March 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


The Problem Isn't That Trevor Noah Is Offensive. The Problem Is That He's a Giant Dope. (Jessica Winter, 3/31/15, Slate)

It's true that Twitter is a space for comics to try out material that isn't fully baked. And I have no doubt that Saint Jon Stewart has some fat skeletons in his closet--after all, he took over the Daily Show from smarmy king-of-the-bros Craig Kilborn, who strictly enforced a tiresome weekly quota of "Janet Reno looks like a man" gags. But during Stewart's 16 years at the helm, The Daily Show has taken on a moral authority and responsibility that simply cannot condone this kind of bigoted and misogynist ... no, who am I kidding. The problem is not that Trevor Noah tells offensive jokes. It's not even that he routinely breaks The Daily Show's covenant of speaking truth to power in favor of speaking truth to fat chicks or Thai hookers or, as the Washington Post's Wendy Todd points out, black Americans who give their kids names that Noah disapproves of. The problem is that Noah's jokes are so annihilatingly stupid. Are they even jokes?

On the other hand, these kind of self-destructive dust-ups are the only times liberals are funny.
Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


America's most generous con artist (Jason Caffrey, 3/31/15, BBC)

As a teenager Landis had suffered a nervous breakdown following the death of his father, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Art therapy revealed his talent for copying, and he was able to turn out fakes at astonishing speed.

"I know everybody's heard about forgers that do all these complicated things with chemicals and what-have-you," he says. "I don't have that kind of patience. I buy my supplies at Walmart or Woolworth - discount stores - and then I do it in an hour or two at most.

"If I can't get something done by the time a movie's over on TV, I'll give up on it."

Posing as a wealthy benefactor, Landis donated counterfeits to dozens of respected institutions across the US until, in 2008, he walked into the Oklahoma City Museum. Matt Leininger was the museum's registrar, tasked with looking after new works.

"We just thought Landis was a really eccentric art collector," Leininger says. "The first piece he gave us, he actually hand-delivered - a watercolour by Louis Valtat.

"We framed the Valtat and put it on display next to a Renoir in our gallery, not knowing what we had just hung was a fake."

Landis continued sending forgeries to museums, and might never have been rumbled had he not offered copies of the same works to different galleries.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Expect oil to tumble if Iran deal gets done (Nick Cunningham, 3/31/15, CNNMoney)

Although nuclear weapons proliferation is the headline item, one of the most significant side effects of the negotiations will be their effect on the price of oil. Iran, as a member of OPEC and a major oil producer on the world stage, still has substantial influence on oil markets.

Oil producers are still producing more oil than the world can handle, with around 1.5 million barrels per day in excess capacity. That glut could grow much bigger if the U.S. and Iran resolve their differences.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


Under Rahm Emanuel, Chicago Opens the Door to Privatizing Half its Public Housing  (REBECCA BURNS, 3/31/15, In These Times)

Chicago, long a pioneer of privatization, is poised to embark on a sweeping experiment with the city's public-housing stock. The Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) plans to court private investment in as much as half of its public-housing units through the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a new federal program billed as a way to "revitalize" housing for the poor and address a $26 billion backlog in needed repairs.

But housing advocates around the country worry that RAD is just a prelude to privatization. RAD, approved by Congress in 2011, gives local housing authorities broad latitude to raise funds, including the ability to mortgage or sell public-housing buildings. Critics believes that if public housing is opened up to the vagaries of the mortgage market and the whims of private developers, large swaths of low-income housing could wind up in foreclosure, or become luxury condos once RAD's affordability requirements expire.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


New renewables broke through 100GW barrier in 2014 (Mark Kinver, 3/31/15, , BBC News)

New renewable generating capacity broke the 100GW barrier in 2014, equivalent to the entire fleet of nuclear power plants in the US, a UN report shows.

Global investment in renewable energy during 2014 increased by 17% from 2013 levels to US$270bn (£183bn).

Investors have been attracted by the increasing cost effectiveness and low risk of the solar and wind sectors.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


How Red States Learned to Love the Gas Tax : In Washington, raising the levy on fuel is a non-starter. But Republican legislatures that actually have to balance their budgets are finding increases indispensable. (RUSSELL BERMAN, MAR 31 2015, Atlantic)

Don't believe the axiom that Republicans reflexively oppose tax increases: Outside the Beltway, it just doesn't hold up.

States across the country are raising their fuel taxes to pay for the upkeep of deteriorating roads and bridges, and in a surprising number of those states, the governors and legislative leaders pushing those changes are Republicans, not Democrats. In Utah, GOP Governor Gary Herbert signed a law last week passed by the state's Republican-controlled legislature that raises the gas tax by 5 cents and ties future increases to prices at the pump. A month ago, Iowa's Republican governor, Terry Branstad, approved a gas-tax hike that sailed through the legislature in under two weeks. Top Republicans in Georgia, Michigan, and South Dakota have proposed similar increases, and as many as 12 states could raise fuel taxes in 2015 alone, after six did so in the last two years, according to an analysis by Carl Davis of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

The transition to taxing consumption instead of income/investment/savings is one of those impossible/inevitables.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Toyota's Rav4 gets cheap automatic braking (Chris Isidore, 3/31/15, CNNMoney)

Toyota is bringing automatic braking to the masses.

The company is cutting the price of automatic braking and other crash-avoidance options, a move that could greatly increase the availability of the safety features.

Toyota is offering it on the Rav4, one of its top selling models. It expects to have the package available on all models in the next few years.

At the New York auto show this week, Toyota (TM) is announcing that a package of those three safety features will be available for between $300 to $500. It will also be available for $500 on Lexus luxury vehicles.

Nevermind the obvious deflation--how much cheaper the technology got in just a few years--consider instead the value added over the car you bought twenty years ago.

March 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 PM


Nuclear Deal Could Drive Foreign Investors to Iran Stocks (BILL SPINDLE And  DAN KEELER, March 30, 2015, WSJ)

If Iran reaches a nuclear deal and sanctions are lifted, Western investors are likely to queue up to invest in the country.

The first stop for much of that money, at least initially, could be the Tehran Stock Exchange.

"Iran has a unique combination of frontier and developed characteristics that make it potentially compelling," said Alison Graham, chief investment officer of New York-based frontier-markets investor Voltan Capital Management LLC. "It has a well-educated population, a large middle class, a substantial industrial base and has made progress in dismantling subsidies to get its macro house in order. At the same time, growth, valuations and potential investment upside are similar to frontier countries at a much earlier stage of development."

Americans Favor Deal With Iran by 2-1 (GARY LANGER, 3/30/15, WSJ)

Americans by a 2-1 margin favor an agreement with Iran over its nuclear development program, even while broadly questioning whether a deal would, in fact, prevent Tehran from producing nuclear weapons. [...]

In a result that supports the Obama administration's position in the face of Republican and Israeli criticisms alike, Americans by 59-31 percent back a plan to lift major economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restrictions making it harder for it to produce nuclear weapons.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


America's Hinge Moment : Presidential politics in 2016 will reflect the shifting reality of America. (DOUG SOSNIK, March 29, 2015, Politico)

Years from now we are going to look back at this period of time and see it as a "hinge" moment, a term Princeton Physicist Freeman Dyson used to describe a connection point that ties two historical periods in time, one before and one afterwards.

The University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow has observed that "for only the third time since the founding of the United States we are in the early or transition phase of a new era in American and global history." He goes on to say that "from the narrower point of view of economic and social history, however, we are in the early stages of a transition phase faster than anything we have encountered in more than 100 years, the largest since the economic and industrial revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th century."

As the Industrial Revolution made clear, these kinds of moments don't happen overnight; they build over time. Like then, a series of factors are now contributing to the tipping point we are rapidly approaching--most notably the economic uncertainty, global instability and technological advances that the country is experiencing. On top of these drivers, there is a demographic transformation taking place that is literally changing who we are as a country.

Of course, the political phase began over 30 years ago, when Thatcher and Reagan broke the momentum of the union movement and with it inflation, then instituted a massive free trade movement and defeated the only, even theoretical, alternatives to capitalism, all the while unleashing waves of free migration of peoples.  Meanwhile, the innovations of the information/computer age were chugging along in the background.  Additionally, the demographic changes in the workplace mean that rather than adding women and minorities to a white male workforce, all groups are now competing for only such jobs as are actually required.

The result is we're tipping into an economy where we achieve higher output (wealth) with less human input (labor), meaning that the former can not be redistributed fairly via the latter.  

We are then faced with two choices : we can try to cling to the labor redistribution model, at only a cost of reducing the wealth created in the first instance and requiring of people that they work in meaningless jobs to obtain that decreased wealth; or we can continue to maximize wealth creation and find another means of redistribution for that increased wealth.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Rising healthcare costs are pressuring patients (LISA ZAMOSKY, 3/30/15, LA Times)

Americans who get health insurance through work and on their own have seen big rise in costs over last decade

A recent survey by private health insurance exchange EHealth highlights the pressure Americans are feeling. It found that more than 6 in 10 people say they're more worried about the financial effect of expensive medical emergencies and paying for healthcare than about funding retirement or covering their kids' education.

People who get health insurance through work and on their own have seen their costs rise dramatically over the last decade.

According to the Commonwealth Fund, a New York think tank, annual increases in work-based health plan premiums rose three times faster than wages from 2003 to 2013. Out-of-pocket costs have also been climbing.

"More people have deductibles than ever before," says Sara Collins, a Commonwealth Fund vice president. From 2003 to 2013, the size of deductibles has grown nearly 150%.

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


GOD AND JEB : Inside his spiritual journey and his stealth campaign to woo Christian conservatives. (TIM ALBERTA AND TIFFANY STANLEY, 3/29/15, National Journal)

Two weeks after his defeat, Bush went to Miami's Church of the Epiphany and began the Catholic Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults--a months-long process that required him to go to confession, find a sponsor, and attend weekly courses on church doctrine and practice. He later told a Florida Catholic newspaper that the process allowed him "to take some time to pause and reflect"; this wasn't the kind of dramatic, "I was blind, but now I see" conversion that his brother had experienced. On Easter weekend of 1995, Bush was formally received into the Roman Catholic Church. In the years since, he has said that he finds the tradition's sacraments comforting and that his "faith was strengthened when I converted to my wife's faith." Between his first two campaigns, Bush continued his previous work in real estate, but he also helped start a charter school in a struggling Miami neighborhood. He cowrote a book, Profiles in Character, which cribbed its title and premise from Profiles in Courage, the Pulitzer Prize-winning work of America's only Catholic president, John Kennedy. Bush dedicated the book to his family, and "to God, whose divine and guiding light is the ultimate means to virtue."

"I think he grew spiritually in that decade of the '90s," says Al Cardenas, the former American Conservative Union chairman who has known Bush for almost four decades. "It made him a better husband and dad. I saw that before my very eyes."

It also made him a different politician. When he tried again for governor in 1998, Bush was no longer the same combative, even angry, candidate he'd been four years earlier. His stances had changed little, but his tone was softer, his outlook more--well--compassionate. Bush explained to a St. Petersburg Times reporter that his Catholic commitment changed the tenor of his campaigning. "It's softened it in the sense that it is a position of love, not of intolerance," he said. "It is a deeper belief about the value and sanctity of life itself." This time, he campaigned vigorously in black churches. He talked of his conversion and caring for the poor. "He certainly was a different candidate, but he seemed to some degree to be a different person as well," says Aubrey Jewett, a political-science professor at the University of Central Florida. He won easily, by 11 percentage points. At Bush's inauguration, the Rev. Billy Graham prayed that the new governor would lead Florida in "a moral and spiritual awakening."

Gov. Bush seemed bent on doing just that, and in the process, he pioneered new ways to infuse Christian faith into state government. "Jeb connected his moral and religious beliefs to his public policies more openly than a lot of people," says Matthew Corrigan, a political-science professor at the University of North Florida. Nowhere was this more evident than in his pro-life work. (Bush would later tell the Christian Broadcasting Network that his faith informed him about "the dignity of life more than anything else.") During his first year in office, he made good on a campaign promise, signing into law a controversial bill that created "Choose Life" license plates whose proceeds benefited crisis-pregnancy centers that encouraged women to choose adoption over abortion. Bush went on to push for a "partial-birth" abortion ban, and for legislation requiring doctors to notify the parents of girls under 18 at least two days before an abortion procedure. He signed both laws, but they were blocked by courts. Subsequently, however, Bush and conservative lawmakers got parental notification on the state ballot, and voters changed the Florida constitution to allow it to go forward. The governor happily signed parental notification into law in 2005.

Bush was not averse to deviating from Catholic doctrine at times. He supported the death penalty, despite sustained lobbying from Catholic bishops. His pro-business policies were a far cry from the papacy's blistering critiques of capitalism, though they lined up neatly with those of most Christian conservatives in the United States. (More recently, Bush, who has been known to tweet praise for Pope Francis, has publicly criticized the U.S. deal with Cuba, which the pontiff helped broker.) Former colleagues and staffers say the governor was private about his Catholicism on the job, but the signs were there--in the rosary he was known to carry, or in the Bible he kept in his second office, where he did most of his work. State Rep. Dennis Baxley, the dean of the Florida Legislature's social conservatives, took comfort in the fact that Bush's Bible was usually open at a different chapter and verse each time he visited. "It was used," he says. "It wasn't a decoration."

Indeed, Florida's faith community could find little fault with Bush as governor. His great ambition was to leave a lasting mark on education, and he delighted social conservatives by championing school choice. He created the country's first statewide voucher system, despite legal challenges and heavy criticism from the ACLU and other champions of church-state separation. (Part of the original plan was declared unconstitutional, and rebooted as a tax-credit program.) After his brother opened the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Jeb created a similar board at the state level. He also converted three correctional facilities into faith-based prisons--the first of their kind in the nation--that used religious programs to promote rehabilitation. And whenever he made a key appointment, it seemed, Bush turned to prominent social conservatives. He tapped Patricia Levesque, a graduate of the fundamentalist Bob Jones University, as his education adviser (she still leads his two education nonprofits). He appointed Bob Brooks, a state lawmaker and physician well-known for opposing abortion and homosexuality, to serve as Florida's health secretary. The first president of the Family Research Council, a mainstay of the Christian Right lobby in Washington, headed Bush's Department of Children and Families. Prominent activists from Focus on the Family and the Liberty Counsel (a conservative Christian law firm) were placed on the state nominating commissions that recommend judges for the governor to appoint.

But it was the strange case of Terri Schiavo where Bush's faith emerged most publicly.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Tax Proposals Would Move U.S. Closer to Global Norm (JOHN D. MCKINNON,  March 29, 201, WSJ)

U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle increasingly are finding appeal in an ambitious concept for overhauling the nation's income-tax system: a tax based on consumption, a tool long used around the world.

The tax-writing Senate Finance Committee is giving new consideration to the consumption-tax idea with the hope that its promised boost to economic growth would ease the way to a revamp. [...]

Many GOP members "believe that there are economic benefits to moving away from taxation of income and toward taxation of consumption," a Senate aide said. That includes Republican John Thune of South Dakota, co-chairman of the working group along with Mr. Cardin, the aide said.

As the name implies, consumption-style taxes hit the money taxpayers spend, rather than income they receive. One prominent feature of consumption systems is that they generally tax savings and investment lightly or not at all. That, in turn, encourages more investment and innovation, and ultimately more growth, many economists contend.

We are all Pigovians now. Of course, the key is to not tax income.

Posted by orrinj at 1:51 PM


Upset By Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Banks Debate Halting Some Campaign Donations (Emily Flitter, March 27, 2015, Reuters) 

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren's call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party's tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said. [...]

JPMorgan representatives have met Democratic Party officials to emphasize the connection between its annual contribution and the need for a friendlier attitude toward the banks, a source familiar with JPMorgan's donations said. In past years, the bank has given its donation in one lump sum but this year has so far donated only a third of the amount, the source said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


The dangers of the Arab intervention in Yemen (Kenneth M. Pollack,  March 26, 2015, Brookings)

Saudi Arabia remains the leader of the Arab world, an important American ally, and one of the most important oil producers in the world. But it is also a country with significant internal challenges, financial problems, and now a dramatic shift in government power as a result of the death of King Abdullah and the accession of King Salman. The Kingdom lacks the military capacity to intervene decisively in Yemen, and if it tries by sending in large numbers of ground troops, the most likely outcome would be a debilitating stalemate that will drain Saudi military resources, financial reserves, and political will. It could also easily enrage key segments of the populace: some furious that after spending so much on defense the Kingdom has so little capability, others equally enraged that so much money is being wasted on a senseless quagmire in Yemen instead of being spent on critical domestic problems.  

(As an aside, I would note that the Egyptians have stated that they are ready to send ground troops to Yemen if airstrikes prove inadequate. This, in and of itself, is curious given the painful history of Egypt's failed involvement in the Yemeni civil war of 1961-1967. But it is no more comforting than if the Saudis were to go in alone. The Egyptians are not likely to improve the chances of success, and Egypt is also a fragile state struggling to deal with enormous domestic political and economic problems. It does not need a potentially debilitating and divisive foray into Yemen any more than the Saudis do.) [...]

The long and well-examined history of civil wars offers a clear warning that greater Saudi intervention in Yemen is unlikely to improve the situation and could easily undermine the Kingdom's own security and stability over the medium to longer term. 

It would be sufficient to destabilize Yemen in order that the Houthis gain seld-determination, the potential to destabilize the anti-democratic regimes in Arabia and Egypt as well is a bonus.

March 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Turning Victims Into Victimizers : From the Rolling Stone rape story to Ferguson to Eric Garner, conservatives are blaming the victim. (Nicole Hemmer, Dec. 9, 2014, US News)

On Sunday night, Charles C. Johnson doxxed the young woman featured in Rolling Stone's disputed story of a gang rape at the University of Virginia. He revealed not only her name but posted screengrabs of what he called her "rape-obsessed" Pinterest site. Johnson justified his actions - which he coupled with calls for donations and boasts about media requests - by stating that he was acting on behalf of "victims of false rape claims." A day earlier, National Review's Brendan O'Neill railed against the "Ivy League lynch mob" calling for students accused of rape to be kicked off campus.

Sandwiched in between these two events was a Sunday morning interview on "Fox News Sunday" with Rush Limbaugh. Asked about the protests surrounding the failure to indict police officers in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, Limbaugh assigned blame to the protesters. "I think that there is a grievance politics in this country that's tearing the country apart," he told Chris Wallace. "It's not based on real-world grievance. It's grievance that's being amplified and made up."

In each case - the doxxing, the "lynch mob" accusations, the cries of "grievance politics" - victims were transformed into victimizers, imbued with far more power than they actually possess. And in each case, victim-blaming papered over the real failure that links the campus rape problem with the police brutality problem: the failure of our criminal justice system to achieve anything like justice - or even fairness.
Take the University of Virginia case. Even if we stipulate that the gang rape didn't happen, or going a step further, that nothing happened at all - which is stipulating quite a lot...

Just in case the author hadn't sufficiently embarrassed herself, Friend Matt points out she also goes all Fox Butterfield:  "In his interview, Limbaugh said protesters should "respect the criminal justice system." Respect it? It is a system that imprisons black men at six times the rate of white men, that makes police encounters for black teenagers 21 times more deadly than for white teens, that incarcerates an ever-growing number of Americans even as crime rates drop precipitously."


Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


How Sufjan Stevens Subverts the Stigma of Christian Music : The genre has had a bad reputation since the 1960s, but the singer-songwriter succeeds by focusing on aesthetics over evangelism. (DAVID ROARK, MAR 29 2015, The Atlantic)

While many believers have been busy copying the latest radio hit (transforming Taylor Swift songs into trite melodies about Jesus instead of ex-boyfriends) others have been taking a different approach altogether. Even since the days of "Jesus music," artists such as Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash, who were also professed Christians, have gone another route. They didn't see music as just a means to an end, or a way of evangelizing to young people. Instead, they focused on telling compelling stories and creating aesthetically pleasing music, while still expressing themselves personally and spiritually. It's not as if they separated their faith from their work--on the contrary, Christian themes and ideas are woven throughout their lyrics. It's more that their endeavors were simpler: They cared more about writing good songs than converting the world through music.

The same can be said for one of the most renowned bands of this generation: U2. As the writer Joshua Rothman noted in a 2014 story in The New Yorker, "Most people think of U2 as a wildly popular rock band. Actually, they're a wildly popular, semi-secretly Christian rock band." Formed in the late 70s, the Irish rockers--led by the devoutly religious Bono--shaped music as we know it. Yet, even though most of the band are believers, U2's success has had little effect on the perception of music made by Christians and the apparent influence of the religion on popular culture.

These bands only function as a small sample size of the many others with similar approaches that have existed over the years. Music groups that proclaim Christ have dominated the hardcore and hard-rock music scenes in recent years, from the likes of Underoath to Norma Jean to Thrice. But in the last decade especially, there seems to be a greater influx of Christians making music this way, including Sufjan Stevens.

Stevens doesn't hide his beliefs when it comes to the lyrics he writes: from the overt Bible stories in Seven Swans to the theodicy that is "Casimir Pulaski Day," which tells the story of a young girl who dies from cancer. Yet the gist of Stevens' work transcends religious and spiritual subjects to tackle broader themes. Asthmatic Kitty Records, the label Stevens created, notes that The Age of Adz, his latest non-Christmas album before Carrie and Lowell, explores themes of "love, sex, death, disease, illness, anxiety, and suicide." In other words, Stevens sings about topics that matter to humans, regardless of their worldview.

Stevens intentionally keeps his distance from the label of "Christian artist"--as if the adjective even made sense in the first place--and the likes of CCM. "Christian music (as a genre) exists exclusively within the few insulated floors (cubicles and computers included) of some corporate construction in Nashville, Tenn. Otherwise, there's no such thing as Christian music," Stevens told the music blog DOA in an interview.

For the musician, the gospel doesn't just play some small, personal role in life and culture; it infiltrates and restores all of life and culture. It addresses the entire human experience, or "the totality of life" as Schaeffer described it. Stevens' music also doesn't alienate listeners of different beliefs. His work may seem less spiritual than that of others, given its seeming focus on "secular" rather than "sacred" things, but it actually proves more accessible to the wider world than that of contemporary Christian music--an irony given the evangelical intentions of these artists.

"Logistically I suppose my process of making art is driven less by abstractions of faith or politics and more by practical theory: composition and balance and color," said Stevens. "It's not so much that faith influences us as it lives in us. In every circumstance (giving a speech or tying my shoes), I am living and moving and being. This absolves me from ever making the embarrassing effort to gratify God (and the church) by imposing religious content on anything I do."

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


The Tallis Scholars' Luminous Way With Arvo Pärt (Tom Huizenga, 3/19/15, NPR)

Arvo Pärt was saved by the bell. The Estonian composer, who turns 80 in September, hit a creative roadblock in 1968. After a hiatus of eight years he returned with a new sound inspired by the simple triad (a stack of three notes, an essential building block of Western music) and by bells. He called his new style tintinnabuli (from the Latin for bells).

It's also the title of the new album released last week by The Tallis Scholars, a veteran British vocal ensemble with a reputation in Renaissance masters like Palestrina and Josquin des Prez. Little by little, Peter Phillips, the group's director, has been adding Pärt's a cappella pieces to their repertoire, judging them a perfect fit.

The Tallis Scholars sing Pärt pared down. They employ just two voices per part as in their Renaissance music performances. This method makes a significant difference. It adds clarity and spaciousness to music already suffused with airy silences.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


How Philadelphia became the unlikely epicenter of American cricket (Raf Noboa y Rivera, 28 March 2015, The Guardian)

The greatest bowler - arguably - in cricket's long history was an American. Let that sink in for a moment.

Here's another fact: cricket was America's first modern team sport.

These may be strange words to write; even stranger to read them. The United States of America, as recently as the turn of the last century, possessed cricketing talent on par with England, Australia, and other cricket nations.
And then it all ended.

On the eve of the Cricket World Cup final on Saturday, it's worth exploring just how cricket was all but extinguished in America - and if there's any route back for the sport in a country where once it reigned supreme.

