wife because of his sins; yet he is still her husband and, so long as he lives, she may not marry another." The pertinence of this teaching to the present age is clear. We now know how damaging divorce is for children, even for the adult children of parents who undergo divorce. And we also know that the Church's teaching remains efficacious: Catholics, at least in the United States, divorce at a lower rate than non-Catholics.

Yet, despite this, the Church has seen extensive debate over the past year over Cardinal Kasper's proposal to admit remarried divorcees to Holy Communion. Kasper's proposal has won widespread support among self-professed "progressives," and it is not hard to see why: if the Church can overturn a teaching that is grounded in the clear words of Jesus Christ and in clear apostolic Tradition, there is no teaching of the Church that cannot be changed to suit the demands of this age, or of any age to come.

The mistake is to treat it as primarily a state institution.
Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM

CHARTER SCHOOLED (profanity alert):

1215 and all that : Magna Carta, symbol of freedom : On 15 June 1215, King John cut a deal with the barons at Runnymede, near Windsor. 800 years later, the thirteenth century document known as the Magna Carta is of global significance where the nurturing of democratic ideals is concerned. (John Crace, Eurozine)

With the original Magna Carta having lasted barely three months, there were some who reckoned they could have saved themselves a lot of time and effort by topping King John rather than negotiating with him. But wiser - or perhaps, more peaceful - counsel prevailed and its spirit has endured through various subsequent mutations. That is, most notably, the 1216 Charter, The Great Charter of 1225 and the Confirmation of Charters of 1297. Subsequent to which it has widely come to be seen as the foundation stone of constitutional law, both in England and many countries around the world. It was the first time limitations had been formally placed on a monarch's power and the rights of citizens to the due process of law and trial by jury had been affirmed. [...]

The survival of clause 39 of the original Magna Carta has been rather more significant for the rest of us. "No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right." Or in layman's terms, due process: the legal requirement of the state to recognize and respect all the legal rights of the individual. The guarantee of justice, fairness and liberty that not only underpins - well, most of the time - the UK's constitutional framework, but those of many other countries as well.

Britain has no written constitution. Not because parliament has been too lazy to get round to drawing one up, but because one is already assumed to be in the lifeblood of every one living in Britain. Queen Mary may have had "Calais" written on her heart, but the rest of us all have "Magna Carta" inscribed there. It can be found on the inside of the left ventricle, for those of you who are interested in detail. Other countries haven't been so trusting in the genetic inheritance of feudal England and have insisted on getting their constitutions down in non-fugitive ink.

That Magna Carta has also been the lodestone for the constitutions of so many other countries, most notably the USA, is less a sign of the global reach of democratic principles - much as that might resonate with romantic ideals of justice - than of the spread of British people and British imperial power. After the Mayflower arrived in what became the USA from Plymouth in 1620, the first settlers' only reference point for the establishment of civil society was Magna Carta. The settlers had a lot of other things on their minds in the early years - most notably their own survival and the share price of British American Tobacco - and they hadn't got time to dream up their own bespoke constitution. If they had, they might have come up with something that abolished slavery and gave equal rights to black people sometime before the 1960s. So they settled for an off-the-peg version of Magna Carta, with various US amendments. And some poor spelling. In 1687 William Penn published the first version of Magna Carta to be printed in America. By the time the fifth amendment - part of the bill of rights - was ratified four years after the original US constitution in 1791, Magna Carta had been enshrined in American law with "No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."

The fact that the American idea of Magna Carta was not one that would necessarily have been recognized in Britain was neither here nor there. For the Americans, the notion of the rights of a people to govern themselves was more than something that had been fought for over many centuries - a gradual taking back of power from an absolute ruler - that had been ratified on paper. They were fundamental rights that pre-existed any country and transcended national borders. And even if there was no one left alive on Earth, these rights would remain. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


New England Patriots beat Baltimore Ravens with 'deception.' Was it legal? (Mark Sappenfield,  JANUARY 11, 2015, CS Monitor)

Over a stretch of three plays in the third quarter, the New England Patriots' Bill Belichick and his coaching staff did something so outlandish that Harbaugh was still trying to piece together exactly what had happened after the Patriots' 35-31 playoff win.

It was "clearly deception," Harbaugh said in his postgame press conference. [...]or a pivotal stretch of the second half, when the Patriots were down by 14 points (for the second time in the game) and staring at a third playoff loss to the Ravens in the past five years, it seemed more that the man on the sidelines - not the man under center - was the one pulling the strings.

Belichick has long been one of pro football's original thinkers, from his daring on fourth downs to his willingness to completely change game plans from one week to the next. But Saturday was a master class from the mind of football's Stephen Hawking, turning a game the Patriots easily could have lost (twice) into another step toward a Super Bowl. (They face the winner of Sunday's Denver Broncos-Indianapolis Colts game in the conference championship next weekend.)

Saturday was Belichickery at its finest, and the Patriots needed every inch of it.

On the third-quarter plays in question, Belichick and his offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, appeared to cheat. That's what Harbaugh and his defense thought, anyway. At first blush, it looked as if the Patriots used six receivers on the plays, which would be illegal. (You're only allowed five.)

But it just looked that way. The fifth lineman was not a thick-necked slab of beef lined up in front of Brady. He was a running back split wide like a receiver. In fact, on the plays, he wasn't doing anything. He had reported to the referees as an ineligible receiver. He was purely a decoy. But since he looked like he was a receiver, the Ravens covered him - and left the tight end lined up like an offensive lineman wide open when he sprinted downfield.

The Patriots did not score on the plays, but down 14 points at the time, the plays helped get the offense into a rhythm. They scored a touchdown later on the drive.

The next drive, Belichick and McDaniels trotted out something perhaps even better: the first-ever professional pass by Julian Edelman.

January 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 12:29 PM


Why success does not sit well with West Ham United fans (Jacob Steinberg, 9 January 2015, The Guardian)

A strange thing happened this week. Usually when I say I support West Ham United, people smile sympathetically, pat me on the back and tell me with forced cheeriness to keep my chin up. Then they look away, unable to meet my gaze for a moment longer, or comprehend the ineffable sadness of my situation.

Those with no interest in football have a slightly different approach. They regard me with a mixture of horrified fascination and amusement, in the way the Boggs family peered at Edward Scissorhands when he sat at the dinner table for the first time, and always ask the same questions. Why West Ham? Why not someone good? What position are they anyway? Fourteenth? In the Premier League? Well done to you!

This week, however, the response changed when I admitted I support West Ham. Instead of finding myself on the end of a heartfelt hug from a stranger, I was agreeing with his assertion that I must be very happy indeed. "Yes," I replied, my voice a little uncertain. "I suppose I am - happy."

Surely I am not the only West Ham fan troubled by the idea of happiness, even though it has been a long time coming. Look through the crowd at Upton Park and you will see facial expressions that have been set to perma-frown after years of watching teams led by managerial titans such as Glenn Roeder and Avram Grant. I have been in the away end when we were 2-0 down to Rotherham United on a freezing December afternoon and a man who looked like Peter Griffin spent the entire game venting his fury at Alan Pardew. I have seen two relegations and a Neil Shipperley winner against us in the play-off final.

We travelled to Cardiff in a limousine that day, the driver left the engine on during the match and the battery was flat when we returned. At least the Crystal Palace supporters had a good laugh at our expense.

My fondest memory of last season was not the three wins over Tottenham Hotspur or Sam Allardyce out-tacticking José Mourinho, but a stoic though doomed 70-yard run by James Tomkins during a dismal 0-0 draw with Sunderland. It yielded a throw-in and Tomkins received a standing ovation; I swear I saw someone throw claret and blue confetti in the air.

Now West Ham are playing good football and challenging for Europe I am supposed to be happy but I am uncomfortable. Football supporters are not meant to enjoy themselves, it is not part of their DNA. They are in their element when they are moaning, because there is nothing to sink your teeth into when your team play well, it is much better if they spend 90 minutes displaying the imagination of a wet towel. Then you can whinge for hours in the pub afterwards.

That anger is always bubbling away under the surface and it re-emerged when West Ham drew 1-1 with West Bromwich Albion on New Year's Day. It was a gloriously unfair reaction, but that cacophony of boos was music to my ears. Finally, after all the ironic chants about playing Barcelona that greeted West Ham's ascent into the top four, Upton Park sounded like Upton Park again. It was our first chance to have a good boo since August and it was cleansing - any doctor will tell you it is not healthy for a supporter to keep that bottled up.

Similarly, ideologues of both stripes depend for much of their identity on the notion that they are waging a lonely fight against the establishment, so they suffer horrible psychic dislication when they win power and become the establishment.  It's why the Right hates the Heritage health plan and standardized testing so much and why the Left despises Hillary and the UR.  They want someone hopless like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.  40% in the 2016 presidential would be like balm to their wounds, as relegation would heal the Hammer fans.

Posted by orrinj at 12:24 PM


Bush blasts off : The Republican's 2016 moves put pressure on rivals, energize vaunted family network. (TODD S. PURDUM 1/8/15, Politico)

"His announcement didn't just light up the wires," said Mark McKinnon, the longtime political consultant and Bush family friend. "It torched 'em."

In part because he is perceived as a proud pragmatist and sometime moderate in a party that has grown increasingly conservative, Jeb Bush does not possess the power to effectively clear the field and lock up the GOP establishment that his brother, former President George W. Bush, did in the run-up to his 2000 campaign. But Jeb Bush does have the immediate ability to tap the resources, expertise, loyalty and sharply honed political skills of the extended network of friends and advisers that has made his family a force in national life for more than 40 years - a network that originally dates to his mother Barbara's voluminous Christmas card list.

In just one small sign of that network's breadth, on Wednesday, Bush was shepherded to a meet-and-greet with influential New Yorkers at the KKR & Co. leveraged buyout firm by no less a GOP stalwart than Ken Mehlman, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Mark Wallace, his first "body man" as Florida governor who later served in several senior posts in the second Bush administration. Associates confirmed that Bush has tapped Sal Purpura -- a veteran campaign finance compliance expert and longtime confidant dating to his volunteer work on Bush's first gubernatorial campaign in 1994 -- as the assistant treasurer of his leadership PAC.

Bush's allies, meanwhile, have launched a super PAC with the same name as the leadership PAC -- the "Right to Rise" -- that can accept and spend unlimited amounts, and which is already soliciting donations. The name is borrowed from a phrase popularized by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and connotes a commitment to economic freedom as the key to opportunity. But it also suggests that even a Republican who occasionally strays from his party's orthodoxies has a place in the debate.

"To the extent there was any hesitation on the part of his prospective supporters," McKinnon said, "it was driven very much by perceived hesitation on his part. By throwing down the gauntlet so forcefully, Jeb has instantly galvanized the extensive Bush network. By being first to market, he is scooping up financial support from those who may have gone another direction had he waited. And, most importantly, it demonstrates the most important thing a successful president must have: fire in the belly." [...]

A 2016 bid would be Bush's first national campaign, but hardly his first rodeo, as the deliberate and sure-footed nature of his early moves suggests.

On New Year's Eve, as if making a clean start, his team confirmed that he had stepped down from all of his private-sector and non-profit board memberships, lest any pose even perceived conflicts of interest with a campaign. He and his wife, Columba, donated $10,000 to a fund for the families of the two New York City police officers murdered in their patrol car last month. This week, aides let it be known that Bush was prepared to release a decade or more of personal income tax returns - a move intended to neutralize what turned out to be a nagging vulnerability for the last GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who finally released just two years of returns in the face of intense pressure from even some Republicans to be more open about his wealth.

"In his career, he has always been on offense," the longtime Bush associate said. "When he ran in 1998, he ran on Democratic issues and won on them, education particularly. He always grabs the situation, has a smart plan and goes forward relentlessly. I think some of the people in the conventional wisdom world of politics were caught unawares by this."

Someone will stay in and snipe about him being too appealing to Latinos to be a genuine man of the right, but the rest of them may as well quit now. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Falling oil prices fuel debate over Keystone XL pipeline (Ed Crooks and Barney Jopson, 1/07/15, Financial Times)

[I]nstead of ending the arguments over Keystone, falling crude prices are stoking the controversy. When oil prices are low, the reduced transport costs provided by a pipeline, as opposed to the alternative of moving the crude by rail, become even more important to the industry. [...]

Despite the high costs of oil sands projects, there are solid reasons why the pipeline could still make economic sense for the industry. A few planned oil sands developments were cancelled in 2014.
Total of France in May shelved its proposed Joslyn mine development, because of rising costs, and Statoil of Norway said in September it would put its Corner oil sands project on indefinite hold, again because of costs and concerns about a shortage of oil transport capacity out of Alberta.

Since oil began its precipitous slide in October, however, there have been no announcements of large oil sands projects being cancelled or delayed.

For projects that are already under way, where the bulk of investment costs have been committed, stopping a development makes no sense. Once upfront money has been spent, mining projects need oil prices of $45 or less to cover the running costs, while in situ projects need just $20, according to researchers IHS.

Planned developments where the money has not been spent could be delayed but what matters is not today's oil price but the expected price over the longer term.

Oil sands projects are very different from the shale wells that have caused the crude production boom in the US. In shale, often known as tight oil, production drops off relatively quickly after the well comes on stream. In oil sands, output can be sustained, with very little decline, for decades.

"Tight oil may be more sensitive to the oil price, because the bulk of production comes in the first couple of years," says Kevin Birn, a director at IHS. "In the oil sands, you are looking over the much longer term."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


Map: How much each state relies on the federal government for revenue (Niraj Chokshi January 9 , 2015, Washington Post)

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


Did Vatican II Endorse Separation of Church and State? (JOSEPH G. TRABBIC, 1/09/15, Crisis)

One prominent shaper of Catholic opinion (at least American Catholic opinion) who interprets the Council in this way is Michael Sean Winters. Winters recently expressed this interpretation of Vatican II while commenting on last October's synod on the family in Rome. In Winters's view, with the current question about the reception of communion by certain divorced and remarried Catholics, the Church finds herself faced with a decision about whether to change one of her teachings. Winters sees a parallel between this situation and the situation the Church faced during the Council in reflecting on her proper relationship to the state. He believes that those who are resisting change now--he mentions Cardinals Pell, Burke, and Napier--are taking the position that they do because they oppose any development in Church teaching. But they may find that their adversaries will triumph in the end, as John Courtney Murray eventually (and allegedly) did against opponents of his views on Church and state. Thus Winters:

Having never met +Pell or +Burke or +Napier, I have never had the chance to ask them: So, if doctrine never changes, what is the Church's teaching on slavery today and was it always thus? In the 1950s, Fr. Murray was silenced for suggesting that the Church could endorse the separation of Church and State and in the 1960s the Second Vatican Council agreed with Murray, not with those who silenced him. If that was not a change in Church teaching, what was it?

Winters's polemic against Pell et al. is surely misguided (not to mention a red herring), for no educated Catholic opposes development of doctrine on principle (as Winters appears to think Pell & Co. do), only developments that would conflict with scripture and tradition. But, of course, it is what Winters says about Vatican II's teaching on Church and state that interests me in this essay, not his polemic against these "intransigent" cardinals. Winters's above remarks on this teaching are consistent with what he has said about it on other occasions. Writing several years ago in Slate about the parts of Vatican II rejected by the Society of St. Pius X, Winters observes that the Council's declaration on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae, "recognized the separation of church and state as a valid form of constitutional arrangement." And in a 1999 book review for The New Republic Winters explains to his readers that Fr. Murray "argued successfully" at the Council "that the Church should embrace the separation of Church and State."

So, what should we make of Winters's reading of Vatican II's teaching on Church and state? There would seem to be a couple different ways to interpret him. He could be saying either (a) that the Council admits that in certain circumstances the Church can regard such a separation as acceptable, even good, but not necessarily ideal, or (b) that the Council holds up the separation of Church and state as the ideal. We could call the former the "weak" version of Winters's claim and the latter the "strong" version. In either case Winters would add that we are talking about a break with past teaching.

If we go with the weak version of Winters's claim, I don't think it can be gainsaid, but he would be wrong to suppose that it constitutes a break with previous teaching. If we go with the strong version of Winters's claim, this would be a break with previous teaching but I do not believe that it is something that the Council ever taught.

...it was Benedict who declared America the ideal, the last step in our Reformation of the Church, which now accepts democracy, capitalism and protestantism.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


How The Corporate Education Reform Industry Buys Elections (Jonathan Pelto, 1/05/15, The Progressive)

This year's election season gave us some textbook examples of how corporate education reformers use their personal fortunes to contaminate the democratic process. 

Let's begin with the little state of Rhode Island, where former hedge fund owner and charter school champion Democrat Gina Raimondo, was elected governor with 40 percent of the vote in a three-way race--one in which there was an unprecedented level of campaign spending.

Raimondo, who as Rhode Island's state treasurer won national acclaim from conservatives for successfully dismantling the state employee pension fund, raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors associated with funding the education reform movement and profiting from the charter school industry. Her running mate, Cumberland mayor Daniel McKee, one of the state's most vocal supporters of charter schools, was elected lieutenant governor with help from many of the same donors.

Over the course of her gubernatorial campaign, Raimondo collected checks from many of the major players in the charter school and "education reform" movement, including donations from billionaires Eli Broad and members of the Walton family. (The Broad Foundation and Walton Foundation, along with Gates Foundation, are the primary funders behind the overall education reform movement.)

Another billionaire, former Enron executive John Arnold, along with his wife, not only donated directly to Raimondo's campaign and her political action committee, called Gina PAC, but the couple's $100,000 check made them the largest donors to the American LeadHERship Council, a Super PAC affiliated with Raimondo. The second largest donor to the Super PAC was Eli Broad with $15,000.

A proponent of doing away with public employee pensions, Arnold also donated as much as $500,000 to an advocacy group called Engage Rhode Island, which spent approximately $740,000 lobbying for Raimondo's successful assault on public employee pensions. Over the past three years, the John and Laura Arnold Foundation has donated more than $100 million in support of charter schools and entities involved in the corporate education reform industry, including being one of the largest contributors to Jeb Bush's Foundation for Educational Excellence. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Police Commissioner Bratton confirms NYPD work slowdown (Sarah Eberspacher, 1/09/15, The Week)

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton told NPR's Robert Siegel that a work slowdown had occurred after all, after denying the charge earlier this week.

