February 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


ISIS is losing (Zack Beauchamp, February 23, 2015, Vox)

One year ago, ISIS was soon to launch the offensive in Iraq that, in June, would sweep across northern Iraq and conquer the country's second-largest city, Mosul. Today, the Iraqi government is prepping a counter-offensive aimed at seizing Mosul back, which the US believes will launch in April.

In that year, the situation has changed dramatically. After ISIS's seemingly unstoppable rampage from June to August of 2014, the Iraqi government and its allies have turned the tide. Slowly, unevenly, but surely, ISIS is being pushed back.

"There's really nowhere where [ISIS] has momentum," Kirk Sowell, the principal at Uticensis Risk Services and an expert on Iraqi politics, told me in late January.

"There are a significant string of [Iraqi] victories all along the northern river valley, up through Diyala and Salahuddin [two central Iraqi provinces]," Doug Ollivant, National Security Council Director for Iraq from 2008-2009 and current managing partner at Mantid International, explained.

In northern Iraq, Kurdish forces are threatening to cut off a highway that serves as ISIS's main supply line between Iraq and Syria. They took the town of Sinjar, which sits on the highway, in December; by late January, they had taken a longer stretch of the highway near a town called Kiske.

Ollivant describes much of the Kurdish progress in the north as a "circling around Mosul." Though the Kurds won't attempt to retake the city on their own, a joint Iraqi-Kurdish force is now poised to do so. Re-taking Mosul would be a major blow to ISIS.

One of the many reasons to remove Assad is the hope that ISIS would try to fill the vaccum, making themselves easier targets.

US-led task force launches 20 air strikes in continued attacks on Isis (The Guardian, 28 February 2015)

US-led coalition forces have launched 11 air strikes in Iraq and nine in Syria since early on Friday, the Combined Joint Task Force said on Saturday.

The strikes targeted Islamic State (Isis) fighters and positions in both countries and were part of long-running air campaigns against the militants, who have conquered large areas of territory since last summer. Strikes began in Iraq on 8 August and in Syria, which is racked by civil war, on 23 September.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Sen. Rand Paul Wins CPAC Straw Poll (BEN BELL, 2/28/15, ABC News)

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, was crowned the winner of the annual CPAC-Washington Times Straw Poll for the third year in a row, it was announced today.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


France's Anti-Terror, Free-Market Socialist : Prime Minister Valls talks about 'Islamofascism,' his personal experience with rising anti-Semitism, and the necessity of economic reform. (SOHRAB AHMARI, 2/28/15, WSJ)

Though Mr. Valls is careful not to reduce one to the other, France's social crisis is owed in part to the country's economic failure. Growth is nonexistent. Unemployment remains above 10%. A quarter of French youth are unemployed. The most talented young French men and women are more likely to be working in Silicon Valley or London than in Paris. Foreign direct investment in France fell 94% over the past decade, thanks to the country's high taxes, labyrinthine regulations and rigid labor-market rules.

With the old left incapable of addressing the economic problems that are largely its creation, Mr. Valls has emerged as a leader of the reform wing of the Socialists, emphasizing law and order, personal responsibility and free markets. "For 30 years France got used to massive unemployment, to too-high public spending and to not undertaking courageous reforms," the prime minister says. "France must prove to itself and to the world that it is capable of reforming itself."

Departing from traditional socialism, Mr. Valls says, "I very much believe in the role of the individual, the responsibility of each individual and individual accomplishment. I don't believe in egalitarianism. You have to support, including at school, each individual according to his potential. We have unemployment benefits that somehow sponsor unemployment." Instead, he wants to "sponsor going back to work."

He has already made significant progress, though at a high political cost. Mr. Valls's government is cutting public spending by €50 billion ($56 billion) and social taxes and fees on businesses by €40 billion ($45 billion) over the next three years. The government last year introduced a law to privatize some public assets, open 37 highly regulated professions to greater competition and allow shops to stay open 12 Sundays a year, from five currently, among other measures.

Sensing the law would face tough opposition from hard-left Socialists, Messrs. Hollande and Valls last week invoked a rarely used constitutional loophole that allows bills to bypass the National Assembly and go directly to the Senate for approval. The government survived a subsequent no-confidence vote.

There is no longer a Second Way.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Technology will help architects 3D print concrete moulds (Julia Pierce, 2/25/15, The Engineer)

A giant 3D printer capable of producing moulds up to the size of a phone box will allow architects to bring their creativity to life through the creation of freeform concrete designs. 

Architects have long complained that concrete forces their ideas into flat and angular shapes. However, a partnership of industrial 3D printing and 3D engineering company 3Dealise and Bruil, the construction company, has resulted in the development of a technology that brings freedom of design and other such benefits of 3D printing to large-scale concrete structures. 

According to its developers, the new technology will help architects as they are no longer constrained by technical limitations and can create irregularly curved surfaces, lightweight half-open mesh or honeycomb structures, and even ornamental craftwork.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Who really gets tested by state exams (Lynn Baker,  February 27, 2015, Washington Post)

I entered my classroom on test day, armed with a positive attitude and a calm smile. Neither guaranteed test success or reflected my true feelings. Both made me feel better.

Preparation for the Virginia Standards of Learning tests had begun in September. Third grade was an especially demanding year, since it was the first time the children had been tested. Merely practicing for the test wasn't enough. We practiced for the practice for the practice test. Online testing meant that a large part of the computer lab had been transformed from a time of creative discovery into endless drills. The counselor even directed a skit that was full of test tips: If you feel anxious, breathe deeply and slowly count to 10. Remember to go to bed early the night before the test. Eat a healthy breakfast on the morning of the test. Our efforts couldn't guarantee higher test scores, but they made us feel better.

These tests were high stakes for the classroom teachers and for the school but not for the 8-year-olds.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Competing on Corporate Tax (Laura Tyson, 2/28/15, Project Syndicate)

The problem for the US is that developed and emerging economies have been slashing their rates, leaving the US - which had one of the developed world's lowest corporate tax rates after the 1986 tax reform - at a serious disadvantage.

Most recently, the United Kingdom reduced its rate to 20%, half of the combined US federal and average state rates. And, since 2013, the UK has applied a special tax rate on income from patents, which will fall gradually to 10% by 2017. Twelve European Union countries currently have or are implementing similar special tax regimes, or "patent boxes," for income from intellectual property, which is taxed at rates of 5-15%.

The US statutory corporate tax rate, at 39% in total, is more than 14 percentage points above the OECD average - making it the highest in the developed world. These differences affect corporate decisions about how much to invest, how to finance investment, and where to do business.

The pro-growth rationale for a sizable reduction in the US rate has garnered bipartisan support - a rarity in today's Congress. Obama has proposed a rate of 28%, with a preferential rate of 25% for manufacturing, and additional special provisions to promote investment in research and development and clean energy.

There is also bipartisan agreement that the foregone revenues from a rate reduction should be covered mainly by broadening the tax base - the same approach adopted in the 1986 tax reform. Broadening the base would also reduce the tax system's complexity and enhance its efficiency. But there remain deep fissures over which preferences should be eliminated and which activities currently outside the corporate tax base should be brought into it.

...why would we want to tax (stifle) business activity in the first place?  Reducing the tax on some businesses so that we can tax more of them seems a particularly odd idea, spreading the mistake thinner but wider.    Especially when the revenue will just go into general funds to be spent willy nilly.   

India slashes corporate tax rate by 5% as Jaitley envisions imminent double-digit growth (Jerin Mathew, 2/28/15, IB Times)

India has slashed corporate tax rate by 5%, as the country looks to become more business friendly under Narendra Modi.

While presenting the federal budget for fiscal year 2015-16, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that the country's corporate tax rate will be cut to 25% from 30% over four years. 

February 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Dalton Got His Gun : The lodestar of the Hollywood blacklist was all that his fans said he was--and less. (STEFAN KANFER, 27 February 2015, City Journal)

Between film assignments, Trumbo found time to write Johnny Got His Gun. The novel's protagonist is a limbless, faceless veteran of World War I, whose brain narrates what he cannot speak. At first glance, Johnny could pass for the tract of a conscientious objector, ruing the results of Woodrow Wilson's call to "make the world safe for democracy." But the book had a hidden agenda: Trumbo had fallen under the spell of Communism and now marched in lockstep with the Party line: Germany and Britain, preparing for all-out war, should duke it out themselves. Never mind the reports of Nazi atrocities; America must not get involved in this European squabble.

The Communist Daily Worker was delighted to serialize Johnny in its pages, and with good reason: the U.S.S.R. had recently signed a nonaggression pact with the Third Reich. But in June 1941, Hitler's armies invaded Russia. Overnight, Johnny was excised from the Worker's pages. Now, combat was not only moral but mandatory. When Trumbo's publishers chose not to keep his novel in print, he went along with their decision. Trumbo sees no inconsistency in the writer's position. "By 1941," the book straight-facedly reports, "Hitler had become a menace to the whole world, and when the United States entered the war against Germany in December of that year Trumbo saw 'no other way than to support it.'"

Journalist Allan Ryskind has a different take on Trumbo's about-face. In Hollywood Traitors, an exposé of the Communist film colony from the 1930s onward, he asserts that Trumbo's "fanatical cries for an isolationist foreign policy" were "nothing more than a shrewd tactic solely designed to please Moscow. . . . It's a pretty good bet that Trumbo and his 'anti-fascist' comrades would never have turned against the Fuehrer if he hadn't betrayed his friend in the Kremlin."

And then came 1947, the year the House Un-American Activities Committee visited Hollywood. The congressmen said that they were in pursuit of show business "subversives." Trumbo argues that the committee members were more interested in hunting headlines than in tracking down Reds. In any case, the leftist actors, directors, and writers turned out to have been pseudo-revolutionaries, singing "Arise, Ye Prisoners of Starvation" around their swimming pools. That hardly mattered to HUAC. It issued scores of subpoenas, demanding that each witness name the names of his comrades and fellow travelers. When ten men--among them Dalton Trumbo--refused, they were cited for contempt, sent to jail, and blacklisted from the business. That list soon expanded to include those whose crimes varied from Party membership to the signing of a petition or attendance at meetings that met with the congressmen's disapproval.

At this point, Trumbo portrays its subject as a martyr to Cold War hysteria. In fact, the scenarist remained loyal to the Kremlin and subservient to its world view throughout his investigation and imprisonment, and afterward. After V-E Day, Joseph Stalin renewed hostilities with the West. Earl Browder, who as head of the American Communist Party during the 1940s had encouraged a rapprochement between socialism and democracy, was deposed. Ryskind reports Trumbo's response: "It comes down to this, if Lenin was right, then Browder was wrong and vice versa. I prefer to believe that Lenin was right." Trumbo didn't leave the Party until 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev's speech stated what honest historians had known for decades: Stalin was a mass murderer, responsible for the death of some 20 million of his own people through deportation, mock trials and executions, and mass starvation--not to mention those who died because he had strengthened Hitler's hand.

Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


These Concentrated Solar Arrays Produce 50% More Power Than Normal Panels (Ben Schiller, 2/27/15, Co.Exist)

 Researchers from Penn State University and the University of Illinois have developed a smaller, consumer-sized CPV system that gets around some of the normal disadvantages of CPV and maximizes its advantages. Though at an early stage, it could allow homeowners to buy into higher-efficiency cells by reducing the cost of tracking.

The system has two main innovations. First the cells, which were developed at the University of Illinois, are very small: only tenths of a millimeter across compared to cells that are normally centimeters-squared. Second, the tracking system reverses the way things are normally done. The "microcells" are laid onto a piece of plastic, then sandwiched between two bubbled layers of optics. During the day, the middle layer moves slowly against the static outer layers, so it's always got enough light.

"Instead of pointing all your optics at the sun, all your optics remain fixed and the solar cells move to follow the focal point," explains Chris Giebink, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Penn State.

As yet, the technology has only reached the prototype stage. But the results so far are impressive. The system captured 70% of available optical light and generated 50% more power than a conventional silicon solar panel (which has efficiency of about 20%).

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Unlikely Winners of Greece's Surrender (Mark Gilbert, 2/26/15, Bloomberg View)

The Greek government's apparent capitulation in debt negotiations with its euro partners makes it less likely that Athens will be forced out of the common currency. The real winners, though, are the European governments who have stuck with spending cuts in the face of mounting domestic opposition. They don't have to worry about a successful austerity renegade giving ammunition to their opponents.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


Christie's Budget: Flat Funding for Schools, Towns (HEATHER HADDON AND JOSH DAWSEY, Feb. 24, 2015, WSJ)

A plan released Tuesday by a commission convened by the Christie administration called for the current state pension system to be frozen, to align future benefits for state workers with those found in the private sector and to start a type of defined-benefit pension plan that more closely mirrors investment returns.

In return, the state would constitutionally guarantee annual payments into the pension system, which could begin at $2.6 billion a year and grow annually.

Mr. Christie's proposed budget, which includes no significant changes to tax policy, calls for a $1.3 billion payment into the state's underfunded pension system.

That is the largest single payment made under any governor, but falls short of the more than $3 billion originally scheduled for the fiscal year beginning in July.

State Democrats and public- sector unions criticized Mr. Christie's call for further changes to the pension system, saying workers already made concessions when the governor agreed to pay more into the pension system in 2011.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


It's true: Americans like to drink bad coffee ( Roberto A. Ferdman February 24, 2015, Washington Post)

[P]eople in this country, on the whole, are actually drinking worse coffee today than they have in the past. And the reason appears to be that they value cheapness over quality -- and convenience over everything. "A lot of people in America would take a sip of single origin high-end coffee and not appreciate the taste," said Howard Telford, an industry analyst at market research firm Euromonitor.

"Price is important because if you can't afford it, you can't buy it, but convenience is the one thing that's really changing trends these days." Indeed, the bulk of this country runs not on single-drip artisanal coffee, but standard, pre-ground coffee, which, by most coffee snobs' measures, is one of coffee's most inferior forms.

Only about 8 percent of the coffee beans Americans buy are fresh whole beans, which upscale coffee brewers, like Blue Bottle, will tell you is the much better way to buy coffee beans. And ground coffee isn't just outpacing whole bean coffee -- it's increasing its lead, each and every year. [...]

But while the high-end coffee world imagines a country in which everyone can have fresh, ground beans delivered to their doorstep, the bulk of America is still perfectly happy drinking the basic stuff.

And the high end drinkers would fail a taste test.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


More Than 1 Million People Pick New Health-Law Plans (LOUISE RADNOFSKY,  Feb. 25, 2015, WSJ)

About 1.2 million people who bought coverage on HealthCare.gov in 2014 dropped their health plan and picked a new one through the site for 2015, the Obama administration said Wednesday.

The extent of people's willingness to consider shifting to a different insurance carrier came as a surprise to federal officials, said Andy Slavitt, a former top executive at UnitedHealth Group who is now principal deputy administrator at Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and will become acting administrator on Monday.

"This is a much more active consumer than anybody expected," Mr. Slavitt said, noting that in other programs such as the federal employees' health plan, or Medicare prescription drug benefits, as few as 10% of customers changed plans from year to year. "We wanted to create maximum choice while we had maximum consumer protection," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


The day an ancient and very wonderful sport died : Farewell to the great hare-coursing slipper Garrett 'Garry' Kelly (Jeremy Clarke, 2/28/15, The Spectator)

In 1997 I was sent up to Great Altcar in Lancashire to report on the Waterloo Cup for a newspaper. To give me the best possible view of the action, the organisers put me in the 'shy' with the slipper. The 'shy' is a canvas screen hide past which the hares are driven by flag-waving beaters. The beaters encouraged individual hares to move forward by saying to them, 'Ah! Ha!' Knowing absolutely nothing, I crouched down out of sight clutching my notebook and biro.

The slipper that year was the great Garrett 'Garry' Kelly, slipper of 17 Waterloo Cups. Garry was dressed in cloth cap, hunting frock-coat, jodhpurs, jodhpur boots and ankle covers. While waiting for the first hare to be flushed, he and the coupled pair of coursing greyhounds stood quietly, the dogs' skin crawling with anticipation. Then a hare made a bolt for it, shooting past the shy and across the open coursing ground. The crowd lining the grass bank roared. Once the dogs had clapped eyes on the hare, 180 pounds of sinew and muscle strained forward towards what has been the object of its desire for 3,000 years. Garry reined them in with all of his might but only partial success.

Now the slipper must tell at a glance if the hare is old, fat, injured, deformed or unwell. If she is any of these, he lets her go. A diarrhoea-encrusted rump, for example, is a laissez-passer. The only thing that will do is a fit hare that will test the dogs' agility and stamina. If the hare is a good one, the slipper walks the madly bucking dogs out of the shy, and makes sure that both have the hare firmly in their sights. (The dogs' eyeballs by this stage are nearly popping out of their sockets.) He ushers them forward, first slowly, then at a rush, until the hare has her regulation 80-yard start on them and the dogs are flowing like dolphins under the restraint of the leash. On the leaping greyhounds' upbound, if possible, he slips them, and they are away and going faster than cheetahs, with four yards of leash uncurling in the air after them.

Great slippers are born, not made. Garry Kelly was a one-off. He was taught first by his father, who in turn learned slipping from the doyen of the Irish slippers Mick Horan. Garry was also taught by Jimmy Rimmer, who slipped the Waterloo Cup from the 1930s to the 1960s. Garry's slipping style was his own: flamboyant, balletic even. To see him on tiptoe, arms elegantly outstretched, the leash snaking through the air in the wake of the stretching dogs, was to see the work of a master, and it produced in this onlooker, at least, the same feeling of emotion that the Spanish like to describe as duende.

It amazes me, now, to think that I was given the opportunity to spend the first day of the 1997 Waterloo Cup in the shy with Garry Kelly. You'd think he'd have been cheesed off at having to share his hide with an ignorant reporter. Not a bit of it. He talked to me as familiarly as if I were his old mother. If a course went on for too long, it always disturbed him. 'Dear, oh dear, oh dear,' he'd say to me after an usually long course. 'They'll sleep well tonight, those dogs.'

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


J-Lo sparks quest to find 'first editions' of The Iliad (Alison Flood, 18 February 2015, The Guardian)

A scene in Jennifer Lopez's new film in which her character is given a supposed first edition of The Iliad has prompted viewers to attempt to find their own first edition of an epic poem composed at least 2,000 years before the invention of the printing press.

According to books marketplace AbeBooks, since Lopez's film The Boy Next Door was released in the US on 23 January, "The Iliad, first edition" has been its top search term, ahead of To Kill A Mockingbird. AbeBooks attributes this to a scene in the film in which Lopez's character, a high-school teacher, is given a hardback copy of the book by the teenager with whom she is to go on to have a dangerous affair.

"Oh my God - this is a first edition? I can't accept this, it must have cost a fortune," she tells her admirer. "It was a buck at a garage sale - one man's trash..." he replies.


Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is out to emancipate the Land of Lincoln (George F. Will, 2/25/15, Washington Post)

After more than a dozen credit-rating downgrades in five years, Illinois has the lowest rating among the states. Unfunded public employees' pension liabilities are estimated, perhaps conservatively, at $111 billion, the nation's largest such deficit as a percentage of state revenue. Currently, public pensions consume nearly 25 percent of general state revenues. The state owes vendors $6.4 billion in unpaid bills, and more than 1 million people have left Illinois for less dysfunctional states in the last 15 years. Debt per resident is about $24,989, compared with $7,094 in neighboring Indiana.

Four of the previous nine governors went to prison, so, Rauner says, "people know we've had bad people in charge." Bad but routine practices are astonishing. Some legislators practice law, specializing in real estate tax appeals: They are paid a portion of what they save clients by reducing the clients' bills under the laws the legislators have written.

Rauner says previous governors from both parties have been complicit in the unionization of about 93 percent of government employees. Unionization began during the 14 years (1977-1991) of Republican Gov. Jim Thompson. Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), now an inmate, instituted "card- check" unionization. Rauner says union organizers would tell individuals: Sign the card or else -- we know where your wife works and your children go to school.

Rauner is a tall, confident, relaxed man with a powerful voice and a plan to break "a totally rigged system." The plan includes structural reforms necessary to enable lasting policy reforms.

By executive order, Rauner has stopped the government from collecting "fair share" fees for unions from state employees who reject joining a union. This, he says, violates First Amendment principles by compelling people to subsidize speech with which they disagree. The unions might regret challenging this in federal court: If the case reaches the Supreme Court and it overturns the 1977 decision that upheld "fair shares," this would end the practice nationwide.

Rauner hopes to ban, as some states do, public employees unions from making political contributions, whereby they elect the employers with whom they negotiate their compensation. Rauner notes that an owner of a small firm that does business with Illinois's government is forbidden to make political contributions. Rauner also hopes to enable counties and local jurisdictions to adopt right-to-work laws, thereby attracting businesses that will locate only where there are such laws.

He hopes the legislature will empower voters to ratify changes to the state constitutional provision that says public pensions can never be "diminished or impaired." He also proposes shifting state employees from unaffordable defined-benefit plans to a more affordable plan for the state. Furthermore, he hopes to end practices that now have more than 11,000 retirees receiving six-figure pensions.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Robear: the bear-shaped nursing robot who'll look after you when you get old (Stuart Dredge, 27 February 2015, The Guardian)

A number of companies have explored the idea of humanoid robots as future home-helpers for elderly people. The latest experiment from Japan is distinctly more bear-shaped, though.

Meet Robear, an experimental nursing-care robot developed by the RIKEN-SRK Collaboration Center for Human-Interactive Robot Research and Sumitomo Riko Company.

Unveiled this month, the robot is designed to lift patients out of beds and into wheelchairs, as well as helping those who need assistance to stand up. Robear weighs in at 140kg, and is the successor to heavier robots RIBA and RIBA-II.

"We really hope that this robot will lead to advances in nursing care, relieving the burden on caregivers today," said Toshiharu Mukai, leader of the project's robot sensor systems research team.

Someone has to do those jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


10 Things to Know About Negative Bond Yields (Mohamed A. El-Erian, 2/27/15, Bloomberg View)

 The seemingly illogical willingness of investors to pay issuers to borrow their money is neither irrational nor driven by just noncommercial considerations (such as regulatory requirements or forced risk aversion). As the European Central Bank prepares to start its own large-scale purchasing program next week, some investors believe they could make capital gains on such negative yielding investments.

There are many immediate reasons to justify this investor optimism. The impact of the ECB's quantitative easing program (whose scheduled purchase of government bonds is likely to run into a relative scarcity of supply) is amplified by still-sluggish growth, "low-flation" and the threat of deflation. Geopolitical developments also play a role, along with messy national and regional politics in Europe.

 These immediate drivers benefit from a supportive secular and structural context that ranges from the dampening effects of demographics to the impact of technological innovations and growing inequality.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Putin's Gas Problem (Paul R. Gregory, 2/25/15, Project Syndicate)

[C]ontrary to what Putin seems to believe, neither Europe nor Ukraine is likely to be the biggest loser in Russia's effort to redirect its gas exports. Gazprom receives two-thirds of its hard-currency revenues from Europe, and a period of falling exports and domestic economic crisis is not the ideal time to play games with your best customer.

Indeed, the European market is already slipping away. Gazprom's European sales plummeted in the third quarter of last year and fell by 25% in the fourth quarter. The slump in demand is coming at a time when Russia is desperate for hard currency, owing to sanctions that exclude it from credit markets. Its major companies are facing huge debt refinancing needs, its currency reserves are collapsing, its economy is heading toward a deep recession, and the ruble is plumbing new lows.

In redirecting its exports, Russia is in effect demanding that Europe spend billions of euros on new infrastructure to replace a perfectly good pipeline, only to satisfy Putin's desire to cause trouble in Ukraine. In January, Gazprom's CEO, Alexey Miller, imperiously brushed off European concerns, stating, "We have informed our European partners, and now it is up to them to put in place the necessary infrastructure starting from the Turkish-Greek border."

The initial reaction in Europe was that Putin either was bluffing or had taken leave of his senses. "The decision makes no economic sense," was how Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission's vice president for energy union, put it. "We're good customers. We're paying a lot of money. We're paying on time, and we're paying in hard currency. So I think we should be treated accordingly."

Putin's erratic and economically oblivious policies are frittering away the last remnants of what was once Gazprom's monopoly position in the European gas market. Clearly, if Europe is to spend billions on pipelines, it would be better off doing so as part of an effort to diversify its sources of natural gas, rather than deepen its dependence on Russia. After all, memories are long, especially when it comes to frigid winters of unheated homes and closed factories.

Europe Isn't Really Worried About Putin (Leonid Bershidsky, 2/25/15, Bloomberg View)

For all the alarmist rhetoric about Russian barbarians at the gate, NATO countries are reluctant to put their money where their mouth is. Only the countries closest to Russia's borders are increasing their military spending this year, while other, bigger ones are making cuts. Regardless of what their leaders say about Vladimir Putin, they don't seem to believe he's a real threat to the West.

In a paper released today by the European Leadership Network think tank, Denitsa Raynova and Ian Kearns analyzed this year's spending plans for 14 NATO countries. The U.K., Germany, Canada, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria will cut military expenditure, and France will keep it at last year's level. Only six countries -- Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Romania and the Netherlands -- will increase their defense spending. Four of them are Russia's close neighbors, and the fifth, the Netherlands, suffered greatly this year from the Ukraine conflict when an airliner filled with Dutch citizens was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

Among the six, however, only proud little Estonia will spend more than 2 percent of its economic output on defense. 

The only people worried about Putin are the Russians and nostalgic neocons.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


French National Front candidate says Jews blocking his musical career (JTA, February 27, 2015)

A French amateur singer affiliated with the far-right National Front party said his musical career is being blocked by Jews because he is not part of their clique.

Xavier Sainty, a candidate for National Front from the central Allier region in the upcoming regional elections, made the statement on social media earlier this month, the Liberation daily reported on Wednesday.

"Even in show business I am blocked in all directions, and a Jewish producer, 'Patrick Jaoul' told me to my face: 'as you're not Jewish you'll never be on television or the radio and you'll be barred because we have money and it all belongs to us, you'll never make it.'"

Using the Hebrew word for non-Jews, Sainty added: "This is how we are treated by these governments for decades, we the 'goyim.' For a real French revolution, for Marine Le Pen and fast!"

As long as he hates Muslims too, right?

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


The Train Keeps Rolling, 50 Years On (MARC MYERS, Feb. 25, 2015, WSJ)

The 1965 song opens like a movie, with shimmering strings, spiritual humming and a far-off horn--an orchestral scene-setter that signals a biblical storm has passed and the sun is emerging. As the four-bar introduction ends, the cooing voices of Curtis Mayfield and Sam Gooden, backed by Fred Cash, begin singing: "People get ready / There's a train a-comin' / You don't need no baggage / You just get on board."

The Impressions' "People Get Ready," a gospel-soul ballad about a train to the Promised Land, was released as a single 50 years ago this month. An obvious metaphor at the time for hope and racial equality, the song was written by Mayfield in the late summer of 1964 and recorded that October. The song's gentle, optimistic message came just months after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, and its sermon-like delivery, cadence and imagery were reminiscent of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech of August 1963. [...]

Born in Chicago in 1942, Mayfield found solace in the church, a religious and cultural beacon for the black community hemmed in by segregation. At age 7, Mayfield sang with a local gospel quintet, and he started his own group, the Alphatones, at age 14, where he began songwriting. Two years after he joined the Roosters, the vocal group changed its name to the Impressions in 1958. As northern gospel singers became comfortable with pop, many were highly marketable. RCA signed Sam Cooke and Columbia signed Aretha Franklin in 1960, while ABC-Paramount signed Mayfield and the Impressions the following year.

But Mayfield wasn't interested in recording brassy, swinging albums like those produced by the label for Eydie Gormé, Steve Lawrence and Ray Charles. His music required a more sensitive, sweet touch. "In 1962, the Impressions were appearing at New York's Apollo Theater so I went up there to hang out with the guys," said the group's longtime arranger-producer Johnny Pate, 91, during a recent phone conversation. "Curtis said people at ABC wanted to talk to me. I wasn't keen on going, since I didn't think much of R&B at the time. I was a jazz guy. So Curtis offered to come along. When we walked in, they closed the door, handed me a contract and asked me how much [money] I wanted to produce and arrange the Impressions. I signed on."

Since Mayfield didn't read or write music, he'd play the songs he wrote on his guitar for Mr. Pate, giving him enough on which to build arrangements for recording sessions. For "People Get Ready," which appeared on their fourth album for ABC, the group met at Mr. Pate's house in Chicago, where Mayfield handed Mr. Pate a tape. "It was just Curtis strumming on guitar and singing 'People Get Ready,'" Mr. Pate said. "I felt it immediately."

Mr. Pate, who began his career as a jazz bassist and led trios, wrote a lush, lullabylike score, while Mayfield created the vocal arrangements. The rhythm and vocal tracks for "People Get Ready" were recorded at Universal Recording in Chicago, while the "sweetening"--Mr. Pate's word for strings and orchestration--was added afterward. Mr. Pate included orchestra bells to lighten the mood and had the strings pluck in places to enforce the rhythmic feel of the song. Mayfield added his soulful and now-famous guitar solo.

It's the race case where the ofay cover is even better:<br><br>

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Jeb Bush was very, very good at CPAC today (Chris Cillizza, February 27, 2015, Washington Post)

Bush was energetic -- maybe due at least in part to nervousness in facing a testy crowd -- and informed. He refused to back down -- particularly on immigration -- from positions that he knew would be unpopular with the crowd.  He insisted that Republicans were good at opposing things but bad at "being for things." He was composed. He was up to the moment. He looked, in a word, presidential.

By contrast, the opposition, which had promised a major walkout when Bush entered the room, seemed to fizzle.  Check out this video of the protests -- and count how many reporters there are versus how many actual protesters there are.

Jeb was also helped by a friendlier-than-I-expected interrogator in Hannity who, while he did ask him about immigration and Common Core, threw the former Florida governor any number of lifelines by touting his conservative record on affirmative action, taxes and school vouchers. (Hannity even added in a Terri Schiavo reference.) And, Bush's campaign team smartly made sure that the CPAC ballroom had its fair share of their own people in it -- ensuring a built-in cheering section to overcome the boos.

Good luck, smart organization and a solid performance in the face of adversity is what successful presidential campaigns are built on.  

The biggest problem his opponents face is that he actual political record is more conservative and effective than theirs.  

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Rebels Accuse Saudis of Fueling Unrest to Divide Yemen (SHUAIB ALMOSAWA and KAREEM FAHIM, FEB. 26, 2015, NY Times)

The leader of the Houthi rebel group here, in an unusually combative speech Thursday that reflected frustration by the rebel movement at its deepening isolation, accused Saudi Arabia, Yemen's powerful neighbor, of financing armed opponents and trying to divide the country.

The Houthis control the capital, Sana, in northern Yemen, and much of the nation's military. Yet their authority faces a sharp challenge from Yemen's former president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who fled to the southern city of Aden on Saturday and, with the backing of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies, declared that he was still the country's legitimate leader.

One of the most glaring examples of an oppressed Shi'a population and American ideals vs the salafist Sunni.  The Houthi are the majority in Northern Yemen and get to govern themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


Russian diplomat accuses Washington of taking "destructive" stance (Associated Press Feb. 27, 2015)

A senior Russian diplomat has accused the U.S. administration of taking a "destructive" stance in bilateral relations and warned that Moscow could retaliate.

No, it can't.

Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM


Scott Walker's Awful Answer on ISIS (JIM GERAGHTY, February 26, 201, National Review)

First, taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn't quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups. 

Second, it is insulting to the protesters, a group I take no pleasure in defending. The protesters in Wisconsin, so furiously angry over Walker's reforms and disruptive to the procedures of passing laws, earned plenty of legitimate criticism. But they're not ISIS. They're not beheading innocent people. They're Americans, and as much as we may find their ideas, worldview, and perspective spectacularly wrongheaded, they don't deserve to be compared to murderous terrorists.

One important thing to keep in mind is that candidates with ideas tend to be more respectful of their opponents because they're willing to debate them.  They just think their ideas are better.

You tend to try and delegitimize your opponents when you can't win the argument, which is why the GOP has faced such ludicrous vitriol for the past forty years.

Is Liberalism Exhausted? (Jonah Goldberg, February 27, 2015, RCP)

MSNBC had thought it could mimic Fox News' success from the left. The problem is that it never understood what Fox News is. MSNBC's execs saw it through the prism of their own ideological bias and so ended up offering a left-wing caricature of a caricature. Contrary to myth, Fox (where I am a contributor) is in fact an actual news network, albeit with prime-time opinion shows. Meanwhile, a study by Pew found that MSNBC was 85 percent opinion. 

The more salient point is that there's such a small appetite for that opinion. As Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal recently observed, Barack Obama has successfully moved his party to the left but has failed utterly to bring the rest of the country with him. [...]

Meanwhile, the cultural left has disengaged from mainstream political arguments, preferring instead the comforts of identity-politics argy-bargy. You judge political movements not by their manifestos but by where they put their passion. And on the left these days, the only things that arouse passion are arguments about race and gender.

For instance, the feminist agitprop drama "The Vagina Monologues" is now under fire from the left because it is not inclusive of men who believe they are women. Patricia Arquette was criticized from the right for her Oscar acceptance rant about women's wage equality, but the criticism paled in comparison to the bile from the left, which flayed her for leaving out the plight of the transgendered and other members of the Coalition of the Oppressed.

Such critiques may seem like a cutting-edge fight for the future among the protagonists, but looked at from the political center, it suggests political exhaustion. At least old-fashioned Marxists talked about the economy.

It's even worse than Mr Goldberg realizes, precisely because the UR has moved his party to the Right.  Where are you even going to find leftwing talking heads to defend his continuance of the WoT, the corporate cronyism of Obamacare, the wage-stifling immigration orders and the obsession with free trade agreements? His ideological allies are all conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


Jeb Bush Defends Stance on Immigration, Education (PATRICK O'CONNOR, Feb. 27, 2015, WSJ)

[H]e stuck by his support for two stances at odds with those of the Republican base. He backed a set of education standards known as Common Core and touted the economic benefits of increased immigration, restating his belief that immigrants in the country illegally should eventually be granted some form of legal status.

The timing of his remarks—on the eve of a highly anticipated appearance before conservative activists at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington—suggests Mr. Bush is willing to court confrontation with some of his party's most committed activists.

"I'm not backing down from something that is a core belief," he declared to rousing applause here at the Club for Growth's annual retreat. "Are we all just supposed to cower because, at the moment, people are upset about something? No way, no how."

The comments were a nod to Mr. Bush's decree in December that, in order for Republicans to reclaim the White House, the next GOP presidential nominee must be willing to "lose the primary to win the general" election.

In a likely preview of the themes Mr. Bush will highlight Friday at CPAC, Mr. Bush touted his efforts to reduce the state government workforce by 13,000.

Mr. Bush told the crowd he lowered taxes every year as governor and drew loud applause when he said he vetoed $2 billion worth of line items in the budget during his eight years in office, rejecting projects and programs advocated by Republicans and Democrats alike.

"They called me Vito Corleone," he joked," referring to the movie "The Godfather."

He also pointed to his efforts to rework Medicaid and end Affirmative Action in higher education and government procurement.

Throughout, Mr. Bush pitched himself as a conservative reformer with a proven record of enacting big changes.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Poll: Most Americans see combating climate change as a moral duty (Reuters, February 27, 2015)

The result of the poll suggests that appeals based on ethics could be key to shifting the debate over climate change in the United States, where those demanding action to reduce carbon emissions and those who resist it are often at loggerheads.

Two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said that world leaders are morally obligated to take action to reduce CO2 emissions. And 72 percent said they were "personally morally obligated" to do what they can in their daily lives to reduce emissions.

"When climate change is viewed through a moral lens it has broader appeal," said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, a grassroots organization that mobilizes faith-based communities on politics and policy issues.

"The climate debate can be very intellectual at times, all about economic systems and science we don't understand. This makes it about us, our neighbors and about doing the right thing."

Dominion imposes duties.

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


Ruble collapse makes bribery more expensive for Russians (Ivana Kottasova, 2/27/15, Money)

Soaring prices and the weak ruble are creating corruption inflation: the cost of an average bribe shot up 37% in 2014.

The typical inducement paid in Moscow last year was 327,000 rubles ($5,300), chief of police Anatoly Yakunin told Russian media.

That's up more than 10 times in just five years. According to the Russian government, the average bung was just 23,000 rubles in 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Fourth-Quarter GDP in U.S. Rose Less Than Prior Estimate (Victoria Stilwell, February 27, 2015, Bloomberg)

Household consumption, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, grew at a 4.2 percent annualized rate in the fourth quarter, the most since the last three months of 2010. It was previously estimated at 4.3 percent. Purchases added 2.8 percentage points to growth.

A smaller gain in spending on goods than previously calculated was almost fully offset by a bigger advance in purchases of services, which grew at a 4.1 percent pace, the most since 2000.

...even though we consume more it costs less.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


The GOP Has An Image Problem with the Middle Class (Peter Wehner, 02.26.2015, Commentary)

[I]f Republicans are doing relatively well on issues, they are doing quite poorly in terms of image and public perception. Most Americans see the GOP lacking in tolerance and empathy for the middle class, and half view it as too extreme. To be precise, 60 percent say the Democratic Party "cares about the middle class" while only 43 percent say the same thing about the Republican Party-a 17 point gap. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed say the Democratic Party "is tolerant and open to all groups of people" versus 35 percent for Republicans. And half of those surveyed say the Republican Party is too extreme while only 36 percent view the Democratic Party as too extreme.

Among independents, more say the Democratic Party is tolerant and open (58 percent v. 33 percent for Republicans) and concerned about the middle class (56 percent v. 40 percent), while by a margin of 16 points, 54 percent to 38 percent, independents say the GOP is too extreme. (Majorities of independents say each party has strong principles, with Republicans having a +9 advantage, 63 percent v. 54 percent, over Democrats.)

About these findings, I'd say several things, the first of which is that Republicans would be foolish to ignore the findings or respond defensively to them. Many Republicans will of course feel these impressions are unfair, the product of biased media coverage and so forth. But they need to understand how the GOP is seen by voters, since accepting there's a problem is the first step toward correcting it.

...is that it casts our most conservative candidate (Jeb) as a moderate who has to fend off an extremist (Walker), thereby making him even more electable.  One of the big problems in 2000 was that W had to defeat the "moderate," making himself seem extreme.  Of course, the same dynamic would make Governor Walker unelectable, a la Romney.

February 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 PM


Investigators find 32,000 emails from former IRS official at heart of tea party scandal (STEPHEN OHLEMACHER, 2/26/15, Associated Press)

IRS officials said the emails could not be recovered. But at a congressional hearing Thursday, IRS Deputy Inspector General Timothy Camus said investigators recovered thousands from old computer tapes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Obama pushes Trans-Pacific Partnership in flurry of local calls (David Nakamura February 26, 2015, Washington Post)

President Obama promoted his trade agenda in a series of local television interviews Thursday as his administration announced a series of small-scale initiatives aimed at boosting exports in rural communities.

The coordinated push comes as the White House is ramping up efforts to win support in Congress for expanded powers to finalize a major free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific region, which the president has called a key priority for his final two years in office.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


In CPAC Speech, Scott Walker Says He Can Take on ISIS (SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, 2/26/15, ABC News)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker compared the nation's fight against ISIS with the thousands of protesters that came to Madison, Wisconsin, in 2011, telling attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference today that he is equipped to take on the terrorist group because of his experience during those protests.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he means he can beat up JoAnna Cameron (at least now that she's 64).

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


The New Net-Neutrality Policy, in Three Simple Phrases (TIM FERNHOLZ, FEB 26 2015, The Atlantic)
No Blocking

Internet providers can't prevent you from accessing "legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices" when you're on the Internet. This is intended to prevent censorship and discrimination of specific sites or services. Some open-Internet advocates worry the phrase "legal content" will create a loophole that might let Internet providers block stuff they see as questionable on copyright grounds without a fair hearing.

No Throttling

Internet providers can't deliberately slow down data from applications or sites on the Internet. That means, for instance, that a broadband company has to let all traffic flow equally, regardless of whether it's coming from a competitor or a streaming video service like Netflix that uses a lot of data.

No Paid Prioritization

Internet providers can't charge content providers extra to bring their data to you faster. That means no Internet "fast lanes," because regulators fear they will lead to degraded service for anyone not willing to pay more.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


The Road from Westphalia (Jessica T. Mathews MARCH 19, 2015, NY Review of Books)

What we have now, "the sole generally recognized basis of what exists of a world order" and the central subject of this book, are the principles of state sovereignty that emerged from a series of negotiations in northern Germany over 350 years ago. Kissinger describes the history of the Peace of Westphalia wonderfully, noting that the Holy Roman Empire alone was represented in those meetings by 178 separate participants from its various states.

From the mass of overlapping rulers--emperors, kings, dukes, popes, archbishops, guilds, cities, etc.--the Peace of Westphalia produced a solution of dazzling simplicity and longevity. The governing unit henceforth would be the state. Borders would be clearly defined and what went on inside those borders (especially the choice of religion) would be decided by its ruler and a matter of no one else's business. In modern terms, the delegates invented and codified state sovereignty, a single authority governing each territory and representing it outside its borders, no authority above states, and no outside interference in states' domestic affairs.

From 1648 until at least the end of the cold war, power became concentrated steadily in the hands of states, though Westphalian principles were never universal. In a historical tour d'horizon, Kissinger traces the different challenges to the Westphalian system--from Russia under the tsars and later the USSR, Japan and China under their respective emperors, India in its pre-British history, and today the Islamic Republic of Iran (in which a state and a religion share sovereignty), and, finally, the Islamist forces that hope to substitute a religious caliphate for secular states. Nonetheless, Westphalia gave birth to international relations as we know them and to the balance of power among legally equal entities. [...]

Across the Atlantic, America's encounter with world order derived from its belief in its special destiny as the engine of human progress. Its history produced a society with, as Kissinger puts it, "congenital ambivalence" between the pursuit of moral principles and national interest. Teddy Roosevelt came close to a synthesis, Kissinger believes, and had he won reelection in 1912 "might have introduced America into the Westphalian system." By bringing America early into World War I he might have thereby changed the course of world history.

Instead, Woodrow Wilson took office, and was all too successful in connecting with what Americans have always wanted to believe about themselves. His genius was to "harness American idealism in the service of great foreign policy undertakings in peacemaking, human rights, and cooperative problem-solving," but his "tragedy" was to "bequeath to the twentieth century's decisive power an elevated foreign policy doctrine unmoored from a sense of history or geopolitics."

When Kissinger's account turns to recent and current events, serious weaknesses surface as he uses this analysis as the sole determinant of American foreign policy. The Iraq war, worthy of close examination because it was by far the greatest foreign policy blunder of recent decades, is wrongly portrayed as having been undertaken in pursuit of Bush's (Wilsonian) Freedom Agenda. While multiple arguments were made by various proponents of the war (ridding the world of a tyrant, bringing democracy to the Middle East, and even improving the chances for an Arab-Israeli peace), the overwhelming case made by the president and his team was that it was the necessary response to the direct threat of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's invocation of the "mushroom cloud" we might see if we did not act was not an offhand remark. The justification of the war as primarily a defense of freedom and democracy came after it turned out that WMDs were not present.

Kissinger's discussion of the war oscillates awkwardly between an effort to justify it (and his contemporary support for it) and criticism of what the hardheaded Kissinger knows to have been a terribly unwise venture. "I supported the decision to undertake regime change in Iraq. I had doubts...about expanding it to nation building." Kissinger has warm words for George W. Bush ("I want to express here my continuing respect and personal affection" ) but immediately afterward notes that attempting to advance American values "by military occupation in a part of the world where they had no historical roots," and expecting "fundamental change" overnight, was unrealistic.

Kissinger's discussion of the war ends on a particularly weak note with the claim that it's too soon to judge because the war may eventually be seen to have catalyzed the Arab Spring: "The advent of electoral politics in Iraq in 2004 almost certainly inspired demands for participatory institutions elsewhere in the region." It is not too soon to know that this view is grasping at straws. The war was almost universally condemned by protest movements and opposition parties across the Arab world. The Iraqi political parties that emerged were largely sectarian, not national, offering exactly the wrong model to others, and in any case they were seen as American creations. 

Ms Mathews is simply confused about what sovereignty has always meant to Americans (and the Anglosphere).  It has a moral component, the consent of the governed, that was lacking in the Westphalian version.  

If we apply this insight to just a few of the topics she touches on:

*Wilson's great failure was not that he intervened late in WWI, but that he sought to vindicate transnationalism rather than popular sovereignty after the war.  The war could only have been worth fighting if we had liberated our allies colonies.

*W's entire case for the Iraq War was indeed to democratize/liberalize Iraq in particular and the region generally.  He allowed Colin Powell and Tony Blair to make the WMD argument because they felt that issue more likely to move their constituencies (the UN and the Labour Party respectively).  But he didn't actually care about the support of either of those groups, scaring the bejeebies out of Mr. Blair by telling him not to sweat the vote because we'd be happy to go it alone.

*And, of course the Arab (Sunni) world protested Iraqi elections, which demonstrated that the Shi'a are the overwhelming mahjority there.  The Sunni and secular Arabs have, likewise, been appalled at victories by Hamas, the Shia of the Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood.  It is precisely popular sovereignty that they are objecting to.  They would prefer an antiquated Westphalian system where a sovereign (unelected gets to dictate the religious practices within his borders (and the political and economic, for that matter).  They are essentially holding out against the End of History.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Jeb Bush and Common Core Misconceptions (JULEANNA GLOVER, 2/26/15, WSJ)

In November, Mr. Bush said that "the rigor of Common Core state standards must be the new minimum in classrooms." He added: "And so for those states that are choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: That's fine. Except you should be aiming even higher and be bolder and raise standards and ask more of our students and the system."

Common Core tests-developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in an effort to build a set of cross-state educational measurements-have been adopted statewide in 43 states. The idea of a national test for all children is an anathema to conservatives, even though many conservatives have consistently supported local and state testing regimes, and a testing component was central to President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, and the most recent House bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act included annual testing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 PM


With This Smartphone-Linked Stethoscope And Thermometer, You Can Play Doctor (Ben Schiller, 2/25/15, Co.Exist)

An increasing number of health care tasks can be done at home because basic medical devices--many times linked to smartphones--are becoming consumer products. Take the CliniCloud, a new digital stethoscope and no-contact thermometer kit. It lets parents take professional readings from their kids and interact with doctors in new ways without leaving the house.

"Having these kinds of tools lets patients know more about themselves," says Andrew Lin, co-founder of CliniCloud. "It's not just going to WebMD and looking up what's wrong with them. It's actual clinical information they can engage their physicians with."

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


U.S. New-Home Sizes Set Record Last Year (NICK TIMIRAOS, 2/25/15, WSJ)
Like waistlines, American homes keep getting bigger.

The median size of completed homes last year hit a new record of 2,415 square feet, according to the Commerce Department.

The inflation of the product is the deflation of the cost.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Wisconsin, Workers and the 2016 Election (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, FEB. 26, 2015, NY Times)

The Republican-dominated Senate in Wisconsin passed a bill this week to weaken the state's private-sector unions. Similar to "right-to-work" laws in 24 other states, the bill would prevent unions from requiring dues or other fees from workers they represent in collective bargaining, a crippling constraint. The Republican-run Assembly is expected to pass the bill next week, and Gov. Scott Walker, who stripped Wisconsin's public employees of collective bargaining rights in 2011 and is now eyeing the Republican presidential nomination, has said he would sign it.

In a nation where the long decline in unions has led to a pervasive slump in wages, Republicans' support for anti-union legislation is at odds with their professed commitments to helping the middle class.

...the question is : are wages the best way to redistribute wealth in the modern economy?

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Weapon of Mass Discovery : How a gamer created 'Bellingcat' and became a world-famous military expert (MEDUZA, 2/25/15)

When he started Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins, who's 35-years-old today, had no professional experience in journalism. He had no connections with human rights organizations and he didn't speak a word of Arabic. In 2012, however, he became known as the man who uncovered the plot to ship illegal arms to Syria. He tracked down Croatian weaponry, proved that Sarin gas was used in the suburbs of Damascus, and got the attention of the British Parliament. What's more, he managed to do all this without leaving his small house in Leicester. The only tool at his disposal, while sitting in the living room among his daughter's scattered toys, was an ASUS laptop.

In his youth, Higgins was expelled from the Department of Journalism at Southampton University. He then became a bank clerk, and the last place he worked at was a lingerie store. He married a woman of Turkish descent, whom he met on ICQ, and in October 2011 they welcomed a daughter into the world. Higgins found himself no longer glued to the computer for 36-hour sessions of World of Warcraft, Fallout, and Command and Conquer. Now he had other priorities. But after six months, he needed something to replace his old habit, and he became interested in the conflict in Syria. Under the pseudonym of Brown Moses, taken from a Frank Zappa song, he became an active commentator on Internet news articles: On the Guardian's website alone, he left about 5,000 comments. Today, he says he was "just bored."

"I guess I'm a bit argumentative," admits Higgins.

In January 2012, he started a blog, where he published his views about the war in Syria and the fighting between the opposition and the forces of Bashar al-Assad. He had no background in weapons, but they became the focus of his investigations. With incredible attention to detail, he meticulously studied the videos and photos that appeared on the Internet. Every evening he sifted through Syrian accounts on YouTube, Twitter, and Google+ (distracted only by the TV series Eastenders and Columbo). When he began, he was following only 15 channels on YouTube. Today, he says the number is closer to 600 channels. Comparing the materials available there, he could, for example, confirm that cluster bombs made in China were being used in Syria. Higgins compiled a database that included information about the use of cluster bombs in 491 separate videos, and added a detailed map. Some journalists say Higgins must have sold weapons, because he knows so much about the subject, but these accusations just make him laugh.

"Before the Arab spring, I knew no more about weapons than the average Xbox owner. I had no knowledge beyond what I'd learned from Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo."

Higgins catalogued tens of thousands of messages on the social networks. The flow of information, which no journalists had time to sift through, began to make some kind of sense. Definite patterns started to emerge from what before had just seemed like "white noise." A few months later, Brown Moses Blog was being read by employees at all the major media outlets, as well as by British and American officials. Higgins' anonymity almost backfired on him: he was accused of having links with the CIA, MI5, MI6, Mossad, and even with the Bilderberg Club.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


Jeb Bush's Sense and Sensibility (Joe Klein, 2/26/15, TIME)

He is a political conservative with a moderate disposition. And after giving his speeches a close read, I find Bush's disposition far more important than his position on any given issue. In fact, it's a breath of fresh air. I disagree with his hard line toward Cuba and the Iran nuclear negotiations, and I look forward to hearing what he has to say about reforming Obamacare. His arguments so far merit consideration, even when one disagrees with them.

There is none of John McCain's chesty bellicosity. Bush makes no false, egregious claims, on issues foreign or domestic. He resists the partisan hyperbole that has coarsened our politics. He even, at one point in his foreign policy speech, praised Obama for the position he has taken on-get a map!-the Baltic states. He proposes a return to the bipartisan foreign policy that was operational when this nation was at its strongest. And he criticizes Obama for the right things: his sloppy rhetoric, his lack of strategy. You don't say "Assad must go" and then let him stay. You don't announce a "pivot" toward Asia-what are you pivoting away from? You don't put human rights above national security, as Obama has done in his arm's-length relationship with Egypt, which is actually fighting ISIS on the ground and in the air.

Bush's economic vision is traditionally Republican. He believes the economy is more likely to grow with lower taxes than with government stimulus. He doesn't bash the rich, but he doesn't offer supply-side voodoo, either. The American "promise is not broken when someone is wealthy," he told the Detroit Economic Club. "It is broken when achieving success is far beyond our imagination." He is worried about middle-class economic stagnation, about the inability of the working poor to rise-his PAC is called Right to Rise. His solution is providing more opportunity rather than income redistribution. We'll see, over time, what he means by that. And he favors reforming the public sector, especially the education and regulatory systems, as a way to create new economic energy. "It's time to challenge every aspect of how government works," he told a national meeting of auto dealers in San Francisco.

This would be a good argument to have in 2016. It is a fundamental challenge to what the Democrats have allowed themselves to become: the party of government workers rather than a defender of the working-, middle-class majority. Bush has already drawn fire for his record as an education reformer, with his support for charter schools and educational standards. But his argument goes beyond that to a more fundamental critique of government. He has praised the work of Philip K. Howard, whose book, The Rule of Nobody, is a road map for de-lawyering and rethinking the regulatory system.

Again, the way Bush talks about governmental sclerosis is the important thing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Argentina judge dismisses bombing cover-up case against president (The Guardian, 26 February 2015)

 Judge Daniel Rafecas said on Thursday that documents originally filed by Nisman failed to meet standards needed to open a formal court investigation.

"I dismiss the case because no crime was committed," Rafecas said.

February 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Fake US aircraft carrier the target in latest Iranian drills (ALI AKBAR DAREINI and ADAM SCHRECK, Feb. 25, 2015, AP) 

With rockets roaring and guns blazing, more than a dozen swarming Iranian speedboats assaulted a replica of a U.S. aircraft carrier Wednesday during large-scale naval drills near the strategically vital entrance of the Persian Gulf. [...]

The drill, named "Great Prophet 9," was held near the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world's oil passes. Iran's regular army carried out naval drills near the strait in December.

4 Iranian Threats That Terrorize Saudi Arabia (Alex Vatanka, February 24, 2015, National Interest)

Iran has long threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world's oil shipments pass. No doubt Tehran would suffer as much as the other Persian Gulf states in such a scenario given its reliance on petroleum revenue. Still, in the event of heightened tensions, the Iranians would have both the motive and the ability to significantly disturb, if not entirely stop, sea traffic at this top global chokepoint.