Cricket's American roots run deep and gnarled through the soil of American history. In fact, it predates the establishment of the United States by nearly a century, if not more. The first evidence of its existence comes from the secret diaries kept by Virginia planter William Byrd III. Byrd, an infamous bon vivant, was famous for establishing the first major horse race in the New World; something he arranged with other planters he knew. His involvement in American cricket is less well-known, but no less important, because it places it in the historical record.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


How to Read Willmoore Kendall : a review of Willmoore Kendall Contra Mundum. By Willmoore Kendall (George W. Carey, 3/28/15, Imaginative Conservative)

What was Kendall trying to tell us? What were his central teachings? I will list some that are highly interrelated.

(1) He told us to trust the American people. He always loved America and in his later years he came to love its political institutions and procedures. That is one theme that permeates most of his works dealing with the American system and his critiques of the proposals for reform offered by the modern American liberal. The three articles that best reflect this are "Dialogues on Americanism," "Deadlock," and "How to Read Richard Weaver: Philosopher of 'We the (Virtuous) People'."

Having noted this much we must proceed to (2). Willmoore was a majoritarian of very special order. He was a conservative populist of sorts. One will detect a shift of thinking on his part over the years. His early writings, and even those not published here which appeared in the middle 1950′s, illustrate this. "Majority Principle and the Scientific Elite" and "On Preservation of Democracy in America," both reproduced in this volume, indicate his early liberal bent of mind. (See in this regard the first four chapters of Ranney and Kendall, Democracy and the American Party System, for which he bears primary responsibility. See also his classic, John Locke and Majority Rule.)

What brought about the obvious change in his thinking and in what ways did he change? The reader of this work can readily see that in his early writing he accepted all the fundamental premises of liberalism. All opinions were deemed equal, which in very short order led him to the proposition that all values are equal, and, then, into the swamps of relativism. In sum, by a tortuous route well known to Western man, he accepted the fact-value dichotomy. By the late 1950′s, certainly after his conversion to Catholicism, we can discern a distinct shift in his writings with respect to the fact-value dichotomy and the liberal interpretation of majority rule. This is brilliantly manifest in his seldom-read article, "The People Versus Socrates Revisited." And he hammers away at this thesis in "How to Read Milton's Areopagitica." He nails all of this to the door with his "Fallacies of the Open Society," an article which oddly enough is not reproduced in this volume but which did appear in the American Political Science Review in the same year as the Milton article (1960).

I do not mean to imply that Willmoore's conversion to Catholicism produced the change in his thinking to which I have referred. It was, so far as I can determine, the other way around. In his earliest writings such as those I have cited, one will, if he reads closely enough, detect a tension, points and issues involving liberal premises with which Kendall did not quite feel at home. Contrast the "Preservation of Democracy" article with the "Weaver" article, or, better yet, "How to Read The Federalist." Over the years he came to realize that there is a hierarchy of values, that there are transcendent Truths which, however clumsily we might try, we should seek to explore with our "heart" and intellect. 

I've told my own story about this book here.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Al-Qaeda vs. ISIS: The Battle for the Soul of Jihad (DANIEL BYMAN AND JENNIFER WILLIAMS, 3/27/15, Newsweek)

[T]he implications of one side's vic­tory or of continuing division are profound for the Middle East and for the United States, shaping the likely targets of the jihad­ist movement, its ability to achieve its goals and the overall stability of the Middle East. The United States can exploit this split, both to decrease the threat and to weaken the movement as a whole.

The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda fundamentally differ on whom they see as their main enemy, which strategies and tactics to use in attacking that enemy and which social issues and other concerns to emphasize.

Although the ultimate goal of Al-Qaeda is to overthrow the corrupt "apostate" regimes in the Middle East and replace them with "true" Islamic governments, Al-Qaeda's pri­mary enemy is the United States, which it sees as the root cause of the Middle East's problems.

The logic behind this "far enemy" strategy is based on the idea that U.S. mili­tary and economic support for corrupt dic­tators in the Middle East--such as the lead­ers of Egypt and Saudi Arabia--is what has enabled these regimes to withstand attempts to overthrow them. By targeting the United States, Al-Qaeda believes it will eventually force the United States to withdraw its sup­port for these regimes and pull out of the region altogether, thus leaving the regimes vulnerable to attack from within.

The Islamic State does not follow Al-Qa­eda's "far enemy" strategy, preferring instead the "near enemy" strategy, albeit on a re­gional level. As such, the primary target of the Islamic State has not been the United States, but rather apostate regimes in the Arab world--namely, the Bashar Assad regime in Syria and the Haider al-Abadi regime in Iraq.

Baghdadi favors first purifying the Islamic community by at­tacking Shia and other religious minorities as well as rival jihadist groups. The Islamic State's long list of enemies includes the Iraqi Shia, Hezbollah, the Yazidis (a Kurdish eth­no-religious minority located predominantly in Iraq), the wider Kurdish community in Iraq, the Kurds in Syria and rival opposition groups in Syria (including Jabhat al-Nusra). And (surprise!) the Jews.

It is in the interest of the Anglosphere, the Shi'a, the Jews, the Kurds, Islamist political parties, etc. to defeat ISIS, al Qaeda and the Wahhabi dictatorships, starting with the Sa'uds.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Deflation: the modern policy bogeyman (Gillian Tett, 3/29/15, Financial Times)

In 2009, the Bank of Japan conducted a public survey on deflation. The results were not what the esteemed central bank wanted or expected - at least not after a "lost decade" of falling prices. Instead of expressing horror at the idea of deflation, 44 per cent of those surveyed deemed it "favourable"; 35 per cent felt neutral about the phenomenon; and just 20.7 per cent described it as "unfavourable". Although a subsequent survey painted a slightly more negative picture, the pattern was clear. As Kathy Matsui, vice-chair of Goldman Sachs Japan, says: "More Japanese actually feel that deflation is a positive than a negative." [...]

[A]n institution called the Bank for International Settlements has just published a striking study of the history of deflation. The BIS, as it is known, operates as something of a central bankers' bank-cum-think-tank. Given its position, you might expect it to echo the orthodox view that deflation is a disaster. But in recent years the BIS has started to pump out some rather subversive research. Its deflation study - like that BoJ survey - goes against the usual grain: it argues that price falls are not always such a disaster, or a reason to panic. Sometimes they can be almost positive.

This argument will horrify most policy makers, not to mention mainstream economists. The BIS paper begins by pointing out that price falls are not so unusual. On the contrary, it states that "deflations were very common before the second world war". And even in the postwar period, there have been 100 or so transitory deflations in the 38 economies that the BIS studies and four persistent ones (in China, Hong Kong and - twice - in Japan).

The crucial point is that you cannot assume that falls in the price of goods (such as food or travel) and assets (shares, houses and so on) are the same. Economists typically assume these price falls go hand in hand, and use the "d" word to describe both. But their impact can differ.

When asset prices crash, this undermines growth because it shatters confidence and increases the size of debt relative to assets. But if the price of goods and services declines, the result is more mixed.

If wages stay high as prices fall, that can hurt productivity and undermine growth. Falling income can also sometimes make it harder to repay debt. But lower prices can boost consumer and corporate spending power, and thus confidence. And in practical terms, the BIS research shows that there have been numerous periods since 1870 when deflation occurred amid growth. "The evidence from our long historical data set sheds new light on the costs of deflations," the report states. "It raises questions about the prevailing view that goods and services price deflations, even if persistent, are always pernicious."

The simple reality is that we create more wealth more cheaply.  Pretending that's a crisis is silly on its face.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Saudi Sunnis and Iran's Shiites--Why the U.S. Can't Support Both (RIYADH MOHAMMED, 3/29/15, The Fiscal Times)

[Saudi Arabia] also harbors Wahhabism, an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, making the Kingdom a dividing force in the region.

Wahhabis are the most anti-Shiite group among the Sunni Muslims. This is one of the reasons Saudi Arabia is in a regional competition with Iran, which is ruled by adherents of an extreme Shiite version of Islam. While the Obama administration was retreating from Iraq in 2011, and as the Arab Spring was emerging, the worried Saudis began a series of military interventions throughout the Middle East. They planned to protect friendly autocratic governments, overthrow others and attack rebel groups. 

The Saudi actions began in the small Shiite-majority kingdom of Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni royal family. The Saudis provided a small contingency force to suppress the Bahrainis who rose up against their government in 2011. In that case, the Saudi motivation to keep a Sunni government in power was combined with the fear that the fall of the Bahraini royal dynasty would open the door to similar uprisings in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries. Add to that the presence of a suppressed Shiite minority that lives in the oil rich eastern region of the Kingdom and the fear that Iran could control Bahrain -- all were factors in the Saudi decision to act in Bahrain.

It's why we're natural allies with the Shi'a.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Congress Does Something Useful (WSJ, March 27, 2015)

The other House victory was a 392-37 vote to put doctor payments under Medicare on a more honest budget path. Congress has typically raised these payments for only a year or two, which let it hide future liabilities. Then the Members would use the next year's must-pass "doc fix" as a vehicle to sneak other bad policies into law. Democrats used it as a carrot and stick to win the American Medical Association's support for ObamaCare.

In addition, the GOP persuaded Democrats to accept modest but meaningful reforms in Medicare that could save tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars over time. These include raising premiums for wealthier seniors and better incentives for first-dollar Medicare supplemental insurance. 

...but the key, as we transition to a defined contribution welfare net, is means-testing, which will disqualify all of us from defined benefits.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Germany needs more immigrants, study says (Deutsche-Welle, 3/27/15)

Over the long term, Germany will need to attract an average of 533,000 immigrants per year above the number of those that emigrate from the country, according to a study released on Friday by the Bertelsmann Foundation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


The Spy (Novelist) Who Loved Me: Olen Steinhauer's Top 4 Fictional Spies (Seira Wilson, March 24, 2015, Amazon Book Review)

Neil Burnside: As the Director of Special Operations for MI-6, this icy kingmaker took viewers through the complex and fraught world of British espionage in The Sandbaggers, which lasted three impeccable seasons from 1978 to 1980. Not quite as bleak as Callan, The Sandbaggers still pulls no punches and, even on a shoestring British-seventies budget, puts most contemporary spy shows to shame. Sadly unknown on this side of the Atlantic, The Sandbaggers should be required viewing for fans of the genre. I return to it regularly.

John Drake: Before starring in the cult classic The Prisoner, Patrick McGoohan became the highest-paid TV actor in part because of Danger Man. In two series (1960-1962 and 1964-1968), he played John Drake, an "Irish-American" NATO intelligence operative whose jobs take him all over the world. Smart scripts and a solidly moral character made this a stunning show that holds up remarkably well fifty years later. McGoohan, a staunch Catholic, made ground rules for his character: He never bedded a woman, and he would not kill people. Only occasionally would he produce a gun. What that meant was that, unlike a lot of TV spies, Drake had to use his brains to get himself out of trouble. What it meant for audiences was that they quickly grew to trust their leading man, week after week.

Most of us of a certain age saw at least some episodes of Danger Man and all of The Prisoner on various outlets, but if you've never seen it you owe it to youself to track down The Sandbaggers.

March 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Vinyl's comeback powered by second-hand records (John Sakamoto, Mar 27 2015, Toronto Star)

"The used-vinyl market is absolutely the driving force behind the revival," says Aaron Keele who, with Akim Boldireff, a.k.a. The Record Guys, is putting on the latest edition of the Toronto Record Show this Sunday.

"It's what fuelled the beginning of the comeback, as not many classic albums were available on new pressings even five years ago," Keele says via email. "Even now that they are becoming available again, many new reissues of classic albums are quite costly or simply still haven't even been reissued yet, so used vinyl fills the need."

Despite being overshadowed by new records, used records also neatly sidestep the trap of what Neil Young sneeringly calls vinyl as "fashion statement."

A lot of record buyers today, he said recently in an interview on Southern California Public Radio, "don't realize that they're listening to CD masters on vinyl and that's because the record companies have figured out that people want vinyl. And they're only making CD masters in digital, so all the new products that come out on vinyl are actually CDs on vinyl, which is really nothing but a fashion statement."

An increasingly expensive fashion statement, at that. Given the shortage of pressing plants and, in this country, the added pain of the U.S. exchange rate, is there a danger the vinyl revival could price itself out of the market?

March 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Yemen's Houthi rebels advance despite Saudi-led air strikes (Reuters, 27 March 2015)

Yemen's Houthi rebels made broad gains in the country's south and east today despite a second day of Saudi-led air strikes meant to check the Iranian-backed militia's efforts to overthrow President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Shia Muslim Houthi fighters and allied army units gained their first foothold on Yemen's Arabian Sea coast by seizing the port of Shaqra 100km (60 miles) east of Aden, residents told Reuters.

The advances threaten Hadi's last refuge in Yemen and potentially undermine the air campaign to support him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


How Kate Upton's Cleavage Could Destroy North Korea (JAMES PEARSON, 3/27/15, Reuters)

A $50 portable media player is providing many North Koreans a window to the outside world despite the government's efforts to keep its people isolated - a symbol of change in one of the world's most repressed societies.

By some estimates, up to half of all urban North Korean households have an easily concealed "notel," a small portable media player used to watch DVDs or content stored on USB sticks that can be easily smuggled into the country and passed hand to hand. People are exchanging South Korean soaps, pop music, Hollywood films and news programs, all of which are expressly prohibited by the Pyongyang regime, according to North Korean defectors, activists and recent visitors to the isolated country.

"The North Korean government takes their national ideology extremely seriously, so the spread of all this media that competes with their propaganda is a big and growing problem for them," said Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), an organization that works with defectors. "If Pyongyang fails to successfully adapt to these trends, they could threaten the long-term survival of the regime itself."

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


What We Can Learn From Patrick Henry's 'Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death' Speech (Carson Holloway, March 23, 2015, Daily Signal)

[T]he speech can remind today's Americans of three important political virtues, virtues as relevant to Patrick Henry's time as to ours.

First, the speech reminds us of the importance of both civility and candor to a healthy politics. Perhaps surprisingly in view of its impassioned ending, the speech begins by noting the importance of civility. Henry opens his remarks by acknowledging the "patriotism, as well as the abilities" of those who spoke on the other side of the issue. He disclaims any intention to be "disrespectful" to them.

Nevertheless, the speech also points to the need for a candid civility. The stakes in play--freedom or slavery--require each citizen to speak his mind forthrightly. Only on the basis of such open debate, after all, can we "hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility we hold to God and our country." Civility means not seeking to give offense. It does not mean avoiding hard truths because they may offend others.

Second, the speech is an exercise in prudence, and it therefore teaches us something about prudence. According to Aristotle, prudence is the virtue by which we know how to act for the best in the circumstances we face. Thus understood, prudence involves complex political judgments, and it cannot be reduced to a simple formula. We often try to do this, however, and especially to reduce prudence to caution.

Henry, however, suggested that a prudent regard for "experience" taught in this case the need for bold, immediate action. All of the colonists' experience, he argued, showed that further argument with the British would be fruitless. The government of Great Britain was preparing to use force to bring the colonies to heel, and so prudence rejected further delays and called instead for immediate resistance--before the British force in America grew so strong that such resistance would become impossible.

Finally and most obviously, the speech shows forth a spirit of courage. According to Aristotle, courage is the virtue that faces death for a good cause. The speech is a call to arms--not figuratively as the expression "call to arms" is often used, but literally a call to armed resistance against the British. Henry's electrifying final words--"give me liberty or give me death"--remind us that finally a just freedom can be held securely only by those who are willing to risk everything to preserve it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Rift widens between Turkey's Erdogan and his successor (Daniel Dombey, 3/27/15, Financial Times)

An investigation into senior members of Turkey's ruling AK party marked the latest fallout from a widening rift between the country's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his handpicked successor, Ahmet Davutoglu.
The tension between the two men has injected an unusual element of internal strife into the long ruling AK party, and poses a threat to Mr Erdogan's gambit to consolidate his sway over the country after June 7 general elections.

"There is a power struggle between Erdogan and Davutoglu," says Ahmet Hakan, a well-known Turkish commentator. "Erdogan says: 'I want control', while Davutoglu says: 'I am the prime minister and I want to use my powers.' "

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


No Common Core Calamity : Contrary to the critics' assertions, Common Core testing seems to be going just fine. (Ulrich Boser March 26, 2015, US News)

[I]t turns out that my daughter's experience might be the norm, and the standards and assessments seem to be going far better than many believe. In a recent piece in Columbia Journalism Review, for instance, writer Alexander Russo argues that the "media's coverage of this spring's Common Core testing rollout has been guilty of over-emphasizing the extent of the conflict, speculating dire consequences based on little information."

Russo's reporting reflects my experience, and at my child's school, the administration of the tests appears to be going pretty well. There was no major opt-out effort by parents, or test-prep rallies with kids running through banners. I didn't get any robocalls telling me that my kids would need a good night's rest or hear of any massive technical glitches through the parent grapevine.

And there certainly was no sign of Washington mandating what my kids would learn or be tested on, as some observers have charged. In fact, the weekly email from my daughter's teacher barely mentioned the tests, other than to note that they were happening.

That's not to say that my daughter was all smiles. She later conceded that the English exam had some demanding portions. More difficult was the math test, which she started taking on Tuesday. The exam had some tough questions, and when I spoke to her that evening, she was upset that she didn't know some of the answers. Her favorite experience so far? Her teacher allowing her to chew on mints and gum during the tests.

My daughter's displeasure is to be expected, though. No one really enjoys testing, and for their part, critics overlook the fact that the new standards have done a lot to improve the caliber of tests. As recently as 2012, high schoolers in almost 10 states took English exams without any so-called "extended response items," according to Education Week newspaper. In other words, states tested students in English without actually assessing the student's ability to write an essay. In contrast, the new Common Core tests include writing prompts as well as other items that require students to demonstrate that they really understand what they've learned.

What's more, the standards have helped improve the quality of teaching in many areas. Take Amanda Burdi, a third grade teacher in Bloomingdale, Illinois. In an interview, she told one of my colleagues that the new standards have helped her refine her craft. Before the Common Core, she said, teachers spent little time working together in teams to support student learning. But the new standards have "really opened up that communication for teachers," she said. "There's a lot more conversation about student work."

No wonder conservatives have driven the standardized testing movement.

Posted by orrinj at 12:40 PM


Israel Unfreezes Palestinian Tax Revenue (Stephanie Butnick, March 27, 2015, Tablet)

Back in January, when the Palestinian Authority moved to join the International Criminal Court as a means of pursuing war crimes charges against Israel over this summer's Gaza war, Israel responded by swiftly freezing NIS 500 million (roughly $127 million) in Palestinian tax revenue typically transferred to PA officials in Ramallah. Today, less than a week before the PA is set to become an official ICC member (April 1), Israel announced it would unfreeze the funds and resume tax transfers to the PA.

According to a statement released by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, Netanyahu approved the recommendation made by Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, the IDF, and the Shin Bet intelligence agency, whose collaboration indicates the extreme effects of withholding the more than $100 million monthly revenue.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


European FMs head to Switzerland as Iran deal coalesces (DAVE CLARK March 27, 2015,AFP) 

In the latest sign a nuclear deal between world powers and Iran is imminent, British foreign minister Philip Hammond said Friday he was ready to join the talks this weekend

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Scott Walker Adjusts Stance on Immigration at Private Dinner (REID J. EPSTEIN,  March 26, 2015, WSJ)
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told a private dinner of New Hampshire Republicans this month that he backed the idea of allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country and to eventually become eligible for citizenship, a position at odds with his previous public statements on the matter.

Mr. Walker's remarks, which were confirmed by three people present, vary from the call he has made for "no amnesty"--a phrase widely employed by people who believe immigrants who broke the law by entering the country without permission shouldn't be awarded legal status or citizenship.

...but you'd think he'd have learned from Mitt the damage that pretending nativism does to a general election candidate. It's all well and good to return to decency after you win the nomionation, but you've already convinced the great middle of your fundamental indecency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


More Illegal Immigrants Snagging White-Collar Jobs (ERIC PIANIN, 3/26/15, The Fiscal Times)

While the size of the illegal immigrant workforce in this country has changed little since the worst of the recession, a substantial number of these unauthorized workers have moved into better-paying white-collar jobs, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. [...]

The share of all unauthorized immigrant workers with management and professional jobs grew to 13 percent in 2012 from 10 percent in 2007, according to the study, while the share with construction or production jobs declined to 29 percent from 34 percent.

March 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Stock Up on Money-Saving LED Bulbs Starting Under $4 Each, Today Only (Shep McAllister, 3/26/15,

If you still haven't upgraded your home's lighting to LED, here's a great chance to do it on the cheap. Today only, Amazon's selling 6-packs of Energetic Lighting LED bulbs starting at just $23, or under $4 per bulb.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Iran brain drain in reverse? Why some young professionals are going home. (Scott Peterson, MARCH 26, 2015, The Christian Science Monitor)

The Leon restaurant, which sits atop a luxury mall in Tehran, features large paintings, a faux fireplace, and jazz, all to complement its fusion menu and fabulous, thick steaks.

It's a place one goes to be seen. So when the check comes, Salar - oozing confidence and sporting a wild shock of gelled hair, a stylish plaid shirt, and a leather wristband - knows just what to do.

The 31-year-old British-educated Iranian investor hands the waiter his debit card. He then tells him his PIN, raising his voice so anyone within earshot can hear he has embraced a practice common in Iran but unthinkable anywhere else.

Recommended: How much do you know about Iran? Take our quiz to find out.
"When I first came back, I couldn't believe people in Iran shared their PIN numbers like that. Now I sometimes shout it out," says Salar, a pseudonym.

His move back to Tehran is part of a reverse brain drain encouraged by the June 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani. Shouting out PINs is just one of many quirks embraced by those young professionals educated abroad who have spurned good prospects in the West to return to live and invest here. 

It's a bet on the future, and for many a bet on the presidency of Mr. Rouhani, the relatively moderate regime insider who has promised to resolve Iran's nuclear issue with world powers and revive an economy crippled by sanctions and tumbling oil prices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


As US lets Yemen fall, Israeli ire pales next to Arab fury (AVI ISSACHAROFF, March 26, 2015, Times of Israel)

Decision makers in Israel have come to an understanding that the Americans have no intention of imposing demands on Iran with regards to halting military operations and even terrorist attacks in other countries as part of the agreement over Tehran's nuclear program.

But Israel's concerns regarding the Houthi takeover of Yemen are nothing compared to the profound discontent of Riyadh and other Arab countries, in light of Iran's rampage throughout the Middle East and the blatant inaction on the part of the US.

The outcome of the Saudi military operation may not be decisive, but reflects much Saudi, Jordanian and Egyptian frustration. The anger of these regimes is not directed at Iran, which is more or less engaged in the kind of hostile activity expected of it, but mainly at Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


In Shocking Breach, U.S. Declassifies Document Revealing Some of Israel's Nuclear Capabilities (Tom Gross, March 26, 2015, Weekly Standard)

On February 12, the Pentagon quietly declassified a top-secret 386-page Department of Defense document from 1987 detailing Israel's nuclear program - the first time Israel's alleged nuclear program has ever been officially and publically referenced by the U.S. authorities.

In the declassified document, the Pentagon reveals supposed details about Israel's deterrence capabilities, but it kept sections on France, Germany, and Italy classified. Those sections are blacked out in the document.

The two main exceptions in the international media that wrote about the declassification at the time were the state-funded Iranian regime station Press TV and the state-funded Russian station RT. 

Both these media were rumored to have been tipped off about this obscure report at the time by persons in Washington. (Both the RT and PressTV stories falsely claim that the U.S. gave Israel help in building a hydrogen bomb. This is incorrect.)

Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons. To do so might spark a regional nuclear arms race, and eventual nuclear confrontation.

The declassification is a serious breach of decades' old understandings concerning this issue between Israel and its north American and certain European allies.

Cutting Losses on Iran Nuclear Deal, Israel Eyes Small Print (Dan Williams and John Irish, 3/26/15, Reuters) 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun to signal that Israel could resign itself to an Iranian nuclear deal that would leave its enemy with some uranium enrichment capability, a compromise he has long opposed.