"We're coming out of what was a pretty widespread stoppage of certain types of activity, the discretionary type of activity by and large," Bratton said. "I'm very conscious of the impact of all of those on my personnel."

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that criminal summonses, along with traffic tickets, were down 90 percent compared to last year.

...fire them. The '70s are over.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Climate groups oppose changes to W.Va. science standards (Ryan Quinn, 1/04/15, WV Gazette)

Groups that support teaching students about the evidence showing that humans are contributing to a global rise in temperatures are speaking out against West Virginia's changes to the state's new K-12 science education standards.

At the request of state school board member Wade Linger, who said he doesn't believe human-influenced climate change is a "foregone conclusion," the teaching requirements concerning climate change were altered before the board adopted them last month.

Climate change is science.  Human caused climate change is a cult.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


GM Readies Electric Rival to Tesla (JOHN D. STOLL, Jan. 9, 2015, WSJ)

General Motors Co. plans to launch a $30,000 electric vehicle called the Chevrolet Bolt that would be capable of driving 200 miles on a charge by 2017, according to people familiar with the strategy, a move to gain ground on Tesla Motors Inc. [...]

The Chevy Bolt, carrying a more capable battery manufactured by South Korea's LG Chem Ltd. , will be aimed squarely at Tesla's forthcoming Model 3, a $35,000 electric car also slated to debut in 2017. The concept version of the electric car will be a hatchback designed to look more like a so-called crossover vehicle, according to people familiar with the design. The Bolt will be capable of driving four times farther than a Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid on a single charge.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


GM food: time to devour the benefits (Neil Ross, 9 JANUARY 2015, spiked)
One of spiked's people of the year for 2014 was Kenya's Florence Wambugu, a pioneering and tireless supporter of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and biotechnology in food production in the developing world. Sadly, support for GMOs is singularly lacking in the developed world.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the battle currently being waged over GMOs in a courthouse in the US state of Vermont. In this case, federal judge Christina Reiss is deciding whether or not to dismiss the state's mandatory labelling laws for GM food, which are due to be introduced in 2016. The first question she must consider is whether consumers should be made aware that the food they are eating 'may be produced with genetic engineering'.

Labelling advocates say it is necessary to provide information, but this is disingenuous. The underlying goal of this legislation is to cast 'evil' GM foods aside in favour of 'natural' products. If the labelling law goes ahead, it would amount to the stamping of GM-food packaging with a suggestive warning label. It would imply that GM foods are unsafe.

Under the proposed law, producers and manufacturers of GM foods won't be able to label their food as 'natural'. But what is a 'natural' food? As Reiss wryly observed, 'I can't imagine any food that doesn't have human intervention'. 

Indeed, given evolution, just require that food be so labelled.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


The Left's Unpopular Populism : Elizabeth Warren and her Democratic allies should not fool themselves into thinking that Americans who are angry at elites and corporations also favor wealth redistribution. (AMITAI ETZIONI, JAN 8 2015, The Atlantic)

Populism usually refers to the idea that power should rest in the hands of the little guy, and not in the government or some elite. Public-opinion polls show that this basic form of populism has wide appeal. One of every two Americans believes that most politicians are corrupt (51 percent, according to a 2013 poll of national voters); 76 percent that special interests wield too much power; and 88 percent that big money has too much sway. Very low on people's "trust" lists are all those perceived as powerful, including not just the government but also banks and corporations and labor unions. This kind of populism appeals to both those on the left, such as the Occupy Wall Street folks, and to Tea Partiers. (Polls show that, at least for a while, at least one in 10 Americans favored both!) I call this popular populism.

Much of the appeal is lost--that is, populism becomes much less popular--once leftist themes join the mix. There is little support for policies that look like wealth transfers, taking from the rich and giving to poor, reducing inequality, or making sacrifices for the common good. Large segments of the right and center view these policies as taking from "us" and giving to "them." That's why Social Security is so popular, while welfare is not. It's the reason Medicare is very popular and Medicaid is much less so.  

Opinions about what the top problems facing the nation are differ somewhat from poll to poll and over time. However, in one poll after another, popular populism concerns rank much higher than leftist ones. Thus a January 2014 poll found that dissatisfaction with the government, politicians, and poor leadership ranked as the main concerns, with the economy in general as the second. Only 4 percent of respondents ranked poverty, hunger, and homelessness as top concerns, just one percentage point higher than the very unpopular foreign aid. Even among Democrats, dissatisfaction with government ranked three times higher than the rich-poor gap (6 percent).

This is one reason why Obamacare remains unpopular.

Republican reform of Obamacare will save it by making make it universal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Sri Lanka's President Loses an Election--and China Loses an Ally (Bruce Einhorn, January 09, 2015, Businessweek)

China has spared no effort to make friends with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The island nation has more than $4 billion worth of Chinese-backed investments, including a $1.4 billion project now under construction of offices, hotels, apartment buildings, and shopping centers on reclaimed land in Colombo that is the largest foreign investment in the country's history. The leading provider of loans to Sri Lanka, China is also financing a $1.3 coal power plant and $1 billion highway.

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, who visited in September, cozying up to Rajapaksa has been a twofer. Building a Chinese presence in the country helps further Xi's ambitions to build a "maritime Silk Road" expanding China's reach in the Indian Ocean. [...]

Those pesky voters in Sri Lanka, though, have gotten in the way of China's plans to use the island as a thorn in the side of India. The news from the island nation shows that when it comes to choosing a reliable ally in Sri Lanka, Xi may have been done in by democracy. Rajapaksa, who called an election two years earlier than necessary, has just lost his reelection bid to challenger Maithripala Sirisena. Rajapaksa had reason to be confident: He presided over the end of the civil war and the subsequent peace dividend that helped boost economic growth above 7 percent. Sri Lanka's benchmark stock index jumped 23 percent last year.

Still, former ally Sirisena was able to capitalize on worries of many Sri Lankans concerned about the incumbent's tilt toward China. "There's a perception that the Chinese are underpinning misgovernance and corruption in the regime," Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Colombo-based Centre for Policy Alternatives, told Bloomberg News before the election.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Medical Clinics Take Over Malls' Empty Spaces (Doni Bloomfield, January 08, 2015, Business Week)

As retailers struggle to keep up with changing shopping trends, mall operators across the U.S. are looking to fill spaces left empty by the likes of Sears and RadioShack. One promising new group of tenants: walk-in medical clinics, staffed by doctors who can treat common ailments such as pink eye and minor injuries like sprains and burns.

The clinics--regional chains such as City Practice Group of New York and national ones like Concentra, the largest urgent-care organization in the U.S.--are a growing segment of the medical retail industry, says Scott Mason, executive managing director of Cushman & Wakefield's health-care group. There were 9,400 walk-in clinics in the U.S. in 2013, according to the Urgent Care Association of America, a 20 percent increase since 2009. A little more than a third are located in strip malls and shopping centers.

An appropriate location for a consumer good.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


George Zimmerman arrested on aggravated assault charge (AP, Jan. 10, 2015)

January 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


Raise the gas tax. A lot.  (Charles Krauthammer, 1/08/15, Washinton Post)

The average American buys about 12 gallons of gas a week. Washington would be soaking him for $12 in extra taxes. Washington should therefore simultaneously reduce everyone's FICA tax by $12 a week. Thus the average driver is left harmless. He receives a $12-per-week FICA bonus that he can spend on gasoline if he wants -- or anything else. If he chooses to drive less, it puts money in his pocket. (The unemployed would have the $12 added to their unemployment insurance; the elderly, to their Social Security check.)

The point of the $1 gas tax increase is not to feed the maw of a government raking in $3 trillion a year. The point is exclusively to alter incentives -- to reduce the disincentive for work (the Social Security tax) and to increase the disincentive to consume gasoline.

It's win-win. Employment taxes are a drag on job creation. Reducing them not only promotes growth but advances fairness, FICA being a regressive tax that hits the middle and working classes far more than the rich.

As for oil, we remain the world champion consumer. We burn more than 20 percent of global output, almost twice as much as the next nearest gas guzzler, China.

A $1 gas tax increase would constrain oil consumption in two ways. In the short run, by curbing driving. In the long run, by altering car-buying habits. A return to gas-guzzling land yachts occurs every time gasoline prices plunge. A high gas tax encourages demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Constrained U.S. consumption -- combined with already huge increases in U.S. production -- would continue to apply enormous downward pressure on oil prices.

A tax is the best way to improve fuel efficiency.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


Jobs Report: U.S. Adds 252,000 Jobs; Unemployment Falls to 5.6% (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, Jan. 9, 2015, WSJ)

Stagnant wages have limited household budgets and been a check on consumer spending. Average hourly earnings for private-sector workers fell 5 cents to $24.57 in December. The average workweek held steady at 34.6 hours in December.

Over the past year, hourly earnings are up a mere 1.7%, barely ahead of inflation's 1.3% rate.

Outsourcing, importing, automation, union decline and reduced employment participation rates mean there's no pressure on wages.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Let's not sacralize Charlie Hebdo (Arthur Goldhammer, 1/07/15, Al-Jazeera)

The satire that Charlie Hebdo exemplified was more blasphemous than political, and its roots lie deep in European history, dating from a time when in order to challenge authority, one had to confront divinity itself. In that one respect, the fanatics are not wrong: Charlie Hebdo was out to undermine the sacred as such. 

In the wake of the tragedy, many publications across the West have rushed to print reproductions of Charlie Hebdo covers as proof that terrorist violence cannot dampen free expression. Such homage to the magazine in its agony is in one sense fitting and proper, but in another sense it is the precise opposite of what the living Charlie was about.

Reproducing the imagery created by the murdered artists tends to sacralize them as embodiments of some abstract ideal of free speech. But many of the publications that today honor the dead as martyrs would yesterday have rejected their work as tasteless and obscene, as indeed it often was.

Hate is a dangerous currency.
Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Japan's birth rate problem is way worse than anyone imagined (Ana Swanson January 7, 2015, Washington Post)
The data above, drawn from a recent working paper from Tokyo's Waseda University, shows just how bad Japan has been at forecasting its fertility rate since 1965. Government projections have been almost comically wrong, as the government repeatedly interpreted the sharp decrease in the fertility rate as a temporary dip rather than a sustained trend.

The paper argues that the effects of an aging population on deflation are more complicated than typically thought - that aging is deflationary when caused by an increase in longevity but inflationary when caused by a decline in birth rate. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Fed's Bond Buying Yields Bonanza for Treasury (MICHAEL S. DERBY, Jan. 9, 2015, WSJ)

The Federal Reserve sent a record $98.7 billion in profits to the Treasury Department in 2014, largely reflecting higher interest earnings on its big bond holdings. [...]

The central bank's remittance to the Treasury last year was the biggest since 2012, when it handed over $88.4 billion. Before the crisis, the Fed turned over $21.5 billion in 2005, and $34.6 billion in 2006. The figures released Friday are preliminary and subject to revision.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Rouhani condemns killing in name of Islam (AFP, January 9, 2015)

In remarks carried by Iranian media on Friday, Rouhani said "violence and terrorism is reprehensible whether in this region, in Europe or in the United States".

"Those who kill and carry out violent and extremist acts unjustly in the name of jihad, religion or Islam provoke Islamophobia whether they wish it or not," said Rouhani.

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Closely Watched Inflation Gauge Falls to Lowest Level in 14 Years (MIN ZENG, Jan. 9, 2015, WSJ)

An inflation gauge closely watched by Federal Reserve officials has fallen to the lowest level in more than 14 years, extending a decline that investors and analysts say could complicate the central bank's plan to raise interest rates this year.

The five-year forward five-year break-even rate, which measures annual inflation currently expected by investors between 2020 and 2025, tumbled to 1.8648% on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


Hezbollah: Jihadists offended Muslims more than cartoons (AFP, January 9, 2015)

"Now, more than ever, we need to talk about the prophet (Mohammed) because of the behavior of certain terrorist... groups that claim to be Islamic," said Nasrallah.

"They offended the prophet of God (Mohammed) more than anyone else in history," he added.

"Through their shameful, heinous, inhumane and cruel words and acts, [these groups] have offended the prophet, religion... the holy book and the Muslim people more than any other enemy," said Nasrallah.

And he said that offense was "greater than the books, the films and the cartoons that have insulted the prophet."

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Obama proposes 2 free years community college for all Americans with decent grades (NEDRA PICKLER, 1/09/15, Associated Press)

President Barack Obama wants publicly funded community college available to all Americans, a sweeping, multibillion-dollar proposal that would make higher education as accessible as a high school diploma to boost weak U.S. wages and skills for the modern workforce.

The program is expected to cost the federal government $60 billion over 10 years, said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, and it faces a Republican Congress averse to big new spending programs. Obama was promoting the idea on Friday at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, a follow-up to a video message posted to Facebook Thursday evening. 

Better yet, just put $10k in stock account for every kid in America and starting when they turn 18 they can withdraw up to 10k for school or a home purchase.

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


The genius of Jeb Bush's transparency play (and our new rankings of the 2016 field!) (Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake January 9, 2015, Washington Post)

Jeb Bush hasn't run for office in more than a decade. But, his decision to release hundreds of thousands of emails sent during his time as governor of Florida coupled with his intention to voluntarily release his own personal tax returns show a savvy understanding of the modern political and media environment that bodes well for his increasingly likely 2016 presidential bid. [...]

The reality of modern politics (and modern journalism) is that everything eventually comes out. Everything. Whether it first appears in the Washington Post or the National Enquirer or You Tube, the ability of politicians to hide unsavory tidbits of their professional and personal lives is almost totally nonexistent at this point. (Thanks Internet!)

Given that, why spend months answering questions about your emails or your taxes?

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


The percent of employed people working for the federal government is at the lowest level on record (Philip Bump, January 9, 2015, Washington Post)

If you break out the data on federal employees (which goes back further than the other two), you see the point mentioned at the top of this post. Less than two percent -- 1.94 percent, to be precise -- of the total United States workforce is employed by the federal government. (The peak in the 1940s was World War II.)

This isn't all a function of recent political opposition to big government; the trend began in the 1950s. But it does run counter to a common perception of an ever-expanding bureaucratic state.

January 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Jeb Bush Moves Quickly to Build Policy and Fundraising Arms (BETH REINHARD and  PATRICK O'CONNOR, Jan. 6, 2015, WSJ)

[T]he simultaneous launch of the super PAC--which, unlike the traditional political action committee, can raise unlimited funds for television ads and other political activity--signaled the extent of his ambitions. [...]

"It's all gelling very quickly, because there was this latent support for him all along," said business consultant Barbara Franklin, a leading supporter of Mr. Bush's family who was invited to the fundraiser. [...]

The website for the new political organization, named Right to Rise, promotes a strong national defense, free enterprise and limited government. Mr. Bush announced the new organization by posting a 13-second video on Twitter and Facebook of himself walking down the street and talking to the camera, a contrast with the slick, professionally produced videos frequently used by political figures.

Mr. Bush describes the Right to Rise PAC as "a PAC to support candidates that believe in conservative principles to allow all Americans to rise up." Mr. Bush repeats the same line in Spanish in a separate posting.

The informal, bilingual announcement suggests the son and brother of presidents is casting himself as someone who can expand the GOP's appeal beyond its base of white, older voters.

"We will not cede an inch of territory--no issues, no demographic groups, no voters--as we unite our citizens to strengthen America through greater economic growth and widespread prosperity," said a mission statement on the PAC's website. It also cites income inequality, saying that "the income gap is real,'' and that "while the last eight years have been pretty good ones for top earners, they've been a lost decade for the rest of America."

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


What Smart Lightbulbs Do Best: Hide Your Other, Uglier Gadgets (Joshua Brustein, January 06, 2015, Businessweek)

On Monday, Sony introduced the Symphonic Light speaker, a prototype for a lamp that emanates music in all directions. The company unveiled several versions: ceiling lamps, floor lamps, and a small bedside-table version. In each, a cylindrical piece of glass enclosed what looked like a small bulb, with the base of the lamp containing the guts of the speaker. With a few taps on a smartphone, music filled the room--sometimes from one lamp, sometimes from several. Here's the cool part: Absent visible speakers, the sounds didn't seem like they were coming from anywhere. There was just music in the room. [...]

Sengled, a Chinese lighting company, is also showing off several bulbs that do more than light up a room. The company's Boost bulb, which will cost $50, doubles as a Wi-Fi extender, increasing the power of a Wi-Fi signal in areas of the house that might not be served well by the primary router. (It already sells lightbulbs with speakers in them, for $170.) The company is also displaying a suite of products called Snap, bulbs with a built-in security camera, microphone, and speaker, as well as motion detectors and facial recognition, that can be installed inside or out.

We've got their Pulse Solo Dimmable LED Light with Dual Channel Bluetooth Speakers, which is pretty much the greatest light a 12 year old boy ever had.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Redeeming Shawshank (Dwight Longenecker, 1/08/15, Imaginative Conservative)

In Shawshank Redemption the surface images and story are exactly the opposite. In the opening scenes of the film we witness the torrid affair of Andy's wife and also Shawshank Penitentiary as a grim, granite hell. Within the first half hour we witness a murderous beating by a prison guard, scenes of homosexual rape, and the daily brutality of life inside.

After setting up the harshness of the prison regime, Andy Dufresne makes friends with an insider called Red. This friendship is the core of the story, and as the film takes us on a roller coaster ride of hope and despair we see the friendship between Andy and Red mature and develop into a powerful expression of deep and mutual respect. Running beside the theme of friendship is a lesson of hope. Andy Dufresne is a dignified and intelligent hero who despite his incarceration, never gives up hope. As G.K. Chesterton said, "Hope is not a virtue unless it is hoping for the hopeless."

As Andy's hopes are dashed time and again we are drawn to the edge of our seat wondering how his story will end and so share at a visceral level the hope he never forgets.