Iran has at its disposal a combination of anti-ship missiles, such as the Khalij-e Fars (Persian Gulf), mines, midget submarines, and small torpedo boats, which combined can go a long way to disrupting all shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

As with the Iranian missile arsenal, it is again the IRGC that is set to spearhead Tehran's efforts in such a potential conflict arena. In 1985, the Iranians created a naval unit as part of the IRGC. In 2007, this unit, the IRGCN was given full operational control of the Persian Gulf and Iran's regular navy was given the task of operating on the high seas outside of the Strait of Hormuz.

By now, the IRGCN has become slightly larger in terms of manpower than the regular navy. Not only are the Iranians looking to strengthen their grip on the Strait of Hormuz but public statements by naval officials in Tehran suggest that the goal is to increase the Iranian presence both at the Bab-el-Mandeb and the Suez Canal, other important regional chokepoints vital to Saudi Arabia.

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


U.S. Productivity Now Grows Faster Than Jobs. What Changed? (TIMOTHY AEPPEL, 2/25/15, WSJ)

For decades, U.S. productivity and total employment rose in lockstep. From 1953 to 1999, average annual growth in productivity was 2.1%, exactly the same as growth in jobs. As the U.S. grew richer and its workers generated more output with the aid of better machines, it created a correspondingly healthy number of new jobs.

But at the turn of the century, something changed. Since 1999, productivity growth kept rolling along at 2.1%-but job growth has slumped to an average of 0.5%. Part of the problem can be traced to the last recession, which hit the job market hard and was followed by an extremely slow recovery.

Beyond that, economists see two other longer-lasting forces at work: globalization and technological advances. The offshoring of work has helped make U.S. businesses more efficient, while new machines allow the remaining U.S. workers to produce more with less.

"Technological progress has been a big cause--and my prediction for the future is that it will be an even bigger force going forward," says Andrew McAfee, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's business school who studies the trend. Advanced automation keeps pushing up output, he says, "but there's less and less demand for good old-fashioned human labor."

Trying to preserve jobs just reduces productivity and creates wealth less efficienttly.

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


The Price Paradox (Robert Skidelsky, 2/15/15, Project Syndicate)

 In 1923, John Maynard Keynes addressed a fundamental economic question that remains valid today. "[I]nflation is unjust and deflation is inexpedient," he wrote. "Of the two perhaps deflation is...the worse; because it is worse...to provoke unemployment than to disappoint the rentier. But it is not necessary that we should weigh one evil against the other."

The logic of the argument seems irrefutable. [...]

As British economist Roger Bootle pointed out in his 1996 book The Death of Inflation, the price-cutting effects of globalization have been a much more important influence on the price level than the anti-inflation policies of central banks. Indeed, the post-crisis experience of quantitative easing has highlighted monetary policy's relative powerlessness to offset the global deflationary trend. From 2009 to 2011, the BoE pumped £375 billion ($578 billion) into the British economy "to bring inflation back to target." The Fed injected $3 trillion over a slightly longer period. The most that can be claimed for this vast monetary expansion is that it produced a temporary "spike" in inflation.

The old adage applies: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." People cannot be forced to spend money if they have good reasons for not doing so. If business prospects are weak, companies are unlikely to invest; if households are drowning in debt, they are unlikely to go on a spending spree. The ECB is about to discover the truth of this as it starts on its own €1 trillion program of monetary expansion in an effort to stimulate the stagnant eurozone economy.

So what happens to the recovery if we fall into what is euphemistically called "negative inflation"? Until now, the consensus view has been that this would be bad for output and employment. Keynes gave the reason in 1923: "the fact of falling prices," he wrote, "injures entrepreneurs; consequently the fear of falling prices causes them to protect themselves by curtailing their operations."

But many commentators have been cheered by the prospect of falling prices. They distinguish between "benign disinflation" and "bad deflation." Benign disinflation means rising real incomes for lenders, pensioners, and workers, and falling energy prices for industry. All sectors of the economy will spend more, pushing up output and employment (and sustaining the price level, too).

The answer to Keynes's question becomes rather easy once you look at not having to have a job as a good instead of an evil.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


No Child Left Behind and testing help hold schools accountable (PAUL E. PETERSON, 2/25/15, LA Times)

Now, the new Republican Congress is making another effort to revise NCLB,and tests are in the crosshairs. Unions, including United Teachers Los Angeles, oppose them for fear the data will be used to evaluate teachers. Conservatives fear tests will be used to impose "progressive" Common Core standards, which are backed by the White House and designed to set the same broad expectations for all U.S. students.

Civil rights groups, on the other hand, are fighting to keep testing in place. "Now is not the time to make a U-turn in holding states and school districts accountable for providing a quality education to all children," declared Nancy Zirkin, executive director of the influential Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 20 organizations.

Her stance is backed by solid research evidence. Summing up the best studies, Martin West, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, told a congressional committee in January that NCLB "worked to generate modest improvements in student learning, concentrated in math and among the lowest-performing students -- precisely those on whom the law was focused." In L.A. after the law was implemented, student performance improved between 2003 and 2014 by well over a year's worth of learning in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math.

Testing also remains popular with the public. In 2012, the journal Education Next asked a cross section of the American public whether "the federal government [should] ... require that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school." More than 80% of those surveyed responded favorably. In 2014, Education Next asked the public whether it supported "standards for reading and math that are the same across the states [and] will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance." Only 16% opposed the idea.

In Washington, however, interest-group pressure may matter more than public opinion.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Russian Security Council chairman: West wants to destroy Russia's oil industry with sanctions (Associated Press, Feb. 25, 2015)

 The chairman of the Russian Security Council says Western sanctions are threatening the country's oil and gas industry.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Almost 700,000 people in UK have zero-hours contract as main job (Phillip Inman, 25 February 2015, The Guardian)

Nearly 700,000 people are on zero-hours contracts in their main job - a rise of more than 100,000 on a year ago - according to new official figures. 

The rise is likely to trigger renewed debate over the widespread use of contracts that offer no guarantee of hours and only those benefits guaranteed by law, such as holiday pay.

Thanks, Maggie.
Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Bush Taps Leading Reformocon as Policy Aide (ELIANA JOHNSON, February 24, 2015, National Review)

Jeb Bush has tapped a leading member of the "reform conservative" movement, longtime Capitol Hill veteran and policy director of the YG Network April Ponnuru, as a policy adviser. Ponnuru, who also happens to be the wife of National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru and a former vice president of NR and executive director of NR's non-profit arm, the National Review Institute, was one of the Republican intellectual leaders profiled in Sam Tanenhaus's New York Times Magazine piece last July, which asked bluntly, "Can the GOP be a party of ideas?" 

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


By Standards Of Immigration Hawks, All 2016 GOP Contenders Support 'Amnesty' (JAMIE WEINSTEIN, 2/15/15, The Daily Caller)

[D]espite the issue garnering so much ink, the reality is every major candidate supports an immigration policy that includes an "amnesty," at least as defined by the GOP's most ardent and vocal immigration hawks.

Much has been made of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's support for a pathway to citizenship for most of the illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States. But conservative grassroots stalwarts like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also envision some type of normalization for illegals living in the country.

Cruz has said he would support ultimately legalizing most of the undocumented immigrants in the country, though without providing a pathway to citizenship. [...]

At the Republican Governors Association meeting last fall, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who will be visiting South Carolina this week as he considers a 2016 presidential run, said a pathway to citizenship may be necessary.

"My sense is I don't like the idea of citizenship when people jump the line, [but] we may have to do it," he said. "It may be a laborious and tough process. I would never say we would never do it. ... At the end of the day it may be necessary."

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is a less reluctant supporter of a pathway to citizenship.

"Once the border is secure, and not before, we should provide an opportunity for those who came here illegally seeking to work for a better life to gain legal status rather quickly, if and only if they are willing to do all that is required," he wrote in National Review in 2013. "We should deport immediately those who engage in criminal activity. We should bar those seeking public assistance from receiving welfare or unemployment benefits for a substantial period of time."

He continued: "As for a pathway to citizenship: For folks who came here illegally but are willing to gain proficiency in English, pay a fine, and demonstrate a willingness to assimilate, we should require them to work here and pay taxes for a substantial period of time after obtaining legal status before they have the opportunity to begin the process of applying for U.S. citizenship."

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


The Robots Are Coming (John Lanchester, 3/05/15, London Review of Books)

Watson's achievement is a sign of how much progress has been made in machine learning, the process by which computer algorithms self-improve at tasks involving analysis and prediction. The techniques involved are primarily statistical: through trial and error the machine learns which answer has the highest probability of being correct. That sounds rough and ready, but because, as per Moore's law, computers have become so astonishingly powerful, the loops of trial and error can take place at great speed, and the machine can quickly improve out of all recognition. The process can be seen at work in Google's translation software. Translate was a page on Google into which you could type text and see it rendered into a short list of other languages. When the software first launched, in 2006, it was an impressive joke: impressive because it existed at all, but a joke because the translations were wildly inaccurate and syntactically garbled. If you gave up on Google Translate at that point, you have missed many changes. The latest version of Translate comes in the form of a smartphone app, into which you can not only type but also speak text, and not just read the answer but also have it spoken aloud. The app can scan text using the phone's camera, and translate that too. For a language you know, and especially with text of any length, Translate is still somewhere between poor and embarrassing - though handy nonetheless, if you momentarily can't remember what the German is for 'collateralised debt obligation' or 'haemorrhoid'. For a language you don't know, it can be invaluable; and it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the marvel that you can install on your phone a device which will translate Malay into Igbo, or Hungarian into Japanese, or indeed anything into anything, for free.

Google Translate hasn't got better because roomfuls of impecunious polymaths have been spending man-years copying out and cross-referencing vocabulary lists. Its improvement is a triumph of machine learning. The software matches texts in parallel languages, so that its learning is a process of finding which text is statistically most likely to match the text in another language. Translate has hoovered up gigantic quantities of parallel texts into its database. A particularly fertile source of these useful things, apparently, is the European Union's set of official publications, which are translated into all Community languages. There was a point a few years ago when the software, after improving for a bit, stopped doing so, as the harvesting of parallel texts began to gather in texts which had already been translated by Translate. I don't know how, but they must have fixed that problem, because it's been getting better again. You could argue that this isn't really 'learning' at all, and indeed it probably isn't in any human sense. The process is analogous, though, in terms of the outcome, if that outcome is defined as getting better at a specific task.

Put all this together, and we can start to see why many people think a big shift is about to come in the impact of computing and technology on our daily lives. Computers have got dramatically more powerful and become so cheap that they are effectively ubiquitous. So have the sensors they use to monitor the physical world. The software they run has improved dramatically too. We are, Brynjolfsson and McAfee argue, on the verge of a new industrial revolution, one which will have as much impact on the world as the first one. Whole categories of work will be transformed by the power of computing, and in particular by the impact of robots.

For many years the problem with robots has been that computers are very good at things we find difficult but very bad at things we find easy. They are brilliant at chess but terrible at the cognitive skills we take for granted, one of the most important being something scientists call SLAM, for 'simultaneous localisation and mapping': the ability to look at a space and see it and know how to move through it, all simultaneously, and with good recall. That, and other skills essential to advanced robotics, is something computers are useless at. A robot chess player can thrash the best chess player in the world, but can't (or couldn't) match the motor and perceptual skills of a one-year-old baby. A famous demonstration of the principle came in 2006, when scientists at Honda staged a public unveiling of their amazing new healthcare robot, the Asimo. Asimo is short (4'3") and white with a black facemask and a metal backpack. It resembles an unusually small astronaut. In the video Asimo advances towards a staircase and starts climbing while turning his face towards the audience as if to say, à la Bender from Futurama, 'check out my shiny metal ass'. He goes up two steps and then falls over. Tittering ensues. It is evident that a new day in robotics has not yet dawned.

That, though, was nine years ago, and Moore's law and machine learning have been at work. The new generation of robots are not ridiculous. Take a look online at the latest generation of Kiva robots employed by Amazon in the 'fulfilment centres' where it makes up and dispatches its parcels. (Though pause first to enjoy the full resonance of 'fulfilment centres'.) The robots are low, slow, accessorised in a friendly orange. They can lift three thousand pounds at a time and carry an entire stack of shelves in one go. Directed wirelessly along preprogrammed paths, they swivel and dance around each other with surprising elegance, then pick up their packages according to the instructions printed on automatically scanned barcodes. They are not alarming, but they are inexorable, and they aren't going away: the labour being done by these robots is work that will never again be done by people. It looks like the future predicted by Wassily Leontief, a Nobel laureate in economics, who said in 1983 that 'the role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses in agricultural production was first diminished and then eliminated by the introduction of tractors.'

Large categories of work, especially work that is mechanically precise and repetitive, have already been automated; technologists are working on the other categories, too. Brynjolfsson and McAfee:

Rodney Brooks, who co-founded iRobot, noticed something else about modern, highly automated factory floors: people are scarce, but they're not absent. And a lot of the work they do is repetitive and mindless. On a line that fills up jelly jars, for example, machines squirt a precise amount of jelly into each jar, screw on the top, and stick on the label, but a person places the empty jars on the conveyor belt to start the process. Why hasn't this step been automated? Because in this case the jars are delivered to the line 12 at a time in cardboard boxes that don't hold them firmly in place. This imprecision presents no problem to a person (who simply sees the jars in the box, grabs them, and puts them on the conveyor belt), but traditional industrial automation has great difficulty with jelly jars that don't show up in exactly the same place every time.

It's that problem, and others like it, that many observers think robots are beginning to solve. This isn't just a First World issue. The Taiwanese company Foxconn is the world's largest manufacturer of consumer electronics. If you're reading this on an electronic gadget, there is a good chance that it was made in one of Foxconn's factories, since the firm makes iPhones, iPads, iPods, Kindles, Dell parts, and phones for Nokia and Motorola and Microsoft. It employs about 1.2 million people around the world, many of them in China. At least that's how many it currently employs, but the company's founder, Terry Gou, has spoken of an ambition to buy and deploy a million robots in the company's factories. This is nowhere near happening at the moment, but the very fact that the plan has been outlined makes the point: it isn't only jobs in the rich part of the world that are at risk from robots. The kind of work done in most factories, and anywhere else that requires repetitive manual labour, is going, going, and about to be gone.

And it's not just manual labour. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Scott Walker's Lagging Indicators (Christopher Flavelle, 2/24/15, Bloomberg)

At the close of 2010, a year and a half after the recession officially ended, Wisconsin could claim one of the better economic recoveries in the country. Employment had grown at a faster clip than in most states, and the value of Wisconsin's publicly traded companies was up almost 40 percent. Tax revenue, a sign of economic health, had risen more than 50 percent.

Then Scott Walker became governor. Over the four years that followed, Wisconsin's economic performance ranked 35th in the country, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States, which tracks the change in a series of economic indicators. The state has lagged Michigan (3rd place), Illinois (14th), Iowa (18th) and Minnesota (19th).

Walker's entry into the top tier of Republican presidential candidates means how well Wisconsin stacks up against its neighbors is more than just an extension of the Badgers-Gophers rivalry. It raises questions about whether he can plausibly claim to offer better economic growth nationwide than he achieved in his own state.

Takes real effort to underperform economically under prevailing conditions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


10 Top Picks of 2015 (Consumer Reports,  February 24, 2015)

Best overall: Tesla Model S

For all of the impressive new vehicles released in 2014, none was able to eclipse the innovation, magnificence, and sheer technological arrogance of the Tesla. That's why it's our best overall pick for the second consecutive year. Through the course of their life cycles, cars become obsolete quickly as newer models appear with updated gizmos. But with Tesla's over-the-air software updates, a Model S that came off the line in 2013 has many of the same new features as one built today. Despite the Tesla's teething problems at launch, our subscriber reports showed average reliability. The Model S is a technological tour de force, a high-performance electric vehicle with usable real-world range, wrapped in a luxury package.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Back in the USSR: Russia to set price caps on 'socially important' foods (The Week, 2/25/15)

With the Russian economy reeling from the collapse of the ruble and falling oil prices, it looks like the government of President Vladimir Putin is resorting to some moves from the old politburo playbook. The Russian news website Meduza reports that the country's largest grocery chains, under pressure from the government, have "agreed to freeze prices on so-called 'socially important' foods for the next two months." 

...because their rise leads to regimes falling.

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


Another Unforced Error for Netanyahu (Jonathan S. Tobin, 02.25.2015, Commentary)

What was Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu thinking when he rejected an invitation from Senate Democrats to speak to a private meeting of their caucus? Netanyahu's rationale is that he only wants to speak to bipartisan groups rather than to meet with either Democrats or Republicans and thereby be drawn into America's partisan disputes. But by publicly rejecting what seems like an olive branch from Democrats, he is doing just the opposite. Rather than uphold the bipartisan nature of the pro-Israel coalition in Washington, the prime minister's refusal is being interpreted as another snub to President Obama's party after his decision to accept an invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress from House Speaker John Boehner without consulting with the White House. Just when you thought this story couldn't get any worse for Netanyahu--at least as far as the way it is perceived in the United States--the Israeli leader dug himself and his country a slightly deeper hole in yet another unforced error.

The great recent tragedy of the Middle East was Ariel Sharon's stroke.

February 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 PM


Poll: Widespread misperceptions about the Common Core standards (Scott Clement and Emma Brown, February 20, 2015, Washington Post)   

Many Americans are confused about the Common Core State Standards, according to a new poll that finds widespread misperceptions that the academic standards -- which cover only math and reading -- extend to topics such as sex education, evolution, global warming and the American Revolution.

A 55 percent majority said the Common Core covers at least two subjects that it does not, according to the survey that Fairleigh Dickinson University conducted and funded. Misperceptions were widespread, including among both supporters and opponents of the program and peaking among those who say they are paying the most attention to the standards. [...]

A significant portion of respondents -- 42 percent -- offered no opinion. The wide uncertainty is unsurprising for an issue that large swaths of the public, not having children in school, has ignored. Just more than half of respondents said they've heard "just a little" or "nothing at all."

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Hispanics Could Account for 40% of U.S. Job Growth by 2020 (NICK TIMIRAOS, 2/23/15, WSJ)
The U.S. Hispanic population will account for 40% of employment growth over the next five years and more than 75% from 2020 to 2034, according to a new study.

That's around 11 million jobs out of 14 million new positions across the economy.

Job growth among the Hispanic population is particularly notable given that the growth of the non-Hispanic working age population is set to slow to near zero as the number of new non-Hispanic workers will barely match the drop from retiring baby boomers, according to the study from IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm.

The forecast sees Hispanic labor-force growth set to accelerate by an average 2.6% over the next 20 years, even as the labor force will grow by 0.6% for the country as a whole from 2020 to 2034.

The result is that the Hispanic share of U.S. employment will increase to 23% over the next two decades, from 16% last year, according to the study by James Gillula, managing director at IHS.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


White House Is Not Fond of Backdoor Retirement Payments (Matt Levine, 2/23/15, Money)

The way that a lot of retirement investing advice goes is that you go to your broker and ask him what you should invest in, and he says, "Oh Fund XYZ is great, put all your money in Fund XYZ," and the reason he does that is not that he loves Fund XYZ in his heart of hearts, but rather that Fund XYZ writes him a big check for steering you its way. I'm sorry, but that is the way it works. I mean maybe he also loves it in his heart of hearts, but that is not observable; the check is. As is Fund XYZ's subsequent underperformance versus its benchmark. 

A lot of people think that that is a bad system, and how could you blame them really? When I put it like that it just sounds terrible. U.S President Barack Obama's administration, in particular, seems not to like this system, and today the White House released this fact sheet ("Middle Class Economics: Strengthening Retirement Security by Cracking Down on Backdoor Payments and Hidden Fees"), and this report from the Council of Economic Advisers ("The Effects of Conflicted Investment Advice on Retirement Savings"), explaining how bad some retirement advising is. [...]

[W]e do have the Council of Economic Advisers report, and it is pretty interesting! The main conclusion is that "conflicted investment advice" costs Americans about $17 billion a year. 

The math here is:

There's about $1.7 trillion in individual retirement accounts invested in funds that pay brokers to recommend them.

The people who invest in those funds could improve their performance by about 1 percentage point a year by switching to other funds that don't pay brokers. [...]

 It would be weird if the White House put out a fact sheet called "Strengthening Retirement Security by Cracking Down on Active Investing." And obviously that's not quite what it's going for with this paper. But it's close. The world view underlying this report seems to be that a lot of what the financial industry does is extract unproductive fees for itself from ignorant consumers, and that you can crack down on the fees -- and save consumers money -- without reducing the incentives for any socially productive activity. This, it goes without saying, is a hugely popular theory. I feel like it is generically wrong, but there may be many, many places where it is specifically correct.

In my more dictatorial moods I think people should get to choose one of two options for their retirement investing:

You can invest only in a list of pre-approved, low-cost, fee-capped, diversified, probably mostly passive portfolios run by reputable managers, and if you lose money everyone will nod sympathetically and tell you it's not your fault.

You can sign the omnibus liability waiver and invest in whatever you want, just go nuts, but if you lose all your money it's a felony to complain.

But that is not the system we have now. It's almost the reverse: The people with the least money and expertise, who really want and ought to have simple low-cost generic retirement savings, are at high risk of being steered into weird expensive stuff. It seems reasonable enough to try to nudge them back toward simplicity.

The transition to a Third Way entitlement system requires that the citizenry maximize the return on investment.  Things like personal SS and HSAs will only allow the former, at least until you have enough saved to afford losing all of the rest you put in..

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Want a raise? Join a union (Tami Luhby, 2/24/15, Money)

Union membership still pays...at least in terms of higher wages.

The typical union worker made $970 a week in 2014, compared to $763 for non-union workers, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

That 27% spread has remained relatively constant at least since 2000, when the agency started tracking the data.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


iRobot Roomba 880 review: a robotic vacuum cleaner that's almost a pet (amuel Gibbs, 24 February 2015, The Guardian)

The iRobot Roomba 880 is a much better vacuum cleaner than you'd expect. As a robot it does what it says on the tin - cleans the floor when you set it to and returns to base afterwards. It requires little in the way of maintenance and just gets on with the job.

But it does take on a life of its own. I have become surprisingly attached to it, like a little robotic cleaning pet. When it has caught and screwed up bits of paper or got stuck somewhere, I've felt more sorry for it than annoyed. I've then made a special effort to keep things off the floor, which is all round a good thing.

Whether the 880 is worth the cost over a traditional vacuum cleaner comes down to how much you dislike vacuuming. Cheaper Roomba models are available which are more in line with the cost of a traditional cleaner, plus it probably works out cheaper than hiring a human cleaner.

For those that are very tidy and constantly clean, the Roomba probably isn't for you, but for the rest of us, robotic vacuum cleaners are finally worth buying. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


The New Orleans Case for All-Charter School Districts (Neerav Kingsland, SUMMER 2015, Education Next)

My hypothesis is that we should transition our public education systems into charter districts, systems with the following structure:

· Educators form nonprofit organizations to operate schools.

· Families can choose from any school in the city, with reasonable limitations, such as neighborhood set-asides, being determined by community values.

· Government holds nonprofit school organizations accountable for both performance and equity; it no longer operates schools itself.

New Orleans is the first city to build an education system based on these three principles. As a result, student achievement is on the rise; equity is increasing; and New Orleans citizens strongly back the reform efforts.

Before Hurricane Katrina decimated the city and most of its schools in 2005, 64 percent of public school students in New Orleans attended a school designated as "failing." Currently, only 9 percent of students attend failing schools. High school graduation rates have increased by more than 20 percentage points, from below 50 percent to more than 70 percent. And, in 2013, a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that New Orleans charter schools deliver five months of extra learning per year when compared to similarly situated traditional schools.

New Orleans's most at-risk students are also benefitting from the new system: CREDO found students with special needs achieve nearly two months of extra learning per year. And, despite New Orleans schools serving an extremely at-risk population, the expulsion rate is below the state average. Performance increases have not been achieved by ignoring equity; rather, New Orleans has become one of the most equitable urban school districts in the country.

Not surprisingly, voters surveyed in 2014 by the Cowen Institute at Tulane University agree, by a two-to-one margin, that the schools are getting better. And 82 percent of voters want the state intervention, which has enabled the system's structural transformation, to continue for at least two more years. Yet, while New Orleans has seen unprecedented gains in student achievement (see Figure 2), the city's schools are far from excellent. Much remains to be accomplished. Nonetheless, the city has been undeniably and positively transformed by the structural reform of its public education system.

Suburban white moms pay property taxes to keep their kids' schools homogenous.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Why Annual Statewide Testing Is Critical to Judging School Quality (Matthew M. Chingos and Martin R. West 02/03/2015, Education Next)

[O]ur results confirm that using average test scores from a single year to judge school quality is unacceptable from a fairness and equity perspective. Using demographic adjustments is an unsatisfying alternative for at least two reasons. In addition to providing less accurate information about the causal impact of schools on their students' learning, the demographic adjustments implicitly set lower expectations for some groups of students than for others.

Some civil rights advocates have voiced similar concerns about accountability systems that rely exclusively on growth measures, which could allow schools serving disadvantaged students to avoid sanction even if their students' academic progress is insufficient to close achievement gaps. This is a legitimate concern, and policymakers may want to strike a balance between average scores and growth when deciding where to focus improvement efforts. However, not administering the annual tests required to produce student growth measures would make it impossible to distinguish those schools where students learn very little from those that perform well despite difficult circumstances.

An exclusive reliance on student performance levels, on the other hand, is perhaps the principal shortcoming of the much-maligned accountability system mandated by No Child Left Behind. Under that system, whether a school makes Adequate Yearly Progress is determined primarily based on the share of students scoring at proficient levels in math and reading in a given year. But a key reason Congress mandated such a system in 2002 was that many states were not yet administering annual tests, and many of those that did lacked the capacity to track the performance of individual students over time. Eliminating the annual testing requirement would therefore recreate the conditions that led to the adoption of a mistaken accountability system in the first place.

Policymakers thus face a stark choice: require annual testing or settle for low-quality and potentially misleading information on school quality.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


The Hamilton Experience (David Brooks, 2/24/15, WSJ)

Every once in a while a piece of art brilliantly captures the glory, costs and ordeals of public life. Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" did that. And so does Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Hamilton," now playing at The Public Theater in New York.

The Public Theater seems hellbent on putting drama back in the center of the national conversation, and Miranda's "Hamilton" is one of the most exhilarating experiences I've had in a theater. Each element in the show is a jewel, and the whole is bold, rousing, sexy, tear-jerking and historically respectful -- the sort of production that strips things down and asks you to think afresh about your country and your life.

It is a hip-hop musical about a founding father. If that seems incongruous, it shouldn't. Like the quintessential contemporary rappers, Alexander Hamilton was a poor immigrant kid from a broken home, feverish to rise and broadcast his voice. He was verbally blessed, combative, hungry for fame and touchy about his reputation. Like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., he died in a clash of male bravado. The spirits of Tupac and Biggie waft through this musical; their genre the modern articulation of Hamilton's clever and cocky assertiveness.

The musical starts with the core fact about Hamilton and the strain of Americanism he represents: The relentless ambition of the outsider.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Deflation Threat Grows in Europe (PAUL HANNON, Feb. 24, 2015, WSJ)

Consumer prices across the European Union fell in January at the fastest rate since records began in 1997, increasing the risk that the 28-member bloc will slide into deflation. [...]

Eurostat on Tuesday said consumer prices in the 28-nation bloc fell 0.5% in January from a year earlier, and confirmed data that showed prices in the eurozone were 0.6% lower.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


The Sound of Musical Joy: Clark Terry's Trumpet (TAYLOR HO BYNUM, 2/24/15, The New Yorker)

Master improvisers have a personality in their playing, a singularity to their sound. They have the ability to adapt to any musical context while maintaining a sense of personal identity, displaying distinct individuality while always contributing to the needs of the collective. One of the greatest practitioners of this humanistic art died on Saturday: the ebullient, effervescent, irreplaceable, irrepressible trumpet virtuoso Clark Terry.

Born into a poor family in St. Louis in 1920, Terry would often tell the story of building a horn out of junkyard parts--a garden hose attached to a funnel--since his family couldn't afford an instrument when he was a child. Even at the height of his fame and technical expertise, he still played with the imagination and abandon of that ten-year-old on a homemade creation; there have been few musicians who so embodied the sound of musical joy, of playful engagement and exploration. He was well cast as Puck in Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's 1957 Shakespearean suite "Such Sweet Thunder"--his playing glowed with trickster energy and elfish glee.

The trumpet (or the flugelhorn, a related instrument with a darker, fatter sound that Terry single-handedly popularized among jazz brass players) is a notoriously difficult instrument to play, but Terry made it dance. He pioneered a kind of "doodle-tonguing" articulation, which allowed notes to spill out of his horn without ever sounding rushed or frantic. His tone was a wonder of flexibility and range, a warmer, more liquid timbre than Miles Davis's icy cool or Dizzy Gillespie's bright attack. (And if I were forced to name a triumvirate of post-Armstrong trumpet innovators, those would be the three.) He employed a compendium of jazz styles--from the growling plunger mutes of early big bands to the lightning runs of bebop--while wholly transcending category. He was also an entertainer, a witty man on the bandstand where his "Mumbles" scat-singing routine was a big hit, but don't let the comedy obscure the music--Terry was a genius.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Leading from Behind: How Years of Denials Got Scott Walker In Position to Approve Right-to-Work (David Weigel, 2/23/15, Bloomberg)

In Washington and New York, the middle of February has been covered as a slack, gaffe-ridden period for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. In Walker's home state, none of that's true--he's actually en route to a triumph. The state's Republican-run legislature is gearing up to pass right-to-work legislation, forbidding labor unions from requiring dues or membership as conditions for any private-sector employment. "If this bill makes it to his desk," gubernatorial spokeswoman Laurel Patrick told Bloomberg, "Governor Walker will sign it into law."

The state's labor unions are at Defcon 1, pondering the sort of mass protests that shut down Wisconsin's Capitol four years ago. [...]

He was telling the truth about his position. Walker had never told voters that they could count on him to sign right-to-work. He said he wouldn't focus on it. He said the bill would only come up if state legislators campaigned on it. He said they'd rather they work on less explosive issues. To borrow a phrase from an anonymous-yet-infamous Obama administration official, Walker led from behind--and confirmed that when he dodged a question, he was never saying "no."

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


Somalia: Majority of capital residents surveyed feel safer than in 2013 (Claire Felter, FEBRUARY 23, 2015, CS Monitor)

In a recent study by the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, the majority of the 1,600 residents of the capital, Mogadishu, who were surveyed said they feel safer now than they did in 2013, and that they witness less conflict between clans and fewer attacks by rebel groups.

Abdirahman Yusuf, who grew up in Somaliland and cofounded a post-resettlement agency for Somali refugees in Boston in the 1990s, returned in September to Mogadishu for the first time in more than three decades. He acknowledges this headway and attributes it to the waning presence of one faction in particular.

Recommended: Could you pass a US citizenship test?
"You could say people are a little bit more optimistic than they were before," says Mr. Yusuf. "And the main reason for that is that the terrorist organization Al Shabab has been weakened."

...by recognizing who our allies are.

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


Injured? Fear Is Your Biggest Enemy.(Shelby Carpenter Feb 24, 2015, Outside)

Fear, researchers are finding, plays an enormous role in an athlete's recovery. In fact, it can determine whether or not an athlete ever makes a full recovery--and that fact is often overlooked, says Dr. Aaron Gray, a physician for athletes at the University of Missouri. Some athletes, he says, "almost have post-traumatic stress back to" the moment they got injured.

Addressing the fear, alongside the physical injuries, is critical for recovery, a recent study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found.

The study's authors looked at a set of patients recovering from ACL reconstruction. Over the course of the patients' recovery, the intensity of their knee pain was measured, along with the strength of the muscles around the knee, the knee's functional range of movement, and the patient's level of physical activity. Researchers also measured levels of kinesiophobia--pain-related fear of movement. Among the study participants, the most common reason for not having a full recovery was fear of getting hurt again. These athletes didn't have higher levels of pain than other people in the study; they were just scared.

"Our results indicate physical impairments may contribute to initial functional deficits, whereas psychological factors may contribute to longer term functional deficits in patients who report fear of reinjury or lack of confidence as a barrier to sports participation," wrote the study's authors.

A little pain never hurt anybody.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Why Satire Matters  (Justin E.H. Smith, 2/23/15, The Chronicle Review)

The anthropologist Mary Douglas explained some decades ago that humor typically involves a sort of unexpected downward thrust back into the body. Kant offered a variation on the same point when he defined laughter as "a sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing." Life, when taken in earnest, is filled with great hope. This hope draws an adventurous young soul out across the frontier, for example, only to be brought low by a flying fragment of carved obsidian. The expectations of life eventually come to nothing, and in this respect jokes are small anticipations of death. Humor doesn't describe different facts from those of straight-faced reportage on the sufferings caused by human cruelty or by indifferent nature. It reports the same facts, but does so in a different mood. The humorous statement is in some sense exactly the same as the declarative one, yet it carries a different charge. It is typical of authoritarian regimes and blunt-minded individuals alike to be unable to detect this difference.

Not all satirists concern themselves with the precarity of life. Some are more concerned with their own precarity, with their own absurdity, with the way they themselves teeter always on the brink of nonexistence. But often this self-absorption inadvertently serves a double purpose as social commentary. When the cartoonist R. Crumb depicts himself as a scrawny, pathetic excuse for a man, in the shadow of an overwhelming Amazonian woman, he bares his own soul and offers a point of entry for reflecting on gender. He does not tell us that the conditions he depicts are a product of nature or of contingent features of our own sick society: Such instruction is the work of pedagogues, not satirists. He only lays pathologies bare, and while the literal-minded see this labor as a condoning of the pathologies, others will see it as an occasion to reflect on them.

When in turn Crumb reproduces the "pickaninny" caricatures of an earlier era of American visual culture, he is also working out the pathologies of American history, and not, or not simply, perpetuating them. Kara Walker, too, channels similar fragments of racist visual culture, and plainly not for the sake of perpetuating them. One significant difference between how we evaluate the two artists is that we suppose Crumb, a white American man, is capable of harboring the same pathologies that generated the racist images that are the focus of some of his art, while Walker, an African-American woman, could only possibly be reproducing them as a form of opposition. But this point of difference should not be exaggerated. If there is a racial difference between Walker and Crumb, there is a species difference between both of them and the blunt-minded ideologue or crass hawker of goods who would use a racist caricature in a political pamphlet or an ad for soap.

Twain and Crumb can help us to establish a general point that has been systematically misunderstood since the attacks in Paris. Charlie Hebdo, as the cliché has it, is an "equal-opportunity offender," whose sole purpose is to épater la bourgeoisie, to aim its low mockery in all directions, but particularly at the smug, the self-serious, and the hypocritical. Inevitably, the leaders of conservative Islam, and of the political distortions of Islam we call "Islamism," were not spared. Since Muslims are in serious respects a persecuted minority in France, many on the Anglophone academic left felt that in targeting Muslim leaders the magazine had gone too far.

There is, in fact, a widespread view that humor abandons its true purpose when it ceases to punch upward from below, when it ceases to play David to the great Goliath of state or society, and instead punches down, targeting the weak and the downtrodden, the suckers and the yokels. But we would have to scrap a good deal of history's most treasured works of humor if we were to apply this criterion rigorously. If Thomas Hobbes is correct that humor is an expression of one's own superiority, to the humiliation of the inferior party, then we would have to scrap all of it.

There's much debate over comedy, but this we can safely say ; no one ever writes satire from what they think is a morally inferior position.  It is always meant to humiliate our inferiors.

February 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 PM


VA Secretary Robert McDonald Falsely Claimed He Served In Special Forces (David Wood, 02/23/2015, Huffington Post)

Robert McDonald, the secretary of veterans affairs, wrongly claimed in a videotaped comment earlier this year that he served in special operations forces, the most elite units in the armed forces, when his military service of five years was spent almost entirely with the 82nd Airborne Division during the late 1970s.

U.S. special operations forces (SOF) are composed of exhaustively trained and highly capable troops from each military service, including the Green Berets, Army Rangers, Delta Force and Navy SEALs -- but not the 82nd Airborne. They are certified to undertake the most dangerous and delicate missions, including, famously, the killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Special operators are a close-knit community deeply hostile to outsiders who try to claim the coveted mantle of special operations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Oscars 2015: An Excellent Night for Prediction Markets (David Leonhardt, 2/23/15, NY Times)

The prediction markets had another good year in predicting the Academy Awards. Perhaps more important, the categories that the markets seemed to get wrong underscored the ways in which such markets are useful without being clairvoyant.

Of the 24 categories, the favorite won in 19, or 79 percent. If anything, that basic percentage understates the markets' predictive accuracy, because they did better in the major categories, which receive more attention and, in many Oscar pools, are worth more points. The favorites won in all six of the major categories, including best director, in which Alejandro González Iñárritu ("Birdman") was a slight favorite when the night began.

The pool in which I've played most often over the years awards five points each for the six major categories, three points for seven other categories (like the two screenplay categories and best documentary) and one point for all remaining categories. With these rules, someone who picked all of the favorites last night would have received 55 out of 64 points, or 86 percent of the total.

Shutter the Intelligence services and replace them with open source prediction markets.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Why reform conservatives should join the Democratic Party (Jeff Spross, February 23, 2015, The Week)

Whither the reformicons? [...]

I think a lot of the confusion stems from the assumption that we're dealing with Big Ideas -- "civil society" versus "technocratic centralization" or "conservatism" versus "liberalism." But politics isn't about Big Ideas. It's about coalitions and the power to get things done. What makes the reformicons so weird is they insist on being loyal to a political coalition that is uniquely hostile to, and disinterested in, their policy preferences. As Elias Isquith put it, they have no actual voter base.

In short, the reformicons need to join the Democratic Party.

We are dealing with the Big Idea of the last 40 years of politics--The Third Way.  The problem for the Reformicons is that they aren't thinking big enough, as big as the Bush brothers do.  Rather than making the tax code even more complicated, they should be focused on increasing the wealth of the middle and lower classes via W's personal SS accounts and HSAs and through Paul O'Neill accounts.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Russian military spending could shrink 10% this year, says Rostec CEO (Nigel Wilson, February 23, 2015, IB Times)

Russia's military budget could fall by as much as 10% in 2015, according to the chief executive of Rostec.

Russia is experiencing rapid economic decline, spurred by the dramatic fall in oil prices last year and a wave of punitive economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union over its role in the Ukraine crisis.

Russia's ruble fell dramatically in the second half of 2014 along a similar trajectory to the global oil price. The ruble was trading at 64 against the dollar on Monday afternoon (23 February) in London.

It's only Russia, but the UR has totally schooled Putin.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


Jerusalem Mayor Stops Attacker, Becomes Meme (Yair Rosenberg, February 23, 2015, The Tablet)

Yesterday, in Jerusalem's Tzahal Square, an ultra-Orthodox man was stabbed by an 18-year-old Palestinian. Video of the incident showed pedestrians running away from the scene as the assailant brandished his knife in their direction. But then, something unusual happened. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, and his staff, who happened to be in the area on their way to a meeting at the municipality headquarters, subdued the attacker, with Barkat, a venture capitalist and former paratrooper in the Israeli army, tackling him to the ground-and then proceeding to direct traffic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Phased U.S.-Iran Nuclear Deal Taking Shape (BRADLEY KLAPPER and GEORGE JAHN, 2/23/15,Associated Press)

The idea would be to reward Iran for good behavior over the last years of any agreement, gradually lifting constraints on its uranium enrichment program and slowly easing economic sanctions. [...]

One variation being discussed would place at least 10-year regime of strict controls on Iran's uranium enrichment program. If Iran complies, the restrictions would be gradually lifted over the last five years of such an agreement.

Iran could be allowed to operate significantly more centrifuges than the U.S. administration first demanded, though at lower capacity than they currently run. Several officials spoke of 6,500 centrifuges as a potential point of compromise, with the U.S. trying to restrict them to Iran's mainstay IR-1 model instead of more advanced machines.

It would also be forced to ship out most of the enriched uranium it produces or change it to a form that is difficult to reconvert for weapons use. It takes about 1 ton of low-enriched uranium to process into a nuclear weapon, and officials said that Tehran could be restricted to an enriched stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (about 700 pounds).

...that you want to eliminate sanctions immediately in order to reintegrate Iran into the world economy so quickly that it reaps the rewards and builds pressure on itself not to backslide. A long phase out only serves hardliners.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Printed solar cells poised for a breakthrough (Viviane Richter, 2/23/15, Cosmos)

In one hour the Sun sends enough energy to the Earth to power civilisation for a year - if only we could capture it. More than 50 years after entering the market, silicon solar cells remain our leading solar technology. Could two cheap contenders finally topple silicon from its rooftop perch? [...]

[A]lthough a silicon solar panel bought today might look like one from 20 or 30 years ago, its performance will be light years ahead. By refining the purity of the material, developing surface treatments to maximise light absorption, and improving the panel's backside electronics, researchers have boosted the efficiency of silicon solar cells handcrafted in the lab from 5% in the early days to 25.6% today. The best commercial mass-produced cells hover around 20%.

At the same time, silicon panels have plummeted in price. Prices were already falling when a wave of giant solar panel factories opened in China, just as the global financial crisis flattened demand. Germany's Fraunhofer Institute calculated that a 10 kilowatt rooftop system now costs less than a tenth of its 1990 price. While the flooded post-GFC market was a boon for consumers, it also dried up R&D funding for silicon cells. But demand is now rising again. Richard Corkish, chief operating officer at the Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics, is optimistic that as R&D starts up again, silicon's efficiency will continue to rise with it: "We've come through a dark time but another boom is coming," he says.

But silicon solar cells are facing other challengers. Solar cells made from perovskites - a mineral that typically consists of a precise mixture of lead, iodine and a simple organic component - have jumped from 3% to 20% efficiency after only five years of research, the steepest increase of any solar cell technology to date. "The rise of metal halide perovskites as light harvesters has stunned the photovoltaic community," wrote Michael Grätzel, solar researcher at the Ecole Polytechnique in Lausanne, Switzerland, in a recent issue of the journal Nature Materials.

Perovskites' promise is that they might soon match silicon's performance, without its costly high-temperature manufacturing step. Perovskite cells can be made by simply printing a layer of perovskite on to a plastic backing.

All the technology has to do is keep increasing efficiency 500% every 50 years and sooner or later you're making real progress.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


Mongolia Signs Economic Deal With Japan to Offset Chinese and Russian Trade Domination (Alicia J. Campi, 2/20/15, Eurasia Daily Monitor)

The new Prime Minister of Mongolia, Chimediin Saikhanbileg, whose 'Reconciliation Government' has been in power less than three months, visited Japan on February 9-11 to sign a Mongolian-Japanese Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe. This economic partnership agreement, effective immediately, was the first for Mongolia and the 15th for Japan. Prime Minister Abe noted that the EPA took three years to negotiate and now "will become an important foundation for simultaneously forwarding two objectives to consolidate our relations and boost Mongolia's economic development" (The Mongol Messenger, February 13). The Japanese also gave the Mongolians an additional soft loan worth 36.8 billion yen ($310 million), which will be used to complete the construction of Ulaanbaatar's new international airport scheduled to open in 2016. In the February 10 joint press conference, Saikhanbileg responded by emphasizing, "The EPA is very significant to increase the flows of bilateral trade, investment and services and intercitizen exchange, as well as to connect Mongolia to global markets and regional economic integration" (The Mongol Messenger, February 13). He noted that Mongolia wanted to learn about Japanese techniques to commercialize value-added products sold into foreign markets so as to link the Mongolian market with regional industrial networks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Driving Tesla's 'insane' Model S (Peter Valdes-Dapena, 2/23/15, Money)

Tesla wanted to add all-wheel-drive to its Model S to make it more appealing in northern states. But adding a separate electric motor to the front wheels had a strange side effect.

Namely, it gave the car 692 horsepower and the ability to go from zero to sixty in about 3.2 seconds.

That's supercar speed in a sedan that can seat up to seven people. That's right. With optional rear-facing third-row seats, two kids can sit facing backwards in the hatchback space and make faces at that guy in the Camaro you just blew past.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


London Wants To Bury Its Roads Underground To Make More Space For People (Ben Schiller, 2/23/15, Co.Exist)

As it looks to become a prettier, greener city, London wants to put some of its more unsightly features where the world can't see them: underground.

Under plans recently announced by mayor Boris Johnson, the British capital would cover over five major highways, opening up land for new, less ugly development. The proposals involve building tunnels, deck structures, "fly-unders," and cover roads in the west, south, and north of the city.

"Rebuilding some of our complex and aging road network underneath our city would not only provide additional capacity for traffic, but it would also unlock surface space and reduce the impact of noise and pollution," Johnson said in a press release.

Such beautification is pivotal to making cities into theme parks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Hundreds of Turkish soldiers evacuate Syrian tomb, one killed (MEE staff, 22 February 2015, Middle East Eye)

Ankara launched a military operation into Syria to evacuate a small Turkish enclave that housed the tomb of Suleyman Shah, it was announced early Sunday.

More than 550 soldiers, flanked by dozens of tanks and almost 60 armoured vehicles as well as planes and helicopters crossed the border into Syria in the operation, according to Turkish daily newspaper, Huuriyet. One soldier was killed in an accident, authorities said, without releasing his identity.

The tomb in northern Syria, about 40 kilometres from the border, has been regarded as Turkish soil since the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and has traditionally been guarded by a Turkish garrison of about 40 soldiers. Shah, a 12th-century military leader, was the grandfather of Osman I, who is seen as the founder of the Ottoman Empire and became its first sultan in the 13th century.  

Damascus, however, lashed out at the operation, saying that the move was an act of "flagrant aggression," state news agency SANA said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Even Better Than a Tax Cut (LAWRENCE MISHEL, FEB. 23, 2015, NY Times)

Another short- to medium-term policy decision affecting wage growth is to avoid trade deals, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, that would further erode Americans' wages and send jobs overseas.

And there are several things we can do to bolster the labor standards and institutions that support wage growth. Raising the minimum wage to $12.50 an hour by 2020 would ensure that the minimum wage equals more than half the average wage, as it did in the late 1960s. And it has been too long since we have raised the salary threshold for overtime pay; raising it to $50,000, so that anyone making below that would get overtime, would move us closer to what prevailed in the 1970s, when about two-thirds of salaried workers received overtime pay.

Protecting and expanding workers' right to unionize and bargain collectively is also essential; the erosion of collective bargaining is the single largest factor suppressing wage growth for middle-wage workers over the last few decades. And we need to modernize our New Deal-era labor standards to include earned sick leave and paid family leave so workers can balance work and family.

Finally, stronger laws and enforcement to deter and remedy wage theft and the illegal treatment of employees as independent contractors could put tens of billions of dollars into workers' pockets.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, wage stagnation is not a result of forces beyond our control. It is a result of a policy regime that has undercut the individual and collective bargaining power of most workers. Because wage stagnation was caused by policy, it can be reversed by policy, too.

All of these measures would undo 35 years of progress in eliminating inflation and making economies more efficient and productive.  Rather than raising wages artificially the correct way to boost the non-productive masses is to transfer money to us for not working. Don't create less wealth.  Create more and then distribute it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Obama Derangement Syndrome (Ezra Klein, February 23, 2015, Vox)
In 2003, the conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer diagnosed a new affliction in some of George W. Bush's fiercest critics. He described the condition as "the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency -- nay -- the very existence of George W. Bush." He called it Bush Derangement Syndrome.

BDS, at least in the examples Krauthammer gave, was mostly about Bush's policies. Howard Dean, for instance, wondered whether Bush was suppressing the release of the 9/11 report because "he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis." Barbra Streisand speculated that the war in Iraq was partially motivated by the influence the logging industry wielded in the Bush administration.

Bush Derangement Syndrome was, in other words, a function of 9/11 and the Iraq War: it was an effort, often misguided, to explain how the worst terrorist attack in American history happened, and why the most puzzling war in American history was launched.

Obama Derangement Syndrome is different. It isn't so much paranoia about President Obama's policies as it is paranoia about the man himself -- that he is, in some fundamental way, different, foreign, untrustworthy, even traitorous. What's odd is that it is attached to a president whose presidency has been, in almost every respect, conventionally liberal. Bush Derangement Syndrome sought extraordinary explanations for extraordinary events; Obama Derangement Syndrome seeks extraordinary explanations for an ordinary presidency.

And it's only conventionally liberal in the sense that W's was : freed trade; the WoT; and the Heritage mandate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


As Controversy Swirls, Scott Walker Plays With Fire (CHUCK TODD, MARK MURRAY AND CARRIE DANN, 2/23/15, NBC News)

By the way, here is how the different Republican 2016ers responded to Giuliani's comments:

Bush: "Governor Bush doesn't question President Obama's motives. He does question President Obama's disastrous policies." - per Bush's spokeswoman

Graham: "I have no doubt that he loves his country. I have no doubt that he's a patriot. But his primary job as president of the United States is to defend this country and he's failing miserably." - to ABC

Jindal: "The gist of what Mayor Giuliani said -- that the President has shown himself to be completely unable to speak the truth about the nature of the threats from these terrorists - is true," Jindal said in a statement. "If you are looking for someone to condemn the mayor, look elsewhere."

Paul: "I think it's a mistake to question people's motives. It's one thing to disagree on policy."

Rubio: "Democrats aren't asked to answer every time Joe Biden says something embarrassing. So I don't know why I should answer every time a Republican does. I will suffice it to say that I believe the president loves America. I just think his ideas are bad

Walker: "Yeah, I mean, the mayor can speak for himself. I'm not going to comment on whether -- what the president thinks or not. He can speak for himself as well. I'll tell you, I love America." - to CNBC.

February 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


In Wisconsin, Walker's anti-union law has crippled labor movement (Robert Samuels February 22, 2015, Washington Post)

The anti-union law passed here four years ago, which made Gov. Scott Walker a national Republican star and a possible presidential candidate, has turned out to be even more transformative than many had predicted.

Walker had vowed that union power would shrink, workers would be judged on their merits, and local governments would save money. Unions had warned that workers would lose benefits and be forced to take on second jobs or find new careers.

Many of those changes came to pass, but the once-thriving ­public-sector unions were not just shrunken -- they were crippled.

Unions representing teachers, professors, trash collectors and other government employees are struggling to stem plummeting membership rolls and retain relevance in the state where they got their start.

Here in King, Magnant and her fellow AFSCME members, workers at a local veterans home, have been knocking on doors on weekends to persuade former members to rejoin. Community college professors in Moraine Park, home to a technical college, are reducing dues from $59 to $36 each month. And those in Milwaukee are planing a campaign using videos and posters to highlight union principles. The theme: ­"Remember."

But recalling the benefits that union membership might have brought before the 2011 law stripped most public-sector unions of their collective-bargaining rights is difficult when workers consider the challenges of the present.

"I don't see the point of being in a union anymore," said Dan Anliker, a 34-year-old technology teacher and father of two in Reedsburg, a tiny city about 60 miles northwest of Madison.

It's the big feather in his cap.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Modernity and Our American Heresies (Peter Augustine Lawler, Summer/Fall 2014, New Atlantis)

So critics such as Heidegger, MacIntyre, and Grant see that American liberalism is really a kind of technological nihilism. It is freedom for nothing in particular beyond power and control. Sometimes they turn to Alexis de Tocqueville to remind us that this nihilism is really a feature of American democracy, though Tocqueville is really not quite so pessimistic as they are. Tocqueville explains that the Americans practice the Cartesian method without having ever read a word of Descartes. That modern method, the foundation of the technological view of the world, is doubt. All I really know is that I am, and so the only point of life -- the only use of my freedom -- is to keep me from not not-being for as long as possible. The only kind of science that survives methodical doubt is that which improves the comfort and security of particular individuals, of me. The proud desire to know for its own sake is less worthwhile because it is unproductive.

The Cartesian method is the democratic method, which is why the modern Americans could have discovered it without reading Descartes. It is all about doubting personal authority. If I defer to your word, then I let you rule me. That is true of all personal authority -- from princes to priests to parents and even or especially the personal God. Nobody is better than me, and so nobody knows better than me. I methodically doubt my way to that democratic opinion. I have no reason to privilege anyone's opinion over my own.

Of course, this Cartesian position of doubt is not quite the nihilism that America's critics decry. But it does pose some problems for our democracy. According to this Cartesian-democratic doubt, nobody is better than me, but I am no better than anyone else. So I have no personal content -- no point of view by which to privilege my opinion over the opinions of others. As Tocqueville observes, I especially have no point of view by which to resist public opinion, which appears to be determined by no one in particular. It is undemocratic to defer to some person, but it seems perfectly democratic, in a way, for all persons to defer equally to some impersonal force. That goes not only for public opinion, but for other impersonal forces such as "History," and of course "technology." I know I'm not nothing, but I lack what it takes, all by myself, to fill myself up with something. And so I'm carried along by impersonal forces I have no right to resist, especially if, as in the case of technology, the impersonal forces aim to keep me, as a person, around as long as possible.

Technology is both impersonal, insofar as it cannot distinguish one person from other, and highly personal, insofar as it is about sustaining the lives of people by controlling the impersonal nature that would otherwise be a constant threat to us. But seeing personal life as nothing other than gaining the power and control necessary to sustain life against an indifferent and hostile nature is what leads to America's technological and democratic nihilism. It is nihilistic because it empties personal life of the relational context -- which includes dogmatic personal authority -- in which it can find real content, a point of view, or spirit of resistance. That's the way it makes good sense to say American democracy is, in principle, "after virtue." The democrat does not know who he is (beyond not not-being) or what he is supposed to do.