The shift seems surprising given Netanyahu's contentious speech to the U.S. Congress earlier this month in which he argued against world powers letting Tehran keep thousands of uranium centrifuges and remain on possible course to a bomb.

Really?  Is anyone outside the rightwing bubble surprised he folded?

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


FANTASY BASEBALL: BETTER WITH AGE (Will Leitch, 3/26/15, Sports on Earth)

[T]he one thing in my life that I can say, with 100 percent certainty, has gotten nothing but better every single year since it began to exist ... is fantasy baseball.

Everybody has his or her fantasy baseball origin story. I'm old enough to have played my first league in college, and like many people back then, we had one poor soul spending every Monday morning poring through the pages of USA Today and manually tabulating our stats to give us our standings. We had to call him with trades. (Phones back then were attached to birds: It would often take several weeks to get a response to my Tim Naehring-and-Greg Vaughn-for-Albert Belle trade offers, and the response typically accompanied by an egg, twigs and the avian flu.) Later, we subscribed to a stats service that would fax us our stats for the past week every Sunday night: I remember asking my mom at the hospital she worked at, the only place this college student home for the summer knew had a fax machine, to let me use the Emergency Room's fax number for the weekly reports. (Back then, medicine was practiced exclusively by the application of leeches and the recitation of various Latin incantations directed at the part of the body suffering the current malady.) There was no such thing as a "fantasy baseball expert"; such a profession would have seemed absurd. (The only advice available to humanity back then was what you could decipher from cave drawings and whatever visions might appear after drinking cactus water and staring into the fire.)

Fantasy baseball was the purview of obsessives and a few dorky writers in Manhattan no one ever heard from again. It was terrible -- and it was fun. It was immediately exhilarating to have control over baseball players in a way you'd never had before, to put together the team you would if you had the opportunity, to predict the future. It's easy to forget now, but fantasy baseball really did feel revolutionary back then, and even, to some, as a threat to the actual game. Baseball has always been a sport you can take apart and reassemble to resemble something close to what you had before, and fantasy baseball allowed you to do this in any fashion that you desired. I just wished I had more people to play with, and that I could do it faster.

And thus: Every single year since I started playing fantasy baseball in 1994 -- a horrible year to start, by the way: I'm pretty sure we lost three-quarters of our league after that season -- fantasy baseball has gotten better. The means of playing it has gotten better, the connections we make with old friends have gotten easier, the research into it has gotten deeper and more nuanced. Everything about fantasy baseball has improved. This stands in the way of what we generally consider human progress. Most innovations come with downsides that are inextricable from their positives. Sure, you now have automated maps in your car so you never get lost. But there's the offshoot of never knowing, away from the map, where the heck you are. Fantasy baseball has none of this. Fantasy baseball is only better.

In 1988, my partner and I called the Kingdome to see if Mike Schooler had gotten a save the night before.  Now you can see how your team is doing live online.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen as fears grow of a land invasion (Ali al-Mujahed, March 26, 2015, Washington Post)

Saudi Arabia launched intense airstrikes on neighboring Yemen on Thursday, as part of a bold Arab-led offensive against Shiite rebels that threatened to expand into a war involving ground troops.

Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies plunged into the Yemen crisis after a rebel advance forced the country's Western-backed president to flee and left the Shiite insurgents, known as Houthis, on the brink of controlling the country's two largest cities.

The Yemeni battles have flared into a balance-of-power showdown between Shiite power Iran, which is believed to back the Houthi rebels, and Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies.

The offensive quickly divided the Middle East, with Shiite powers like the Iranian and Iraqi government and Lebanon's Hezbollah militia denouncing the bombing. Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told Iran's Arabic-language al-Alam channel that "We will spare no effort to contain the crisis in Yemen." Meanwhile Sunni-majority countries offered assistance ranging from logistical aid to fighter jets.

There were indications that the battle could expand to a land war. Saudi state TV said Thursday that a ground offensive was being studied, but gave no further details. Egypt's minister of foreign affairs, Sameh Shoukri, said in a speech to Arab foreign ministers that Egypt was willing "to send ground forces if necessary" to back the anti-Houthi fight.

Not only does the conflict clarify the lines, but the threat of destabilizing the Sa'uds--who fund salafism/wahabbism--hastens the endgame of the WoT.

March 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


How Poor Are the Poor? (Thomas B. Edsall, 3/25/15, NY Times)

There is a consensus among poverty experts that over the past 50 years there has been some improvement in the condition of the poor.

"Anyone who studies the issue seriously understands that material poverty has continued to fall in the U.S. in recent decades, primarily due to the success of anti-poverty programs" and the declining cost of "food, air-conditioning, communications, transportation, and entertainment," David Autor, a professor of economics at M.I.T., wrote in response to my query.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Amazon Robot Contest May Accelerate Warehouse Automation : Robots will use the latest computer-vision and machine-learning algorithms to try to perform the work done by humans in vast fulfillment centers. (Will Knight, March 25, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

Packets of Oreos, boxes of crayons, and squeaky dog toys will test the limits of robot vision and manipulation in a competition this May. Amazon is organizing the event to spur the development of more nimble-fingered product-packing machines.

Participating robots will earn points by locating products sitting somewhere on a stack of shelves, retrieving them safely, and then packing them into cardboard shipping boxes. Robots that accidentally crush a cookie or drop a toy will have points deducted. The people whose robots earn the most points will win $25,000.

Amazon has already automated some of the work done in its vast fulfillment centers. Robots in a few locations send shelves laden with products over to human workers who then grab and package them. These mobile robots, made by Kiva Systems, a company that Amazon bought in 2012 for $678 million, reduce the distance human workers have to walk in order to find products. However, no robot can yet pick and pack products with the speed and reliability of a human. Industrial robots that are already widespread in several industries are limited to extremely precise, repetitive work in highly controlled environments.

Pete Wurman, chief technology officer of Kiva Systems, says that about 30 teams from academic departments around the world will take part in the challenge, which will be held at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle (ICRA 2015). In each round, robots will be told to pick and pack one of 25 different items from a stack of shelves resembling those found in Amazon's warehouses. Some teams are developing their own robots, while others are adapting commercially available systems with their own grippers and software.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


SOON A TEXAS TOWN WILL RUN ON 100 PERCENT RENEWABLE ENERGY (Mary Beth Griggs, 3/25/15, Popular Science)

Georgetown, Texas is a relatively small city of 50,000 people, and its city-run utility recently announced that it would rely entirely on wind and solar energy in just two years. Georgetown plans to achieve this feat by purchasing energy from local solar and wind ventures. Texas gets plenty of sun during the days, and it tends to get windy in the state at night, so getting energy from both sources should cover the energy needs of the town. In an additional benefit, the move also saves water in a state that is notoriously dry. As Slate notes coal-burning power plants not only rely on non-renewable fossil fuels, but also use up stunning amounts of water, a resource also craved by agriculture, and, well, people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Bones from the 3D-printer (Deutsche-Welle, 3/25/15)

3D-printers can print just about anything these days: shoes, guns - and even bones. Scientists all over the world have been working on printing bone replacements for some time. Now researchers at the University of Freiburg in southern Germany are taking a major step forward. They want to use a 3D-printer to create bones that come complete with blood vessels. With this method chances are higher that the print-outs connect to the surrounding tissue faster.

"This should make a crucial difference timing-wise," Günter Finkenzeller, head of the Tissue Engineering Department at the Plastic- and Hand-surgery center at the University of Freiburg, told DW. "Then the printed blood vessels only need to connect with the other vessels directly bordering on the implant and the natural tissue."

Other methods well documented in medical literature require blood vessels to grow into the implant from the surrounding tissue, which can take up to two weeks. By then, many artificial bones would have died off.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


U.S. Surveillance Planes Aid Fight by Iraq, Iranian-Backed Militias for Tikrit (DION NISSENBAUM and  JULIAN E. BARNES, March 24, 2015, WSJ)

The U.S. has started providing Iraq with aerial intelligence in the stalled battle to oust Islamic State from Tikrit, drawing the American military into closer coordination with Iranian-backed militias spearheading the offensive.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Why Won't Liberals Talk about the Most Important Kind of 'Privilege' in America? (LEE HABEEB & MIKE LEVEN, March 23, 2015, National Review)

Much has been written about privilege in academic settings over the past few decades. There's the privilege of wealth, and the advantages wealth confers if a baby is lucky enough to be born into it. Much too has been written about the advantages of being born into this world as a Caucasian -- known in academia as "white privilege." 

But not enough has been written about the most important advantage a baby can have in America: the advantage of being born with a mother and father who happen to be married. Call it "the marriage privilege" -- the advantages are startling.

In a report last year entitled "Saving Horatio Alger," which focused on social mobility and class in America, Richard Reeves of the Brookings Institution discovered that the likelihood of a child raised by parents born into the lowest income quintile moving to the top quintile by the age 40 was a disastrous 3 percent. Worse, 50 percent of those children stay stuck in the bottom quintile. And the outlook for the children of those marriage-less children is equally stark. 

That's bad news for the country, and the American dream, such numbers. 

But Reeves discovered a silver lining while crunching the data: Those children born in the lowest quintile to parents who were married and stayed married had only a 19 percent chance of remaining in the bottom income group. Reeve's study revealed that this social-mobility advantage applied not just to the lower class: The middle class was impacted, too. The study revealed that children born into the middle class have a mere 11 percent chance of ending up in the bottom economic quintile with married parents, but that number rises to 38 percent if their parents are never married. 

You'd think a finding like that would be headline news across the nation, or that the media might want to talk about the real reason for the wealth gap in America -- the marriage gap.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


A New Year in Iran? (ROBIN WRIGHT, 3/24/15, The New Yorker)

By now, Secretary of State John Kerry has almost certainly spent more time with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, than with any other foreign minister in the world. Unofficial relations between the two countries seem closer today than they have been at any time since the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. The two sides met again several times this week in Lausanne, in an effort to address final sticking points. "We made a lot of progress," Kerry told reporters there. The talks have now been suspended because of the New Year's holiday, and will resume next Wednesday for a final two-day push.

The tenor of the negotiators' personal relationships was evident earlier today, after news reports announced the death of Sakineh Peivandi. She is the mother of the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, and of his brother Hossein Fereydoun, who is one of the negotiators. Kerry and Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, a nuclear physicist who recently joined the American negotiating team, paid a condolence call on Fereydoun in Lausanne. In a press statement, Kerry said, "We share in their grief . . . and we keep their family in our thoughts."

An Iranian news agency released several pictures of the visit. In one, Kerry and the President's brother are walking toward each other with open arms, about to embrace. Another showed Kerry, seated next to Fereydoun, reaching out to hold his arm. These images and others, which would have been considered treasonous in Tehran not long ago, were widely shared on social media.

The Iranians have returned home for Nowruz and the funeral service. Funerals in the families of Iranian leaders usually involve both politics and public pageantry. Even bitter rivals show up to pay respects. The occasion will be an opportunity for President Rouhani to demonstrate his standing in Iran, and perhaps rally support for a deal.

...that the Soviet regime could not withstand glasnost/perestroika.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


Debunking the Myth of the Job-Stealing Immigrant (ADAM DAVIDSON, 3/24/15, NY Times Magazine)

[T]he economic benefits of immigration may be the ­most ­settled fact in economics. A recent University of Chicago poll of leading economists could not find a single one who rejected the proposition. (There is one notable economist who wasn't polled: George Borjas of Harvard, who believes that his fellow economists underestimate the cost of immigration for low-­skilled natives. Borjas's work is often misused by anti-immigration activists, in much the same way a complicated climate-­science result is often invoked as "proof" that global warming is a myth.) Rationally speaking, we should take in far more immigrants than we currently do.

So why don't we open up? The chief logical mistake we make is something called the Lump of Labor Fallacy: the erroneous notion that there is only so much work to be done and that no one can get a job without taking one from someone else. It's an understandable assumption. After all, with other types of market transactions, when the supply goes up, the price falls. If there were suddenly a whole lot more oranges, we'd expect the price of oranges to fall or the number of oranges that went uneaten to surge.

But immigrants aren't oranges. It might seem intuitive that when there is an increase in the supply of workers, the ones who were here already will make less money or lose their jobs. Immigrants don't just increase the supply of labor, though; they simultaneously increase demand for it, using the wages they earn to rent apartments, eat food, get haircuts, buy cellphones. That means there are more jobs building apartments, selling food, giving haircuts and dispatching the trucks that move those phones. Immigrants increase the size of the overall population, which means they increase the size of the economy. Logically, if immigrants were "stealing" jobs, so would every young person leaving school and entering the job market; countries should become poorer as they get larger. In reality, of course, the opposite happens.

Most anti-immigration arguments I hear are variations on the Lump of Labor Fallacy. That immigrant has a job. If he didn't have that job, somebody else, somebody born here, would have it. This argument is wrong, or at least wildly oversimplified. But it feels so correct, so logical. And it's not just people like my grandfather making that argument. Our government policy is rooted in it.

The single greatest bit of evidence disproving the Lump of Labor idea comes from research about the Mariel boatlift, a mass migration in 1980 that brought more than 125,000 Cubans to the United States. According to David Card, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, roughly 45,000 of them were of working age and moved to Miami; in four months, the city's labor supply increased by 7 percent. Card found that for people already working in Miami, this sudden influx had no measurable impact on wages or employment. His paper was the most important of a series of revolutionary studies that transformed how economists think about immigration. Before, standard economic models held that immigrants cause long-term benefits, but at the cost of short-term pain in the form of lower wages and greater unemployment for natives. But most economists now believe that Card's findings were correct: Immigrants bring long-term benefits at no measurable short-term cost. (Borjas, that lone dissenting voice, agrees about the long-term benefits, but he argues that other economists fail to see painful short-term costs, especially for the poor.)

Economists have shifted to studying how nations so quickly adjust to new arrivals. The leading scholar on this today is Giovanni Peri of the University of California, Davis, who has shown that immigrants tend to complement -- rather than compete against -- the existing work force. Take a construction site: Typically, Peri has found, immigrants with limited education perform many support tasks (moving heavy things, pouring cement, sweeping, painting), while citizens with more education focus on skilled work like carpentry, plumbing and electrical installation, as well as customer relations. The skilled native is able to focus on the most valuable tasks, while the immigrants help bring the price down for the overall project (it costs a lot to pay a highly trained carpenter to sweep up a work site). Peri argues, with strong evidence, that there are more native-born skilled craftspeople working today, not fewer, because of all those undocumented construction workers. A similar dynamic is at play on Wall Street. Many technical-support tasks are dominated by recent immigrants, while sales, marketing, advising and trading, which require cultural and linguistic fluency, are typically the domain of the native-born. (Whether Wall Street's technical wizards have, on balance, helped or hurt the economy is a question for another day.)

This paradox of immigration is bound up with the paradox of economic growth itself. Growth has acquired a bad reputation of late among some, especially on the left, who associate the term with environmental destruction and rising inequality. But growth through immigration is growth with remarkably little downside. Whenever an immigrant enters the United States, the world becomes a bit richer. For all our faults, the United States is still far better developed economically than most nations, certainly the ones that most of our immigrants have left. Our legal system and our financial and physical infrastructure are also far superior to most (as surprising as that might sometimes seem to us). So when people leave developing economies and set foot on American soil, they typically become more productive, in economic terms. They earn more money, achieve a higher standard of living and add more economic value to the world than they would have if they stayed home. If largely open borders were to replace our expensive and restrictive lottery system, it's likely that many of these immigrants would travel back and forth between the United States and their native countries, counteracting the potential brain drain by sharing knowledge and investment capital. Environmentally, immigration tends to be less damaging than other forms of growth, because it doesn't add to the number of people on earth and often shifts people to more environmentally friendly jurisdictions.

To me, immigration is the greatest example of our faulty thinking, a shortsightedness that hurts others while simultaneously hurting ourselves.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


U.S. Car-Making Boom? Not for Auto-Industry Workers (JAMES R. HAGERTY and  JEFF BENNETT, March 23, 2015, WSJ)

U.S. auto production is nearing all-time highs on the back of strong domestic demand and steady export increases. But American-made cars and trucks are increasingly loaded with parts imported from Mexico, China and other nations.

The U.S. imported a record $138 billion in car parts last year, equivalent to $12,135 of content in every American light vehicle built. That is up from $89 billion, or $10,536 per vehicle, in 2008--the first of two disastrous years for the car business. In 1990, only $31.7 billion in parts were imported.

The trend casts a cloud over the celebrated comeback of one of the nation's bedrock industries. As the inflow of low-cost foreign parts accelerates, wages at the entry level are drifting away from the generous compensation packages that made car-factory jobs the prize of American manufacturing.

At an American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc. car-parts factory in Three Rivers, some new hires are paid as little as about $10 an hour, roughly equivalent to what the local Wal-Mart will pay. John Childers, a 38-year-old assembly-line stocker, said he is grateful for the job but finds it tough to get by on the money he and his fiancée make at the plant.

"Lower class is what we are," he says. "Let's be honest."

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM


The Real Cost of Coal (DAVID J. HAYES and JAMES H. STOCK, MARCH 24, 2015, WSJ)

CONGRESS long ago established a basic principle governing the extraction of coal from public lands by private companies: American taxpayers should be paid fair value for it. They own the coal, after all.

Lawmakers set a royalty payment of 12.5 percent of the sale price of the coal in 1976. Forty years later, those payments remain stuck there, with actual collections often much less. Studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Interior Department's inspector general and nonprofit research groups have all concluded that taxpayers are being shortchanged.

This is no small matter. In 2013, approximately 4o percent of all domestic coal came from federal lands. A recent study by the independent nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics estimates that various reforms to the royalty valuation system would have generated $900 million to $5.6 billion more overall between 2008 and 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Dirty Energy Taxes And Clean Energy Innovation (Adam Ozimek, 3/25/15, Forbes)

Here is a chart of solar energy prices marching downward over time from NREL:

A simplified view of the future of energy is this: when the total cost of solar energy goes below the cost of dirty energy like coal, it will be a huge deal and will lead to widespread adoption of solar. While this threshold varies greatly by geography, think of dirty energy costs as a line to cross that when a solar company gets below it they can take a huge chunk of market share and supplant existing dirty energy. This means economic benefits of getting below this threshold are big, and this gives the market strong incentives to innovate to push costs down right now.

However, once we go below that threshold and solar is cheaper than dirty energy, the incentives to push costs further down will be reduced.

This matters for policy, because what a carbon tax does is push the required cost threshold up. This would allow solar to become the more profitable source of energy in the US sooner and increase the speed of its dominance here.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Auto Workers' Medical Benefits at Risk Under New Tax (CHRISTINA ROGERS, March 24, 2015, WSJ)

Detroit's negotiations this summer to reach a new four-year labor deal won't just be an argument about wages. Generous health-care benefits for about 135,000 unionized factory workers are at risk of being cut to prepare for the Affordable Care Act's "Cadillac" tax.

Health care has long been a fiercely protected benefit for United Auto Worker members, remaining generous even as the union has made other concessions. But the so-called Cadillac tax on companies with high-cost health plans is scheduled to take effect in 2018.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


The Compelling Case for Lower Capital Gains Tax Rates (JARED MEYER, 3/25/15, The Fiscal Times)

A new report by the non-partisan Tax Foundation shows that America has higher capital gains tax rates than other industrialized countries. Nevertheless, President Obama is pushing Congress to raise taxes on capital gains still further. America's tax treatment of capital gains already raises the cost of capital and reduces investment, and raising rates would create more disincentives to business investment and growth. 

America's 29 percent average combined capital gains top tax rate is more than 5 percentage points higher than the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development's weighted average of 23 percent. This makes America's top rate the sixth highest among the 34 OECD countries. Nine OECD countries do not tax capital gains income. [...]

Kyle Pomerleau, the author of the Tax Foundation report, explained why levying high capital gains taxes harms economic growth. He told me, "High taxes on capital income increase the cost of capital, which reduces the incentive to invest. Lower investment means a smaller capital stock, lower productivity, and lower wages for workers. When lawmakers look to reform our tax code they need to understand that capital taxes should be lower, whether that means cutting the corporate tax rate, cutting the capital gains tax rate, or some combination of the two."

Ideally you'd even tax savings, not investment.
Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Why the Best Doctors Often Do Nothing (H. GILBERT WELCH, 3/25/15, WSJ)

Doctors can fix some problems, others are better fixed by the patient. Some problems will resolve on their own, others are better left alone (particularly those "problems" that don't bother you). The good doctor is not the one that always recommends doing something. It's too easy for the physician-and it's too easy for you to get somewhere you don't want to be.

You don't want a knee-jerk recommendation from your financial adviser that you always need to move money around. Or a knee-jerk recommendation from your insurance agent that you always need to increase coverage. Or from your lawyer that you always need to change the will. Or from your dentist that you always need X-rays. True professionals provide considered advice. And sometimes doing nothing is exactly the right thing to do.

The same is true of medicine. Recognize that the doctor who advises no action may be the one who really cares for you.

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


A national security strategy Ronald Reagan would love (Lawrence Korb, March 25, 2015, WSJ)

Even Reagan displayed more strategic patience and restraint than many give him credit for. In his early days in the White House, Reagan resisted calls from the hawkish establishment to send tens of thousands of troops to Central America to undo the gains of communist forces in the region. In addition, after 241 American servicemen  were killed in the 1983 barracks bombing in Lebanon, he withdrew all U.S. troops from the country, though it was in the midst of a civil war.

Reagan also negotiated directly with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and the Kremlin, even though Moscow still had troops in Afghanistan. Because of these talks, Reagan was taunted as a weaseling Neville Chamberlain by prominent members of his own party, among them Newt Gingrich. Reagan also reduced defense spending by 10 percent in real terms during his second administration in order to avoid sequestration, which was part of the 1985 Graham-Ruddman-Hollings Act.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With U.S. (ADAM ENTOUS, March 23, 2015, WSJ)

The espionage didn't upset the White House as much as Israel's sharing of inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran's nuclear program, current and former officials said.

"It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy," said a senior U.S. official briefed on the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Moonshine, bath cleaner: Russia's heavy drinkers seek cheap but dangerous highs amid crisis (JAMES ELLINGWORTH, 3/25/15, Associated Press)

As the economic crisis sweeps through Russia, a dangerous trend is emerging in this heavy-drinking country: the rise in consumption of potentially lethal moonshine, medical alcohol or even cleaning products.

Layoffs, wage cuts and price increases are combining to worsen the problem of alcoholism, which has long been a major public health issue, by increasing the mix of dangerous products in the market. Those who can no longer afford store-bought drinks are turning to "under the counter" alternatives that can cause serious damage, even death.

Yet the Right thinks Putin is winning...
Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Why the left hates this man: Rahm Emanuel's sins against the progressive movement (HEATHER DIGBY PARTON, 3/24/15, Salon)

When the newly elected President Obama tapped him as chief-of-staff, you could hear progressives screaming "nooooooo" across the land. And when he departed to run for mayor of Chicago, the collective sigh of progressive relief (everywhere but Chicago) was just as audible. He is, in other words, the symbol of everything progressives are trying to change about the Democratic Party. 

The only sort of sin they believe in anymore is against liberal orthodoxy.  

March 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


GOP's John Kasich Isn't Backing Off Support for Common Core (JANET HOOK, 3/24/15, WSJ)

If Gov. John Kasich is going to run for president, he doesn't seem likely to trim his sails on the hot-button issue of Common Core education standards.

In a campaign-style swing through New Hampshire Tuesday, the Ohio Republican took off after critics of Common Core, saying their suggestions that the program amounts to federal interference in education are misleading.

"Sometimes things get to be political and they get to be runaway Internet issues," he said."We don't want the federal government driving K-12 education, and in my state-the state of Ohio-that is simply not the case."

The Common Core education standards were designed by governors and education experts to improve student performance, and the curriculum is devised locally.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Costa Rica uses 100% renewable energy for past 75 days. How are they doing it? ( Rowena Lindsay, MARCH 24, 2015, CS Monitor)

The entire country of Costa Rica is currently running on completely renewable energy and has been for 75 days now. Relying mainly on hydropower, Costa Rica has not used any fossil fuels to generate electricity since the beginning of 2015.