...and that was to have Morgan Freeman find the murder weapon when he dug up the box.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


ABC's 'Galavant': TV's Oddest New Show (JOHN JURGENSEN, Jan. 8, 2015, WSJ)

"Galavant" might be the closest thing we'll get to a naughty Disney musical.

The new half-hour comedy airs on Disney-owned ABC and comes from the writing and music team behind the animated Disney film "Tangled." It also presents a Magic Kingdom's worth of fairy-tale clichés--questing knight, fair maiden, villainous king--but spoofs them all with daffy song-and-dance numbers, winking references and bawdy jokes.

"Yes, he loved her to excess, thrice daily more or less," sings the narrator as he introduces Galavant ( Joshua Sasse ) and his beloved Madalena ( Mallory Jansen ), who breaks type by snubbing self-centered Galavant for the rich yet emotionally needy King Richard ( Timothy Omundson ).

From "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" to "Shrek," comedies set in medieval milieus are by now a genre unto themselves. But "Galavant" uses that setting to create a rarer thing: a broadcast series that diverges from the sacred sitcom touchstones of work, relationships and family. The fact that it's also a musical, with a klezmer bit ("Oy, What a Knight") and hooded executioners singing "dance, dance, dance until you die," makes "Galavant" one of the oddest network shows, comedy or otherwise, in some time.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


John Boehner and the Conservative Disconnect (JOHN FEEHERY, 1/08/15, WSJ)

By every reasonable measure, Mr. Boehner is a true conservative.

As an original member of the "Gang of Seven," he has long fought against such conservative bugaboos as earmarks.

He is pro-life and pro-gun. He likes to cut taxes and cut spending.

In fact, John Boehner's voting record is much more conservative than that of Rep. Daniel Webster, the Florida Republican who garnered 12 votes from the so-called hard-core conservatives.

The members who voted against Mr. Boehner for speaker never collectively articulated a convincing reason to replace him, other than that it's time for a change, nor did they put forward a candidate who could have beaten Mr. Boehner.

If he were a true ideologue, as they demand, he'd prove it by failing. The party would be in the minority and the caucus would have no influence on American policy. The very fact of enjoying success means that he has to have sold out principle.  Recall that the Right hated Reagan once he was president too. Actual governance is anathema to them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Pentagon to close 15 European bases (CHARLES HOSKINSON | JANUARY 8, 2015, Washinton Examiner)
The Pentagon said Thursday it will close 15 bases in Europe to save an expected $500 million a year by the early 2020s after a two-year review of infrastructure requirements on the continent.

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Iran-Backed Militias Are Getting U.S. Weapons (Josh Rogin & Eli Lake, 1/08/15, Bloomberg View)

U.S. weapons intended for Iraq's beleaguered military are winding up in the possession of the country's Shiite militias, according to U.S. lawmakers and senior officials in the Barack Obama administration. These sources say that the Baghdad government, which was granted $1.2 billion in training and equipment aid in the omnibus spending bill passed last month,  is turning hardware over to Shiite militias that are heavily influenced by Iran and have been guilty of gross human-rights violations. 

One senior administration official told us that the U.S. government is aware of this, but is caught in a dilemma. The flawed Iraqi security forces are unable to fight Islamic State without the aid of the militias, who are often trained and sometimes commanded by officers from Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


New Antibiotic Stirs Hope Against Resistant Bacteria (DENISE GRADY, JAN. 7, 2015, NY Times)

An unusual method for producing antibiotics may help solve an urgent global problem: the rise in infections that resist treatment with commonly used drugs, and the lack of new antibiotics to replace ones that no longer work.

The method, which extracts drugs from bacteria that live in dirt, has yielded a powerful new antibiotic, researchers reported in the journal Nature on Wednesday. The new drug, teixobactin, was tested in mice and easily cured severe infections, with no side effects.

Better still, the researchers said, the drug works in a way that makes it very unlikely that bacteria will become resistant to it. And the method developed to produce the drug has the potential to unlock a trove of natural compounds to fight infections and cancer -- molecules that were previously beyond scientists' reach because the microbes that produce them could not be grown in the laboratory. [...]

Dr. David A. Relman, a professor of medicine at Stanford, said by email, "It illustrates the amazing wealth and diversity of as-yet-unrecognized, potent, biologically active compounds made by the microbial world -- some of which may have real clinical value." He added, "We've been blind to the vast majority of them because of the biased and insensitive methods we use to discover drugs."

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Senate Republicans: Higher Gas Taxes Are On The Table (AMY HARDER, 1/08/15, WSJ)

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R., Okla.), who just took the reins of the panel, said he is open to considering raising the gas tax as a way to help pay for the dwindling Highway Trust Fund that keeps up the nation's roads and other transportation infrastructure. [...]

His cautious statements resemble those made recently by other leading Republican senators, whose party assumed control of the Senate on Tuesday and strengthened its majority in the House.

"We'll have to look at that. I'm looking at everything--every possible way of taking care of the highway bill," said Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R., Utah).

Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.), speaking Sunday on Fox News, said he didn't favor raising the gas tax but also said everything should be on the table regarding the highway fund.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


State, Kraft Group agree to start commuter service to Gillette, Foxboro (FRANK MORTIMER, 1/08/15, SUN CHRONICLE)

The Kraft Group and the state took a major step this week toward establishing daily commuter rail service between Boston and the Gillette Stadium and Patriot Place complex. [...]

"It still remains to be seen whether that will be funded - we're talking millions of dollars," Town Manager Bill Keegan said Tuesday night when announcing that MassDOT and the Kraft Group had inked an agreement.
Acquiring the existing CSX freight line that runs past the stadium will cost $23 million, and upgrading the line for regular commuter service will cost an additional $35 million, according to MassDOT.

January 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Jeb Bush quickly ramps up political operation, presses for big donations (Tom Hamburger and Matea Gold, January 7, 2014, Washington Post)

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush is quickly building a sophisticated political operation as he considers a presidential run, scooping up top GOP operatives and pressing party fundraisers to pull in large sums to back his efforts.

A day after Bush and his allies unveiled two political action committees, both dubbed Right to Rise, his aides were scheduling new finance events in Washington and other cities and pressing bundlers, who raise money from multiple donors, to make commitments to support the groups.

Some fundraisers have been asked to bring in at least $100,000 -- either by collecting checks for the $5,000 maximum that can be donated to Bush's leadership PAC or pulling in bigger donations for the super PAC, which can raise unlimited funds. [...]

[B]ush is rapidly scooping up senior party operatives with ties to Romney and other potential rivals.

Among those is Republican campaign finance lawyer Charlie Spies, who served as counsel to Romney and co-founded the super PAC that backed his 2012 White House bid. Spies set up the two PACs that make up Bush's new political operation.

People familiar with Bush's plans describe an ambitious schedule of events being planned across the country, with supporters clamoring to host the former governor and introduce him to potential backers.

One reads amusing comparisons of Jeb to John Connally and Phil Gramm, who were considered contenders because they had big money.  Jeb is going to have big money because he's a contender.
Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


42 percent of Americans think the U.S. found WMDs in Iraq (Jophn Terbush, 1/07/15, The Week)

That's according to a Public Mind poll released Wednesday by Fairleigh Dickinson University. [...]

For the record, the U.S. did not find anything resembling WMDs in Iraq.

The Secret Casualties of Iraq's Abandoned Chemical Weapons (C. J. CHIVERS, October 14, 2014, NY Times)

The soldiers at the blast crater sensed something was wrong.

It was August 2008 near Taji, Iraq. They had just exploded a stack of old Iraqi artillery shells buried beside a murky lake. The blast, part of an effort to destroy munitions that could be used in makeshift bombs, uncovered more shells.

Two technicians assigned to dispose of munitions stepped into the hole. Lake water seeped in. One of them, Specialist Andrew T. Goldman, noticed a pungent odor, something, he said, he had never smelled before.
He lifted a shell. Oily paste oozed from a crack. "That doesn't look like pond water," said his team leader, Staff Sgt. Eric J. Duling.

The specialist swabbed the shell with chemical detection paper. It turned red -- indicating sulfur mustard, the chemical warfare agent designed to burn a victim's airway, skin and eyes.

All three men recall an awkward pause. Then Sergeant Duling gave an order: "Get the hell out."

Five years after President George W. Bush sent troops into Iraq, these soldiers had entered an expansive but largely secret chapter of America's long and bitter involvement in Iraq.

From 2004 to 2011, American and American-trained Iraqi troops repeatedly encountered, and on at least six occasions were wounded by, chemical weapons remaining from years earlier in Saddam Hussein's rule.

In all, American troops secretly reported finding roughly 5,000 chemical warheads, shells or aviation bombs, according to interviews with dozens of participants, Iraqi and American officials, and heavily redacted intelligence documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

As Mr. Chivers points out, unfortunately it's a "secret chapter."
Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


Saudi Arabia is right to be anxious over its ideological links with Isis (Brian Whitaker, 1/07/15, The Guardian)

In military terms, the Saudi security apparatus is probably capable of suppressing Isis on its own territory, just as it did with al-Qaeda a decade or so ago, but it is in no position to confront Isis at the ideological level. The problem here is that Isis and the Saudis' Islamic kingdom are ideologically similar, so attempts to challenge Isis on ideological grounds risk undermining the Saudi state too. As Heba Saleh and Simeon Kerr noted in the Financial Times last September:

"Some of the features of Isis ideology, such as its hatred of Shia Muslims and application of strict punishments such as limb amputations, are shared with the purist Salafi thought that defines Saudi Wahhabism. Isis has explicitly referenced early Wahhabi teachers, such as Mohammed ibn Abdulwahhab, to justify its destruction of Shia shrines and Christian churches as it cuts a swath through Iraq and Syria. Thousands of Saudi nationals have been recruited to its ranks.
"Yet, in contrast to the tacit official encouragement of more liberal voices after 9/11, any debate within Saudi Arabia over the role of its official creed in fostering the group's extremism has been timid and largely confined to social media ... 
"The Saudi authorities have been quick to condemn Isis. But, according to observers, they are anxious to avoid a potentially destabilising examination of common ideological links between the extremist group and the Saudi religious school whose support underpins the legitimacy of the royal family."

The underlying issue, therefore, is the rival claims of king and would-be caliph. In the words of two Saudi government supporters: "To restore the 'caliphate', [Isis] would ultimately need to implant itself at the epicentre of Islamic life, the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina. Therefore, [Isis's] road to the caliphate runs through the kingdom of Saudi Arabia."

Inconveniently for the Saudi monarchy, this challenge from the upstart caliph comes at a time of uncertainty over the royal succession. 

In his great book, Siege of Mecca, Yaroslav Trofimov, claims that when the Sa'uds went to the nation's clerics to get their endorsement for using military force to reclaim the holy site the clerics required that the family embrace the rigid tenets of Salafism/Wahhabism in exchange and work to extend them throughout the Muslim world.  This effectively drove a kingdom that was modernising, at least somewhat, in a retrograde direction.  The moment was largely obscured by events in Iran, but mattered more.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


An Aging Europe's Decline (Arthur C. Brooks, 1/06/15, NY Times)

As important as good economic policies are, they will not fix Europe's core problems, which are demographic, not economic. This was the point made in a speech to the European Parliament in November by none other than Pope Francis. As the pontiff put it, "In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a 'grandmother,' no longer fertile and vibrant."

But wait, it gets worse: Grandma Europe is not merely growing old. She is also getting dotty. She is, as the pope sadly explained in an earlier speech to a conference of bishops, "weary with disorientation."

Some readers might regret the pope's use of language -- we love our grandmothers, weary with disorientation or not. But as my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt shows in his research, the pope's analysis is fundamentally sound.

Start with age. According to the United States Census Bureau's International Database, nearly one in five Western Europeans was 65 years old or older in 2014. This is hard enough to endure, given the countries' early retirement ages and pay-as-you-go pension systems. But by 2030, this will have risen to one in four. If history is any guide, aging electorates will direct larger and larger portions of gross domestic product to retirement benefits -- and invest less in opportunity for future generations.

Next, look at fertility. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid-1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That's up a hair from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That's where Europe is heading in the coming decades. On the bright side, at least there will be fewer Christmas presents to buy.

There are some exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Admit It: You're Rich (Megan McArdle, 1/07/15, Bloomberg View)

[I]f you're reading this article, chances are that you are in the top 1 percent of global income. And chances are also that you really don't feel like a tycoon.

The cutoff for the global 1 percent starts quite a bit lower than the parochial American version preferred by pundits. I'm on it. So is David Sirota. And if your household income is higher than $32,500, so are you. The global elite to which you and I belong enjoys fantastic wealth compared to the rest of the world: We have more food, clothes, comfortable housing, electronic gadgets, health care, travel and leisure than almost every other living person, not to mention virtually every human being who has ever lived. We are also mostly privileged to live in societies that offer quite a lot in the way of public amenities, from well-policed streets and clean water, to museums and libraries, to public officials who do their jobs without requiring a hefty bribe. And I haven't even mentioned the social safety nets our governments provide.

So why don't we feel like Scrooge McDuck, rolling around in all of our glorious riches? Why do we feel kinda, y'know, middle class?

Because we don't compare our personal experiences to a Tanzanian subsistence farmer who labors in the hot sun for 12 hours before repairing to his one-room abode for a meal of cornmeal porridge and cabbage. We compare ourselves to other Americans, many of whom, darn them, seem to have much more money than we do.

But often, our comparisons are even more provincial. We judge our incomes against those of our neighbors, our colleagues, our family members -- hence the old joke that a rich man is one who makes $1,000 more a year than his brother-in-law. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Jeb Bush's Right To Rise (Ira Stoll, 1/07/15, Future of Capitalism)
The "what we believe" statement up on the Web site of Jeb Bush's new "Right To Rise" political action committee is worth a look for a lot of reasons, but one of them is the way it shows how the ideas of conservative policy intellectuals filter into the language of actual, real-life politicians.

The first sentence of the statement is, "We believe passionately that the Right to Rise -- to move up the income ladder based on merit, hard work and earned success -- is the central moral promise of American economic life." The phrase "earned success" should be familiar to readers of this site from our coverage of the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, who possibly coined but definitely popularized the term.

The next sentence of the statement is, "We are optimists who believe that America's opportunities have never been greater than they are right now." That optimism note should be familiar to readers of this site from our coverage of the editor of the New York Sun, Seth Lipsky, who wrote an op-ed piece about the idea for the New York Post that has also been echoed, not only by Jeb Bush, but in the words of Scott Walker and Ted Cruz.

The fourth sentence of the statement begins, "Millions of our fellow citizens across the broad middle class feel as if the American Dream is now out of their reach." This "middle class" theme, which I'm not a particular fan of, comes from Peter Wehner, a George W. Bush administration official who wrote about it in a book called Room to Grow that was brought out by Yuval Levin and the YG Network.

January 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


The Unmaking of the President (Elizabeth Drew, 1/06/15, Project Syndicate)

In his astonishingly swift rise, he was virtually alone - a Democrat, but not a creature of the Democratic Party, a politician of progressive instincts, but not an ideologue. His tendency toward solitude, however, left him disinclined to build new ties and allies in Washington, leaning instead on his family and close friends from Chicago.

Moreover, he has little use for small talk or the grubbier side of politics, and his overweening pride in his exceptional intelligence makes him impatient with others' ideas. As a result, members of Congress, business figures, and others have felt put off in his presence - even insulted by his remoteness.

More broadly, Obama's approach to governing has run counter to his early claim that he wanted to create a "team of rivals" that would offer competing views. His preference for surrounding himself with people who have proved their loyalty has produced a White House staff that is widely considered, even by some cabinet officials, to be less than stellar. It is also a staff that has exercised tight control over policy. Cabinet members have chafed at their proposals being subjected to lengthy review by White House committees, whose reports are often opaque.

The UR's vision for his presidency was that he would get to be president.  Once that was accomplished he lost interest.  He's been content to just continue the Bush administration, helped greatly by a cabinet that's the least capable since Jimmy Carter's.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Martin Anderson: Reagan Adviser and Man for Many Seasons (Lou Cannon - January 6, 2015, RCP)

Together with his wife and fellow economist Annelise Graebner Anderson and Kiron K. Skinner, Martin Anderson made an important historical contribution in editing collections of Reagan's writings and voluminous correspondence with ordinary Americans: "Reagan, In His Own Hand" (2001) and "Reagan: A Life in Letters" (2003). These books demonstrated Reagan's pithy insights and sense of country better than any political argument ever did.

The Andersons in 2009 wrote "Reagan's Secret War: The Untold Story of His Fight to Save the World from Nuclear Disaster," which focused on Reagan's efforts to develop a missile shield to protect the nation from nuclear attack and ultimately to abolish nuclear weapons.

Martin Anderson was present at the incident that led to Reagan's epiphany on missile defense. The two men toured the headquarters of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado on July 31, 1979. Reagan was shown how radar could track an incoming missile but not stop it. "We have spent all that money and have all that equipment, and there is nothing we can do to prevent a nuclear missile from hitting us," Reagan said on their flight home to Los Angeles, Anderson recounted in "Revolution."

Although the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that Reagan proposed as president was derided by many scientists as unworkable, it helped bring the Soviets to the bargaining table, where Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev agreed on the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987 that became the template for future arms agreements between the United States and Russia.

Anderson continued to the end of his days to advocate U.S. missile defense, now focused on intercepting nuclear warheads launched by terrorists or a rogue nation.

During the Reagan presidency, Anderson served as an effective go-between for Reagan and Paul Volcker, the blunt-spoken chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Volcker, appointed by President Jimmy Carter, was distrusted by many Republicans and had been bureaucratically denied a White House pass. He wrote Anderson in complaint. Anderson took the letter to Reagan, who saw to it that Volcker got his pass.

More important, Reagan and Volcker became allies in the Fed chairman's efforts to curb runaway inflation. The policy worked, leading to a record 90 consecutive months of economic growth after a brief but deep recession.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Rouhani's Big Gamble : Iran's president is squaring off against his country's hard-liners. We better hope he succeeds. (Fred Kaplan, 1/06/15, Slate)

It didn't receive much attention in the American press, but on Jan. 4, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a speech of jaw-dropping boldness, calling for a more open, pragmatic diplomacy with the West, not just at the talks on Iran's nuclear program--where he urged serious compromises--but across a wide range of issues.