If there is any kind of American virtue, it is nothing more than being as attentive as possible to health and safety. The traditional virtues of chastity and gentlemanliness, with all their complex demands governing and shaping the relationships between the sexes, are replaced with the much simpler virtue of "safe sex" -- which means not only sensibly avoiding the infectious diseases that might cut short our lives, but also avoiding the babies that might cut short our lives as free individuals, unfettered by relationships with noisy little dependents. But while sex has become much simpler, the worries we have about avoiding "risk factors" have been multiplying every day, as scientists tell us more and more about how everything from cheeseburgers to spending too much time in the sun (or too little!) could threaten our health and even end up killing us years down the road. At least in principle, most Americans are likely sympathetic to the transhumanist dream of a world in which all the risk factors have gone away, in which all sex is safe, and in which we would not have to be concerned with generating replacements because no one would need to be replaced.

The emotional result of the American's interpersonal isolation is what Tocqueville named individualism, the indifference that flows from the mistaken judgment that love and hate are more trouble than they're worth. If you want to see a display of contemporary American individualism, watch a rerun of Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm or even the Charlie Sheen version of Two and a Half Men. Healthy men have hearts so contracted that they don't have what it takes emotionally (they're fine physically) to reproduce. We also recognize American men and women described as emptied of content by democratic or anti-relational doubt in Allan Bloom's classic The Closing of the American Mind. Those "flat souled" or erotically lame sophisticated Americans are unmoved by either love or death; they are nothing more, it seems, than technological beings: clever and competent, specialists and survivalists.

If all these gloomy ideas about the sorry state of our souls in America sound almost too bad to be true, that's because that is just what they are. For Tocqueville, the worst evils of individualism and technological obsessiveness were more of an inherent possibility for America than a description of how Americans really lived. Americans combat individualism through various heart-enlarging activities, the most important among them being religion. Tocqueville was astonished by the way Americans exempted their religious faith from their habitual doubt. Today much more than in Tocqueville's time Americans are actually less individualistic -- less selfishly withdrawn and more concerned about their responsibility to their country and their fellow creatures -- than Europeans, and the reason for this is the nation's exceptional religiosity. It is Americans' religion that gets their minds off themselves and points them in the direction of personal, relational duties. It is their religious authorities -- their preachers and ministers and rabbis and priests -- who persuade them that the truth is more than technological, that they were born to contemplate both who God is and their own singular personal destinies as beings with souls. It is this religious knowledge and cultivation that give Americans the confidence to think and act freely, to rule themselves and others as free and relational beings.

...of the Anglosphere, generally, and of America, in particular, lies in our wholesale rejection of Descartes, in favor of faith.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Clark Terry, Influential Jazz Trumpeter, Dies at 94 (PETER KEEPNEWS, FEB. 22, 2015, NY Times)

Mr. Terry was acclaimed for his impeccable musicianship, loved for his playful spirit and respected for his adaptability. Although his sound on both trumpet and the rounder-toned flugelhorn (which he helped popularize as a jazz instrument) was highly personal and easily identifiable, he managed to fit it snugly into a wide range of musical contexts.

He was one of the few musicians to have worked with the orchestras of both Duke Ellington and Count Basie. He was for many years a constant presence in New York's recording studios -- accompanying singers, sitting in big-band trumpet sections, providing music for radio and television commercials. He recorded with Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and other leading jazz artists as well as his own groups.

He was also one of the first black musicians to hold a staff position at a television network and for many years a mainstay of the "Tonight Show" band, as well as one of the most high-profile proponents of teaching jazz at the college level.

His fellow musicians respected him as an inventive improviser with a graceful and ebullient style, traces of which can be heard in the playing of Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and others. But many listeners knew him best for the vocal numbers with which he peppered his performances, a distinctively joyous brand of scat singing in which noises as well as nonsense syllables took the place of words. It was an off-the-cuff recording of one such song, released in 1964 under the name "Mumbles," that became his signature song.

The high spirits of "Mumbles" were characteristic of Mr. Terry's approach: More than most jazz musicians of his generation, he was unafraid to fool around. His sense of humor manifested itself in his onstage demeanor as well as in his penchant for growls, slurs and speechlike effects.

Clark Terry, Ebullient Jazz Trumpeter, Has Died (FELIX CONTRERAS, 2/22/15, NPR)

Clark Terry said he heard the sound of jazz everywhere as a kid in St. Louis in the 1930s: on the radio, in parades and wafting in from river boats floating along the Mississippi River.

He came up with his own sound in a junkyard with a homemade trumpet. In 1995, he described it on the NPR program Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center.

"I made it from an old discarded garden hose -- I had it bound up like a trumpet, with an old piece of kerosene funnel, made it look like a bell," he said, laughing. "Then I put a piece of old lead pipe on the end, that was my mouthpiece. I couldn't make any music with it but I sure made a lot of noise with it!"

He said when his neighbors couldn't stand the racket any longer, they pitched in and bought him a real trumpet.

Eventually, Clark Terry learned to play jazz on the bandstand. In 1948, after a stint in the U.S. Navy, Terry hit the big time with the Count Basie Orchestra. Terry said the music education that started under the watchful eyes of older musicians back in St. Louis continued with Basie.

"His most important thing he gave to all of us was the utilization of space and time," Terry said. "He became famous not so much for the notes he played as for the notes he didn't."

After three years with Basie, Terry found himself playing with the bandleader who inspired him to make that childhood junkyard trumpet: Duke Ellington.

Terry spent the late 1940s and most of the '50s crisscrossing the country with Basie and Ellington. But when they went through the South there was another passenger traveling with them: Jim Crow.

Clark Terry Quintet: Live In Chicago (PATRICK JARENWATTANANON, 1/02/13, npr :  toast of the nation)

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


The Voegelin Enigma : Eric Voegelin smashed every category, scrambled every dichotomy, and spurned every orthodoxy he encountered to discover what ailed modern Western society. : Order and History (Vol. 5): In Search of Order
(Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 18) (MONTGOMERY C. ERFOURTH, 12/10/14, American Interest)

By the time he became an American citizen in 1944, his name respelled to Eric Voegelin, his overarching question had come down to this: What is political reality? In its simplicity, it reminds one of Einstein's early obsession: What is light? Voegelin's query, and the means of discovery he presents as the best way to an answer, in turn produce a kind of orientation for how to live within that reality. That is what makes Voegelin relevant to a troubled late modernity that clearly sensed the same ongoing crisis but, in Voegelin's opinion, used inadequate tools to understand the problem.

Modernity's self-imposed limits, one of which was to declare philosophy and theology incommensurate, or at any rate not on speaking terms, simultaneously explain its crisis and its inability to understand it. Voegelin's ambitious political and philosophic endeavor aimed to reunify the two disciplines, and by so doing move Western man back in line with the revelatory and philosophical traditions that had made him so successful. He came to believe that the truth of reality was revealed in a simple precept: The basis of order is found in the "ground of being", which is the divine. Only through conscious interaction with the divine can man know truth. Ancient Greek philosophy and the Mosaic revelation are both required to comprehend this actuality; applying the logic of this world to a truth beyond it is the necessary formula.

In his reverence for the ancients, Voegelin is sometimes likened to Leo Strauss, but the comparison becomes strained once it moves beyond the superficial. Strauss once claimed (on a bad day, one would hope) that Maimonides could not be a Jew by religion because he took philosophy seriously. Strauss immersed himself in philosophical esoterica in presumed opposition to theology, perhaps in hopes that its shimmering, elusive status would rub off on him--as indeed it has for some. While Voegelin's highly esoteric writing style belied it, he had little use for gnostic shenanigans.

At the heart of modern Western civilization's dramatic struggle to maintain its inherited understanding of truth, Voegelin believed, were new gnostic attempts to replace traditional truths with a new formula for order that rejected any notion of divine partnership. Voegelin's personal and professional "resistance" to the untruth he saw in modern Gnosticism--better known then as now as supposedly secular, utopian ideologies, namely Marxism and fascism--led him to seek a deeper understanding of the process by which humanity comes to know the structure of reality and its attendant symbols and indices. Voegelin examined the best our ancestors had to offer in tempering humanity's darker angels. His examination, he hoped, would reveal how to avoid the catastrophe of these dark angels becoming our political rulers.

For Voegelin, only a rejuvenation of both traditional Greek philosophy and Christian morality and revelatory experiences could stem the tide against disorder and inhumanity.

..is both the degree to which neoconservatism is revealed as European, rather than Anglospheric, and the way the best of the European refugees--Voegelin, Wittgenstein, Godel--adapted to the mainstream of Anglospheric skepticism about Modernity.

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Gov. Nikki Haley on 2016: A fan of Bush, other governors (Philip Rucker February 22, 2015, Washington Post)

Back in 2010, when the governor of South Carolina was merely "Nikki Who?," running behind in a four-person Republican primary with her top supporter mired in scandal, Jeb Bush gave her some advice.

"Everything had blown up and I was trying to figure out what to do," Gov. Nikki Haley said in an interview Saturday with reporters from The Washington Post. "I just asked what he thought I should do, and he said, 'You know, consultants are going to tell you to stay on the phone and raise money. But what I'll tell you is go out and touch every hand you can.'"

Haley followed Bush's counsel, and the rest is history. Later that year, after she was elected, she called Bush, a former Florida governor, for advice on setting up an administration. Then when she tackled education reform, she called again. "Can you save me a couple of steps?" Haley recalled asking Bush. "He said, 'If you do anything, make sure your kids can read.'"

Now it's Bush who will be seeking Haley's help. As he weighs a run for president in 2016, South Carolina is poised to again be the first primary in the South, and Haley figures to be one of the state's prized endorsers.

In the interview, Haley said she has no plans yet to back any candidate. "I think what I'll do is watch," she said. But Haley was particularly complimentary of the governors in the emerging field, including Bush.

"I think that the party would be better off if there were somebody that understood what it meant to get things done," Haley said. "So that primarily has been governors, and it is why I'm a fan of governors. You know, I can't stand the talk. I can't stand the political speak. I want somebody that's going to fight for me. I want somebody that's going to do something."

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Marie Harf has Turned all Democrats into Neocons (Leon H. Wolf, February 19th, 2015 , Red State)

Nothing has been more amusing to me lately than watching various liberals fall all over themselves to defend State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf's remarks that the best way to combat ISIS is with a jobs program. This fairly typical response indicates not only the fact that the defense is taking place, but also that it tends to be quite vociferous, laced with bad grammar and contempt for any who might actually disagree with what should be a self-evident statement:

Give the hacks at Media Matters some credit - they at least noticed that what Marie Harf said is literally the exact same thing George W. Bush said we were going to do in Iraq to stamp out terrorism there in the first place. In fact, Bush said over and over again that one of the primary reasons we were going into Iraq was to stop terrorism by bringing the Iraqi people freedom and prosperity. [...]

Of course, the Democrats don't really believe this... [...]  It does not matter - if Obama (or even one of Obama's low-level flunkies) wants them to be neocons, then neocons they shall be.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Hepcat With a Badge : Amazon's new LA noir detective drama 'Bosch' gets better and better as it builds (NANCY DEWOLF SMITH, Feb. 12, 2015, WSJ)

Detective Harry Bosch is a loner who speaks in a monotone. To call him a man of few words would be an understatement. Like Titus Welliver, who plays him in the new Amazon series based on Michael Connelly 's books, Bosch seems like a timeless character--and although the show is set in Los Angeles, it could be taking place in the rundown edges and alleys of any big city over the last few decades. The mood is indigo.

Alone at night with a cigarette and beer, looking out at the twinkling lights of LA from an expensive glass box in the sky that he bought with a windfall paycheck, Bosch is a hepcat who listens to cool, cool jazz, like Coltrane so spare it's almost comatose--in a good way. (Try not to look at the Nantucket bracelet.) He's a veteran of the Gulf War and then post-9/11 Afghanistan. The son of a murdered prostitute, he was abused in foster care, and has only a 14-year-old daughter in Las Vegas to call family, although she calls him Harry.

We know the type. So how does "Bosch" get a lock on your attention so fast and hard that it's still playing in your head days after the screen was turned off?

One of the great strengths of the books is the way Harry plays the bureaucracy and the press.  But the thing that makes him a cultural icon is his creed--everyone matters or nobody does--a reflection of oue core republicanism.    

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


THE CELTICS' INNOVATIVE REBUILD (Brett Koremenos, 2/22/15, Sports on Earth)

[I]nstead of falling victim to groupthink, GM Danny Ainge took a page out of one of sport's most innovative executives and accelerated the Celtics' return to relevance by acquiring veteran Suns guard Isaiah Thomas for draft picks. In doing so, they exploited one of the NBA's biggest market inefficiencies: the overvaluation of potential.

Similar to basketball, the typical approach for small market baseball team has been to rely heavily on their farm system to churn out the cheap talent (that hopefully blossoms into stars) those clubs need in order to stay competitive with the big market clubs capable of buying more wins. Doing so means these small market teams must invest heavily in young players whose potential contributions at the Major League level are a complete unknown. The Oakland A's Billy Beane has developed a reputation over the years of exploiting soft spots in Major League Baseball's market in order to keep his resource-deficient organization near the top of the standings on an annual basis. By attacking this conventional wisdom, Beane has found a new way to do so in recent years.

Beane's latest trend calls for bypassing the whims of developing young talent in favor of securing proven veteran contributors, even if they're not stars. And though roster dynamics, salary mechanics and the impact of individuals is far different in the NBA than MLB, the premise of potential being overvalued is the same in both sports.

Banking on young talent, and by proxy, the first round picks that give you the best chance of acquiring it, carries with it inherent risks. As numerous people and studies have pointed out, the NBA draft is a total crapshoot. For Ainge and the Celtics, there's as a much better chance that their collection of draft picks turns them into a redux of the Magic than the Thunder -- the team that has inspired bad NBA franchises to hoard draft picks and making multiple trips to the lottery in an attempt to become perennial contenders. But the fact is, the ROI (return on investment) for late first-round picks is very low, with maybe a handful players taken in the latter third of that round even panning out into rotation players, much less starters or stars.

Yet year after year, teams treat these valuable draft picks as a scarce resource, mostly with good reason. Contenders are reluctant to part with them because the idea of landing a contributor on a rookie deal is a huge relief to the salary cap constraints most face. And on the flip side, rebuilding clubs crave them because they represent the lone avenue (unless they are a big market team) for acquiring the top-end talent deemed necessary to compete for titles.

...is that bad teams don't ever get better unless they get really lucky (Kevin Durant is available in the draft) and the bad teams are aggressive about trying to lose.  Games are essentially consumer fraud.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM


Algorithm Aversion: People Erroneously Avoid Algorithms after Seeing Them Err (Berkeley J. Dietvorst, Joseph P. Simmons  & Cade Massey, July 6, 2014, Forthcoming in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 
Research shows that evidence-based algorithms more accurately predict the future than do human forecasters. Yet, when forecasters are deciding whether to use a human forecaster or a statistical algorithm, they often choose the human forecaster. This phenomenon, which we call algorithm aversion, is costly, and it is important to understand its causes. We show that people are especially averse to algorithmic forecasters after seeing them perform, even when they see them outperform a human forecaster.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


One to watch: Leon Bridges (Jude Rogers, Sunday 22 February 2015, The Guardian)

Eighteen months ago, Bridges was washing dishes in a Texas restaurant; three months ago, 40 record labels had shown interest in him. He went for Columbia in the US ("for the vibes") and Communion in the UK (presumably for the success of the label - co-founded by Mumford & Sons' Ben Lovett - with Ben Howard and Michael Kiwanuka). His falling into the vintage soul soup was a roundabout thing. Until only a few years ago, Bridges' interests were dancing and 90s R&B artists like Ginuwine and Usher; he went on to study the former at community college, and still dances now. "I never thought about making music, though." Surely you were aware that you could sing? "I was aware that I could sing, but I wasn't all that confident. That was for other people."

Then along came Sam Cooke. Bridges first heard A Change Is Gonna Come after watching Spike Lee's Malcolm X biopic with his community centre director dad ("anyone hearing a song like that would become curious") but didn't think of him again until he had already started writing songs. A tender one about his mother, Lisa Sawyer, made a rapper friend inquire about Cooke's influence, lighting the touchpaper on a new Bridges obsession. He admits that YouTube and Pandora were his historical tools, rather than record shop rummages. See him in monochrome on his iTunes page now, sleeves rolled up, standing against a clapboard house, and you see an eerie facsimile of the past; some might say a cynical one.

Yet Bridges is obviously devoted. "I became so fascinated with that sound I wanted to recreate it exactly." Why? "It made me happy to make it identical. The simplicity just sounded so good." 

Songs We Love : Leon Bridges, 'Coming Home' (Ann Powers, 2/02/15, NPR)

Recorded live at Jenkins and Block's Niles City Sound studio, using only vintage equipment, "Coming Home" explores the reasons why gospel meeting soul worked so magically at the dawn of the 1960s: the swing, the intimate relationship between background and lead vocals, the way the descending organ line works a pirouette around the triplets Bridges sings. This kind of perfection is always relevant. That's why "Coming Home" helped Bridges become a huge SoundCloud sensation late last fall, and why, in this remixed and remastered version, it will take you away in a very right-now way.

Wonderful World : A big indie-rock band and talented newcomer come together in a likely place. (ANTHONY MARIANI, 8/27/14, Fort Worth Weekly)

It all started at the Near Southside watering hole The Boiled Owl, where Austin Jenkins, guitarist in the major- label Austin/Fort Worth/Dallas indie-rock quartet White Denim, was hanging out with his girlfriend and some friends. Across the bar, they spied a young, stylishly lean African-American man in, yes, high-waisted Wranglers. Jenkins' girlfriend went over to the man and said, "Hey! My boyfriend also wears those kinds of jeans!" And that's how Jenkins and 25-year-old Crowley singer-songwriter Leon Bridges met and became friends.

They didn't even talk about music.

Not, that is, until a month later, after Jenkins, who's from Weatherford but who has been living in Fort Worth for the past few months, caught Bridges performing solo acoustic at Magnolia Motor Lounge as part of a weekly residency hosted by Quaker City Night Hawks co-frontman Sam Anderson. Bridges' brand of old-school, Sam Cooke-inspired R&B blew Jenkins' mind, and not long after that, the two embarked on their current project: recording Bridges' debut album in the empty warehouse adjacent to the newish Near Southside venue/bar/apartment complex Shipping & Receiving with vintage gear provided by White Denim's drummer, Dallasite Josh Block.

Bridges has done some studio recording before but never anything like this. Block, 34, also has done some production work before but never anything like this. And Jenkins has never done any production work, period, but he's thrilled to be steering the ship. His biggest contribution so far has been assembling a crazy-talented backing band for Bridges: The Orbans' Kenny Hollingsworth on guitar, former Orban Cliff Wright on bass, Quaker City Night Hawk Andrew Skates on keys, former Josh Weathers Band saxophonist Jeff Dazey, and, as handpicked by Bridges, numerous backing vocalists. All this plus a couple of random guests and, of course, Jenkins and Block on guitar and drums respectively.

"We're all doing it for the love of [Bridges'] music," Jenkins said recently at the makeshift studio with Bridges and Block.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


This comparison of global stocks in 1899 and 2014 says it all (AKIN OYEDELE,  FEB. 19, 2015, Business Insider)

world stock market

February 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 11:24 PM


Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis (David Leonhardt, 2/17/15, NY Times)

[A] new analysis, by Stephen J. Rose of George Washington University, adds an important wrinkle to the story: Income inequality has not actually risen since the financial crisis began.

How could that be? Because the crisis, which ran roughly from 2007 to 2010, reduced the pretax incomes of the wealthiest Americans more than the incomes of any group. The wealthy have indeed received the bulk of the gains since the recovery began, but they still haven't recovered their losses. Meanwhile, the steps that the federal government took in response to the crisis, including tax cuts and benefit increases, have mostly helped the nonwealthy.

Fascinatingly, Mr. Rose's case is not based on a new or previously undiscovered data set. It's based on the same statistics most commentators have been using to discuss inequality. The most up-to-date numbers come from the pathbreaking analysis of tax records by Emmanuel Saez, the University of California, Berkeley, professor who often collaborates with Thomas Piketty. A second set of statistics comes from the Congressional Budget Office.

Since the financial crisis and recession began, the incomes of the highest-earning households have fallen even more than the income of others.

Both point in the same direction: The income of the top 1 percent - both the level and the share of overall income - still hasn't returned to its 2007 peak. Their average income is about 20 percent below that peak. Yet we have all become so accustomed to rising inequality that we seem to have lost the ability to consider the alternative. Maybe it's because many liberals are tempted to believe inequality is always getting worse, while many conservatives are tempted to believe that the Obama economy is always getting worse.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


The Japanese-Peruvians interned in the US during WW2 (Jaime Gonzalez, 2/21/15, BBC Mundo)

By the 1940s, an estimated 25,000 people of Japanese descent lived in Peru. Many had become lawyers and doctors, or owned small businesses.

Their prosperity, further fuelled by racism, soon triggered anti-Japanese sentiment in Peru, Stephanie Moore explains.

Ms Moore, a scholar at the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, says after the outbreak of World War Two, the Japanese community in Peru became a target, and their assets were confiscated.

"In May 1940, as many as 600 houses, schools and businesses belonging to citizens of Japanese descent were burned down," she says.

Following Japan's 1941 attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the US government asked a dozen Latin American countries, among them Peru, to arrest its Japanese residents.

Records from the time suggest the US authorities wanted to take them to the US and use them as bargaining chips for its nationals captured by Japanese forces in Asia. [...]

"You could call it a concentration camp, because we were surrounded by barbed wire fences and guards with guns," she says.

"We couldn't go out at all, although we were free to move around inside," she recalls.

"My parents were really bitter about the situation because they were forced to come to the US. They had no choice," she says.

Ms Kamisato's father had moved to Peru from Japan in 1915 and had worked hard to open a bakery in the capital, Lima.

Now 81, she lives in Los Angeles.

Of the 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent to be interned in the US, 800 were sent to Japan as part of prisoner exchanges.

After World War Two ended, another 1,000 were deported to Japan after their Latin American home countries refused to take them back.

Ms Katsura's and Ms Kamisato's families successfully fought deportation and were eventually allowed to remain in the US.

In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act and apologised on behalf of the US government for the internment of Japanese-Americans.

Under the act, the government paid tens of thousands of survivors of the camps $20,000 (£13,000) each in reparation.

But Japanese-Latin Americans did not qualify for the payments because they had not been US citizens or permanent residents of the US at the time of their internment.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


For a 'Swell' time, try a tugboat cruise on British Columbia's waterways (ANNE HARNAGEL , 2/21/15, LA Times)
Here's a little tugboat that could: The aptly named Swell, a classic restored tug built in 1912, is making two inaugural voyages this spring as the newest member of Maple Leaf Adventures' fleet. [...]

The Swell's second cruise, an eight-day voyage, covers Vancouver Island's Inside Passage, a historic waterway that the vessel once plied as a tugboat. Highlights here include stops at remote islands and coastal communities as well as wildlife viewing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Don't Give Up the Gains in Education (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, FEB. 21, 2015)

Congress made the right decision a decade ago when it required states to administer yearly tests to public school students -- and improve instruction for poor and minority students -- in return for federal education aid.

National test data clearly show that since the unpopular No Child Left Behind Act was signed in 2002, academic performance for the country's students has improved and achievement gaps between white and minority children have narrowed. Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced that the nation's high school graduation rate had hit 81 percent, the highest rate ever. [...]

The 2002 law required states to give annual math and reading tests in grades three through eight (and once in high school) to ensure that students were making progress and that poor and minority students were being educated. The most important aspect was that it required the states to improve conditions for children in underperforming schools.

When Republicans forced standards on the education bureaucracy liberals hated it.  Now there's a "Democrat" in the White House so the Right hates its own victory.
Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


New SAT, New Problems : The questions, particularly those in the math sections, could put certain students at a disadvantage. (JAMES S. MURPHY, JAN 20 2015, 9The Atlantic)

The new test will correspond with the Common Core Standards--the controversial math and reading benchmarks whose design and implementation Coleman happened to spearhead before taking over the College Board. [...]

The new SAT will focus on fewer types of math than the current version does, sacrificing breadth for depth and testing students on the material the College Board believes to be most essential to "college and career success." [...]

One problem with tying the SAT to these new standards is that it will force students and schools to play a long game of catch-up. Most states will be gradually implementing the standards over the next few years--assuming it will only take that long and assuming that any student taking the exam attends a school that is successfully using standards. At last check, 42 states are in the process of implementing the Common Core standards--three of the original participants dropped out--but they are doing so at different rates.

The desire to have your child not taught the Common Core can endure only until he posts a Washburn on the SATs.  Which is why states that are "doing away with them" are adopting them without the name.  That and they want the federal money.

Posted by orrinj at 2:59 PM


The Book That Deflated Darwin Day (John G. West, February 11, 2015, Intercollegiate Review)

Mind and Cosmos has been denounced in The Nation and the Huffington Post, attacked by prominent academics including evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker at Harvard and biologist Jerry Coyne at the University of Chicago, dubbed the "most despised science book of 2012" by the London Guardian, defended in the New Republic (where Nagel's critics were blasted as "Darwinist dittoheads" and a "mob of materialists"), reported on in a feature story for the New York Times, and put on the cover of the Weekly Standard, which depicted poor Professor Nagel being burned alive while surrounded by a cabal of demonic-looking men in hoods.

Nagel attracted special displeasure for praising Darwin skeptics like mathematician David Berlinski and intelligent-design proponents like biochemist Michael Behe and philosopher of science Stephen Meyer. As the New York Times explained, many of Nagel's fellow academics view him unfavorably "not just for the specifics of his arguments but also for what they see as a dangerous sympathy for intelligent design." Now there is a revealing comment: academics, typically blasé about everything from justifications of infanticide to the pooh-poohing of pedophilia, have concluded that it is "dangerous" to give a hearing to scholars who think nature displays evidence of intelligent design.

Unfortunately for Nagel, he is a serial offender when it comes to listening to the purveyors of such disreputable ideas. In 2009 he selected Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design as a book of the year for the Times Literary Supplement. Written by my Discovery Institute colleague Stephen Meyer (whose ideas are discussed in the original conclusion to this book), Signature in the Cell made the case for purpose in nature from the existence of the digital information embedded in DNA. After being denounced by one scientist for praising Meyer's book, Nagel dryly recommended that the scientist should "hold his nose and have a look at the book" before dismissing it.

Apparently unconcerned about being accused of consorting with the enemy, Nagel insisted in Mind and Cosmos that "the defenders of intelligent design deserve our gratitude for challenging a scientific world view that owes some of the passion displayed by its adherents precisely to the fact that it is thought to liberate us from religion." Nagel added that he thinks this antireligious materialist worldview "is ripe for displacement"--an intriguing comment considering that he himself remains an unrepentant atheist.

Nagel ultimately offered a simple but profound objection to Darwinism: "Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself." In other words, if our mind and morals are simply the accidental products of a blind material process like natural selection acting on random genetic mistakes, what confidence can we have in them as routes to truth?

The basic philosophical critique of Darwinian reductionism offered by Nagel had been made before, perhaps most notably by Sir Arthur Balfour, C. S. Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga. But around the same time as the publication of Nagel's book came new scientific discoveries that undermined Darwinian materialism as well. In the fall of 2012, the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project released results showing that much of so-called junk DNA actually performs biological functions. The ENCODE results overturned long-repeated claims by leading Darwinian biologists that most of the human genome is genetic garbage produced by a blind evolutionary process. At the same time, the results confirmed predictions made during the previous decade by scholars who think nature displays evidence of intelligent design.

New scientific challenges to orthodox Darwinian theory have continued to proliferate. In 2013 Stephen Meyer published Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design, which threw down the gauntlet on the question of the origin of biological information required to build animal body plans in the history of life. The intriguing thing about Meyer's book was not the criticism it unleashed from the usual suspects but the praise it attracted from impartial scientists. Harvard geneticist George Church lauded it as "an opportunity for bridge-building rather than dismissive polarization--bridges across cultural divides in great need of professional, respectful dialogue." Paleontologist Mark McMenamin, coauthor of a major book from Columbia University Press on animal origins, called it "a game changer for the study of evolution" that "points us in the right direction as we seek a new theory for the origin of animals."

Even critics of Darwin's Doubt found themselves at a loss to come up with a convincing answer to Meyer's query about biological information. University of California at Berkeley biologist Charles Marshall, one of the world's leading paleontologists, attempted to answer Meyer in the pages of the journal Science and in an extended debate on British radio. But as Meyer and others pointed out, Marshall tried to explain the needed information by simply presupposing the prior existence of even more unaccounted-for genetic information. "That is not solving the problem," said Meyer. "That's just begging the question."

C. S. Lewis perceptively observed in his final book that "nature gives most of her evidence in answer to the questions we ask her." Lewis's point was that old paradigms often persist because they blind us from asking certain questions. They begin to disintegrate once we start asking the right questions. Scientific materialism continues to surge, but perhaps the right questions are finally beginning to be asked.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Obama is pitching the US on free trade (ROBERTA RAMPTON, 2/21/15, REUTERS)

President Barack Obama on Saturday began a broad sales pitch to the U.S. public about the merits of free trade deals, an area in which he faces stiff resistance from many in his own Democratic party.

Obama has said he wants to work with Congressional Republicans to finalize the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, an agreement that would stretch from Japan to Chile, covering 40 percent of the world economy.

The WoT, free trade and the Heritage mandate.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


Blacks' Loyalty to First Black President Got Blacks Nothing (Crystal Wright, Feb 19, 2015, Townhall)

Over 90 percent of blacks voted for Obama during both the 2008 and 2012 elections, and what do they have to show for it? High unemployment while the overall unemployment rate declines. In the summer 2012, when black unemployment was 14 percent, then-chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Emmanuel Cleaver, encouraged blacks to overlook that and vote for him again. Cleaver even joked that "if we had a white president we'd be marching around the White House." But he said the Congressional Black Caucus and its black Democrat members, who are supposed to advocate on behalf of blacks, give deference to Obama purely because he's black.

Apparently, the only benefit blacks received voting for the first black president twice is feeling good knowing they voted for a black man-- because "black America" isn't feeling any love from Obama. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Nit-Picking "Saint" Adam Smith (Stephen Masty, 2/18/15, Imaginative Conservative)

The new author contends that Smith's "'great insight...' was that 'our behaviour is driven by an imaginary interaction with an impartial spectator'. We do not judge ourselves by our principles but by what this finger-wagging companion would think of our actions. Deviations from our moral code are noted, which keeps (sic) us more or less in line... There are limits, of course. Smith knew the average 'man of humanity in Europe ... would not sleep to-night' if his little finger were cut off; but if hundreds of millions of Chinese people were to die, 'provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security.'"

The "finger-wagging companion" is never identified, by Smith or his modern defender, as being a Guardian Angel or a conscience provided by God. Meanwhile, "'Smith wrote as eloquently as anyone ever has on the futility of pursuing money with the hope of finding happiness,' claiming that such 'seductions will never satisfy.' What matters instead is 'the consciousness of being beloved,' the meaning of which has weathered through the ages..." As Australians say, "fair dinkum," or rightly so.

The question unasked by the reviewer, by the modern author or Smith, is why. Smithophilic libertarians tell me that morality is innate and universal; evolved over eons and encoded in the human genome. More than two centuries ago, long before Darwin, this was chewed over aplenty.

In 1756, Edmund Burke satirised the recently published letters of the late Henry St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke, a politician who was brilliant, ambitious, and unreliable in equal measure. A radical republican much-loved in the American Colonies, Bolingbroke and his letters, said Burke, saw "every Mode of Religion attacked in a lively Manner, and the Foundation of every Virtue, and of all Government, sapped with great Art and much Ingenuity."

Burke's satire, pretending to support what it mocked, started on the human mind, which "every Day invents some new artificial Rule to guide that Nature which if left to itself were the best and surest Guide." Bolingbroke seemed to anticipate Rousseau's belief that the primitive or natural was corrupted by civilisation, attracting Burke's magnificent outrage a generation later. But here he applied Bolingbroke's antireligious animus in a Bolingbrokian assault on government, deploying the same arguments. The result, were it sincere, was madness and treason.

So many readers missed the joke that Burke explained it in a preface. Still some readers were no wiser, or had no wish to be. At the end of the eighteenth-century, the British radical William Godwin still thought it the first and best defence of anarchy, as the anarcho-capitalist economist Murray Rothbard did recently. Mr. Rothbard even argued that Burke's added preface was a much later and politically convenient recantation; presumably unaware that the preface came only a year after the first edition, and many years before Burke entered politics.

The atheist philosopher David Hume had another go, with his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, finished in the year of his death and only first published, anonymously, three years later in 1779. There three philosophers, with Greek names, champion various defences for God's existence, which are found wanting. If there is a charitable conclusion, God is beyond Reason.

...precisely because we accept that the Observer is God, on faith. Our Bright betters, while recognizing that to deny objective morality means embracing evil, find themselves unable to use their Reason to identify any Observer and so do, in fact, rush into said arms. And this is all that Modernity consists of : Faith vs Reason.  Happily, the Anglosphere was uniquely skeptical about the latter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


The Grim Reaper's Playlist : The Memento Mori is alive and well (MATTHEW BECKLO, 2/18/15, Aleteia)

Who could forget the horror they felt when they learned that "Ring Around the Rosie" was about the plague? That as kids, when we chanted "ashes, ashes, we all fall down!" and let go of each other's hands, collapsing to the ground giggling, we were really enacting a historically driven memento mori?
Part of the creepiness of that realization is owed to the fact that death is something we do our best not to talk about, much less sing about. With the exception of religious observances like Ash Wednesday, the primordial reality about life - that it ends, for each and every one of us - is papered over by so many layers of disengagement, irony, and ambition. (Even for kings, Thomas More reminded us, death comes.) Family and communal rituals around death that cultivated a kind of existential intimacy with it have, for various reasons, weakened and even vanished. Death becomes a thin abstraction. Still, those words ring on through the ages for each of us: "Thou art dust and unto dust you shalt return."
Philosophy, Cicero said, is at the heart of it a preparation for death. Seen in this light, the wisdom of the medievals in confronting it in art - even with a touch of humor as in the danse macabre - is clear. But it's also inevitable. Efforts to "get over" mortality in art are just as doomed as efforts to "get over" philosophy in thought. Our being-towards-death is not morbid or depressing, but part of our being human and facing the world as it is. There are the films of Woody Allen which return time and time again to the grim reaper. There's the stand-up of Louis CK, who joked: "You're just dead people that didn't die yet."
And there's music. Jack Black in High Fidelity cranked out a list of "top five songs about death," but there are much better selections. Below is just a sampling of eight modern takes on the memento mori, which not only paint a picture of transience, but also of intimations of eternity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


'Hamilton' Review: A Star-Spangled Success (TERRY TEACHOUT, Feb. 19, 2015, WSJ)

"Hamilton," Lin-Manuel Miranda's hip-hop chronicle of the rise and fall of the man on the $10 bill, is the most exciting and significant musical of the past decade. Even though it's an 18th-century costume drama, "Hamilton" sounds as up-to-date as a Nicki Minaj single. Nor is its surging immediacy merely a function of Mr. Miranda's decision to tell Alexander Hamilton's story in the blunt language of rap, for "Hamilton" is as theatrically vital as it is musically fresh. Yes, it's been staged with down-and-dirty flair, and director Thomas Kail and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler are at least as responsible for its effectiveness as is Mr. Miranda. Nevertheless, this is Mr. Miranda's show--not only did he write the words and music, but he plays Hamilton--and so he deserves the bulk of the credit for its success. And if you're wondering whether a multiracial musical about one of the founding fathers could possibly amount to anything more than a knee-jerk piece of progressive sermonizing, get ready for the biggest surprise of all, which is that this show is at bottom as optimistic about America as "1776." American exceptionalism meets hip-hop: That's "Hamilton."

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


A Letter Concerning Muslim Toleration (Mustafa Akyol, 2/17/15, NY Times)

If Islamic thought is to liberalize today, it must take a Lockean leap. This would not mean importing any Western cultural notion, for a Lockean tradition has long existed in Islam, buried in the late seventh century, in a largely forgotten school of theologians called the Murjites. They arose at a time of strife, when proto-Sunnis and proto-Shiites were fighting over who the rightful heir to the Prophet Muhammad was, and a fanatical group called the Kharijites, or "Dissenters," deemed all Muslims but themselves to be apostates and started killing them off.

To counter this zealotry, the more urbane Murjites presented a brilliantly simple argument: No Muslim had the right to judge others on matters of faith; only God had that ultimate authority. Thus, they reasoned, all doctrinal disputes should be postponed to the afterlife, to be resolved by God. (The Quran itself supports this view: "Had God willed, He would have made you a single community"; "Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.") This is why they were called "Murjites," which means, "the Postponers."

Writing a thousand years later, in the midst of passionate intra-Christian conflict, Locke made the same postponement argument. In "A Letter Concerning Toleration," he argued that there is no "judge upon Earth" to adjudicate various churches on "the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship," adding, "The decision of that question belongs only to the Supreme judge of all men, to whom also alone belongs the punishment of the erroneous."

Locke also believed that faith was "the inward persuasion of the Mind," and could not be compelled by "outward force." In this, too, he was like the Murjites: For them, faith was a marifa, an inner knowledge of the heart -- not to be measured by external manifestations, and beyond the judgment of any religion police.

The Postponers disappeared as an independent sect after the first centuries of Islam, having been marginalized by successive despots who upheld more rigid views. But they influenced the Maturidi school of theology and Hanafi jurisprudence, the most rational and lenient strains of Sunni Islam, which remain popular among Turks and Central Asians.

The Murjites' ideas are well worth reviving for all Muslims today, now that the Muslim world has come to bear an unsettling resemblance to their own. 

...who await the Messiah, who'll sort it out for us.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Why Do Americans Stink at Math? (ELIZABETH GREEN, JULY 23, 2014, NY Times Magazine)

When Akihiko Takahashi was a junior in college in 1978, he was like most of the other students at his university in suburban Tokyo. He had a vague sense of wanting to accomplish something but no clue what that something should be. But that spring he met a man who would become his mentor, and this relationship set the course of his entire career.

Takeshi Matsuyama was an elementary-school teacher, but like a small number of instructors in Japan, he taught not just young children but also college students who wanted to become teachers. At the university-affiliated elementary school where Matsuyama taught, he turned his classroom into a kind of laboratory, concocting and trying out new teaching ideas. When Takahashi met him, Matsuyama was in the middle of his boldest experiment yet -- revolutionizing the way students learned math by radically changing the way teachers taught it.
Instead of having students memorize and then practice endless lists of equations -- which Takahashi remembered from his own days in school -- Matsuyama taught his college students to encourage passionate discussions among children so they would come to uncover math's procedures, properties and proofs for themselves. One day, for example, the young students would derive the formula for finding the area of a rectangle; the next, they would use what they learned to do the same for parallelograms. Taught this new way, math itself seemed transformed. It was not dull misery but challenging, stimulating and even fun.

Takahashi quickly became a convert. He discovered that these ideas came from reformers in the United States, and he dedicated himself to learning to teach like an American. Over the next 12 years, as the Japanese educational system embraced this more vibrant approach to math, Takahashi taught first through sixth grade. Teaching, and thinking about teaching, was practically all he did. A quiet man with calm, smiling eyes, his passion for a new kind of math instruction could take his colleagues by surprise. "He looks very gentle and kind," Kazuyuki Shirai, a fellow math teacher, told me through a translator. "But when he starts talking about math, everything changes."

Takahashi was especially enthralled with an American group called the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or N.C.T.M., which published manifestoes throughout the 1980s, prescribing radical changes in the teaching of math. Spending late nights at school, Takahashi read every one. Like many professionals in Japan, teachers often said they did their work in the name of their mentor. It was as if Takahashi bore two influences: Matsuyama and the American reformers.

Takahashi, who is 58, became one of his country's leading math teachers, once attracting 1,000 observers to a public lesson. He participated in a classroom equivalent of "Iron Chef," the popular Japanese television show. But in 1991, when he got the opportunity to take a new job in America, teaching at a school run by the Japanese Education Ministry for expats in Chicago, he did not hesitate. With his wife, a graphic designer, he left his friends, family, colleagues -- everything he knew -- and moved to the United States, eager to be at the center of the new math.

As soon as he arrived, he started spending his days off visiting American schools. One of the first math classes he observed gave him such a jolt that he assumed there must have been some kind of mistake. The class looked exactly like his own memories of school. "I thought, Well, that's only this class," Takahashi said. But the next class looked like the first, and so did the next and the one after that. The Americans might have invented the world's best methods for teaching math to children, but it was difficult to find anyone actually using them.

It wasn't the first time that Americans had dreamed up a better way to teach math and then failed to implement it. The same pattern played out in the 1960s, when schools gripped by a post-Sputnik inferiority complex unveiled an ambitious "new math," only to find, a few years later, that nothing actually changed. In fact, efforts to introduce a better way of teaching math stretch back to the 1800s. The story is the same every time: a big, excited push, followed by mass confusion and then a return to conventional practices.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them. One 1965 Peanuts cartoon depicts the young blond-haired Sally struggling to understand her new-math assignment: "Sets . . . one to one matching . . . equivalent sets . . . sets of one . . . sets of two . . . renaming two. . . ." After persisting for three valiant frames, she throws back her head and bursts into tears: "All I want to know is, how much is two and two?"

Today the frustrating descent from good intentions to tears is playing out once again, as states across the country carry out the latest wave of math reforms: the Common Core. A new set of academic standards developed to replace states' individually designed learning goals, the Common Core math standards are like earlier math reforms, only further refined and more ambitious. Whereas previous movements found teachers haphazardly, through organizations like Takahashi's beloved N.C.T.M. math-teacher group, the Common Core has a broader reach. A group of governors and education chiefs from 48 states initiated the writing of the standards, for both math and language arts, in 2009. The same year, the Obama administration encouraged the idea, making the adoption of rigorous "common standards" a criterion for receiving a portion of the more than $4 billion in Race to the Top grants. Forty-three states have adopted the standards.

The opportunity to change the way math is taught, as N.C.T.M. declared in its endorsement of the Common Core standards, is "unprecedented." And yet, once again, the reforms have arrived without any good system for helping teachers learn to teach them. Responding to a recent survey by Education Week, teachers said they had typically spent fewer than four days in Common Core training, and that included training for the language-arts standards as well as the math.

Carefully taught, the assignments can help make math more concrete. Students don't just memorize their times tables and addition facts but also understand how arithmetic works and how to apply it to real-life situations. But in practice, most teachers are unprepared and children are baffled, leaving parents furious. The comedian Louis C.K. parodied his daughters' homework in an appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman": "It's like, Bill has three goldfish. He buys two more. How many dogs live in London?"

The inadequate implementation can make math reforms seem like the most absurd form of policy change -- one that creates a whole new problem to solve. Why try something we've failed at a half-dozen times before, only to watch it backfire? Just four years after the standards were first released, this argument has gained traction on both sides of the aisle. Since March, four Republican governors have opposed the standards. In New York, a Republican candidate is trying to establish another ballot line, called Stop Common Core, for the November gubernatorial election. On the left, meanwhile, teachers' unions in Chicago and New York have opposed the reforms.

The fact that countries like Japan have implemented a similar approach with great success offers little consolation when the results here seem so dreadful.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Tuna Noodle Casserole: Yay! (Bob Batz Jr., 2/19/15,  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

I did not grow up having to eat Tuna Noodle Casserole, which may be one reason I actually like it. 

One of the legion of visceral TNC haters, my younger brother, Chris, recently told me, "I figure it was one of those meals that [Mom] forced us to eat, like liver-and-onions. I don't remember that she made it or not."

Quite possibly, Chris has issues. My two sisters and I are pretty sure Mom did not make TNC, at least not often, though she did make her share of possibly love-it-or-hate-it dishes including Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast and a concoction given to her by our Scottish ranch-house neighbors called "Mince and Tatties," which is an exotic way to say hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes. 

I have no idea where I first tasted TNC, and it's not something I make or eat often, but what's not to like about the rich combination of noodles and cheesy sauce, with a crunchy topping, and "tuna fish," as I grew up calling it (never just "tuna").

Canned tuna has never bothered me, and I've only grown to appreciate its convenience and nutrition as I've gotten older (especially after I was turned on to the high-end Spanish stuff). Early in my days in Pittsburgh, when I was living up on Mount Washington, I had a tuna-fish epiphany at La Tavola Italiana restaurant, where I saw it served, with cold tomato sauce, atop hot pasta, a Sicilian summer trick. I was skeptical, but I loved it, and now, I make some variation of that -- sometimes with fresh cherry tomatoes, or no tomatoes -- at least once a week, using good-quality tuna in packed in olive oil. Tuna and noodles sans casserole. 

If the name "Tuna Noodle Casserole" is off-putting, you could call it "Tuna Stroganoff," one of the recipes I recently found in the spiral-bound "The Best from the Blade Cookbooks: 1950-1960," a compilation published by the PG's sister newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. "Serve on toast, fluffy rice or buttered noodles and sprinkle with parsley and chives," directed the recipe's contributor, a Mrs. Fred Stauber, who includes 1/3 cup of sherry for good measure.

It's a simple recipe, evoking perhaps simpler times. Especially today when many of us can eat just about anything we can imagine whenever we want, I like the dish's thrift and humility, which makes it a very appropriate no-meat one to make for Lent. 

Boil water.  Add noodles and peas.  Strain.  Add tuna and cream of mushroom soup.  Salt and pepper to taste. Stir vigorously.  Add to casserole dish.  Top with French's French Fried Onions and pop under broiler until brown.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


When Americans Lynched Mexicans (WILLIAM D. CARRIGAN and CLIVE WEBBFEB. 20, 2015, NY Times)

THE recent release of a landmark report on the history of lynching in the United States is a welcome contribution to the struggle over American collective memory. Few groups have suffered more systematic mistreatment, abuse and murder than African-Americans, the focus of the report.

One dimension of mob violence that is often overlooked, however, is that lynchers targeted many other racial and ethnic minorities in the United States, including Native Americans, Italians, Chinese and, especially, Mexicans.

Americans are largely unaware that Mexicans were frequently the targets of lynch mobs, from the mid-19th century until well into the 20th century, second only to African-Americans in the scale and scope of the crimes. One case, largely overlooked or ignored by American journalists but not by the Mexican government, was that of seven Mexican shepherds hanged by white vigilantes near Corpus Christi, Tex., in late November 1873. The mob was probably trying to intimidate the shepherds' employer into selling his land. None of the killers were arrested.

From 1848 to 1928, mobs murdered thousands of Mexicans, though surviving records allowed us to clearly document only about 547 cases. These lynchings occurred not only in the southwestern states of Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, but also in states far from the border, like Nebraska and Wyoming.

Some of these cases did appear in press accounts, when reporters depicted them as violent public spectacles, as they did with many lynchings of African-Americans in the South. For example, on July 5, 1851, a mob of 2,000 in Downieville, Calif., watched the extralegal hanging of a Mexican woman named Juana Loaiza, who had been accused of having murdered a white man named Frank Cannon.

Such episodes were not isolated to the turbulent gold rush period. More than a half-century later, on Nov. 3, 1910, a mob snatched a 20-year-old Mexican laborer, Antonio Rodríguez, from a jail in Rock Springs, Tex. The authorities had arrested him on charges that he had killed a rancher's wife. Mob leaders bound him to a mesquite tree, doused him with kerosene and burned him alive. The El Paso Herald reported that thousands turned out to witness the event; we found no evidence that anyone was ever arrested.

While there were similarities between the lynchings of blacks and Mexicans, there were also clear differences. One was that local authorities and deputized citizens played particularly conspicuous roles in mob violence against Mexicans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Prices in UK shops decline at record pace (Heather Stewart, 20 February 2015, The Guardian)

Prices in Britain's shops and forecourts declined at a record pace in January, as plunging global oil prices slashed the cost of petrol.

Official retail sales figures, published on Friday, showed average store prices declining at an annual rate of 3.1% last month - the largest drop since records began in 1997.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


The Reality of Quantum Weirdness (EDWARD FRENKEL, 2/19/15, NY Times)

Over the past hundred years, numerous experiments on elementary particles have upended the classical paradigm of a causal, deterministic universe. Consider, for example, the so-called double-slit experiment. We shoot a bunch of elementary particles -- say, electrons -- at a screen that can register their impact. But in front of the screen, we place a partial obstruction: a wall with two thin parallel vertical slits. We look at the resulting pattern of electrons on the screen. What do we see?

If the electrons were like little pellets (which is what classical physics would lead us to believe), then each of them would go through one slit or the other, and we would see a pattern of two distinct lumps on the screen, one lump behind each slit. But in fact we observe something entirely different: an interference pattern, as if two waves are colliding, creating ripples.

Astonishingly, this happens even if we shoot the electrons one by one, meaning that each electron somehow acts like a wave interfering with itself, as if it is simultaneously passing through both slits at once.

So an electron is a wave, not a particle? Not so fast. For if we place devices at the slits that "tag" the electrons according to which slit they go through (thus allowing us to know their whereabouts), there is no interference pattern. Instead, we see two lumps on the screen, as if the electrons, suddenly aware of being observed, decided to act like little pellets.

To test their commitment to being particles, we can tag them as they pass through the slits -- but then, using another device, erase the tags before they hit the screen. If we do that, the electrons go back to their wavelike behavior, and the interference pattern miraculously reappears.

There is no end to the practical jokes we can pull on the poor electron! But with a weary smile, it always shows that the joke is on us. The electron appears to be a strange hybrid of a wave and a particle that's neither here and there nor here or there. Like a well-trained actor, it plays the role it's been called to perform. It's as though it has resolved to prove the famous Bishop Berkeley maxim "to be is to be perceived."

February 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


The cracks in Islamic State's business plan are starting to show (Ora Szekely, February 20, 2015, Reuters)

Islamic State's expansion so far has been based heavily on extortion and theft. Using revenue from the oil wells it captured in eastern Syria in June 2014, along with money raised by looting in Mosul, supplemented by funding from ransoms paid by governments for its hostages, Islamic State was able to hire lots of fighters very quickly by paying top salaries. But revenues from the oil wells have dropped (due both to U.S. bombing and falling global oil prices), and with the tragic death of American aid worker Kayla Mueller earlier this month, Islamic State has executed what is likely its last foreign hostage, potentially eliminating a key source of its funding.

The result may be that Islamic State has reached an important crossroads. The strategy that it has relied on so far to fuel its expansion is becoming increasingly untenable. If Islamic State is going to hold on to its recent gains, it has some policy changes to make.

All militant groups need a range of resources -- from guns and money to recruits and political legitimacy -- to accomplish their goals. Broadly speaking, the strategies they use to acquire these resources fall into three categories: theft, barter, or gift. Some militias steal what they need, looting farmers' crops or kidnapping journalists for ransom. Others rely on barter, offering their services as a fighting force to a state in return for money and weapons. Groups employing the gift option try to convince both local constituents and potential state sponsors to voluntarily provide political and material support for its cause. The vast majority of militant groups use a mixture of all three approaches, though many emphasize one approach.

So far, Islamic State has mostly relied on the first approach -- theft. But using this strategy will become increasingly difficult; the resources it has already stolen -- oil, cash from local banks, even hostages -- aren't easily renewable. And, as the Islamic State leadership is beginning to find, brutalizing civilians makes acquiring broad local support very difficult.

The impossibility of sustaining a state on the basis of Islamicism is why Samuel Huntington was wrong.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Iraqis may fear Shi'ite militias more than Islamic State (Mohamad Bazzi February 19, 2015, Reuters)

Many of the Shi'ite militias depend on Iran for their weapons, funding and training. Since Islamic State swept through northern Iraq in June, Tehran has mobilized to protect the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government from the jihadist threat. General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Al-Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, traveled to Baghdad at the start of the crisis to coordinate the defense of the capital with Iraqi politicians and military officials. 

Soleimani also directed Iranian-trained Shi'ite militias -- including the Badr Brigade and the League of the Righteous, two notorious militias responsible for widespread atrocities against Sunnis -- in the fight against Islamic State. 

Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has also emerged as a significant force in the effort to rally Shi'ites against the jihadists. Sistani, who usually urges clerics to avoid direct political participation, has stepped into the political arena forcefully since the fall of Mosul in early June. Three days after Mosul fell, Sistani issued a call to arms that urged all able-bodied Iraqi men to join the security forces and stop Islamic State's advance.

The response was immediate. Tens of thousands of Shi'ite volunteers showed up at recruiting centers to sign up for the Iraq security forces, or the militias. Even though Sistani urged Iraqis to fight under the command of the central government, the Shi'ite militias quickly took center stage. In a sign of his alarm at transgressions by Shi'ite forces, Sistani issued a new statement on Feb. 12 that called on the security forces and militias not to commit atrocities against civilians.

The militias' growing strength threatens to undermine Abadi's authority and one of his most important goals: to assure Sunnis that the central government will protect their interests. Abadi can insist that the Iranian regime, which holds the most sway over the Shi'ite militias as their main source of arms and funding, pressure the militia leaders to fall under the command of the Iraqi security forces. Abadi can also follow through on his pledge to prosecute militia fighters and members of the security forces who have committed atrocities. This would become a deterrent against future transgressions.

If Abadi and Sistani cannot restrain the militias, Iraq will be doomed to an endless cycle of sectarian bloodletting.

...and the bloodletting will be over fairly quickly.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Cuba: 5 Clear Signs Change Is Already Coming (KEVIN JOYCE, 2/20/15, GOOD MORNING AMERICA)

Web Availability Increases: While home connections remain illegal, Internet access via nationwide state-run cafes has become cheaper, at least for the time being. Whereas Cubans had to pay $4.50 an hour before, now they will be required to pay $2.21 per hour of online time, at least until this coming April. [...]

Entrepreneurs Get Busy: With the United States relaxing its regulations on travel to Cuba, an enterprising Fort Lauderdale man is aiming to start a ferry service using his 200-passenger catamaran that whisks tourists from Marathon City Marina in Florida to Havana in four hours. Brian Hall, who is in the process of applying for the he Office of Foreign Assets Control license that would allow his venture to take place, says that he plans to charge $169 per one-way trip and hopes to launch Dec, 1. Even though the first trip is months away, "inquiries are through the roof," he says. "People are ready to go."