The heavy rainfall over the past year has kept hydroplants busy enough to power nearly the whole country, with geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar energy making up the deficit, according to a press release from the Costa Rican Electricity Institute.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Obamacare critic Ted Cruz to buy health care insurance for family through law he vows to scrap (PHILIP ELLIOTT, 3/24/15, Associated Press)

Cruz formally launched his presidential campaign on Monday, and his wife, Heidi Cruz, began an unpaid leave of absence from her job as a managing director in the Houston office of Goldman Sachs. That meant the family would soon lose access to health insurance through Mrs. Cruz's job, triggering a need for the Cruz family to find a new policy.

The first-term senator from Texas said he is looking at options available on a health insurance exchange, or a clearinghouse of policies available to Americans who don't receive coverage through their employers. The Democrats' health care law, also known as Obamacare, created the exchange system.

Members of Congress and their staff not otherwise covered, such as via a spouse's health care insurance, are required to enroll in a plan sold through an exchange under an amendment to the law crafted by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

"We will presumably go on the exchange and sign up for health care, and we're in the process of transitioning over to do that," Cruz said in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

Just another free-loading immigrant....

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Iran's Hard-Liners Show Restraint on Nuclear Talks With U.S. (THOMAS ERDBRINK, MARCH 23, 2015, NY Times)

[A]s the United States and Iran prepare to restart nuclear talks this week, the hard-liners have been keeping a low profile.

"They have been remarkably quiet," said Nader Karimi Joni, a former member of the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij, a volunteer paramilitary group.

Their silence is a result of state policies intended by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to seriously try to find a solution through negotiations. Ayatollah Khamenei has largely supported the nuclear talks and the Iranian negotiators, whom he has called "good and caring people, who work for the country."

The restraint by the hard-liners also reflects a general satisfaction, analysts say, with the direction of the talks and the successes Iran is enjoying, extending and deepening its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

Billboards in Tehran once depicting United States negotiators as commandos and devils have been replaced by slogans supporting the international outreach of the government of President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who won office promising to complete the nuclear deal and end crippling economic sanctions.

Two weeks ago, the Committee to Protect Iranian Interests, the main group opposing the talks, was again out on the streets, but this time protesting the government's economic policies.

"We are having in-house debates over our strategies," said the group's spokesman, Alireza Mataji, refusing to explain why he and his supporters were no longer publicly opposing a deal.

Those debates are more likely a simple buckling under to orders from above, Mr. Joni said. "Those critical of a deal have been told to keep quiet, to prevent giving the other side the option to blame Iran," said Mr. Joni, who is now a journalist.

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Where Have All Our Wages Gone? (Megan McArdle, 3/24/15, The Atlantic)

What happened? Here's my working theory: The disparity between government and private-sector outcomes had become too great. People in a coastal city have trouble imagining this, but in smaller places -- particularly rural areas --teachers are relatively affluent. Their salaries are good by community standards, they can't be fired, their benefits are outstanding, and they get three months off a year -- which, no, they do not all spend on 12-hour-a-day lesson planning, and if you're going to insist that they do, then no one in your small town had better see a teacher at the shopping center or the community pool in the middle of the day. People do like their teachers, and they will get mad if you speak ill of them. That doesn't mean that they're willing to see their taxes increased to cover pension deficits and guaranteed salaries and gold-plated benefits, not when they themselves had to cancel the vacation and pull Junior out of travel hockey.

It's all very well to say that instead of punishing teachers, we should give everyone else the same job security, benefits and so forth -- and, well, lots of people said that. The problem with that is that no one proposed a realistic plan to do so in the face of foreign competition and automation. The price was winning. And that, in turn, lowered the price people were willing to pay for government workers in Wisconsin. Or for health care. Or for other sectors, shielded from competition, where unions have managed to hold on.

If you're not depressed yet about the future of wages, here's the real kicker: Trade doesn't just sort of evenly depress wages across the board. It has favorite sectors that it likes to pick on. One of those sectors is agriculture, and OK, it's not like we all pine for the days of those fantastic migrant worker jobs that used to let a man support a middle-class family in style. But the other sector it really likes to pick on is manufacturing. And manufacturing jobs tend to have higher productivity than service work, particularly for less skilled workers. 

According to my handy Bloomberg terminal, GM's U.S. operations, with around 50,000 hourly employees, generate $85 billion in revenue. Wal-Mart's U.S. operations, with around a million hourly employees, generate about $330 billion. Much more revenue -- but to make four times as much money, Wal-Mart needs 20 times as many front-line employees. Of course, this is necessarily a very crude metric, because more of Wal-Mart's workers are part time, and it also takes more in the way of inputs and capital to make a car. Yet no matter how you refine those numbers, you cannot make them add up to auto-worker wages for retail work.

You often hear that U.S. manufacturing is in decline, which is incorrect. U.S. manufacturing output is doing splendidly. What's suffering is U.S. manufacturing jobs. And the jobs available in other sectors for lower-skilled workers don't pay as well as the old high-productivity manufacturing jobs. You just can't generate massive economies of scale in fast food or hairdressing.

We should be careful about getting too nostalgic for the old manufacturing jobs, which did indeed pay well but were also pretty awful. I've spent some time looking at assembly lines for work, and they always inspire two thoughts: "Wow, how amazingly productive all this is!" and "Wow, I would kill myself if I had to spend the rest of my life doing this." Line work is monotonous in a way that even the proverbial crappy retail job is not. In fact, I am struggling to think of any other sort of work that is so particularly ill-suited to the human psyche. This was something that everyone knew about these jobs right up to the point where they started going away and we got all misty-eyed for a life spent riveting the same four bolts into place on a car frame.

Picking crops is worse, which is why we had slaves.
Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Lower Buffet Prices Lead to Less Taste Satisfaction (David Just, Ozge Sigirci and Brian Wansink, 2014,  Journal of Sensory Studies)

Does the price you pay at a buffet influence how much you like the food? Surprisingly, yes! In a new Cornell Food and Brand Lab study published in the Journal of Sensory Studies, researchers found that when charged more for an all-you-can-eat buffet diners rated the food higher than when charged less for the same food.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Yemen Chaos Derails U.S. Counterterror Strategy (DAMIAN PALETTA, March 23, 2015, WSJ)

What happened in Yemen, according to descriptions by current and former officials and experts, was a miscalculation about the changes unleashed by the Arab Spring revolutions. It involved an overreliance by Washington on a promising new leader who ultimately was unable to hold off rival forces and tensions, they said.

As a result, a country President Barack Obama last year cited as a model of American counterterrorism success has now descended into chaos, with U.S. influence and drone strikes no match for at least four sides at war with one another.

"In many ways, this is all the Thanksgiving Dinner from hell," said Jon Alterman, a former State Department official and director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It is people who have been dealing with each other for a long time, none are satisfied, and the fight has broken out. And the first thing is figuring out who the different sides are."

The Arab Spring consists in its entirety of the application of the notion of consensual government to the Middle East. And just like every other post-colonial situation the main force driving it is centrifugal--the breaking of artificially imposed states and dictatorships into their natural constituent parts--not centripital--which is why Iraq, The Sudan, Israel, The Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, etc. can not be "saved" in the form that was handed down from imperial times.  Our role in the region was and is--as it has been everywhere else in the world--to destabilize not to stabilize.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


NFL Ends Blackouts in Age of Streaming (Kavitha A. Davidson, 3/24/15, Bloomberg View)

[T]he decision to end blackouts on an experimental basis -- the change will be reviewed after next season -- could simply show the league's shifting business strategy toward digital streaming. The NFL's recent media deals hinge on mobile. Verizon has exclusive smartphone streaming rights through 2017 in a deal that's worth $1 billion but notably excludes viewing on tablets and computers. In October, the league extended its exclusive deal for the Sunday Ticket package with DirecTV, just as the satellite company was negotiating a $48.5 billion merger with AT&T, now under federal review. As cable and satellite subscriptions continue to decline, the merger would allow the NFL and DirecTV to target a mobile audience on tablets, computers and gaming consoles.

When the players are computer animations there's no need for a live crowd.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:08 AM


One on One

Benny Carter - All That Jazz, Live at Princeton

When the great jazz trumpeter Clark Terry died last month at the age of 94, OJ posted comprehensive obituaries/appreciations from the New York Times, NPR and The New Yorker, so please read those pieces for an overview of the life of this wonderful musician, and by all accounts, even better person.  I'll focus, instead, on two of my favorite Terry recordings, both made relatively late in his long career.

One on One features CT in duets with 14 great piano players.  Recorded when he was 80, the album shows that he was still at the height of his remarkable skills.  While all of the cuts are excellent, in the interest space, I will limit myself to comments on 6 of them. With "Solitude" (Ellington) and Swingin' the Blues" (Basie) Terry pays tribute to the two legendary bandleaders in whose sections he played.  Terry's muted trumpet solo on "Solitude" appropriately reflects the bittersweet tune and provides a showcase for Tommy Flanagan's (All That Jazz #18) sensitive accompaniment.  Junior Mance sets a Basie groove (and throws in more than a few of the Count's licks) in "Swingin' The Blues," which starts with Clark vocalizing the swish of Papa Jo Jones's ride cymbal and ends with him acting out the entire drum kit.  In between we hear his mastery of the blues and of the trumpet, his easy fluency that makes it sound like he's talking to us directly rather than communicating through his horn.  "Willow Grove" is another blues, but rather than the Kansas City Swing feel of the Mance duet, here Barry Harris is in pure bebop mode.  Terry starts on the flugelhorn (best described as a slightly larger, mellower-sounding trumpet), an instrument he popularized and on which he had gorgeous, fat sound.  After a couple of choruses, he engages in one of his popular routines that was always amazing to see in person: he holds the flugelhorn in one hand and his trumpet (here muted) in the other and plays a duet with himself, alternating phrases.  This could perhaps be a mere novelty in the hands of a lesser musician, with Terry it was always a delight.  Kenny Barron joins CT for "Intimacy of the Blues" (another blues, and another Ellington composition), and his walking bass lines and perfectly-voiced chords make it seem like there's an entire band backing Terry's scurrying, swinging solo.  Terry returns to muted trumpet on "You Can Depend Me" supported by John Lewis's typically spare, but always compelling, playing.  The classic ballad "Misty" opens with the melody stated by Dr. Billy Taylor before the tempo picks up for Clark's swaying solo.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, there are some artists whose musicianship, taste and generosity of spirit put their playing (in the words of Ellington) beyond category.  For these players, the genres of traditional jazz, swing, bop, etc. become almost meaningless, as their styles can fit in any setting.  To be clear, they are not chameleons, changing their sounds or their styles to fit in; rather no matter what the setting, they can fit in simply being themselves.  Clark Terry was certainly one of these musicians, as a career that included playing with everyone from Basie and Ellington, to the Tonight Show band, to avant gardists such as Cecil Taylor would attest.  Another such player was (no surprise if you've read more than a few of these posts) Benny Carter.  In 1990, when Clark was all of 70, he joined Benny (then 83) for a concert at Princeton University.  All That Jazz - Live at Princeton features BC and CT working with a rhythm section as great as the two masters deserved: Kenny Barron on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, and Kenny Washington on drums.  While there are a number of highlights, I'll start to wrap up this too-long post with comments about two songs.  On the Thelonious Monk tune "Hackensack", CT's astounding virtuosity is matched by his infectious joy as he steps lightly through the chord changes (based on the changes to Gershwin's "Lady Be Good").  And joy, humor and swing are thrown together on Benny's "All that Jazz."   Singer Billy Hill cajoles Benny and Clark to join him on the vocal, and after fine solos from Terry, Barron and Carter, Terry delights the audience with his never-gets-old "mumbles" routine.

A fitting coda to Terry's life was the documentary "Keep on Keepin' On", which was released in early 2014, around the same time as the fictional jazz movie "Whiplash." The contrast between fact and fictions is astounding:  "Whiplash" features JK Simmons in his Oscar-winning role as a sadistic jazz instructor, while the documentary shows a frail and aging Terry continuing to teach and inspire his students (especially a blind pianist who had been a student of Terry's at William Patterson College), not only with the wisdom and knowledge gained over a 70+ year career at the height of the jazz world, but with the love, generosity and humor that always infused his music.

March 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


The Cruz Candidacy : Ideology aside, the Republican is similar in many ways to Obama. (WSJ, March 23, 2015)

Can a smart, articulate, 40-something first term Senator trained in constitutional law, who disdains his colleagues and lacks executive experience, make the leap to the White House? President Obama proved it was possible in 2008, and now Ted Cruz will try to show that a Republican can do it too after announcing his campaign for the White House on Monday. [...]

They became lawyers but mainly as a launching pad to politics. The President was a state senator, Mr. Cruz the Texas solicitor general. Mr. Cruz is a better debater, and Mr. Obama a better speech-maker, but both are better talkers than listeners. Above all, they are political solo-artists in an age that rewards entrepreneurial candidates. They saw the Senate as a stepping-stone to the White House rather than a place to contribute or get something done.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


The Battle for Russia (Dominique Moisi, 3/23/15, Project Syndicate)

The tragedy of Russia is that it poses as great a threat to itself as it does to its neighbors. As Europe faces off with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, a larger and ultimately more important battle is taking place within Russia itself, one that pits the country's rich culture against the cruel mendacity of its politics.

...the external insignificant.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Evolution of an icon : "March of Progress", the illustration depicting human evolution, was first published 50 years ago. Richard Conniff and Geoffrey Giller chart the life story of a meme.

It started with an illustration (Rudolph Zallinger, a young Russian-born graduate of the Yale School of Fine Arts, ) produced for the 1965 Time-Life book Early Man. In a section headlined "The Road to Homo Sapiens", Zallinger depicted a line of proto-apes, apes, and hominids rising from a crouch to a hunch to the tall, upright stride of modern man. The full fold-out spread showed 15 individuals, starting with Pliopithecus and ending with Homo sapiens. But when folded in, a simplified version appeared, with just six individuals. It became known as "March of Progress", from a line in the text, and went on to become one of the most famous images in the history of scientific illustration.

In fact, similar drawings had appeared as far back as T. H. Huxley's 1863 book Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature. But after Zallinger it became a meme. 

It's entirely fitting that the archetype of Darwinism depends on the notion of "Progress" to the summit of man.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Puzzles posed by a chilly northern winter (Belinda Smith, 3/25/15, Cosmos)

The northeastern United States copped a chilly hiding for the second year in a row this winter, as massive storms dumped record-breaking snowfalls in January, February and March. 

It may seem more akin to global cooling than global warming but one camp of climate scientists is convinced this is an early symptom of human-induced climate change. Another says the changes are entirely in line with natural weather fluctuations.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Solar sails set course for a new journey into renewable energy (Shane Hickey, 22 March 2015, The Guardian)

Carroll's Cambridge-based Solar Cloth Company makes lightweight, flexible solar panels which can be rolled and fitted onto curved and flexible structures such as domes or coverings for agricultural land, as well as on the roofs of buildings unable to sustain the weight of glass panels.

"Solar is moving from being a hard, inflexible and one-colour product to being soft lightweight, flexible, and maybe even multicoloured," he said. "In solar everybody only knows those glass panels going on roofs and on farmland, fields, solar farms. Why can't solar be everywhere in all different types of aspects?

Why can't it be so that when you pull your car into your driveway that there is a canopy that charges the thing?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


In Much Of The World, Solar Power Is Already As Cheap As Grid Electricity (Ben Schiller, 3/22/15, Co.exist)

There was a time when renewable energy was expensive and its doubters were justified in saying, "Well, it may be cleaner, but how can people afford it?" These days, that argument looks silly. Renewables are getting cheaper all the time and, in some cases, they already match prices for traditional power.

The price of solar, in particular, has fallen precipitously. Six years ago, the average rooftop module was about 75% dearer than it is today. All indications show that it's likely to keep falling in price, because that's what generally happens with technologies as they mature.

How much does solar cost today? In about 30 countries, it's already cheaper than grid electricity, according to a new Deutsche Bank analysis, and in some cases, a lot cheaper. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


11th U.S. state passes pain-capable unborn protection legislation (Brian Fraga Mar 16, 2015, The Christians)

On March 6, the Mountain State became the 11th state in the country to enact the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which prohibits abortion after 20 weeks on the basis that unborn children can feel pain by that point in their development.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Why Are Americans Happy & Religious? (Mark Tooley, 3/21/15, Juicy Ecumenicalism)

Such confidence in hard work in America obviously reflects the undying Puritan work ethic, still strong after 400 years, and reinforced by countless waves of ambitious immigrants.  As to rejecting "forces outside our control," this American trait is also rooted in historic Puritan/Anglo Protestant confidence about providential mastery over the future.  Calvinists may have believed in predestination but not determinism or passivity.  Americans, even the non-religious, are culturally embued with a notion of individual and national purposefulness.

Although not directly addressed in this survey, American rejection of fatalism also makes Americans less prone to the sorts of conspiracy theories that more commonly captivate and delude other cultures, especially under authoritarian and totalitarian regimes.  Christian beliefs in the limits of evil under Providence offer some restraint on paralyzing conspiracism.  

There's an ongoing narrative right now that America is inexorably becoming more secular.  Even if true, America remains more religious than other wealthy countries.  But this narrative is too simplistic and overstates fragments of trends.  Americans are less tied to denominations.  And the religiously nominal are disavowing formal religious categories.  But religious Americans are about as religious as ever, and even the purportedly non-religious remain more influenced by religion than often realized.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Let's Be Serious About Ted Cruz From The Start: He's Too Extreme And Too Disliked To Win (HARRY ENTEN, 3/23/15, 538)

First, Cruz doesn't have enough support from party bigwigs. To win the Republican or Democratic nomination, you need the backing of at least some of the party apparatus. At a minimum, your fellow party members shouldn't hate you. Otherwise, you end up getting the Newt Gingrich 2012 treatment. That is, you get pounced on the moment you're seen as a threat to win the nomination.

If we're ever in a world where it looks like Cruz could win the nomination, you'll very likely see such pouncing. You can read article after article about how Cruz has isolated himself in the Senate. It got so bad that he recently had to apologize to his Republican colleagues.

And the Cruz hatred doesn't stop at the edges of the Senate cloakroom. Influential party actors dislike him, too. I can't remember another Republican who united Ann Coulter, Pat Robertson, Jennifer Rubin and Thomas Sowell in opposition.

That isn't to say that Cruz is universally hated in Washington. He has a fan base in the very conservative House GOP caucus. House Republicans have, in fact, been egging Cruz on. The problem for Cruz is that endorsements from this group are likely worth about one-third to one-half as much as those from major statewide officials. Representatives usually have very little statewide sway, and most Americans cannot even name their representative.

Second, Cruz has an electability problem. You can see this on two fronts: ideology and polling.

Cruz is likely far too extreme ideologically to win the nomination. The Republican party has a habit of nominating relatively moderate candidates (see John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012). That's especially the case when the party has been out of the White House for more than one term. A Cruz nomination wouldn't just break this streak; it would throw it off a 100-floor balcony and drop a piano on it.

And if he had his way there'd be nobody to carry a piano up a hundred stories...

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Occupation of West Bank raises questions about Israel's claim to be a democracy (The Associated Press, 3/22/15)

[A]mong Israelis themselves, there is increasing angst over the fact that their country of 8 million people also controls some 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians who have no voting rights for its parliament.

If the 2 million Palestinians of Gaza -- a territory dominated indirectly by Israel -- were added to the equation, then together with the 2 million Arab citizens of "Israel proper" the Holy Land would be home to a population of some 12 million, equally divided between Arabs and Jews.

Of the Arabs, only a third have voting rights. These are the "Israeli Arabs" who live in the areas that became Israel in the 1948-49 war, which established the country's borders.

Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 but Israel never annexed them, both for fear of world reaction and due to concerns about millions more Palestinians gaining the vote.

Israelis argue that since the areas are not formally part of Israel, the goings-on therein do not undermine the democracy claim. And some might note that few democracies are perfect; after all, some 4 million U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. president because of that island's unusual arrangement. In the end, perhaps, these things are a matter of degree.

But critics increasingly consider it a little too convenient: Israel builds towns by the score in these non-annexed lands -- communities which have bestowed an oddly controversial aspect upon the once-innocent term "settlements."

Through an amendment to the electoral law, Israel allows the settlers who live in these places to vote in its elections even though it otherwise has no provision for absentee balloting. Several top Cabinet figures, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, are in this extraordinary fashion not technically residents of Israel.

And Israel holds undeniable power over the lives of West Bank's Palestinians, despite their ostensive autonomy. In just one example, Palestinians with great fanfare built a new city in their territory -- only for it to remain uninhabited in part because Israel has prevented the building of access roads and other infrastructure.

The supposedly temporary arrangement shows no sign of a change -- at least not one initiated by Israel.

"Israel is galloping toward an anti-democratic, bi-national future saturated with hatred and racism," wrote columnist Ravit Hecht in the liberal Haaretz daily, echoing the rising stridency that has taken root among liberals in the days since the vote.

You can either be a democrat or against the the two-state solution. 

March 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


The Quiet Passages : Many native-born Americans were declared 'enemy aliens' and imprisoned. Some were 'repatriated' to countries they'd never known. (WALTER VATTER, March 22, 2015, WSJ)

In "The Train to Crystal City," Jan Jarboe Russell tells the story of the Eiserloh family--and the great number of other German, Italian and Japanese immigrants whose lives were torn apart because of American policies enacted following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The author focuses on the only--and largely unknown--internment camp built expressly for families; it was located outside Crystal City, Texas. There, 30 miles from the Mexican border, an estimated 6,000 men, women and children who were classified as enemy aliens were imprisoned for varying periods until 1948, when it was shut down.

In her richly detailed history, Ms. Russell chronicles the infamous "Quiet Passage" prisoner-exchange program, in which civilians who were held at Crystal City (and other camps) served as human barter in negotiated exchanges between the U.S. and Japan and Germany. The program sent "enemy aliens" abroad--to "repatriate" to countries some had never known--to facilitate the return of Americans trapped overseas, primarily government officials.

The architect of Crystal City was Earl G. Harrison, Roosevelt's commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and a liberal Republican. With the help of his wife, beginning in 1939, Harrison had sheltered Jewish refugees at their family compound near Philadelphia, and he wanted to make sure Crystal City was absolutely humane. There was a separate living space for each family, a mess hall that served three meals each day and a prisoner-built swimming pool. "In Harrison's mind," Ms. Russell writes, "the need for a camp to reunite families was a humanitarian step."

"Humanitarian" is hardly the way the camp's prisoners would describe their experience inside its barbed-wire borders. They arrived for detention at the 290-acre camp after long, uncomfortable train rides with window shades drawn and tags hung around their necks with family ID numbers. "Guards with long rifles were positioned in six guard towers," Ms. Russell writes. "At night, the searchlights from the camp could be seen across the border in Mexico."

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


Chicago Mayor's Race Is Cast as a Test of Liberalism (JONATHAN MARTIN and JULIE BOSMAN, MARCH 21, 2015, NY Times)

Mr. Emanuel, 55, has long been a figure of suspicion on the left, dating from his days as an adviser to President Bill Clinton, when he helped push issues from free trade to the overhaul of welfare that positioned Mr. Clinton as a centrist. He was elected to Congress after a stint at an investment bank and served as chief of staff to President Obama, acting as a voice of caution.

After the White House, he returned to Chicago, his hometown and Mr. Obama's, then successfully ran for mayor in 2011. His defeat could be a warning shot to Hillary Rodham Clinton, a likely presidential candidate next year, signaling that her party's leanings have changed since her husband's presidency and adding pressure on her to move to the left on economic issues. 

There are also local ideological factors at work. Mr. Emanuel is seeking re-election at a time when liberal activists here are deeply concerned about the moves by Gov. Bruce Rauner of Illinois, a Republican elected in November, to limit the influence of labor unions.

"There is general angst among labor and on the left because of Rauner," said Thomas Bowen, a Democratic strategist in Chicago. "Rahm is the election in front of them right now." [...]