Fred Kaplan is the author of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War and 1959: The Year Everything Changed.

Rouhani made his case so bluntly, and challenged his country's hard-line factions so directly, that the speech will likely have one of two consequences--either the official adoption of his ideas, which would augur a dramatic change in Iranian politics, or the end of his career. [...]

[I]n speeches (and those who have dealt with him say he does this in private discussions, too), Rouhani frequently notes that the Iranian people elected him to make changes--and in Sunday's speech, he slapped the popularity card on the table. The fact that he delivered this speech at an economics conference, attended by hundreds of businessmen--who have suffered keenly from the sanctions and who applauded his most dramatic statements--drove the point home harder.

Rouhani made clear that he sees the settlement of the nuclear talks, and the end of the sanctions, as the first step in rejoining the international community. "By God, by Lord," he said, "it is impossible: The country cannot have sustained [economic] growth when isolated."

He also rejected the idea that negotiations with other nations should be governed by passions or ideology--a key premise among hard-liners, who see the United States as the Great Satan and therefore deem any diplomatic discourse as courting evil. Though stressing that he wasn't advocating a "retreat from our ideas and principles," he noted that, in "today's world, the main debate is about interest; every country is after its own interest. Threats, opportunities, and mutual interests, or specific interests--these are the basis of foreign policy."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Low Gas Prices Smooth Path for Carbon Add-On in California (Anne C. Mulkern, Debra Kahn and ClimateWire, 1/06/15, Scientific American)

California's landmark cap-and-trade program to limit carbon emissions just got bigger. Effective Jan. 1 it expanded to wrap in gasoline and diesel, a move oil companies have warned would trigger higher pump prices. [...]

Even as motor fuels fell under cap and trade's mandates, gas prices on a statewide basis edged down. The average price yesterday was $2.65 per gallon, compared with $2.66 per gallon a week earlier, based on AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. The federal Energy Information Administration listed the price at $2.66 per gallon for all areas of the West Coast with reformulated gasoline. That was down from $2.67 last week. EIA does not release figures for just California.

Crude oil prices also fell yesterday. Brent crude closed at $53.11 per barrel, the lowest price since 2009. That will result in lower gas prices over the next six to eight weeks, said Tim Hess, an EIA analyst. Every $10-per-barrel drop in crude typically leads to a 24-cent-per-gallon decline in the price of gas, Hess said.

"The fact that oil prices are so low right now makes all this a much less big deal," Lucas Davis, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business, said about cap and trade. "If anything, people are going to be spending less this year on gasoline and diesel."

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Yes, watching Fox does make you more conservative : Watching MSNBC makes you more liberal (Max Ehrenfreund January 5, 2016, Washington Post)

[T]he researchers, Emory University's Gregory Martin and Stanford University's Ali Yurukoglu, took advantage of a surprising pattern among cable subscribers: People are more likely to watch any station with a lower channel number.

As Martin explained, that's probably because the oldest and most popular channels, like ESPN, usually have lower numbers. Viewers watching those channels might flip through a few others on their remotes during a commercial break, but they won't stray too far.

Fox's and MSNBC's numbers are more or less random across the country, and in towns where MSNBC has a lower a number, cable subscribers tend to be more liberal -- even compared to people who get their television through a satellite dish.

These viewers watch a few more minutes of MSNBC a week on average, but not because they agree with the hosts' politics. They're watching MSNBC because they're more conveniently placed in the line-up. The same is true of Fox.

Martin and Yurukoglu found that watching four more minutes of Fox a week makes you 0.9 percentage points more likely vote Republican, while watching MSNBC for four more minutes makes you 0.7 percentage points more likely to vote Democrat.

Partisans actually think that what they consume is news, so they get particularly frantic when it is contradicted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


The Scariest Explanation for America's Vast Prison Population: We Want It That Way (JAKUB WRZESNIEWSKI • January 06, 2015, Pacific Standard)

 Voters love a tough-on-crime candidate, and they are quick to punish any step toward loosening sentencing requirements or reducing the prison population. Indeed, they want our penal system to keep ratcheting up the incarceration rate. Rather than prefer rational punishment for all, voters aware of unjust incarceration seem to prefer harsher, more callous treatment for all--a "leveling down," in Gottschalk's phrase, whereby even whites caught up in the justice system are subject to treatment once reserved for despised outcasts.

Even without leveling down, the practice of mass incarceration looks dispiritingly robust. For it to persist, it need only keep afflicting the weak and poor and feeding the greedy maws of corporations that run private prisons (and those of other amoral bureaucracies). For it to die would take a society-wide shift in values and empathy. Gottschalk doubts that concern over the ballooning costs of mass incarceration will ever be enough to motivate real, lasting change. Since such a movement would come from budgetary concerns and not moral ones, it would reduce prison rates only if it could generate savings. Unprincipled motivations are dangerous: If costs could somehow be driven down by increasing brutality and dehumanization, we might see these rise as our budgets fall. At a minimum, real change would involve making people understand the needless suffering wrought by mass incarceration; moving away from joyfully punitive sentencing in favor of punishments that reflect, to use an old- fashioned expression, the common good; and restoring the civil rights of convicts who have done their time.

In other words, we'd need a reversal of the trends of the past 30-odd years of American life. We like prison experience to be harsh. Anyone who doubts this is welcome to Google don't drop the soap to see the levity with which prison rape is treated. Indeed, we've countenanced, even cheered, surveillance and cross-examination of poor Americans outside prison, in the form of extraordinary barriers to obtaining social assistance, mandatory drug testing, and employers' "behavioral standards" on and off the job, the violation of which gives cause for termination and disqualifies laid-off workers from unemployment benefits. Gottschalk would like to see change that would return dignity and decency to criminal offenders, but further "leveling down" appears to be the popular preference.

Americans tend to consider themselves a virtuous and generous people, and not a nation of grinning sadists. So why the urge to brutalize criminals?

Millennials and after will have grown up in a society that is largely devoid of the kind of crime associated with free societies, so they're likely to be the ones to loosen.  No one who lived through the 70s wants the jails emptied...

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


English Is the Language of Science (Boer Deng, 1/06/15, Slate)

I learned English as a second language. Becoming an Anglophone turned out to be a crucially advantage in a brief scientific career years later. (I once worked as a medicinal chemist.) English is de rigueur for many things, but especially for science. More than three-quarters of scientific papers today are published in English--and in some fields it is more than 90 percent, according to data compiled by Scott Montgomery in his book Does Science Need a Global Language?.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


How debt mercy helps drive US recovery (Monitor's Editorial Board,  JANUARY 6, 2015)

Recovery from the 2007-09 Great Recession is still slow in the US. Yet relative to Europe, which is tipping back into recession, the US has many advantages, such as higher worker productivity, a boost from shale petroleum, and a flush of monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve. To many economists, one advantage stands out: The US has been quicker to reduce the private debts of homeowners and companies. 

As sloppy and as painful as debt "deleveraging" may be, the American method of bankruptcy, home foreclosure, and mortgage modification has put many consumers back on their feet faster. A culture of forgiveness and a belief in redemption accounts for this willingness to offer a fresh start. But backing it up are court judges and government programs that nurture quick and equitable justice for both debtors and lenders. 

January 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


Jeb Is Christie's Problem, Not the Cowboys (Jonathan S. Tobin, 01.05.2015 , Commentary)

[B]y coming in so early, Bush has pre-empted Christie in a way that has to have his backers feeling nervous. The push for Bush has also quieted all talk about Mitt Romney running again because of his lack of faith in any of the establishment choices. With Christie handicapped to some extent in his fundraising efforts by New Jersey's strict pay-to-play laws, the longer he refrains from matching Bush's commitment to running, the harder it will be for him to rally enough backing to make an effort worthwhile. Indeed, if Bush's moves are countered before long by similar efforts by Christie, the governor may discover he has waited too long especially since the moderate Republicans both seek to represent understand all too well that a knockdown drag-out fight between the two could make it much easier for a conservative they think can't win a general election, like Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, to be nominated.

...of whether Jeb can polish off the Rightwing alternative in NH or whether he has to wait until February..
Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


Scotland could be fossil fuel-free by 2030, says report (Will Nichols,  5 January 2015, The Guardian)

A fossil fuel-free Scotland is not only technically achievable but could prove a cheaper and safer option than pursuing fossil fuel-based development, according to a new WWF-backed report.

The study by consultancy giant DNV-GL tested the viability of the Scottish government's current policy goal of decarbonising the country's electricity generation by 2030, setting a target of bringing carbon intensity down from 271 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour to 50g CO2/kwh.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Meat Puppets : How Washington bought into the anti-saturated-fat agenda. (Kukula Glastris, Jan/Feb 2015, Washington Monthly)

Last September, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a remarkable study on the comparative health benefits of low-fat versus high-carbohydrate diets. Conducted at Tulane University with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the study followed a racially diverse group of 148 men and women ranging in age from their early twenties to their mid-seventies. All were obese but otherwise in good health. Half were randomly assigned to follow a low-carbohydrate regimen, the other half a low-fat one, all with no calorie restrictions and no changes in activity levels. The low-fat group ate more grains, cereals, and starches and cut their total fat intake to less than 30 percent of their daily calories, in line with the federal government's dietary guidelines. The other group raised their total fat intake to more than 40 percent of daily calories, including getting 13 percent of their calories from saturated fat, more than double the amount recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA).

After a year, both groups had lost weight. But those on the high-fat diets had dropped three times as much. The higher-fat group had also lost weight in a healthier way, reducing body fat, whereas those on the low-fat diet lost mostly lean muscle mass. Finally, the high-fat, low-carb eaters did better at lowering their risk factors for heart disease. "In the end, people in the low-carbohydrate group saw markers of inflammation and triglycerides--a type of fat that circulates in the blood--plunge," reported the New York Times, while "[t]heir HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, rose more sharply than it did for people in the low-fat group."

These findings, needless to say, run exactly counter to the nutritional advice Americans have been given for decades--that fat, especially saturated fat, is unhealthy, a broadener of waistlines and a clogger of arteries. If it were just this one study, the findings could perhaps be dismissed. In fact, it was the latest in a long line of similar research going back years. Six months earlier, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a meta-analysis of twenty-seven clinical trials that found, according to the Boston Globe, "no difference in heart disease rates among those who had the least amount of saturated fat compared to those who consumed the most." A meta-analysis of twenty-one other studies, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2010, found "no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease."

Anybody who's been reading the papers carefully for the last decade has probably picked up on this news, which may explain the recent popularity of low-carb and "paleo" diets and the growing presence of bacon and pork belly on the menus of trendy restaurants where the educated congregate. But the news has yet to reach the average Joe. A Gallup poll last July showed that twice as many Americans are trying to avoid fats as carbs.

These folks are still following the anti-fat advice drummed into them over the years by government and medical experts, especially the AHA and the federal government's "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," jointly published every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Yet instead of backing off the message about the dangers of saturated fat, the AHA has held fast to its position, and the USDA, in its most recent guidelines, lowered its recommended daily consumption of such fat.

These recommendations have led, in turn, to new regulations on school lunch programs. But parents and school lunchroom employees complain that the students won't eat the new, supposedly healthier food. Most kids, for instance, skip over the skim white milk in favor of low-fat, heavily sweetened chocolate stuff. And, as researchers at the University of Virginia have found--you guessed it--kids who drink low-fat milk are much more likely to be overweight than those who stick to whole milk.

At some point soon, the majority of Americans are going to realize that they've been had--that the dire warnings about saturated fat they've been hearing from health experts and the government, which they have dutifully been trying to work into their daily eating routines, were flat-out wrong, and may have actually been doing them harm. 

...yet don't believe it's natural for Man to eat meat?
Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


It Was A Very Good Year : Sinatra Song of the Century #1 (Steyn's Song of the Week, January 5, 2015, SteynOnline)

[T]o mark this centenary year, we're celebrating Sinatra's art with one hundred of his songs, from his earliest hits through to the barnstorming showstoppers of his final years on tour in the Nineties - twice a week from now through to the anniversary of his birth on December 12th. From "Night And Day" to "New York, New York", "The Lady Is A Tramp" to "One For My Baby", these hundred songs are simultaneously a portrait of one man's legend, the times he lived, and a century of American popular music. Here's what I wrote in Mark Steyn From Head To Toe:

"Rock'n'roll people love Frank Sinatra," said Bono at the 1994 Grammy Awards, "because Frank Sinatra has got what we want. Swagger and attitude. He's big on attitude. Serious attitude. Bad attitude. Frank's the Chairman of the Bad." If only 20 per cent of the gossip is true, it was an amazing life... But what's even more amazing than the life is that the records live up to it, and then some. The swagger and attitude, the chicks and mobsters are the incidental accompaniment; the real drama is in the songs.

So these are the songs: some are by famous men - Cole Porter, Rodgers & Hart; others are by obscure figures like E A Swan or Joseph Myrow, whose names live on in one outstanding 32-bar contribution that Sinatra noticed and chose to keep alive; some of these songs are numbers written for Frank that he made into standards; others are from forgotten shows and films from a generation earlier that survived because of his championing of them. Indeed, the very notion of a standard - a song that transcends mere Hit Parade ranking and can be re-investigated in different styles over and over across the decades - is one of Sinatra's great contributions to American popular music. Just ask Bob Dylan, whose own album of Sinatra "uncover versions" (as he calls them) is about to be released.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


New Book on Jeb Bush Offers a Startling Look At the GOP Contender (IRA STOLL,  January 5, 2015, NY Sun)

On economic policy, Mr. Bush turned Florida, which already had no state income tax, into an even lower-tax state by implementing what Professor Corrigan describes as "the largest tax cut in Florida's history," a reduction of about $20 billion. Tort reform capped punitive damages for businesses. He privatized the state government's personnel department, its child protective services, its prison food services, its Medicaid program, and its defense of death-row inmates.

The state government workforce was reduced by 12%, as Mr. Bush pursued a goal he set out in his second inaugural address: "I look forward to the time when these buildings of government are empty. There would be no greater tribute to our maturity as a society than if we can make these buildings around us empty of workers -- silent monuments to the time when government played a larger role than it deserved or could adequately fill."

On education reform, Mr. Bush gave schools A through F letter grades based on student test scores, gave students in failing schools vouchers for private schools, and implemented merit pay for teachers. Test scores jumped, as did high school graduation rates.

On social issues, Mr. Bush put an emphasis on life. The state issued optional "choose life" license plates, passed a parental notification law for minors who wanted abortions, and restricted late-term "partial-birth" abortions. He went to great lengths in an ultimately fruitless attempt to prevent Terri Schiavo's husband from having Schiavo's feeding tube removed.

He created two "faith-based prisons" over the objections of the American Civil Liberties Union. By executive order, he eliminated race and gender-based affirmative action in public college admissions and in state contracting, denouncing a sit-in protest by two black lawmakers as "childish."

Mr. Bush backed gun rights by supporting a "stand-your-ground" law, signing legislation preventing gun ranges for being sued for causing pollution, requiring stores that sell hunting and fishing licenses to make voter registration applications available, and exempting concealed-weapons licenses from disclosure under the state's public records laws.

8 more years of Bill/W.
Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


In 10 years, your job probably won't exist. (David Tuffley January 5, 2015, Washington Post)
It is a sobering thought that in 10 years, around 65 percent of the jobs that people will be doing have not even been thought of yet, according to the Department of Labor.

In Australia, there are reports that up to half a million existing jobs could be taken over by robotics or machines run by artificial intelligence. [...]

Almost any job that can be described as a "process" could be done by a computer, whether that computer is housed in a robot or embedded somewhere out of sight.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


Doctor, Shut Up and Listen (NIRMAL JOSHIJAN. 4, 2015, NY Times)

BETSY came to Dr. Martin for a second -- or rather, a sixth -- opinion. Over a year, she had seen five other physicians for a "rapid heartbeat" and "feeling stressed." After extensive testing, she had finally been referred for psychological counseling for an anxiety disorder.

The careful history Dr. Martin took revealed that Betsy was taking an over-the-counter weight loss product that contained e[*****]e. (I have changed their names for privacy's sake.) When she stopped taking the remedy, her symptoms also stopped. Asked why she hadn't mentioned this information before, she said she'd "never been asked." Until then, her providers would sooner order tests than take the time to talk with her about the problem.

Betsy's case was fortunate; poor communication often has much worse consequences. A review of reports by the Joint Commission, a nonprofit that provides accreditation to health care organizations, found that communication failure (rather than a provider's lack of technical skill) was at the root of over 70 percent of serious adverse health outcomes in hospitals.

Note that the problem was medication to begin with.

Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Health Care Fixes Backed by Harvard's Experts Now Roil Its Faculty (ROBERT PEAR, JAN. 5, 2015, NY Times)

 For years, Harvard's experts on health economics and policy have advised presidents and Congress on how to provide health benefits to the nation at a reasonable cost. But those remedies will now be applied to the Harvard faculty, and the professors are in an uproar.

Members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the heart of the 378-year-old university, voted overwhelmingly in November to oppose changes that would require them and thousands of other Harvard employees to pay more for health care. The university says the increases are in part a result of the Obama administration's Affordable Care Act, which many Harvard professors championed.

The faculty vote came too late to stop the cost increases from taking effect this month, and the anger on campus remains focused on questions that are agitating many workplaces: How should the burden of health costs be shared by employers and employees? If employees have to bear more of the cost, will they skimp on medically necessary care, curtail the use of less valuable services, or both?

...that the way to drive down the expense of college is, likewise, to have more of the costs come out of student pockets?

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Spending on military could fall after general election, David Cameron admits (Rosa Prince,  04 Jan 2015, The Telegraph)

A future Conservative government could cut spending on the Armed Forces to below two per cent of the country's budget, David Cameron has admitted.