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Scott Walker Gets the 'Right-to-Work' Union Fight He Didn't Ask For (MARK PETERS, 2/20/15, WSJ)

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made a name for himself by battling public-sector unions. But he has shown less interest in curbing organized labor when it comes to the private sector. [...]

The GOP-controlled legislature is calling for what's known as an extraordinary session next week, helping leaders move the bill more easily through the Senate and Assembly. The Senate is expected to take up the legislation next week, followed by the assembly the first week in March.

"My experience as leader is when you have the votes, you go to the floor -- you don't wait around," said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican.

Four years ago in Wisconsin, the battle over a law ending most collective-bargaining rights for public employees led to mass protests at the capitol and made Mr. Walker a darling of conservatives. That legislative victory propelled him onto the national stage, making him an early leader in a crowded field for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. (Mr. Walker hasn't decided whether he will run, but is hiring staff and raising money.)

The showdown over the public-sector law in 2011 eventually led to the recall of Mr. Walker, who won that election the following year. He then went on to capture a second term in November.

After winning re-election, Mr. Walker described "right-to-work" legislation as a distraction, saying the 2011 law dealt with problems in the public sector and he preferred to focus on issues such as taxes and education. Still, Mr. Walker on Friday said he would sign the legislation if it passes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Big Solar : Renewable energy finally makes sense as a utility--and that's why it's becoming a threat to coal. (Daniel Gross, 2/20/15, Slate)

When it comes to innovation, businesses often follow the lead of government. Take large-scale renewable power--especially solar. Before the 2009 stimulus package, solar power was nowhere in this country. But the same program that brought us the Solyndra debacle offered loan guarantees for the first efforts to build truly massive, utility-scale projects--ones that could supply massive quantities of energy and theoretically replace plants fired by fossil fuels. Those projects worked. America now is home to the world's two largest solar plants. California's Desert Sunlight and Topaz facilities each have a capacity of 550 megawatts. Both were made possible by Energy Department loans.

Once the technologies were proven, and the costs began to come down, investors and operators stepped in. Companies put up plants, and then made deals with utilities to buy the output--often at a price above the cost of electricity created by coal plants. Utilities complied in part because of state requirements that they source a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources.

Now we're entering a new stage. Companies in sectors such as technology, health care, and consumer products--all big consumers of power--are striking deals to purchase huge amounts of renewable energy from newly constructed plants. This is different than companies putting up a solar array, or buying some carbon offsets, or making token greenness gestures. They are conjuring into existence new infrastructure that can't help but replace coal.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Jeb Bush's Record Offers Cover From the Right (BETH REINHARD, Feb. 18, 2015, WSJ)

When limits on gubernatorial power blocked his agenda, Mr. Bush set out to expand those powers. He gained sway over judicial appointments, state contracts, public schools, college admissions and budget appropriations, making him the most powerful governor in Florida history.

Mr. Bush's aggressive approach mostly riled Democrats at the time. But during the GOP primaries, it could cause additional unease among antiestablishment tea party Republicans.

President Barack Obama --and former President George W. Bush--have been accused of abusing executive authority to further their political agenda.

"He tried to bring all branches of government along, but frankly if he ran into a roadblock, he would look for other ways to get it done, and he wouldn't apologize for that," said Cory Tilley, who worked in Mr. Bush's administration. "He had a very aggressive agenda and he knew he had a finite period of time...He's not running for president to be told he can't do things."

Sally Bradshaw, Mr. Bush's first chief of staff and a top adviser to his would-be presidential campaign, said the former Florida governor was determined to fulfill his campaign promises. He wasn't on a "power trip," she said, but proved "an effective leader who develops a plan, pulls people together and then he moves."

Mr. Bush was the first Republican governor to win re-election in Florida, and he ushered in an era of GOP dominance of the nation's largest swing state.

While in office, Mr. Bush delivered $19 billion in tax cuts, vetoed $2 billion in lawmakers' pet projects and shrank the government payroll. He privatized many state services and pioneered a Medicaid overhaul that moved recipients into private managed-care networks. When the courts threw out his first-in-the-nation, taxpayer-funded school vouchers, he fought to preserve a smaller, privately financed program.

"We were looking at government programs across the board, and nothing was off limits to see if it could be done better," said Brian Yablonski, Mr. Bush's policy director during his first term. "He was willing to take on conservative reforms that no one else would touch at that time."

His opponents have to explain why they've never done anything on this host of issues he acted on.

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Jeb Bush's speech today really had nothing to do with his family (Chris Cillizza, February 18, 2015, Washington Post)

Given the sort-of-out-of-nowhere nature of what Jeb said on his family -- and the fact that the "I am my own man" line was included in the excerpts shipped to reporters (including this one) Tuesday night, it seems very clear what Jeb (and his team) were up to. This was a trial balloon for how (and how much) Jeb will -- and will have to -- talk about the Bush name in the campaign to come. His people are smart and, therefore, were well aware that the lines about his family would dominate coverage and overshadow a speech decidedly light on specifics. That level of press coverage and scrutiny will function, at some level, as a sort of gauge for how much leeway (or not) Bush has to talk about his brother and father (or not talk about his brother and father).

Assuming the Bush folks did this on purpose -- and I am very strongly suspicious that they did -- then it's a very smart strategic move.  Begin the airing of the major issue for Jeb -- his last name and all it means -- even before he is a candidate in a speech that will draw lots of attention from the politics-starved political media. Measure reaction and adjust accordingly.

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


Room for Improvement (Scott Carrier, 2/19/15, Mother Jones)

This story is about how Utah has found a third way.

To understand how the state did that it helps to know that homeless-service advocates roughly divide their clients into two groups: those who will be homeless for only a few weeks or a couple of months, and those who are "chronically homeless," meaning they have been without a place to live for more than a year, and have other problems--mental illness or substance abuse or other debilitating damage. The vast majority, 85 percent, of the nation's estimated 580,000 homeless are of the temporary variety, mainly men but also women and whole families who spend relatively short periods of time sleeping in shelters or cars, then get their lives together and, despite an economy increasingly stacked against them, find a place to live, somehow. However, the remaining 15 percent, the chronically homeless, fill up the shelters night after night and spend a lot of time in emergency rooms and jails. This is expensive--costing between $30,000 and $50,000 per person per year according to the Interagency Council on Homelessness. And there are a few people in every city, like Reno's infamous "Million-Dollar Murray," who really bust the bank. So in recent years, both local and federal efforts to solve the homelessness epidemic have concentrated on the chronic population, currently about 84,000 nationwide.

In 2005, approximately 2,000 of these chronically homeless people lived in the state of Utah, mainly in and around Salt Lake City. Many different agencies and groups--governmental and nonprofit, charitable and religious--worked to get them back on their feet and off the streets. But the numbers and costs just kept going up.

The model for dealing with the chronically homeless at that time, both here and in most places across the nation, was to get them "ready" for housing by guiding them through drug rehabilitation programs or mental-health counseling, or both. If and when they stopped drinking or doing drugs or acting crazy, they were given heavily subsidized housing on the condition that they stay clean and relatively sane. This model, sometimes called "linear residential treatment" or "continuum of care," seemed to be a good idea, but it didn't work very well because relatively few chronically homeless people ever completed the work required to become "ready," and those who did often could not stay clean or stop having mental episodes, so they lost their apartments and became homeless again.

In 1992, a psychologist at New York University named Sam Tsemberis decided to test a new model. His idea was to just give the chronically homeless a place to live, on a permanent basis, without making them pass any tests or attend any programs or fill out any forms.

"Okay," Tsemberis recalls thinking, "they're schizophrenic, alcoholic, traumatized, brain damaged. What if we don't make them pass any tests or fill out any forms? They aren't any good at that stuff. Inability to pass tests and fill out forms was a large part of how they ended up homeless in the first place. Why not just give them a place to live and offer them free counseling and therapy, health care, and let them decide if they want to participate? Why not treat chronically homeless people as human beings and members of our community who have a basic right to housing and health care?"

Tsemberis and his associates, a group called Pathways to Housing, ran a large test in which they provided apartments to 242 chronically homeless individuals, no questions asked. In their apartments they could drink, take drugs, and suffer mental breakdowns, as long as they didn't hurt anyone or bother their neighbors. If they needed and wanted to go to rehab or detox, these services were provided. If they needed and wanted medical care, it was also provided. But it was up to the client to decide what services and care to participate in.

The results were remarkable. After five years, 88 percent of the clients were still in their apartments, and the cost of caring for them in their own homes was a little less than what it would have cost to take care of them on the street. A subsequent study of 4,679 New York City homeless with severe mental illness found that each cost an average of $40,449 a year in emergency room, shelter, and other expenses to the system, and that getting those individuals in supportive housing saved an average of $16,282. Soon other cities such as Seattle and Portland, Maine, as well as states like Rhode Island and Illinois, ran their own tests with similar results. Denver found that emergency-service costs alone went down 73 percent for people put in Housing First, for a savings of $31,545 per person; detox visits went down 82 percent, for an additional savings of $8,732. By 2003, Housing First had been embraced by the Bush administration.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Why Jeb Bush May Survive Common Core Criticism (JANET HOOK, 2/19/15, WSJ)

[A]ccording to new NBC News/Marist polls conducted in three states that will be among the first to hold presidential primaries and caucuses.

The survey, asking about a variety of issues that could affect voters' presidential choice, found that in Iowa -- host of the first presidential caucuses in 2016 -- a solid majority of the potential GOP electorate said that a candidate who supported Common Core would be either totally or mostly acceptable to them.

That is somewhat surprising because among conservative activists, few issues rile up a crowd faster than Common Core, the education standards that most states have adopted to improve student achievement.

as with immigration, it gets the activists in DC worked up, not Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


Economic Freedom and the Size of Government (James E. Mahon Jr., Williams College, January 1, 2015, SSRN)

Abstract:      [...]

[I]t matters a great deal whether we define size as expenditures or taxation. Spending has no relationship with freedom, or a negative one, across this data set. Initial tax revenue levels, however, positively predict subsequent changes in economic freedom. We find similar patterns using different measures of economic freedom and whether we use annual data (1995-2010) or overlapping six-year averages going back to 1970-75. These results challenge the common preconception that taxes and economic freedom are negatively related. In addition, the divergence between tax revenue and spending in this regard is more consistent with a "fiscal contract" model of the state, in which taxation and economic freedom go together, as governments attend to their legitimacy and the health of the private sector in order to increase revenue, but flag in these efforts when they enjoy sources of income other than taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


The New World Order (John Dickerson, 2/19/15, Slate)

If there were questions about whether Jeb Bush is like his brother, he dispelled some of them on Wednesday at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. In November 1999, candidate George Bush scored only 25 percent when a Boston television political reporter gave him a pop quiz on world leaders. Jeb Bush, on the other hand, displayed a command of the world on topics from Cuba to ISIS to the relationship between energy and American security. He surpassed his brother at a far earlier period in this cycle. He also surpassed his 2016 rivals Govs. Chris Christie and Scott Walker, who have had trouble clearing the foreign policy hurdle easily.

Jeb Bush may or may not have wise opinions, but as David Axelrod writes in his recent book about Barack Obama's 2008 presidential race, a candidate can convey strength by passing confidently through the tests on the campaign trail. For some voters that may be enough. Bush showing he knows the name of the president of Egypt, can correct his questioner about events in Tunisia, and can name the precise location of the Iraqi prison that once held the current leader of ISIS will be sufficient. More important for the coming Republican primary, Bush was optimistic. "We are a country in its ascendancy," he said. "We just need to start acting like it." If sustained, confidence mixed with optimism is an attractive combination in a candidate. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Reform conservatives are conservative! (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, February 20, 2015, The Week)

Most conservatives and libertarians agree that capital gains should receive preferential tax treatment because doing so encourages investment, which leads to increased productivity and growth. The child tax credit is merely a recognition that having children is also an investment in capital -- human capital -- one which is ultimately the most important kind of investment. As the great libertarian economist Julian Simon put it, people are the ultimate resource.

Does expanding the child tax credit mean conservatives are allowing liberalism to triumph, or entering into a "bidding war" with liberals that they can only lose? This is a legitimate concern in theory, but historically it is unfounded. As Ramesh Ponnuru points out, the authors of the Contract with America included a child tax credit with their plan, and passed it. No Democratic bidding war followed. And philosophically, reformocons are hardly abandoning conservatism with this policy.

Consider another example: the EITC, by most measures the most successful anti-poverty program in many generations (with welfare reform a close second). Reformocon plans for expanding the EITC (which was a key part of Reaganomics) and/or reforming it to replace it with wage subsidies or payroll tax cuts is an expansion of Reagan's movement. Making work pay for everyone, not just the upper class, is the point of Reaganomics. This is hardly liberalism.

Another example: The mortgage tax deduction is a giant government subsidy. Reformocons want to reduce or eliminate these tax breaks. This is entirely in keeping with conservative principles.

If the reformocon agenda represents the triumph of liberalism, then by that standard, every Republican administration since Coolidge has been a triumph of liberalism." Reagan's call for "a government that rides with us, not on our backs" was a call for more limited government, absolutely, but not for the nightwatchman state.

Some right-of-center writers grasp that nettle, and argue that the job of conservatives is to push for a return to the state of affairs under Coolidge, or even McKinley. I'd be lying if I said there isn't a part of me that is attracted to that. But at the end of the day, there are still elections every four years, and the country will still be better off with a Republican Party and a conservative agenda that can actually govern the country. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


The GOP's scramble for the stupid vote (Damon Linker, February 20, 2015, The Week)

Exhibit A is a form of groveling that these days just about every Republican engages in when asked if he or she accepts the truth of Darwinian evolution. Walker played this sorry game on his recent trip to London, when the question was posed to him by a reporter and he chose to "punt."

When members of the right-wing media dismiss such questions as exercises in confirming that conservatives belong to a different cultural "tribe" than liberals, they have a point. A president's views on evolutionary biology are in almost all imaginable circumstances irrelevant to his job, and most liberals who scoff at Republican expressions of evolutionary agnosticism probably know no more about biological science than their ideological opponents. 

Yet there is still something more than a little pathetic about the abject refusal of Republican candidates for high office to defend the reigning scientific consensus on the matter, at the risk of offending the most stridently fundamentalist Christians. Why not be similarly non-committal about whether the sun orbits the Earth or vice versa? Just because these believers have arbitrarily decided that it's acceptable to defer to scientists on one issue but not the other?

A politician less terrified of antagonizing scientifically illiterate voters might respond to a question about evolution like this: "Yes, I believe life evolved on Earth, not because I'm a scientist but precisely because I'm not. Scientists study these questions, they revise their views in light of new evidence, all the evidence gathered today points toward evolution, and that's good enough for me. As a Christian, I have faith that God played a role in evolution that we can't fully grasp through science, but that doesn't mean the science is wrong." 

A statement like that would take the faith of religious voters seriously while not pretending that ignorance is acceptable or treating it as something positively admirable. But of course it might also alienate a few Know Nothings, and that's apparently not something Walker is willing to risk doing.

Nevermind that the Creationism vs. Evolution question breaks down 85% to 15% in America, the bigger problem is that there is no science supporting the Darwinian position to defer to, only Science.  

Posted by orrinj at 10:02 AM


Bill O'Reilly Has His Own Brian Williams Problem : The Fox News host has said he was in a "war zone" that apparently no American correspondent reached. (David Corn and Daniel Schulman | Thu Feb. 19, 2015, Mother Jones)

[F]or years, O'Reilly has recounted dramatic stories about his own war reporting that don't withstand scrutiny--even claiming he acted heroically in a war zone that he apparently never set foot in.

O'Reilly has repeatedly told his audience that he was a war correspondent during the Falklands war and that he experienced combat during that 1982 conflict between England and Argentina. He has often invoked this experience to emphasize that he understands war as only someone who has witnessed it could. As he once put it, "I've been there. That's really what separates me from most of these other bloviators. I bloviate, but I bloviate about stuff I've seen. They bloviate about stuff that they haven't."

Fox News and O'Reilly did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Here are instances when O'Reilly touted his time as a war correspondent during the Falklands conflict:

In his 2001 book, The No Spin Zone: Confrontations With the Powerful and Famous in America, O'Reilly stated, "You know that I am not easily shocked. I've reported on the ground in active war zones from El Salvador to the Falklands."

Conservative journalist Tucker Carlson, in a 2003 book, described how O'Reilly answered a question during a Washington panel discussion about media coverage of the Afghanistan war: "Rather than simply answer the question, O'Reilly began by trying to establish his own bona fides as a war correspondent. 'I've covered wars, okay? I've been there. The Falklands, Northern Ireland, the Middle East. I've almost been killed three times, okay.'"

In a 2004 column about US soldiers fighting in Iraq, O'Reilly noted, "Having survived a combat situation in Argentina during the Falklands war, I know that life-and-death decisions are made in a flash."

In 2008, he took a shot at journalist Bill Moyers, saying, "I missed Moyers in the war zones of [the] Falkland conflict in Argentina, the Middle East, and Northern Ireland. I looked for Bill, but I didn't see him."

...that the Falklands are in England.

February 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


My Own Life : Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer (OLIVER SACKS, FEB. 19, 2015, NY Times)

It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it "My Own Life."

"I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution," he wrote. "I have suffered very little pain from my disorder; and what is more strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of my person, never suffered a moment's abatement of my spirits. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, and the same gaiety in company."

I have been lucky enough to live past 80, and the 15 years allotted to me beyond Hume's three score and five have been equally rich in work and love. In that time, I have published five books and completed an autobiography (rather longer than Hume's few pages) to be published this spring; I have several other books nearly finished.

Hume continued, "I am ... a man of mild dispositions, of command of temper, of an open, social, and cheerful humour, capable of attachment, but little susceptible of enmity, and of great moderation in all my passions."

Here I depart from Hume. While I have enjoyed loving relationships and friendships and have no real enmities, I cannot say (nor would anyone who knows me say) that I am a man of mild dispositions. On the contrary, I am a man of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all my passions.

And yet, one line from Hume's essay strikes me as especially true: "It is difficult," he wrote, "to be more detached from life than I am at present."

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at "NewsHour" every night. I shall no longer pay any attention to politics or arguments about global warming.

This is not indifference but detachment -- I still care deeply about the Middle East, about global warming, about growing inequality, but these are no longer my business; they belong to the future. I rejoice when I meet gifted young people -- even the one who biopsied and diagnosed my metastases. I feel the future is in good hands.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


New wave of east Europeans come to UK for work (Alan Travis,  18 February 2015, The Guardian)

Britain's growing economy and a stronger pound have triggered a new wave of labour migration from Poland and other east European countries, official figures suggest.

The latest Office for National Statistics labour market statistics show the number of east Europeans working in Britain rose to 895,000 in December - an increase of 168,000 or 23% in the past year.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


In Both Red and Blue States, Talk of Middle-Class Tax Cuts (Jake Grovum, 2/17/15, Pew)

Proposals in Republican-dominated states, such as Arkansas, Ohio and Maine (where Democrats control the House), focus on lowering income tax rates, either for everybody or specifically for low- and middle-income taxpayers.  In New York and Minnesota, where Democrats hold more sway, the idea is to boost low- and middle-income households through targeted property tax cuts or child care income tax credits, respectively. 

Some states, including some with Republican governors such as Michigan and Massachusetts, are interested in expanding their states' versions of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Other states that don't have a state EITC, such as California, are thinking of creating one. The credit, which reduces the amount of taxes that low- to moderate-income households owe, has long attracted bipartisan support.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Remote Patient Monitoring Lets Doctors Spot Trouble Early (JONATHAN D. ROCKOFF, Feb. 16, 2015, WSJ)

Richard Setzenfand had a wireless router installed in his Pittsburgh home last fall. But it wasn't for surfing the Internet or streaming video to his computer.

The router was sent by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to track how Mr. Setzenfand's diseased heart was doing. The device wirelessly collects the measurements taken in the patient's home by a scale, blood-pressure cuff and fingertip blood-oxygen meter, and sends them to the medical center.

Based on those transmissions, Mr. Setzenfand's doctor adjusted the doses of two blood-pressure drugs without the patient needing to visit the doctor or ending up in the emergency room. "I don't have to do anything other than use the equipment," says Mr. Setzenfand, a 78-year-old retired accountant. [...]
Vidant, which started its program in February 2012, has 600 to 700 patients with congestive heart failure, diabetes and high blood pressure participating in its remote-monitoring program at any one time. Each receives various devices to measure blood pressure and other vital signs, along with a transmitting device to send the data via cellular service to Vidant.

Hospital admissions for these patients fell 74% in 2013 and dropped 54% during the first eight months of last year from the same period a year earlier, to 192, according to Dr. Rumans.

Remote-monitoring programs tend to focus on serious, chronic conditions like congestive heart failure, which typically have resulted in repeat hospitalizations. Readmissions for these conditions are a major health-care expense, and Medicare has begun penalizing hospital systems with high readmission rates.

"We are under considerable pressure all around to deliver better outcomes and keep costs down," says Ravi Ramani, director of the Integrated Heart Failure Program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, or UPMC. "What we're trying to do is use technology" to further those efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 2:12 PM


Wisconsin to Skip Debt Payments to Make Up for Walker's Tax Cuts (Tim Jones, 2/18/15, Bloomberg) 

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, facing a $283 million deficit that needs to be closed by the end of June, will skip more than $100 million in debt payments to balance the books thrown into disarray by his tax cuts.

Presumably the Governor will propose that the American people likewise be allowed to skip some debt payments?

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:51 AM


Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Moanin'

(same band as featured on the album)

Fully half of my ATJ posts to date have featured musicians associated with the hard bop style of jazz.  As I explained in ATJ #6 (Jimmy Smith's The Sermon), "Speaking very generally, hard bop retained the rhythms, harmonies and technical virtuosity of bebop, but leavened it by moderating tempos (bop tunes were often played extremely fast or extremely slow...to discourage dancing and encourage listening) and adding an obvious blues/funk/gospel feel.  Hard bop is most closely associated with the recordings of the Blue Note label in the 50's and 60's..."

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (in all its iterations from the late 1940's through the 1980's) is the band most associated with the hard bop movement, and this week's album, Moanin', is the archetypal hard bop album.  A history of the Messengers would fill an entire post, but just listing its trumpet players over the years gives a sense of the incredible talent that Blakey incubated: Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Wynton Marsalis...or, to put it another way, pretty much all of the greatest jazz trumpeters who came of age in the second half of the 20th century.   And the list of sax players and pianists who are Messengers alumni is almost as impressive.  The one constant throughout was Blakey's muscular drum work, characterized by his distinctive (and much copied) forceful clsoing of the high hat cymbals on the second and fourth beats (providing a strict underpinning to the group's overall sense of time) and his rolls and fills on the snare drum and tom toms that sound like he is shaking thunder down from the heavens.

While the band here is fantastic, with Morgan on trumpet, Benny Golson (the MacGuffin in the Tom Hanks movie, The Terminal) on tenor and Bobby Timmons on piano, what elevates this above the many other great Jazz Messenger recordings is the quality of the tunes.  Golson's "Blues March," "Along Came Betty" and "Are You Real" and Timmons's "Moanin'" each capture different proportions of the blues-and-gospel flavor that is the signature of hard bop. These tunes all became staples of the Blakey book, to be played by Byrd and Hubbard and Shaw and Wayne Shorter and Curtis Fuller and Cedar Walton and Branford Marsalis and all the stars that followed.  My favorite here is "Along Came Betty," featuring a shuffling, sinuous melody, which is at once somehow simpler and more complex than it seems, and a great bluesy set of changes for the blowing which follows.

February 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


The irony of ObamaCare: How liberals came to love Big Business (W. James Antle III, February 18, 2015, The Week)

It's not every day that Mother Jones describes a policy as effective because corporate America says so. ObamaCare seems to be an exception to the rule.

"If getting rid of ObamaCare is such a good idea," asks reporter Stephanie Mencimer, "why isn't corporate America getting behind King v. Burwell, the Supreme Court case designed to demolish the Affordable Care Act?"

Indeed, the piece not only notes the lack of big business support for King, but also emphasizes that the Hospital Corporation of America is on the administration's side.

For once, liberals are arguing that a surge in corporate profits is proof that a law is working. [...]

But as The New York Times has reported, "Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted in 2010, the relationship between the Obama administration and insurers has evolved into a powerful, mutually beneficial partnership that has been a boon to the nation's largest private health plans and led to a profitable surge in their Medicaid enrollment."

Under ObamaCare, "share prices for four of the major insurance companies -- Aetna, Cigna, Humana, and UnitedHealth -- have more than doubled, while the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index has increased about 70 percent."

Even before the law was passed, insurance companies successfully opposed the government-run public option, but were on board with a lot of other provisions that meant more money and customers for their product.

"Health insurers supported the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and were one of the key constituencies consulted when policymakers crafted the legislation," notes Modern Healthcare in a report on the health insurance stock boom.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Inside Jeb Bush's 'shock and awe' launch : While Bush avoided the spotlight last year, aides were making a plan. (BEN WHITE and MARC CAPUTO 2/18/15, Politico)

Their strategy was to publicly downplay his interest in the race and avoid media attention, while quietly laying the groundwork for a launch that would catch much of Washington -- and many of his potential rivals -- flat-footed. While the much of the political world focused on Chris Christie, Rand Paul and even Bush's fellow Floridian Marco Rubio, Bush was quietly collecting political chits, developing a cohesive platform, and preparing for a fundraising blitz intended to grab the front-runner's chair, scare potential competitors like Mitt Romney and Christie, and put Bush on such a firm financial footing that he could devote more time to retail politics when it really counted.

Bush's first step, after that November date at the Marriott Marquis, was to hire full-time help. Within a month, he had dipped into his personal fortune to hire four staffers: longtime adviser and former chief of staff Sally Bradshaw, former spokeswoman Kristy Campbell, longtime aide Brandi Brown and political aide Josh Venable. Bush's political consultant, Mike Murphy, joined in conference calls from his California home.

Bradshaw describes the following year as a "process" in which staffers carefully set up the building blocks for a massive campaign, while the would-be candidate engaged in his own soul-searching under the radar screen. Even unscripted moments like his mother's declaration in January 2014 that she hoped he wouldn't run helped serve his purposes -- allowing the family to acknowledge the audacity of a third Bush presidency while masking Bush's preparations.

"We just do what people who work for Jeb Bush always do, which is build the plan, execute the plan and don't talk about it," Bradshaw said.

In keeping with that line, Bradshaw didn't provide the specifics of the "plan," although she indicated it was more a series of dos and don'ts for 2014.

Do: Travel, fund-raise for other candidates, quietly vet Bush's business dealings and other potential points of attack, and entertain calls from supporters to run.

Don't: Establish a political committee, travel to first-in-the-nation Iowa or explicitly start lining up donors or more staffers until year's end.

"Donors called me all the time. I didn't go to donors and solicit their support," Bradshaw said. "If a donor called and said 'Is Jeb Bush running?' I would say 'I don't know. He's going through a process of thinking very seriously about this. What do you think he should do?'"

If the donor responded, "Well, I think he should run," Bradshaw said she'd reply: "Let's get all of your contact information."

Bradshaw added that she had no idea what Bush's ultimate decision would be, but she collected donor information as a safeguard in case Bush took the next step.

Bush's announcement that he was seriously considering a run was, as it turned out, exquisitely timed -- just after Thanksgiving of last year.

"Jeb's pace surprised a lot of us," said Scott Reed, the former campaign manager for Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign and a longtime GOP operative who is neutral in this race. "He dominated the holiday season's headlines while everybody else was wrapping presents."

At that moment, Bush's team hit the phones and emails with what some have called a "shock and awe" campaign that could raise between $50 million and $100 million by the end of the first quarter of the year.

"All that matters in this first quarter is fundraising," said Reed. "Nobody else has done what he has done."

Indeed, by the end of the quarter, Bush's team believes, many would-be competitors will have joined Romney on the sidelines, unwilling or unable to compete with the Bush juggernaut, while the candidate can be freed up to address the many serious questions about why another Bush is the best solution to the nation's problems.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


A new economic mystery: negative interest rates (Robert J. Samuelson  February 18, 2015, Washington Post)

[B]orrowers benefit. Rates on five-year auto loans were 3 percent; on 30-year fixed rate home mortgages, rates were 3.8 percent. But negative rates? How can that be?

In practice, here's what happens. Bonds are traded on markets, just like stocks. Their prices can rise or fall depending on economic conditions or political events. When the price of a bond rises, its interest rate falls. Consider a $1,000 bond that was initially issued with a 3 percent interest rate. If the bond's market prices subsequently rises to $1,500, the bond's effective interest rate drops to 2 percent.

This is how bond interest rates can turn negative. If a bond's price rises high enough, its original interest payments won't cover the bond's full market cost. "I buy a bond for $1,000 and get back $950 -- that's a negative interest rate," says Moody's Analytics economist Mark Zandi. In January, as much as $3.6 trillion worth of government bonds -- mostly European and Japanese -- had developed negative interest rates, estimate London-based analysts for JPMorgan. [...]

True, the sluggish world economy has suppressed price pressures. In the euro zone, consumer prices (minus energy) are up a mere 0.4 percent in the past year. But credit demand, while not robust, hasn't collapsed. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute finds that worldwide credit grew 40 percent from the end of 2007 to mid-2014.

Just because bonds are traded at negative interest rates doesn't mean there's much buying at those rates. "I don't understand why anyone would put up with negative interest rates," says Richard Sylla, a financial historian at New York University and co-author of "A History of Interest Rates." "You could do better by holding cash." Some European banks now charge for holding cash deposits; in those cases, buying negative-interest bonds instead might make sense, says Sylla.

February 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Pro-Iran militias' success in Iraq could undermine U.S. (Liz Sly, February 15, 2015, Washington Post)
Shiite militias backed by Iran are increasingly taking the lead in Iraq's fight against the Islamic State, threatening to undermine U.S. strategies intended to bolster the central government, rebuild the Iraqi army and promote reconciliation with the country's embittered Sunni minority.

With an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 armed men, the militias are rapidly eclipsing the depleted and demoralized Iraqi army, whose fighting strength has dwindled to about 48,000 troops since the government forces were routed in the northern city of Mosul last summer, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

A recent offensive against Islamic State militants in the province of Diyala led by the Badr Organization further reinforced the militias' standing as the dominant military force across a swath of territory stretching from southern Iraq to Kirkuk in the north.

Just make them the Iraqi army.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


GOP Donors Provide Cover for Bush on Immigration (David Catanese Feb. 17, 2015, US News)

Three multimillionaire supporters of Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign - health care CEO Mike Fernandez, fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder and private equity manager Spencer Zwick - said it was imperative that the GOP nominee for president in 2016 be a clear and unapologetic supporter of broad-based changes to the country's immigration system that would allow the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to come out of the shadows.

"Across at least the larger donor base, there's a very strong feeling that if you're going to win this election, you're going to have to change your position on immigration reform if you're opposed to it," Puzder said during a conference call organized by the bipartisan Partnership for a New American Economy. "I think donors want to support people who are going to win."

The pronouncement amounted to an implicit endorsement of Jeb Bush's approach to the issue, which has already been identified as arguably his most potent weakness in a Republican primary contest.

Forty-one percent of potential New Hampshire primary voters recently cited Bush's support for allowing immigrants already in the U.S. illegally to remain in the country as a "deal killer."

But the former Florida governor has given no indication he's willing to alter his position in order to assuage the most conservative bent of the party. And these deep-pocketed donors appeared to be signaling that Bush would be rewarded for his courage in standing his ground.

...but cash money never hurts.
Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


An economic revolution may be underway in Europe, but it's not happening in Greece (CHARLIE KNIGHTS, 17 February 2015, Open Democracy)

All of this diverted attention from where the real seeds of change, and potentially an answer to Europe's growth problem, may have been planted. From February 2, around 60,000 of Croatia's poorest citizens are having their debts wiped under the country's "Fresh Start" scheme. This figure carries greater significance when placed into context of Croatia's population of around 4.4 million.  

Having endured six years of recession, and with growth forecasts remaining stubbornly low, around 317,000 Croatians have found their bank accounts frozen due to debt, stifling economic demand. Those with a debt under the equivalent of around £3,300, with a weekly income under £91 and with no investments or savings have now found themselves with a clean slate.

The program is expected to cost around £20 million but the government is confident the long-term benefits will outstrip the immediate costs. Such a scheme is considered by many to be unprecedented and exceptional, dividing economic opinion.

Some warn that banks and private companies will be dissuaded from providing credit to the country's citizens in the future due to fears of having to burden additional hits in the future. This may, damagingly, lead to higher interest rates as lenders seek to protect themselves from higher risk.

But others suggest this may be exactly what the ailing economy needs. Other European countries have looked to monetary easing in order to boost demand in the economy but this has been largely ineffective as banks have failed to pass on the benefits to potential borrowers. Instead, Croatia is taking a more direct route to stimulating demand.

By removing these people from their debt trap, thousands of potential consumers will suddenly be returned to the economy. This additional demand will stimulate further production and consumer sales. This, in turn, means more orders from suppliers and greater output needed from manufacturers. This can only have a positive impact on economic growth and potentially lead to additional social improvements, including more employment opportunities.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


Ex-envoy: US should offer Israel 'nuclear guarantee' to cool Iran fears (RAPHAEL AHREN February 17, 2015, Times of Israel)

"The United States can afford to have Iran as a near-threshold nuclear power. And Israel is saying it can't. And that's related to the very different security circumstances of the US and Israel,"Indyk said during a panel discussion at the Institute for National Security Studies' annual conference in Tel Aviv. "Instead of having an argument about that, the United States should enter immediately into discussions with Israel about a nuclear guarantee for Israel."

Such an arrangement would take the form of a bilateral treaty, Indyk explained.

"It would require legislation and I believe it would pass pretty much unanimously," he said.

The guarantee would commit the US to take some sort of action should Iran cross a certain threshold, though Indyk did not say exactly what the specific contours of such a deal would take.

Also known as nuclear umbrellas, guarantees are often used by nuclear-states as a promise to protect smaller allies.

...and should, in turn, be required to surrender their nukes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Your Brain Is Primed To Reach False Conclusions (CHRISTIE ASCHWANDEN, 2/17/15, 538)

Paul Offit likes to tell a story about how his wife, pediatrician Bonnie Offit, was about to give a child a vaccination when the kid was struck by a seizure. Had she given the injection a minute sooner, Paul Offit says, it would surely have appeared as though the vaccine had caused the seizure and probably no study in the world would have convinced the parent otherwise. (The Offits have such studies at the ready -- Paul is the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of "Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All.") Indeed, famous anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy has said her son's autism and seizures are linked to "so many shots" because vaccinations preceded his symptoms.

But, as Offit's story suggests, the fact that a child became sick after a vaccine is not strong evidence that the immunization was to blame. Psychologists have a name for the cognitive bias that makes us prone to assigning a causal relationship to two events simply because they happened one after the other: the "illusion of causality." A study recently published in the British Journal of Psychology investigates how this illusion influences the way we process new information. Its finding: Causal illusions don't just cement erroneous ideas in the mind; they can also prevent new information from correcting them. [...]

Many psychological studies have shown promising improvements in belief accuracy when it involves matters that participants don't care about, Nyhan told me. "But the lesson of controversial political, health and science issues is that people don't apply their critical-thinking skills in the same way when they have a preference for who's right." Studies by law professor Dan Kahan at Yale show that even highly numerate people are prone to cognitive traps when the data contradicts the conclusion most congenial to their political values.

So where does this leave us? With a lot of evidence that erroneous beliefs aren't easily overturned, and when they're tinged with emotion, forget about it. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Japan: Shareholder returns set to hit record levels this fiscal (M Rochan, February 17, 2015, IB Times)

In a note published over the weekend, Goldman Sachs wrote: "Faced with growing pressure to improve capital efficiency, Japanese companies have become increasingly conscious of corporate governance and the need to deliver higher returns to shareholders as their earnings have recovered."

Goldman said: "One of the most overlooked areas of PM [Shinzo] Abe's reform agenda remains corporate governance.

"... the corporate governance code announcement fuels interest in returns to shareholders as a component of governance."

In December 2014, Abe's government put out a draft of the planned 'corporate governance code', which seeks to increase the number of outside directors and promote greater concern for shareholders.

Last February, Tokyo introduced the Japanese Stewardship Code, which calls on shareholders to divulge how they vote at annual general meetings, engage more actively with company management and quiz firms on issues such as low dividend payouts. [...]

The Japanese Stewardship Code was inspired by the UK Stewardship Code, which was formulated post the global financial crisis of 2008.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Dems will splinter on trade deals (Juan Williams - 02/16/15, The Hill)

Votes on potentially large U.S. trade deals hold the potential for a storm that will scatter the band of brothers and sisters known as Senate Democrats.

The same votes also threaten to alienate them from Obama for his last two years.

The cloud will become a self-destructive storm for the Democrats if their left wing faction, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), joins with right-wing Republicans. [...]

The popular Sen. Warren is framing her concern over the proposed trade pacts by pointing to past deals that she contends pushed "America's middle class in a deep hole," while boosting big business and Wall Street investors.

On the other hand, Senate Democrats can find motivation for supporting the president by looking at a June Pew poll. It found 59 percent of Americans backing free trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

More motivation comes from history. President Clinton won approval of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) from a Republican Congress. In 2002, it was a Republican majority that again gave "fast track" power on trade deals to the Bush White House. Congressional Democrats have to be concerned about being left behind one more time on this critical issue.

In this go-around, Democrats on Capitol Hill risk looking less like faithful defenders of the working class than bystanders to the changing reality of global trade.

Posted by orrinj at 3:34 PM


Europe's Other Ticking Time Bomb (Barry Ritholtz, 2/17/15, Bloomberg View)

Inflation is below 1 percent in the U.S., U.K., Europe, China and Japan


Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


The Robots Are Coming for Your Paycheck (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, 2/17/15, WSJ)

A paper out this month concludes smart machines, such as robots, have the potential to destroy good-paying jobs and damage the economy.

"In other words, technological progress can be immiserating," Boston University's Seth Benzell, Laurence Kotlikoff and Guillermo LaGarda, and Columbia University's Jeffrey Sachs write.

The study, "Robots are Us: Some Economics of Human Replacement," is careful to note that's not the only possible outcome. But it does predict a long-run decline in labor's share of income, a cycle of tech booms and busts, and a growing dependency on past software investment rather than continued. 

It's just a matter of breaking the already tenuous tie between labor and income.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Last Man Running (REEVES WIEDEMAN, 2/17/15, The New Yorker)

The Last Man game, an annual competition of intentional ignorance, began on Sunday, February 1st, at 10:06 P.M. A hundred and fourteen million Americans had just watched the Super Bowl, more than had ever watched before. Somewhere north of a hundred--no million needed--had decided, instead, to play Last Man, a loosely organized contest that began in the late aughts, when Kyle Whelliston, a blogger who didn't care much for football, decided to try to be the "Last Man in America to Know Who Won the Super Bowl." Soon, his readers started to play, and the group grew, until this year enough people joined to require a Web site and an unofficial commissioner tracking the events on Twitter. The game runs on the honor system--pride is the only prize--and deaths are self-reported on Twitter. Those who play refer to themselves as "runners," and the thing they are running from--the fact that New England beat Seattle--is known as "the Knowledge." The only real rule is to stay in the country.

No problem, you're thinking. I hate sports, and didn't even watch the game. Well, did you watch "Broad City"? Amanda Upson, a film producer in Denver, went eight days without discovering who won the game, but when she rewound a Tivo'd episode of the Comedy Central show a little too far, she landed on a commercial revealing the result. Her loss was declared a "death by poor remote usage." You may not remember obtaining the Knowledge--perhaps it arrived via an NPR story in which a Republican compared Obama's decision-making to Pete Carroll's ill-fated final call--and may have since forgotten it, but that doesn't mean you never had it. Last Man is a game in which, eventually, everybody dies.

This year, eight runners died in the first thirteen minutes. The list of casualties, recorded on the Web site, is long and varied. There was death by jewelry-store junk mail and by Rob Lowe meme and by Yelp review of a bowling alley. ("Came here on a Sunday night after my Seahawks lost...") Eluding the Knowledge meant avoiding not just ESPN and Deadspin but, for at least several days, pretty much the entire Internet. Google Now, Google Calculator, Google AdWords, and Google's homepage all claimed victims. There was one death credited to a local TV news segment about pizza consumption during the game, and another to a pizza commercial. ("Congratulations New England Patriots, from Papa John's!") Televisions at gyms, airport terminals, chiropractor offices, and a Walmart gas station knocked off a dozen people. One man, who suffered an accretion of enough detail about the game to fill in the blanks, including an "uncharacteristically humble" tweet from Richard Sherman, diagnosed his defeat as "death by a thousand cuts."

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


At UPS, the Algorithm Is the Driver (STEVEN ROSENBUSH and  LAURA STEVENS, Feb. 16, 2015, WSJ)

Here's a math problem for you. Each United Parcel Service Inc. driver makes an average of 120 stops per day. There are 6,689,502,913,449,135,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 alternatives for ordering those stops. Which option is the most efficient, after considering variables such as special delivery times, road regulations, and the existence of private roads that don't appear on a map?

Even if an optimal answer exists, the human mind will never figure it out. And while experts at UPS have been giving the problem their best shot for more than a century, the company is shifting that work over to a computer platform called Orion, which is 10 years and an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in the making. "Can a human really think of the best way to deliver 120 stops? This is where the algorithm will come in. It will explore paths of doing things you would not, because there are just too many combinations," says Jack Levis, senior director of process management at UPS.

Add the driverless truck and you're really saving money.
Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


Obama's Third Term? : Why it's so hard for Hillary Clinton to shake that charge.   (John Dickerson, 2/17/15, Slate)

Vice President Joe Biden spoke in Iowa on Thursday saying exactly what you'd expect him to say about the success of the Obama administration and how it should be carried on: "Those seeking to lead the nation should protect and defend and run, yes run, on what we've done; own what we have done. Stand for what we have done, acknowledge what we have done, and be judged on what we have done. ... Some say that would amount to a third term of the president. I call it sticking with what works and what we oughta do."

A third Obama term. The vice president isn't the only one who feels this way. This, of course, is what Republicans have been saying Hillary Clinton's presidency would be for months. Biden didn't introduce this idea, but it's one thing for Republicans to say it, it's another thing for the vice president to bolt it onto the eventual Democratic nominee. 

When I heard it, I was fresh from having read David Axelrod's book Believer about his life in politics from his first political rally at age 5 to the celebration of Obama's re-election in Chicago on election night in 2012. In the book, he recounts the details of the 2008 campaign, when Obama repeatedly said he didn't want to give "John McCain the chance to serve out George Bush's third term." 

Given that the UR's administration will be remembered for its continuity with W's--WoT, free trade, Heritage mandate--and that W's built on the Third Way reforms of Newt and Bill, it hardly seems likely that there's a political price to be paid if this is her opponents' line of attack.

Both she and Jeb need to double-down though, and pursue the Third Way with the ambition of W--personalized SS; pharma coverage; HSAs; housing vouchers; NCLB vouchers; FBI; neoconomics; etc.--not the lassitude of the UR. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Suburbia and Its Common Core Conspiracy Theories : Why middle-class white parents are up in arms about the new standards (LAURA MCKENNAFEB 12 2015, The Atlantic)

Among the most vocal opponents to the new standards are conservative, Tea Party Republicans, who are ideologically opposed to any expansion of the federal government--something they inaccurately equate to the Common Core initiative. And these politically motivated critics, who have rallied against a national system of learning standards for decades, have their own conspiracy theories about the Common Core, too. These include claims that the the standards will turn students gay, that it preaches an anti-American agenda, and that Muslim Brotherhood and communists shaped the content.

Complicating matters, other state-level politicians have fought against a uniform system of standards and tests because they're wary of seeing how the kids in their turf stack up against children elsewhere. No Child Left Behind did little to unify learning systems across the states, and what remains are essentially 50 different sets of standards and 50 different systems for measuring achievement. That makes it all but impossible to compare test results in, say, Connecticut and Texas. And with the huge variations in how much states spend on education, it seems illogical to assume that kids across the nation, regardless of where they reside, will perform equally well on a test such as the PARCC.

Now, amid all the backlash, an unlikely subculture appears to be emerging in the anti-Common Core world: suburban parents. Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has taken note of the trend, who last November told a group of superintendents that "white suburban moms" were resisting the implementation of the Common Core. His theory? "All of a sudden ... their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were."

I happen to live in a middle-class suburb outside of New York City--one that could easily be considered the capital of "white suburban moms." And I'm realizing Duncan was on to something: Their wrath is real, and it's based largely on misperception and widespread fearmongering perpetuated by the Tea Party skeptics and anxious state policymakers.

My friends and neighbors post links almost daily on Facebook to articles claiming the Common Core "curriculum," as they perceive it, is destroying American youth. It has single-handedly taken recess away from kids, they argue. The upcoming tests demoralize kids and teachers. The new curricula and tests are an assault on an otherwise idyllic world where kids used to learn naturally--like those lucky children in Finland. Instead of actually instilling knowledge in students, teachers drill irrelevant facts into kids' heads in order to game the testing results. And since the new exams will be taken on computers, hackers might even reveal the test results to colleges.

While there may be elements of truth in some of those parents' fears, these protests have developed an irrational, hysterical bent. 

..paranoid rightwingers, hysterical women and their dumb kids.  It's the valiant last defense of Lake Woebegone....

February 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Get Ready for $10 Oil (A. Gary Shilling, 2/16/15, Bloomberg View)

[T]he price when producers chicken out isn't necessarily the average cost of production, which for 80 percent of new U.S. shale oil production this year will be $50 to $69 a barrel, according to Daniel Yergin of energy consultant IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. Instead, the chicken-out point is the marginal cost of production, or the additional costs after the wells are drilled and the pipes are laid. Another way to think of it: It's the price at which cash flow for an additional barrel falls to zero. 

Last month, Wood Mackenzie, an energy research organization, found that of 2,222 oil fields surveyed worldwide, only 1.6 percent would have negative cash flow at $40 a barrel. That suggests there won't be a lot of chickening out at $40.  Keep in mind that the marginal cost for efficient U.S. shale-oil producers is about $10 to $20 a barrel in the Permian Basin in Texas and about the same for oil produced in the Persian Gulf. 

Also consider the conundrum financially troubled countries such as Russia and Venezuela find themselves in: They desperately need the revenue from oil exports to service foreign debts and fund imports.  Yet, the lower the price, the more oil they need to produce and export to earn the same number of dollars, the currency used to price and trade oil. 

With new discoveries, stability in parts of the Middle East and increasing drilling efficiency, global oil output will no doubt rise in the next several years, adding to pressure on prices.  U.S. crude oil production is forecast to rise by 300,000 barrels a day during the next year from 9.1 million now.  Sure, the drilling rig count is falling, but it's the inefficient rigs that are being idled, not the horizontal rigs that are the backbone of the fracking industry. Consider also Iraq's recent deal with the Kurds, meaning that another 550,000 barrels a day will enter the market. 

While supply climbs, demand is weakening. OPEC forecasts demand for its oil at a 14-year low of 28.2 million barrels a day in 2017, 600,000 less than its forecast a year ago and down from current output of 30.7 million.

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


Meet your 2016 GOP front-runners: Jeb Bush, yes, and a Midwestern surprise (Husna Haq, FEBRUARY 16, 2015, CS Monitor)

Interestingly, while the GOP side remains wide open, a couple of front-runners appear to be emerging. Only two potential candidates are in double digits in all three states: Bush and Walker. It's still early in the race, but their early support hints that this pair may be the last two standing after the furor of primary season.

This could hardly work out better for the GOP than to have these two be the only serious candidates, unless John Kasich can ride a surge at some point. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:31 AM


Oil Is Cratering. American Oil Production Isn't. : What gives? (Daniel Gross, 2/16/15, Slate)

What we're seeing, I'd argue, is an example of yet another type of American business exceptionalism. Compared with many of their peers in other countries, U.S. firms have often--not always, but often--demonstrated a superior capacity to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances. We saw it after the dot-com bust, as new tech industries arose amid the wreckage. And we saw it in 2009 and 2010, when companies large and small acted swiftly, often brutally, to ensure their survival, return to profitability, and help the economy come back (ahem) better, stronger, and faster.

Look hard enough, and you can see it in the oil patch, too. In recent decades, the oil industry--especially in the U.S.--has evolved from a brute-force industry into a nimbler high-tech manufacturing one. Fracking--a new drilling technology developed primarily in the U.S.--propelled the shale revolution. And technology-based companies don't respond to falling market prices by cutting production or shutting down. Rather, they innovate and experiment to bring down the cost of production and operations, push suppliers for lower prices, and hold down costs. If the market won't keep the market price above the break-even price, you can stop producing--or you can try to lower the break-even price.

The oil industry is more than 150 years old. But fracking is a remarkably young and still immature industry. And refinements are continuously being made to the fracking efforts that ignited the boom. Oil firms now drill wells more closely together, saving on time and supplies. In December, Fortune's Brian Dumaine described a "new technology called 'super fracking' in which drillers pump a lot more sand into their wells when they fracture the oil shale." The result: "Productivity at some super-fracking wells has risen from 400 barrels a day to 600, lowering the break-even cost."

Elsewhere, as Bloomberg's David Wethe reported this week, companies are taking a second bite of the apple. "Beset by falling prices, the oil industry is looking at about 50,000 existing wells in the U.S. that may be candidates for a second wave of fracking, using techniques that didn't exist when they were first drilled," Wethe wrote. Big iron and big steam are meeting big data. "New wells can cost as much as $8 million, while re-fracking costs about $2 million," Wethe noted, citing oil-services giant Halliburton.

Then there's old-fashioned cost-cutting. During a boom, everything costs more--overtime for workers, like the welder profiled by the Wall Street Journal who earns $140,000 per year, equipment like rigs that are in high demand, workforce housing in North Dakota. When tight markets start to give way to excess capacity, American companies tend to be quite nimble at seeking better terms, renegotiating contracts, and generally taking advantage of the altered dynamic.

Finally, there is the discipline corporate America is best at: holding labor costs down. Halliburton this week announced it would slash 6,400 jobs. In late January, as the New York Times reported oil giant BP froze wages for some 80,000 workers. Companies have become so serious about holding down costs, they're doing the unthinkable: cutting the salaries of top executives. The Houston Chronicle reported in January that Anthony Petrello, the chief executive officer of driller Nabors Industries, who is famous for his high compensation, cut his own salary by 10 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


What would happen if prices started going down? (Colm O'Regan, 2/16/15, BBC)

The presence of deflation feels weird to us. Part of the human condition is to expect that the price of everything has gone up. It's like old age and the weather. Nothing can be done about it but it's a topic for small-talk. We have no natural expectation of prices dropping.

The notion that prices fall feels like time itself is being reversed. There'll be old people talking wistfully about a time when things were more expensive and young people being nostalgic for the future.

Maybe one solution to deflation is for everyone to stop talking about it. That way, consumers would just go on living their lives rather than waiting for some sort of never-ending January Sales Of Life. Or, in keeping with the sales metaphor, get the message out there that, while yes prices are going to drop, if you keep waiting to buy they won't have it in your size. This is known in economics as the "Out of Mediums, just XXXL left Conundrum".

A large component of prices falls has been the drop in the price of oil. AND?! What's so wrong with that? Do people delay buying petrol in the hope the price will drop? If that's the only thing, then is the deflation meaningful at all?

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Take it from an American - Britain's NHS is as good as it gets (JASON HICKEL 16 February 2015, OpenDemocracy)

Some might rush to conclude that this surprisingly positive experience is probably due to the fact that I live in a posh white part of London. But I don't. I live in Kilburn, and the clinic in question is adjacent to a number of council estates. The vast majority of the clinic's patients are working class, and only about half of them are white.  The first-rate care I receive is the care that every resident receives, regardless of their race or class - as a basic human right, as part of the social contract, as a feature of the collective solidarity that Clement Atlee's Labour government forged in the 1940s from the ashes of World War II.

And it's not just that this clinic happens to be a good apple in a barrel of bad. I've been referred to specialists in other units - including large hospitals - on a number of occasions, and each time I've found myself amazed at the efficiency of the service.  At one point I was referred for a possible case of melanoma. I was seen by a dermatologist at the first break in my schedule.  So much for languishing in line for treatment.  Why so efficient? Because there's a powerful incentive at work: the NHS saves money by catching cancer early.

And it's not just life-threatening illnesses that call forth the best of the NHS. The mundane phlebotomy lab I had to visit recently at the Royal Free Hospital was run like a well-oiled machine, caring for fifty patients an hour at peak time without a glitch.  The system just works. We needn't rely on anecdotes to prove this. The Commonwealth Fund recently released a report comparing the health systems of 11 highly industrialized countries. In the category of efficiency, the UK ranked number 1. The US, by contrast, ranked last. So much for the theory that profit stimulates efficiency. The UK also ranks well above the US in terms of timeliness of care, contrary to Fox News propaganda.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; while living in the US I spent an astonishing amount of time waiting for appointments and sitting in receptions, even as a paying customer. I sometimes caught myself wondering if things might be different if I were able to pay more.

And it's not just in the areas of efficiency and timeliness that the UK performs so well. It comes first in almost every other category - equity, access, quality, etc. - making it the best overall healthcare system in the world. As for the overall ranking of the US: dead last, again. The Commonwealth study didn't measure bureaucracy, but I suspect that here too the UK would win handily.  While living in the States I was regularly frustrated by the amount of time I had to spend not just filling out forms, but reviewing costs, interpreting bills, paying fees, comparing coverage plans, and badgering my insurance company over the phone to shell out for their fair share (an obligation they routinely shirked).  