Mr. Garcia is starting to draw more attention on liberal email lists, but he has yet to draw a total of even $100,000 from small donors using the liberal fund-raising hub ActBlue. (A week of network television advertising in Chicago costs over $600,000.)

"Unless they get the crazy lefty money machine going nationally, it's not going to matter that there's a resurgent left," said an adviser to Mr. Emanuel who did not want to speak publicly about strategy. "The liberals at Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park can think great thoughts and read poetry for Chuy, but nothing else will happen."

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


Starbucks baristas stop writing "Race Together" on cups (CANDICE CHOI, 3/22/15, Associated Press)

The cups were always "just the catalyst" for a larger conversation and Starbucks will still hold forum discussions, co-produce special sections in USA TODAY and put more stores in minority communities as part of the Race Together initiative, the memo from CEO Howard Schultz said.

...they'd explain home much money you save by making coffee at home instead of buying it made.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


The caliphate cracks (The Economist, Mar 21st 2015)

To Western ears, the pretence that IS is a government in office is absurd, a bit of jihadist braggadocio; to many Muslim clerics (and even al-Qaeda) it is heresy. Yet it has stirred a form of messianism. "Rush, O Muslims, to your state," declared Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, IS's leader. And thousands have indeed rushed to fight for and build the Islamic Utopia: even schoolgirls have abandoned families and friends in Europe.

The call of the caliphate has galvanised zealots. Yet, even as IS launches terrorist attacks, the good news is that cracks in the caliphate are becoming increasingly apparent. IS is losing ground, money and the consent of the people it rules.

Posted by orrinj at 11:54 AM


Flatlining : A ray of hope in the debate about climate change (The Economist, Mar 21st 2015)

The International Energy Agency (IEA), made up mostly of energy-consuming rich countries, reckons worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide in 2014 were the same as in 2013. The only occasions CO2 emissions have actually fallen were in the early 1980s and 2008, both periods of economic contraction, but this is the first time for many years that the world economy has grown (up by 3.3% according to the IMF) and emissions have not risen too. In the European Union, GDP went up by 1.4% last year but CO2 emissions from energy use fell by 6%. Over the past five years GDP among all rich countries has risen by 7% but CO2 emissions from energy have fallen by 4%, offsetting a rise in developing countries.

The IEA's finding suggests the regulations put in place to rein in pollution are starting to have an impact. In the EU, for instance, the number of household appliances has risen by a quarter in the past ten years, but household electricity use has been flat--testimony (probably) to the many efficiency requirements brought in under European law. The IEA reckons three-quarters of the cars sold around the world in 2014 met some kind of vehicle-emission or other efficiency standard, and that the fuel-efficiency of new cars in the EU last year was 28% higher than it had been in 2000 (the global improvement was less--16%--but still significant). The IEA reckons that, in America, where emissions ticked up slightly in 2014, vehicle-emission standards have prevented more CO2 entering the atmosphere than switching from coal-fired to gas-fired power stations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Incredible New 3D Printing Technique Looks Like Sci-Fi (Jeff DelViscio, 3/21/15, Popular Science)

A new innovation by Carbon3D, unveiled Monday at the TED2015 conference, could finally move 3D printing out of the hobby shop and onto every factory floor.

Imagine you're in an emergency room with a blood vessel blockage. To save your life, a surgeon will first insert a tube, and carefully guide it through the clog. Then she might insert a stent, a piece metal or fabric mesh, to keep the vessel open. But that piece of hardware isn't made to fit your body. Carbon3D can make one that does.

"The idea that you could produce a biodegradable stent that takes in your own anatomy and the tributaries of your blood vessels while you're on the catheter table in an emergency room -- that's an amazing new future that is now in reach," said Joseph DeSimone, CEO and co-founder of Carbon3D and a chemistry professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


NFL rookie's decision to retire another sign football is doomed (John Kass, 3/21/15, CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

Football is dying so fast that the National Football League will undergo radical change in just a few years.

Professional football cannot be sustained as great multibillion-dollar advertising platform. Pro football is already losing its iconic All-American status. And once that's gone, the big money follows.

So Mom and apple pie won't be part of the marketing of the NFL of the future, unless Mom is smoking a cigarette, displaying tats or perhaps a killer tramp stamp. And the apple pie is one of those pockets of microwavable sugars and trans fat you see at the convenience store around 3 a.m.

The other football, the iconic football we remember, the game of supposed virtue and heroism, will be gone. In its place will be a betting game, somewhat like roller derby, but without the high cultural gloss.

It's not your fault or your son's coach's fault. It's not my fault. It's not Rush Limbaugh's fault or George Bush's fault.

And it is definitely not Borland's fault. It just is.

If you're an NFL fan, you know that Borland was one of the most promising rookies last season as a linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers.

Quick, smart and powerfully built at 5-11 and just under 250 pounds, Borland had the right amount of violence and leverage and force to make it in the desperate and violent profession.

Great players -- and no one gets to the NFL without being a great player -- have great hearts. His heart told him one thing. But his head told him another.

And so he quit before his brains were irreparably scrambled.

What caused him to leave was a routine hit during training camp, he told CBS News. He didn't report it to the team's medical staff. But he believes he suffered a concussion.

That's not unusual either. Most football players are concussed at some point, and the higher they go in the sport, the more concussions they suffer.

"There's a lot of vernacular in football about getting your bell rung or getting dinged, and it was one of those instances," he told CBS. "The hit itself wasn't cataclysmic. It just kind of changed the way I approached the game."

What he did was begin to ask questions. And do research. He talked to neurologists and other medical experts, he said. What bothered him was the lack of answers.

"I don't think even the top neurologists truly understand the risks, the connections," he said. "That's what I found out in my research, and it's just too many unknowns for me and there were too many tragedies for me to be comfortable playing."

Studies of the brains of dead NFL players show one constant: The overwhelming majority of them suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. Some had committed suicide.

"I'm not particularly interested in having in-depth conversations about it," he said, adding, "there have been enough former players who've suffered and future players whose health might be at risk. So it's important to talk about the information that's available."

The talk the NFL doesn't want is the one between the mom and the pediatrician. The news about concussions and potential long-term effects of playing is already killing football, because the NFL feeder system requires a constant supply of fresh young American bodies.

Contra Mr. Kass, the NFL is unique in that no one had ever heard of one of the best young players in the NFL.  We root for the decal on the helmet, not the players.  So it is uniquely well-suited to replacement by computer animation.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


This Scientist Invented a Simple Way to Mass-Produce Graphene (John Wenz, 3/20/15, Popular Science)

Caltech's David Boyd has done what scientists have been struggling to do for years: He says he's figured out a cheap, easy way to make graphene, and to make a lot of it. The kicker? He's using technology from the 1960s.

Graphene was a wonder material first theorized in 1947 and not actually proven in the real world until years later, when scientists did it in the strangest of ways in 2003: by rubbing a pencil across some Scotch tape. Made of sheets of carbon just one atom thick, the stuff is tough, durable, and conductible. It's the perfect material for not only super-conductors but also in all kinds of lightweight, high-strength futuristic materials. -solar panels, medical diagnostic devices, fuel cell extractors - ideas even as far-future as a tether for a space elevator. [...]

Boyd, a researcher in the Physics, Mathematics & Astronomy division at Caltech, says his method can burn at half the temperature and produce graphene with up to twice the quality of the second method. Oh, and do it all in five minutes. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Companies tap into Vermont's large maple potential (LISA RATHKE, 3/21/15, Associated Press)

Already, Vermont is maple syrup capital of the U.S., with production traditionally being a side business for farmers. Could a large-scale operation, tapping into thousands of acres of maple trees in a remote northeastern part of the state, be as sweet?

This isn't the old galvanized-sap bucket-nailed-to-a-tree type of operation. This is industrial-sized maple. And companies know there's rising demand for natural sweeteners as consumers turn away from products made with high fructose corn syrup.

Sweetree LLC plans to become the biggest producer of the sticky-sweet stuff in North America. Though the operation has created full-time jobs in a poor region and says it will boost local producers by also buying certified organic syrup, the move has also generated some curiosity and concern from those in the maple business in a state that yielded $49 million worth of syrup in 2013.

The operation, backed by Wood Creek Capital Management of New Haven, Connecticut, chose northeastern Vermont because of the state's brand and large tracts of high-elevation land, which isn't as affected by climate change, Sweetree CEO Bob Saul said.

"Between climate change and the dynamics of Canada, there just aren't that many places in the U.S., let alone the world where you can make maple syrup for the next 20, 25 years," said Saul, who produces his own maple syrup at his home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Yemen is a battlefield for Saudi Arabia and Iran (Con Coughlin, 3/21/15, The Telegraph)

[R]iyadh demonstrated its stranglehold over Yemeni politics by supporting the rise to power in 1978 of Ali Abdullah Saleh as the country's powerful president, and then helping in 1990 to negotiate the second reunification of a country that includes the former British protectorate of Aden.

Under Saleh's rule Riyadh generally enjoyed cordial relations with the Yemeni government in Sana'a. But two key developments have dramatically changed this cosy arrangement during the past decade. The emergence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an off-shoot of Osama bin Laden's original terror Sunni-based movement which was founded by a group of Saudi dissidents, helped to provoke ethnic, tribal and social tensions that quickly returned the country to a state of open civil war.

These tensions, moreover, were further exacerbated by Iran's decision to support the Houthi rebels, the Shia minority in the north of the country, a decision that has helped to further destabilise the country after President Saleh was forced from office in the wake of the original Arab uprisings in 2011.

For the past four years the Quds force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards have been smuggling weapons to the Houthis, as well as providing expert military training, with the result that the Shia Houthi militia finally succeeded in seizing control of the capital Sana'a last year, forcing the Western-backed president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, to seek refuge in Aden.

Last week it was claimed that Tehran was increasing its support for the Houthis with the delivery of a 185 ton shipment of weapons and other military equipment.

The Iranian-backed takeover of northern Yemen certainly represents a major setback for the Saudis, who have a 1,000-mile porous southern border with the Yemenis to protect. The establishment of a pro-Iranian, Shia regime in Sana's has also been met with deep resentment by the country's militant Sunni population, which in recent months has seen AQAP - once regarded as the region's most deadly terrorist organisation by Western intelligence agencies - being replaced by supporters of the Sunni fundamentalist Islamic State (Isil) movement, which in the past year has seized control of large swathes of northern Iraq and Syria.

While there have been reports of tensions between Isil and Aqap, there can be little doubt that Sunni extremists were behind this week's deadly suicide bomb attacks in Yemen, which were deliberately targeted as Shia mosques in the country frequented by Houthi militiamen, who comprised the majority of the victims.

The Houthi are ea nation

March 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Smog-choked Paris bans half of city's traffic (The Local, 21 Mar 2015)

French authorities will on Monday put in place emergency traffic-limiting measures in Paris, banning one out of every two drivers from taking to the streets as the City of Light and much of northern France suffers from a choking smog.

...cities and cars.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Iranian president Rouhani says final nuclear accord is possible, despite remaining differences (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, 3/21/15, Associated Press)

Top Russian negotiator Sergey Ryabkov and other officials have told The Associated Press that the United States and Iran are drafting elements of a deal that commits the Iranians to a 40 percent cut in the number of machines they could use to make an atomic bomb. In return, Iran would get quick relief from some crippling economic sanctions and a partial lift of a U.N. embargo on conventional arms.

Iran and the six-nation group of global powers -- the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- hope to reach a rough deal by the end of March and a final agreement by June 30. Iran has called for a single-stage final accord, rather than a two-stage agreement.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Drum-Taps That Still Echo (RICHARD SNOW, March 8, 2015, wsj)

The shooting will have been over for a century and a half this spring, but the casualties keep mounting. As recently as a decade ago the best estimates of the soldiers killed in the Civil War put the number at 600,000; today's scholarship has increased the toll to three quarters of a million. That was 2.4% of the American population when the war began. As James M. McPherson observes in his brisk and engrossing book, "The War That Forged a Nation," if the same percentage of Americans were killed in a war today, "the number of war dead would be almost 7.5 million."

But the appalling mortality rate is hardly the only reason the war lives on in our culture. Mr. McPherson sees the war as lying at the heart--and the midpoint--of the American past, a terrible clarification of the ideals on which the country had been established in 1776. "Founded on a charter that had declared all men created equal with an equal title to liberty," the author writes, America had by the 1850s "become the largest slaveholding country in the world," an irony that vexes us even today, so long after Appomattox. [...]

Abraham Lincoln towers over "The War That Forged a Nation," as he towered over his own era. Mr. McPherson is especially good--and consistently fascinating--on how the president's thinking, both strategic and moral, evolved during the war, as he moved from using the emancipation of the slaves as one more weapon against the South to seeing it as the mainspring that drove the cause he led. Lincoln knew that American freedom was always imperfect, a work continuously in progress.

Shortly after his first election, speaking of the weaknesses of a Declaration of Independence that did not embrace the enslaved, Lincoln said that although the Founders knew their work was flawed, "they meant to set up a standard maxim for free society, which should be . . . constantly looked to, constantly labored for, and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated, and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence, and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people of all colors everywhere." He also made clear that he saw his own efforts in the same way: "The struggle of to-day," he said in his first message to Congress, "is not altogether for to-day; it is for a vast future also."

Francis Fukuyama's Political Order and Political Decay (John Keane, 3/03/15, The Conversation)

The bigger historical picture is different, and the future bright. On a higher, long-term plane 'liberal democracy constitutes a universal evolutionary model'. It is guaranteed by the 'clear directionality' of 'the process of political development' that is pushed and pulled by long-term 'general evolution' trends. They 'dictate the emergence of certain broad institutional forms over time'.

Some readers won't much fancy the jargon, so let's reach for the vernacular, to explore Fukuyama's unaltered conviction that liberal democracy has the winds of long-term evolutionary trends in its sails. The longue durée (long term) is important to Fukuyama, above all because the modern territorial state has become the indispensable kingpin of political order. If there is no state, there can be no rule of law, or liberal democracy. Fukuyama's point can be read as a back-door critique of the farcical American-led failure to build functioning states in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. It's also a sobering reminder that liberal democracy can't be built by liberal democratic means. The type of democracy favoured by Fukuyama once required the bloody business of imposing political order on people, without their active consent. Today, the liberal democratic road to Washington remains steep, rough and rocky. It necessitates above all the establishment of political order through the state, followed by the imposition of legal restraints on state power. It is then, and only then, that free elections can take root and flourish among people living inside territorial states.

Fukuyama is an honest liberal who dares to remind his readers that liberal democracy is the offspring of the modern territorial state. The end result proved advantageous in several ways. As Fukuyama notes, with only passing references to the bloody American exception, the modern liberal state reduced civil wars. It legalised and legitimated social divisions, enabled the growth of civil society and facilitated the grand-scale enfranchisement of peoples for whose welfare it provided. And in international affairs, fixed state boundaries provided room for manoeuvre for any given liberal democracy, enabling its citizens and representatives to act with a measure of autonomy upon the outside world.

Liberal democracy in state form certainly had downsides. In the whole violent business of state building, peoples who lacked the capacity to become a modern state were typically left behind, as 'stateless people' and 'asylum seekers'; or they became the raw material of colonisation, or victims of forcible removal and outright annihilation. The United States and other democracies in 'homespun' territorial form also waged war on other peoples, and still do. These nasty effects of liberal democracy are downplayed by Fukuyama. It is as if tawdry realities in the world of 'specific evolution' are excused by the positively universal gains of liberal democracy at the level of 'general evolution'. Hence Fukuyama's conclusion: even though liberal democracies such as the United States suffer decadence and do not currently live up to their ideals, the end of history thesis that liberal democracy is the only game in town remains intact.

The taxonomy of Political Order and Political Decay is grand, so splendid that at times it resembles Jorge Luis Borges' famously fictional celestial emporium of benevolent knowledge. With the help of metaphors and insights dawn from evolutionary biology, economics, political science and modernisation theory, Fukuyama provides enlightened liberal democratic answers to every conceivable scholarly and political query. Or so it seems. The scope of the book is certainly breathtaking: national cases as different as Costa Rica, Italy, China, Nigeria, Japan and Britain are analysed with a sure hand. Yet as the narrative unfolds, and especially as we move closer to our own times, the grand emporium of liberal knowledge comes to resemble an untidy street market: forces extraneous to the analysis are randomly introduced in an effort to keep the story going. Fukuyama grows less sure of himself. Factors such as market forces, public trust and unintended consequences (Machiavelli's fortuna) are suddenly summoned, to explain why things are not going as well as might be expected for liberal democracy at the 'specific evolution' level.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Dead Parrot sketch is 1,600 years old (Stephen Adams, 13 Nov 2008, tHE tELEGRAPH)

A classic scholar has proved the point, by unearthing a Greek version of the world-famous piece that is some 1,600 years old.

A comedy duo called Hierocles and Philagrius told the original version, only rather than a parrot they used a slave.

It concerns a man who complains to his friend that he was sold a slave who dies in his service.

His companion replies: "When he was with me, he never did any such thing!"

The joke was discovered in a collection of 265 jokes called Philogelos: The Laugh Addict, which dates from the fourth century AD.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Who's Number One? :Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and the role of the first person. (Damion Searls, 3/17/15, Paris Review)

[E]ven now, Alexandrine grammar still reigns.

The quote is from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973), a deeply idiosyncratic Christian theoretician of the modern era. (All translations are mine, from the two-volume The Language of the Human Race: An Incarnate Grammar in Four Parts [Die Sprache des Menschengeschlechts: Eine leibhafte Grammatik in vier Teilen].) Rosenstock-Huessy inspired a few cognoscenti, including W. H. Auden and Peter Sloterdijk, but he is still, it is safe to say, deeply, deeply obscure. It is hard to know what to do with him. I certainly find off-putting the self-evident all-importance of Christ's birth or God's divine purpose, which he regularly tosses into his philosophical arguments. (Auden: "Anyone reading him for the first time may find, as I did, certain aspects of his writings a bit hard to take ... Speaking for myself, I can only say that, by listening to Rosenstock-Huessy, I have been changed.") The grammatical dogma he means, though--and which he spent more than one 1,900-page book in mortal combat against--is the innocent-looking list dating back to the Greeks: first person, second person, third person. I love, you love, he/she/it loves, or, if you studied Latin, amo, amas, amat.

We all learn languages according to these lists. What can possibly be meaningful about them? ... In the Alexandrine ordering, every person is subjected to the same drill. All persons seem to speak the same way. This is where the fatal error arises. Much of our confusion about social relations and much of our ignorance of language can be derived directly from this one mistake. Stringing together amo, amas, amat, amamus, etc., gives rise to the impression that all these "judgments" can and should be treated as though they had the same interpersonal meaning. The effect, on anyone who learns such a sequence, is the opinion that every indicative sentence is spoken with the same degree of "passion." My claim is that amat and amo and amas are worlds apart, from a social perspective, and thus must not be taught as parallel. The Alexandrine list is not serious. [...]

Empirically, the Greek list gets it wrong: "first person" does not in fact come first. A child's self develops as a result of being spoken to, by a parent or other loving caregiver. Someone has to say "you" in the right way for a non-mad "I" to exist at all. (See Peter Sloterdijk, Neither Sun Nor Death, p. 30, which is where I first heard of Rosenstock-Huessy.) Developmentally, psychologically, neurocognitively, "I" is last-person. You're a good boy. There's the bottle. I'm hungry.

All our experience teaches precisely the opposite of this Greek doctrine of the primacy of the individual "I"! The child gradually defines itself as an independent being out of the thousand cares and impressions and influences that envelop it, flow around it, press in on it. The first thing it discovers is that it is not the world, not mother or father, not God, but something else. The first thing that befalls every child, every person, is that he or she is spoken to: smiled at, asked something, given something, rocked, comforted, punished, fed. The child is first a You for a powerful external being, above all its parents ... Hearing that we exist for others and mean something for others, that they want something from us, thus precedes any statement that we are ourselves, or statement of what we ourselves are. Getting commands and being judged from the outside are what give us self-awareness.

This is the realization that so struck me. First person isn't first. There's no list at all, except the ones we make up. What would the world look like if I could see outside this framework? If what came first was a bond strong enough to give you the authority to make claims about someone else's experience--you love, you're hungry, you look pretty today, you're being rude--and then came sharing a view on the world, and only then self-report? The Cartesian idea, "I think therefore I am," and all the mind/body/self/other splits that arise, might never have come up if Descartes hadn't been indoctrinated with the idea that "I" comes first. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Why are liberals in denial about the Sexual Revolution? (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, March 19, 2015, The Week)

But most progressives in this discussion are not arguing about the precise extent of the respective roles played by economics and culture, which would be a very productive discussion -- they are simply denying that culture plays a role at all (in what amounts to one of the most emblematic examples of the Left's vulgar Marxism problem).

While some conservatives have shown superhuman patience -- witness Ross Douthat's first of several very forbearing blog posts on this topic earlier this week -- at some point someone has to say that the sky is blue and the Earth is round. To question whether the Sexual Revolution has had something to do with the decline of marriage is like wondering whether the French Revolution had anything to do with regicide.

Given that the family held up comparatively well during the Great Depression, and that today's lower class, while not doing great, is wealthy beyond the dreams of most people in the 18th century, to suggest that the biggest cultural trend in the 20th century has not affected marriage is prima facie absurd.

At some point, you start to feel like the poor man in Monty Python's "Dead Parrot Sketch" trying to convey his meaning. A change in how people approach sex, relationships, and family has changed how people approach sex, relationships, and family. After all, it's called the "Sexual Revolution," not the "Sexual Fad That Didn't Affect How People Live." That's what it means. That's what it is.


Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Sea Power Can Eclipse Solar (Mark Gilbert, 3/19/15, Bloomberg View)

Europe leads the world in solar-power installations, with about 60 percent of the global total. Germany's decision to shun nuclear power has propelled the industry's growth there: On a particularly bright day in the middle of last year, the sun provided half the nation's energy needs. A government drive resulted in Germany having a third of Europe's solar total, according to the European Photovoltaic Industry Association.

Europe has also been swift to adopt wind power, with sufficient capacity to meet more than 10 percent of the region's energy needs, according to the European Wind Energy Association. That reflects a global embrace of turbines, which has seen the world's wind capacity double since 2009, according to the Global Wind Energy Council:

Global WInd

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Witness (A Book Review by Father John McCloskey, February 2015, National Catholic Reporter)

His break with communism came in stages. At one point in his journey he realized, "Economics is not the central problem of this century. It is a relative problem which can be solved in relative ways. Faith is the central problem of this age." Interestingly enough, when Chambers finally broke completely with communism he did not immediately denounce the agents with whom he had worked, the best-known being Harvard blueblood Alger Hiss, a lawyer who worked for the State Department and was a member of the circle advising President Roosevelt on foreign affairs.

Would that Hiss had likewise seen the light and confessed, but evidently he never repented. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, government records unearthed there showed clearly that Hiss had, indeed, functioned as a communist spy for many years, receiving orders ultimately from Moscow.

However, perhaps more important than the role Chambers played in revealing the communist underground in the U.S. of the '30s and '40s is his expose of the unsatisfactory character of all the 20th century's attempts to derive an explanation for life apart from God. As Chambers put it, "The communist vision is the vision of man without God."

Chambers was one of the best prose writers of his time and was also fluent in several European languages. As a writer for TIME and later for Bill Buckley's National Review, he was recognized as one of the best journalists of his time. Chambers had the unique gift of being able to write about truth in a simple, direct, and memorable way:

"Communism is the central experience of the first half of the 20th century and may be its final experience--will be, unless the free world in the agony of its struggle with communism overcomes its crises by discovering, in suffering and pain, a power of faith which will provide man's mind, at the same time intensity, with the same two certainties: a reason to live and a reason to die."