The Prime Minister refused to pledge to maintain funding at its current level of two per cent of GDP, the target set by Nato, saying the military would not be protected from cuts necessary following the general election.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Oil's swoon creates the opening for a carbon tax (Lawrence Summers January 4, 2015, Washington Post)

The core of the case for taxation is the recognition that those who use carbon-based fuels or products do not bear all the costs of their actions. Carbon emissions exacerbate global climate change. In many cases, they contribute to local pollution problems that harm human health. Getting fossil fuels out of the ground involves both accident risks and environmental challenges. And even with the substantial recent increases in U.S. oil production, we remain a net importer. Any increase in our consumption raises our dependence on Middle East producers.

All of us, when we drive our cars, heat our homes or use fossil fuels in more indirect ways, create these costs without paying for them. It follows that we overuse these fuels. Advocating a carbon tax is not some kind of argument for government planning; it is the logic of the market: That which is not paid for is overused. Even if the government had no need or use for revenue, it could make the economy function better by levying carbon taxes and rebating the money to taxpayers.

While the recent decline in energy prices is a good thing in that it has, on balance, raised the incomes of Americans, it has also exacerbated the problem of energy overuse. The benefit of imposing carbon taxes is therefore enhanced.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Marriage Makes for Happier People, Study Says (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, 1/05/15, WSJ)

A new paper by Shawn Grover, a policy analyst at Canada's Department of Finance, and John Helliwell, professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, finds that married people are generally happier than unmarried people.

It's a well-researched area and typically opens up debate over whether the effect is one of correlation or causation-are generally happier people simply more likely to get married in the first place?

Messrs. Grover and Helliwell delve into data from three separate surveys and conclude married individuals are "more satisfied, suggesting a causal effect, even after full allowance is made for selection effects."

The benefits may be greatest immediately after marriage but aren't fleeting and appear to have the most important impact in middle age. And the effect is especially strong for close couples.

"The well-being benefits of marriage are on average about twice as large for those...whose spouse is also their best friend," the study adds.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Mario Cuomo's Lost Cause (Ramesh Ponnuru, 1/05/15, Bloomberg View)

 It must be said, though, that his convention speech hasn't aged well. To read it now is to see why Cuomo had such an electrifying effect on liberals, and why liberalism in his era was so hopeless. [...]

He then provided a history of the Republican and Democratic parties that would make Parson Weems blush at its simple-mindedness. "The difference between Democrats and Republicans has always been measured in courage and confidence," he said. Republicans "believe that the wagon train will not make it to the frontier unless some of the old, some of the young, some of the weak are left behind by the side of the trail." Democrats, by contrast, "believe that we can make it all the way with the whole family intact, and we have more than once." Maybe the governor should have reviewed his party's history from the 1850s through the 1880s to see just how inclusively it defined the American family.

He returned to 1984. The Democratic Party, which had "saved this nation from depression, from fascism, from racism, from corruption, is called upon to do it again" -- and to save it "most of all from the fear of a nuclear holocaust." This part of the speech doesn't hold up well. Cuomo makes it sound as though re-electing Reagan would lead to a civilization-ending inferno. It was hysterical at the time, and quite quickly proven wrong. The Berlin Wall came down five years later.

Cuomo's speech also offered an explanation in advance for Reagan's re-election. After describing Reagan's record as he saw it, Cuomo added, "That its disastrous quality is not more fully understood by the American people I can only attribute to the President's amiability and the failure by some to separate the salesman from the product." These are explanations that losing political movements often find tempting: Our opponents are just too slick, and the American people too stupid. (Some conservatives resorted to these excuses when Bill Clinton was a popular president, and when Barack Obama was re-elected.) 

It was a speech full of nostalgia for the Democratic triumphs of previous decades and lamentations for the Republican depredations of the present. But it offered nothing for the future. Cuomo said nothing about how the country should be governed to meet the challenges of the 1980s.

...to outlast the Second Way.  
Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Faith on the Hill : The Religious Composition of the 114th Congress (Pew Research, 1/05/15)

When the new, 114th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 6, 2015, Republicans will control both chambers of the legislative body for the first time since the 109th Congress (2005-2006). Yet, despite the sea change in party control, there is relatively little change in the overall religious makeup of Congress, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. More than nine-in-ten members of the House and Senate (92%) are Christian, and about 57% are Protestant, roughly the same as in the 113th Congress (90% and 56%, respectively).1 About three-in-ten members (31%) are Catholic, the same as in the previous Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Democrats lose the 'torture' debate (Marc A. Thiessen,  January 5, 2014, Washington Post)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, launched a six-year, 6,000-page, $40 million investigation into the CIA interrogation program, with the goal of convincing Americans that a) the program did not work and that b) enhanced interrogations were wrong and should never again be permitted.

She failed on all counts.

Just before Christmas, a Post poll revealed the American people's final verdict. The vast majority agree with the CIA that these techniques were necessary and justified. A majority think that Feinstein should never have released her report. And -- most importantly -- 76 percent said they would do it again to protect the country.

January 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


Kevin Ashton Describes "the Internet of Things" : The innovator weighs in on what human life will be like a century from now (Arik Gabbai, January 2015, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

You coined the term "the Internet of Things" in 1999, but it can still seem an odd concept. How would you describe it?

In the twentieth century, computers were brains without senses--they only knew what we told them. That was a huge limitation: there is many billion times more information in the world than people could possibly type in through a keyboard or scan with a barcode. In the twenty-first century, because of the Internet of Things, computers can sense things for themselves. It's only been a few years, but we already take networked sensors for granted. One example is GPS-based location sensing. Civilian GPS was first authorized by congress in 2000, and the GPS systems in cellphones were not tested until 2004. Yet it's already hard to imagine a world without GPS: it helps us find our way around. In the imminent future, it will enable things like self-driving cars, which will give us back the 20 days a year we spend doing nothing but driving, will save 40,000 lives a year in the U.S. alone, will reduce traffic and pollution, and will allow cities to grow without devoting as much land to roads.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


'ISIL is losing': Iraqis optimistic for 2015 : Circumstances of battle have changed in favour of Iraqi troops since June, local security officials say. (Suadad al-Salhy, 03 Jan 2015, Al-Jazeera)

Iraqi security officials and analysts said the local and regional circumstances of the battle between Iraqi troops and ISIL fighters have changed in favour of Iraqi troops since June. Among the key players battling ISIL are Iran, the US-led international military coalition, anti-ISIL tribesmen and a regional intelligence coalition.

Iran, which has strong ties with the Shia-led government in Baghdad, was the first country in the region to respond to the Iraqi government's calls for help - primarily ammunition and weapons, as the Iraqis lost thousands of weapons and equipment after withdrawing in Mosul, Salahaddin and Anbar.  

Iran is unifying the armed Shia factions and bringing all of them together to fight side by side, and this has intensified the power of the Iraqi troops in the front lines and greatly helped them to gain multiple victories over the last few months.

"Iran already has been playing a vital role in battling ISIL in Iraq as it has been delivering the required weapons, ammunition and intelligence information for both Baghdad and Erbil," Abdulwahid Tuama, an independent political analyst, told Al Jazeera. "Iran is unifying the armed Shia factions and bringing all of them together to fight side by side, and this has intensified the power of the Iraqi troops in the front lines and greatly helped them to gain multiple victories over the last few months."

Iraqi troops backed by Shia militias and Kurdish forces, following the direction of Iranian military advisers, recaptured the towns of Saadiyah and Jalawlaa over the last few months. These had been under the control of the extremist group since early August.

Some weeks earlier, ISIL fighters were driven out of Jurf al-Sakhar, a strategic town that was a key supplier for ISIL groups in southern Baghdad.

Both battles were commanded by the Iranian General Qasim Sulaimani, the head of al-Quds unit, and Hadi al-Amiri, the leader of the Shia Badr Organisation. They mainly relied on the Shia militias, according to several Kurdish officers and Shia militia leaders.

In early August, ISIL fighters turned back to attack the western areas of Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region, populated by Christian and Yezidi minorities. A week later, the United States authorised air strikes targeting ISIL fighters in Iraq. This was later expanded to become an international military coalition led by the US to deliver required assistance for Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces, including air strikes, consulting, training, equipping and arming.  

"At the beginning, ISIL was attacking and the rest of the Iraqi troops and its local backers were defending, but now, we are attacking, regaining control over towns and villages. The initiative of the battle is in our hands and they [ISIL fighters] are defending and losing," Yazin al-Joubori, a senior anti-ISIL leader who heads the tribal fighters battling alongside Iraqi troops in Salahaddin, told Al Jazeera. "The air cover that has been provided by the US-led International military coalition changed the formula. ISIL is losing and its fighters cannot grip the ground anymore."

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


New home loan helps lower-income borrowers build equity quickly (E. SCOTT RECKARD, 1/04/15, LA Times)

Grace and Armando Ong were among millions of Americans who lost their homes during the housing crisis.

Today, the Azusa couple are in the vanguard of borrowers taking advantage of a new loan that helps lower-income borrowers build equity fast -- and protects them against any future crash in values.

All with no down payment, no closing costs and no mortgage insurance. The Ongs' real estate agent, Jill Medley, called it "the best loan in the history of real estate."

The key feature of the so-called wealth-building home loan is a sharply reduced interest rate on a 15-year term. Instead of requiring a down payment, banks allow borrowers to use their money to pay interest upfront, often called "buying down" the rate.

For their $400,000 house, the Ongs used what would have been a 4% down payment -- $16,000 -- to instead buy down their rate to 0.5%. In little more than three years of monthly payments, the couple will have more than 20% equity in the home, assuming the property value stays the same.

That more than doubles the equity they would build with the same amount down on a 30-year Federal Housing Administration loan at the going rate of 3.25%. [...]

The loan was unveiled in September by Edward J. Pinto and UCLA researcher Stephen D. Oliner, resident fellows at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute. A key liberal housing advocate, Bruce Marks of the Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of America, or NACA, joined with them to promote the loan.

...when lower-income houses are $400k.

Solved, Why Poor States Are Red and Rich States Are Blue (Tim Worstall, 1/03/15, Forbes)

If we measure by consumption patterns then it's the blue states that are poor, the red states that are rich:

Blue states, like California, New York and Illinois, whose economies turn on finance, trade and knowledge, are generally richer than red states. But red states, like Texas, Georgia and Utah, have done a better job over all of offering a higher standard of living relative to housing costs. That basic economic fact not only helps explain why the nation's electoral map got so much redder in the November midterm elections, but also why America's prosperity is in jeopardy.

Red state economies based on energy extraction, agriculture and suburban sprawl may have lower wages, higher poverty rates and lower levels of education on average than those of blue states -- but their residents also benefit from much lower costs of living. For a middle-class person , the American dream of a big house with a backyard and a couple of cars is much more achievable in low-tax Arizona than in deep-blue Massachusetts. As Jed Kolko, chief economist of Trulia TRLA -2.3%, recently noted, housing costs almost twice as much in deep-blue markets ($227 per square foot) than in red markets ($119).

That particular piece then goes on to chunter away about how appalling it is that people aren't willing to vote for more blue state type of policies and how this will be the end of America. However, the really interesting part of it is that part quoted above. For it speaks to something that economists just keep trying to point out to people. Yes, sure, income inequality might be important in a way, wealth inequality should have a place in our thoughts. But what really matters to people about how life is lived is consumption. Levels of consumption and also consumption inequality. That last is important in a political sense currently because consumption inequality just hasn't widened out as much as income and wealth inequality have. And levels of consumption: well, that's really what income or wealth is, the ability to purchase consumption. And if you're in a place where prices are lower, leading to greater consumption (whether of food, or square feet of housing, or leisure, or whatever), well, then you're richer, aren't you?

And thus is our conundrum solved. The red states aren't in fact poorer than the blue states. They're richer: that's why they vote more conservative and more right wing.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Incoming Senate committee chairman: Higher gas tax among options to replenish highway fund (Associated Press Jan. 4, 2015)

The incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee says raising the federal fuel taxes is among the options under consideration to replenish the dwindling Highway Trust Fund.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota says all options must be looked at to fill an enormous shortfall when the existing highway legislation expires in May.

Gas and diesel taxes haven't risen since 1993, resulting in perennial shortfalls in the fund that pays for most road projects.

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 AM


After the oil price fall, is natural gas next? (Nick Butler, Jan 04, 2015, Financial Times)

After the dramatic halving of the oil price since June there is now every chance that natural gas will follow suit. Indeed the fall has already begun. During December, US natural gas prices fell below $3 per million British thermal units for the first time since 2012. But that is just the beginning.

Two further factors suggest a continued, and worldwide decline in 2015. First, in Europe in particular, gas supply contracts -- for instance from Gazprom into Germany -- are tied to the oil price. The link is historic and is gradually giving way to direct gas-to-gas competition. But the older, longer term contracts remain in place for now and that means that a radical downward shift in prices will occur through the coming year.

Secondly, after years of uncertainty since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, there are signs that Japan is ready to accept the gradual reintroduction of nuclear power. The initial steps will be small -- perhaps just one or two reactors at first. But even that will be sufficient to undermine gas prices in Asia which rose at times to almost $20/mmbtu as Japan was forced to substitute imported gas for nuclear. Each nuclear station brought back online will reduce demand for gas, and just as prices surged in 2011 now they will slip back. A Reuters survey of some serious analysts, including Wood Mackenzie, forecast a fall of up to 30 per cent in Asian natural gas prices in 2015.

Unlike the oil market, none of this has anything to do with the collapse of a producers' cartel (or depending on your world view, with a dastardly plan to use falling prices to undermine one political enemy or another). Nor does it have anything to do with Ukraine or the relations between Russia and Europe. There is no gas cartel and no producer has the power to set prices. The falling price is simply a matter of supply and demand. Supply is strong -- driven on by high prices in the last few years and by the US shale revolution. Demand on the other hand is fragile and in Europe is being continuously eroded by subsidised renewables. [...]

Lower natural gas prices clearly have a knock-on effect in the electricity market, putting further downward pressure on coal prices and making new nuclear look even more expensive. The fall will also make the notion of freezing electricity bills redundant. To freeze prices which are falling is hardly good politics.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


U.S. Spies Say They Tracked 'Sony Hackers' For Years (Shane Harris, 1/02/15, Daily Beast)

The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies for years have been tracking the hackers who they believe to be behind the cyber attack on Sony, according to current and former American officials. And during that long pursuit, U.S. agencies accumulated still-classified information that helps tie the hackers to the recent Sony intrusion.

The Obama administration announced a round of sanctions against North Korea Friday, and explicitly said the measures were in retaliation for the "destructive and coercive cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment."

But investigators pinned the Sony attack on North Korea in early December, not long after the FBI began investigating the breach and almost three weeks before President Obama publicly pointed the finger at the Hermit Kingdom in a December 19 news conference, according to two individuals with knowledge of the case. The Obama administration waited to go public not because officials weren't confident in the intelligence, but because the White House was weighing the significant policy decision of whether to publicly tie a nation-state to a specific cyber attack on U.S. soil for the first time.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Iraq Hasn't Exported This Much Oil Since 1980  (AFP, 1/03/15) 

Iraq's oil exports reached their highest level in decades in December, the oil ministry's spokesman said on Saturday, but vital revenues were being hit by the plummeting prices of crude.

Iraq exported 91.141 million barrels of oil in December for an average of 2.94 million barrels per day, the highest daily average since 1980, Assem Jihad told AFP, citing initial figures.

December exports were far and away the highest in 2014, eclipsing the previous best month by more than 11 million barrels, according to ministry figures.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Pakistani air strikes and suspected US drone attack 'kill dozens of militants' (Associated Press, 4 January 2015)

Pakistani air strikes have killed 31 militants and a suspected US drone strike has killed a further seven, officials say, as local troops pressed on with a six-month offensive in tribal regions along the Afghan border that have long been insurgent havens.

The air strikes late on Saturday in the Tirrah valley of the Khyber region destroyed four militant hideouts and a suicide bomber training centre, said an army statement. The military said several would-be suicide bombers were among the dead, without providing further details. [...]

Two Pakistani intelligence officials said US drone-fired missiles had struck a militant compound in the Datta Khel area of North Waziristan early on Sunday, killing seven militants and wounding four. The compound, around 300 metres from the Afghan border, was used by fighters loyal to the Pakistani Taliban commander Hafiz Gul Bahadur as well as Uzbek militants.

They said Bahadur's men, who frequently launch attacks in neighbouring Afghanistan, and Uzbek fighters were among those killed in the strike. It was not immediately clear if Bahadur himself was in the compound at the time. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


An Anglo-Saxon Tale: Lady Godiva : The story of Lady Godiva is an enduring one - find out here the facts about her that are known to be true, alongside the tale that has been handed down through the years. (BBC)

So what is the truth behind the story of Lady Godiva's ride through Coventry? Why would a lady of great standing in the town do such a thing? The legend has been handed down over many years, so the line between fact and fiction has become more than a little blurred.

The earliest surviving source for the legend is the Chronica of Roger of Wendover for the year 1057. He wrote that Godiva pleaded with her husband to relieve the heavy burden of taxes he had imposed on the citizens of Coventry.

Weary of her persistence, Leofric said he would grant her request if she would ride naked through the town.

The rest of the story is not documented at all, but it is said that so great was her compassion for the people of Coventry that Godiva overcame her horror of doing this. She ordered the people to remain indoors with their windows and doors barred. Loosening her long hair to cover her as a cloak, she mounted her waiting horse.

Then she rode through the silent streets unseen by the people, who had obeyed her command because of their respect for her.

Only one man, called Tom, was unable to resist the temptation to peep at the Countess (hence the term 'Peeping Tom'). He unbarred his window, but before he could satisfy his gaze he was struck blind.

Her ordeal completed, Godiva returned to her husband, who fulfilled his promise to abolish the heavy taxes. According to Ranulf Higden's Polychronicon, Leofric freed the town from all tolls save those on horses. An inquiry made in the reign of Edward I shows that indeed, at that time, no tolls were paid in Coventry except on horses.