It's no wonder that 30% of healthcare spending in the US is absorbed by bureaucracy - nearly twice the proportion that other industrialized countries spend. This is rather strange, given that the chief justification for private healthcare is that it suffers less bureaucracy. It turns out that exactly the opposite is true.

The advantage of a Third Way system is that it will universally build personal wealth.  But the Second Way does achieve the other two main things we're looking for : universality and cost control.  The only remaining question is whether the GOP is willing to settle for the latter instead of aspiring to the former.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


The situation in Syria is only going to get worse ... and here's why (Melissa Fleming, 16 February 2015, The Guardian)

As humanitarians dedicated to helping Syria's survivors heal, we share their growing despair. We have registered their traumas one by one, as the numbers swelled into the millions. We have negotiated and worked on their behalf for land, for shelter, for medical care, for food and schools, and watched as even the basics become ever more difficult to find. We have cried with them as their children died of severe illnesses for lack of treatment.

All the while, we have kept hope for the future. But today, that hope is getting harder to maintain every day. Here is why:

1. No political solution to the conflict in sight...

The only real solution to Syria's humanitarian catastrophe is an end to the conflict. Unfortunately, that end looks a long way off. The fighting inside Syria continues to erupt and shift, and despite continued attempts at peace - including talks in Moscow and a ceasefire proposal for Aleppo - the warring parties, and the countries with influence to stop them, remain divided. Making matters worse, the fighting is feeding into other regional conflicts. In a recent speech to the UN General Assembly, António Guterres, the High Commissioner for Refugees, said with some exasperation: "in the absence of the political will and foresight required for effective prevention, all that the international community can do is react to new crises, lament the suffering they cause, and try to come up with higher and higher amounts of money required to cover the resulting cost... no one is winning the wars of today; everyone is losing."

The political solution could hardly be clearer:

Syria map

There is no Syria.  Carve it up into its constituent pieces and focus on removing Baathist control of the Alawite rump state. Meanwhile, the Islamic State remains a free-fire zone.

How much of a state is the Islamic State? (Quinn Mecham February 5, 2015, Washington Post)

Rather than assessing the "Islamic" qualities of the Islamic State group, I will focus instead on the "stateness" of this group as it has developed in early 2015. The contemporary name of this group implies both that it is Islamic and also that it is a state. My principal argument is that while the Islamic State does not have all of the characteristics that we usually attribute to states, it does have many of them, and that its trajectory to date is toward increasing levels of stateness. This matters a great deal, not only because it shapes the lives of the people who live within Islamic State-controlled territory, but also because it has implications for how outside actors should engage with this group. In particular, the more the Islamic State actually resembles a state, with its security provision and regulatory institutions, the less international actors will be able to "degrade" or "destroy" the group without also degrading or destroying the fundamental functions of the state. 

As we've long argued (particularly vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Pakistani Tribal Areas), forcing that statiness on them is the key to winning these wars.  In asymmetrical warfare we face certain limitations that make it eassy on our enemies.  Make it symmetrical and we can even nuke them with impunity.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


What's the point of satire?  (Will Self, 2/14/15, BBC)

With its feudal class system intact - if moth-eaten and vermiculated - British society exhibits small but crucial differences in its satiric temperament. Cleaving to a myth of organic gradualism, whereby things - no matter how bad they are now - can only get incrementally better, the apparent violence of British satire is surely just that. Violent in appearance only. Certainly, political and religious leaders, the rich and powerful are mercilessly guyed, but this is surely the mot juste, because the disjunction between these effigies and the people they represent is understood by all. It's a disjunction that is richly enshrined in the institution of British irony - a commitment to never saying what you mean, but only indicating it to those who are in the know. It shows how deep our collective perception is of the difference between appearance and reality, between the word and the deed.

However, I don't want to descend into that cesspit where it makes sense to speak of a "national character" - after all, once you have a national character it becomes that much easier to believe that such an entity might require a close shave from a national razor. Western civilisation in general has developed inside a Judaeo-Christian ethical tradition within which - granted some local peculiarities - there has been general consensus about what's right and what's wrong. Given such a context it's been relatively easy to apply the satire test and secure agreement about appropriate targets. Of course, as long as right and wrong were understood to be to be divine attributions, and rulers' power was conceived as a divine franchise, afflicting the comfort of potentates and prelates alike was a risky, life or death business. But the onset of secularism - wrongly viewed, I think, as some sort of "gateway drug" for the rationalist trip called atheism - elided the ethical entirely with the political.

We may like to think of our satirists as still speaking truth fearlessly unto power within a social realm bounded by commonly understood norms that allow us to make effective distinctions between speech acts and physical ones, but I venture to suggest that such a view is largely delusory. In fact, it's the managed anomie of our society today, in which competing ethical codes are viewed as alternate lifestyle choices rather than stairways to heaven and hell that allows for a satire at once savage and toothless. In Britain the rich and powerful get more comfortable, the poor are increasingly afflicted, and the satiric volleys are fired with greater and greater frequency and have less and less effect. In the days when I still considered myself to be a satirist, I would tell people that in a society in which there was little true agreement about the fundamentals of morality, the best satire could do would be to prick people's consciences sufficiently to make them think about right and wrong at all.

It's because we recognize the traditional norms and the Left does not that they can not find deviance from them amusing.

February 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


The silent minority (The Economist, Feb 7th 2015)

ON A snow-covered bluff overlooking the Sheboygan river stands the Waelderhaus, a faithful reproduction of an Austrian chalet. It was built by the Kohler family of Wisconsin in the 1920s as a tribute to the homeland of their father, John Michael Kohler, who had immigrated to America in 1854 at the age of ten.

John Michael moved to Sheboygan, married the daughter of another German immigrant, who owned the local foundry, and took over his father-in-law's business. He transformed it from a maker of ploughshares into a plumbing business. Today Kohler is the biggest maker of loos and baths in America. Herbert Kohler, the boss (and grandson of the founder), has done so well selling tubs that he has been able to pursue his other passion--golf--on a grand scale. The Kohler Company owns Whistling Straits, the course that will host the Ryder Cup in 2020.

German-Americans are America's largest single ethnic group (if you divide Hispanics into Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc). In 2013, according to the Census bureau, 46m Americans claimed German ancestry: more than the number who traced their roots to Ireland (33m) or England (25m). In whole swathes of the northern United States, German-Americans outnumber any other group (see map). Some 41% of the people in Wisconsin are of Teutonic stock.

Yet despite their numbers, they are barely visible.

Just finished a heart-rending book, The Train to Crystal City, about the concentration camp we sent German nationals and their families to (as well as Italian and Japanese Americans and others), during WWII.  A reminder that as recently as seven decades ago they weren't even white yet, nevermind invisible.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


Konitz keeps the conversation going with duo gig : At 87, sax man still prefers the give-and-take of the duet (ROGER LEVESQUE, 2/12/15, EDMONTON JOURNAL)

Q: In your early 20s, you met pianist Lennie Tristano. What was the most significant thing to come from that?

A: Well, that was a big piece of good luck for me. I was trying different approaches to improvisation and I learned a lot with him. Improvising for the most part is what guys do when they're fooling around at home, and when they go out to perform they play what they know, so it's not really improvising per se. I'm still trying to figure out how to stand in front of the audience and start from the first note.

Q: Some say you were one of the first players to offer an alternative sound to Charlie "Bird" Parker on the alto sax.

A: It wasn't that I didn't love Charlie Parker, but Tristano was responsible for telling me that I had to make (the saxophone) my own somehow. When I heard Sonny Stitt and all those hippies imitating, I thought, 'they're so good they even think they invented that music,' but I was able to make it personal enough. I think it still suggested my love of Parker, but I was able to be myself.

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Jordan hands senior Islamist 18 months for criticizing UAE (OMAR AKOUR, Feb. 15, 2015, AP) 

Jordan's state security court on Sunday sentenced a top official in the Muslim Brotherhood to 18 months in prison for criticizing the United Arab Emirates, an ally of the kingdom, his lawyer said.

Zaki Bani Ersheid, No. 2 in the Jordanian branch of the Brotherhood, was arrested in November after he criticized the UAE for labeling the movement a terrorist group.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Before she hit the Powerball jackpot, unemployed mother of four was struggling (Peter Holley February 14, 2015, Washington Post) 

Before she picked a winning Powerball ticket from a North Carolina convenience store on Wednesday, Marie Holmes was struggling.

The 26-year-old from Shallotte, N.C., had been forced to quit jobs at Wal-Mart and McDonalds to take care of her four kids, one of whom has cerebral palsy, according to NBC affiliate WECT. More recently, she said, she was looking for work.

...with that little disposable income why was she wasting money on lottery tickets?

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


The end of the rear-end: A world where there are no fender-benders is essentially already a reality (Washington Post, February 13, 2015)

Imagine for a second a world in which no driver ever gets rear-ended. That may sound impossible, but it shouldn't. For perspective on the blistering rate of technology's advancements, remember that a few months ago mankind launched a probe from a satellite and it landed on a comet that was traveling at a whopping 84,000 mph.

Today, it's possible and relatively inexpensive for us to make cars and trucks that identify an imminent collision and automatically brake, preventing or lessening the severity of an accident. [...]

The impact of these technologies could be huge. Worldwide, 1.24 million people die in car crashes each year. Consider that during the four deadliest wars the United States fought in the 20th century, 39 percent more Americans died in motor vehicles on U.S. roads than on battlefields.

The most common car crash in the United States is a rear-impact crash -- 32.9 percent of crashes involve a vehicle plowing into the back bumper of another. Cameras and radar can be used to identify when such a crash is imminent, warn a driver and then automatically brake if the driver fails to. Although these systems aren't yet mainstream -- 27 percent of 2015 model-year vehicles can be purchased with an auto-brake system (and the percent of registered vehicles with these systems is much lower) -- real-world research shows their potential.

A 2014 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study found that Honda Accord drivers with a system that warns of imminent accidents had a 40 percent drop in claims for bodily injury liability. Although these drivers still rear-end people -- collision claims dropped only 4 percent -- the drop in bodily injury liability suggests that drivers are braking and lessening the severity of these crashes.

"Even when the systems fail to prevent a crash, they are preventing injuries because they've slowed the speed of the crash down," said David Zuby, chief research officer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Hezbollah leader calls on supporters to refrain from celebratory gunfire when he speaks (Associated Press, Feb. 15, 2015)

It is common in Lebanon for supporters of political groups to celebrate by firing guns into the air whenever their leaders give speeches. Supporters of Hezbollah's rival, Saad Hariri, unleashed a round of celebratory gunfire after Hariri started to speak on Saturday.

In his statement Sunday, Nasrallah called on supporters "to refrain categorically from shooting and for everyone to cooperate to keep that from happening and for officials to exert double efforts to keep this from happening."

February 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Waiting for the Conservative Jon Stewart : A unified theory of why political satire is biased toward, and talk radio is biased against, liberals in America. (Oliver Morrison, FEBRUARY 14, 2015, The Atlantic)

Soon after Jon Stewart arrived at The Daily Show in 1999, the world around him began to change. First, George W. Bush moved into the White House. Then came 9/11, and YouTube, and the advent of viral videos. Over the years, Stewart and his cohort mastered the very difficult task of sorting through all the news quickly and turning it around into biting, relevant satire that worked both for television and the Internet. [...]

But six years in, Obama's party has been thoroughly trounced in the midterms and publicly excoriated by right-wing politicians, yet there's a dearth of conservative satirists taking aim, even though the niche-targeted structure of cable media today should make it relatively easy for them to find an audience. 

The audience for his show topped out at something like 2.5 million.  His predecessor, Rush Limbaugh, pulls something like 15 to 25 million.  And the universally acknowledged best part of his show (confession, I've never seen it), was a Limbaugh clone : Steven Colbert.  

The actual question is, why can the left only get laughs if it rips government and the media (just like the right does)?  There's an insight to be had there.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


Iran's top leader tells foreign minister not to shout during nuclear negotiations (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 2/14/15, Associated Press)

Iran's foreign minister has been told by the country's supreme leader to control his temper during nuclear talks with Western diplomats, Iranian media reported Saturday.

Mohammad Javad Zarif admitted that he has often raised his voice during meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry - sometimes so much their bodyguards would enter the room to make sure everything was all right.

Zarif said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, told him to speak softly and with a smile - the same as he would in public.

Homey wants a deal bad, even a bad deal.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Brian Williams: the steady drip of doubt over clips and claims (Tom McCarthy, 14 February 2015, tHE gUARDIAN)

One anecdote under examination is his evolving account of having met the pope. Asked in 2002 to recall a visit by Pope John Paul II to Catholic University in 1979, when he was a student there, Williams briefly said he had done some public relations work to help prepare for the pope's arrival.

But in a commencement address at the university two years later, first flagged by CNN, Williams said he had met the pope in person. Then the story became, in a 2005 interview Williams did with Esquire, that he had plotted to intercept the pope on campus. "During a work-study job at Catholic University, I met Pope John Paul II on his visit to the campus simply by positioning myself at the top of the stairs of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception," Williams said. "I just figured that's where he'd be stopping. For me, it's like some force intervenes. Go forward. Meet that person."

A similar narrative evolution has been remarked in a story Williams has told about flying into Baghdad with members of Navy Seal Team 6, the group credited with killing Osama bin Laden. After the Bin Laden assassination, Williams said on the air that "I happen to have the great honor of flying into Baghdad with them at the start of the war."

A year later, in an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, the Huffington Post noted, Williams elaborated the description. "I flew into Baghdad, invasion plus three days, on a blackout mission at night with elements of Seal Team 6, and I was told not to make any eye contact with them or initiate any conversation," Williams said. But Navy sources told CNN that Team 6 did not accept passengers and such a trip would have been impossible.

Williams has talked about possessing a piece of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of which he witnessed in 1989 as a reporter with WCBS TV in New York. But in a February 2008 appearance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, flagged by CNN, Williams went further, saying he was there the night the wall "came down."

"I've been so fortunate," Williams said. "I was at the Brandenburg Gate the night the wall came down. I chipped a piece of my own off of that wall, and it's framed and hanging in my den with the next day's newspaper headline."

It was Brokaw, however, not Williams, who was the sole American anchor to report live from the scene on 9 November, 1989, the night the wall was opened.

This is why we nominate the Bushes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


The car of the future (Steve Hargreaves, 2/12/15, CNN)

Lighter materials and improvements in engine technology mean even gasoline and diesel vehicles will be more fuel efficient. And natural gas fueling stations could become more prevalent in rural areas.

People that live in the country and commute into the city could use a mix of these technologies.

Goodin herself recently became a member of Car2go, a new car sharing service run by Daimler, the maker of Mercedes Benz.

She drivers her regular car from her house outside Austin to a nearby park-and-ride, then takes public transit into the city. If she's needs a car while at work she uses a Car2go Smart car.

"I was tired of the commute and looking for options" she said. "I'm much more relaxed when I get home now."

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Stuff: When Less Is More (Harvard Business Review, March 2015)

Today we use far fewer materials than we once did to get the same things done--a phenomenon known as "dematerialization." But, paradoxically, this efficiency seems to drive up overall consumption. In Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization, a deeply researched statistical profile of global material use, author Vaclav Smil lays out just how much stuff we need to live modern lives. [...]

...But We Consume More Than Ever

As efficiency rises, so does affordability, putting ever more products within reach of ever more consumers. As a result, the amount of resources extracted for every person on the planet has skyrocketed even as the global population has multiplied.


Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Tesla Wants to Build a Battery for Your House (Dana Hull & Mark Chediak, February 11, 2015, Bloomberg) 

Tesla Motors Inc., best known for making the all-electric Model S sedan, is using its lithium-ion battery technology to position itself as a frontrunner in the emerging energy-storage market that supplements and may ultimately threaten the traditional electric grid.

"We are going to unveil the Tesla home battery, the consumer battery that would be for use in people's houses or businesses fairly soon," Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said during an earnings conference call with analysts Wednesday.

Combining solar panels with large, efficient batteries could allow some homeowners to avoid buying electricity from utilities. Morgan Stanley said last year that Tesla's energy-storage product could be "disruptive" in the U.S. and in Europe as customers seek to avoid utility fees by going "off-grid." Musk said the product unveiling would occur within the next month or two.

"We have the design done, and it should start going into production in about six months or so," Musk said. "It's really great."

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


A War on Workers in Illinois (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, FEB. 13, 2015, NY Times)

As one of his first official acts, the new Republican governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, issued an executive order this week that would weaken state unions by barring them from assessing fees on some of the workers they represent in collective bargaining. Worse, the damage from the order could reach far beyond Illinois.

At issue are so called "fair share" fees. In a unionized workplace, a union must extend collectively bargained pay raises and other benefits to nonmembers. The nonmembers -- about 15 percent of unionized state employees in Illinois -- do not have to pay union dues or contribute to the union's political activities. Instead, under the law in Illinois and in many other states, they must pay the union a fair-share fee, which is less than full dues, to cover the cost of collective bargaining undertaken on their behalf. [...]

Allowing nonmembers to get union benefits without paying fair-share fees would tempt dues-paying members to drop out. Union coffers -- and bargaining power -- would be weakened. Ultimately, all working people would suffer, because collectively bargained pay increases in unionized workplaces tend to lift wages in nonunionized ones, as companies compete for employees. Anti-unionism, which has become increasingly entrenched in recent decades, correlates with stagnating and declining wages.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Blame illegal immigration on Baby Boomers (Francis Wilkinson, February 12, 2015, Bloomberg) 

As boomers aged and became wealthier, they had a growing need for low-wage, low-skills labor to help around the house, with the kids, in the yard and in the fields, restaurants and low-wage factories.

Meanwhile, expectations of the good life incubated by a long postwar boom had raised the sights of even non-college- educated boomers, many of whom proved unwilling to accept the kind of low-skilled service work that increasingly became identified with immigrants.

"The convergence of strong economic, demographic and social drivers of migration along with a limited number of legal immigration channels immediately produced increasing unauthorized flows," Rosenblum testified.

At the end of the '60s, there were probably fewer than two million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Over the next four decades, that population grew six-fold to serve boomer professionals and business owners. In 1993, boomer President Bill Clinton's successive candidates for U.S. attorney general - - Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood -- each had to withdraw from consideration after disclosures that they had employed undocumented domestic workers.

As the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. grew, so did their integration into the economy. In California, more undocumented immigrants work today in manufacturing and in construction than in agriculture (even though almost a quarter million work in the state's agriculture sector). As any trip to an upscale urban playground confirms, the demand for cheap domestic workers did not fade as boomers became grandparents. It became a fixture of upper-middle-class culture.

And as we grow wealthier there are more and more jobs white people won't do.

Which generates the simple question for both those who oppose immigration, trade, off-shoring and deunionization : are you willing to have your views prevail in exchange for a lower standard of living for you and your children?

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


On the Fast Lane to Fast Track? (IRWIN M. STELZER, 2/14/15, Weekly Standard)

Enter the couplings of some rather strange bedfellows. Obama can count on support from key Republicans who otherwise have very little use for him. These strange bedfellow include Orrin Hatch in the Senate, and Paul Ryan in the House, the latter pushing the president's trade deals while at the same time savaging his budget and tax proposals. Opposing the freer-trade coalition is a set of equally strange bedfellows: conservative Republican Tea Partiers and ultra-liberal Democrats. Conservatives contend that Obama has so over-shot his constitutional authority by granting de facto amnesty to some five million illegal immigrants, refusing to enforce federal laws against marijuana, and turning Guantanamo detainees lose to return to battle, that it would be folly to encourage his tendency to rely on unilateral executive orders by giving him fast-track authority. Rick Manning, president of a Tea Party advocacy group, puts it this way, "After President Obama's power grabs ... people have come to the conclusion you should not be giving this president any additional authority." Liberal Democrats are annoyed with what they see as the president's failure to protect workers whose wages have stagnated during his tenure in office. "We have trusted and trusted for years and years, and it's only been to the detriment of American workers ... Fast track ... will not happen," Rosa DeLauro, liberal Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut, told reporters. 

Proponents of the deals with the EU and the eleven Pacific Rim countries make two arguments. Ryan contends that one out of every five jobs in America is dependent on trade, which seems a bit of an exaggeration given the fact that our exports of goods and services average only about 13.5% of GDP and are exceeded by our imports, which suggests that trade both giveth and taketh away, perhaps creating more jobs for workers making things we buy than it does jobs for American workers making things foreigners buy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Iran's president retains top ayatollah's backing despite criticism as nuclear deadline nears (ADAM SCHRECK, 2.14/15,Associated Press)

If he succeeds in sealing an agreement, Iran could see much-hoped-for relief from withering sanctions that are dragging down the economy at a time when the OPEC producer is trying to ride out a severe slump in oil prices.

An improvement in the economy could translate into a broader boost in domestic support for Rouhani and strengthen the moderate camp gain in parliamentary elections next year. Moderates are pushing for a less confrontational relationship with the West -- a break from the eight-year tenure of predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and seek more freedoms at home, including greater freedom of expression and easing of social restrictions.

Failure, however, only will bolster his hard-line opponents who are against that entire agenda.

February 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 PM


Walker's About-Face on Amnesty  (Andrew Johnson, 2/13/15, National Review)
As vague as Scott Walker has been in his past statements on immigration, he has repeatedly claimed that he opposes amnesty for undocumented immigrants. That may not always have been the case.

A 2002 resolution passed by the Milwaukee County government and signed by then-county executive Scott Walker expressed support for "comprehensive immigration reform." As he has begun to lay the groundwork for a presidential bid, Walker has been deliberately ambiguous about his views on immigration, but the 2002 resolution, passed just weeks after Walker was elected county executive, called for allowing "undocumented working immigrants to obtain legal residency in the United States."

Of course he's pro-amnesty; he's Christian.
Posted by orrinj at 9:39 PM


Iran's Ayatollah Sends New Letter to Obama Amid Nuclear Talks (JAY SOLOMON and  CAROL E. LEE, Feb. 13, 2015, WSJ)

Iran's paramount political figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has responded to overtures from President Barack Obama seeking better relations by sending secret communications of his own to the White House.

The Iranian cleric wrote to Mr. Obama in recent weeks in response to an October presidential letter that raised the possibility of U.S.-Iranian cooperation in fighting Islamic State if a nuclear deal is secured, according to an Iranian diplomat. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 PM


Is Apple charging into electric car market? (JERRY HIRSCH AND CHARLES FLEMING, 2/13/15, LA Times)

Apple is the latest technology company aiming to get into the car business.

The Cupertino, Calif., technology giant has created a team of employees to explore an Apple-branded electric car, the Wall Street Journal reported late Friday.

Apple would join archrival Google and upstart automotive company Tesla Motors in launching development of a high-tech, battery-powered vehicle.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


'The Search for General Tso' movie review: The story behind America's favorite not-so-Chinese dish (Michael O'Sullivan, January 15, 2015, Washington Post)

As the movie crew travels to China searching for the culinary origins of the iconic dish and its historical namesake (sometimes known as Tsao, Chau, Gau and by many other spellings), we learn that the famous chicken dish is virtually unheard of in China.

That, of course, comes as no surprise. Most sophisticates know that American Chinese food is a cuisine unto itself. How it changed and evolved after the first wave of Chinese immigrants brought it to California around 1850 is just one of the film's several subjects, along with such broader notions as cultural assimilation and appropriation. Produced by Jennifer 8. Lee (a former Washington Post intern and author of the similarly themed book "The Fortune Cookie Chronicles"), the film brings a lively treatment to a subject that many of us take for granted.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 PM


Circling the New Geocentrists: An Interview with Karl Keating : A new book by the founder of Catholic Answers addresses the scientific mistakes, theological errors, and conspiracy-minded promoters of geocentrism (Carl E. Olson, 2/13/15,Catholic World Report)

Karl Keating is founder and senior fellow at Catholic Answers (www.catholic.com), the country's largest apologetics and evangelization organization, and the author of several books of apologetics, including Catholicism and Fundamentalism and What Catholics Really Believe. His most recent book is The New Geocentrists (Rasselas House, 2015). He spoke recently with Carl E. Olson, editor of CWR, about the book.

CWR: Your new book, The New Geocentrists, takes on a topic you've followed and addressed for many years. First, what is geocentrism? Second, when and why did you first become interested in it?

Keating: Just as heliocentrism is the theory that the Sun is the center of our planetary system, so geocentrism is the theory that the Earth is the center. Geocentrism is the ancient understanding, best known in the formulation given by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy. The Ptolemaic theory was modified substantially in the sixteenth century by Tycho Brahe. Most modern geocentrists adhere to a variant of the Tychonian theory.

My interest in geocentrism goes back to my university days. I took a course in the history of science from Prof. Curtis Wilson, then and until his death in 2012 considered the top American expert on Johannes Kepler, who started out as Tycho's assistant.

In Wilson's course we took the ancient observational data, worked through the calculations, and discovered that, as observations became ever more precise, the Ptolemaic and Tychonian theories failed to account for the movements of the celestial bodies. It was this failure that led Kepler to develop his three laws of planetary motion, and it was this course that sparked my interest in geocentrism.

CWR: Why the need for a book-length treatment of geocentrism and its main proponents?

Keating: This movement has been gaining adherents for several decades--since the 1980s among very conservative or Traditionalist Catholics and since the 1960s among Fundamentalist Protestants. Despite being at loggerheads on many theological issues, these groups have joined forces to promote their idea that the Earth is not only at the center of our planetary system but is motionless (that is, it neither moves through space nor spins on its axis) and is at the absolute center of the entire universe. In their thinking, all other bodies--planets, the Sun, the distant stars, galaxies--revolve around the Earth each 24 hours.

There are two things wrong with these notions. First, the science is wrong. 

...the science actually says it's homocentric.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


Poll Finds Americans Divided on Obama's War Legacy (Arit John, 2/13/15, Bloomberg)

The president who this week formally asked Congress for permission to go to war with the Islamic State is now officially at odds with the senator from Illinois who ran for the presidency promising to end the war in Iraq. 

Throughout President Obama's first term, that was a promise he kept--six years ago this month he laid out his timetable for ending the war, and by December 2011 the last U.S. troops had left Iraq. But now, as Obama asks Congress to pass his authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State, Americans aren't sure if he'll be remembered more for ending that war, or starting a new one.

It's just a continuance of the Bush presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


Simply By Forming an Exploratory Committee, Jeb Bush Places School Reform on the National Agenda (Paul E. Peterson 12/17/2014, EducationNext)

[I]n 2016 neither Jeb Bush's Republican primary opponents nor Hillary Clinton nor even Elizabeth Warren will be able to ignore the poor state of the nation's schools.  For they will be facing a candidate with the strongest school reform credentials any presidential candidate has ever had.

Neither Carter nor W. had credentials equivalent to those of Florida's former governor.  When in office, Jeb persuaded the legislature to introduce a massive new reading program, created an accountability system that included vouchers for students who were attending failing schools, founded the nation's first statewide digital learning school, asked districts to hold back for another year those third graders who were unable to read, introduced a high school exit exam, established the country's most comprehensive warehouse of education data, and much more.  During his tenure in office, student performance in Florida skyrocketed upward at a faster rate than in virtually any other part of the United States.  The gains were particularly strong among Florida's Hispanic students who according to one study outperform, on average, all the students in the State of California.

Admittedly, for the modern 24-hour news cycle, those accomplishments are stuck in the distant past.  Jeb was a term-limited governor who served from 1999 to 2006, long before many of today's reporters had come of age.  But after leaving office the former governor established the Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) and, from that platform, has campaigned for Florida-like reforms throughout the country.  He helped create Chiefs for Change, a group of state education officers from Maine to New Mexico who have committed themselves to altering the education status quo.  The many state-level policy changes of recent years owe a lot to the jump start given by the Obama Administration's Race to the Top initiative, Republican gains at the state level in 2010 and the leadership of other potential presidential candidates, such as Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Bobby Jindahl.   But ExcelinEd and the former Florida Governor have also played a critical role, especially in the West and the South.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Robots replacing human factory workers at faster pace (ASSOCIATED PRESS, 2/13/15)

Cheaper, better robots will replace human workers in the world's factories at a faster pace over the next decade, pushing manufacturing labor costs down 16%, a report Tuesday said.

The Boston Consulting Group predicts that investment in industrial robots will grow 10% a year in the world's 25-biggest export nations through 2025, up from 2% to 3% a year now. The investment will pay off in lower costs and increased efficiency.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Sisi's Way (Tom Stevenson, 2/19/15, London Review of Books)

Mohammed B., a 28-year-old postgraduate student, was arrested on 6 October 2013. He was taking part in one of the many anti-coup marches held across Cairo that day. The intended destination was Tahrir Square, but as the march reached the neighbourhood of Dokki, it was attacked by various branches of the security services: dozens of demonstrators were killed and scores arrested. Along with hundreds of others Mohammed tried to flee by taking a series of side streets, but was surrounded and arrested. He was taken to a police station and held, along with two doctors, an engineer and two academics from Cairo University, for seven or eight hours without water. At midnight they were moved, but not - as they had expected - to one of Cairo's many prisons.

The prison system in Egypt is the legacy of a long period of British control, followed by the successive autocracies of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. It was in a British prison during the Second World War that some of the torture techniques now employed by Egyptian intelligence were refined. The Combined Services Detailed Interrogation Centre was annexed to a British army camp in the Cairo suburb of Maadi. The camp had a cinema, boxing ring and ice-cream parlour for the soldiers, but a few hundred metres away British interrogators were experimenting on as many as sixty prisoners at a time, attempting to induce hallucinations with thyroxine, or trying to break them psychologically by forcing them to dig their own graves.

The Interior Ministry operates 42 official prisons authorised to house civilian detainees. Information about them is relatively easy to come by and they are sometimes even inspected. Yet abuse and torture are rife, encouraged by a legal system which in many cases relies on confessions. Some of the worst prisons are well known: Wadi Natrun, Abu Zaabal and Tora Liman, believed to have been one of the earliest CIA black sites under Mubarak. There is also the Borg al-Arab, where Mohamed Morsi is still being held, and the Sign al-Aqrab, or 'Scorpion Prison', the most famous maximum security prison in Egypt.

The law requires that the police refer a case to a prosecutor and begin an investigation within 24 hours of an arrest. Detainees must then be transferred to one of the 42 registered institutions while awaiting trial. But that isn't what is happening today. There is overwhelming evidence that military and paramilitary police forces are operating a parallel system of detention outside official channels, and outside the law, partly in order to deal with the sheer number of people arrested since the coup. Egypt has experienced a spike in the number of citizens in detention unlike any in its history. At the beginning of 2013 Egypt's official prison population stood at somewhere between 60,000 and 66,000. According to the Interior Ministry's own figures 16,000 Egyptians were arrested in the nine months following Morsi's removal in July 2013. A more plausible independent estimate by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights put the number for the same period at more than 41,000. Sisi has waved away such figures: the official prisons do not, he claims, have the space to accommodate tens of thousands of people. He may be right. Yet imprisoned they have been. So where are they?

Having interviewed lawyers, psychologists and former detainees, I have learned the names of sites where torture and ill-treatment are far worse than anything in the official prisons. Inside facilities like Maskar Zaqaziq, a base in Sharqiyah run by Amn al-Markezi, the central security forces, there are unacknowledged prisons which make the official jails look humane. In Interior Ministry buildings in Lazoughli Square and Gabar ibn Hayan, suspected political dissidents are tortured and interrogated at length by the national intelligence service. And in the Al-Azouly and Agroot military prisons in Ismailia and Suez, prisoners are held incommunicado, sometimes blindfolded, for months on end.

Mohammed B. and his cellmates were transferred from their police station to Maskar Ashra-Nus, also known as Camp 10.5, a barracks outside Cairo belongingto Amn al-Markezi. His account of their reception at the camp is like many others I've heard from former detainees in Egypt. They were beaten relentlessly by groups of officers, verbally humiliated, stamped on with boots with metal heels and lashed with leather straps. They were then stripped, hung from the ceiling, beaten with sticks, subjected to stress positions, and beaten on the soles of their feet; some were given electric shocks. Mohammed was stripped and forced to crawl on the floor on his forearms and stomach for more than an hour in a method of torture that appears to have been inspired by military training exercises. Eventually, and without any attempt to extract information from them, the men were bundled into makeshift cells inside the barracks. Mohammed's measured three metres by six and contained 59 other men: so crowded that he had to stand on one leg for periods of up to two hours. There was no toilet, and no one left the room save for short rounds of recreational torture at the hands of the guards.

Crammed into a concrete box, the inmates tried to devise a system that would allow them to sleep. They divided themselves into groups of four on rotating shifts - standing and sleeping - with each group assigned a certain number of floor tiles. This soon failed. Then they tried lying on their sides, head to tail. That didn't work either. A third system, which involved pairing the men up in lines, one standing with his legs apart as the other crouched between them, proved the least onerous. Mohammed said that the guards would mock their thirst and the stench of the cell from the other side of an iron door. He was held in Camp 10.5 for four days before being removed to a registered prison. Others, he learned, remained locked in the cell for weeks.

The cells in Wadi Natrun prison, where he spent the next six months, were bigger - five by ten metres for thirty prisoners - and in comparison with Camp 10.5 the conditions were bearable. Crucially, the cell had what could be loosely described as a toilet. But detainees were still regularly taken out of their cells, stripped naked and tortured. Mohammed was twice put in solitary confinement. 'The room had no windows and inside there was nothing,' he told me, 'except thousands of cockroaches - they crawled all over me for hours.' The people he met there had come into the official detention system by a variety of routes. Some had been held in police stations for weeks; others had been in the custody of Amn al-Markezi, as he had been; one claimed to have been taken first to a secret prison in the Sinai peninsula, where he said he'd been held in an underground dungeon for seventy days. Mohammed was eventually tried before a court and cleared on every fantastic charge the state had laid against him. Most were not so lucky. Of the 125 men tried on the same day just seven were released.

There is nothing out of the way about Mohammed's case. Letters smuggled out of prison by the Egyptian journalist Ahmed Ziada, who was arrested while covering protests at Al-Azhar university in December 2013, describe his time in Nasr City Two police station, where he was beaten and given electric shocks before being taken to Abu Zaabal prison. In another letter, dated 19 February 2014, a detainee named Kareem al-Beheiry details the unbearable conditions of an Amn al-Markezi base where officers assault, mock and humiliate detainees as a way of alleviating boredom. Descriptions of improvised cells packed with inmates are frequent. The Egyptian climate adds to the horrors of overcrowding. In a letter smuggled out of Helwan police station in July 2014 the authors, who refer to themselves as 'the prisoners in cell number three', describe temperatures of 50°C in a room four metres by six containing sixty people. According to standards set by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, prison authorities should plan for seven square metres of cell space per detainee and observe an absolute minimum of four square metres. In cell number three, sixty detainees were held in a space suitable for between three and six people; in Mohammed B.'s case, a space suitable for between two and four people.

Islam A., a digital marketing professional, was pulled from an anti-government demonstration in late 2013 by baltagiya (civilians hired, and armed, by the state and most often deployed against protesters), who dragged him into a nearby block of flats. 'I tried to reason with them,' he said. 'I told them you support the government and I don't, but we have brains in our heads and tongues in our mouths and we can discuss this like human beings. They didn't even reply, they just beat me.' Islam was beaten and cut about with a long knife until he fainted - he has extensive scarring on his shoulders and chest. He was semi-conscious when a plainclothes officer arrived to make a formal arrest. 'A sea' of Amn al-Markezi officers was waiting for him outside the flats. He, too, ended up in Camp 10.5 - 'living hell', he called it - and held for five weeks in a cell of four metres by six with 61 other prisoners. He was repeatedly interrogated by intelligence staff from Amn al-Watany, the national security agency, who appeared to believe he was one of the leaders of the protest he had attended. On one occasion he was questioned by a senior officer while eight other Amn al-Markezi men formed a circle around him and beat him. On another he was stripped and laid face down on the floor with a dozen other inmates while officers threw freezing water over them. Sometimes detainees were taken out of the cells and subjected to a stress position known as the falaka, in which the victim's feet are tied to a wooden pole and the soles beaten. Again, Islam's experiences are far from unusual. Dozens of detainees have described police and Amn al-Markezi officers bursting into cells and beating them with clubs, or burning their blankets and clothes in front of them. Others describe having a rope put around their necks and being dragged from their cells to be given electric shocks.

That's the sort of repression required by opponents of democracy.
Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Cigarette smoking is even more deadly than you think, study says (KAREN KAPLAN, 2/13/15, LA Times)

Smokers were more likely than nonsmokers to have died from one of the established smoking-related diseases, the researchers found. These included most kinds of heart disease; stroke; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; pneumonia, influenza and tuberculosis; atherosclerosis; aortic aneurysms and other arterial diseases; diabetes; acute myeloid leukemia; and cancers of the lung, pancreas, colon and rectum, kidney, liver, bladder, larynx, lip and oral cavity, stomach and esophagus.

These diseases were responsible for the overwhelming majority of deaths among men and women who were still smoking at the end of their lives.

But not all of them. Another 17% of deaths among female smokers and 15% of the deaths of male smokers were traced to other causes.

In nearly every case, the diseases in this second group were more likely to kill current smokers than nonsmokers, according to the study.

For instance, female smokers were 30% more likely to die of breast cancer than their non-smoking counterparts, and men who smoked were 40% more likely to die of prostate cancer than their non-smoking peers. Rare cancers were 60% more likely to kill men if they were smokers, the researchers found.

The risk of death due to infections was more than twice as high for smokers than for nonsmokers. Ditto for hypertension, hypertensive renal disease and a range of digestive diseases.

Smokers were 2.6 to 3.6 times more likely than nonsmokers to die of liver cirrhosis and 1.9 to 2.1 times more likely to die of kidney failure. Hypertensive heart disease, some kinds of respiratory diseases and ischemic disorders of the intestines were also more likely to kill smokers than nonsmokers, the study authors calculated.

The more cigarettes a person smoked per day, the greater his or her risk of dying from infections, breast cancer or kidney failure. Among those who quit, the longer it had been since the last cigarette, the lower the risk of dying from infections or breast cancer, according to the report.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Thirty-Six Years After the Revolution, Where Is Iran Now? : Lifespan, access to education and standard of living having improved significantly since Iran's revolution, while corruption and human rights remain a cause of concern. (Seyed Hossein Mousavian, 2/11/15, US News)

Any endeavors toward a speedy recovery, however, were thrashed by increased Western sanctions, as a clear and persistent strategy of coercion was seemingly put into full-throttle against Iran. Since then, Iran's tensions with the West have unfortunately only further escalated, and the country has faced a more or less all-out economic war waged upon it, which has been complemented by numerous covert actions in the form of assassinations and bomb attacks and even cyberattacks. 

Yet, despite all of these crises, Iran has persevered. It emerged from the Iran-Iraq War without giving up an inch of its soil in spite of the all-out support given to the aggressor by the superpowers and even regional Arab countries. It also did this without resorting to the use of chemical weapons, even as it had the capability to do so, as the country is signatory to all weapons of mass destruction conventions. Iran has since managed to become one of the rare countries able to maintain its political-security independence and foster an atmosphere of socio-economic self-reliance in a nation that was once so incredibly dependent on outside powers.

Iran has made commendable strides in many areas since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. From 1980 to 2012, Iran's Human Development Index (HDI) value -- which takes into account lifespan, access to education and standard of living -- increased by 67%, a rate of growth that was twice the global average. As of 2012, Iran's HDI value sat at 0.742, which put the country into the "high human development category." Access to electricity and piped water in rural areas, life expectancy, infant mortality and access to health care have all markedly improved. The literacy rate, which stood at 36% in 1976 and at just 25% for females, stands at 99% for males and females ages 15-24. Tertiary education has also never been so widely attainable by the Iranian population, with more than 2 million Iranian students enrolled at a university, over 60% of whom are women. [...]

To be sure, Iran has a long way to go on its road to developing a better society for all Iranians. The human rights situation undoubtedly has room for ample improvements. The country is also beset by corruption, with the vice president in the Hassan Rouhani administration even saying the corruption "of the century" occurred during the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad era. High levels of inflation, unemployment and a bloated bureaucracy have also contributed to a "brain drain," or the emigration of many educated Iranians.

It's the return to alliance with America that will really fuel improvements.
Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


The war on Jeb Bush : His fast start has reordered the Republican 2016 race, and put a bull's-eye on his back. (ALEX ISENSTADT, 2/12/15, Politico)

Money is one reason opposing camps are targeting. Bush, they acknowledge, has been gaining steam in the fundraising sweepstakes, a critical component in the early primary campaign. His strength, they say, has only increased in the weeks since Mitt Romney's exit, which freed up a pot of establishment cash to flow his way.

"The attacks are in large part driven by a desire to stop any momentum and put a question in the minds of donors," said one Paul ally.

Paul's campaign also sees an opportunity to brand Bush as a moderate -- a theme it intends to hammer home in the months to come.

One of the things that hurt W was that he had to defeat a moderate (Maverick).  Jeb gets to thump fringe guys like Paul, making him more appealing to the middle.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


HCA: Obamacare Brings Accountable Care, Patient Responsibility (Jennifer Bresnick, February 10, 2015, Health IT Analytics)

The Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), the largest for-profit healthcare provider in the country, is coming out in favor of the Affordable Care Act's attempt to expand insurance coverage to the majority of American patients.  Obamacare, currently under challenge from a Supreme Court case claiming that some consumers are receiving illegal subsidies for their health insurance, has been shown to significantly reduce emergency room use, increase patient engagement, and effectively share financial risk across the healthcare continuum, HCA argues in a legal brief.  These principles of accountable care would not be effective if the Supreme Court strikes down the subsidy provision of the "interdependent" framework of the ACA.

"Congress designed the ACA so that individuals who previously did not pay for care would take personal financial responsibility for that care," the document says.  "HCA's data reveals that patients on the federally-facilitated Exchanges, unlike uninsured patients, make significant contributions to the cost of their treatment.  The ACA embodied a carefully-constructed 'shared responsibility' framework under which healthcare providers would shoulder some of the costs but also share in some of the benefits.  HCA's data show that hospitals have taken significant cuts in federal reimbursements under the ACA, but that these cuts are beginning to be offset by new revenues from expanded Exchange insurance."

This give-and-take financial structure is good for patients, HCA says, because an increased patient responsibility forces consumers to make smarter decisions about their healthcare.  While 89.6% of uninsured patients visiting HCA facilities paid nothing for their care in 2014, contributing to $43 billion in annual uncompensated healthcare across the nation, an Exchange patient is likely to pay an average of $390 out-of-pocket for similar services.  Patients may be more likely to choose free, routine preventative care that keeps them well instead of risking a hefty medical bill for visiting the ER, and the HCA has data that proves the strategy's effectiveness.

"In 2014, uninsured patients visited the ER approximately ten times for every inpatient admission," the brief says.  "By contrast, individuals insured through the federally-facilitated Exchanges are visiting the EHR approximately three times for every inpatient admission.  Thus, HCA's data indicate that uninsured patients are about 300% more likely than Exchange patients to rely on ER care."

The GOP will improve it, not repeal it.
Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


US imports take biggest slide since 2008 (Reuters,  FEBRUARY 13, 2015)

U.S. import prices recorded their biggest drop in six years in January as the cost of petroleum and a range of other goods fell, a sign that domestic inflation pressures could remain muted for a while.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


US envoy urges Japan businesses to push for trans-Pacific free trade pact (ELAINE KURTENBACH, 2/13/15, AP)

Japan and the U.S. are moving closer to reaching agreement on market opening measures needed to conclude a Pacific Rim trade pact, a top U.S. envoy said Friday, urging Japanese business leaders to help bridge the last, difficult disagreements.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken urged members of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives to "pick up your phones" and use their influence to convince officials to work toward a final consensus on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

"The contours of a final agreement are coming into focus," Blinken said. "We need you to make the calls, convene the meetings and remind the officials of the benefits this agreement will bring."

Free trade, the Heritage mandate and the WoT.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Italy is a 'dying country' says minister as birth rate plummets (the Guardian, 2/13/15)

Fewer babies were born in Italy in 2014 than in any other year since the modern Italian state was formed in 1861, new data show, highlighting the demographic challenge faced by the country's chronically sluggish economy.

National statistics office ISTAT said on Thursday the number of live births last year was 509,000, or 5,000 fewer than in 2013, rounding off half a century of decline.

The number of babies born to both natives and foreigners living in Italy dropped as immigration, which used to support the overall birth rate, tumbled to its lowest level for five years.

The mortality rate also declined last year, stretching life expectancy for Italian men to 80.2 years, and to 84.9 years for women.

"We are very close to the threshold of non-renewal where the people dying are not replaced by new-borns. That means we are a dying country," Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said.

February 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Hard work of fixing the Deadbeat State begins with confronting unions (WASHINGTON EXAMINER, FEBRUARY 11, 2015)

 Thanks to years of over-generous concessions to the state's public employee unions, Illinois' pension and healthcare obligations have ballooned to $167 billion. Every landowner and business operator unfortunate enough to reside within Illinois stands to inherit a piece of this crushing debt -- as Gerald Skoning recently noted in the Wall Street Journal, they are lucky this obligation does not show up on their credit reports. At this point, a state default -- the first in more than 170 years -- is very much on the cards. To make matters worse, the state's extremely liberal supreme court has repeatedly struck down even modest legislative efforts by Democrats to ease the burden. And the state's obligation to its own retirees threatens its ability to provide basic, vital services that even the most hardened libertarian expects from a state government.

Yet hope springs eternal in Springfield -- and perhaps it springs just a bit higher now that Gov. Rauner is in charge. He has started off on the right foot with an executive order to spare unwilling government employees from paying dues to the public employee unions if they do not wish to join or be represented by them. It is a very small step, but a sensible one that shows the governor knows where the problem is and that he isn't afraid to confront it. Rauner's order, for which he is preemptively seeking approval in federal court, is much like the action of the oncologist who tries to cut cut off nourishment to a tumor ravaging his patient's body from the inside. The unions' intransigent opposition to reform portends disaster for the state's remaining middle class residents, rendering Obama's talk of "middle class economics" moot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


25% of physical gold buyers are crazy, metals executive says (Matt Egan, 2/12/15, Money)

A lot of people who buy bits of physical gold aren't looking to make a bracelet or ring. They buy gold because they believe disaster is imminent.

These investors are convinced gold will spike to $10,000 an ounce (it's currently around $1,225) when the U.S. government implodes, said Peter Hug, an executive at metals retailer Kitco.

Hug calls these people "crazies" and says they form a substantial amount of the U.S. physical gold market -- at least 25%.

And they're 100% of the Ayn Rand readership.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Does the Environment Still Matter? Daily Temperature and Income in the United States (Tatyana Deryugina, Solomon M. Hsiang, December 2014, NBER Working Paper No. 20750)

It is widely hypothesized that incomes in wealthy countries are insulated from environmental conditions because individuals have the resources needed to adapt to their environment. We test this idea in the wealthiest economy in human history. Using within-county variation in weather, we estimate the effect of daily temperature on annual income in United States counties over a 40-year period. We find that this single environmental parameter continues to play a large role in overall economic performance: productivity of individual days declines roughly 1.7% for each 1°C (1.8°F) increase in daily average temperature above 15°C (59°F). A weekday above 30°C (86°F) costs an average county $20 per person. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Biden Gives Shout Out to 'Old Butt Buddy' in Iowa (Daniel Halper, 2/12/15, Weekly Standard)
Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Wage Riddle Has Lasted Decades (DANTE CHINNI, 2/12/15, WSJ)

The above chart shows growth in hourly compensation since 1948 as compared with growth in productivity for non-supervisory employees in the private sector. Increased productivity -- output per worker per time period -- is what drives economic growth and raises living standards. The data was collected and analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute.

Note the break that occurs in the early 1970s. Since then growth has flattened out and diverged from productivity.

There is a slight increase in the late 1990s and, using the EPI measure, a slight increase in the last few years.

But the overall trend - about 40 years' worth - is quite flat. This period spans Democratic and Republican administrations and congresses, through good economic times and bad. In fact, the flatness of wage growth has persisted as a range of other economic measures have bounced up and down and moved in a variety of directions.

February 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


A Detailed Analysis of the Republican Alternative to Obamacare (ROBERT LASZEWSKI, 2/10/15, Health Care Policy and Marketplace Review)

My sense is that voters will end up liking parts of both Republican and Democratic ideas. They might ask a reasonable question: Why can't we take the best from both sides? 

If Democrats would just admit Obamacare needs some pretty big fixes, and Republicans would be willing to work on making those fixes by putting some of these good ideas on the table, the American people would be a lot better off.

In fact, I am hopeful that this is eventually what will happen once Obamacare's failings become even more clear (particularly the real premium costs) and both sides come to understand that neither will have a unilateral political upper hand.  [...]

Let's take an in-depth look at the Republican alternative, "The Patient Choice, Affordability, Responsibility, and Empowerment Act."  [...]

Just how far the Republican tax credits would go in being able to pay for mainstream plans with deductibles and co-pays low-income people could afford will be critical to how effective this proposal would be. 

For example, a family of four in the 18 to 34 age bracket making up to $30,313 a year (125% of the poverty level) would be offered an advanceable tax credit of $4,290 a year. As a reference, the current Obamacare Blue Cross Silver HMO in Alexandria, Virginia costs $11,149 for a family of four with the parents age 30. Even if Republicans were able to substantially reduce Obamacare's current health insurance costs, the premiums would still not be realistic for this family--nor would the usual deductibles these commercial plans offer.

As low-income families make these comparisons, Republicans will be challenged to convince people to make the leap toward believing their plans will be far cheaper, the subsidies adequate, and any co-pays and deductibles affordable.

Republicans have argued that their tax credit would enable consumers to buy at least a catastrophic (big deductible) health plan for the value of the tax credit. Maybe. But what value is a big deductible health insurance plan to people who don't have a lot of money?

And, therein lies the Republican challenge--convincing people that their complex health insurance reform ideas provide people with more health insurance security than the problematic and complex Obamacare plan does. Take it or leave it--ours or theirs.

Again, I think Republicans would have been far better off taking a big gulp and accepting Obamacare as the baseline in health insurance public policy and then use many of their ideas to tell the American people how they could make it work a lot better.

After all, isn't that what most people really want?

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Saudi Arabia, Israel's improbable ally? (ARI MUSHELL, February 11, 2015, Times of Israel)

Saudi Arabia and Israel have a complicated relationship. Both are strong allies of the U.S. Both express concern about the Iranian nuclear program and about Islamic influence in the Middle East. Yet the two countries have no formal diplomatic ties. Saudi Arabia continues to fight a proxy war with Israel by supporting Palestinian terror and condemning Israel. Saudi Arabia also fights an economic war against Israel by boycotting Israeli goods. In fact, Saudi Arabia had an official ban of Israeli goods until 2005, which ended when Saudi Arabia applied for WTO membership, and still keeps an unofficial boycott.

Concurrently, reports surfaced linking Saudi Arabian and Israeli intelligence at a meeting discussing strategic nuclear disarmament of Iran. In other words, Saudi Arabia's frosty relationship with Israel can thaw for mutual benefit.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Genomes reveal Darwin finches' messy family tree (Jonathan Webb, 2/11/15, BBC News)

The most extensive genetic study ever conducted of Darwin's finches, from the Galapagos Islands, has revealed a messy family tree with a surprising level of interbreeding between species.

Only the devout are surprised.  The notion that they're different species sailed long ago.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM

60-40 NATION:

47 states have more conservatives than liberals (Bonnie Kristian, 2/11/15, The Week)
A new Gallup poll indicates that 47 states are home to more people identifying as conservatives than as liberals. 

Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana Most Conservative States (Frank Newport, 2/11/15, Gallup)

Although the general distribution of ideology reflects a clustered regional pattern, history and specific cultural patterns can produce different ideological patterns even among states that share borders. One example of a state that is quite different ideologically from its neighbors is New Hampshire, which is more conservative than the national average, yet borders the two most liberal states in the union: Massachusetts and Vermont. Another example is Illinois, one of the more liberal states in the union, which shares borders with five states that are average or above average in their net conservative rating (Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana).

Posted by orrinj at 1:30 PM


German figurine fans flock to buy Playmobil 'Martin Luther' (Deutsche-Welle, 2/11/15)

Nearly 500 years after his death, the German monk who symbolizes the Protestant Reformation movement, has his own Playmobil figurine.

Playmobil, maker of plastic toy sets that are a staple in German nurseries, said on Wednesday that the "plastic" Luther, clutching a German-language Bible and a quill, is its fastest-selling item ever, selling out within 72 hours. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Republicans are finally talking about income inequality. But they're getting it all wrong. (James Pethokoukis, 2/11/15, The Week)

[I]f you do think growth is the answer, then the Fed has been a friend, not a foe. The central bank's quantitative easing plan, according to Republican economist Martin Feldstein, was a "success" that stimulated growth and job creation. Or as JPMorgan economist Michael Feroli notes, "To the extent Fed policy has been stimulating economic activity...it is serving to narrow wage disparities -- or at least offset other longer-run forces that have been contributing to growing wage inequality."

You know what's bad for the middle class? A never-ending recession like the one in Europe, thanks in large part to a do-nothing central bank.

So how should Republicans think and talk about inequality? The big problem with high-end inequality is not that it necessarily reduces GDP growth. Instead, it increases the impact of barriers to income mobility such as poor schools, pricey colleges, weak public transit, and onerous occupational licensing schemes. If you can't climb the ladder, then a top rung that's ever further away becomes a bigger problem. While conservatives should applaud when an entrepreneur strikes it rich thanks to an innovative new idea, product, or service, they should freely criticize crony capitalist policies that benefit the powerful and politically connected, such as special tax breaks, strong intellectual property laws, or the safety net for Wall Street banks that are "too big to fail." 