Though most of his major journalistic writing has been anthologized, Witness, without question, was his masterpiece, an autobiography on a par with Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain, written just a few years before Witness. Both men experienced religious conversions: Merton converted to Catholicism and Chambers became a Quaker, though not the kind that substitutes causes for God. Both saw that the West was in decline and only an earnestly lived Christianity could save it. "The crisis of the Western world exists to the degree in which it is indifferent to God," Chambers wrote in Witness.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM



Kenneth Branagh's "Cinderella" is the most surprising Hollywood movie of the year so far. I say this because the director manages to tells the familiar fairy tale without irony, hyper-feminist sub-plots, Marxist insinuations, deconstructionist cynicism, or arch condescension. In so doing, he actually allows the spiritual, indeed specifically Christian, character of the tale to emerge. I realize that it probably strikes a contemporary audience as odd that Cinderella might be a Christian allegory, but keep in mind that most of the fairy stories and children's tales compiled by the Brothers Grimm and later adapted by Walt Disney found their roots in the decidedly Christian culture of late medieval and early modern Europe.  [...]

[W]hile out riding in the country, Cinderella encountered a magnificent stag that was being pursued by a hunting party. Subsequently, she met the leader of the hunting brigade, a handsome young prince, the son of the King. The two almost immediately fell in love. Because she returned home without identifying herself, the prince called for a ball and invited all of the young women of the realm to come, hoping to lure his mysterious beloved. Though her stepfamily tried desperately to prevent her from attending, Cinderella, through the ministrations of her fairy godmother, managed to get to the ball, where she, of course, entranced the prince. Once again, she was compelled to return early, and the lovesick prince sought her desperately until he found her and married her. 

We are tempted, no doubt, to see all of this as the stuff of ordinary romance, but we should look more deeply. First, the stag is a traditional sign of Christ and thus his presence as the object of the hunt is meant to signal his presence at the symbolic level of the narrative. Moreover, the prince, the son of the King, who falls in love with a woman despite her lowliness, is an obvious evocation of Jesus, the Son of God, who was sent to become the bridegroom of the human race, whose spiritual beauty had been covered over by sin. The prophet Isaiah predicted that the "builder of the human race" would come one day to marry his people, and the motif of the sacrum connubium, the sacred marriage, runs right through the New Testament. Indeed, the fathers of the Church took particular delight in ringing the changes on this theme, emphasizing that the Prince of Peace, the Son of God, in marrying the human race, lifted us up out of our lowliness and bestowed upon us all of his own benefits and dignity. This is precisely why the early theologians of the Church specified that the sacrum connubium involved an admirabile commercium (a wonderful exchange), God taking our sin from us and giving us his grace. In the symbolic language of our story, the unmerited love of the prince indeed transformed Cinderella into a princess.

The surest sign that this transformation has occurred--and it is one of my favorite elements in Branagh's telling--is that Cinderella, upon escaping from the cruel oppression of her stepmother, turned to the wicked woman, not to curse her, but to offer a word of forgiveness. There could be no more compelling proof that she had thoroughly taken on the character of the bridegroom.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Vikings were more trade and bling than rape and pillage, museum shows (Steven Morris, 20 March 2015, The Guardian)

The centrepiece of the exhibition in Falmouth is not a dragon-headed Viking battleship but an altogether gentler looking replica of a trading ship - named Walrus - that would have plied coastal waters in the 11th century. It could carry up to five tons of cargo and sailed with a small crew of between five and eight men, sustained by buttery porridge bulked out with dried meat or fish. Broad and shallow, almost barge-like, it could easily be dragged up on to beaches.

One of the display cases shows a collection of items found on the shoreline of the Isle of Man, indicating that a Viking beach market was held there. Travelling craftspeople would have traded in bronze objects such as cloak and scarf pins. Also found there were coins from the Islamic caliphate that ruled most of north Africa and the Middle East, a reminder of how widely the Vikings travelled.

The exhibition points out that Viking women would also have traded at a beach market like this - a reminder that their society was in many ways more equal than the Christian-dominated societies that followed.

Evidence of women's presence was also found in a 76-acre Viking camp found in north Yorkshire dating back to the 9th century and represented in another display case. Williams is particularly excited about this exhibit as he believes it provides a missing link between temporary warrior war camps and the much larger, more permanent settlements that led to the creation of towns and cities, such as York.

This was a military camp - remains of weapons were found - but the discovery of weights and coins shows that trading was also taking place. "It suggests migration rather than simply an army resting here over winter," he said.

And as for grooming? A rather large and severe looking bone comb with iron rivets found in York and dating to the 9th or 10th centuries shows that the Vikings did try to look after their hair.

"Despite the popular image of Vikings as wild and shaggy looking, bone and antler combs are very common finds," said Williams. "We even know the name of one combmaker. A comb from Lincoln carries the inscription: 'Thorfastr makes a good comb." Toiletry sets for women and ear scoops to dig wax out have also been discovered.

March 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


Wind Could Produce A Stunning One-Third Of America's Electricity By 2050 (Ben Schiller, 3/20/15, Co.Exist)

Just look at the Department of Energy's big new Wind Vision report. It shows that wind could plausibly provide 10% of U.S. electricity by 2020 (up from about about 5% now), 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. Which is a hell of a lot.

What's more, wind should be cheaper than fossil fuels within the next decade (without subsidies) and can do a lot to reduce pollution. The report says today's wind farms already prevent the equivalent sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulate matter emissions of at least 10 conventional power plants. That's to say nothing of preventing greenhouse gas emissions. By 2050, wind could prevent 21,700 premature deaths from pollution-related diseases and save the country $108 billion a year in associated costs, the report says.

And wind can reduce the amount of water we need to make power, which could be a significant issue in places where water is scarce, like the U.S. Southwest. The report predicts a 23% fall in water use by 2050, assuming wind replaces fossil fuels.

Wind looks marginally expensive in the short term but a great big bargain going forward. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Four charged in attack on Israelis in Patagonia (JTA, 3/20/15)

A federal judge in Argentina charged four people under an anti-discrimination law for a January attack on Israeli tourists.

Guido Otranto accused four people on March 17 in connection with the attack that he said was motivated by "hatred against a religion and against one nationality." Otranto fined each of the four approximately $5,700 and required they report to the court monthly until their trial. The judge also imposed restraining orders to protect the hostel where the Israelis were staying when they were attacked.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Disruptive entrepreneurship is transforming U.S. health care (Jonathan Rauch, 3/17/15, Brookings)

By interviewing investors, entrepreneurs, and health care executives, Rauch finds that:

The federal government's movement away from fee-for-service payment, particularly in the Medicare Advantage program and the Affordable Care Act, has sent providers and insurers scrambling to explore value-based revenue models. They are focused as never before--as one executive put it--on not becoming Kodak.

The exponential increase in the quantity and quality of health-care data, the parallel growth in the power and availability of analytical tools, and the rising demand for value-based business models are combining to open the market to efficiency-seeking startups and products that would not have been viable even a few years ago.

Sensing upheaval in the market, an influx of outside talent into the health care sector is populating profitable niches for efficiency-improving products and services, moving traditional players to raise their game.

Together, those developments are making the health care sector more open to business-model innovation than at any time in memory. 

The UR's expansion of the trail W blazed is working as expected.
Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


The Global VAT Craze (WSJ, March 20, 2015)

The VAT is a sort of turbo-charged national sales tax on goods and services that is applied at each stage of production, not merely on retail transactions. Politicians love it because it is the most efficient revenue-raiser known to man, and its rates can be raised gradually to finance new entitlements or fill budget holes. The VAT is typically introduced with a low rate but then moves up over time until it swallows huge chunks of national economies.

E&Y finds that rates have been rising again, especially since the financial panic and recession. E&Y says standard VAT rates now average a knee-buckling 21.6% in the European Union, up from 19.4% in 2008. Average standard rates in the industrial countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have climbed to 19.2% from 17.8% in 2009.

Here in America we'll avoid Europe's problem with VAT by using to to replace taxes on income, investment and savings, rather than as an add-on.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


The Case for Free-Range Parenting (Clemens Wergin, 3/20/15, NY Times)

ON her first morning in America, last summer, my daughter went out to explore her new neighborhood -- alone, without even telling my wife or me.

Of course we were worried; we had just moved from Berlin, and she was just 8. But when she came home, we realized we had no reason to panic. Beaming with pride, she told us and her older sister how she had discovered the little park around the corner, and had made friends with a few local dog owners. She had taken possession of her new environment, and was keen to teach us things we didn't know.

When this story comes up in conversations with American friends, we are usually met with polite disbelief. Most are horrified by the idea that their children might roam around without adult supervision. In Berlin, where we lived in the center of town, our girls would ride the Metro on their own -- a no-no in Washington. Or they'd go alone to the playground, or walk a mile to a piano lesson. Here in quiet and traffic-safe suburban Washington, they don't even find other kids on the street to play with. On Halloween, when everybody was out to trick or treat, we were surprised by how many children actually lived here whom we had never seen.

A study by the University of California, Los Angeles, has found that American kids spend 90 percent of their leisure time at home, often in front of the TV or playing video games. Even when kids are physically active, they are watched closely by adults, either in school, at home, at afternoon activities or in the car, shuttling them from place to place.

Such narrowing of the child's world has happened across the developed world. But Germany is generally much more accepting of letting children take some risks. To this German parent, it seems that America's middle class has taken overprotective parenting to a new level, with the government acting as a super nanny.

When we had one kid, he wouldn't follow me from the toy section at K-Mart, so I just left him behind.  Eventually there was a PA announcement asking for Griffin's dad to come claim his child.  Fellow shoppers looked on in disbelief.  But from then on he came when I told him to.  So I did the same thing with his sister a few years later and it worked out the same.

Of course, I stayed home with the third and he's nearly feral.  After about an hour I had to go fish him out of the toy section where he was still playing blissfully.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Putin Again Begs Oligarchs to Bring Their Money Home (ROB GARVER,, 3/20/15, The Fiscal Times)

Back in December, Russian President Vladimir Putin all but begged wealthy Russians to bring their overseas holdings back to Russia. His campaign went so far as to offer amnesty from prosecution for individuals whose wealth was gained illegally - something true of a significant segment of Russia's richest citizens. 

At the time, the plea was aimed at exploiting the patriotic feeling of wealthy Russians - it was time to bring Russian money back home to strengthen the economy. Apparently, though, appealing to the patriotism of oligarchs and members of organized criminal groups didn't work, because on Thursday, Putin had to renew his request.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


A Universal Basic Income Is The Bipartisan Solution To Poverty We've Been Waiting For : What if the government simply paid everyone enough so that no one was poor? It's an insane idea that's gaining an unlikely alliance of supporters. (Ben Schiller, 3/20/15, Co.Exist)

Robots already do many menial tasks. In the future, they'll do more sophisticated jobs as well. A study last year from Carl Frey and Michael Osborne at Oxford University found that 47% of jobs are at risk of computerization over the next two decades. That includes positions in transport and logistics, office and administration, sales and construction, and even law, financial services and medicine. Of course, it's possible that people who lose their jobs will find others. But it's also feasible we're approaching an era when there will simply be less to do. [...]

The libertarian right likes basic income because it hates bureaucracy and thinks people should be responsible for themselves. Rather than giving out food stamps and health care (which are in-kind services), it thinks people should get cash, because cash is fungible and you do what you like with it.

The left likes basic income because it thinks society is unequal and basic income is redistributive. It evens up the playing field for people who haven't had good opportunities in life by establishing a floor under the poorest. The "precariat" goes from being perpetually insecure to knowing it has something to live on. That, in turn, should raise well-being and produce more productive citizens.

The technology elite, like Netscape's Marc Andreessen, also likes the idea. "As a VC, I like the fact that a lot of the political establishment is ignoring or dismissing this idea," Albert Wenger, of Union Square Ventures, told a TED audience recently, "because what we see in startups is that the most powerful innovative ideas are ones truly dismissed by the incumbents." A minimum income would allow us to "embrace automation rather than be afraid of it" and let more of us participate in the era of "digital abundance," he says.

The exact details of basic income still need to be worked out, but it might work something like this: Instead of welfare payments, subsidies for health care, and tax credits for the working poor, we would take that money and use it to cover a single payment that would give someone the chance to live reasonably. Switzerland recently held an (unsuccessful) is planning to hold a referendum on a basic income this year, though no date is set. The proposed amount is $2,800 per month.

As a VC, I like the fact that a lot of the political establishment is ignoring or dismissing this idea.
But would it actually work? The evidence from actual experiments is limited, though it's more positive than not. A pilot in the 1970s in Manitoba, Canada, showed that a "Mincome" not only ended poverty but also reduced hospital visits and raised high-school completion rates. There seemed to be a community-affirming effect, which showed itself in people making use of free public services more responsibly.

Meanwhile, there were eight "negative income tax" trials in the U.S. in the '70s, where people received payments and the government clawed back most of it in taxes based on your other income. The results for those trials was more mixed. They reduced poverty, but people also worked slightly less than normal. To some, this is the major drawback of basic income: it could make people lazier than they would otherwise be. That would certainly be a problem, though it's questionable whether, in the future, there will be as much employment anyway. The age of robots and artificial intelligence seems likely to hollow out many jobs, perhaps changing how we view notions of laziness and productivity altogether.

Experiments outside the U.S. have been more encouraging. One in Namibia cut poverty from 76% to 37%, increased non-subsidized incomes, raised education and health standards, and cut crime levels. Another involving 6,000 people in India paid people $7 month--about a third of subsistence levels. It, too, proved successful.

"The important thing is to create a floor on which people can start building some security. If the economic situation allows, you can gradually increase the income to where it meets subsistence," says Guy Standing, a professor of development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, in London, who was involved with the pilot. "Even that modest amount had incredible effects on people's savings, economic status, health, in children going to school, in the acquisition of items like school shoes, so people felt in control of their lives. 

...besides forge stronger families, churches, associations and communities?

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


The Education of Jeb Bush : How did a conservative--and effective--governor arouse the suspicion of the right? (ANDREW FERGUSON, 3/30/15, Weekly Standard)

But it's the '94 campaign for Florida governor that works as the hinge in Jeb Bush's political life, a shift whose effects are felt even now, as he introduces himself to voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. Already in 1994 he had the reputation of a committed conservative with a libertarian severity: a board member of the Heritage Foundation and reader of intellectual journals like Policy Review and the American Spectator, an aspiring egghead eager to master the minutiae of government policy in hopes of undoing or reversing the ill effects of government policy. Far more ideological than either his brother or his father, he was, said the political consultant Mike Murphy, "the Bush brother with balls." 

"All of us on the campaign, he called us gladiators or head-bangers," says Tom Feeney, Bush's running mate in '94--also the Christian Coalition's Legislator of the Year, dubbed the "David Duke of Florida" by Democrats. Bush vowed to send federal welfare dollars back to Washington and pledged to eliminate not only the state department of commerce but also the department of education--indeed, not just to eliminate them, but "blow them up." 

You never knew when those conservative cojones would swing into view. At a public forum he was asked what he "was prepared to do" for black Floridians by a questioner evidently expecting a bundle of special programs swaddled in gauzy rhetoric. His terse answer, "probably nothing," became instantly infamous, though from a conservative point of view, which in theory disavows the parsing of the population by race, it was easily defensible. (Asked not long ago about his greatest regret in politics, Bush mentioned his "probably nothing" answer.)

Less famously he said women on welfare "should be able to get their life together and find a husband," though he complained that his comments were taken out of context. He wrote an op-ed about gay rights, arguing that sodomy should not be raised to a legal category, the same as race or religion. One salvo apparently backfired: In the final days of a close campaign, he accused the incumbent governor, Lawton Chiles, of stalling the execution of a convicted child murderer to appease left-wing voters--an accusation that was itself a transparent appeal to right-wing voters. Pundits expected Bush to win, but he came up short by 64,000 votes. On the same day, his older brother won an upset victory over a sitting governor in Texas. 

"That was a big year for Republicans, you'll remember," Bush says from the front seat as the minivan pulls out of the fairgrounds. We have at last shaken the autograph hounds. "I think two Republicans lost--Mitt Romney to Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts and me to Lawton Chiles." 

Bush's friends from those days say the unexpected loss was painful and disheartening, and probably the cause for as much soul-searching as a Bush can admit to. He said publicly that the campaign's constant travel and absences from home had taken a toll on his family life. He founded a think tank, the Foundation for Florida's Future, to serve as a political base for another run for governor and also as a warehouse for policy proposals from the conservative movement nationwide. With the director of the Miami Urban League he raised money to found a charter school in the African-American suburb of Liberty City, and once it was established he spent several hours a week there, beyond the range of reporters and cameramen. He converted to Catholicism and to this day carries a rosary in his coat pocket. And he decided to change his whole approach to politics.

"The big lesson of '94," he calls it. 

"I was all about ideas," he says now. "And we had a whole slew of white papers--some very cool ideas, I might add. But people aren't going to listen to just ideas." 

When Chiles attacked him as a heartless ideologue, he says, voters had no real evidence to think otherwise. "The thing I didn't do was show my heart. I didn't show who I was," he says. "In politics you put a human context around things, and you show your heart. The ideology that I believe, the belief in limited government, that didn't change. But I learned a lot. And the tone of my language is reflected in what I learned."

To prepare himself for another run for governor, he gave himself a crash course in the intersection of state government and ordinary citizens. "What I did was, I wandered," he says. "Basically that's what I did. I quit my job and just went around. I raised money [for a second gubernatorial campaign]. I raised a ton of money, but that was at night."

Daytime he visited courtrooms unannounced. "I sat and watched judges that were supervising the child welfare system. I'd spend three hours at a time watching them go through case after case--abandoned children, neglected kids, abused kids. The system was so screwed up.

"I visited 250 schools." He pauses to let the number sink in. "You don't think that's a lot of schools, try it sometime. That's like a three-schools-a-day kinda deal. Sometimes I'd just walk in unannounced. I'd say, I'm running for governor and I just want to learn from what you're doing."

At one luncheon meeting he was confronted by a woman who said the special education system had failed her disabled daughter. "You don't know what it's like," she told him.

"Okay," Bush replied, according to contemporary accounts. "You've got four days. Teach me what it's like." 

Over the next week, he says, "she showed me programs that work and programs that don't. We went to group homes, independent living places." After his election as governor, the mother, Berthy De La Rosa-Aponte, became an adviser to the governor's root-and-branch overhaul of the special education system. She's now a well-known authority in state and federal disability programs. And a Republican.

"He became a better politician," says Mac Stipanovich, who managed his first unsuccessful campaign. "He learned how to talk to people about things they care about." Stipanovich contrasts the '94 version of candidate Jeb with his brother W., a far more natural politician. 

"You'd ask George W. Bush, 'What's your position on crime?' And he'd say, 'I'm against it.' And you'd say, uh, could you be more specific? And he'd say, 'Okay. I'm really against it.' You'd ask Jeb about crime and he would talk your ear off for an hour about sentencing guidelines, incarceration rates, everything.

"He believed 10 things very firmly in '94. In '98 he still believed in the same 10 things, but he learned that if a particular group only agrees with you on 5, only talk about the 5."

The softened and simplified rhetoric--this language of the heart, as Bush says--proved maddening for his opponent, Chiles's lieutenant governor Buddy MacKay. As his running mate Bush chose the state commissioner of education, the head of a department he said four years earlier he wanted to blow up. At a candidates' debate at an inner-city church two weeks before Election Day, MacKay became so vexed at Bush's reasonableness that he cried out: "If he wants to be a Democrat, then let's have the conversion right here in church!"

In fact, his platform, still festooned with white papers, changed scarcely at all between '94 and '98. When Bush won handily, he could rightly claim a mandate for an ambitious agenda: tort reform, tax cuts, limits on abortion, school choice, and much else. Feeney, his first-time running mate, says: "He'd realized that if you're going to grow the party you're going to have to bring non-hardcore nonpartisans along with you, on reforms they might not be comfortable with otherwise. It wasn't just winning an election. It was laying the groundwork for massive conservative reform."

The astonishing achievements of Bush's eight years in office will soon, he hopes, be familiar to primary voters. Even Republican non-Floridians might have missed them if they weren't paying attention. 

"Jeb Bush is as conservative as any governor in America, and much more so than most," wrote the journalist Tucker Carlson in 1999. "But you'd never know it unless you listened carefully, or took a close look at the bills he supports. If Bush's legislation is radical, his tone is all accommodation and empathy."

The Bush record in Florida is like a wish list conjured from right-wing daydreams. With Republican majorities in both houses of the state legislature, "Bush made Florida into a laboratory of conservative governance," writes Matthew T. Corrigan in Conservative Hurricane: How Jeb Bush Remade Florida, destined for now to be the definitive account of Bush's eight years in Tallahassee. 

Corrigan is a political science professor at the University of North Florida and shows every indication of having the political leanings common to his trade. He records with mounting horror the list of Bush's successes. While Florida's population grew by two million, the state government's workforce declined by 13,000--the result of sweeping privatization of everything from state park maintenance to personnel management. At least one kind of state tax or another was cut every year he was in office, for a total of $19 billion. He left office with a $3 billion surplus in the state treasury. For the first time in history the state earned a AAA bond rating.

It helped that in his first two years his state, like many others in the blissful '90s, was awash in cash, pouring in from the economic boom and from billion-dollar settlements with tobacco companies. An Associated Press headline from 1999 summarized the lucky position he found himself in: "Bush budget has it all: spending increases, tax cuts." Spending increases were of a particular kind: More money was poured into care for seniors, for instance, but only to fund vouchers and other mechanisms that transferred control of their care from state institutions to family members or the seniors themselves. Otherwise the fiscal discipline continued through flush times and bad, often against the opposition of some powerful Republican legislators, who saw no reason why new revenue had to be returned to the taxpayers. One bitter Republican leader called Bush and his staff "Shiite Republicans."

The epithet was directed as well at Bush's nonfiscal agenda. After a mad rush in the first year, he and the legislature ran out of ways to liberalize gun laws; the Stand Your Ground law implicated in the Trayvon Martin shooting was a Bush-era innovation. Under Bush, Florida even exempted gun shops from state rules regulating chemical runoff into the water table, a legislative two-fer beyond the imagination of the most fevered deregulating gun nut. 

Bush's attempts to limit abortion were unprecedented in Florida and most other states too. Many of the laws were overturned by hostile state judges, but even so, only a few years into the Bush era, the Florida legislature had banned partial-birth abortion, imposed parental notification requirements on minors seeking abortions, subsidized antiabortion pregnancy centers, funded pro-life billboards along state highways, and even offered a "Choose Life" license plate. Bush's rhetoric in pursuing his social agenda was typically rounded. He framed parental notification, for instance, not as a means to reduce abortions but an opportunity for parents "to love and console." His stubborn fight for the right to life of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged woman whose husband obtained a court order to hasten her death by denying her food and water, drew international attention, much of it horrified.

"I just think it's humorous," Tom Feeney says now, when reminded that lots of reporters and Republicans are calling Bush a moderate. "It's pure revisionism for anyone to ignore the fact that he was the most conservative governor in the country."

When he left office, in 2007, Bush's approval rating in some polls stood above 60 percent, having rarely fallen below 50 percent in the preceding eight years. Even veteran Bush watchers like Peter Brown, a former writer for the Orlando Sentinel and now assistant director of polls for Quinnipiac University, express surprise.

"After eight years, with that record?" Brown says. "But people liked him. They knew he was a conservative guy and he acted on what he believed, but he was like Reagan: He wasn't a hater. People liked it that he didn't pick on people." [...]

When Bush settles back in his seat, there's an objection from a kibitzer in the back: What does all this have to do with the federal government? These are all state responsibilities. After all, presidents can't do what governors do .  .  .

He wheels around again. 

"Why not?" 

Well .  .  .

"I mean, why not? I've never understood that. Why can't presidents reform things? It seems to me there's a lot of low-hanging fruit there: procurement policies, career civil service reform, job training programs, our public assistance programs--they're all mired in the old way of doing things. Why can't a president change things?"

Eventually he says: "You can be a conservative and still solve problems for people."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Congress' Medicare 'Fix' Could Leave Seniors Paying More (DAVID DAYEN, 3/20/15, The Fiscal Times)

What would the $70 billion in offsets look like? Half would come from health care provider cuts (in particular a slower rate of growth for hospice and acute-care facility payments), but of course that would be more than offset by a permanent fix to overall payment rates. The changes would give more money to doctors and hospitals that improve the quality and coordination of care, which theoretically sounds excellent. 