Robin Hood tells the same sort of story.
Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Weapon Of Choice: Why The Stratocaster Survives (ROBERT GOLDSTEIN, 1/03/15, NPR)

Quick: Name an American product that's had a worldwide impact, is more popular than ever, yet still looks the same as it did when it was introduced more than a half-century ago? Here's a hint: It might be the only musical instrument whose fame rivals that of the people who've played it.

The Fender Stratocaster turned 60 last year. When it came out of the factory in 1954, it didn't sound -- or look -- like any other guitar. Leo Fender's small company was looking to improve the Telecaster, its groundbreaking solid-body electric, first introduced three years earlier. But far more than a tweak here or there, Fender created an entirely new instrument that's become almost synonymous with the phrase "electric guitar."

"If you were gonna draw an electric guitar from your mind's eye, most people would draw a Stratocaster as the shape," says Justin Norvell, Fender's Vice President of Marketing. "But the thing that connects people to that guitar and that shape is the music they grew up on."

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


Iranian leader: End isolation for sake of economy (AFP, January 4, 2015)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that foreign investors should no longer be viewed as a threat and signaled his country's decades-long isolation from the world economy could soon end. [...]

Rouhani said Iran wanted "lasting and sustainable development" and if it was to escape the recent years of "constriction" caused by its foreign policy then change was necessary.

"Our political life has shown we cannot have sustainable growth while we are isolated," he told an audience of 1,500 economic experts and guests, including the economy minister and head of the central bank.

"The time is past when it used to be said that if a foreign investor comes to Iran, our independence will be in danger," he added.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


There's a vacuum now in British politics. And it's Blair-shaped (Andrew Rawnsley, 4 January 2015, The Guardian)

He was Labour's most electorally successful leader and by a long way. He took a party that had lost four elections in a row and turned it into a winning machine that secured three consecutive terms. He is one of only two people to have achieved triple back-to-back election victories since the introduction of universal suffrage. His fellow hat-tricker was Margaret Thatcher and his aggregate parliamentary majorities were larger than hers. He won his party 13 continuous years in office. That is not only the longest period of Labour government ever, it is the longest stretch of non-Tory government since 1762. I am aware that I've pointed this out before. I draw it to your attention again because it is such a jaw-dropper of a fact.

He presided over the most sustained economic growth in British history and at a time when other major economies tipped into recession. That was accompanied by stealthy but significant redistribution towards the less well-off while record sums were poured into public services. It is too easily forgotten how tattered was the state of the public realm back in 1997 when schools had roofs that let in the rain and the hospital building stock was in the advanced stages of decay. The current squeeze on public services would have been felt that much harder had the Blair governments not invested heavily in improving the social fabric.

Of course, his original election-winning coalition shrank over time. The laws of political entropy and his own mistakes saw to that. When he left office in 2007, pollsters nevertheless reported that a chunky majority of voters thought he had been a good prime minister overall and most also regarded him as "likable". Not a bad result for a man who had been at the top for more than a decade and led his country into a highly divisive war in Iraq on a false prospectus and with a calamitous aftermath. Whatever he got wrong, he must have been getting something right. [...]

As we get into a long, nasty and brutish election campaign, the key question is whether Mr Blair is right. Are elections still won on the centre ground? And if they are, where is that turf these days? This gets to the essential nub of the difference between Mr Blair and Mr Miliband. The latter believes that the financial crisis changed the paradigm of politics. The Great Crash was also a Great Shift that opened up space for Labour to offer a prospectus that is more challenging to concentrations of wealth and power than New Labour dared to be. Mr Blair thinks that the centre hasn't really moved in the way his successor assumes. This also sets the former prime minister apart from the man who once claimed to be his heir. The opening shots of the battle confirm that the Tories assume that the country has shifted to the right and that it is now an election-winning proposition to promise unfunded tax cuts for the affluent and a squeeze on public provision so severe that even the most rightwing of their Lib Dem coalition partners are condemning it as ideologically driven savagery.

In the current volatile climate, it is harder than usual to discern where the centre of gravity of British politics truly lies. The financial crisis, and its aftermath, has driven voters to the left on some issues and to the right on others. But my hunch is that Mr Blair is essentially correct when he contends that voters still "group around the centre". Most people are not tribally Labour or tribally Tory or tribally anything. They have a traditionally British wariness of ideological zealotry - and often with good reason. The appeal and the animating idea of Blairism was that voters look for a government that they can trust with both the economy and with public services, which is both fair to the underprivileged and a friend of aspiration. They also look for a national leader, which Tony Blair was at his best, who can invest the country with a bit of uplifting optimism and a sense of unity rather than constantly telling everyone who they ought to hate and that everything is awful.

Today there is a Blair-shaped vacuum in British politics.

The paradox of the moment in the English-speaking world is that our politics is entirely Third Way, but neither of our parties are.  For reasons of inertia, the main parties of the right in each country remain wedded to the First Way, of the left to the Second Way.  Elections go to whichever party has leadership that deviates most from the old way and to the Third.  That's why Jeb will win easily, unless Hillary not only runs but runs as Bill in a pant suit.  

And it's why the amorphous David Cameron has a big advantage against Ed Millband, who's trying to return Labour to Second Way purity.  Mr. Cameron just needs to go all in on Thatcherism/Blairism.

Clinton, Clinton; Cuomo, Warren (Dan Balz January 3, 2014, Washington Post)

 He was the leading liberal in the Democratic Party, a politician of intellectual depth and rhetorical virtuosity. Through the 1980s, he was a counterweight to the philosophy of President Ronald Reagan and the rising conservative sentiment in the country. To the delight of his party's liberal base, Cuomo offered a vigorous defensive of an expansive role for government, with an emphasis on aiding the poor, the homeless and the downtrodden.

By the late fall of 1991, as Clinton began his rise, Cuomo suddenly appeared as a potentially serious obstacle when he announced that he would consider entering the race. Clinton was both wary of, and ready for, a Cuomo challenge -- wary due to the New York governor's national prominence and political heft; ready because he had been honing his arguments for years about the need for the Democrats to change if they hoped to recapture the White House.

Their differences were substantial. Cuomo's governmental philosophy, though he once called it "progressive pragmatism," was the embodiment of New Deal and Great Society ideas and values. After seeing Democrats defeated in three consecutive presidential elections, Clinton recognized that public faith in Great Society programs had waned, that constituency politics had its limits and that the cultural liberalism of the Democrats had created roadblocks with many voters whose support the party needed to win again nationally.

Clinton also knew at the time that there were doubts about him among party liberals. At a forum in Chicago in November 1991, he was asked a planted question about fears that he was a Republican posing as a Democrat. His answer showed his political agility to be a New Democrat rooted in old Democrat symbols. "My granddaddy thought when he died, he was going to Roosevelt," he said.

Throughout December of that year, Cuomo dithered until it was too late. On the day of the deadline for filing papers to enter the New Hampshire primary, there were chartered planes waiting on a tarmac in Albany to fly him to New Hampshire, a lectern set up outside the state capitol in Concord and throngs of reporters in each place awaiting what most thought would be a positive announcement.

In the end, Cuomo chose not to run, earning him the nickname "Hamlet on the Hudson." Mike Pride, the former editor of the Concord Monitor, tweeted the other day that, at the moment Cuomo said no, "Clinton exhaled."

Democrats and the country were denied what might have been an epic confrontation between old and new Democratic philosophies, offered by two of the party's brightest minds and political talents. We can only speculate how history might have been changed had that clash occurred.

Mario Cuomo was essentially the Democrats' Neil Kinnock, a retrograde figure who could not even have beaten our John Major.  The only real speculation is whether Bill Clinton could have won in 1996, the obvious nominee in a party even more desparate to win, or whether Republicans would have produced their own Third Way nominee, maybe Jack Kemp.  A Kemp win in 1996 and thourough reorientation of the GOP towards Third Way politics--privatized SS, etc.--would have potentially left the Democrats in history's dust.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


How Sharpton gets paid to not cry 'racism' at corporations (Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein, January 4, 2015, NY Post)

For more than a decade, corporations have shelled out thousands of dollars in donations and consulting fees to Sharpton's National Action Network. What they get in return is the reverend's supposed sway in the black community or, more often, his silence.

Sony Pictures co-chair Amy Pascal met with the activist preacher after leaked e-mails showed her making racially charged comments about President Obama. Pascal was under siege after a suspected North Korean cyber attack pressured the studio to cancel its release of "The Interview," which depicts the assassination of dictator Kim Jong-un.

Pascal and her team were said to be "shaking in their boots" and "afraid of the Rev," The Post reported.

No payments to NAN have been announced, but Sharpton and Pascal agreed to form a "working group" to focus on racial bias in Hollywood.

Sharpton notably did not publicly assert his support for Pascal after the meeting -- what observers say seems like a typical Sharpton "shakedown" in the making. Pay him in cash or power, critics say, and you buy his support or silence.

"Al Sharpton has enriched himself and NAN for years by threatening companies with bad publicity if they didn't come to terms with him. Put simply, Sharpton specializes in shakedowns," said Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal & Policy Center, a Virginia-based watchdog group that has produced a book on Sharpton.

And Sharpton, who now boasts a close relationship with Obama and Mayor de Blasio, is in a stronger negotiating position than ever.

"Once Sharpton's on board, he plays the race card all the way through," said a source who has worked with the Harlem preacher. "He just keeps asking for more and more money."

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 AM


'We can't protect every sausage,' says German agriculture minister over TTIP deal (Deutsche-Welle, 1/04/15)

Speaking with the German weekly news magazine, Spiegel, Schmidt said that German specialties could lose their European Union (EU) privileges as a result of the proposed EU-American Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which plans to enable free trade between the EU and America.

"If we want to take the chance to make the most of free trading with the huge American market, we can't protect every sausage and cheese as a specialty anymore," said Schmidt, who belongs to the CSU, the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Merkel's CDU.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Oil price dips further as US opens crude exports (Terry Macalister, 31 December 2014, The Guardian)

The price of oil plunged to $55.91 per barrel on Wednesday as the US opened the way to crude exports and China produced another set of downbeat economic statistics that pointed to a global slowdown.  [...]

Brent was down by more than 3% at just under $56 at midday in the wake of moves by Barack Obama's administration to loosen restrictions on exports.

The Department of Commerce in Washington said it had begun to approve requests to ship overseas processed light oil products after a long period of intense political debate.

Analysts said the move could lead to over 1m barrels of ultra-light US crude entering the global market, intensifying a battle with Saudi Arabia and Opec.

"In practice this long-awaited move can open up the floodgates to substantial increases in exports by end 2015," said Ed Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup bank.

Further burnishing his trade legacy.

January 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


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Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


Dilemma over deductibles: Costs crippling middle class : RATHER THAN PAY SO MUCH OUT-OF-POCKET, MANY SKIP CHECKUPS, SCRIMP ON CARE (Laura Ungar and Jayne O'Donnell, 1/01/15, USA TODAY)

Physician Praveen Arla is witnessing a reversal of health care fortunes: Poor, long-uninsured patients are getting Medicaid through Obamacare and finally coming to his office for care. But middle-class workers are increasingly staying away.

"It's flip-flopped," says Arla, who helps his father run a family practice in Hillview, Ky. Patients with job-based plans, he says, will say: " 'My deductible is so high. I'm trying to come to the doctor as little as possible. ... What is the minimum I can get done?' They're really worried about cost."

It's a deep and common concern across the USA, where employer plans cover 60% of working-age Americans, or about 150 million people. Coverage long considered the gold standard of health insurance now often requires workers to pay so much out-of-pocket that many feel they must skip doctor visits, put off medical procedures, avoid filling prescriptions and ration pills -- much as the uninsured have done.

Republican reforms of Obamacare will shift more of the burden to consumers' pockets, which is how you prevent such wasteful consumption.

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Where de Blasio Is Right : How Calvin Coolidge handled a 1919 police strike in Boston holds lessons for New York today.  (Amity Shlaes, 12/31/14, National Review)

The stories of New York today and Boston after World War I have some similarities. In Boston in 1919, the policemen also had compelling reason to complain: Inflation had climbed wildly after World War I, but police pay was not keeping up. Strapped after the war, the authorities neglected upkeep of police-station houses, which were becoming unbearably filthy. In at least one house, vermin actually chewed on officers' helmets. Back then, as now, authorities agreed to serious negotiations with the police. The man at the top of the chain of command, Governor Calvin Coolidge, was famous for his ability to get along with just about any ethnicity, including the mostly Irish Catholic patrolmen. One of the few differences between Boston then and New York now was that in Boston the police commissioner reported to the governor, not the mayor.

When the policemen walked out in Boston, riots ran wild, with looting and fighting all across the city. In response, Coolidge called out the National Guard. The guard did not approach the troublemakers gingerly: In a famously controversial move, soldiers rounded up gamblers on Boston Common. Coolidge was a Republican, and Mayor Andrew James Peters, a Democrat, was furious. Yet Coolidge delved into the law books and quoted chapter and verse to make clear that he, not the mayor, was in charge. Coolidge backed up Police Commissioner Edwin Curtis's decision to fire the striking policemen.

Critics outside Boston also were not placated. President Woodrow Wilson had openly shown favor to Samuel Gompers, the labor leader with whose union the Boston police had affiliated. Gompers's American Federation of Labor was famously moderate, and conventional wisdom said public officials should befriend Gompers, or else the hardcore union, the Industrial Workers of the World, would win a greater following. Yet when Gompers, de Blasio-like, made a plea for moderation and more negotiation, Coolidge simply hardened, wiring, "There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime."

Posted by orrinj at 10:12 AM


Optimism for 2015   (Larry Kudlow, 1/03/15, National Review)

And lurking behind the energy-price drop (AAA gasoline nationwide is about $2.20, a buck less than a year ago), don't forget $3 natural gas, which is increasingly gaining energy-market share. And don't forget the economic destruction falling bomb-like on our oil-producing enemies in Russia, Iran, and Venezuela. The energy fracking revolution has done for national security what President Obama seems incapable of doing.

And don't forget the economic power of the rising dollar. King Dollar is at an eleven-year high. It's attracting capital from around the world. It's holding down inflation. It's providing major new purchasing power for consumers and businesses. Lower production costs and commodity costs will increase our exports and give us more buying power for the purchase of imports. All this helps the global economic recovery.

Most people have this story wrong. It's not Europe and Japan that are going to hold the U.S. down. It's a resurgent U.S. that's going to build them up -- despite all their structural policy mistakes.

Also inside the economy, business investment is improving, housing is slow to recover but is recovering, and wage and salary income is growing at 4.5 percent. Less 2 percent on consumer prices, that leaves over 3 percent of real spending power. Not fabulous, but good.

Looking at Treasury bond yields, real rates are rising -- a sign of better growth -- while inflation fears are declining. Banking risk indicators, like 2-year swaps spreads, are very low. And profits, the mother's milk of stocks and the lifeblood of the economy, stand at a record-high share of GDP and are likely to keep growing in a 5 to 10 percent range.

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


New Label for a New Sound : Dial Records is a missing link between jazz and rock 'n' roll. (MARC MYERS, Dec. 30, 2014, WSJ)

On the evening of Feb. 26, 1946, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker signed a one-year contract at the Tempo Music Shop in Hollywood, Calif., to record exclusively for Dial Records. The agreement was a breakthrough for the rising bebop star, allowing him to record his improvised blues rather than the frantic jazz style popular back in New York. Over the next two years, Dial's recordings by Parker and local bebop musicians not only radicalized jazz in Los Angeles but also had an electrifying effect on the city's "jump blues"--an up-tempo boogie-woogie that would become known formally in 1949 as "rhythm and blues." [...]

Though many of the recordings in the Mosaic box have been issued in various forms on collections over the years, the new restoration and mastering by Steve Marlowe and Jonathan Horwich provide a much brighter and broader listen. Throughout the set, there are crisp and forceful reminders of Parker's melodic brilliance and fluidity during his Los Angeles stay, including the catchy "Moose the Mooche," the dramatic "Yardbird Suite" and a thrilling "Ornithology"--which he based on the chord changes to "How High the Moon." Other examples of bebop's development in L.A. include recordings by Sonny Berman's Big Eight--an octet offshoot from Woody Herman's big band--trumpeters Howard McGhee and Fats Navarro, pianist Dodo Marmarosa, and saxophonists Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray and Teddy Edwards.

There also are pained artistic moments, such as Parker's July 29, 1946, recording session. Coping with heroin withdrawal, Parker struggled through four songs, including halting and endearing renditions of "Lover Man" and "The Gypsy." Back at his hotel that night, Parker suffered a mental breakdown and twice wandered into the lobby naked. After setting fire to his bed, Parker was arrested and imprisoned for 10 days before Russell was able to negotiate a six-month stay at California's Camarillo State Hospital. Released in late January 1947, Parker resumed recording, and his Dial efforts included refreshing, upbeat blues like "Relaxin' at Camarillo" and "Carvin' the Bird," and the breezy "Stupendous," based on Gershwin's "'S Wonderful."

In 1947, Gordon's muscular tenor-sax duel with Wardell Gray on "The Chase" and with Edwards on "The Duel" featured chorus after chorus of blistering improvisation. The 78s and Gordon's live tenor battles at local clubs were carefully studied by the city's jump-blues artists. Two No. 1 R&B hits in early 1949 were instrumentals by saxophonists--Big Jay McNeely's "The Deacon's Hop" and Paul Williams's "The Huckle-Buck," which was inspired by Parker's "Now's the Time."

But despite Dial's efforts to widen bebop's appeal in Los Angeles, the music never caught on. A growing percentage of the city's white population had migrated from the South and Southwest after the war, and the region's suburban sprawl wasn't conducive to bebop's grinding intensity. Throughout 1947, Parker, Gordon and many other jazz artists left Los Angeles for New York, where studio and club work was more plentiful. Even Russell gave up on jazz at the end of 1948 and began issuing modern classical recordings starting in 1949.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Let's Call Off the Meeting and Get Back to Work (ANDY KESSLER, Jan. 1, 2015, WSJ)

Given that the hours taken up by meetings increase when the profit motive is absent--a 2013 study by officebroker.com found that the average office worker spends 16 hours in meetings every week; government workers spend 22 hours a week in meetings--many companies have their own homeopathic cure for meeting madness.