...then building their wealth is the solution.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


The Trans-Pacific Partnership: How Tea Party rage could actually help American workers (Jeff Spross, February 11, 2015, The Week)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a mega deal that would lower trade barriers between the U.S. and 11 other nations that border the Pacific Ocean, is getting hit by increasingly ferocious opposition. The surprising part, for this day and age, is that the opposition is bipartisan. [...]

[A]ccording to The New York Times, the push has run up against an unusual but highly motivated alliance, with left-wing populists like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) on one side and Tea Party-aligned Republicans on the other. That's left the White House fighting a two-front battle, with establishment Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) as its unlikely allies.

Was any alliance ever more likely than that amongst our Republican leaders?
Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Lynching as Racial Terrorism (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, FEB. 11, 2015, NY Times)

These episodes of horrific, communitywide violence have been erased from civic memory in lynching-belt states like Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. But that will change if Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights attorney, succeeds in his mission to build markers and memorials at lynching sites throughout the South as a way of forcing communities and the country to confront an era of racial terror directly and recognize the role that it played in shaping the current racial landscape.

Mr. Stevenson's organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, took a step in that direction on Tuesday when it released a report that chronicles nearly 4,000 lynchings of black people in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. The report focuses on what it describes as "racial terror lynchings," which were used to enforce Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. Victims in these cases were often murdered without being accused of actual crimes but for minor social transgressions that included talking back to whites or insisting on fairness and basic rights.

The report is the result of five years of hard work. Researchers reviewed local newspapers, historical archives and court records; interviewed local historians, survivors and victims' descendants; and scrutinized contemporaneously published articles in African-American newspapers, which took a closer interest in these matters than the white press. In the end, researchers found at least 700 more lynchings in the 12 states than were previously reported, suggesting that "racial terror lynching" was far more common than was generally believed.

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


No, Jeb Bush Won't Be a Realist (DANIEL LARISON, February 11, 2015, American Conservative)

Despite all the evidence proving the opposite, some people are claiming that Jeb Bush's foreign policy will have more in common with that of his father:

One early indication suggests he is leaning toward his father's more pragmatic and restrained philosophy. The former Florida governor is considering naming Meghan O'Sullivan as his top foreign-policy aide; several people familiar with the deliberations describe her as the front-runner for the post.

In many ways, the 45-year-old Ms. O'Sullivan, who now teaches at Harvard, bridges the two Bush worlds. She served as deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan for much of George W. Bush 's second term and was heavily involved in carrying out his Iraq policies. But she wasn't among the neoconservative advisers who drove the initial decision to invade Iraq, and she is more closely aligned with--and is being promoted by--the kind of pragmatists who dominated George H.W. Bush 's presidency.

If that is supposed to be a sign that Bush's foreign policy won't be like his brother's, what would be evidence that it will? Choosing someone "heavily involved" in carrying out George W. Bush's policy in Iraq to be a "top foreign policy aide" is practically an endorsement of that policy. It certainly doesn't suggest that Bush thinks there was very much wrong with how his brother's administration handled things. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Will House Whip Scalise Disavow David Duke's Latest Claim About Him? (BRIAN TASHMAN, FEBRUARY 11, 2015, American Prospect)

Duke said that he consistently won "over 60 percent of the popular vote in [Scalise's] congressional district" in his various campaigns for elected office, and therefore people who condemn Scalise "for meeting with me or voting for me, they are condemning the people of Louisiana."

Referencing Scalise's reported 1999 statement that he was "like David Duke without the baggage," Duke said the congressman "agreed with all of my ideas, but my God, you got to be able to get elected."

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


The Republican Discovery of the Poor (Thomas B. Edsall, 2/11/15, NY Times)

The Republican appropriation of leftist populist rhetoric (and even policies) poses a significant threat to liberal prospects in 2016. They plan to bring the fight to the Democrats on their own turf.

But at the same time, the growth of dissension within Republican ranks on the question of what should be done about the economy and in whose name it should be done testifies to the strength of a contemporary reform conservative movement that has, somewhat oddly, become known as the "reformicon" movement.

The origins of this development lie in the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush's 2000 campaign, which has now been adopted and amplified by a younger generation of conservatives intent on broadening the base of support for the party in a presidential election year.

It all comes back to W.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


It's Hard To Know Where Gluten Sensitivity Stops And The Placebo Effect Begins (EMILY OSTER, 2/11/15, 538)

There are two groups of people who should definitely avoid gluten: those diagnosed with wheat allergies and those who have celiac disease. The latter is more common, affecting about 1 percent of the population. The former affects perhaps 0.1 percent of people and is more common in children, who often grow out of it. [...]

Of course, it's difficult to distinguish between someone who is sensitive to gluten and someone who is sensitive to the placebo effect. Since there is no test for gluten sensitivity, "diagnoses" are based on whether people say they feel better when they avoid gluten. But the mind is a powerful thing. If you think avoiding gluten will make you feel better, there is a reasonable chance that it will -- even if gluten is irrelevant.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Eurogroup's Dijsselbloem: Low inflation can be sign of positive development (Boby Michael, February 11, 2015, IB Times)

Inflation remains subdued in the eurozone with some countries even seeing fall in prices, but it could also be seen as positive, thanks to reduced costs and improved productivity, said Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the president of Eurogroup, a meeting of eurozone finance ministers. [...]

"But a number of euro area countries have implemented serious reform agendas," he added.

"They have increased their productivity and have cut their costs, which may cause prices to fall, but at the same time, this makes these economies stronger and more competitive. Spain is a strong example of this. In itself, the necessary and successful effort made by these countries to gain lost ground is a positive development."

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


The Daily Show isn't as influential as you think (Marc Ambinder, February 11, 2015, The Week)

The Daily Show is funniest when its segments expose institutional failures or make fun of the foibles of politicians and the government, not when it lampoons conservatives, who are easy targets. But since both Stewart and his writers are liberals who favor an activist government that redistributes wealth and one that uses regulation to curtail the rapacious interests of corporations, the show hits its targets by convincing viewers to have less faith in government. I think Stewart would object here and say that the cynicism is directed at politicians and the way they use government, but since politicians are the ones who run the government, the effect is the same. Call it the tragedy of great satire. This is why Stewart is not and could never be an activist.

It always seemed unlikely the show could withstand losing Colbert, who said what thery all actually think (as opposed to what they feel).

February 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Senate panel backs Carter for defense secretary, nomination heads toward final vote (FoxNews.com, 2/10/15)

The Senate Armed Services Committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to advance the nomination of Ashton Carter to be the country's next defense secretary.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Matthew Shepard and the gatekeepers of gay orthodoxy : Stephen Jimenez talks to Mark Adnum about the truth behind the myth. (Mark Adnum, 10 FEBRUARY 2015, spiked)

Mark Adnum: You've said that the media reported the story of Matthew's murder 'inaccurately from the beginning', and as a result 'an overtly simplistic narrative got set in stone'. What core elements of the story are inaccurate?

Stephen Jimenez: Nearly every national news organisation originally reported that Matthew Shepard and his killers were strangers on the night they met. But Aaron McKinney and Matthew Shepard were not strangers. On the contrary, they had a tangled friendship and personal relationship that involved sex and drugs, primarily crystal meth. They partied together, bought and sold meth from each other, and had gotten to know each other months before the October 1998 attack. Interestingly, Aaron and Matthew were friends before Aaron and his accomplice Russell Henderson began their friendship in early summer 1998.

We've heard endlessly about Matthew being the victim of a 'hate crime', murdered 'because he was gay'. As recently as last week, Rachel Maddow on her NBC News show repeated as fact that Matthew had been 'beaten, tortured and tied to a fence, and left to die, because he was gay'. However, Cal Rerucha, the Albany County attorney who prosecuted the case and served for four consecutive terms, has stated unequivocally that there wasn't evidence of a hate crime, even if there had been a state or federal hate-crime law in place at the time. He was a fierce advocate for the Shepard family during the trial, but has steadfastly refused to cooperate with attempts to use the Shepard case as a case study of a civil-rights violation based on sexual orientation. Last September, he told the Casper Star Tribune, 'If meth [hadn't been present] in this case, we wouldn't have had a murder'. Rerucha's view is fully supported by several current and former Wyoming law-enforcement officers with firsthand knowledge of the Shepard case.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


The Democratic Majority That Emerged -- And Disappeared (Michael Barone, February 10, 2015, Real Clear Politics)

The Republican Party has always been built around a demographic core of people considered by themselves and others to be typical Americans, even though they are not by themselves a majority. Northern Yankee Protestants in the 19th century, white married people today. When they come up with policies that have broader appeal beyond that core, they can win majorities. Otherwise, they can't.

The Democratic Party has always been a coalition of disparate groups that are different from the Republicans' core. Southern whites and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century; blacks and gentry liberals today. When they cohere, Democrats can win big majorities. When they split apart, the party is a disorderly rabble.

During most of George W. Bush's presidency, Republicans had viable policies. Bush was re-elected, but with only 51 percent of the vote. Then, with violence in the streets of Baghdad and New Orleans, the Republican majorities disappeared.

That, plus a strategy of running candidates tailored to local political terrain, gave Democrats majorities in 2006 and 2008.

They had a chance to extend those by coming up with policies generally deemed successful and which held their disparate coalition together.

They failed on both counts. Big government policies -- the stimulus package, Obamacare -- proved generally unpopular. And other Democratic policies began splitting the party's coalition. Gentry liberals' environmental policies antagonized blue collar unions and Jacksonians from West Virginia to Oklahoma, once one of the party's mainstays.

Hispanics in target-state Colorado were turned off by gentry liberal priorities -- abortion absolutism, gun control, opposition to fracking. Asians in California were repelled by attempts to re-institute racial quotas and preferences in higher education that directly harm them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Illinois Governor Acts to Curb Power of Public Sector Unions (MONICA DAVEY and MITCH SMITH, FEB. 9, 2015, NY Times)

"Forced union dues are a critical cog in the corrupt bargain that is crushing taxpayers," Mr. Rauner said. "An employee who is forced to pay unfair share dues is being forced to fund political activity with which they disagree. That is a clear violation of First Amendment rights -- and something that, as governor, I am duty bound to correct."

Mr. Rauner, a former private equity manager who became the state's first Republican governor in more than a decade, is following other Republican governors in the Midwest who have aggressively taken on public sector unions in recent years.

Those include Mitch Daniels of Indiana, who ended collective bargaining by state workers by executive order; Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who led efforts to cut collective bargaining rights for most public employees; and Rick Snyder of Michigan, who signed legislation ending the requirement that all workers in unionized workplaces pay union dues.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


The Hezbollah Connection (RONEN BERGMAN, FEB. 10, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

To understand the assassination of Rafik Hariri, you must begin decades earlier, in 1975, when a civil war originally between Maronite Christians and Palestinians threatened to tear Lebanon apart. The government asked neighboring Syria to send troops, and the Syrians, who have always seen Lebanon as part of greater Syria, were happy to oblige. The troops stayed, and soon Hafez al-Assad, the president of Syria, was installing his own puppet politicians in positions of power.

The struggle eventually swept up Christians, Druse, Palestinian refugees, Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims -- a five-way war of constantly shifting allegiances -- and left at least 120,000 people dead, with hundreds of thousands more wounded or homeless. More than a million Lebanese fled the country, even as Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia and especially Syria made it hostage to their own regional agendas. As the war progressed, the Syrians switched their own allegiances however they saw fit, as long as they could continue running the country. Syrian businessmen took advantage of Lebanon's more advanced financial infrastructure, entering under protection of their armed forces, and the Syrian Army became involved in the growing Lebanese drug trade.

In 1982, Israel began an invasion across its northern border, seeking to root out elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Israeli military wreaked destruction all the way up to Beirut and forced the P.L.O. out of Lebanon. It also defeated the Syrian Army and particularly the Air Force wherever it engaged them. Realizing he couldn't win a conventional war against the Israelis, Assad, an Alawite Muslim, took a different and somewhat surprising tack: He withdrew his opposition to a plan, proposed by clerics loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran, to establish a Shiite political party in Lebanon. The new organization was supposed to provide Lebanon's Shiite minority with an alternative to the Christian-Sunni governments that had discriminated against them, and also provide Lebanon with a well-funded educational, religious, social and (especially) military organization. The organization, which was a resounding success, called itself the Party of God -- in Arabic, Hezbollah. Assad hoped that the Shiite guerrilla force would maul the Israeli Army, which still occupied a "security zone" in southern Lebanon. It did, and Israel's response was to assassinate the secretary general of Hezbollah, Sheikh Abbas Musawi, in February 1992.

Musawi was succeeded by a capable young cleric, Hassan Nasrallah, and Nasrallah in turn appointed Imad Mughniyeh to run Hezbollah's military wing. Mughniyeh was a kind of genius of terrorism. He made suicide bombing a strategic weapon, and he was a master of guerrilla tactics, blitz attacks and radio-controlled explosive devices. He also had a gift for propaganda: It was Hezbollah that first started recording its own attacks and broadcasting the results. Mughniyeh is widely believed to be the architect of the 1983 Marine barracks bombing that killed 241 American servicemen, 58 French servicemen and six civilians and led to the withdrawal of the United States Marines in 1984. In 2000, with just a small militia under his command, he succeeded in forcing the Israeli Army, the strongest military force in the Middle East, to withdraw from southern Lebanon.

Assad died that same year, and his son, Bashar al-Assad, took over as president of Syria. He noted well how the partnership of Nasrallah and Mughniyeh had succeeded where the entire Arab world, including his own father, had failed, and he made Syria's link with Hezbollah -- and its patrons in Tehran -- the central component of his security doctrine. (Assad's wager on Hezbollah paid off in 2013, when Nasrallah sent forces­ that bolstered the Syrian government against its own rebels.)

But inside Lebanon, Israel's withdrawal in 2000 began to raise hopes that Syria, too, might soon depart. To the consternation of Hezbollah leaders and many Syria-backed politicians, an anti-Syria coalition began to form, drawing together Christian, Druse and Sunni Muslim figures. The most prominent politician in this group was Rafik Hariri.

Hariri was born to a poor Sunni family in southern Lebanon in 1944 and quickly rose to great wealth. After securing a degree in business administration from Arab University in Beirut in 1965, he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he demonstrated a virtuoso talent for completing huge projects -- mosques, palaces, shopping malls -- efficiently and on time. He became a favorite of the royal family and in the early 1980s moved back to Lebanon a well-­connected billionaire. In 1992, he ran for prime minister and won, on a platform of liberalizing the Lebanese economy; after serving until 1998, he ran again two years later and took office from 2000 to 2004.

As prime minister, Hariri did not directly confront Hezbollah or the Syrians, but conflict simmered nonetheless. The Syrian Army continued to occupy Lebanon from the north, and Hezbollah's battles with Israel to the south did little to help most of the Lebanese people. Hariri's wealth and popularity -- not to mention his influence as the owner of a growing portfolio of Lebanese and French newspapers and television and radio stations -- gave him a reputation far beyond Lebanon. He wanted to make Beirut the financial capital of the Middle East, as it had once been, and Lebanon a liberal, Western-­oriented country. Assad sought to maintain the status quo, with Syria in control of Lebanon and Hezbollah its most powerful military force.

In the end, Assad prevailed -- if not on the larger question of Syria's presence in Lebanon, then at least on whether it would be him or Hariri who would determine the outcome. The struggle for control found its object in a dispute about the fate of Emile Lahoud, the president of Lebanon since 1998, who was about to end his final term in office. The role of the president was largely ceremonial, but Lahoud, a Christian, had long backed Syrian involvement in Lebanon, and Assad decided it was important to keep him in place, a move that would require amending Lebanon's constitution. Hariri was firmly opposed to the amendment, and the Syrians were also convinced that he and Walid Jumblatt, a Druse opposition leader, were acting behind the scenes to help the United Nations Security Council pass Resolution 1559, calling upon Hezbollah to disarm and Syria to withdraw from Lebanon.

On Aug. 26, 2004, Assad summoned Hariri to his presidential palace in Damascus to deliver an ultimatum. Lahoud must remain in office, Assad said, even if the United States and France didn't like it. Hariri objected, but Assad cut him short. "It will be Lahoud," he said. If Hariri or Jumblatt tried to stop him, another person present at the meeting told the tribunal, he would break Lebanon over their heads. Then he repeated the threat. "I will break Lebanon over your head and over Walid Jumblatt's head," he said. "So you had better return to Beirut and arrange the matter on that basis." (Assad has since denied threatening Hariri's safety in any way.)

Hariri returned to Beirut -- one of his bodyguards would later tell the United Nations investigators that the prime minister was so shocked by the encounter that his nose began to bleed -- and drove immediately to Jumblatt's home. Assad's father had almost certainly ordered the death of Jumblatt's father, the Lebanese opposition leader Kamal Jumblatt, in 1977, and he was also most likely behind the assassination of Bashir Gemayel, the Christian president-elect of Lebanon, in 1982. Hariri and Jumblatt had little reason to doubt that Assad would do the same to them. The risk only increased on Sept. 2, when the Security Council passed Resolution 1559; the Syrians suspected, not without justification, that Hariri was involved.

Hariri was losing the parliamentary vote on the Lahoud amendment in any case, and several Syria-backed ministers threatened to resign, taking the government down with them, unless Hariri himself stepped down. In early September, shortly before a ceremony in which he received a prize from the United Nations for rebuilding Lebanon, Hariri announced his resignation. He left office on Oct. 20, 2004, and immediately turned his attention to the regional elections scheduled to take place in six months. A new government, his advisers told him, would almost certainly put him back in the prime minister's office.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


If Lepanto Went Hollywood (Mark Judge, 2/08/15, RCR)

In 1453 Muslim Turks had taken Constantinople, and were setting their sights on Europe. Their leaders was the Sultan Selim. While Europe argued over its own religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, Pope Pius V attempted to sound the alarm. As Lepanto historian Brandon Rogers once wrote: "Pius understood the tremendous importance of resisting the aggressive expansion of the Turks better than any of his contemporaries appear to have. He understood that the real battle being fought was spiritual; a clash of creeds was at hand, and the stakes were the very existence of the Christian West."

In 1571 the pope took action. He formed the Holy League, an organization to combat Islamic aggression. It included Spain, Venice, and the Papal States. The pope ordered prayers and fasts, and emphasized the importance of the Rosary to victory. The Holy League was badly outnumbered. The Ottoman fleet was 100,000 men and over 300 war galleys strong. The Holy League had 208 war galleys and 80,000 men -- 30,00 soldiers, 50,000 manning the oars. Nevertheless, Pope Pius ordered the ships out to meet the Turks. The Turks had called Rome "the Red Apple," a resplendent and valuable prize, and Pius had no doubt that that was where the Muslims would head if not faced down.

The Holy League was led by Don John of Austria, the bastard son of Emperor Charles V and half brother of Phillip II, the King of Spain. He was 24. In him Pius saw "someone who in council would rise above pettiness and envy, who in battle would lead without flinching." It was needed. Europe was a mess, and the men who would fight at Lepanto would often bicker with each other. According to Jack Beeching in his book The Galleys at Lepanto, "Don John was clear in his own mind as to the terms on which Islamic aggression must be fought...He had been given the task of fighting a total war against another system of ideas -- historically, the hardest of all wars to win...It followed that in the ships of the Holy League blasphemy or any other kind of religious doubt, openly expressed, had to be treated as sedition. The impending battle could be won only by men who were unanimous." Easier said than done. Like most free people, the Holy League was somewhat disorganized, with clashing personalities and people who questioned the mission, the cause, everything.

It's quite a setup, and has a mix of genres that would seem to make piles of money if turned into a film. It's action-adventure, underdogs versus a foe who appears unstoppable, a period piece, a war film, sword and sorcery -- and pro-Christian. It's The Avengers produced by Clint Eastwood.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 PM


Why Are Jews Supporting a German Right-Wing Movement? (Yermi Brenner, February 10, 2015, Tablet)

In a short and passionate speech that quickly went viral on the Internet, Ahituv, an Israeli immigrant to Germany, spoke about the threat of a Muslim takeover of Europe and declared that Germany's Jews stand with Pegida, the populist right-wing movement that had organized the January 26 demonstration in Frankfurt.

The group, whose name is a German acronym for Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West, has organized similar demonstrations in cities across Germany. The largest have been in Dresden, Pegida's base, where as many as 25,000 people have taken part. The protesters say they support Pegida's call for more restrictive immigration policies and for the right to preserve and protect a Christian-Jewish dominated Western culture.

Ahituv told the crowd in Frankfurt that mainstream politicians and media, who have labeled Pegida as xenophobic, racist and even Nazi, are wrong and misleading. "Right here I see only Germans who love their country and want to save Germany from the Islam that wants to take over, to take your traditions, to take your beliefs, to take all of this down," he said. "But we will not let it!"

In taking his stand, Ahituv was not just opposing Germany's leadership and all its mainstream parties; he was standing, too, against Germany's Jewish establishment. Communal leaders have strongly backed Chancellor Angela Merkel's description of Pegida as a group led by individuals whose hearts "are cold and often full of prejudice, and even hate."

Josef Schuster, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, has condemned Pegida as an "immensely dangerous" movement that consists of neo-Nazis, parties from the far right and citizens who think that they can finally let out their racism and xenophobia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Bitcoin is dying and 'will be remembered like pogs' (Anthony Cuthbertson, February 10, 2015, IB Times)

Amid falling bitcoin prices and further scandal surrounding the world's most valuable cryptocurrency, author and financial commentator Jeffrey Robinson has told IBTimes UK that bitcoin is "dying" and will be remembered "much like Pogs and the Sinclair C5".

Robinson, author of BitCon: The Naked Truth about Bitcoin, claims that the lack of intrinsic value behind the altcoin makes it neither a currency nor a commodity and that the entire system is held together by either people with a vested interest in seeing prices go up, or fools.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Chronic-Fatigue Syndrome Gets Controversial Redefinition (Sara Reardon, 2/10/15, Nature magazine)

The mysterious disease known as chronic-fatigue syndrome has long defied classification, as the millions of people who suffer from it show a wide variety of symptoms. Now a panel commissioned by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has produced what is sure to be an influential report on how the disease should be diagnosed. This new definition comes with a new moniker: systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID).

...exertion intolerance was known as laziness.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


The U.S. government is poised to withdraw longstanding warnings about cholesterol (Peter Whoriskey,  February 10, 2015,  Washington Post)

The nation's top nutrition advisory panel has decided to drop its caution about eating cholesterol-laden food, a move that could undo almost 40 years of government warnings about its consumption.

...limiting an error to forty years is pretty good.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


How Much Does Iran Really Care About the Bomb? (CSIS, 2/10/15)

There is a real argument that Iran's primary goal is to pursue effective nuclear energy. Although Iran has the third largest oil reserves and the second largest gas reserves they lack a domestic refining ability which forces Iran to rely on imported gasoline. A domestic nuclear energy capability would diversify their economy away from oil, establish energy independence, reduce Iran's susceptibility to fluctuations in oil prices, and enhance a growth rate that while impressive, significantly trails their neighbors on the south side of the Persian Gulf. Further, nuclear energy would establish a national industry that would bolster Iran's 12.5% (probably grossly understated) unemployment rate, a weak point for Ahmadinejad in the Presidential elections.

So why be so secretive about civilian power? Why build plants for civilian use underground? Why not just allow in the IAEA and let them give the all clear in order to obtain more support for their nuclear program and relieve sanctions that are stagnating other parts of the economy?

Well, for starters they do not trust the Western Powers or Israel not to attempt to strike their enrichment facilities. If there were ever to be a military operation against Iran power facilities would be a target of the highest priority. Past examples can be found in the Yugoslavia and Iraqi campaign. A 1991 Washington Post article by Barton Gellman describes the air campaign against the power infrastructure in the first Iraq War.

"At least nine of the allied attacks targeted transformers or switching yards, each of which U.S. analysts estimated would take about a year to repair -- with Western assistance. In some cases, however, the bombs targeted main generator halls, with an estimated five-year repair time. The Harvard team, which visited most of Iraq's 20 generating plants, said that 17 were damaged or destroyed in allied bombing. Of the 17, 11 were judged total losses.

Now nearly four months after the war's end, Iraq's electrical generation has reached only 20 to 25 percent of its prewar capacity of 9,000 to 9,500 megawatts. Pentagon analysts calculate that the country has roughly the generating capacity it had in 1920 -- before reliance on refrigeration and sewage treatment became widespread.

"The reason you take out electricity is because modern societies depend on it so heavily and therefore modern militaries depend on it so heavily," said an officer involved in planning the air campaign. "It's a leveraged target set."

Is it unreasonable to believe that even if Iran had no intention of building a bomb they would still perceive cooperation with the West to undermine the purpose of the nuclear program? If Iran honestly believes that as long as they have civilian nuclear power there will be some form of sanctions (which is very possible considering the most recent NIE said they stopped trying in 2003) what incentive is there to cooperate? All cooperation will do is deprive them of the ability acquire the know how to develop nuclear weapons, compromise the position and interworking of their national power infrastructure, and force the nation to rely on another state for energy. How is relying on an outside state for enriched uranium (run by the same people who are currently sanctioning you) any better for economic autonomy and energy security than relying on an outside state for gas imports?

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Apple announces $850 million solar energy farm to run its California facilities (BRANDON BAILEY, 2/10/15, AP)

Apple will spend $850 million on a massive solar energy project that will generate enough power for the computer giant's new office campus, retail stores and its other California operations. [...]

Arizona-based First Solar Inc. is building the facility and will sell additional energy from the farm to utility Pacific Gas & Electric.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Michelle Obama Says 'Cheese Dust' Not Food (DARLENE SUPERVILLE, 2/10/15, Associated Press)

 Michelle Obama says she dropped boxed macaroni and cheese from her family's diet after her daughter couldn't turn a block of cheese into cheese powder.

In an interview in the March issue of Cooking Light magazine, Mrs. Obama says Sam Kass, the family's former personal chef, had taken a stand against the boxed variety, which includes processed cheese powder among the ingredients.

It's cheese, dude.

February 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


The Rise of Islamic State review - the story of Isis : Patrick Cockburn's intelligent account of the rise of Isis - and the uselessness of the west - makes depressing reading (Jason Burke, 9 February 2015, The Guardian)

Amid the many books published on the current conflicts reshaping the Middle East, few are as informative or perceptive as The Rise of Islamic State.

The roots of the IS lie in the surge of violent Islamic activism in the Middle East of the 1980s and the effects of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, which brought a young Jordanian street thug known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi to Afghanistan in 1989. He was too late to join the war but returned to his native land to plan attacks there. Jailed, al-Zarqawi was released in time to return to Afghanistan to create his own group, Tawhid wal-Jihad. His opportunity came with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the subsequent uprising. Al-Zarqawi established himself as leader of the most brutal fringe of the insurgency. He was killed in 2006 as the sectarian civil war he had worked to foment intensified. If over the next four years the Islamic State in Iraq, as the group called itself, suffered under pressure from the US, it was able to regroup once the foreign troops had left. Under its new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISI launched new campaigns.

The 2011 revolt in Syria, and that country's rapid disintegration into civil war, provided a new opportunity. Working with al-Qaida central, the ISI set up a new militant group in the neighbouring country. However, lines of command were never clear. Al-Baghdadi thought the new organisation was under his authority. Its commanders, and the al-Qaida command, thought differently. The result was an acrimonious split, al-Baghdadi sending forces to take over substantial portions of eastern Syria, while appropriating large chunks of a resurgent Iraqi Sunni insurgency against a Shia chauvinist government in Baghdad. By summer last year, al-Baghdadi was ready for a big push. He launched a successful attack on Mosul, Iraq's troubled second city, and then declared himself caliph, temporal and spiritual ruler of the world's Muslims.

So why, if people like Cockburn could see what was happening, did western security officials, analysts and editors miss it? Probably because, as The Rise of Islamic State explains, western policymakers have shown little but wishful thinking and inconsistency in dealing with the conflict in Syria or the supposed peace in Iraq for several years. Of all the many mistakes Cockburn says were made by both the rebels and their foreign backers since 2011, it was the belief that President Assad was going to be swiftly defeated that was the most serious. 

...rather than occupying Iraq.

OBAMA : THE VOX CONVERSATION (Matthew Yglesias, Vox)

Matthew Yglesias

In the Middle East, where we're still very much engaged despite the draw-down from Iraq, the Clinton administration had a policy they called Dual Containment of Iraq and Iran. The Bush administration had an idea about preventative war and about rollback and democracy promotion. Under your administration, the country is still very involved in that region, but I don't think we have as clear a sense of what is the sort of strategic goal of that engagement.

Barack Obama

Well, partly it's because of the nature of what's happened in the Middle East. I came in with some very clear theories about what my goals were going to be. We were going to end the war in Iraq. We were going to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, trying diplomacy first. We were going to try to promote increased economic development in the Muslim countries to deal with this demographic bulge that was coming into play. We were going to promote Palestinian and Israeli peace talks. So, there were all kinds of theories.

And then the Arab Spring happened. I don't recall all the wise men in Washington anticipating this. And so this has been this huge, tumultuous change and shift, and so we've had to adapt, even as it's happening in real time, to some huge changes in these societies. But if you look at the basic goals that I've set: making sure that we are maintaining pressure on terrorist organizations so that they have a limited capacity to carry out large-scale attacks on the West. Increasing our partnering and cooperation with countries to deal with that terrorist threat. Continuing to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And using the tool of sanctions to see if we can get a diplomatic breakthrough there. And continuing to try to move the Israeli-Palestinian relationship into a better place, while at the same time helping the region as a whole integrate itself more effectively into the world economy so that there's more opportunity. Those basic goals still hold true.

But what people rightly have been concerned about [is] that the forces of disorder -- sectarianism, most tragically in Syria, but lingering elements of that in Iraq as well, the incapacity of Israelis and Palestinians to get together, and the continued erosion of basic state functions in places like Yemen, mean that there's more to worry about there than there might have been under the old order. We're kind of going through a passage that is hard and difficult, but we're managing it in a way to make sure that Americans are safe and that our interests are secured. And if we can make progress in restoring a functioning, multi-sectarian Iraqi government, and we're able to get a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, then we have the basis, I think, for a movement towards greater stability.

But this is going to be a generational challenge in the Muslim world and the Middle East that not only the United States but everybody's going to have to deal with. And we're going to have to have some humility in recognizing that we don't have the option of simply invading every country where disorder breaks out. And that to some degree, the people of these countries are going to have to, you know, find their own way. And we can help them but we can't do it for them.

Strange, the Arab Spring was exactly what W said would come of the WoT.  We just weren't nimble enough to accept election results, nor forceful enough to remove the remaining oppressive regimes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


The "no difference" theory is dead : A US study finds that opposite-sex parents are better than same-sex parents. Wait for the fireworks. (Michael Cook | 9 February 2015, MercatorNet)

Writing in the British Journal of Education, Society & Behavioural Science, a peer-reviewed journal, American sociologist Paul Sullins concludes that children's "Emotional problems [are] over twice as prevalent for children with same-sex parents than for children with opposite-sex parents".

He says confidently: "it is no longer accurate to claim that no study has found children in same-sex families to be disadvantaged relative to those in opposite-sex families."

This defiant rebuttal of the "no difference" hypothesis is sure to stir up a hornet's next as the Supreme Court prepares to trawl through arguments for and against same-sex marriage. It will be impossible for critics to ignore it, as it is based on more data than any previous study -- 512 children with same-sex parents drawn from the US National Health Interview Survey. The emotional problems included misbehaviour, worrying, depression, poor relationships with peers and inability to concentrate.

After crunching the numbers, Sullins found opposite-sex parents provided a better environment. "Biological parentage uniquely and powerfully distinguishes child outcomes between children with opposite-sex parents and those with same-sex parents," he writes.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Hot Stove (Sadie Stein, 2/09/15, Paris Review)

When I saw a feature on Harper Lee's New York in the New York Post, my lip curled. Until, that is, I glanced at the annotated map and saw that it listed--along with the Yorkville flat where Lee lived off and on for decades, Capote's Brooklyn Heights home, and the offices of agent Maurice Crain--the old Shea Stadium. 

And that, of course, changed everything. As every fan of a punch line team knows, we cannot afford to ignore any fellow travelers in the cause. And Harper Lee: What a get! All of a sudden, I was totally ready to throw my scruples to the wind and use the eighty-eight-year-old's long-ago devotion to the Mets for my own selfish ends. Or, you know, Mets ends. Since learning this, I have mentioned that Harper Lee was a Mets fan to no fewer than five people, with an air of smug triumph reserved for the truly irrational. "Harper Lee," I said casually to a businessman reading the paper on the subway. "You know she was a big Mets fan, right?"

"You know who loved the Mets?" I demanded of a guy on the street in a Mr. Met-patterned knit hat. "Harper Lee."

It would be hard to say which of them cared less. 

In fairness, in a world of tenuous claims, this seems to be a relatively plausible one. Marja Mills, the author of The Mockingbird Next Door, termed Lee "a rabid Mets fan"; Andrew Haggerty described her as "passionately devoted" to the team. Meanwhile, Lee's biographer Charles Shields told the Post, "She was a big Mets fan--she used to go around with a Mets hat on." And Smithsonian magazine pointed out (rather gratuitously), that the team was "the natural choice for someone with an underdog thing as big as the Ritz." 

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


End of OPEC is closer to reality (Matt Egan, 2/09/15, Money)

"The end of OPEC" might be closer to reality now, according to Edward Morse, global head of commodities research at Citigroup.

The shale revolution "has created a sort of existential threat to Saudi Arabia and OPEC," he wrote in a report on Monday.

Founded in 1960, OPEC is led by some of the most influential oil-producing nations in the world, like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and UAE.

But now, the United States is the largest producer of oil in the world and Canada has been ramping up output as well.

That means not only has OPEC lost its biggest customer (America), but it no longer has the ability to manipulate prices to its own advantage.

Morse is no obscure analyst. He correctly predicted that oil prices were in bubble territory back in 2008 when crude surged to nearly $150 a barrel and Goldman Sachs was predicting a "superspike" to $200.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Why is good dumb? (Spengler,  June 21, 2005, PJ Media)

The American president is a good man, in that he wants the whole world to have the same good things Americans have. "Religious conversion is the defining experience of his life, and it is in his nature to convert others. Because he is a 21st-century American and not a 12th-century Crusader, he preaches the ballot box rather than the cross," I wrote under the title George W Bush, tragic character (November 25, 2003). A simple punitive expedition against Saddam Hussein, followed by side-deals with the Kurds and Shi'ites to secure oil supplies, would have served Washington's "imperial" requirements, had that been the objective. Bush actually believes he is building democracy in the Muslim world.

By "dumb" I mean that Bush could not have done more to prepare the grounds for Islamist victory had he set out to do so with malice of forethought. Less than a year ago, overwhelming support for the Iraq war forced the Democratic Party to peddle Kerry as a war hero, while gagging its anti-war faction. Only 37% of Americans now approve of the president's handling of the Iraq war, according to last week's CBS-NY Times poll. Among the Sunnis of Iraq, a sufficient number of young men will commit suicide to add two or three a day to the American casualty list until America's loses its will to fight (Why Sunnis blow themselves up, June 14).

Radical Islam, I have maintained since September 11, 2001, may triumph yet, if only for a while, for its fighting advantage is the desperation of a doomed culture. Washington has made concession after humiliating concession to groups it deemed terrorist, such as Hezbollah, the victor in the south of the country in the ongoing Lebanese elections, and the Palestinian Hamas, before whose electoral strength the Palestinian Authority dare not hold a national vote.

Realists on the other hand are very smart and quite evil.  Spengler's willingness to maintain Sunni dictatorships over the Shi'a in particular and the Arab world generally speaks poorly of him as a person.  His fellow believer in Realism can spin all kinds of fancy theories about why it's better to have brutal repression which provides stability (though oddly enough, it's never stable) than messy democracy with the instability it brings (though oddly it always seems to produce peace and prosperity in the longer run).

The good, on the other hand, are dumb, or stupid, because we don't go in for a bunch of intellectual analysis.  We get by on faith.  We know that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights  These rights can be repressed at times--even for long periods of time--but they'll always resurge.  As Spengler accidentally points out here, the routine electoral victories of Islamist political parties merely represent that very human urge.  

Sure, we can connive at delaying democracy in The Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt because our preferred parties (secular ones) can't win.  But that's all we're doing is delaying the inevitable.  Stupidity will prevail.


Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Alan Greenspan: The euro is doomed (Patrick Gillespie, 2/09/15, CNNMoney)

The former Federal Reserve Chairman told the BBC that Greece's best course of action is to leave the Eurozone. But Greenspan didn't stop there. He predicts Greece's exit is the beginning of the end for the euro.

"Short of a political union, I find it very difficult to foresee the euro holding together in its current form," Greenspan told the BBC's Mark Mardell on Sunday.

Greenspan went as far as to say the world would be better off without the euro. He says the currency union is too complex unless Europe decides to have one unified governing body to call all the shots.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


They've finally solved it: Schrödinger's cat is both ALIVE AND DEAD (Richard Chirgwin, 2/08/15, The Register)

An international group of quantum physics researchers reckons it's come up with an experimental validation of the reality of the wave-function.

It's one of quantum mechanics' most elusive concepts, ever since Erwin Schrödinger crafted the famous "Schrödinger's cat" thought experiment.

In the current experiment, led by Martin Ringbauer of the University of Queensland, photons seem to genuinely exist in multiple states until they're measured.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


The Rise and Decline of General Laws of Capitalism (Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson, December 2014, NBER Working Paper)

We argue that general economic laws are unhelpful as a guide to understand the past or predict the future, because they ignore the central role of political and economic institutions, as well as the endogenous evolution of technology, in shaping the distribution of resources in society. We use regression evidence to show that the main economic force emphasized in Piketty's book, the gap between the interest rate and the growth rate, does not appear to explain historical patterns of inequality (especially, the share of income accruing to the upper tail of the distribution).

The central fact of politics in the developed world being that the electorate requires government to provide a comprehensive welfare safety net (in other words, wealth redistribution).

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


Jeb Bush Plans a Website on His Tenure as Florida Governor (BETH REINHARD, 2/09/15, WSJ)

Jeb Bush is planning to launch a website Tuesday that includes emails from his two terms as governor of Florida and the first chapter of his book about his administration.

Mr. Bush, who is expected to make a 2016 presidential run, announced the website on Monday in a call with a couple hundred former members of his administration and campaign staffers. The  launch of the web site will coincide with Mr. Bush's trip to his old stomping grounds in Tallahassee for fundraisers and an education summit. [...]

 Mr. Bush also discussed his conservative record as governor, including a fiscal policy that received a triple-A rating from Wall Street. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


The Super Bowl Story, According to Tom Brady (Peter King, 2/09/15, Sports Illustrated)

McDaniels: "I didn't get to see tape on Seattle until about 4 in the afternoon the day after our championship game. The way we do it is, we take care of all our Super Bowl logistical work first, so we can concentrate on game preparation after that without a lot of distractions. I watched a lot of them, obviously. And when you saw people have success against them, you saw teams stringing eight or 10 normal successful football plays together. Not explosive plays. But the word that kept coming to my mind, and I must have said it to our offensive players 25 times in two weeks of prep, was 'patience.' I told them, 'Maybe we can come out of the game with one or two big plays. Maybe. But just trust the process. Be patient.' The keys, to me, were being patient and never running horizontally after the catch. Just go upfield. You're not going to create yards by trying to get around one guy, because two guys will be waiting for you. We did so many catch-and-run drills during the week of practice. Vertical, vertical, vertical. For Tom, the key was: Do not hold the ball for four seconds, or bad things are gonna happen." [...]

Brady: "They'd allowed the fewest big plays of any team all season, and you saw pretty early why you don't want to go into the Super Bowl throwing up a bunch of posts, a bunch of 'nine' routes. ['Go' routes.] Richard Sherman picks off the go route every time you throw it. The plan was to exploit other parts of the field--but short parts of the field. Michael Bennett rushes from everywhere. Cliff Avril kills people. They believe in what they do. We countered that by saying, 'Okay, here's what we're pretty good at: Space the field, find the soft spots, be satisfied with the four-yard gain, be happy with the four-yard gain. We were gonna be happy with a two-yard gain."

...and then, crucially, you know they have neither the coaching nor the personnel to adapt.  Only Tom Brady's divergences from the plan kept Seattle in the game.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


The Dangerous Lie That 'Bush Lied' (LAURENCE H. SILBERMAN, Feb. 8, 2015, WSJ)

In recent weeks, I have heard former Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier on Fox News twice asserting, quite offhandedly, that President George W. Bush "lied us into war in Iraq."

I found this shocking. I took a leave of absence from the bench in 2004-05 to serve as co-chairman of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction--a bipartisan body, sometimes referred to as the Robb-Silberman Commission. It was directed in 2004 to evaluate the intelligence community's determination that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD--I am, therefore, keenly aware of both the intelligence provided to President Bush and his reliance on that intelligence as his primary casus belli. It is astonishing to see the "Bush lied" allegation evolve from antiwar slogan to journalistic fact.

The intelligence community's 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated, in a formal presentation to President Bush and to Congress, its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction--a belief in which the NIE said it held a 90% level of confidence. That is about as certain as the intelligence community gets on any subject.

Recall that the head of the intelligence community, Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, famously told the president that the proposition that Iraq possessed WMD was "a slam dunk." Our WMD commission carefully examined the interrelationships between the Bush administration and the intelligence community and found no indication that anyone in the administration sought to pressure the intelligence community into its findings. As our commission reported, presidential daily briefs from the CIA dating back to the Clinton administration were, if anything, more alarmist about Iraq's WMD than the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate. [...]

I recently wrote to Ron Fournier protesting his accusation. His response, in an email, was to reiterate that "an objective reading of the events leads to only one conclusion: the administration . . . misinterpreted, distorted and in some cases lied about intelligence." Although Mr. Fournier referred to "evidence" supporting his view, he did not cite any--and I do not believe there is any.

While the question of just how much WMD Saddam had and what he was trying to acquire/manufacture is of academic interest, the fact is that W's case for war was based on the regime's often admitted (or asserted) violation of the international agreements it acceded to in order to stop the first Gulf War.  Now it is certainly possible that Saddam was lying about his own WMD programs to hide his own weakness--as he had to lie about the demographics of Iraq--but there's a valuable lesson for dictator's there, not cause for opposing his removal from power (which it's important to remember is what opposition to the war amounted to, a determination to keep Saddam in power).

While we're clearing up lies about W, Rape. Murder. Gunfights. (Brian Thevenot and Gordon Russell , September 26, 2005, The Times-Picayune)

For three anguished days the world's headlines blared that the Superdome and Convention Center had descended into anarchy. But the truth is that while conditions were squalid for the thousands stuck there, much of the violence NEVER HAPPENED.

After five days managing near-riots, medical horrors and unspeakable living conditions inside the Superdome, Louisiana National Guard Col. Thomas Beron prepared to hand over the dead to representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Following days of internationally reported killings, rapes and gang violence inside the Dome, the doctor from FEMA - Beron doesn't remember his name - came prepared for a grisly scene: He brought a refrigerated 18-wheeler and three doctors to process bodies.

"I've got a report of 200 bodies in the Dome," Beron recalls the doctor saying.

The real total was six, Beron said.

Of those, four died of natural causes, one overdosed and another jumped to his death in an apparent suicide, said Beron, who personally oversaw the turning over of bodies from a Dome freezer, where they lay atop melting bags of ice. State health department officials in charge of body recovery put the official death count at the Dome at 10, but Beron said the other four bodies were found in the street near the Dome, not inside it. Both sources said no one had been killed inside.

At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just four bodies were recovered, despites reports of corpses piled inside the building. Only one of the dead appeared to have been slain, said health and law enforcement officials.

That the nation's front-line emergency management believed the body count would resemble that of a bloody battle in a war is but one of scores of examples of myths about the Dome and the Convention Center treated as fact by evacuees, the media and even some of New Orleans' top officials, including the mayor and police superintendent. As the fog of warlike conditions in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath has cleared, the vast majority of reported atrocities committed by evacuees have turned out to be false, or at least unsupported by any evidence, according to key military, law enforcement, medical and civilian officials in positions to know.

Posted by orrinj at 11:53 AM


Strange Stars Pulsate According to the "Golden Ratio" (Clara Moskowitz, 2/09/15, Scientific American)

Scholars have seen the golden ratio in nautilus shells, the Parthenon, da Vinci paintings and now in stars. A new study of variable stars observed by the Kepler space telescope found four stars that pulsate at frequencies whose ratio is near the irrational number 0.61803398875, known as the Greek letter phi, or the golden ratio (which is also sometimes referred to as the inverse of that number, 1.61803398875...).

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


U.S. Government Bonds Strengthen After Biggest Selloff Since 2013 (MIN ZENG, Feb. 9, 2015, WSJ)

Investors scooped up ultrasafe U.S. government debt on Monday, driven by fresh concerns over the global economic outlook, boosting bond prices following the biggest four-day selloff since June 2013.

Monday's U.S. bond market action illustrates how global uncertainty continues to bolster demand for U.S. government debt, which had sent bond yields tumbling over the past year despite the U.S. economy gaining traction and the Fed ending its monthly bond buying to stimulate growth in October.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Reach for the Sun (Thomas Burnett, 2/09/15, Slate)

 I had heard for years that solar power was a luxury item for hippies and rich liberals. But after doing some research, I learned that the price of solar panels had decreased 80 percent since 2008. Even more surprising, I discovered that I didn't have to spend a huge sum of money upfront to buy solar panels anymore--instead, I could lease them.

It's easy to forget that few homes or businesses in the United States had electricity until a century ago. Thomas Edison debuted his electric lighting in Manhattan in 1882, but it didn't come to most rural areas until the 1930s. Wherever electricity arrived, it quickly changed from novelty to necessity.

One of the reasons that people loved electricity was that it was "clean." They no longer had to rely on kerosene or gas lamps, both of which burned fuel and produced unhealthy amounts of smoke and soot inside of buildings. Although electricity was primarily produced by coal-fired generators, one could site them far away from where the light was needed. Edison's invention, powered by fossil fuels, illuminated the world.

Solar power languished throughout most of the 20th century, but as billions of people adopted electricity, it became apparent by that we could no longer afford to use our skies and water as our dumping grounds. Decades of research and development by scientists and engineers has finally produced cost-effective solar panels that can power our activities without the huge impact on our planet.

When I began my solar-power journey, the first question I faced was: Should I buy, or should I lease? The way solar leasing works is that a company installs panels on your roof. Rather than paying for the panels themselves, you are charged for the electricity they generate. (The exact way this works depends on the agreement you sign. In some cases, you're charged for all the electricity the system generates, and the extra that goes into the grid generates a credit from the local utility company to lower your bill. In other cases, you are charged a fixed fee from the solar company regardless of how much energy your panels produce.) In many cities across the United States, the solar electricity rate is actually lower than what you'd pay on your regular utility bills. So I could save money and reduce pollution by leasing solar panels? It sounded like a no-brainer.

The next step was deciding which solar company to choose. I stumbled across a TED Talk from Sungevity co-founder Danny Kennedy that was so inspiring that I bought his book, Rooftop Revolution. And since Sungevity headquarters in Oakland, California, are close to where I went to graduate school, I felt a special kinship with them.

Before signing a lease, I decided to do a little more investigation, just to be thorough. First I had a couple of local solar companies come to my house, climb up on the roof, and design a system to fit my budget. Then I stumbled across a neighborhood co-op in Washington that organizes bulk solar purchases to save homeowners money. Suddenly, buying solar panels started to look even more attractive than leasing--with a 30 percent federal tax credit, renewable energy credits, and additional savings as part of a group purchase, I would only pay a fraction of the upfront cost of solar. After I told my neighbors about this deal, four of them joined the bulk purchase.

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


In Obama's Budget, an Effort to Rein in Occupational Licensing (ROBERT LITAN, 2/09/15, WSJ)

Studies from think tanks across the political spectrum have expressed concerns. The libertarian Institute for Justice has compiled a list of the occupations requiring licenses; it includes massage therapists, bartenders, funeral attendants, and shampooers. The Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution likewise has called attention to the growing cost of these requirements.

To be sure, licensing some professionals-doctors, dentists, lawyers, architects, and accountants, for example-is an appropriate way to protect the public against potential physical and financial dangers from scammers or incompetents.

But this is surely not the case with every profession now subject to license.

Accordingly, the money proposed by the administration would be spent (assuming Congress agrees) by states to assess the costs and benefits of existing and new licenses, with a view toward eliminating licensing where it doesn't make sense.

February 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Scotland's Government is about to 'write off' £425 million! Surely a reckless move? (Graeme Mackay, February 2, 2015, IB Times)

Sadly, one piece of legislation passing through Holyrood at the moment with neither of these attributes and winning verbal criticisms of "Reckless", "Bizarre", "Misguided" and "Tax Dodgers's Charter", is a bill to bring an end to the collection of debts owed for non-payment of the Community Charge (aka Poll Tax) in Scotland.

The amount still owing is £425.3 million and will be "written off" with Scottish local authorities to receive £869,000 in compensation - little was being collected in recent years - and the authorities will be unable to pursue payment as of 01 February.

Croatia's leftist government to forgive debt to 60,000 poorest ahead of election (Associated Press, Feb. 2, 2015)

Starting Monday, the citizens whose debts do not exceed some 4,500 euros ($5,000) and whose bank accounts have been frozen for more than a year, can apply for the scheme dubbed the "Fresh Start."

The government says on its website that the measure is designed to help the poorest citizens cope with the economic crisis for which they had no responsibility

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Saudis and Wahhabis: a marriage between politics and piety (SIAMAK NOORAEI, 8 February 2015, OpenDemocracy)

Why are Wahhabis a problem? First, Wahhabism condones sectarianism. Takfir is entrenched in the Wahhabi ethos. Within Saudi Arabia, clerics are known to antagonize Shia Muslims, who constitute roughly 12 percent of the country's population. For example, renowned cleric Nasser al-Omar has called the Shia "rejectionists" and "enemies of religion and the nation." Anti-Shia sentiment within the country has grown since Hezbollah, backed by Bashar al-Assad and Iran, was deployed in Syria to put down what many observers see as a Sunni uprising.

Also, with minor Shia unrest in Bahrain, Houthi uprising in Yemen, and Iran's continual support for Shia movements within Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, many Wahhabis have become vehemently sectarian. Many Saudis have even welcomed the Islamic State's destruction of Shia shrines and Christian churches in Syria and Iraq.

Second, even though the Saudi regime has officially condemned Jihadist groups, organizations like Islamic State and al-Qaeda enjoy support amongst many Saudis. As stated before, historically, many groups--like Ikhwan--have used Wahhabism in order to achieve their political objectives. Osama bin Laden, in a sense, "was precisely the representative of a late flowering of this Ikhwani approach." Today, groups such as the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front espouse the same puritanical beliefs held by the early Wahhabi Bedouins centuries before.

Over the past decade, al-Qaeda and groups with similar views have carried out several acts of terrorism, such as suicide bombings, within the country. But according to some accounts, "the March of Isis has not been entirely unwelcome in some sections of Saudi society."

Third, in Saudi Arabia Sharia governs every aspect of life. Wahhabi clerics reserve strict punishments for crimes: stoning for adultery, cutting hands for theft, beheadings for murder and drug trafficking, among other barbaric practices. Gender mixing is prohibited, freedom of expression curtailed, and mandatory prayers enforced five times a day. The Wahhabis also patrol public spaces to ensure men and women dress appropriately and perform their prayers five times a day. Their intrusive and at times barbaric practices contradict practically every human rights principle.

Fourth, Saudi Arabia, as a major player in Middle Eastern and Islamic politics, is very important to almost every other country. Western countries, particularly the United States, have economic and military interests in Saudi Arabia. America has military bases and investments in oil within Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, as the largest oil producer, has enormous influence, especially within the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It can distort prices in order to weaken its regional rivals and exert pressure on other energy markets.

Moreover, many countries rely on Saudi Arabia to counter 'rogue' states such as Iran, Russia, and Syria. The "Wahhabist impulse," however, threatens the fragile alliance between Saudis and the west. Were Islamic State and other groups with Wahhabi ideology to challenge the royal family's handle on the domestic situation, western interests within the region could be severely threatened.

We have no shared interests.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


The Good, the True, & the Postmodern (Chase Padusniak, 2/08/15, Imaginative Conservative)

With the exception of a few figures like Professor Peter Augustine Lawler, who is a self-identified "postmodern conservative," conservatives are generally suspicious of the word "postmodern." I think this aversion is uncalled for, and that the interests of a broadly-understood postmodernity align with many of conservatism's central tenets.

Critics such as William Lane Craig have argued that our culture is not postmodern because it is not wholly relativistic. This is simply not true; postmodernism and relativism are not equivalent terms. The early postmodern philosopher, Martin Heidegger, made his entire project an analysis of being and what it means to be, going so far as to wonder: "Why are there beings at all, and why not rather nothing? That is the question." These do not sound like the words of a mere moral relativist interested in deconstructing systems of power.

Neither is postmodernism simply an academic fad to students like myself. Something like relativism does exist in our colleges and universities, but it derives largely from the thought of Michel Foucault. But to disdain all of postmodernism over is the equivalent of assuming all liberalism is broken because you dislike John Rawls. What about Adam Smith, John Locke, and Edmund Burke? In fact, much of the direction the humanities have taken recently is rooted in something more modern than postmodern; namely, the influence of the social sciences, and the turning of literary criticism from textual analysis into a process for the cultural weaponization of words.

If anything, postmodernity provides a critique of modernity, because it dispels the commonly held conception that postmodernity implies relativism or the complete denial of all things good and holy. All that the term "postmodern" need imply is any thought that comes after modernity, and necessarily provides some movement away from it. In fact, Merriam Webster's primary definition for "postmodern" is "of, relating to, or being an era after a modern one." So, let us drop the preconceptions.

What, then, is modernity?