It's the other half of the cuts that get problematic. There would reportedly be more means-testing for Medicare beneficiaries, increasing premiums for seniors showing income over $133,000 and couples over $266,000. These seniors would have to pay 65 percent of their total costs under the new plan. This would go up at higher incomes. Means-testing historically dips lower and lower as budgeters try to get more out of beneficiaries, so this continues that ratcheting process for Medicare. It's not necessarily where this line is set now but where it might go in the future that should cause concern.

Under the deal, new Medigap policies -- privately sold but publicly managed plans which fill in spaces in Medicare coverage -- would need a $250 deductible starting in 2020. Virtually every senior I've ever spoken with says that they need supplementary coverage because Medicare doesn't stretch far enough. But this would raise out-of-pocket expenses on all 9 million seniors with a Medigap plan, including the 86 percent of these beneficiaries who have incomes under $40,000, and almost half with incomes below $20,000. So this cut hits those who can't really afford it. (This idea, along with the means-testing, was in President Obama's budget, incidentally.) 

The proper term for this is cost-shifting, pushing funding for a public program onto those who get the benefits. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Guess what? More people are living in peace now. Just look at the numbers (Steven Pinker, 3/20/15, The Guardian)

The numbers show that after millennia of near-universal poverty and despotism, a steadily growing proportion of humankind is surviving infancy and childbirth, going to school, voting in democracies, living free of disease, enjoying the necessities of modern life and surviving to old age.

And more people are living in peace. In the 1980s several military scholars noticed to their astonishment that the most destructive form of armed conflict - wars among great powers and developed states - had effectively ceased to exist. At the time this "long peace" could have been dismissed as a random lull, but it has held firm for an additional three decades.

Then came another pleasant surprise. Starting in the 1990s, political scientists such as Joshua Goldstein, who kept track of ongoing wars of all kinds, including civil wars and wars among smaller and poorer countries, noticed that the list kept getting shorter. Research institutes in Oslo and Uppsala compiled datasets of global battle deaths since 1946, and their plots showed an unmistakable downward trend. The per-capita death rate fell more than tenfold between the peak of the second world war and the Korean war, and then plunged an additional hundredfold by the mid-2000s. Even the recent uptick from the wars in Iraq and Syria has not brought the world anywhere near the death rates of the preceding decades. Other datasets show steep declines in genocides and other mass killings. The declines are precipitous enough that they don't depend on precise body counts: the estimates could be off by 25%, 100%, or 250% and the decline would still be there.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Eurozone May Have to Boost Immigration to Avoid Growth Collapse (PAUL HANNON, 3/19/15, WSJ)
The eurozone may have little choice but to encourage higher levels of immigration if it is to avoid decades of very low economic growth that will leave it with high levels of debt, according to a paper published Friday by two Irish economists.

Kieran McQuinn at the Economic and Social Research Institute, and Karl Whelan at University College Dublin, estimate that without economic reforms, and with the eurozone's working age population continuing its post-2010 decline, annual economic growth will average just 0.6% over the coming decade, even if unemployment rates and investment spending return to their pre-crisis levels by 2020. And it gets worse--in subsequent decades, the eurozone economy would grow even more slowly, and by just 0.3% between 2044 and 2060.

On the positive side, Europe will have plenty of free empty housing to offer them.  Of course, our economy and demand for immigrants will be driven by the housing boom since we don't have enough for the ones we'll be trying to lure.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Branson: Virgin might make an electric car (Peter Valdes-Dapena and Rachel Crane, 3/20/15, CNNMoney)

"Virgin Racing has shown that electric cars can be sexy," Branson said "That's where you start, and then you create cars for twenty-five, thirty thousand dollars for everybody."

There are electric cars on the market now that cost $30,000 or less such, as General Motors' (GM)Chevrolet Spark EV and Daimler (DDAIF)'s Smart Electric Drive. But both of them are small hatchbacks that it would be difficult to describe as "sexy." Branson hinted his companies might enter the race to make a popular electric car.

Posted by orrinj at 12:54 PM


Fed's profit jumps 30% to $101 billion (Paul R. La Monica3/20/15, Money)

According to figures released Friday, the Fed reported net income of $101.3 billion. That's an increase of nearly 30% from 2013.

But the Fed sends nearly all of its profits to the Treasury. Last year, that amounted to $96.9 billion. The Fed said this was a record.

The Fed also ended 2014 with nearly $4.5 trillion in assets -- up from about $4 trillion in 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 AM


Error in House budget understated spending cuts by $900 million (Josh Hicks, March 19, 2015, Washington Post)

A correction to the House Republican budget released this week could mean far deeper cuts for federal employees than the original document suggested, further alarming government workers and their unions already upset about hits they have taken in recent years.

The initial version called for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to identify $100 million in savings over a decade from mandatory spending programs within its jurisdiction, which includes the federal-worker retirement and health plans. But the amount was supposed to be $1 billion -- 10 times larger than first advertised.

March 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


'On the Twentieth Century' review: Kristin Chenoweth the engine of a blissful Broadway revival   (JOE DZIEMIANOWICZ, 3/15/15, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Next stop, Broadway musical bliss.

That's where the Roundabout revival of "On the Twentieth Century," directed with verve by Scott Ellis, takes you.

The setting for this fast-paced, flab-free screwball operetta by Cy Coleman, Betty Comden and Adolph Green is a luxury coach en route from Chicago to New York in the 1930s. The stylish state-of-the-art locomotive by David Rockwell gleams in brilliant Art Deco glory.

But that's nothing compared to the practically nuclear glow that comes off Kristin Chenoweth, whose singular talent and skills are tailor-made for a role originated on Broadway in 1978 by Madeline Kahn.

...and Kristin Chenoweth.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Flesh-Detecting Saw Instantly Drops the Blade Without Destroying It (Andrew Liszewski, 3/19/15, Gizmodo)

Close to a decade ago a clever inventor came up with a safety feature for power tools that could detect when a blade made contact with human flesh and instantly retract it to prevent injury. Unfortunately, it destroyed the tool in the process.

The SawStop technology was amazing, and probably life-saving, but it left a lot of people without saws. Bosch's new REAXX Portable Jobsite Table Saw does the exact same thing, except that it can be reset to working order again in just 60 seconds.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Jeb Bush, 20 Years After Conversion, Is Guided by His Catholic Faith (MICHAEL PAULSON, MARCH 17, 2015, NY Times)

Twenty years after Mr. Bush converted to Catholicism, the religion of his wife, following a difficult and unsuccessful political campaign that had put a strain on his marriage, his faith has become a central element of the way he shapes his life and frames his views on public policy. And now, as he explores a bid for the presidency, his religion has become a focal point of early appeals to evangelical activists, who are particularly important in a Republican primary that is often dominated by religious voters.

Many of his priorities during his two terms as governor of Florida aligned with those of the Catholic Church -- including his extraordinary, and unsuccessful, effort to force a hospital to keep Terri Schiavo on life support, as well as less well-known, and also unsuccessful, efforts to appoint a guardian for the fetus of a developmentally disabled rape victim and to prevent a 13-year-old girl from having an abortion. He even, during his first year in office in 1999, signed a law creating a "Choose Life" license plate.

He differed from his church, significantly and openly, over capital punishment; the state executed 21 prisoners on his watch, the most under any Florida governor since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. But he has won praise from Catholic officials for his welcoming tone toward immigrants and his relatively centrist positions on education -- two issues in which he is at odds with the right wing of his party.

"As a public leader, one's faith should guide you," Mr. Bush said in Italy in 2009, explaining his attitude about the relationship between religion and politics at a conference associated with Communion and Liberation, a conservative Catholic lay movement.

"In the United States, many people think you need to keep your faith, put it in a security box, if you're an elected official -- put it in a safety deposit box until you finish your service as a public servant and then you can go get it back," he added. "I never felt that was appropriate."

Like his brother George W. Bush, who established the White House office on faith-based initiatives, Jeb Bush was a champion of religion-based social services. As governor, he established what he said was the nation's first faith-based prison, encouraging religious activity -- of any faith tradition -- in an effort to reduce criminal behavior. And he has said his religious beliefs helped inform his concern about child welfare and other issues.

"You hear people say, 'I don't want to impose my faith,' " Mr. Bush told the newspaper The Florida Catholic days after leaving office in 2007. "Well, it's not an imposition of faith. It's who you are."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Oil Prices Have Yet to Hit the Floor : Surging crude inventories in the United States send prices lower, threatening more pain for shale producers but a boost for the global economy. (KEITH JOHNSON, MARCH 18, 2015, Foreign Policy)

"U.S. crude oil inventories are at the highest level for this time of year in at least the last 80 years," the Energy Information Administration said in its weekly note.

With nearly overflowing inventories, it looks as if oil will stay relatively cheap for a while, after an ephemeral rebound earlier this year. While that's awful for folks in Midland, Texas, it's a plus for the world as a whole. Gasoline prices everywhere are lower than they were last year, pumping extra cash into consumers' pockets.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Right-to-work laws lower your pay (Richard Trumk, March 17, 2015, USA Today)

The data tell us people in right-to-work states earn 12% less and have worse healthcare and retirement benefits than workers in other states. Simply put, right-to-work is wrong.

But like the zombies from The Walking Dead, right-to-work proposals keep coming back. Corporate interests think they have the right to lower your pay, reduce your health care and cut your retirement. They think it's their right to increase profits by making your job more dangerous.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Kasich waits in the wings (George F. Will, March 18, 2015, Washington Post)

In Congress, Kasich was the first iteration of Paul Ryan, mastering budget intricacies. He participated in the Clinton-era dramas that produced two government shutdowns (1995, 1996) and a balanced budget (1998).

As governor, he has cut taxes by $3 billion. Death is no longer a taxable event in Ohio, and under his proposed budget, small businesses would be untaxed until their income reaches $2 million. Because of his focus on economic growth, the building-trades unions supported his reelection. State colleges and universities were reimbursed on a per-pupil basis, and now, he says, "do not get a dime" for a student who doesn't graduate.

Time spent with him and his colleagues is a bracing torrent of granular details about, among much else, criminal justice reform. He favors fewer mandatory minimum sentences and has instituted prison policies that prepare inmates for re-integration into communities.

But it takes money to save money, meaning, he says, "recurring societal costs," such as the $23,000-per-year-per-inmate cost of recidivism.

So, Kasich angered Ohio's Republican-controlled legislature by disregarding it in order to accept Medicaid expansion. Without the money from this, he says, he could not find funding for the three cohorts about which he constantly speaks -- "the mentally ill, the drug addicted and the working poor."

Kasich has committed another offense against the orthodoxy that is often stipulated by Republicans who have never run for any office or who represent safe districts. Like another Midwestern governor, Michigan's Rick Snyder (R), Kasich would consider a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, who might energize ailing cities such as Cleveland.

His fervent Christianity stems from 1987, when both of his parents were killed by a drunk driver. Today he has twin teenage daughters and a serenity that has mellowed him. Up to a point.

Undeterred by any unsettling echoes, he preaches compassionate conservatism.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Scott Walker, the gutless wonder of the 2016 presidential race (Michael Brendan Dougherty, March 19, 2015, The Week)

Forcing Mair out was like amputating your finger to deal with a paper cut. Instead of having a problem with a few Iowans and a writer at, Walker has now baffled his admirers across the right. Mair's resignation signaled that Walker's team either didn't do its homework before hiring Mair, or that it was too spineless to defend her. It is hard to believe the former, since Mair consulted for Walker before during his 2012 recall.

Walker's unwillingness to defend his own hire will give other consultants and policy experts jitters before joining the team. It totally undercuts his reputation as a tough-minded fighter who stands on principle. And it may contribute to an alternate interpretation of Walker as a 'fraidy cat. Earlier this month, Walker caved to Iowa ethanol interests by reversing his position on the federal mandate.

The problem, in other words, wasn't the tweets of a single staffer, but the way Iowa's parochial concerns act like kryptonite on Walker's convictions and reputation. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Rahm Emanuel Needs Republican Help : Obama's former tough-talking chief of staff has been humbled, and he's desperate for support, wherever he can find it, in his reelection campaign. (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, March 17, 2015, National Journal)

Emanuel isn't openly telegraphing his runoff strategy, but signs of his reliance on the party he has worked to oppose his whole career are everywhere. Gov. Bruce Rauner, a longtime acquaintance of the mayor's, has been working behind the scenes to help his friend, while GOP Sen. Mark Kirk warned this month that Chicago could become like Detroit if Emanuel isn't reelected. Rahm's most recent ad comes straight out of the Mitt Romney playbook, accusing his outspokenly liberal opponent, Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, of wanting to hike Chicagoans' taxes by supporting $1.9 billion in spending programs. Several of the top donors to Emanuel's Chicago Forward super PAC are conservative Republicans, including hedge-fund manager Ken Griffin, a top Romney supporter and a Crossroads contributor, and investor Muneer Satter, who spent more than $1 million over the past few years on behalf of top Republican candidates and is backing Jeb Bush's campaign for president.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Scott Walker Is Quick to Retreat (JONATHAN COPPAGE,  March 18, 2015, American Conservative)

For those blessed with lives that do not involve keeping up with political staffing intrigue, Scott Walker's PAC announced on Monday that it was hiring the political consultant Liz Mair to advise on social media and online outreach. Mair is a young, talented, rather libertarian consultant who is widely respected for being damn good at her job. Congratulations were quickly in order, and the Walker organization seemed to headed in a very smart direction.

Then the powers-that-be in Iowa noticed that Mair, like many intelligent observers of politics, had criticized their death grip on the presidential nomination process.

Mair also took shots at the grossly market-distorting ethanol mandates that the corn industry has paid handsomely to maintain, and which has been additionally protected by Iowa's favored status.

Mair was not hired as a policy adviser on energy policy, nor as an adviser on social issues or immigration, where her libertarian streak likely runs counter to Walker's views, or at least those he has an interest in being viewed as holding. She was hired as a consultant, a sign that Walker was willing to surround himself with the best people. It was a move born out of confidence.

And it has now become an embarrassing display of cowardice.

Late last night, one day after Mair was hired, it was announced that she had resigned, saying, "The tone of some of my tweets concerning Iowa was at odds with that which Gov. Walker has always encouraged in political discourse."

As Philip Klein wrote when Walker first reversed himself to kowtow to the ethanol mandate earlier this month: "If Walker can't stand up to Iowans, how will he stand up to the Islamic State?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


You are invited to join my on-line college hoops bracket
group! To accept this invitation and join the group, click
the link below (or cut and paste the link into your
browser's address field). You'll be asked to enter the
group's password before you can join. The group password is
included in this e-mail.

Our Group password is: ericjulia
Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


U.S. May Back 'Palestine' Statehood Push (JTA,  March 19, 2015)

Politico and the New York Times on Thursday each quoted unnamed senior administration officials as saying that the United States may back a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set the parameters for a two-state solution according to the 1967 lines.

The election provided a rare moment of clarity in the Middle East.

March 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


NEW GOODYEAR TIRES HARNESS FRICTION TO HELP POWER YOUR CAR (Mary Beth Griggs, March 10, 2015, Popular Science)

When it comes to energy, heat is a big waste. Sometimes we can put waste heat to good use, like by redirecting steam from power plants to heat homes. But a lot of other times, heat is just lost. Take, for instance, when your car tires run against the asphalt of the road. Usually, the friction between your tires and the road turns some of the car's energy into heat, which just dissipates into the surrounding air or ground, lost forever.

Engineers at Goodyear recently showcased an energy harvesting solution, a concept tire called the BH-O3. The BH-O3 is a tire with an inner coating that generates energy from the tire, which is then fed back into the car's electrical system. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Did the Vikings Get a Bum Rap? (Christopher Shea, 9/28/14, National Geographic)

Just how bad were the Vikings?

Winroth is among the scholars who believe the Vikings were no more bloodthirsty than other warriors of the period. But they suffered from bad public relations--in part because they attacked a society more literate than their own, and therefore most accounts of them come from their victims. Moreover, because the Vikings were pagan, they played into a Christian story line that cast them as a devilish, malign, outside force.

"There is this general idea of the Vikings as being exciting and other, as something that we can't understand from our point of view--which is simply continuing the story line of the victims in their own time," Winroth says. "One starts to think of them in storybook terms, which is deeply unfair."

In reality, he proposes, "the Vikings were sort of free-market entrepreneurs."

Rodney Stark's How the West Won is good on the topic, as on many others.
Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


AZ Alkmaar hire Oakland A's general manager and Moneyball hero Billy Beane (AP, 18 March 2015)

AZ Alkmaar have hired the Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane - the subject of the bestseller Moneyball - as an adviser, tasking him with closing the gap on big-spending clubs in the Eredivisie. [...]

Alkmaar's general director Robert Eenhoorn, who played for the New York Yankees and Anaheim Angels in the 1990s, said: "AZ was already very interested in the Moneyball principle before I got here. I have known Billy for a while, because of my history in baseball. When we approached him for this role with AZ, he was immediately enthusiastic.

"He has been able to close the gap with the big-market teams, by being innovative. We are very excited and look forward to working with him. Billy will give his advice from the States and he will visit Alkmaar a few times a year."

For all their passion about the game, Europeans don't really understand it very well.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Pentagon Confirms West Gate Mall Planner Killed in Drone Strike (LUIS MARTINEZ, 3/18/15, ABC News)

The Pentagon confirmed today that a top al Shabab leader who planned the deadly Westgate Mall attack in Kenya was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Somalia last week.

Adnan Garar was a senior member of the Somali terror group and believed to have been behind the September 2013 attack on a Nairobi mall that killed 67 people.

They have to be lucky every day.  we only have to be lucky once.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Why Scott Walker Is Drawing Fire from the Right (ROB GARVER, 3/18/15, The Fiscal Times)

The backlash from conservatives, though, over the Mair decision has been swift. Writing at The Federalist, Sean Davis went after Walker for what may seem a pattern of concessions designed to help him secure victory in primary voting next year. [...]

Writing on the National Review website, Jonah Goldberg described Walker's apparent termination of Mair as a bad omen. "If Walker is the guy I hope he is (I've been a booster), he won't just have to take on his enemies, he'll have to take on his friends, too... Isn't that the point of the anti-establishment movement on the right?"

He added, "I get that Walker needs to win Iowa and that staffers aren't more important than the candidate. But principles are. If Walker didn't want a critic of the Iowa caucuses on his payroll he shouldn't have hired one. But he did. And throwing her under the bus for this suggests not only that he's got some problems getting ready for prime time, it also suggests he can get rolled by the Iowa GOP establishment. What happens when he gets to Washington?"

Related: GOP 2016: Scott Walker Has the Lead, Jeb Bush Has the Money

The ultra-right wing website Twitchy linked to a dozen tweets by well-known conservatives blasting Walker's decision.

Bloomberg's Dave Weigel wrote that the loss of Mair not only deprives Walker of her and her team's experience, but sets up an unfortunate comparison with at least one of his GOP challengers.

"The hire of Liz Mair was supposed to connect Walker to a network of journalists, bloggers, and influencers," he wrote. "Instead, Walker ended up stoking a mini-crisis in the must-win caucus state, and ending the crisis by giving those influencers their third fresh example of him buckling under Hawkeye pressure. The contrast with Jeb Bush, who's been telling crowds that he won't change his stances on Common Core or immigration, does no good for Walker."

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


French far-right plagued by shady candidates (The Local, 18 Mar 2015)
Le Pen and co have worked hard to "de-demonize" the National Front by rooting out candidates with a shady past or who are liable to the odd racist view or two.
Yet her efforts can only go so far as stories once again emerge in the run-up to Sunday's ballot of skeletons emerging from the closets of several far-right candidates. Other candidates appear to have simply spoken their views, forcing the party's PR team into overdrive.
For the party's founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of hate speech it's no big deal.

...are there any who aren't shady?  It's a neo-Nazi party.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Is maple syrup the new athletic superfuel? : A low glycemic index, numerous antioxidants and high mineral content make for an appealing energy source for athletes, prompting one legendary Vermont ski family to take a chance on the gooey delight as the next big performance booster (Tik Root, 18 March 2015, The Guardian)

At Slopeside Syrup, in Richmond, the trees are tapped and the anticipation is palpable. The company began making syrup a few years ago, but this will be its first full season with a new product: UnTapped.

Sold in energy-gel packets with a quick-open top, UnTapped is labeled an "athletic fuel". According to its nutrition panel though, it contains only one ingredient: "100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup (That's it.)".

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


White House says US will re-evaluate best approach to two-state solution after Netanyahu win (Associated Press, March 18, 2015)

The White House says the United States will re-evaluate the best way to bring about a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's election victory.

Just ahead of the election, Netanyahu reversed his former position by opposing the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

The PM having coming out in favor of permanent apartheid, there's no point including Israel in negotiations anymore.  The US can just recognize the nation of Palestine and we can all move on.  

America needs to wake up to the danger of grand apartheid in Israel (Ryan Cooper, March 18, 2015, The Week)

In South Africa, grand apartheid was the system of major racial separation that forced blacks out of the most developed parts of the nation (as opposed to petty apartheid, which consisted of smaller measures like a ban against interracial marriage). The keystone of grand apartheid were the bantustans, which were small, usually geographically non-contiguous "homelands" for each black tribe. With several fake nations set aside for blacks, the white government could pretend like it was doing "separate but equal" while stealing all the best land and mercilessly exploiting a politically powerless black working class.

I know that any invocation of the A-word inevitably sets off a storm of controversy. But the facts are these: Gaza and the West Bank have been dominated by Israel since 1967, and Palestinians who live there have few rights. They already live Israelis' worst nightmares. It's not democracy, to say the least.

Netanyahu openly says that there will never be a Palestinian state or an end to the occupation so long as he is prime minister. If that's not grand apartheid then the words have no meaning. As former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak once said, "If there is one state, it will have to be either binational or undemocratic. ... if this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."

Israel Election Was a Referendum on the Two-State Solution (Spengler, March 18th, 2015, PJ Media)

Ha'aretz explains the discrepancy between the Israeli polls and the outcome as follows: "[Netanyahu] won this election by convincing over 200,000 voters who were planning to vote for Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, Kulanu and Yahad to change their minds in the last six days of the campaign." Why did they switch? The answer is simple and obvious: Most of those small-party voters oppose a Palestinian state, and Netanyahu ruled out a Palestinian state on his watch a day before the election. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Glenn Beck 'done' with Republican Party (DYLAN BYERS, 3/18/15, Politico)

Glenn Beck, the conservative/libertarian radio host and media entrepreneur, said Wednesday he is officially done with the Republican Party.

"I've made my decision - I'm out. I'm out of the Republican Party," Beck said on his radio show. "I am not a Republican; I will not give a dime to the Republican Party.

March 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 PM


20 Items You Should Never Buy at Full Price (Wise Bread March 17, 2015, US News)

1. DVDs and CDs

Used DVDs and CDs will play like new if they were well taken care of by their previous owner. Even if you wind up with a scratched disc, there are ways to remove the scratches and make the DVD or CD playable again, such as rubbing it with toothpaste or even a banana.

2. Books

You can buy used books at a significant discount from online sellers and brick-and-mortar used book stores. The condition of the books may vary, but they usually range from good to like-new. And of course, check out your local library for free reading material. (If you have an e-reader, check out the digital books that are available, too.)

3. Video games

Kids tire of video games rather quickly. You can easily find used video games from online sellers such as Amazon and eBay a few months after the release date. Most video game store outlets will feature a used game shelf, as well.

4. Special occasion clothing

Most people take good care of formal clothing but will only wear it once or twice. Their closet cast outs are your savings: Thrift stores, yard sales, online sellers and even some dress shops offer fantastic buys on used formal wear.

One of the great by-products of America's mania for civic associations is that there are tons of thrift stores.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


House GOP Budget Would Wipe Out Deficit in 10 Years (ERIC PIANIN, 3/17/15, The Fiscal Times)

House Republicans on Tuesday morning unveiled their fiscal 2016 budget plan designed to wipe out the deficit within 10 years. It would reduce spending by $5.5 trillion and overhaul key entitlement programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.