At Amazon, Jeff Bezos starts executive meetings with 30 minutes of silence and has everyone read a carefully crafted six-page report. That's still a waste of 30 minutes. Some executives at Twitter and Apple set aside Mondays for meetings; the rest of the week is for full days of actual work. BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg is more lenient; he sets aside Tuesdays and Thursdays as "no meeting" days. Someone I met who runs a music startup bans electronics, restricts meetings to a single topic--and limits them to 10 minutes.

Here's a trick I've seen a few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs employ at board meetings. When an investor or outside board member asks a stupid question, the CEO says "that's a great question" and then gives the questioner an action item, something like: "OK, can you survey the competition and report back on their capital plans and hiring ratios? Great, let's keep going." Eventually the stupid questions dry up and people who ask them may stop coming to the meetings. Perfect.

But my favorite meeting cure was practiced by Craig Benson, a founder of the networking company Cabletron Systems in the 1980s and governor of New Hampshire from 2003-05. At Cabletron, he ripped out conference-room tables and chairs and replaced them with bar-height tables and, get this, footrests. Meetings magically were on point and ended quickly. No one has time for preening when everyone is shifting weight from foot to foot.

It's not like these folks are any more productive in their cubicles.

Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Unruly Factions Hurt Taliban's Bid to Capture Afghan Hearts, and Territory (AZAM AHMED, JAN, 2, 2015, NY Times)

A series of kidnappings and robberies struck northern Helmand Province this summer, paralyzing residents and embarrassing the Taliban leaders who controlled the area.

Responding to growing complaints, the Taliban leadership based in Pakistan ordered a hunt to find the criminals, but soon discovered an inconvenient truth: Their own people were behind the banditry, earning thousands of dollars in ransoms every month. Within a matter of days, the culprits had been captured and executed, including two notorious fighters known as Pickax and Shovel.

Though the episode went largely unnoticed outside the Taliban stronghold, it highlights a question that is on the minds of many: More than 13 years after the war here started, who exactly are the Taliban? Are they the bandits responsible for the abduction and killings of numerous villagers? Or are they the disciplined leaders who hanged the fighters who had taken to criminal tyranny?

Increasingly, it appears, they are both.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


Social Programs That Work (RON HASKINS, DEC. 31, 2014, NY Times)

HARDLY anyone knows it, but since its earliest days the Obama administration has been pursuing the most important initiative in the history of federal attempts to use evidence to improve social programs.

Despite decades of efforts and trillions of dollars in spending, rigorous evaluations typically find that around 75 percent of programs or practices that are intended to help people do better at school or at work have little or no effect. Studies of the early childhood education program Head Start and the substance-abuse prevention program D.A.R.E. show that even when there are benefits, they are often modest and not enduring.

As a policy analyst who helped House Republicans design the 1996 welfare overhaul and who later advised President George W. Bush on social policy, I am committed to the principle that the government should fund only social welfare programs that work. That's why it's imperative that the new Congress reject efforts by some Republicans to cut the Obama administration's evidence-based programs. Especially in a time of austerity, policy makers must know which programs work, and which don't.

A growing body of evidence shows that a few model social programs -- home visits to vulnerable families, K-12 education, pregnancy prevention, community college and employment training -- produce solid impacts that can last for many years. Here are some examples. [...]

Expansion of these programs has been possible because the Obama administration, building on work by the Bush administration, has insisted that money for evidence-based initiatives go primarily to programs with rigorous evidence of success, as measured by scientifically designed evaluation. (Continuing evaluation is necessary because programs that work in one location can fail when implemented by new organizations in different locations.) Since 2010, these principles have been the basis for competitive grants to more than 1,400 programs across the country.

Over time, an evidence-based approach should be a prerequisite for any program to get federal dollars. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


WHERE CUOMO'S LOGIC LEADS (Matthew Schmitz, 1 . 2 . 15, Fist Things)

Mario Cuomo, like the millions of unborn children whose lives he refused to protect, is dead. [...]

In 1994, Robert P. George wrote a brief satire to show where Cuomo's logic leads. The argument runs thus:

I am personally opposed to killing abortionists. However, inasmuch as my personal opposition to this practice is rooted in a sectarian (Catholic) religious belief in the sanctity of human life, I am unwilling to impose it on others who may, as a matter of conscience, take a different view. Of course, I am entirely in favor of policies aimed at removing the root causes of violence against abortionists. Indeed, I would go so far as to support mandatory one-week waiting periods, and even nonjudgmental counseling, for people who are contemplating the choice of killing an abortionist. I believe in policies that reduce the urgent need some people feel to kill abortionists while, at the same time, respecting the rights of conscience of my fellow citizens who believe that the killing of abortionists is sometimes a tragic necessity-not a good, but a lesser evil. In short, I am moderately pro-choice. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


In major cities, murder rates drop precipitously (Reid Wilson January 2, 2014, Washington Post)

Preliminary figures suggest 2014 will continue a decade-long trend of falling crime rates, especially in major cities once plagued by violent crime. [...]

[T]he trend lines are clear: The number of violent crimes has declined since 2006, according to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 people has been dropping even longer, from a high of 758 in 1991 to 367.9 in 2013. The rate hasn't topped 500 per 100,000 people since 2001.

James Alan Fox, a crime statistics expert and professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northeastern University, pointed to four major factors contributing to the falling crime rate across the country:

- Long prison sentences, which have lengthened on average since sentencing reform initiatives in many states in the 1990s, have kept more criminals behind bars, albeit at a significant cost to state budgets.

- Improved community policing strategies are sending cops to places where crime is more likely to occur, as a prevention method. Technologies like video surveillance and acoustic sensors, which can hear gunshots before residents report a crime, are improving police response, too.

- A changing drug market has plunged the cost of heroin near historic lows, reducing crime associated with the drug trade. Pollack added that the end of the crack epidemic of the 1990s and 2000s has also contributed to a decline in drug-related violence.

- And an aging population is less likely to commit crimes. The fastest growing segment of the population is seniors, an age at which far fewer crimes are committed.

Academics advance other theories for the falling crime rate, ranging from the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion, the declining use of lead paint and improvements in medical technologies used in emergency rooms, which can save lives that would otherwise have been lost.

"Because the crime drop is being seen in so many places, one should be a bit skeptical of any particular police chief claiming that it is because of what his or her department is doing or any lawmaker claiming that some new legislation is responsible," Fox said. "While local efforts may contribute, that the pattern is widespread tends to suggest global factors, not so much local initiatives."

...so too are police easy targets now that crime is a secondary issue.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


GUNDLACH: The Consensus Is Wrong -- Interest Rates Could Sink To Levels We Haven't Seen In Decades (SAM RO, 1/03/15, Business Insider)

A year ago this month, [Jeff] Gundlach, the head of DoubleLine Funds, went contrarian and correctly predict rates would fall.

In a new interview with Barron's, Gundlach is once again going contrarian and saying rates could go lower than we seen in a very long time:

Where the median economic forecast tabulated by Bloomberg for the 10-year U.S. Treasury Bond yield for year-end 2015 currently stands at 3.24%, Gundlach thinks the 10-year that finished 2014 at 2.17% could potentially take out its modern-era low of 1.38% yield hit in 2012. This would particularly be the case if crude-oil prices keep falling to, say, $40 a barrel from their 2014 year-end level of about $55. This further drop from the 46% decline suffered by crude in 2014 would only accentuate deflationary forces he sees at work globally that continue to drop long-bond yields...

...weighing on U.S. bond yields will be brisk foreign buying from investors in Japan and Europe, where long-term sovereign debt bond yields are mostly lower than U.S. rates and economic growth prospects are less bright. "Everybody worried about what would happen to the U.S. government [bond] market when the Fed ended [its third round of quantitative easing] last fall and stopped its heavy monthly government bond purchases," he points out. "The answer, of course, is that foreign buying easily replaced declining government support of the market. And the strengthening dollar, which we think will continue, only makes U.S. bonds all the more attractive, for not only do foreign investors benefit from higher relative rates, but they also win on currency translation profits."

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


toast of the nation : Wynton Marsalis Group: Live In Concert (PATRICK JARENWATTANANON, 1/01/14, NPR)

He called together an ensemble of JALC Orchestra members to swing into 2012 with sweet and heat, live from the Central Park vista of Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.

"Dippermouth Blues"
"New Orleans Bump"
"Dead Man Blues"
"Froggie Moore"
"The Pearls"
"Snake Rag"
"Tom Cat"
"Auld Lang Syne"
"Doin' Our Thing"
"Jazzin' Babies"
"All The Girls"
"Black Bottom Stomp"

Wynton Marsalis, trumpet
Walter Blanding, reeds
Wess Anderson, reeds
Victor Goines, reeds
Marcus Printup, trumpet
Chris Crenshaw, trombone
James Chirillo, guitar/banjo
Dan Nimmer, piano
Carlos Henriquez, bass
Ali Jackson, drums
Ricky "Dirty Red" Gordon, washboard/percussion

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Abortion Stereotype (RAZIB KHAN, JAN. 2, 2015, WSJ)

 The General Social Survey, which has been tracking American opinions for decades, includes the question of whether a woman should be allowed to get an abortion if she "wants it for any reason." In 17 of the 23 years that this question has been asked, men have answered "yes" to a greater extent than women. The average difference was about 1.5 percentage points -- a small but consistent gender gap, if not the one people seem to expect.

So what is it about women that makes them less enthusiastic than men about abortion on demand? Again, the survey offers answers. Using a common statistical method, one can determine the effect of different variables on an outcome of interest -- in this case, the odds that someone will agree or disagree with the question. This reveals that the difference between men and women is not, in fact, likely because of their sex, but because of other factors that happen to correlate with sex.

As it happens, religious attendance and biblical literalism, as well as political ideology, were all highly predictive of attitudes toward abortion. Being Hispanic was also associated with being opposed to abortion on demand (even allowing for other variables, such as religiosity).

In contrast, sex and age were usually not independently significant. Probably the mediating factor here is that, according to most surveys, women tend to be more religious than men.

While, on the whole, there isn't a major difference in the sexes' attitudes toward abortion, there is one when we separate men and women by ideology. If we look at the data since 2000 (to get a more contemporary perspective), on the liberal end of the ideological spectrum men are consistently less supportive of abortion on demand than women. On the conservative end of the spectrum, it's women who like abortion on demand less than men do.

In other words, conservative women are the most anti-abortion segment of the population, and liberal women are the most in favor of abortion rights. You might say that the more significant difference here is not between men and women, but among women.

January 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Reverend Jeremiah Wright Was Worse Than Scalise (Ron Christie, 1/02/15, Daily Beast)

In fairness, my alarm bells would have been ringing off the hook if I received an invitation to speak before an organization run by Duke. [...]

What has struck me about the American media coverage I've been able to catch is that many are eager to paint the GOP as racist with a broad brush without any measure of perspective or introspection.  Scalise offered his contrition that he had made a mistake and apologized for appearing before a group some 12 years ago.  And yet The Washington Post's Dan Balz was quite eager to remind his readers that: "The Scalise episode...is more than a case of one politician and one event.  It is also a reminder of the complexities of race and politics in the Old and New South as that region has made a long transition from one-party Democratic rule a generation ago to today's one-party Republican dominance."  

As I reflected upon Balz's words, I couldn't help but remember another politician embroiled in his association with someone with not only with a racist past but one who continued to preach racism from the pews to the present day.  A politician who attended the congregation at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for some 20 years, a man who referred to his Pastor as his second father--a Pastor who officiated his wedding and baptized his children. 

Yes, I'm referring to the association between Barack Obama and his since disavowed Pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  What I find ironic is that Scalise is being excoriated for one speech before one group in which the gentleman in question professed no knowledge of white supremacist ties--while the current occupant of the Oval Office had to have known about the racist invective Pastor Wright issued from his pulpit each Sunday.

Have you ever heard of the "Black Value System" adopted by the Trinity Church in 1981, some seven years before President Obama joined their congregation? Chances are you haven't, as I hadn't either.  Scrolling through this hate-filled manifesto for the first time made the hairs on my arm tingle with discomfort.  There is reference after reference to the "black community," "black worth ethic," and adherence to the "black value system."

Can you imagine the outrage if Representative Scalise had spoken before a group in Louisiana whose attendees vowed fealty to a "white value system?"  Calls for his resignation and an investigation from the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice would have been swift and immediately forthcoming.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Barack Obama: anatomy of a failure : The President is heir to a mistaken sense of America's place in the world. But he has played a bad hand poorly (Andrew J. Bacevich 3 January 2015, The Spectator)

President George W. Bush's place in history is already guaranteed, fixed by a series of monumental blunders that no amount of revisionism will ever be able to whitewash. By comparison, historians are likely to have a hard time drawing a bead on Barack Obama. How could such an obviously gifted President, swept into office on a wave of immense expectations, have managed to accomplish so little in his attempted management of global affairs? Over the past six years 'Yes, we can!' has become 'No, he hasn't.' What went wrong? [...]

For my money, the Obama legacy is likely to be defined by two developments that have not yet fully matured: drones and cyberwarfare. In both of these areas, Obama can claim to have done pioneering work

He's a disappointment to all the right people for all the right reasons.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Is Texas, the biggest domino, about to topple on Medicaid expansion? (Michael Hiltzik, 1/02/15, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

[J]ust before Christmas, Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott signaled that he might be open to a compromise that finally would bring as many as 2 million low-income Texan adults and children under the coverage umbrella. At a meeting with Houston-area state legislators, the Houston Chronicle reported, Abbott asked for more information about Utah's groundbreaking compromise with the feds on Medicaid expansion.  [...]

Yet in no state is the economic logic of expanding Medicaid as self-evident as it is in Texas. The state consistently leads the nation in its ratio of uninsured residents -- 22.1% in 2013. (The national average in 2014 is 13.4%.) A 2013 report by former deputy state comptroller Billy Hamilton projected that the state would lose $7.7 billion in federal funds and incur $397 million in costs through 2015 by shunning Medicaid expansion. Acceptance would relieve Texas hospitals of a sizable share of the $17 billion in uncompensated care they provide to uninsured residents every year. 

Without expansion, nearly 900,000 Texan children lack coverage. The state has had the highest uninsured rate among residents earning less than 138% of the federal poverty line, the income ceiling for Medicaid expansion, at 55%. Under the ACA, the federal government would cover 100% of the cost of serving those residents via Medicaid through 2016, after which the match declines in stages to a permanent 90% in 2020 and beyond.

The Utah program in which Abbott expressed interest is a refinement of a deal pioneered by Arkansas, which allows federal funds to be used for the purchase of private insurance for the target population.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Indiana mulls putting high schoolers to same civics test immigrants take (FoxNews.com, 1/02/15)

An Indiana lawmaker says high school grads ought to know at least as much about civics as the nation's newest citizens, and he wants to put them to the test.

Under a measure proposed by Hoosier State Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis Kruse, a Republican, students who want to graduate high school would be required to pass the same civics test as immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens, according to the Lafayette Journal & Courier. He plans to introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session, which convenes next week.

"I believe that if we're asking someone from a foreign country to know this information, that our own citizens ought to know it," Kruse told the paper.

Kruse has not completed a draft of the bill, but said it would require public school students to correctly answer at least 60 percent of the 100 civics questions that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services uses to administer its naturalization test. Immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship are asked 10 of those 100 questions at random and must get six correct to pass.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Iran, 6 powers move closer to nuclear deal, write up elements for the first time (GEORGE JAHN, 1/02/15, Associated Press)

Iran and the United States have tentatively agreed on a formula that Washington hopes will reduce Tehran's ability to make nuclear arms by committing it to ship to Russia much of the material needed for such weapons, diplomats say.

In another sign of progress, the two diplomats told The Associated Press that negotiators at the December round of nuclear talks drew up for the first time a catalog outlining areas of potential accord and differing approaches to remaining disputes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Now I understand how and why the Palestinians lost Palestine : The Hamas deputy foreign minister has published a scathing broadside, slamming the Palestinian leadership for failing to craft a strategic vision and build national consensus. (GHAZI HAMAD January 2, 2015, Times of Israel)

What calamity did the Palestinians create by themselves for themselves?

We have always held the Arab regimes responsible for the loss of Palestine, which is an indisputable matter, and have equally faulted the Western regimes for their collusion and unlimited support for Israel... But what is our share in bearing responsibility?

It is true that we, as Palestinians, fought and struggled, presented an amazing model of sacrifice, and created revolution after revolution, intifada after intifada. We knocked on the doors of the international community and prowled the streets of world capitals in search of support. Many applauded us at international forums and we received "theoretical" recognition as a country. But where is the practical result on the ground? Where is the Palestinian expansion - after 65 years - versus the cancerous occupation? Where are the foundations of victory and liberation that we release as empty slogans?? Where is the source of deficiency given these great sacrifices and tremendous lengths of political effort?

What is strange is that after a fierce war that lasted 50 days (which inspires pride in the resilience and heroism [of Hamas]); our demands reflected nothing but a lack of political and strategic vision. [All we requested was] the opening of border crossings and the expansion of the fishing zone!

Oddly, everyone believes they are close to achieving their goals: Fatah believes it's a step away from achieving statehood, while Hamas thinks it's on the brink of liberating Palestine!

Instead of getting a state as is our historical right, we have begun to expect it through a UN resolution that cannot be implemented!

Palestine cannot be freed or built by this lacking, arbitrary path that is far from any deep planning, strong preparation, and joint, continued and accumulated national action. It is transforming into merely wishes and no more. This does not mean that I am downplaying the value of what each side is doing, but the fracturing of directions and of efforts will lead us to counterproductive results.

Why and how did our efforts come to naught?

In short, because Palestinians lost two of their national pillars: strategic vision and national consensus. Hence, their paths diverged. They moved - or let us say dissipated - to opposing areas that drained their energies and deflated their abilities. They moved between temporary and permanent solutions, between the PA and resistance, between the PA and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), between the statehood project and the liberation project, between strategy and tactics, between legitimacy and illegitimacy, they got lost between reconciliation and division...