We would define these things more narrowly.  Modernism can be understood as the faith in Materialism that afflicted continental Europe and is best dated from Descartes' cogito ergo sum. Thanks to the skepticism of our philosophers the English-speaking world largely avoided this dead end.  But to the extent that Academia and Intellectuals had followed Scientism down the rabbit hole, the reaction within that milieu can be considered postmodernism. It's essentially just a return to traditional skepticism about Reason mostly among  those who don't make it quite as far as Faith.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


The Chevy Volt As A Pickup: Via Motors President Talks Origins Of Plug-in Hybrid Truck (Brooke Crothers, 2/08/15, Forbes)

Orem, Utah-based Via Motors' "electrified" 4WD Chevy Silverado entered commercial production last month.  That's a first for the company -- founded in 2010 -- that retrofits GM pickups and vans and turns them into $85,000-plus plug-in hybrids that can also function as roving generators. [...]

"[The pickup] is the workhorse of America, this is where the most gasoline gets consumed in the vehicle sector...[Via] takes a vehicle from 12 - 15 mpg and moves it up to the range 80 - 100 mpg [in some use cases]," Perriton said, echoing Lutz's sentiment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


In a Game of Honor, a Cry for a Fair Share (KAREN CROUSE, 2/08/15, NY Times)

 The caddies said the tour had turned them into walking billboards by requiring them to wear bibs with the title sponsor's logo without sharing any of the proceeds, valued by lawyers for the caddies at roughly $50 million annually. The lawsuit was filed after a year of negotiations failed to produce a settlement.

The tour commissioner, Tim Finchem, said he had not studied the complaint. He also said the players and their caddies were independent contractors, with the caddies working for the players, not for the tour.

It would seem that he is contradicting himself by saying the players are the bosses of the caddies but are also under the thumbs of the tour brass. The policy also does not take into account that caddies may have personal convictions that go against the corporate grain. Consider the caddie who told the story of being forced to wear an R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. bib at a senior event in the early 2000s despite the fact that his father had died from lung cancer caused by smoking.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


How are states performing? (Nation's Report Card)

A graphic comparing states to the nation for public school students by average scores and achievement level results for 4th-grade NAEP mathematics students.
Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Scientism (Peter Sellick, 9 February 2015, Opinion Online)

Scientism is the idea that science alone, gives us objective knowledge ie that science alone reliably exposes the world to us as it actually is. Edward Feser in his Book Scholastic Metaphysics argues that there are "no good arguments whatsoever for scientism, and decisive arguments against it."

Rather, he claims that ancient scholastic metaphysics, typified by Thomas Aquinas, has much more to say about how the world actually is than natural science.

He argues that the idea that "the methods of science are the only reliable way to secure knowledge of anything" is not itself a scientific claim that can be established with the scientific method. How could such statement be tested?

Surely the statement is not a scientific statement but a philosophical one. It's truth or falsehood cannot be tested in a laboratory but the philosopher would certainly have something to say about it.

Feser points out that the scientific method relies on a number of philosophical assumptions: that there is an objective world external to the minds of scientists, that this world is governable by regularities of the sort that can be captured in scientific laws and that human perception can uncover and describe these regularities.

It is therefore absurd to state that the only way we can know about the world is through scientific speculation since this activity is dependent upon assumptions that are not established by science. The argument is circular.

This should be the death knell of scientism, but there is more.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Arab minority is invisible to Israeli Jews, president says : Not one of Israel's top 47 companies employs Arabs in mid-level managerial posts or higher, finds study presented to Rivlin (Elhanan Miller, 2/08/15, Times of Israel)

President Reuven Rivlin criticized Israeli Jewish ignorance of Arab society at a conference hosted at his residence Sunday, warning that both groups are "blind to each other."

"How many of us Jews know colleagues at work who are Arab? How many of us have true friends who are Arab? How many of us know the agenda of the Arab public, or the differences dividing their society?" Rivlin wondered at an event dedicated to the integration of Arab citizens in the private sector, addressing a crowd of business leaders and civil society representatives.

"A huge gap has grown over the years between two societies that live next to each other and with each other, and yet are blind to each other... We must admit the painful truth: namely, that for the majority of Jewish-Israeli society the Arab public occupies a blind spot."

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Bush vs. Bush vs. Bush (David Shribman, February 8, 2015, RCP)

There are, to be sure, surface similarities between the two men, and between the two speeches. Both were addresses of solid conservatism leavened with conscious compassion. The 43rd president spoke in Detroit of "the soft bigotry of low expectations," one of his signature lines and one that preceded his presidency. The man who would be the 45th president spoke of an American Dream that "has become a mirage for far too many."

[O]ne of the major themes of the older brother was energy independence, prompting the president to plead from the Detroit lectern: "For the sake of this economy, for the sake of national security, Congress needs to pass an energy plan and get it to my desk as soon as possible, so we can become less reliant on foreign sources of energy." No 2016 presidential candidate will say anything remotely like that in an era when energy independence may be within reach.

President Bush used his Detroit speech to advocate a change in "our outdated immigration laws," specifically deploring plans for amnesty. His brother's vision is subtlety different, with more room for immigrants illegally in the United States to remain. "You come, you work hard, you embrace [American] values, and you're as American as anyone who came on the Mayflower," he said in Detroit last week.

In the past several weeks, as the younger Mr. Bush's presidential aspirations have become clearer, he has sought to clarify his views and to separate them, slightly but unmistakably, from those of his brother. He has done so with nuance, not so much shifting his feet away from George W. Bush conservatism as shifting his posture.

The effort is less a review of his brother's conservatism than a revelation of his own, encapsulated in remarks like this, from the Detroit speech: "I know some in the media think conservatives don't care about the cities. But they are wrong. We believe that every American in every community has the right to pursue happiness."

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


ALBERT EDWARDS: If the US measured inflation like Europe, then they'd be freaking out about deflation too (AKIN OYEDELE, FEB. 5, 2015, Business Insider)

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics excludes components with volatile price fluctuations like food and energy to get the "core" consumer price index reading. In the eurozone, core CPI also excludes shelter.

If the BLS removed shelter from core CPI, US inflation would look completely different:

"The next shoe to drop will be the realization that the US recovery is stalling and outright deflation is as big a threat there as it is in the eurozone," Edwards wrote. "Indeed my former esteemed colleagues Marchel Alexandrovich and David Owen pointed out to me that if US core CPI is measured in a similar way to the eurozone (i.e. ex shelter), then US core CPI is already pari pass with the eurozone - despite the former having enjoyed a much stronger economy! ... The biggest surprise will be when investors realize that, despite the US having recently been the single engine of global growth, the US deflation threat is every bit as immediate as that in the eurozone."

Deflation is a situation where prices are falling, demand is weak, and economists believe the economy is contracting, not expanding.

B and C do not, of course, necessarily follow A, which is why the late 19th century transition from farming to industry was, likewise, a deflationary epoch.

Consider a simple thought experiment : you have complete control over public/economic policy and you are confronted with an economy in which economic liberalization of foreign economies and the resulting offshoring of jobs; trade liberalization, and the resulting imports of cheaper goods made with that labor; deregulation at home; information technology; robotics; and all the rest of the innovations of the past 25 years combine to produce falling prices for everything we consume.  Now, would you be concerned that this ever greater wealth production and consumption represented a demand crisis?  Would you believe that it was a function of a contracting or expanding economy?  

Instead, as you look at it, isn't there really just one issue that raises concern: the falling demand is for human labor and, therefore, the traditional redistribution of wealth via paychecks is threatened.  Recognizing that, would your primary focus be on raising the costs of goods and services?  Mind, that would be easy enough to do simply by mandating hiring and higher wages. Sure, it would destroy the economy, but you'd still be accomplishing your redistribution via the traditional mechanism.  

Or, would you focus on finding different mechanisms for that redistribution that are, to the greatest degree possible, consistent with driving up production and profits and driving costs down even further?

N.B. To the extent there is an area of slack demand in the American economy it is in the housing market--as suggested above--and there's nothing easier than stimulating that demand, as we all know.  All it requires is more buyers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Shiite Militia Drives Back Islamic State, but Divides Much of Iraq (KAREEM FAHIM, FEB. 7, 2015, NY Times)

Speaking at the rally, to an audience that included giddy fighters barely past their teens, the head of the Badr Organization, Hadi al-Ameri, boasted of the towns his men and allied militias had set free. "These were big operations that others must learn lessons from," he said. [...]

At the same time, Mr. Ameri's boast rings true: His militia has been among the most effective fighting forces against the Islamic State, gaining ground even as the Iraqi Army has faltered in many places despite support from American airstrikes and trainers.

Now, the Badr Organization's leaders have asserted that their fighters and other allied militias -- organized under the banner of "popular mobilization" forces -- are ready to advance to neighboring provinces and other Iraqi cities menaced by the Islamic State: a shadow army to Iraq's official security forces, flush with its own success.

At their celebration on Monday, the militia's leaders were feeling expansive. Tribal sheikhs had been invited to Camp Ashraf from around the country, some milling around a small photo exhibit of the Diyala battles. Journalists had been asked to join as well, to listen to speeches and to tour the liberated villages.

A group of young fighters in fatigues gathered in a circle, singing religious hymns, and broke to join the mob that formed around Mr. Ameri, the guest of honor.

Standing in front of a backdrop that said "Diyala Wins. Iraq Wins," Mr. Ameri lightly admonished supporters who chanted his name, telling them to praise Iraq instead. He reached out to Sunnis, pledging that Diyala would be a "safe area," and responded to the accusations of atrocities by his fighters, warning that there would be consequences for abuses, including kidnappings and killings, though he did not explicitly acknowledge that they had happened.

"We are determined to complete our mission," Mr. Ameri added, listing other Iraqi provinces that his fighters would liberate soon. "God willing, we will defeat Daesh in Iraq," he said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

His fighters seemed to be spoiling for the coming battle. 

Alright, so it took 13 years to realize that we're on the same side, but we did figure it out eventually.

February 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Russell Kirk's Historical Imagination (Gerald Russello, 2/05/15, Imaginative Conservative)

Kirk emphasized the specifically British roots of the American system, even while he placed the United States within the wider tradition of the West. As M. E. Bradford has pointed out with respect to The Roots of American Order, this approach is a typically "Burkean prologue" to the study of history.[19] That Kirk remained convinced that the British experience was the proper prism through which to judge American history is evidenced by one of his last books, America's British Culture, in which he compares the "literary" legacy of Greece and Rome with the "institutional" influence of Britain.[20]

Indeed, as the title indicates, the chapters of America's British Culture concentrate on the concrete connections between British and American ways of life. After discussing language and literature, the rule of law and the system of representative government, Kirk turns to "Mores and Minds," perhaps the most important chapter of the volume. It is a powerful argument for the persistence of habits of behavior over long stretches of time, even when the sources of those habits have been forgotten. The "traditional customs, [the] way of regarding the human condition, [and] principles of morality"[21] that compose American culture Kirk traces to America's original British settlers. "All spoke and read English, all lived under English law, all abided by many old English prescriptions and usages. Theirs was Christianity in British forms."[22] These habits remain, in a form recognizable to Tocqueville, whom Kirk relies on, and despite the mass immigration of other ethnic groups into the United States. These habits, Kirk implies, must be the basis for a regeneration of our political and cultural life; any other basis would be building on shallow foundations.

Kirk contended, that America, and American conservatives, ought to be oriented toward Europe, especially Britain. His emphasis on the British experience was not accepted silently by Kirk's fellow conservatives during the renascence of conservative thought in the years following World War II. These conservative critics suggested Kirk had done little more than create a "usable past," and one not very useful at that. In general, he was criticized for favoring the traditions and the institutions of aristocratic and pre-industrial Europe, rather than industrial and democratic-republican America.[23] Others, such as Thomas Molnar, argued that American history contained no conservative tradition pointing to universal truths.[24] More recently, critics have argued that Kirk was not writing history at all; works such as The Conservative Mind were "literature meant to achieve political ends."[25] And some have argued that, had he foreseen the political ends of his works as proclaimed by recent political figures, even Kirk might have questioned the value of his accomplishment.[26]

Kirk's reply to his critics remained the same. As he wrote in the early 1960s, the United States belonged to the "grander tradition and continuity" of the Western world.[27] American history, rich as it may be in some respects, simply cannot provide the full range of continuity when it is severed from its European (and specifically British) roots. As Kirk himself said, "the Present . . . is only a thin-film upon the deep well of the Past," and that past--even the distant past--continues to live and influence us into the present moments.[28] In his last books, Kirk continues his adherence to this approach, and believes Coke and Johnson are as relevant to American civilization as John Marshall and the Founders. Kirk acknowledges the rich diversity of Western tradition, but with the implicit qualification that we in the United States, while heirs to the entire history of the West, are shaped by particular portions of that history. We must accept the full tradition through the prism of our Anglo-American history; thus, a conservative in the United States wishing to revitalize the tradition does not have open to him the same set of choices that, say, a Bernanos or a Belloc had open to them in their circumstances, even though each in some way relies upon a common Western history.

We've had fairly good access to British television for some time, but now you can easily view shows from Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, etc.  And it's amazing how little difference there is among these cultures.  On the other hand, if you watch any French tv (Spirals, The Revenants) or Italian (Inspector Montalbano), it's an entirely different world.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Anchors Aweigh (Maureen Dowd, FEB. 7, 2015, NY Times)

THIS was a bomb that had been ticking for a while.

NBC executives were warned a year ago that Brian Williams was constantly inflating his biography. They were flummoxed over why the leading network anchor felt that he needed Hemingwayesque, bullets-whizzing-by flourishes to puff himself up, sometimes to the point where it was a joke in the news division.

But the caustic media big shots who once roamed the land were gone, and "there was no one around to pull his chain when he got too over-the-top," as one NBC News reporter put it.

The kids think he's just a sit-com character.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Six Things Technology Has Made Insanely Cheap (Aki Ito, February 5, 2015, Bloomberg)

For anyone bearish on the progress made by the U.S. economy, consider this: Computers are now one-1,100th of their price 35 years ago. 
Innovation makes things cheaper, which frees up cash for consumers to buy other things. That drives the virtuous cycle of economic growth. We dug into the inflation data, more formally known as the personal consumption expenditures price index, to highlight some of the items that have seen the biggest discounts. 

1. Personal computers 
PCs have recorded the largest decline since January 1980 in the Bureau of Economic Analysis' breakdowns. It's a mind-blowing 99.9 percent price drop. [...]

2. Software 
Computer software now costs 0.7 percent of what it did in January 1980. Since some of the world's most-used software today is free, this is no surprise. [...]

3. Televisions 
TVs today are 3 percent of their price in January 1980. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Bruce Jenner unhurt following 3-vehicle Malibu crash that killed 1 on Pacific Coast Highway (Associated Press, Feb. 7, 2015)

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


States with the best schools (Thomas C. Frohlich, 1/15/15, 24/7 Wall St.)

To identify the states with the best and worst schools, 24/7 Wall St. used Education Week's Quality Counts 2015 report. The report is based on three major categories: Chance for Success, Finances, and K-12 Achievement. The Chance for Success category includes data on family income, parent education and employment, child schooling, and employment opportunities after college. Graduation rates are defined as the percentage of 9th graders who graduated high school in four years, and are for the class of 2012. All other data are for 2013 and are based on Education Week's analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The finance category incorporates metrics on cost-adjusted per-pupil spending and how equitably spending was distributed across districts in the state in 2012. The K-12 Achievement category uses test score data from the NAEP. Test score data are for 2013. Each category was weighted equally in determining the final ranking.

These are the states with the best schools. [...]

6. Connecticut

> Overall grade: B-
> State Score: 82.3
> Per pupil spending: $15,172 (6th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 86.0% (12th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 37.1% (21st highest)

More than 64% of three- and four-year old children in Connecticut were enrolled in preschool in 2013, a higher proportion than in any other state. Residents were also among the nation's wealthiest. Nearly 60% of adults earned incomes above the national median, among the highest shares of any state. Similarly, nearly 70% of children had families with incomes that were at least 200% of the poverty level, also among the highest of any state. High incomes likely contributed to the state's large school budgets, which in turn seem to have helped students perform better than their nationwide peers on standardized tests. While 34% of American fourth graders were proficient on reading exams, nearly 43% of Connecticut fourth graders were. High school students were also far more likely than their peers nationwide to excel on Advanced Placement tests.

5. New Hampshire

> Overall grade: B-
> State Score: 82.3
> Per pupil spending: $14,561 (8th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 87.0% (9th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 46.8% (5th highest)

New Hampshire was one of only two states to receive an A- from Education Week in the Chance for Success category. Nearly 72% of children lived in families whose income was more than 200% of the poverty threshold in 2013, the highest rate in the country. While roughly 47% of children nationwide had at least one parent with a college degree, 61% of New Hampshire children did in 2013. Children living in such families are more likely to attend college later in life. As of 2013, nearly 64% of students aged 18-24 in New Hampshire were either enrolled in a post-secondary degree program or had a degree, among the highest rates. New Hampshire's school finances are similarly strong. On average, school districts spent more than $14,500 per student in 2012. However, the distribution of that spending is troubling. The spending gap between the state's top and bottom districts was more than $10,000 per pupil, nearly the largest in the country.

4. Vermont

> Overall grade: B
> State Score: 83.0
> Per pupil spending: $18,882 (the highest)
> High school graduation rate: 93.0% (the highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 46.9% (4th highest)

On average, Vermont school districts spent nearly $19,000 per pupil In 2012, more than in any other state. The state seems to prioritize education more than most, as Vermont spent more than 5% of its state GDP on education, also the most nationwide. While large budgets do not necessarily yield strong outcomes, Vermont students performed better than most of their peers in other states on national tests. Nearly 47% of eighth graders were proficient in mathematics, for example, a higher proportion than in all but three other states. The state also had the nation's highest four-year high school graduation rate, at 93% in 2012.

3. Maryland

> Overall grade: B
> State Score: 85.2
> Per pupil spending: $12,435 (18th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 84.0% (16th highest)

Nearly 51% of 11th and 12th graders in Maryland excelled on Advanced Placement tests in 2012, the only state where a majority of students performed better than average on Advanced Placement exams. Maryland also had the largest nationwide improvement in students' Advanced Placement test scores between 2000 and 2012. Younger students also outperformed their peers on standardized tests. Nearly 45% of fourth graders were proficient in reading, more than 10 percentage points higher than the national figure and second-highest nationwide. Unlike many other states with top-rated school systems, Maryland school financing was relatively well-distributed. The difference in per pupil spending between the worst and best-funded schools districts was $3,565, one of the lower figures reviewed.

2. New Jersey

> Overall grade: B
> State Score: 85.5
> Per pupil spending: $15,421 (5th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 87.0% (9th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 48.9% (2nd highest)

New Jersey school districts benefit from the state's wealth, with more than $15,000 spent per pupil in 2012, more than in all but a handful of states. While nearly all districts in the state spent more money per student than the national average of $11,735, some areas of the state spent much more. The gap between districts at the fifth and 95th percentiles for per pupil spending was nearly $10,000, more than twice as wide as the national gap in spending. Many students also enjoyed the benefits of early education. In 2013, 63.1% of eligible children were enrolled in preschool, the second highest rate nationwide.

1. Massachusetts

> Overall grade: B
> State Score: 86.2
> Per pupil spending: $13,157 (16th highest)
> High school graduation rate: 86.0% (12th highest)
> Eighth graders proficient in math or reading: 54.6% (the highest)

According to Education Week, Massachusetts school systems are the best in the nation. Massachusetts eighth graders led the nation in mathematics aptitude, with 18.2% achieving advanced-level performance on math sections of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, more than twice the national rate. A greater percentage of the state's fourth and eighth graders were also proficient in both math and reading than in any other state. Strong performance among young state residents clearly led to further success, as more than 70% of 18 to 24 year olds were either enrolled in college or had already completed a post-secondary degree, the highest proportion in the nation. As in other states with strong schools, Massachusetts residents are financially well-off. Nearly 70% of children lived in families with incomes at least 200% of the poverty level, the fourth highest proportion in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Druze IDF soldier beaten in nightclub 'for speaking Arabic' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 7, 2015)

A Druze IDF soldier was beaten over the weekend in a nightclub in northern Israel, apparently after the assailants heard the young man speaking in Arabic. [...]

The head of the Daliyat al-Karmel Regional Council, Rafik Halabi, urged police to investigate the matter swiftly and bring the assailants to justice.

"This is the second instance within two weeks in which a Druze soldier who has served the state, was attacked for speaking Arabic," Halabi said, in reference to a January incident in which Druze university student Tommy Hasson was severely beaten near the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, also after he was heard speaking Arabic.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


'Free trade' isn't what Trans-Pacific Partnership would deliver (Michael Hiltzik, 2/07/15, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 Fast-tracking allows the administration to present Congress with a completed trade pact, which lawmakers must vote up or down within 90 days, without amendments and with limited debate and no filibustering in the Senate.

The White House argues that fast-tracking allows negotiators to reassure trade partners that "the administration and Congress are on the same page," as Froman told the House Ways and Means Committee. The system "puts Congress in the driver's seat," he said, because the lawmakers can "define U.S. negotiating objectives and priorities." But the opposite is true: The congressional directives aren't binding, and the result can be jammed through the House and Senate.

GOP leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) favor fast-tracking, but opposition is growing from conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats alike.

Anything that unites the wings in opposition almost has to be good for America.
Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Brian Williams' several shady stories (NEW YORK DAILY NEWS, February 7, 2015)

Also odd: Williams' claim to have "ingested some of the floodwater" and gotten "very sick with dysentery."

"I don't recall a single, solitary case of gastroenteritis during Katrina or in the whole month afterward," said New Orleans' former health director.

Did we mention he also claimed his five-star Sheraton -- which, in fact, served a staging area for police -- "was overrun with gangs," and that he was rescued in the stairwell by a cop with whom he's remained "friends to this day"?

If not for the emerging narrative, another revelation -- that Williams has spun conflicting stories about rescuing a puppy (or puppies, depending on which version, if any, you choose to accept) during his days as a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey -- would just be funny. Not funny anymore.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM



[F]ive years later, the potential Ryan saw in Rubio remains unrealized. Rubio's brand is defined by raw political talent, not tangible policy achievements. Some of this owes to the years-long suffocation of GOP ideas in Harry Reid's Senate. Still, since Rubio's arrival in Washington, only one transformative piece of legislation has been attached to his name. And that lone proposal, a comprehensive immigration package that would have given millions of illegal immigrants a route to citizenship, backfired by damaging Rubio's credibility among the very conservatives who fueled his upset victory in 2010.

If Rubio has failed to distinguish himself as an ideas man in the Senate, he's hoping to succeed on a much bigger stage.

None of the senators running has ever actually done anything.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Tribes protest 'coup' by Shiite militia in Yemen (AFP, February 7, 2015)

Yemen's Shiite Houthi militia dissolved parliament Friday and created a "presidential council" to fill a power vacuum, drawing Washington's rebuke and protests at home against what demonstrators called a "coup."

The militia, which controls the capital Sanaa, said it would set up a 551-member national council to replace the legislature in the violence-wracked country, a key US ally in the fight against al-Qaeda.

A five-member presidential council will form a transitional government for two years, the Houthis announced in a "constitutional declaration" which also mentioned a "revolutionary council" to "defend the nation."

Sunni tribes in the eastern, oil-rich province of Marib cried foul and hundreds of people took to the streets of Sanaa in protest.

The Houthi won, so they get their kingdom back.  The Sunni get their own state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Brian Sandoval's Billion-Dollar Somersault (ALLYSIA FINLEY, Feb. 6, 2015, WSJ)

[O]nce he was safely re-elected governor, Mr. Sandoval in January pitched a third extension of the sales- and business-tax increases--and an increase in another tax, a graduated business license fee. Under his proposal, the current business license fee would vary by industry and be based on gross receipts. Most small businesses grossing less than $250,000 would pay about $400, double what they do now. But a real-estate firm earning $8.5 million would owe $24,231 while a farmer making the same amount would be dinned $6,106.

Nevada boasts a relatively business-friendly climate due to the absence of a personal and corporate income tax. However, its tax code is complicated, narrowly-based and heavily dependent on tourism and gambling. The governor claims that his "hybrid tax model" is the "least complicated" way to raise revenues and that it borrows "the best attributes from a true gross receipts tax, a margins tax and a business license-fee structure." The Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market nonprofit, says the plan is unnecessarily complicated and resembles the margin tax that voters rejected in November.

They're already set up so they aren't punishing income, but presumably they want business, so why tax licenses and gross receipts?  Tax what Nevadans, individuals and businesses, consume.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


How Anti-Vaccination Trends Vex Herd Immunity (JO CRAVEN MCGINTY, Feb. 6, 2015, WSJ)

When large segments of a population are immunized against measles, it reduces the risk of exposure for everyone in the community, including families who refuse vaccines. The concept is called herd immunity.

But when too many healthy people forgo vaccinations--as they have in pockets of California and other states--the whole herd becomes more vulnerable, not just those who skipped shots. Without vaccines, measles and other infectious diseases can proliferate, and people who were previously protected may become imperiled.

The issue with measles is that now so many people avoid vaccines for religious reasons or other personal beliefs the magic number for protecting the herd--a vaccination rate of 92 to 94% for measles--has been compromised in parts of the country. It's a serious concern among health experts.

February 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM


A proposed pipeline tests property rights in Virginia (Peter Galuszka  February 6, 2015, Washington Post)

Last August, Craig Vanderhoef, a former Navy captain who retired to a farm near Afton in Nelson County, got a fateful letter from Dominion Resources.

The Richmond-based utility wanted to survey his property to help plot a route for a $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline that would transport natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (known as "fracking") in West Virginia to the coast. It would stretch 550 miles over the Appalachian Mountains southeastward into Virginia and North Carolina.

Vanderhoef wrote two letters back saying no. Then, at 9:30 p.m. on Jan. 16, he got a nasty surprise. A sheriff's deputy knocked on his door to serve him with legal notice that he was being sued by Dominion, which was demanding access to his property. "Now, I have to get a lawyer," said the 72-year-old.

Dominion plans to sue 240 Virginia landowners to force survey access for the pipeline. Nelson County residents are not used to industrial projects -- or being pushed around. Grass-roots groups quickly protested. The utility lost points locally when it mistakenly filed suit against 14 local property owners, including David Brooks, the county sheriff.

The dilemma strikes at the heart of eminent domain issues. Individual property rights had previously been regarded as sacrosanct in a state that worships Thomas Jefferson. But the situation has changed as fracking stirs a race for markets and profits.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


How Burlington, Vermont, Became The First City In The U.S. To Run On 100% Renewable Electricity (Adele Peters, 2/06/15, Co.Exist)

When it flipped the switch on a new hydropower plant last fall, Burlington, Vermont, became the first city in the U.S. to run on 100% renewable electricity.

"It's been a long time coming," says Ken Nolan, manager of power resources for Burlington Electric Department. "Actually, the first inclination goes back to the early 1980s." At that time, the city retired a coal-burning plant, and decided to replace it with a biomass plant that runs on scrap wood from across the state.

A decade ago, the city was at a crossroads, trying to decide whether to invest long term in natural gas and other traditional power sources--or try to go fully renewable. "That was the first time we had an inkling that this might be the right thing to do," Nolan says. "By 2008, we actually saw a path where we could make this work."

Now the city runs on a mix of biomass, wind, solar, hydro, a little bit of landfill gas, and a few other renewable sources. At a given time, if the renewable plants aren't producing enough power, the utility might buy traditional power. But they also produce and sell enough extra green power that, over the course of a year, the total is 100% renewable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Basic income - transforming benefits in the era of the precariat (STUART WEIR 3 February 2015, Open Democracy)

Citizen's or Basic Income is a simple idea. Everyone receives a modest benefit that is paid in cash individually to men and women, and to women for their children, entirely without conditions. It is an answer to the reality of insecure employment. It works for example in modified form in Brazil and the idea is gaining ground across Europe where Switzerland will put it to the people in a referendum.

 Last year I saw the results of the pilot scheme in two of the villages where it was introduced.  The scheme was truly emancipatory for people individually and communally, and especially for women. In India, as in most welfare systems around the world, people are given benefits only if they meet certain conditions. The roots of this obligation spring from the universal fear that somehow the lazy and feckless poor will sign on without any intention of working or  maintaining themselves. Everywhere legislators add all manner of ideological and moral imperatives and seek to impose this or that piece of social engineering.

In India, the traditional regime of conditionality demeans the recipients, makes impossible demands on them, cheats them and empowers officials and intermediaries to cheat them. The introduction of modest unconditional cash benefits freed the people of these villages, gave them dignity and more control over their lives and brought about a rise in productivity, incomes and work.

Far from wasting the cash grants, as officialdom predicted, villagers invested them in renewing their houses and building latrines; bulk buying of foodstuffs; paying school fees and sending their children to school in uniform;  investing in seeds and pesticides, goats and oxen, and at least one Jersey cow - which led to a significant shift from paid labour to self-cultivation; buying sewing machines for "own account" businesses making blouses, petticoats; treating unaddressed illnesses, such as TB and blindness, and remedying injuries.  Often they pooled the extra cash, for example, to buy a communal television set, to repair the spire of their temple, to create a credit union. "This is our story," said one woman who had been sceptical. "We have learned that we can always trust the poor". 

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Rand Paul's gaffes offer a glimpse of his worldview (Michael Gerson, February 5, 2015, Washington Post)

It has become the Rand Paul pattern: A few weeks paddling vigorously in the mainstream, followed by a lapse into authenticity, followed by transparent damage control, followed by churlishness toward anyone in the media who notices. All the signs of a man trying to get comfortable in someone else's skin.

The latest example is vaccination. "I have heard of many tragic cases," said Dr. Paul, "of walking, talking normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines." Following the ensuing firestorm, the Republican senator from Kentucky insisted, "I did not say vaccines caused disorders, just that they were temporally related."

In effect: I did not sleep with that causation.

Paul blamed his troubles on the "liberal media" -- which, after a little digging, reported that, in 2009, he had called mandatory vaccinations a step toward "martial law."

When Chris Christie commits a gaffe on vaccination and reverses himself, it indicates a man out of his depth. With Paul, it reveals the unexplored depths of a highly ideological and conspiratorial worldview.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


A Battery for Electronics That Lasts Twice as Long (Kevin Bullis, February 2, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

A new kind of lithium-ion battery could let portable electronics such as smartphones and smart watches last twice as long between charges.1

The battery was developed by SolidEnergy, a company spun out of MIT in 2012. The secret to boosting energy storage lies in swapping the conventional electrode material--graphite--for a thin sheet of lithium-metal foil, which can store more lithium ions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


A New Kind of Republican : Is Jeb Bush a reformocon? Also, what's a reformocon? ( Reihan Salam, 2/06/15, Slate)

So what do the reformocons believe, exactly? Are they the GOP's answer to the New Democrats, a moderate faction devoted to making their party more electable by dragging it to the center? Or are they clever marketers trying to rebrand Reaganism for the 21st century? The simplest answer is that reform conservatives are garden-variety free-market conservatives who believe that a well-designed safety net and high-quality public services are essential parts of making entrepreneurial capitalism work. This separates them from more emphatically libertarian conservatives for whom the first priority is to eliminate as many government programs as possible. Then again, this anti-government zeal tends to be more rhetorical than real. Most rank-and-file conservatives tenaciously defend old-age social insurance programs like Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, most conservative lawmakers who call for, say, shutting down the U.S. Department of Education routinely vote to spend on every major program it oversees. You could say that reform conservatives are just acknowledging the obvious: Government is in the business of protecting people from some of the downside risks of economic life, so we might as well get used to it. Reformocons go further than that, though, in arguing that government can do a lot of good, provided that it sticks to doing a few things well.

Instead of defending the welfare state in its current form, reformocons look at the goals of programs like Social Security and Medicare and then try to find better, fairer, more cost-effective ways of achieving them. They believe a few other things as well. To the extent possible, social programs that help those who fall on hard times should be geared toward helping them achieve economic self-sufficiency, rather than letting them become permanently dependent. The tax code should encourage savings and investment. But it should also help low-wage workers out of poverty and do more for families with children. Barriers to upward mobility, like licensing restrictions that bar access to employment opportunities or urban land-use regulations that make housing unaffordable, are suspect. Reform conservatives, like most conservatives, favor greater competition in education and health care. Yet they also insist that government has a big role to play in making sure that everyone, particularly the poor, can reap the benefits of competition.

Reformicons are just late-comers to W's presidency and Jeb's governorship.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


The Deep, Dark Meaning of "True Detective" : ...and why it can't seem to win any awards (MATTHEW BECKLO , 2/05/15, Aleteia)

The true reason, I suspect, rests with Rust Cohle and his infamous monologues. Cohle articulates different metaphysical viewpoints throughout the season: we see, in his first lengthy speech, an eliminative materialist convinced that we are all "things that labor under the illusion of having a self"; we see the pessimism of Schopenhauer, which picks apart the imperiousness of human will lurking behind veils of piety; we see an almost Manichean dualism and dread of creation ("The hubris it must take to yank a soul out of non-existence into this meat, and to force a life into this thresher," he says at one point, contemplating the loss of his daughter); and in the final scenes, we see a lurch toward a religious vantage point, an anchoring belief - you might even call it faith - in a communion of persons and a deep, dazzling darkness beyond death.
But despite his philosophical evolution, Cohle's stance throughout the majority of the episodes - a stance mirrored in the action of the series - is Nietzschean. Cohle's famous line about time being a "flat circle" is a clear nod to Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence; but in more profound and subtle ways, the show plunges us into the Nietzschean framework, and in particular, to a crisis of nihilism. All the distressing sights, sounds, and moods masterfully arranged by Cary Joji Fukunaga (who brought home that lone Emmy) are mirrored by Cohle's articulations, and both point toward a fundamental loss of meaning. In responding to claims of plagiarism, Pilzzolatto said:
"Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author; rather these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas." 

In 1881, Nietzsche wrote that the next two centuries would bear the advent of nihilism, "a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end." True Detective throws us helplessly into the mouth of that river: the muggy, desolate swamps of Louisana, where preachers and politicians alike prey on townspeople too busy preying on each other to notice. It is a world seemingly devoid of purpose, a world in which the lone human animal is left to self-soothe through the day with a comforting illusion, exercise its will over weaker souls, or else succumb to the weight of dread.
But then, even the German philologist's positive ideal - a Greek zest for life, a Dionysian celebration of tragic art and music, and a revaluation of values imposed by the life-affirming Overman - is a pipe dream in Rust Cohle's world, which feels like the withered boneyard of the will to power, where only random acts of cruelty and egoism remain. This can only culminate in that unique word the show's creator uses: "antinatalism." Most people will recognize the root from "prenatal" - and antinatalism is, as you might've guessed, a philosophical viewpoint that stands in opposition to birth. We've gone from Nietzsche's "birth of tragedy" to postmodernity's tragedy of birth: the belief that we should, as Cohle recommends, "stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."
We know that when Rust Cohle says that his daughter, through an early death, spared him the "sin of being a father," he speaks as much from a place of anguish as from a place of reflection - that is part of the character's award-worthy complexity. Still, nihilism is very much a live option in the secular age, and the antinatalist terminus of a world that has slayed God lurks in the distance as a live possibility. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


Is Jeb Bush just another 'big government' liberal? (Craig Shirley February 6, 2015, Reuters)

Then President George W. Bush took office and rolled out compassionate conservatism, viewed by conservatives as yet another rebuke of Reagan's brand of conservatism. Because compassionate conservatism also meant "big government Republicanism."

Bush's varied programs included No Child Left Behind, nation-building in faraway lands and unnecessary wars, bloated farm and transportation bills, and the explosive growth of medical welfare for senior citizens. Combined, they were a vehicle to blow a hole in the budget, squandering the $280-billion surplus left by Clinton. (The Clinton administration had projected this surplus would increase to close to $5 trillion within a decade.) The GOP Congress -- at Bush's bidding -- greatly expanded government and increased the national debt.

The Reagan legacy had it's great points : defeating inflation, defeating the Soviet Union; and innaugurating a new era of emphasis on free trade.

Unfortunately, but understandably, the Gipper was also the last defender of the New Deal.  When it came to social policies like Social Security, he sought to preserve what FDR had wrought.  Even while Margaret Thatcher was following the Friedman/Pinochet model of reform in Great Britain and privatizing the social welfare net along Third Way lines, President Reagan remained wedded to the Second Way.  Jeb will indeed by like W, not like Reagan. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


NBC News anchor Brian Williams' comments about dead bodies, Hurricane Katrina starting to gain attention, draw scrutiny (JOHN SIMERMAN, 2/06/15, THEADVOCATE.COM)

NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who apologized on the air Wednesday night for lying about an experience covering the Iraq War, is now facing scrutiny over his gripping accounts of Hurricane Katrina, the disaster that burnished his nightly news bona fides almost a decade ago. [...]

"When you look out of your hotel window in the French Quarter and watch a man float by face down, when you see bodies that you last saw in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, and swore to yourself that you would never see in your country," Williams said in a 2006 interview.

And last year, in an interview with Tom Brokaw, the man he replaced in the anchor chair at NBC, Williams said:

"My week, two weeks there was not helped by the fact that I accidentally ingested some of the floodwater. I became very sick with dysentery, our hotel was overrun with gangs, I was rescued in the stairwell of a five-star hotel in New Orleans by a young police officer. We are friends to this day. And uh, it just was uh, I look back at total agony."

February 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Is Hector Timerman a Traitor to Argentina's Jews? (Jonathan Gilbert,  February 05, 2015, The Tablet)

 The year was 1977. The Argentinian military dictatorship's "dirty war" against leftist militants and thinkers was at its height. Military officers blindfolded Jacobo Timerman, a Jewish newspaper editor, at his home in Buenos Aires and drove him off to a torture center. His son, Hector Timerman, would soon seek exile in the United States, where he became a prominent human rights activist.

But today, Hector Timerman is Argentina's foreign minister and at the center of a scandal in which he is being accused of something that seems like the opposite of what he has stood for: an alleged cover-up of a terrorist attack that is roiling Argentina's Jewish community. [...]

Timerman, who denies any cover-up, defends his actions unabashedly and has declared that his duty as foreign minister is first and foremost to Argentina. [...]

Since Nisman's death, Timerman, 61, has opened up to the foreign news media to defend himself. He pointed to an email he received from Interpol's former secretary general, which attested that he had never requested the lifting of arrest warrants for the Iranians. He claimed that only the Argentine judge overseeing the case could request the lifting of the warrants in any case. Timerman also claimed that Iran could not provide Argentina with the refined oil it required and that private agro-business companies -- not the Argentine government -- controlled exports of the grains, like wheat and soybeans, that were to be traded to Iran for oil.

"I can tell you we have done everything possible, the president and myself, to help the judge to bring justice to the victims of the attack on the Jewish center," he told National Public Radio in a recent interview. [...]

[S]ome scholars and members of the Jewish community have defended Timerman. AMIA and other Jewish organizations, they say, have never genuinely sought justice for the victims of the bomb attack during an investigation marred by setbacks, and a corruption scandal involving a former president and a prominent Jewish leader. They have also cast suspicion on Nisman's focus on Iran, claiming that other lines of investigation were discouraged by foreign influences.

"I have absolutely no doubt about the good intentions of Hector Timerman," said Sergio Burstein, 64, referring to Timerman's moves to advance the investigation through the agreement with Iran. Burstein's ex-wife died in the bomb attack. "We want the real truth," Burstein said. "The case is more alive than ever."

Horacio Verbitsky, another prominent Argentine Jew and renowned investigative journalist, has cast strong doubts on the allegations of a secret deal advanced by Nisman. Verbitsky, who is now president of the country's leading human rights group, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales, pointed out to The New Yorker's Jonathan Blitzer that only two pages of Nisman's nearly 300-page report concern the legal basis of the criminal charges against the president.


Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Suge Knight remains stuck in a gangsta rap past (AUGUST BROWN AND GERRICK D. KENNEDY, 2/05/15, LA Times)

[W]hile his travails have stacked up, a new kind of Compton hip-hop artist has emerged, one indebted to the accomplishments of Death Row but almost entirely divorced from its image (and real-life history) of violence. For today's generation of L.A. hip-hop, who grew up after the ravages of violence depicted in '90s gangsta rap, the kind of tumultuous lifestyle embodied by Knight was something to flee.

Kendrick Lamar became a best-selling artist on the strength of his LP "good kid, m.A.A.d. city," which documented his rough childhood from the perspective of a deeply observant outsider with a loving family and even once told The Times, "You hear stories from the '80s about people selling dope and becoming millionaires, but in reality it'd just be guys walking around with $70 in their pockets. I knew I wanted something else."

Aspirations of pushing a different kind of West Coast rap is the driving force of Lamar's label Top Dawg Entertainment, founded by Anthony Tiffith in nearby Carson, which has actively rebutted the Death Row-era stereotypes of a South L.A. hip-hop collective.

In an April interview, before a performance on Jimmy Kimmel's late night show, South L.A. rapper Schoolboy Q said that for him and his peers music was a way out of that nihilistic lifestyle, not a means of glorifying it. 

"TDE was an escape for me," he said. "I was on my last legs with drugs and banging and I hit rock bottom. But [the label's founders] were street dudes who got away, and seeing that that changed my whole life around. It took time, but I became the dude who could smile and tell jokes again."

Compton itself has dramatically changed its image too.

The city, once known for its violent gang-ridden streets, hosts a gospel music festival to specifically counter the gangsta rap images that are still associated with the city. Compton's charismatic mayor, 32-year-old Aja Brown, has worked to bring amenities like a farmer's market and healthy new investments to the city.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Jonathan Edwards' works made available for free as interest in Puritanism surges (Jonathan Merritt, Feb 3, 2015, RNS) 

The collected works of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century preacher and one of America's most famous theologians, are now available for download thanks to Logos Bible Software. But for those who don't want to cough up $1,289.95 to purchase them, there's good news: The Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale Divinity School lets you view them online for free. [...]

The release of Edwards' work is more than a historical contribution. It comes at a moment of renewed interest in the preacher, especially among conservative evangelicals and "New Calvinists," mostly evangelicals who are acolytes of Edwards' brand of Calvinist theology.

According to Minkema, there are more than 4,000 books, articles, dissertations and other writings on Edwards, and they are increasing in frequency.

George Marsden, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of "Jonathan Edwards: A Life," has also noticed newfound interest in Puritan thinkers like Edwards among some modern Christians.

truly great book.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Is Jeb Bush a Republican Obama? (DAVID FRUM, FEB 4 2015, The Atlantic)

Margaret Thatcher famously said that her greatest success as a politician was the rise of Tony Blair to lead a party he called New Labour: "We forced our opponents to change their minds."

Nearly every leader of the English-speaking world since--notable exceptions being GHWB and Chretien--has been a Third Way Thatcherite.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Why wages aren't rising (Stephen Moore, 2/04/15, Washington Times)

[W]hen you raise the tax on investment, you get less investment. When businesses invest less, fewer workers are hired, and existing workers have less machinery, technology, computers and equipment to work with. This means they can't be as productive on the job and their wages stagnate.

Incomes rose in the 1980s and 1990s when investment taxes fell under Presidents Reagan and Clinton. Wages have stagnated under Mr. Obama as taxes have risen on capital.

The nearly flat growth in middle incomes is, in part, a result of the higher taxes on the rich.

A landmark study on this topic by economist Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute looked at business tax rates and wages around the world. He found that business taxes were inversely related to average wages. This is, in part, because capital flees from places where tax rates are rising.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


The appalling, incoherent selfishness of Chris Christie's vaccine 'choice' (Ryan Cooper, February 3, 2015, The Week)

Christie is utterly mistaken on the science. But his comments exemplify a typically American selfishness, one that in this case is not just morally odious, but incoherent.

It's true that an individual case of measles is a lot less threatening than one of Ebola, for which Christie -- again acting against the best advice of medical scientists -- last year briefly enacted a forcible quarantine for health-care workers who had treated Ebola in Africa. By this reasoning, it is worth curtailing individual liberty for very deadly diseases, but not so with less dangerous ones.

But just because a disease is not as bad as Ebola does not mean it isn't still worth eradicating. Furthermore, the measles vaccine is extremely safe for healthy people: though there is a tiny risk, as there is with every activity, it is far smaller than getting measles itself. Only the very young, and those with compromised immune systems or allergies, have an actual reason to avoid it.

And make no mistake, measles is still a very serious illness. A quarter-million people worldwide got it last year, mostly children in the developing world; more than half died (though that death rate can be reduced to about 1 to 2 out of 1,000 with modern medicine). Long-term complications can include deafness, pneumonia, encephalitis, and a degenerative nerve disease. It's also incredibly contagious, "probably the most contagious infectious disease known to mankind," as a CDC specialist told NPR. Back in the pre-vaccine days, each person who caught it infected 17 new ones -- as opposed to less than two for Ebola.

More broadly, this entire argumentative frame misses the greatest benefit of vaccines: herd immunity. A population vaccinated to a high enough level becomes largely impervious to the disease by sheer statistics, and that protects the vulnerable ones who can't be vaccinated, or those whose vaccines didn't take root. Vaccines are not just about preventing personal illness, but stopping them from spreading. Done systematically enough, it can eradicate diseases completely. The elimination of smallpox, which killed something like 300 million people in the 20th century alone, ranks high on the list of human accomplishments.

That is why this is as much a moral issue as a scientific one. The appalling selfishness inherent in the idea of "vaccine choice" was starkly illustrated in a recent CNN story. After the measles outbreak at Disneyland, CNN talked to a family whose 10-month-old baby had contracted the disease. They're terrified he'll pass it on to their 3-year-old daughter, who has leukemia and can't get the vaccine -- but might be killed by the disease. Here's the response of a refusenik parent:

CNN asked Wolfson if he could live with himself if his unvaccinated child got another child gravely ill. "I could live with myself easily," he said. "It's an unfortunate thing that people die, but people die. I'm not going to put my child at risk to save another child." [CNN]

In other words, it's okay to cause the death of another child if your kid wants to go to Disneyland. And that's leaving aside the risk to Wolfson's own kids, who are put at risk by his atrocious parenting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


An Actual Republican Alternative to Obamacare (The Editors, 2/05/15, Bloomberg View)

True, the proposal, from Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Richard Burr of North Carolina and Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, would repeal several essential features of the Affordable Care Act, including the requirement that individuals carry health insurance (and that most employers provide it) and the expansion of Medicaid. Other provisions would be scaled back; tax credits for buying insurance would go to those making up to 300 percent of the poverty line rather than 400 percent, for example.

But insurers would (mostly) still be prevented from denying coverage to those with preexisting health problems. Young adults could remain on their parents' insurance until they're 26. And the so-called Cadillac tax on gold-plated health plans would go away. Instead, the value of those plans above a certain threshold would be taxed as regular income.

That last change is one even President Barack Obama should like. The infinite tax exemption on employer-sponsored health insurance has always been troublesome: It boosts demand for coverage, increasing spending. And it's a tax giveaway to those with the highest incomes, who tend to enjoy the most generous health benefits. [...]

[I]t embraces important principles of the Affordable Care Act: that the federal government ought to fund health coverage for those who can't afford it, and that the insurance market should be required to offer coverage to everyone.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


What is Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia? : The future of the Middle East hinges on the beliefs of the Muslim sect which dominates the oil-rich kingdom. (Galina Yemelianova | 2 February 2015, MercatorNet)

Though it gives the appearance of monolithic control by the ruling elite, Saudi Arabia is in fact riven by profound tensions. These perpetually threaten to erupt and transform things forever. One such fault line centres on the nature and role of a Sunni sect and its connection to radical Islamism. [...]

Wahhabism is an Arabian form of Salafism, the movement within Islam aimed at its "purification" and the return to the Islam of the Prophet Mohammed and the three successive generations of followers.

Its two major points of reference are the Koran and the Sunnah. The latter consists of hadiths - stories not included in the Koran - describing how the Prophet and the four righteous caliphs dealt with issues in the public and private spheres. These, together with the Koran, form the basis of Sharia law.

As in other forms of Salafism, Wahhabi Muslims call themselves muwahhidun (proponents of the oneness of God). They insist in every aspect of life on strict adherence to Sharia.

From roughly the 1950s on, the Wahhabi ulama (Islamic scholars) were increasingly co-opted by the house of al-Saud to provide religious legitimacy as it tightened its grip on power against tribal rivals and consolidated Saudi Arabian nationalism (as opposed to Nasserite pan-Arabism).

The process of legitimisation included Wahhabi policing of the Sharia-based legal system and education in schools and universities (a quarter of Saudi degrees are in Islamic theology). Wahabbism also dictated everyday moral behaviour, including dress codes, segregation and subordination for women. The severity of the rules helped establish the image of Saudi Arabia as the citadel of Islamic purity. This was reinforced by the existence of the Islamic sacred cities of Mecca and Medina on its territory.

The Saudi paradox    

At the same time, Islamic social puritanism existed alongside the increasingly corrupt behaviour of the ruling Sudairi clan and extended royal family (who number, according to some estimates, up to 20,000 people). This was made possible by the burgeoning oil trade with the West from the 1970s onwards.

The corruption engendered resentment toward the regime among some Saudi Salafis (neo-Wahabbis), particularly wealthy and educated younger people - including Osama bin Laden. A government decision to allow a large American military presence in the country in pursuit of the Gulf War in 1991 only aggravated the tension.

Neo-Wahhabis remain by far the greatest potential threat to the regime. The advance of IS in Syria and Iraq, as well as its counterparts in Africa and elsewhere, presents a serious religious challenge to the Saudi regime and its Wahhabi establishment. Both IS and the Saudis claim to represent the "true" Islamic state, subscribing to strict adherence to Sharia law. But they are also sworn enemies, since Saudi Arabia has officially joined the American-led coalition against IS, with whom a many neo-Wahhabi Saudis are actually fighting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


How the Patriots Solved the Seahawks (KEVIN CLARK, Feb. 2, 2015, WSJ)

Only Bill Belichick could look at a team that lost by 35 points and decide he has to steal their ideas.

A year ago, the Seattle Seahawks vaulted to the top of the football world by dismantling Peyton Manning's Denver Broncos, 43-8, in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Seahawks did it by forcing virtually all of Manning's throws to be short, harmless tosses. That was all that Seattle's fortress of a defense would allow--little passes in front of them that went for negligible yardage.

So when Belichick and the New England Patriots needed a strategy for Sunday's Super Bowl, he chose seemingly the most irrational one possible: an attack based on those short, seemingly harmless tosses.

It wasn't the most brilliant game plan in history, but it may have been the most practical.

New England's dinking and dunking down the field was the football equivalent of driving cross-country because you're afraid to fly. It took the Patriots forever to get to their destination, but they got there. Although the interception Seattle threw at the goal line--an unforced error unlike any in sports history--gave New England the victory, it was the Patriots' counterintuitive offensive approach that got them in position to win in the first place. That strategy enabled them to overcome a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit against one of the greatest defenses in NFL history.

In fact, Tom Brady , the game's most valuable player and perhaps the greatest quarterback in history, was historically conservative Sunday night. There have been 88 quarterbacks to play in the Super Bowl. Only six of those had a worse mark than his 8.86 yards per completion. All of those quarterbacks lost--including Peyton Manning. [...]Time after time, Brady would find receivers over the middle of the field for one of those short, quick passes that the Seahawks would allow. Then the receiver--Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola--would simply dive ahead and get a few yards where they could. It wasn't particularly glamorous.

New England avoided throwing at Sherman, which could be considered an act of football cowardice. Counterpoint: The Patriots didn't care. Edelman knew that such routes would work on the Seahawks' big defensive backs, since they couldn't move as quickly in tight spaces as the Patriots receivers.

So the question becomes: Why haven't other teams successfully employed Belichick's plan? That is complicated. NFL coaches can be stubborn, yes, but there is also the belief that if you are good at something, you shouldn't abandon it, no matter the circumstances. So teams that rely on throwing outside and deep--common in today's NFL--tend to do so despite the odds.

...only ego can stop you from doing so.  

N.B. There's been a lot of debate about whether Belichick erred on the last drive by not stopping the clock to leave time for Tom Brady in case Seattle scored.  Besides the fact that Seattle had to sacore a touchdown so the time pressure worked in the Pats' favor, the simple fact is Tom Brady can't make the kind of downfield throws a quick drive would have required and those are the plays the Seahawks are designed to stop.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


The Bill Evans Legacy : 35 years after his death, the pianist remains a huge influence on jazz. (DOUG RAMSEY, Feb. 3, 2015, WSJ)

Evans shaped the most significant music in trumpeter Miles Davis's 1959 sextet album "Kind Of Blue," the best-selling jazz recording in history. His interest in improvisation rooted in scales and modes, rather than in traditional sequences of chord progressions, was the basis of "Flamenco Sketches" and "Blue in Green." Those pieces in "Kind Of Blue" had an effect on Davis's tenor saxophonist, John Coltrane, as he lessened his reliance on standard harmonic structures and became an influence on generations of jazz artists. As for Evans's playing, Davis described it in a widely quoted phrase as "like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall."

In a recent conversation, pianist Bill Mays called my attention to another Evans attribute. "People don't seem to talk about his ability with rhythmic displacement of lines--that is, to play an improvised line that was not hemmed in by two-bar or four-bar phrasing. It might surprise you by starting later and ending later than you would expect."

In his study "The Harmony of Bill Evans," composer and pianist Jack Reilly says: "He changed the approach to the sound of jazz piano by his touch and his attention to pedaling, phrasing and dynamics." Mr. Reilly emphasizes Evans's "remarkable way of handling the possibilities of interplay within the piano-bass-drums trio."

Evans had a vision of that interplay well before he found musicians who could help him achieve it. The work with Davis behind him, in December 1959 he finally formed the trio he had been hearing in his mind for three years. The young New York veteran Paul Motian was the drummer. The bassist was 23-year-old Scott LaFaro. Evans had heard him three years earlier in a Los Angeles audition. He recognized LaFaro in 1956 as talented, but according to Evans biographer Peter Pettinger, likened his playing to "a bucking horse." Now, however, he had fluidity of thought and execution that was ideal for Evans's concept of a trio that would "grow in the direction of simultaneous improvisation rather than just one guy blowing followed by another guy blowing. If the bass player, for example, hears an idea that he wants to answer, why should he just keep playing a steady background?" LaFaro made possible an even more fundamental element of Evans's specifications for his trio: "Especially, I want my work--and the trio's if possible--to sing. It must have that wonderful feeling of singing."

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Rouhani slams 'criminal' Israel, says Iran doesn't need nukes (LAZAR BERMAN February 5, 2015, Times of Israel)

In a pugnacious speech in Isfahan, a major city in the country's center, Hassan Rouhani said that Iran is a "great, sacrificing, and unified nation," and therefore has no need to build atomic bombs, The Guardian reported.

The city is home to a number of nuclear research and uranium conversion facilities.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Liberman given 5 days to respond to racism claims (TIMES OF ISRAEL, February 5, 2015)

Meretz party MK Issawi Freij petitioned the committee to ban the campaign, saying it violates Israel's anti-racism laws by calling for the revocation of citizenship for Israelis based on race and nationality.

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 party's election slogan is "Ariel to Israel, Umm al-Fahm to Palestine," referring to the West Bank settlement and the northern Israeli Arab city, respectively.

Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran responded to the petition Thursday by asking Yisrael Beytenu to respond by February 10.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Very weird: Corporate bond rates go negative (Matt Egan, 2/05/15, CNN)

In an unprecedented event, the yield on Nestle's corporate debt went negative this week.

That means investors are essentially willing to pay for the right to park their cash in the safety of the Swiss chocolate company. The bonds might as well come with a note saying: "In Nestle we trust."

Companies are in such good shape there's no question of their defaulting and the dollar they pay you back in is worth more than the one you loaned them.
Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


Scotland poll shows a nation on the verge of abandoning Labour (Alberto Nardelli, 4 February 2015, The Guardian)

Make no mistake, Labour's crisis in Scotland is profound. That's the inescapable conclusion of Lord Ashcroft's 14 constituency polls that show the party losing all but one of the Labour-held seats surveyed.

The swing from Labour to the Scottish National party (SNP) is above 20% in all 14 of those seats - the average is 25% - the kind of shift that is arguably seen only once in a generation.

That is not all. More troubling for Labour is the fact that among all voters under 44, support for the SNP is nearly double that of Labour. The SNP leads across all age groups, except among those aged 65 and above.

To make matters even worse for Ed Miliband's party, the seats polled by Ashcroft are among the ones Labour won with the highest margins five years ago - and the swing in these is even greater than the one implied in Scotland-wide polls.

On the Guardian's modelling, based on current polls, the SNP would win 54 out of the 59 seats in Scotland. The Lib Dems would retain one, Orkney and Shetland, and Labour four. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Moussaoui Calls Saudi Princes Patrons of Al Qaeda (SCOTT SHANE, FEB. 3, 2015, NY Times)

In highly unusual testimony inside the federal supermax prison, a former operative for Al Qaeda has described prominent members of Saudi Arabia's royal family as major donors to the terrorist network in the late 1990s and claimed that he discussed a plan to shoot down Air Force One with a Stinger missile with a staff member at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. [...]

Mr. Moussaoui's testimony, if judged credible, provides new details of the extent and nature of that support in the pre-9/11 period. In more than 100 pages of testimony, filed in federal court in New York on Monday, he comes across as calm and largely coherent, though the plaintiffs' lawyers questioning him do not challenge his statements.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Scott Walker learned early lessons at father's Iowa church (Jason Stein, 1/31/15,  Journal Sentinel)

Plainfield, Iowa -- Before Scott Walker stood on a national stage, he crawled beneath the wooden pews and white steeple of First Baptist Church.

His father preached and his mother ran the Sunday school in this Iowa farm town too small to have a stoplight. Growing up in the parsonage next door -- in the shadow of the church -- Walker learned his first lessons in faith, politics and living a life on public display.

His religious upbringing set a course for the governor's later life and may boost his presidential bid among evangelicals in this early caucus state. Just as he did in Des Moines a week ago, Walker will able to talk directly to "values voters" in Iowa, a state where caucusgoers have long leaned toward religious candidates such as Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and Jimmy Carter.

Walker is already welcome in this northeast Iowa town, where four decades later some residents hold warm memories of a toddler splayed out on the church floor.

"It was cute to us," remembered Janice Dietz, acknowledging that the young preacher in the pulpit, the Rev. Llew Walker, might not have appreciated the humor as much as his tiny congregation. "You could hear the snickers in the church."

When Scott was 21/2, the Walkers arrived in Plainfield in the summer of 1970, moving from Colorado Springs, Colo., a city of more than 100,000 and a church where Llew served as an assistant pastor. In this community of 430 residents, Llew would head his own congregation and serve on the municipal council and his wife, Pat, would give birth to a second son, David. [...]

The church and parsonage were both a geographic and a social hub in the community.

Living on the main street as the child of a pastor was like growing up in a "fishbowl," as Scott Walker himself would later put it,and it taught the boy to be aware of how others saw him. It was an apt preparation for the future politician who would later relish radio and television interviews and tweeting about meals and other ephemera of his personal life.

"It would be difficult for him or his brother to go anywhere without people knowing him," said the Rev. Shawn Geer, the current pastor at First Baptist.

But if the pastor's sons were closely watched, they could also be indulged by a rural community that cherishes children and loved the preacher and his wife. Joan Marlette's father made the Walker boys a toy wooden barn the size of a doll house, and Pat Walker kept it for decades, mailing it back to Marlette a few years ago.

"I was so pleased she sent that," Marlette said of Pat Walker. "She thought of us instead of just giving it to somebody."

Larry Balsley recalled the reaction of one parishioner who picked up David Walker in a luxury sedan only to have the boy track mud on the seats.

"He said, 'What do you do? It's the preacher's son,'" Larry Balsley said.

None of the children or adults who knew Scott Walker then, including playmates and baby sitters, remembered him as a troublemaker.

Walker is often seen today as a mediocre student who never finished his degree at Marquette University. But Betty Balsley, who served as Walker's third-grade teacher, said he was an "excellent student" in the brick public school that served Plainfield students of every grade.

Balsley said Walker scored well enough on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills that she went down the street from the school to First Baptist to tell his parents about his results.

"He was a mischievous little boy, but he wasn't naughty," she said.

Those around Walker in those years instead remember his interest in Scouting -- he would later become an Eagle Scout -- and in civic life. The interest was natural for a boy whose father served on the municipal council and sometimes talked politics at the dinner table.

Charlie Dietz served with Llew Walker on the Plainfield council, which met in a humble building just down the street from First Baptist.

Dietz remembered that the pastor looked for ways to promote the community, such as replacing the tiny city hall -- a project Plainfield residents couldn't afford until much later. Several people in Plainfield remembered Llew Walker as instrumental in getting affordable housing units built on a site near First Baptist.

Dietz also remembered that though the pastor would eat meals in Plainfield taverns, he did vote no on a liquor license for at least one.

"He would say being a minister, 'I didn't want to vote for it. But I knew it would pass anyway,'" Dietz said.

Like the Milwaukee metro area and Wisconsin in general, Plainfield and the surrounding region of northeastern Iowa aren't one-sided in their politics. Its state senator is a Democrat, its state representative is a Republican. Its current congressman is Republican Rod Blum, who in November won a close race to replace outgoing Democrat Bruce Braley.

"It's more purple than some other parts of Iowa," said Steffen Schmidt, a political science professor at Iowa State University.

Scott Walker would leave Plainfield in the third grade, but already the family's civic sense was rubbing off on him. Betty Balsley, Joan Marlette and Janice Dietz remembered the boy starting a "Jesus USA Club" to do good deeds and seek donations for a new flag for the Plainfield City Hall.

The Balsley and Dietz families, both particularly close to the Walkers, said they weren't surprised that Walker ended up in politics.

"He would occasionally come up with comments," Betty Balsley said, remembering a boy who took note of the big world beyond Plainfield. "You just had a feeling that he would go to school and do something."

"There was an interest there," her husband Larry added.

February 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 PM


Don Covay obituary (Richard Williams, 4 February 2015, The Guardian)

Born in Orangeburg, South Carolina, the son of a Baptist preacher, Covay sang gospel music with his family's group, the Cherry-Keys. A move to Washington DC in his early teens brought him into contact with secular sounds in a more urban environment, and he joined a vocal group called the Rainbows, which at various times also included two other local boys, the future stars Marvin Gaye and Billy Stewart.

In 1957 he joined Little Richard's touring show as a singer, warming the crowd up for the main attraction, and made his recording debut, under the name of Pretty Boy, with a song called Bip Bop Bip, produced by Little Richard and released by Atlantic. His first success as a songwriter came in 1961 with Pony Time, a No 1 hit for Chubby Checker, preceding the Twist craze. Within a year, Covay's ability to write an emotional ballad was evident when Gladys Knight and the Pips took his Letter Full of Tears into the top 20.

After recording for numerous companies, including Sue, Columbia, Epic, RCA, Big Top and Parkway, it was under the billing of Don Covay and the Goodtimers (with the young Jimi Hendrix on guitar), and on a small label called Rosemart, that he made his first real impact as a solo artist, when his original recording of Mercy, Mercy reached No 35 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964. Impressed by its success, Atlantic bought his contract and sent him to Memphis, where he recorded two further dance-floor favourites, See Saw and Sookie Sookie, with the Stax house band the following year.

As a member of the Atlantic family, it was natural that Franklin should record one of his songs when she joined the label with spectacular success in 1967. The driving Chain of Fools was her fifth hit single that year, reaching No 2 in the pop chart, topping the R&B chart, and earning its composer a Grammy nomination. Franklin also had a hit the following year with See Saw, on which Covay shared the writing credit with Steve Cropper. Wilson Pickett, another Atlantic artist, recorded Covay's Three-Time Loser as the B-side of Mustang Sally.

It was while employed as an A&R man by Mercury Records in 1973 that Covay enjoyed a pop and R&B hit with I Was Checkin' Out (She Was Checkin' In), a song exploiting the then-popular theme of adultery. The following year he released what many of his fans consider to be his greatest record: the rousing It's Better to Have and Don't Need (Than Need and Don't Have), an uninhibited meditation on the realities of sexual desire precisely pitched in musical terms between the church and the street.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Josh McDaniels Deserves Super Bowl XLIX Co-MVP (Erik Frenz, 2/04/15, Boston.com)

LeGarrette Blount took a lot of crap for his statement that the Seahawks defense was "not immortal," but thanks to some good game-planning by Josh McDaniels, the Patriots proved Blount right.

The game plan focused on an assault against the short area, underneath the soft belly of Cover 3.

The game plan was clear almost immediately, when Amendola caught the second pass of the game and Vereen caught the third. Vereen's catch went for five yards on 3rd-and-2, and took advantage of the space underneath linebacker K.J. Wright's coverage. We've seen this route before, a quick out from the backfield, and this was a perfect situation to use it.

Amendola got one of his receptions in a similar fashion on 2nd-and-8 with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter. He ran underneath a clearing route by Brandon LaFell, and once he got into the soft spot in coverage, Brady let the ball fly. Amendola turned around and caught it, and picked up 10 yards before being run out of bounds.

In total, Amendola and Vereen caught 16 passes for 112 yards, mostly on short routes that got them in favorable matchups and allowed them to catch the ball in stride.

The only way that defense can beat you is if you throw to seams down the middle. Of course, most coaches and qbs have egos that require them to do so.
Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


France's unaccountable, incestuous, sexually exploitive political culture (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, February 4, 2015, The Week)

France's lack of accountability. The French language literally does not have a word for "accountability." The word is usually translated as "responsabilité," which also carries the meaning of "liability," "competence," and "responsibility." The idea of accountability, as such -- that one should face social consequences for reprehensible actions regardless of mitigating circumstances -- has much less truck in Latin cultures than in Anglo ones.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Jeb Bush Detroit Economic Club Speech (Ira Stoll, 2/04/15, Future of Capitalism)

Don't underestimate Jeb Bush is the point I've been making here, and Governor Bush is making me look sagacious with a humdinger of a speech today at the Detroit Economic Club that seems to really grasp the substance of the economic issues in a way that I find both encouraging and refreshing. Some excerpts from the remarks as prepared for delivery: [...]

Let's say you're a hard-working middle-class family. You work hard. You pay your mortgage on time. As President Obama likes to say: You play by the rules.

But for President Obama, one of the rules is this: He reserves the right to change the rules. Just last month, he thought it was a good idea to tax 529 college savings plans. Remember: 529s were created to be tax-free ways to save for college. Millions of people started them for their kids and grandkids.

So it's no surprise people hated the president's idea. And he dropped it.

But it was an instructive lesson in the liberal and progressive mindset.

Saving for college is the responsible thing to do. But instead of embracing 529s, the liberals moved to tax them.

It's frustrating. But it shows you how they think...

Growth above all. A growing economy, whether here in Detroit or throughout this country is the difference between poverty and prosperity for millions. If you want to close the opportunity gap, grow the economy. This is a principle that concentrates the mind.

If a law or a rule doesn't contribute to growth, why do it? If a law subtracts from growth, why are we discussing it? And for what it's worth, I don't think the US should settle for anything less than 4% growth a year - which is about twice our current average. At that rate, the middle class will thrive again....

Finally, let's embrace reform everywhere, especially in our government. Let's start with the simple principle of who holds the power. I say give Washington less and give states and local governments more.

We make multi-billion dollar infrastructure decisions based on a labor law written in 1921.President Obama proposes making rules on the Internet using laws written in the 1930s. We regulate global airlines using laws written for railroads. Our immigration laws were written a half-century ago.

Governmental policy seems frozen, incapable and fearful of change. It is in the way. And we deserve better than this.

Bush pitches economic vision, test runs campaign message in Detroit (Dana Bash and Jeremy Diamond, 2/04/15, CNN)

In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, the former Florida governor tapped into the struggles of "too many Americans (who) live on the edge of economic ruin," debuting what Bush dubbed a "new vision" to create more economic opportunity in the U.S. and give Americans "the right to rise."

"The recovery has been everywhere but in American paychecks. The American Dream has become a mirage for far too many. So the central question we face here in Detroit and across America is this: Can we restore that dream -- that moral promise -- that each generation can do better?" Bush said Wednesday in the financially faltering city of Detroit. "We believe that every American and in every community has a right to pursue happiness. They have a right to rise."

Bush played off those words throughout the speech -- he said "right to rise" six times on Wednesday -- as he harped on a theme he unveiled when he announced his potential candidacy in December and established a PAC by the same name: The Right to Rise PAC.

The potential presidential candidate also appeared to distinguish himself from the 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Bush defended the millions of Americans struggling financially, testing his brand of what aides called "reform conservatism" that appears similar to his brother's "compassionate conservatism."

Conservatives must articulate an optimistic middle-class vision (John Murray, 2/03/15, The Hill)

To win the support of middle-class Americans, conservatives must articulate an optimistic, forward-looking agenda that tackles tough middle-class economic challenges -- and we must ask for a chance to put this vision into practice by electing a conservative reformer to the White House who will work with Congress to deliver results for the American people.

Fortunately, the blueprints of this conservative renewal already exist in Room To Grow, a collection of conservative solutions to middle-class problems that has been called "the most coherent and compelling policy agenda the American right has produced this century."

These principled, workable proposals demonstrate that conservatives offer the best way forward on a wide range of issues important to working families:

Healthcare reform to lower costs and improve access and quality;
Tax reform to strengthen the economy and lighten the burdens families bear;
Labor, tax and fiscal reforms to help parents balance work and family;
K-12 education reform to give the next generation a chance to thrive;
Higher-education reform to make college and career training more effective and affordable;
Safety-net reforms to protect the vulnerable and expand the middle class;
Employment policies to get Americans working again;
Energy reforms to cut utility bills and enable growth and innovation; and
Pro-family policies to strengthen marriage and give kids a better shot at the American Dream.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Outrage in Mideast over IS killing of Jordan pilot (AP, February 4, 2015)

Even in a region accustomed to the violence of war and the little regard the terrorists have for life, both political and religious leaders offered angry denunciations and called for blood as some on television wept on air talking about the killing of 26-year-old Lt. Moaz Kasasbeh.

The head of Sunni Islam's most respected seat of learning, Egypt's Al-Azhar Mosque, even said that Islamic State fighters deserved the Quran-prescribed punishment of death, crucifixion or the chopping off of their arms.

"Islam prohibits the taking of an innocent life," Ahmed al-Tayeb, the mosque's grand sheikh, said in a statement.

...when your opponents have none.
Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM


So now Britain's a state union buster like Bahrain (Ellie Mae O'Hagan, 2/03/15, The Guardian)

So farewell then, Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister and "architect of the Whitehall cost-cutting exercise", who announced his intention to step down over the weekend.

Maude will remember his own frugality in government with pride, which he says has saved the taxpayer £14bn over the years. It's fair to say the 90,000 people who have lost their civil service jobs under his watch might see things a little differently. What many others will remember is his parting gesture: sticking it to the unions and thereby discreetly undermining Britain's ability to call itself a free and democratic country.

On 20 December 2013, Maude circulated a letter to all civil service departments advising them to review "check-off" - the system by which employees' trade union subscriptions are automatically taken from payslips. Removing check-off will require employees to sign up proactively to their union and arrange their own payment methods: a change likely to cause a lot of people to drop off the books. In the letter, Maude observes that it is "not desirable for the civil service to provide a service to trade unions". And so, at the end of last year, the Home Office became the first major department to remove check-off. The Department of Work and Pensions follows at the end of March, as will HM Revenue and Customs in April.

In this ostensibly trivial bureaucratic tinkering lies a major threat to democracy: evidence that the state itself has become a union-buster. The Conservative party should know that removing check-off is an enormous problem for the Public and Commercial Services union - PCS, the civil service union - which could lose a significant chunk of its membership. Without urgent action from PCS representatives and employees, the results could cripple the union, leaving government employees unrepresented, and thus vulnerable to exploitation, deteriorating conditions and job losses. As the TUC's Matt Dykes put it: "Our movement represents millions of working people and their families and communities ... That this kind of union-busting can occur at the very heart of the government - which is supposed to serve all citizens' interests - is deeply worrying."

February 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Putin's Shaky Hold on Power (DAVID SATTER, Feb. 3, 2015, WSJ)

The fear that pervades the Russian leadership is reflected in a series of recent statements by the country's leaders. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Jan. 27 that if Russia is cut off from the Swift international payment system as punishment for its actions in Ukraine, its response "will know no limits." Andrei Kostin, the head of VTB, Russia's second-largest bank, said excluding Russia from Swift would mean "war." Igor Ivanov, the former foreign minister, said that a confrontation could involve nuclear weapons.

In fact, the Russian leaders now face a crisis of their own making. The steady rise in living standards during the 2000s, stemming from high prices for oil and gas, led to euphoria and an implicit deal between the authorities and the population according to which the authorities would be free to steal as long as the income of the population continued to rise. Living standards did rise but corruption crippled normal development. Now that oil prices have collapsed, Russia has no other comparable source of revenue and Western sanctions are preventing badly needed investment.

Under these circumstances, there is a serious danger of social tension. In Russia today, 110 persons, including Mr. Putin's cronies, control 35% of the country's wealth while 50% of adults have total household wealth of $871 or lower. In 2014, food prices rose 15.4%. It is a measure of the government's concern that it has cut the price of vodka, despite the need to fill the treasury. This is a transparent attempt to use vodka to tranquilize the population.

If the economic situation in Russia continues to worsen, many Russians may come to see that the Ukrainian model of a peaceful and spontaneous rebellion against a corrupt regime can have relevance for them. It was because of the potential power of the Ukrainian example for Russia that Mr. Putin began the war in Ukraine in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


Walter Bahr's memories of late 1950 World Cup teammate Frank Borghi (GRANT WAHL, Feb. 3, 2015, Sports Illustrated)

Borghi, who would go on to own a funeral home in St. Louis, had already led an amazing life long before the 1950 World Cup. During World War II, he won a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, according to the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame. Bahr told me I should look up the World War II story about Borghi and another famous St. Louis resident, the Hall of Fame sports broadcaster Jack Buck. And so I spent part of the afternoon in the SI Library tracking down Buck's memoir, That's A Winner! (Sagamore Publishing, 1997).

In March 1945, during the final months of the war, Buck writes that he was assigned to K company, 47th regiment, 9th infantry division, and trucked to the front near the town of Remagen, Germany. On March 15, Buck was wounded (though not severely) by German shrapnel in the left arm and leg. A medic bandaged the wound and called for a jeep to pick Buck up.

In 1975, long after he became a famous broadcaster, Buck was the emcee at a banquet in St. Louis where Borghi was being honored. Buck writes:

"We were seated at the head table, and we talked about the 9th infantry division. I asked him what regiment he was in, and he said the 47th. I said I was also. I asked him what regiment he was in, and he said the 47th. I said I was also. I asked him what company he was in, and he told me he was in K company. So was I. I asked what he did in K company, and he told me he was a medic. I asked how many medics there were in K company after we crossed the Remagen Bridge. He told me he was the only one, because the other medic had been wounded. We determined that he was the medic who bandaged me the morning I was hit. That's unbelievable."

Frank Borghi saw duty in North Africa, Sicily, Normandy and Germany. And though he was involved in one of the greatest upsets in sports history, it probably wasn't the most remarkable thing he achieved.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


From Testing to Big Brother: 'No Child' Debate Moves to Federal Oversight (Allie Bidwell, Feb. 3, 2015, US News)

Over the last few weeks, key members of the Senate and House - including Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., who chairs the House education committee, and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio - have come out in support of maintaining annual testing requirements. The American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers union, also has said the federal requirement should stay in place. With the debate over testing nearly settled, the next target for compromise is the federal role and how much say the Department of Education should have in state accountability systems.

We can only show (Southern) parents that their schools are inadequate, not fix them for them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 PM


Senator Says Restaurant Employees Shouldn't Have to Wash Hands (VERONICA STRACQUALURSI, 2/03/15, ABC News)

You can walk into almost any restaurant bathroom and see a health-code mandated sign that reads "Employees must wash hands before returning to work." But one senator is suggesting that businesses should be free to ditch that regulation.

...no one is going to the barbecue at his house this summer.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Homeland Security chief warns of 'terrible disruption' if department loses funding (Greg Jaffe February 3, 2015, Washington Post)

A shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security would cause "terrible disruption" to average Americans at airports, customs offices and border crossings, Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday.

It can't be disrupted enough.
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


US, Iran discussing nuclear talks compromise (Associated Press February 3, 2015)

With time for negotiations running short, the U.S and Iran are discussing a compromise that would let Iran keep much of its uranium-enriching technology but reduce its potential to make nuclear weapons, two diplomats tell The Associated Press. [...]

According to the diplomats, the proposal could leave running most of the nearly 10,000 centrifuges Iran is operating but reconfigure them to reduce the amount of enriched uranium they produce.

One of the diplomats said the deal could include other limitations to ensure that Tehran's program is kept in check.

For one, Iran would be allowed to store only a specific amount of uranium gas, which is fed into centrifuges for enrichment. The amount of gas would depend on the number of centrifuges it keeps.

Second, Iran would commit to shipping out most of the enriched uranium it produces, leaving it without enough to make a bomb. Iran denies any interest in nuclear weapons and says its program is for peaceful uses such as nuclear power and medical technology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Strong D real MVP of Super Bowl (Gregg Easterbrook, 2/03/15, ESPN)

TMQ's Law of Comebacks holds: Defense starts comebacks, offense stops them. This diktat was on display in the Patriots' Super Bowl comeback.

Not only did New England's defense seal the deal by stopping Seattle at the goal line with 20 seconds remaining, but it also started the comeback. From the point at which Seattle took a two-score lead late in the third quarter, its possession results were: punt, punt, punt, interception. Two of the final four Seattle possession were three-and-outs.

From the juncture of that Seattle two-score lead, for the remainder of the contest New England's defense allowed just four first downs. Just four first downs against the league's No. 1 rushing attack, a team that excels at moving the chains. Defense starts comebacks, offense stops them. Had the defending champions done anything that all on the three punt possessions before their final last-minute charge, the Patriots' comeback would have been deflated. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

Not only did New England's defense win the Super Bowl but it also got the Patriots to the Super Bowl. New England had to stage a divisional-round comeback versus Baltimore. Patriots down 28-14 early in the second half, the defense allowed just three points for the reminder of that contest. At the championship round, New England won easily: but the 45 points scored were less important than the mere seven points allowed to Indianapolis, a high-scoring team.

In fact the most important stat of the 2014 NFL season may be this one, regarding New England's defense: The Patriots did not allow a fourth-quarter touchdown in their final nine games. Teams that don't let opponents score in the fourth quarter are teams that win trophies.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Brady to give MVP truck to Butler (Lee Schechter, 2/03/15, ESPN)

Butler said in an interview with ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" on Monday morning that his work in practice helped him to recognize the play.

"At practice, the scout team ran that same play and I got beat on it. [Coach] Bill [Belichick] told me, 'You've got to be on that.' At that time [of the play], memorization came through," he said. "I just jumped the route. I just made a play. Just do your job -- do it the best way you can. I just did my job."

...Belichick really is a genius.

February 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:10 PM


Vaccine Critics Turn Defensive Over Measles (JACK HEALY and MICHAEL PAULSON, JAN. 30, 2015, NY Times)

Today, the waves of parents who shun vaccines include some who still believe in the link and some, like the Amish, who have religious objections to vaccines. Then there is a particular subculture of largely wealthy and well-educated families, many living in palmy enclaves around Los Angeles and San Francisco, who are trying to carve out "all-natural" lives for their children.

"Sometimes, I feel like we're practicing in the 1950s," said Dr. Eric Ball, a pediatrician in southern Orange County, where some schools report that 50 to 60 percent of their kindergartners are not fully vaccinated and that 20 to 40 percent of parents have sought a personal beliefs exemption to vaccination requirements. "It's very frustrating. It's hard to see a kid suffer for something that's entirely preventable."

Two of Dr. Ball's patients are unvaccinated girls who became sick with the measles last week, though they had not been at Disneyland and it was unclear how they had been infected. Their father called the clinic to tell Dr. Ball and has been sending digital photographs of the girls, their faces stippled with red dots, to update him on how they are doing.

Dr. Ball said he spent many days trying to persuade parents to vaccinate their children. He tries to alleviate their concerns. He shows parents his own children's vaccine records. But it has not worked, and lately, as worries and anger over this outbreak have spread, some families who support vaccines have said they do not want to be in the same waiting room as unvaccinated families. The clinic where Dr. Ball works has treated unvaccinated children for years, but its staff is meeting next week to discuss a ban.

"Our patients are really scared," Dr. Ball said. "Our nightmare would be for someone to show up at our door with the measles."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that measles cases soared last year to 644, many more than in any other year in more than a decade. Since Jan. 1, the C.D.C. has confirmed 84 measles cases in 14 states. California's health agency, which is updating a measles count more frequently, has reported 91 cases, with the biggest number, 27, here in Orange County.

The county's vaccination rate for kindergartners is about 90 percent, a little lower than the statewide rate, 90.4 percent. But rates in some pockets, especially in the wealthier southern half, are sharply lower.

"There are different threads of concern out there" when it comes to vaccination, said Matt Zahn, the medical director for epidemiology at the Orange County Health Agency. "It becomes a game of Whack-a-Mole: As soon as you get rid of one issue, there's another."

Chris Christie should be ashamed of endorsing this sort of dangerous idiocy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


The Alarming Thing About Climate Alarmism : Exaggerated, worst-case claims result in bad policy and they ignore a wealth of encouraging data. (BJORN LOMBORG, Feb. 1, 2015, WSJ)

The latest study from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that in the previous 15 years temperatures had risen 0.09 degrees Fahrenheit. The average of all models expected 0.8 degrees. So we're seeing about 90% less temperature rise than expected.

Facts like this are important because a one-sided focus on worst-case stories is a poor foundation for sound policies. Yes, Arctic sea ice is melting faster than the models expected. But models also predicted that Antarctic sea ice would decrease, yet it is increasing. Yes, sea levels are rising, but the rise is not accelerating--if anything, two recent papers, one by Chinese scientists published in the January 2014 issue of Global and Planetary Change, and the other by U.S. scientists published in the May 2013 issue of Coastal Engineering, have shown a small decline in the rate of sea-level increase.

We are often being told that we're seeing more and more droughts, but a study published last March in the journal Nature actually shows a decrease in the world's surface that has been afflicted by droughts since 1982.

Hurricanes are likewise used as an example of the "ever worse" trope. If we look at the U.S., where we have the best statistics, damage costs from hurricanes are increasing--but only because there are more people, with more-expensive property, living near coastlines. If we adjust for population and wealth, hurricane damage during the period 1900-2013 decreased slightly.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


After years of military cuts, can Britain still defend itself? (Con Coughlin, 02 Feb 2015, The Telegraph)

At the height of the Cold War, there was no shortage of aircraft and warships to keep foes like the Russians at bay. The RAF boasted more than 30 combat squadrons; the Army was more than twice its current size; and the Royal Navy had more than 50 warships, as well as two fully operational aircraft carriers.

But that was before a succession of governments - both Tory and Labour - undertook a series of dramatic cuts. They have reduced our Armed Forces to a lamentable state, with serious questions now being asked about their ability to deal with the many threats we are likely to face in future years, whether that be the Kremlin's new-found spirit of military adventurism, or the rise of well-organised Islamist terror groups, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), which has seized control of large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria and is once more dominating the headlines after the murder of the Japanese hostage Kenji Goto over the weekend.

With the Coalition's most recent defence cuts, following the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), the Army's strength now stands at a modest 82,000 men. The total number of RAF combat squadrons is due to fall to a paltry six - hardly sufficient to protect Britain's airspace, let alone undertake overseas combat operations. The number of operational Navy warships stands at just 18 - five destroyers and 13 frigates - with the two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers unlikely to enter service until well into the next decade.

The most recent cuts, moreover, have had a disastrous impact on our ability to undertake even the most basic military tasks.

So what?

Posted by orrinj at 1:14 PM


Europe Should Call Greece's Bluff (Guy Hands, 2/02/15, Bloomberg View)

Thankfully, an immediate post-election crisis was avoided when the new Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stressed that his country would not default on its debts. But in demanding a renegotiation over the terms of repayment, he hopes to achieve the same ends through different means. Europe's leaders cannot afford to let him have his way. They have to be clear and firm in requiring Greece to pay and do what it promised.

This is not from any desire to punish the Greek public. They have experienced severe declines in living standards in recent years. But they have also benefited hugely from their adoption of the euro and, since the crisis hit, a huge write-off of their debts and the enormous sums poured in from hard-pressed taxpayers in northern Europe. 

It is true Greek gross domestic product has fallen by 25 percent since 2009 -- an almost unprecedented reduction for a developed economy. But GDP remains close to twice the level it was when Greece adopted the euro in 2002. Real wages may have fallen over 20 percent since the crisis -- but they, too, are still above 2001 levels.

Times are very difficult for Greece. But the impact of default and abandonment of the euro would be far worse on Greek living standards in the short term. Its government would struggle to meet public sector salaries or welfare payments, the country's banking sector would be thrown into crisis, savings would plunge in value and the cost of imports would soar.

This explains why, despite all the difficulties, a continent-wide survey late last year found that 59 percent of Greeks still believed the euro was good for their country compared with 29 percent who were against it. This is a higher level of support than in Italy, France or Spain. The latest EU poll also found the proportion of British citizens who believe they would have a better future outside the EU is higher than the proportion of Greeks who think the same.

Greece has a TFR of about 1.4..  It has no long term.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


In fight between two worthy champs, Seahawks' D is left with what-ifs (DOUG FARRAR, Feb. 2, 2015, Sports Illustrated)

New England played their hurry-up offense to perfection, and even though the Seahawks were game, it was not enough -- the Patriots kept making play after play after play. Most of those plays were passes underneath to check against Seattle's predominant Cover-3 defense, and it was Brady's will and skill that outlasted a Seattle defense that is finding it very, very tough to remember how great it has been. [...]

A few lockers away, linebacker K.J. Wright, whose struggles against tight ends continued when he gave up the 22-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski with 31 seconds left in the first half, did not move. For minutes. And then, slowly and inevitably, he lifted his head from his hands and turned to one side, perhaps because facing this head-on was too tough at that moment.

...that there was no way the Seattle man-to-man coverage could succeed if you split Gronk out wide.  And yet Pete Carroll isn't adept enough to change either before or during the game to compensate for that fact.  Tom Brady's chronic inaccuracy downfield was the only thing that kept the game close.

Posted by orrinj at 1:00 PM


Jeb 'Put Me Through Hell' : Michael Schiavo knows as well as anyone what Jeb Bush can do with executive power. He thinks you ought to know too. (MICHAEL KRUSE, January 29, 2015, Politico)

Sitting recently on his brick back patio here, Michael Schiavo called Jeb Bush a vindictive, untrustworthy coward.

For years, the self-described "average Joe" felt harassed, targeted and tormented by the most important person in the state.

"It was a living hell," he said, "and I blame him."

Michael Schiavo was the husband of Terri Schiavo, the brain-dead woman from the Tampa Bay area who ended up at the center of one of the most contentious, drawn-out conflicts in the history of America's culture wars. The fight over her death lasted almost a decade. It started as a private legal back-and-forth between her husband and her parents. Before it ended, it moved from circuit courts to district courts to state courts to federal courts, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from the state legislature in Tallahassee to Congress in Washington. The president got involved. So did the pope.

But it never would have become what it became if not for the dogged intervention of the governor of Florida at the time, the second son of the 41st president, the younger brother of the 43rd, the man who sits near the top of the extended early list of likely 2016 Republican presidential candidates. On sustained, concentrated display, seen in thousands of pages of court records and hundreds of emails he sent, was Jeb the converted Catholic, Jeb the pro-life conservative, Jeb the hands-on workaholic, Jeb the all-hours emailer--confident, competitive, powerful, obstinate Jeb. Longtime watchers of John Ellis Bush say what he did throughout the Terri Schiavo case demonstrates how he would operate in the Oval Office. They say it's the Jebbest thing Jeb's ever done.

The case showed he "will pursue whatever he thinks is right, virtually forever," said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


THE EMERGING REPUBLICAN ADVANTAGE : The idea of an enduring Democratic majority was a mirage. How the GOP gained an edge in American politics--and why it's likely to last. (JOHN B. JUDIS, 1/30/15, National Journal)

[S]ome commentators, including me, hailed the onset of an enduring Democratic majority. And the arguments in defense of this view did seem to be backed by persuasive evidence. Obama and the Democrats appeared to have captured the youngest generation of voters, whereas Republicans were relying disproportionately on an aging coalition. The electorate's growing ethnic diversity also seemed likely to help the Democrats going forward.

These advantages remain partially in place for Democrats today, but they are being severely undermined by two trends that have emerged in the past few elections--one surprising, the other less so. The less surprising trend is that Democrats have continued to hemorrhage support among white working-class voters--a group that generally works in blue-collar and lower-income service jobs and that is roughly identifiable in exit polls as those whites who have not graduated from a four-year college. These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced.

The more surprising trend is that Republicans are gaining dramatically among a group that had tilted toward Democrats in 2006 and 2008: Call them middle-class Americans. These are voters who generally work in what economist Stephen Rose has called "the office economy." In exit polling, they can roughly be identified as those who have college--but not postgraduate--degrees and those whose household incomes are between $50,000 and $100,000. (Obviously, the overlap here is imperfect, but there is a broad congruence between these polling categories.)

The defection of these voters--who, unlike the white working class, are a growing part of the electorate--is genuinely bad news for Democrats, and very good news indeed for Republicans. The question, of course, is whether it is going to continue. It's tough to say for sure, but I think there is a case to be made that it will.

Those jobs are doomed, so the party that helps them replace their income will secure the political future.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


He brings steam engines back to life (Parija Kavilanz, February 2, 2015, CNNMoney)

Scott Lindsay relishes the fact that his grownup job allows him to indulge his boyhood passion: tinkering with trains.

"My dad was interested in steam trains," said Lindsay. "I was just three or four years old when he'd take me to visit train museums in New York and New Jersey."

Decades later, Lindsay, 56, is among a handful of experts in the country with deep technical knowledge about historic steam locomotives.

His Birmingham, Ala.-based Steam Operations Corporation specializes in rebuilding and preserving historic engines and other railroad equipment.

The firm's latest project involves getting the "Class J 611" steam locomotive restored and operational for the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, Va. When it's ready, the museum plans to use the 611 for tourist excursions.

Between 1941 and 1950, railway company Norfolk and Western (which later became Norfolk Southern) built 14 J Class steam passenger engines numbered 600 to 613.

The "611" was built and weighs a massive 378,000 lbs. It was the last of J Class engines to operate, and is the only one still in existence.

"The 611 is arguably the most modern steam locomotive in existence in the U.S. today," said Lindsay. "It truly represents state of the art steam locomotive technology."

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


How an oil boom brought diversity to North Dakota (Steve Hargreaves, February 2, 2015, CNNMoney)

Ten years ago there were three black people working in North Dakota's oil fields. Not three percent, just three people.

Now there are over 600.

Many of them came for jobs working in the Bakken oil fields, and settled in towns like Williston, N.D.

Like the state itself, most people in this oil boomtown are white. But it's impossible not to notice the number of minorities -- particularly blacks -- among the huge influx of oil workers that's descended upon the region over the last few years. And while the recent fall in oil prices has called the longevity of the boom into question, at least some of these workers are here to stay.

"I don't want to go home," said Elias Kogo a 35-year-old former marathon runner originally from Kenya who'd been working as a fracking mechanic here for the last three years. "I came from a very poor family, and I want to give my kids a better life."

Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


Raucous Patriots fans celebrate Super Bowl victory( PHILIP MARCELO, Associated Press)

New England Patriots fans from Boston to western Massachusetts celebrated another Super Bowl title raucously, but without the destruction and mayhem that has often followed championship victories by local sports teams.

Crowds of mostly college-aged fans in Boston and Amherst were mostly orderly as they screamed and chanted after the Patriots' 28-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Boston police said there were no arrests.

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


The Conspiracy Theory Surrounding The Seahawks' Last Play (Dave Zirin, February 2, 2015, The Nation)

The theory goes something like this. Russell Wilson is your young clean-cut God-fearing media-perfect quarterback. If one was creating a superstar face to market for the twenty-first century, chances are they would look, sound and basically be Russell Wilson. He's Derek Jeter with a Bible, your "biracial angel" of our times. Marshawn Lynch is... Marshawn Lynch, and if you haven't figured out what that means after the past two weeks, then you haven't been paying attention.

The theory goes that there were major financial, public relations and football reasons for Russell Wilson and not Lynch to be the one who ends the game in glory. If he throws that touchdown for the victory, Wilson is almost certainly the Super Bowl MVP. He gets the commercial. He gets to stand with the commissioner. And oh, by the way, he also gets his new contract, one that will fasten his prime, at only 26 years old, to the Seattle franchise. Marshawn Lynch is also due a new contract. Marshawn Lynch, had he punched that ball over the goal line, would get to be the one handed the MVP trophy. Marshawn Lynch maybe gets on the mic to Lord knows what.

Marshawn Lynch is also playing for a new contract and will certainly get one after an awesome, iconic season. But unlike Wilson, Marcshawn Lynch turns 29 this off-season, that time when the ability of running backs tends to fall off the cliff. In Seattle's own recent history, they saw their MVP running back Shaun Alexander go seemingly overnight from superstar to someone who could barely run the ball, a football equivalent of milk left on the radiator.

The conspiracy theory lies in the fact that Seahawks coach Pete Carroll believed that the last yard the Seahawks needed for that Super Bowl victory was a gimme and, all things being equal, much better to have the iconic Super Bowl moment go to Russell Wilson than to Marshawn Lynch. The politics of race, respectability, public relations and what's in the best interest of a $2 billion corporation all played into this. That's the theory.

I contacted someone inside that locker room and they said to me as if on repeat: "Can't believe it. We all saw it. They wanted it to be Russ. They didn't want Marshawn to be the hero."

Mike Silver for the NFL network reported on these "mutterings" as well, writing that he wanted to "refrain from lending any legitimacy to the conspiracy theory which one anonymous player was willing to broach: That Carroll somehow had a vested interest in making Wilson, rather than Lynch, the hero, and thus insisted on putting the ball in the quarterback's hands with an entire season on the line. 'That's what it looked like,' the unnamed player said, but I'd be willing to bet that he merely muttered it out of frustration, and that it was a fleeting thought."

Whereas, everyone can believe Bill Belichick is exactly this smart, Malcolm In the Middle Of Biggest Plays of the Game in Patriots Super Bowl Victory (Steve Silva, 2/02/15, Boston Globe)

The ill-fated slant pass by Wilson intended for Ricardo Lockette was not only broken up by Butler, but the 24-year-old undrafted rookie picked off the pass and Tom Brady & Co. successfully ran out the clock in the game.

"I just had a jump ball on that play," Butler said. "I made a great play on the ball and when I deflected it, it remained in his hands. Just like any other play, I feel like the game was on me if we lost, but we had another play. It was goal line, three [corners on the defense] and the formation they were in with the two receiver stunt, I just knew they were doing a pick route. I knew it was on the line and we needed it, so I just beat him to the route and just made the play."

Butler saw the offense stacked to one side and stepped in from of Ricardo Lockette and made the interception heard 'round the world.

"I knew they were going to throw it," he said. "Our defensive coordinator is real smart and with a goal line, three cornerback [formation], we knew they were going to throw the ball... I saw [Russell] Wilson looking over [toward the receivers]. He kept his head still and just looked over there, so that gave me a clue, and the stacked receivers; I just knew they were going to throw. My instincts, I just went with it, just went with my mind and made the play."

Butler was asked if he was surprised that the Seahawks did not hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch in that moment.

"Yeah I am a little bit, but like I said, we were in a goal line, three corners (formation)," Butler said. "Usually in goal line there are two corners, so with three corners you know they're going to pass."

Butler said preparation and practice were keys to seeing what was coming his way.

"It was goal line, three [corners on the defense] and the formation they were in with the two receiver stunt, I just knew they were doing a pick route," he said. "I knew it was on the line and we needed it, so I just beat him to the route and just made the play."

Butler had been burned on the same play in practice this week.

February 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Beer Old Dartmouth : A college president refuses to bow to political pressure. (WSJ, Feb. 1, 2015)

[M]any Dartmouth professors and other campus activists are enraged that Mr. Hanlon refused their main ultimatums to suppress free expression in the name of identity politics and especially to dismantle the college's fraternity and sorority system. Outside of football, no other American institution enjoys so much elite disdain but widespread popular approval as college fraternities, and Mr. Hanlon might have become an overnight media-academic celebrity had he nuked Frat Row amid the current political agitation.

Instead, Mr. Hanlon, a former University of Michigan provost, observed that all U.S. colleges struggle with misconduct, regardless of their particular social scene. The solution is to require accountability and to expect virtues such as civility and self-control. "True and lasting change will not come from top-down policies alone," he said in a speech to the student body. "It will come from individuals and organizations committing to live up to a higher standard of behavior."

This is another way of describing the character education and moral instruction that academia abdicated in the 1960s and '70s, and it is a refreshing turn given the sensibilities of modern higher education. Mr. Hanlon ended his address with a subversive call for faculty members to join this project, namely by strengthening academic rigor and "curbing grade inflation."

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


What it's like when you're an American using Britain's NHS (JIM EDWARDS, JAN. 29, 2015,, Business Insider)


In America, I've always had a long wait to see my doctor. I have read many a back issue of Newsweek in my primary care / general practitioner (GP) doctor's office. I've sat there for an hour playing with my phone while the doc sees patients in the order they were booked.

In the UK, I showed up at 9am and was seen instantly, at the Waterloo Health Centre. For an American, this was bizarre: My butt barely touched the seat in the waiting room before my name was called. Turns out my doc and her staff are serious about patient scheduling.

This was one reason I became convinced that the NHS way of scheduling is superior: You might not get the time or date that you want, but once you're in, you get seen super-quick.


The NHS actively discourages some types of patients: Interestingly, NHS offices and hospitals have posters up all over the place warning you not to show up at the emergency room if you have a cold or the flu. They're actively discouraging patients with minor ailments from seeking emergency treatment, and trying to get them to see their regular doctors instead. It's sensible -- everyone knows that a vast amount of hospital time and money is wasted treating people who are not an emergency. And hospitals and doctor's surgery waiting rooms are a hotbed of germs. But still, it's a culture shock to see a medical institution put up signs that basically say, "go home, you idiot!" in every waiting room.

The US never discourages patients from doing anything. I've never seen any kind of public campaign to persuade patients to apply some common sense before dropping themselves off at an emergency room. The entire US pharmaceutical industry is also dedicated to running ads encouraging people to "go see your doctor" for even the most trivial of conditions.


There is a load of paperwork for patients in the US. This is easily the worst aspect of US healthcare -- the billing paperwork. If you've ever had any health issue that required more than a simple doctor visit, you will know that it precipitates a seemingly never-ending series of forms, bills, and letters. You can be paying bills months, years later. And it's almost impossible to correct a billing error. It's stressful. I developed an intense hatred for health insurance companies in the US because of this.

There was close to zero paperwork in the NHS. I filled in a form telling my doc who I was and where I lived, and that was pretty much it. The only other paperwork I got was a letter in the mail reminding me of my next appointment. They sent me a text reminder, too, which no American doc has ever done. It was incredibly refreshing. [...]


So how much did all this NHS care cost me? £0. Nothing. Zero. I paid not a penny for some top-notch healthcare. There is no such thing as a "free," of course, but the per-capita cost of healthcare in the UK (paid by the government via tax collections) is generally lower than the US, according to the World Health Organization. Americans spend $8,362  per capita on healthcare annually, the Brits spend $3,480.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM



[B]efore getting too upset about the present controversy, it's worth remembering those scheming days of yore. For a long time, it was simply assumed that every football had been illegally tweaked in some way. The rules were sacred, but only if someone had an incentive to enforce them.

When kickers discuss their methods during that era, they do so with all the matter-of-fact detail of a craftsman hosting a home improvement show. "Every Monday, I'd go into the equipment room and get 36 balls and I'd break in the noses on a door jamb or end of a table," Husted says, "and then you'd pump them up to maybe 18, 19 psi, get them really hard, and then ... just put them in a sauna for like two days." After that, he'd let the air out and give them some time in the sun. The point was to soften and expand the leather so as to broaden the sweet spot on the ball. Sometimes they'd fill the balls up to 30 psi or higher. The ball would eventually play at the official air pressure, but by that point, the thing had already been transformed.

Kickers had plenty more ways to prepare the ball: bake it, microwave it, put it in the trunk of a car for a few hot days, put it in the dryer with some wet towels, even soak it in lemon juice or evaporated milk. Former Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis told me that after over-inflating balls he'd spend a lot of time rubbing them down with a wet towel. But when he started in the league with the San Diego Chargers, he learned to work them over with weights: "You get a big 45-pound plate and you put the plate on top of the football and then you stand on top of the plate and roll the plate around."

Usually, the first step was brushing the ball. Husted says his former teammate, punter Reggie Roby, really got into that part. He'd sit in the lounge and work the ball over with a piece of Astroturf: "It was kind of like meditation for him." The rubbing removed the protective coating the ball arrived with. If the pebbling was a bit too prominent--"knobby"--they'd have to wear that down as well.

The mental image of these men expending so much effort and ingenuity on a bunch of footballs is kind of silly, but it was a serious and taxing component of their job. "I always dreaded a home game week of preparing the footballs," Hollis says.

It was a Sisyphean effort: labor for days to get these footballs nearly to the point of perfection, and then, because the league mandated new balls each week, start all over on Monday.

But if you're already bending the rules, why stop? After a game ended, refs marked each football to put it out of commission, often by blackening one of the laces. So Husted and others would simply apply a white paint pen or marker and carry it through to the next week. Hollis didn't do this, but he certainly could tell it was going on. "I remember playing a game late in the season looking at a football when the referee handed it to me on a kickoff and just was like, wow; this ball has been used in many, many, many games," he says. The ref either didn't notice or didn't care.

There was a spirit of camaraderie about it all amongst the kickers. "Most guys were cool," Hollis says of meetings with the opposition's kicking unit before games. They'd proudly tell their counterparts, "You're gonna like the game balls this week." Husted remembers the Atlanta Falcons' unit bragging one year in week 11 that they'd managed to keep their footballs in circulation since week 1.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Paying everyone a basic income would kill off low-paid menial jobs (Paul Mason, 2/01/15, The Guardian)

The "unconditional basic income" has a long history in economic thinking, with proponents on both the left and the right. For conservatives it is a way of radically cutting the administrative costs of means-tested benefits, and subsidising low-paid work. For those on the left, who embraced it after the 1960s, it is seen as a way to alleviate inequality. But if the basic income has any relevance to today's economy, it is as a solution to a much bigger problem: the disappearance of work itself.

In 2013, researchers at the Oxford Martin School predicted that in the next two decades 47% of US jobs would be in danger of being lost to automation. McKinsey Global Institute research suggests that 140 million knowledge workers worldwide are at risk of the same fate. Most policymakers do not even want to think about the prospect of mass automation, because it is unlike any change we have seen before.

In every previous technological upsurge, deskilling and job destruction went alongside the creation of new, high value jobs and a higher-wage consumption culture. But automation disrupts that pattern: it reduces the need for work in one sector without necessarily creating it in another. [...]

If you paid every adult in Britain - including pensioners - say, £6,000 a year, with no requirement to seek work and no means test, it would cost around £290bn a year.

You would abolish the basic state pension (currently around £6,000) and basic unemployment benefits, keeping only benefits targeted to extra needs such as child support or disability, which come to around £30bn now, so the overall cost might come to £320bn a year.

That is a huge amount of money. The current welfare bill in Britain is £167bn - of which two- thirds goes to pensioners. Its eats around 23% of government spending. A true, subsistence level basic income would close to double that. But it is imaginable, in the short to medium term, if you factor in the benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


For president, a governor (Nolan Finley, 1/31/15, The Detroit News)

Gov. Rick Snyder said on CNN last week the 2016 Republican presidential nominee -- and the nation's next president -- should be drawn from the corps of GOP governors who are either being mentioned or have expressed interest in the race.

Snyder's contention is that while Washington has mired itself in partisan bickering and gridlock, Republican governors like himself have been downsizing state governments, building better business climates and tackling the tough jobs of reforming tax and regulatory codes. Progress in the states is far outpacing that of the federal government. [...]

"The main factor is that there's such an anti-Washington, anti-establishment mood in the country, and anyone from outside Washington can play that card," says David Dulio, chairman of the political science department at Oakland University. "Governors are not part of that Washington culture."

A governor also can also take credit for specific and visible achievements as an executive. Congress members or other Washington insiders can rarely claim sole credit for anything.

And none of the congressmen running have ever achieved anything.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Report: Only one of Patriots' 12 balls were under-inflated by two pounds (Sports Illustrated, 2/01/15)

Only one of the 12 New England Patriots footballs used in the team's AFC Championship game win against the Indianapolis Colts was under-inflated by a full two pounds, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.  

"Several" other balls were found to be roughly one pound under-inflated, and "several more" were either right at, or barely beneath, the correct inflation mark. 

Given what we know about the advantage conveyed by balls under 12.5 psi and how easy it is to get them to drop below that number, any staffer who failed to get them down to at least 11.5 should be fired.  It's just unprofessional.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


An Unconventional Truth (Nourel Roubini, 2/01/15, Project Syndicate)

The reason why central banks have increasingly embraced unconventional monetary policies is that the post-2008 recovery has been extremely anemic. Such policies have been needed to counter the deflationary pressures caused by the need for painful deleveraging in the wake of large buildups of public and private debt.

In most advanced economies, for example, there is still a very large output gap, with output and demand well below potential; thus, firms have limited pricing power. There is considerable slack in labor markets as well: Too many unemployed workers are chasing too few available jobs, while trade and globalization, together with labor-saving technological innovations, are increasingly squeezing workers' jobs and incomes, placing a further drag on demand.

Moreover, there is still slack in real-estate markets where booms went bust (the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Dubai). And bubbles in other markets (for example, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand) pose a new risk, as their collapse would drag down home prices.

Commodity markets, too, have become a source of disinflationary pressure. North America's shale-energy revolution has weakened oil and gas prices, while China's slowdown has undermined demand for a broad range of commodities, including iron ore, copper, and other industrial metals, all of which are in greater supply after years of high prices stimulated investments in new capacity.

China's slowdown, coming after years of over-investment in real estate and infrastructure, is also causing a global glut of manufactured and industrial goods. With domestic demand in these sectors now contracting sharply, the excess capacity in China's steel and cement sectors - to cite just two examples - is fueling further deflationary pressure in global industrial markets.

Rising income inequality, by redistributing income from those who spend more to those who save more, has exacerbated the demand shortfall. So has the asymmetric adjustment between over-saving creditor economies that face no market pressure to spend more, and over-spending debtor economies that do face market pressure and have been forced to save more.

Simply put, we live in a world in which there is too much supply and too little demand. The result is persistent disinflationary, if not deflationary, pressure, despite aggressive monetary easing.

The inability of unconventional monetary policies to prevent outright deflation partly reflects the fact that such policies seek to weaken the currency, thereby improving net exports and increasing inflation. This, however, is a zero-sum game that merely exports deflation and recession to other economies.

Perhaps more important has been a profound mismatch with fiscal policy. To be effective, monetary stimulus needs to be accompanied by temporary fiscal stimulus, which is now lacking in all major economies.

...but the solution  to excess debt was and is to use stimulus/bailout money to pay down consumer debt.