This dilemma has exacerbated the divisions between Palestinians until they became a model of professional discord. You will find that we disagree about everything, from the liberation or statehood project to the most trivial of issues. This has dragged us into drowning in the small details that have worn us down and blocked us from thinking about strategic issues.

Indeed, the lack of a strategic vision is a national disaster for which everyone bears responsibility.

The PLO had served its purpose once it forced negotiations, but the Palestinian people aren't secular-Marxist.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


As he mulls presidential bid, Wisconsin's Walker faces rift with GOP allies over his agenda (SCOTT BAUER, 1/02/15, Associated Press)

[A]s he prepares for the possibility of taking his winning record into a campaign for president, Walker is running into trouble from an unexpected source: his own overwhelmingly Republican Legislature.

Walker, who's trying to polish an image of a governor who gets things done efficiently, is confronting lawmakers who want to flex their increased political power by wading into difficult issues, such as right-to-work legislation, to score major conservative victories.

The governor wants no part of it. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


A Tory-Labour unity coalition may be the only way forward after 7 May (Ian Birrell, 1/02/15, The Guardian)

A government of national unity between Labour and the Conservatives may sound far-fetched, especially amid the froth and fury of a nascent election campaign. It would certainly be tricky, exacerbating internal divisions and leading to more defections. Yet, while there are serious disagreements, the two parties have more in common with each other than with the insurgents on many key issues - especially if David Cameron survived and Miliband was replaced by someone such as Chuka Umunna.

Elections are a form of crowdsourcing, the wisdom of crowds ensuring the result reflects national desire. Britain did not trust Neil Kinnock in 1992, then was desperate to kick out the Tories five years later. By 2010, the nation wanted Gordon Brown out and Cameron in, but was wary of claims of Tory modernisation - rightly, as it turned out. Yet now, a sceptical electorate does not want to hand either party untrammelled control of the country.

In keeping with the current mood, a national government would see Cameron remain prime minister and the Tories retain control of the Treasury (replicating how Labour held both posts in 1931). Labour's leader would be deputy prime minister, with the party overseeing education and health, although presumably it would need to revert to its previous stance on private sector involvement.

Regardless of the personalities and positions, however, the two parties could start to hammer out those huge issues confronting the nation that conventional politics seems incapable of solving. These include the creation of a modern political system, the resolution of Britain's haphazard drift into federalism and a workable funding solution to save the creaking NHS.

They should just run together on a platform of accelerating Third Way reforms.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


The 7 Senate Races to Watch in 2016 (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, 1/01/15, National Journal)

So to kick off the new year, here is National Journal's preview of the seven most compelling Senate races in 2016, with the most pressing question that will determine the race's outcome listed below:

Nevada: Does Gov. Brian Sandoval run against Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid?

Despite sporting the worst approval ratings of any senator running for reelection in 2016, Reid is as well prepared as anyone to take on his competition--or at least to scare them away from running in the first place. The GOP's dream candidate, Gov. Brian Sandoval, would probably start out ahead, thanks to his statewide political profile, moderate reputation, and Hispanic background. But he's far from a sure thing to run, knowing Reid's excellent track record in pulverizing his opposition. Giving up an influential job where he's become one of the GOP's nationally compelling politicians to wrestle in the mud with the Senate minority leader isn't exactly a no-brainer of a decision.

Reid, however, is looking vulnerable enough that Nevada political analyst Jon Ralston rates his chances as no better than 55 percent, no matter whom the Republicans run against him. But if Sandoval passes on the race, there's a greater chance that a hard-right candidate could emerge in a primary--and that's proven to be a surefire path to victory for Reid in the past. And the presidential-year electorate in 2016, with higher Hispanic turnout, should be very beneficial for Reid. That's one reason he was such an enthusiastic champion of President Obama's executive orders on immigration. It's no coincidence that President Obama announced the decision, Reid by his side, in Las Vegas.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Settlers throw stones at US Consulate staff in West Bank (ITAMAR SHARON AND AP January 2, 2015, Times of Israel)

Consulate staff were touring near the Adei Ad outpost, northeast of Ramallah, along with a number of Palestinians from the nearby village of Turmus Ayya. According to Ynet News, villagers said thousands of olive tree saplings in their lands had been uprooted by local settlers in recent days. A number of villagers with US citizenship invited consulate staff to view the damage up close.

When the American visitors arrived and exited their vehicles, a number of settlers pelted them with rocks. This led security guards to draw their weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


The audacity of Al Sharpton (Katie Pavlich, 12/29/14, The Hill)
MSNBC host, tax evader and proclaimed "Reverend" Al Sharpton is a top adviser to President Obama and has been since day one in the Oval Office. In fact, with more than 60 visits to the White House during Obama's tenure, you could say Sharpton is one of the top advisers outside of paid staff. Heck, he's even vacationed with the president on Martha's Vineyard and has a close relationship with senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. He's also played a key role in advising Obama about nominations to powerful positions inside the federal government, including a replacement for Attorney General Eric Holder as the nation's top law enforcement officer.
It was just recently that President Obama spoke at Sharpton's April 2014 National Action Network conference, where he praised and glorified him as a leader.
"I want to say, first of all, thank you to your leader, Reverend Al Sharpton. Give him a big round of applause," Obama said, giving him even more legitimacy. Attorney General Eric Holder said similar things during a speech at the conference, going out of his way to repeatedly thank him for his friendship and longtime partnership.
Considering Al Sharpton has taught his followers and young men in the black community to judge and hate those born with a different skin color, it's alarming how much access he's had to the most powerful offices in the country. Sharpton is a liar, conman and professional manipulator. Throughout his years on the public stage, which have been many, the majority on the left have embraced his ideas and upheld him as a go-to source on problems plaguing the black community. Sharpton has been performing this act for years, and he's finally made it to the A-list on the White House visitor's log.
When "peaceful" protesters took to the streets of New York City for Al Sharpton's Million Marchers earlier this month, many of them chanted, "What do we want? Dead cops! When do want them? Now!"
Did Sharpton rightly condemn them? No. Instead, he offered soft rhetoric and tried to distance himself from his own supporters in order to evade responsibility for their actions.

Just as there's no legitimate place for a Republican at a Klan event, there's no legitimate place in the White House for the Reverend Al.
Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Steve Scalise defender's ties to white nationalist group closer than he disclosed, documents show (Rebecca Catalanello, 1/01/15, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

The David Duke associate who disavowed membership in a white nationalist group linked to U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise was at one time an officer in that group, according to public records. Kenny Knight told NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune on Wednesday that he was not a member of the European-American Unity and Rights Organization, but documents filed with the Louisiana secretary of state's office list him as treasurer of its predecessor, the National Organization for European American Rights, in 2000.

Further, a May 16, 2002, news release on an an archived version of EURO's former website, www.whitecivilrights.com, lists Knight as "EURO Louisiana State Representative Kenny Knight." The release says Knight was expected to address the group's May 17-18, 2002, conference.

Duke, the Louisiana neo-Nazi and former politician, created the organization to espouse "white civil rights." Knight is a longtime Duke political adviser and friend. [...]

When asked by telephone Thursday about the records listing him as EURO's treasurer, Knight twice hung up on a reporter. "Is that 15 years ago? I don't even remember that," he said. "I'm not communicating any more with the news media. I'm finished with y'all."

When you're six feet down you stop digging.

January 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 PM


Falling Oil Price Poses Tough Challenge for West African Rulers (Patrick McGroarty in Johannesburg and Drew Hinshaw in Accra, Jan. 1, 2015, WSJ)

Some of Africa's most entrenched leaders are facing an unprecedented challenge from an unexpected foe: falling oil prices.

Rulers of a cluster of nations along Africa's oil-rich Atlantic coast have long used crude revenue to consolidate their power, reward political allies and subsidize basic goods and services.

As oil prices decline, that formula for maintaining power looks increasingly inadequate for rulers such as Angola's José Eduardo dos Santos.

"If the drop in prices continues, he will be in free fall," said Ricardo Soares de Oliveira, a political scientist at the University of Oxford.

For more than 30 years in office, Mr. dos Santos has relied on the proceeds from oil sales. If that revenue continues to shrink, "the very assumption that this regime is able to weather all sorts of storms would be in question," Mr. de Oliveira said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Tesla Roadster upgrade: Electric car will go about 400 miles per charge (Associated Press  JANUARY 1, 2015)

Tesla said improvements it is making to its older Roadster model will let the electric car travel about 400 miles on a single charge.

Sic transit range anxiety.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


More Health Care is Not Always Better Health Care (American Interest, 1/01/15)

Americans think many health care procedures are both better and less risky than they actually are. That's according to a new meta-study in the Journal of the American Medical Association of surveys of patients' expectations for various medical tests, screenings, and procedures. More:

Of the 34 outcomes with overestimation data available, the majority of participants overestimated benefit for 22 (65%) of them. For 17 benefit expectation outcomes, we could not calculate the proportion of participants who overestimated or underestimated, although for 15 (88%) of these, study authors concluded that participants overestimated benefits. Expectations of harm were assessed by 27 outcomes (across 13 studies): underestimation data were available for 15 outcomes and the majority of participants underestimated harm for 10 (67%) of these. A correct estimation by at least 50% of participants only occurred for 2 outcomes about benefit expectations and 2 outcomes about harm expectations.

These findings shed some light on another JAMA study that has been making the rounds recently. Ars Technica reports on this second study, which found that at teaching hospitals the mortality rate of heart attack patients declined from 24.8 percent to 17 percent when cardiologists were out of town at big medical conferences.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Conservative about-face for Brazil's Rousseff (Deutsche-Welle, 1/01/15)

On January 1, 2015, the 67-year-old politician's new term begins as the country's leader, though the spirit of optimism that surrounded her first tenure has faded into sober pragmatism. [...]

"Rousseff's second tenure is starting off with austerity measures, which will automatically cause a decrease of investment in social programs," said Luis Felipe Miguel, professor of political science at the University of Brasilia. "The miracle is over."

The PT has been successful in terms of social and business politics, but "these policies will not longer pan out," Miguel added.

Rousseff has much less political leeway in her second term than in her first. "The Workers' Party and the left lost power in the last election," Miguel said, adding that the president is now dependent on her conservative coalition partners to receive the necessary majorities in congress.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Jeb Bush to World: 2015 is "My Year" (Charles Ellison, 1/01/15, Washington Monthly)

Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor and next-in-line beneficiary of probably the most presidentially active dynasty in modern American politics, wasted no time to start his New Year off with a bang. In a blow-the-spot-up signal that he's definitely got his eye on the Republican presidential nomination for 2016, the son and brother of Bush Presidents I and II respectively quit every private and non-profit board he currently sits on.

No major politician gives up that kind of prestige and cheddar unless he or she is about to press on with a full-time career in campaigning. The move gives him the elbow space he'll need to build a presidential exploratory machine. And with a packed GOP nomination field already taking shape, kicking it off at the top of 2015 should offer some head start in the race to lock donors, advisers, staff, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


What if Hillary Clinton doesn't run for president? For Democrats, it would set off chaotic '15 (KEN THOMAS, 1/01/15, Associated Press) 

In Washington, in Iowa, in New Hampshire, really in any place that's already talking about the 2016 campaign for president, just about everyone expects Hillary Rodham Clinton to run for president.

But is it possible that Clinton might not give a White House campaign another try?

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Tennessee's Medicaid Deal Dodges A Partisan Fight (NPR, DECEMBER 28, 2014)

Expanding Medicaid has until recently been seen as a political poison pill in Tennessee. But the hospital lobby has struck a unique deal with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to pay for the expansion, a move that has paved the way for greater GOP support.

Hospital administrators saw no other choice, says Craig Becker, president of the Tennessee Hospital Association.

"We basically left over $800 million on the table in federal dollars, which is a lot of money that could've done a lot of different things," Becker says, referring to the new Medicaid money Tennessee turned away in 2014.

"Look, we're stressed," he says. "Each individual hospital has gone to [Haslam] and said, 'Look we're gonna have to lay people off.' We've seen layoffs here. We've seen hospitals close, and they're saying, 'We're not just crying wolf here.' "

The association will pay for the state's contribution under the deal -- taking state taxpayers off the hook. It's not the first time the hospital group has helped finance the state's Medicaid program.

"I've heard from several of my counterparts, and they have all said the same thing -- that they're really hopeful that perhaps their states will follow the lead of Tennessee," Becker says.

Tennessee's Senate leader, Ron Ramsey, who once fiercely opposed Medicaid expansion, now says it's an "opportunity that must be taken seriously."

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Why Spies and Analysts Shouldn't Mingle : Working closely together encourages tunnel vision and groupthink. (PHILIP GIRALDI • January 1, 2015, American Conservative)

Contamination of the intelligence product can develop in both directions, with the spies influencing how the analysts judge the information that they receive and the intelligence collectors in turn becoming too responsive to what the consumers want. Working closely together encourages tunnel vision, reducing the likelihood that the prevailing groupthink will be challenged, as both analysts and spies can become obsessed with secondary targets and issues. The current system provides a degree of separation and a second pair of eyes that can prevent such an occurrence.

And then there is the issue of potential politicization, which is likely where Brennan comes in. If a new center were to be focused on Iran, for example, would the analysts, who work closely with the consumers in the White House and Congress, pressure the intelligence collectors to focus on what is of interest to the politicians? Responding to consumer expectations might well mean looking only for information that supports administration or congressional perceptions.

Intelligence is basically fungible, and you can pretty much find what you want to find if you try hard enough, but it is essential to have a measure of separation built into the system to provide checks and balances against politicized judgments dominating the process.

The anglosphere has a unique advantage in the intelligence sphere : there is no threat that having everyone know exactly what we think we know will subvert our system.  Indeed, it will subvert theirs.  

Just consider how much easier ending the Cold War would have been if everyone knew what Reagan, Andropov, Solzhenitsyn, etc. knew, instead of believing, along with the Soviets, the Left, and the CIA that the USSR was a peer.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


What David Cameron must do to win (properly this time) (The Spectator 3 January 2015)

The Tories have a professional, Lynton Crosby, running their campaign. He should be able to point out the basics: a clear message is required, and it needs to be repeated. He is unlikely to be fooled by the received wisdom that this year's general election will belong to the small parties. Labour and the Tories still have about two thirds of the vote, according to today's polls, just as they did at the general election. The collapse of the Liberal Democrats has allowed peculiar phenomena such as the rise of the Greens. Overall, however, this election remains very winnable.

Anyone who believes that Ed Miliband is still cruising to victory has not kept their eye on Scotland. A Guardian/ICM poll, one of the last of 2014, suggests that Labour could lose all but three of its 41 Scottish seats to a resurgent SNP under the formidable Nicola Sturgeon. Even if she does nowhere near that well, she will still take more seats than Nigel Farage's Ukip. The SNP already has more members than Ukip and the Liberal Democrats combined. It is Sturgeon's party that is the new third force in British politics -- and its rise comes almost exclusively at Ed Miliband's expense.

Polls also show that Miliband is more unpopular in Scotland than elsewhere. His visits to Scotland during the referendum last year showed the sheer extent of the damage that he is capable of inflicting on his own party. All this bodes well for the Tories: David Cameron has his flaws, but he's a good campaigner. Miliband, by contrast, can turn a bacon sandwich into a debacle. [...]

Elections in Britain tend to be won on the back of hope rather than fear. In spite of their battered reputation in many areas, the Tories remain the party most strongly associated with aspiration. With real incomes finally growing, it ought to be possible to concentrate minds on the prospect of self-betterment. If the Conservatives are to win, they need to be able to convince people that a Tory victory will make it more likely they will be able to buy a home of their own, afford holidays, choose a good school for their children, or have NHS services which work for them rather than the health unions.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Japan suffers lowest number of births on record as population shrinks (Agence France-Presse, 1 January 2015)

Japan's estimated number of newborn babies last year fell to 1.001 million, the lowest figure on record, further contributing to the ageing and shrinking of the country's population, official data showed Thursday.

The number marked an all-time low for the fourth straight year, the health, labour and welfare ministry said, while the estimated number of people who died in 2014 totalled 1.269 million, rising for the fifth straight year.

The number of newborn babies could fall below 1 million in revised data that will be released later because of an anticipated margin of error of 1000, local reports said.

A further drop in the number of children is inevitable as "the number of reproductive-age women is on the decline," an official at the ministry said, Kyodo News reported.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Slacking Workers of the World Unite : We've made an art of wasting time at work. But to what end? (LINDSAY BEYERSTEIN, 1/01/15, In These Times)

Seventy percent of porn viewing and 60 percent of online shopping take place during business hours. Studies indicate that worldwide, the average employee spends about 1 to 3 hours a day goofing off at work.

In Empty Labor: Idleness and Workplace Resistance, Roland Paulsen, a scholar of business administration at Lund University in Sweden, sets out to understand what he calls empty labor, which includes anything a worker does on the clock that isn't work--be it surfing the web, sleeping, organizing the office football pool, or writing a doctoral dissertation on the sly. [...]

Paulsen concludes that the most successful slackers have jobs with high "opacity," which means that other people have a hard time grokking what they actually do or how long it's supposed to take.

Uber-slackers are taking advantage of a feature of the modern economy: It is unusually conducive to empty labor. We are often told that people are working longer and harder than ever, and that may well be true, on average. But in many jobs, work has become decoupled from tangible production, making productivity difficult to measure.

A web developer told Paulsen that her team gave inflated time estimates for projects they didn't want to do, and nobody could contradict them, because only the web team knew how long it should take to build a website. When a client wanted to put flying sanitary napkins on a company website, the team claimed it would take weeks, instead of the short time it would actually require.

On the question of why people spend so much time goofing off, Paulsen distills some common themes. Some said their jobs were so miserable, or so meaningless, that they felt compelled to goof off in order to endure them. Others said they wasted time at work to get back at an abusive boss, annoying coworkers or a firm that stole their wages.

Paulsen was surprised to discover how much empty labor was involuntary. Subjects often told him they were simply trying to occupy themselves because there wasn't enough work for them to do, either because their workload waxed and waned or because their managers were too incompetent to make sure they had enough to do.