The budget blueprint, to be formally presented by House Budget Committee Chair Tom Price (R-GA), will keep spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act. This is despite calls from President Obama and many congressional Democratic and Republican defense hawks to remove spending restrictions on domestic and defense programs.

...but likely catastrophic for the global economy, which requires our debt.  Fortunately the coming wave of entitlement reforms should generate sufficient debt.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


The Lawsuit That Could Threaten Kids' Football (John Culhane, 3/17/15, Slate)

Is youth football an "abnormally dangerous activity"? And if so, should kids be allowed to play it?

The first of those questions is raised in a complaint recently filed in a federal court in Wisconsin. Debra Pyka, the bereaved mother of a young man who committed suicide, is claiming that her son's involvement in Pop Warner football led to traumatic brain injury that eventually sent him into a spiral of paranoia and depression, culminating in his death. Her son, Joseph Chernach, played on a Pop Warner youth football team from the age of 11 through 14. An autopsy revealed that Chernach had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of brain damage sadly predictable in middle-aged and older men who have played football, but rare for someone who died at age 25. (Concerned about the danger of such brain damage, San Francisco 49er Chris Borland just announced his retirement after his rookie year.) Briefing on the case should be completed this week, and then the court will decide whether the claim can proceed.

Pyka is also trying to answer the second question: She's been quite vocal in her position that tackle football for kids should be abolished, and she hopes that her suit will lead to exactly that result, by making the activity too expensive to carry on. She's not the first to make the argument against youth football. In late 2012, Slate's own Stefan Fatsis reported on a high-level, roundtable discussion convened to answer the question: "How can football serve children, communities, and public health?" His answer: "By disappearing."

The NFL is unwatchable in person.  It's just a tv show.  And, as the saying goes, no one knows who the players are; we root for laundry.  There's really no reason it needs to be played by actual human beings.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 PM


Pension Fight Comes to a Head in Memphis (TIMOTHY W. MARTIN, March 15, 2015, WSJ)

Last July, half of the police officers walking the streets and patrolling neighborhoods in this city of 650,000 called in sick as they protested reductions to their pensions.

The "blue flu" established Memphis as a new axis in the struggle to shore up underfunded retirement systems across the U.S. Now, the city's police officers and firefighters are doing more than just calling in sick--they are quitting, en masse.

"I can't justify me putting my life on the line, and not knowing if my family would be taken care of," said Joseph Vaughn, a 35-year-old Memphis native who quit his hometown fire department last month for a lower-paying job in Alabama because it has a traditional pension. His defined-benefit pension plan in Memphis would have changed in 2016 to a new hybrid that is designed more like the retirement accounts in the private sector.

Many states and cities are facing pushback from workers as they seek cutbacks on pension entitlements to existing employees--not just new workers or retirees--as they try to control their budgets and fill pension gaps. But Memphis is particularly notable because workers have moved beyond rhetoric and into action. More than 250 police and firefighters have quit and new recruits are proving difficult to attract, after Memphis opted to end its traditional defined-benefit pension and cycle a portion of retirement benefits for many current employees next year into a 401(k)-style account.

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM



Launched in 2012, the $10 Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize challenged groups and companies to develop a device that continuously tracks a person's vital signs and diagnoses up to 15 health conditions--from anemia and high blood pressure to urinary tract infections and stroke--all from the comfort of a person's home. The hope is for the winning tricorder to be easy to use, compact, and efficient; it can't weigh more than five pounds, and it must be able to measure these health conditions within 72 hours.

Greg Campany, senior director for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPrize, spoke at a panel at South By Southwest detailing the competition. He noted that the goal of the tricorder prize is to help solve a major problem facing the world: poor and inefficient access to medical care. Now, when people suffer a medical issue, a doctor's visit is required to confirm the ailment and then prescribe medication. Depending on where you live, that process can be both complicated and time consuming. But with an at-home diagnostic tool, consumers can know in record time what they're suffering from, without the need to visit a doctor's office or emergency room.

Tricorder technology will ultimately help fill the shortage of doctors in both developed and developing countries.

Campany says such technology will ultimately expand the reach and impact of physicians across the globe. "In both the United States and abroad, developed countries and developing countries, there's a shortage of doctors throughout the world," Campany tells Popular Science. "There's a lot of inefficiencies in the system, and these inefficiencies are really impacting patient care, from the point of there's a lot of needless deaths, and there's also a lot of needless costs just associated with trying to deliver health care."

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 PM


Older Blood Just as Good for Transfusions (Robert Preid, March 17, 2015, HealthDay News)

Blood that's been stored for a few weeks is just as beneficial as fresh blood for patients with life-threatening conditions who require transfusions, a new study shows.

"There was no difference in mortality or organ dysfunction between the two groups, which means that fresh blood is not better than older blood," study co-leader Dr. Dean Fergusson, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa, said in a research institute news release.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


A deal bigger than Iran (Jackson Diehl, 3/15/17, Washington Post)

Even though its nuclear infrastructure has expanded, inspectors and Western intelligence agencies have not detected a "military dimension" to the program since 2003.

While it's possible that Iran would respond to a collapse in the talks by building bombs, that wouldn't be in keeping with its previous practice. Nor would it be easy to carry off at a time when the economy is being hammered by plummeting oil revenue as well as sanctions. History suggests Tehran would make a show of installing more centrifuges while being careful not to cross any red lines drawn by Israel or the United States. [...]

In a new paper, Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution, a former Obama Mideast envoy, argues, as I have, that the United States must choose between forging a new regional order with or against Iran. That choice, in turn, depends on the nuclear deal. "Without an agreement, it is impossible to imagine cooperation with Iran on regional issues," writes Indyk. "With an agreement, collaboration . . . becomes possible."

The potential for such collaboration is deeply alarming to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran's other Middle Eastern enemies, for whom its pursuit of nuclear capability is a subset of its campaign to become the region's hegemon. 

...our side believes in a democratic Middle East, though messy, theirs believes in the "stability" of dictatorship.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:33 PM


Today (March 17) is the birthday of my favorite jazz singer, Nat "King" Cole (1919-1965). Although best remembered today as a pop singer from the 50's and 60's and as the debonair figure in the black and white video singing "Unforgettable" with his daughter, Natalie, Cole was, in fact, a wonderful jazz pianist (and later jazz vocalist). He was influenced by Earl Hines and Art Tatum, and in turn elements of his style can be heard in the music of Oscar Peterson, Ray Charles, Diana Krall and Harry Connick, Jr. among many others.  In addition to recording with his own piano-guitar-bass trio, which was unique in its time for not having a drummer, he also recorded with such jazz greats as Lester Young, Buddy Rich and Dexter Gordon.  In the mid-50's, Cole became the first African American to have his own network TV show (on NBC), which was groundbreaking for the number of black artists who appeared as guests and for the frequent pairing of Cole with white singers and musicians. Despite good ratings, the show was cancelled after one season, leading Cole to crack "Madison Avenue must be scared of the dark." Check out the albums "The Lester Young Trio"; and "The After Midnight Session."

These 2 versions of "Tea for Two" provide a great example of Cole's swinging, percussive playing.  Trademarks of his style include the block chord episodes  at the 1:15, 1:35 and 3:10 marks and the clever interpolations of other songs into his solos ("Comin' Through the Rye" at 0:55 and "A Foggy Day" at 2:07) (although unlike other quote-masters such as Sonny Rollins or Phil Woods, these quotes were often pre-planned and repeated routines and not truly improvised).  Another bit of Cole "business" that I only became aware of after the advent of YouTube was his penchant to throw in Chico Marx-inspired pistol shots (here at 1:20 and 3:00)...he may have been doing these in his sound recordings, but who would know?

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


How the NRA's Internal Election Became a Civil War Over Radical Islam (David Weigel, 3/16/15, Bloomberg)

The Beck interview mostly covered old terrain. Gaffney's attacked Norquist in every available forum, accusing him of doing the Muslim Brotherhood's work in America. The allegations begin with the work Norquist started before 9/11, connecting the Republican Party with Muslim groups in an attempt to win over new voters. After 9/11, Norquist's lobbying took on an aura of controversy. In a November 2001 piece for The New Republic, Frank Foer reported that a "man who fingered Israel as a potential sponsor of the World Trade Center attacks" could recite "Norquist's phone number from memory." Into the Bush years, and the Obama years, Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy accused Norquist of serving as a conduit between Washington's elite and Muslims who ended up having ties to radical groups.

In 2011 and 2012, the campaign seemed to backfire on Gaffney. He used speeches at the Conservative Political Action Conference, with C-SPAN cameras running, to warn conservatives about Norquist and conservative activist Suhail Khan. Norquist appeared to end the controversy after Cleta Mitchell, an American Conservative Union board member and powerful attorney, met with Gaffney and rejected his research and theories. "I will work to ensure that any organization with which I am involved will not be allowed to be used as a platform to spread Mr. Gaffney's baseless attacks," wrote Mitchell in a 2012 letter to fellow ACU board members. In 2013, Gaffney was not invited to address CPAC; Breitbart News instead hosted a panel called, cheekily, "The Uninvited."

And Gaffney had an audience with Beck. In the new, viral clip about the NRA election, Beck professes that he's "not an expert" on Norquist. That's disingenuous; in 2013, Beck was hosting Gaffney and calling Norquist "the guy responsible for a lot of the Muslim Brotherhood stuff that goes on in the White House." He'd furthered that storyline, and Gaffney had certainly never given up on it. In February, filmmaker and journalist Lee Stranahan created a small Facebook group called "No on Norquist" as a way to share the reporting he'd done for the Center for Security Policy and to build awareness of the no-vote push. On conservative blogs, the word was getting around. One month ago, Norquist went on the record denouncing the campaigns against him, linking them (without a name) to Gaffney.

"I have such a stalker whose conspiracy theory is that I ran the Bush White House and presidency," Norquist wrote in a February open letter to the NRA. "He spins conspiracy theories that I am gay, a Muslim, responsible for the Bush foreign policy failures. (For the record, No. No. and No.) One of his staffers told me I was part of the Russian Jewish Mafia. (Also no, but I think that would pay better.)" [...]

If members vote out Norquist, it will be a tremendous social-media victory for Gaffney and his allies, and it would lend new attention to his larger campaign to find out whether the inner circle of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, has been infiltrated.

"Her emails are of particular interest insofar as [Clinton aide Huma] Abedin has extensive ties to the Muslim Brotherhood," wrote Gaffney this month, referencing charges that surfaced in 2012, were denounced by leading Republicans, and remained potent in conservative media. "That's the Islamist organization whose self-declared mission is 'destroying Western civilization from within.'"

Fights like these are so bitter because the stakes are so small.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Yes, Culture Helped Kill the Two-Parent Family. And Liberals Shouldn't Be Afraid to Admit It. (Jordan Weissmann, 3/16/15, Slate)

[I] think more liberals need to get comfortable acknowledging that, even if it doesn't explain the whole story, culture probably has played a role in the changes that have rocked domestic life for so much of the country.

Putnam makes this point early in Our Kids: Of the values-versus-economics debate, he says simply that, "The most reasonable view is that both are important." How come? For one, we can look back to the Great Depression as an historical counterpoint to the trends we've witnessed in recent decades. With mass unemployment, the marriage rate tumbled during the 1930s, "showing the perennial importance of economic stability in the marriage calculus." At the same, however, the birth rate also fell, and unwed childbearing remained rare. "In that era, men and women postponed procreation as well as matrimony," Putnam writes. " 'No marriage license, no kids' was the cultural norm. Unlike today, desperately poor, jobless men in the 1930s did not have kids outside of marriage whom they then largely ignored."

Sociologist Andrew Cherlin makes a similar point in Labor's Love Lost, his recent exploration of "the rise and fall of the working class family in America." It is virtually impossible to disentangle the many social and economic changes that may have led to the rise of single-motherhood, the Johns Hopkins professor argues. The pill, the sexual revolution, and the advent of no-fault divorce were followed shortly by declining manufacturing employment, and no amount of econometric modeling is going to realistically apportion blame to one cause or the other. But historical comparisons suggest it all played a role. The first Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, was another time of economic upheaval and economic polarization, when old crafts jobs were being displaced by industrialization. And just like today, there was a fairly large gap in marriage rates between working-class and white-collar men. Yet out-of-wedlock childbirth was unusual up and down the class ladder. Likewise, Cherlin notes that the Depression didn't cause single-parenthood to spike, even as male breadwinners lost their livelihoods and marriage slumped.

The 1970s, and their aftermath, were different. As steady, union-wage jobs along the assembly lines became scarce, traditional family life began to fray among the working class--so that, now, "three-fourths of young mothers who have no bachelor's degree have had at least one child outside of marriage." The difference was culture. The country lost its hang-ups about premarital sex, and it slowly became normal to raise a kid outside of marriage. Where accidental pregnancies had once regularly led to shotgun weddings, it became more common for couples to simply move in together (or keep living together, for that matter). Were those relationships as stable as marriages, nobody would be worried about it today. But unfortunately, co-habiting couples with children tend to break up, and the kids suffer for it.

"Had norms not changed, the growth of childbearing outside of marriage that we have recently seen among today's unmarried low-educated and moderately educated young adults would not have occurred, even given the rise in income inequality," Cherlin writes. 

...we just foisted this one on the poor. Suckers...
Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


Iran's Nuclear Deal Could Open Oil Flood (BILL SPINDLE and  BENOÎT FAUCON, 3/17/15, WSJ)

Western powers put Iran's export limit in place relatively recently, as part of wide-ranging economic sanctions dating back decades and aimed at bringing Tehran to the bargaining table over its nuclear program. Washington and its allies say Iran is working toward producing nuclear weapons. Tehran says its program is peaceful.

While a deal is far from certain, Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said Monday that the country could double its exports quickly.

"In case the international sanctions against Iran are lifted, one million barrels a day will be added to the country's crude-oil production and exports in several months," Mr. Zanganeh was quoted as saying by his ministry's news agency Shana.

He also predicted the additional Iranian supply wouldn't "significantly affect crude-oil prices and world markets."

Iran has already sounded out Asian oil buyers about taking extra supplies, according to two Iranian oil officials. "We have told our Asian customers we are ready to supply more when sanctions are lifted," one Iranian oil official said. [...]

After an initial burst of production, however, Iran is likely to struggle with a plethora of challenges in pushing exports back even to the roughly four million barrels before sanctions began taking their toll.

Iran's active oil fields need maintenance and new technology to stave off a rapid falloff in productivity. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of foreign firms and the loss of revenues due to sanctions, along with simple mismanagement, have prevented the development of rich new fields.

Mr. Zanganeh, who took over as oil minister after the election of President Hasan Rouhani a year and a half ago, has earned high marks for instilling a new sense of focus across the sprawling sector.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


UW study: Breast biopsy results may not be accurate (JoNel Aleccia, 3/17/15, The Seattle Times)

The new study provides the first updated analysis of pathologist disagreement since the 1990s.

Elmore and her colleagues, including scientists at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, compared the findings of 115 pathologists from eight states -- Alaska, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont and Washington -- with the results of an expert panel between November 2011 and May 2014.

The participating pathologists were randomly assigned to review one of four test sets of 60 breast biopsy slides, offering a diagnosis for each case. The slides were weighted to include more than expected cases of atypia and DCIS, cases from women aged 40 to 49 and women with dense breast tissue, because age and density are important risk factors for both benign breast disease and cancer, the study said.

Compared with the experts, the pathologists under-interpreted, or missed, about 4 percent of invasive carcinoma, about 13 percent of DCIS cases and about 35 percent of atypia cases, researchers found. They over-identified atypia in about 17 percent of cases, DCIS in 3 percent of cases and benign breast disease without atypia in 13 percent of cases.

The disagreement was higher among pathologists who interpret fewer cases each week and those who worked in smaller practices or nonacademic settings.

Such inaccurate findings could have direct impact on women's care, said Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor of medicine at Dartmouth University who was not involved in the study. Of the DCIS cases identified by the pathologists, about 18 percent were actually not DCIS, which is typically treated in the same way as invasive carcinoma.

That means that, based on the diagnoses, many women would be advised to undergo lumpectomy, mastectomy and other treatments that weren't actually warranted, said Welch, the author of the new book "Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions that Drive Too Much Medical Care."

"Pathological disagreement is still a problem in the modern century," Welch said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Self-driving cars will change everything (Marc Ambinder, March 17, 2015, The Week)

Straightaway, the benefits of the technology seem world-changing. People with disabilities will find their lives made much easier. Traffic accidents will probably decline significantly. Traffic efficiency will help reduce emissions (if there are emissions). I would argue that the secondary effects will be even more game-changing.

Road rage could disappear. It is much easier to take personally the driving sleights of a human being than an impersonal machine. (There might be "car-rage," in the future but its psychology will probably differ.)

DUIs will be much rarer. Self-driving cars will presumably be equipped with a mechanism that prevents operation or inhabiting by passengers who wouldn't be able to take over in an emergency; alternatively, they might well be programmed to drive extra carefully with a passenger who is inebriated.

Car insurance -- no longer necessary. (Some insurance might be, but the liability will transfer to the machine, not on the driver.)

And human beings will learn, as Wired put it, how not to drive. Driving two hours a day takes up more brainspace than riding two hours a day. We might become more productive or perhaps we will use the time to relax before work; perhaps we will consume more media -- we don't really know what our brains are going to do it with the experience, but Volvo, Google, and other companies are doing their best to figure that out.

I've thought of a few other mainstays of daily life that everything will have to rethink.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Tehran's success, Riyadh's failure (Spengler, 3/16/15, Asia Times)

Iran is infiltrating Saudi Arabia's Shi'te-majority Eastern Province (also its most oil rich) to agitate against Saudi control, and sponsored a coup against a Saudi-allied regime in Yemen. The report attributes nothing but good intentions to the Tehran regime, and worries only that its policies will have "negative secondary consequences" due to its (understandable, of course) efforts to "protect and power Shia communities." Iran's primary motivation, in the administration's view, is to be a good neighbor and a fountain of good will. Neville Chamberlain never said such nice things about Hitler. 

A sign of Saudi Arabia's waning influence was Pakistan's decision March 15 to refuse a Saudi request for Pakistani troops to deploy on its border with Yemen, now controlled by pro-Iranian Houthi rebels. A senior Pakistani official told the local press, "Pakistan would not rush to join the anti-Iran alliance that is being forged," in the wake of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Saudi Arabia last week. "We cannot afford to involve ourselves in the disputes among the Muslim countries," the official said, adding that Pakistan could spare no additional troops for Saudi Arabia. 

That is a serious rebuff for Riyadh, which reportedly financed Pakistan's nuclear weapons program as a last-ditch guarantee of its own security. As Akhilesh Pillalamarri wrote March 12 in The Diplomat, "Pakistan may be Saudi Arabia's best bet for a strong long-term security guarantee":

Pakistan has long had a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and has been involved in protecting that country and the House of Saud. Pakistan has much friendlier relations with Iran than Saudi Arabia does, but ultimately it is more dependent on Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, for example, gave oil to Pakistan in 1998 to help Pakistan weather international sanctions against it for conducting a nuclear test. The Saudis also saved Nawaz Sharif after he was overthrown in a coup in 1999, and he is thus beholden to them.

Pakistan may have been Saudi Arabia's best bet, but it is a bet that has not paid off.

9-11 presented the West with two intertwined problems : first, the Wahabbist/salafist variant of Sunni Islam had to be crushed; second, the peoples of the Middle East had to be moved towards self-determination, the same way the people of Eastern Europe had ten years earlier.  

For obvious reasons, Iran was the natural ally in both these regards. However, also for obvious reasons, trapproachment and alliance with Iran wasn't going to be easy and turning on the Sa'uds was going to be difficult.

But it all worked out quite predictably in the end.  All that remains to actually topple the Sa'udi regime.


Will a nuke deal invite Iran into the international community? : Agreement over nuclear program could open up closer ties between Tehran and the rest of the world (ADAM SCHRECK AND DAN PERRY, March 17, 2015, Times of Israel)

There is tremendous mutual incentive for normalizing business ties with Iran. After many years of being largely cut off from the West, the country is ripe for foreign investment and a quick improvement of infrastructure, and its oil resources make it a draw.

The population is large -- some 80 million people -- and reasonably well educated, with some 85 percent literacy and the average person receiving 15 years of schooling. Per capita income is just around $5,000 per person, but with cost of living factored in that money goes a lot further than it would in the West -- a sign of a distorted economy where change could happen quickly.

"Many people are already making plans for Iran's integration into the regional and world economy, particularly the Europeans and the Asians, who see Iran as an unprecedented opportunity to do business," said Dubai-based geopolitical analyst Theodore Karasik. "Because the country's infrastructure is literally 30 years behind, every sector or commodity is open ... Iran is already preparing for this."

For now, the short-term impact is ending the sanctions, which hammered the Iranian currency and caused unemployment and misery. The economic deals that follow will likely be a basis for greater ties with the world -- especially if post-nuclear-deal Iran takes steps to further open its economy.

Majority Persian Iran has cast an enormous shadow on the neighboring Arab world, in part by playing on the centuries-old split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

It has a powerful proxy militia in Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah group, which it arms, funds, trains and guides. This has helped Lebanon's Shiites -- who enjoy a plurality over the Sunni Muslims, Christians and the Druse -- dominate the country. It has kept Syria's Bashar Assad -- whose minority Alawite sect is a Shiite offshoot -- in power by direct financial backing and by having Hezbollah fight alongside his forces. Hezbollah occasionally embroils Lebanon in ruinous conflict with Israel as well, and is blamed for terrorist attacks from Bulgaria to Buenos Aires. In addition, Iran is believed to indirectly back Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have in recent months taken over much of the country and displaced the government from the capital, Sanaa.

But there have also been common interests with the West. Iran and Washington cooperated closely against Afghanistan's Taliban in 2001. In a new twist, Iran is proving critical to helping the Shiite-led authorities in Iraq fight Islamic State militants. Iran's goal is to help fellow Shiites and strengthen its own influence, but it also presents its actions as part of the world's fight with what it casts as a toxic distortion of Islam. And while Iran's theocracy can seem oppressive to the Western eye, oppressive religious rule in Saudi Arabia has not kept the US from making the kingdom a close ally.

These kinds of complexities may coax the West to get back together with a nation whose political vocabulary labels the United States "the Great Satan."

March 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


God, Reason, and Our Civilizational Crisis (Samuel Gregg, March 12th, 2015, The Public Discourse)

One criterion by which a culture's civilizational attainments are often assessed has been the extent to which it gives scope to man's capacity for reason. National Socialism's Nietzschean glorification of an untrammeled Will of the Volk and the State, not to mention the regime's efforts to exterminate entire categories of people, reflected a thoroughgoing irrationality; thus the absurdity of the Third Reich's claims to be promoting European civilization. Less appreciated, however, is the extent to which a society's capacity to embrace full-bodied conceptions of reason depends heavily upon the dominant understanding of the Divine prevailing in that community. In that regard, modern Western civilization may be more at risk of cultural decline than many presently realize.

No culture is without its blind spots. The Roman Empire embodied many errors, such as slavery and a widespread contempt for human life. These and other features of Roman society were called into question first by Judaism and then by Christianity. Yet even today we continue to refer with admiration to Roman civilization and its many accomplishments. By contrast, no one speaks of the former Soviet Union or Castro's Cuba in these terms. In short, most people do recognize that, at some level, there are qualitative differences between societies and cultures. [...]

To grasp fully, however, the tensions between and within civilizations that preoccupied Huntington, greater attention needs to be given to how different cultures understand the nature of God. The word "culture" is derived from the Latin cultus, which broadly means "religious customs" or "rites." This illustrates that religion, in the sense of views about the Divine, is truly at the heart of any culture.

A particular religion's concept of the Divine thus cannot help but profoundly influence the societies in which that faith prevails. The Greco-Roman world, for instance, generally lacked the biblical notion of God as the Creator. Consequently, it did not view humans as "co-creators" working to unfold a still-unfinished creation in human history. This is one reason why the Greeks and Romans, unlike the Jews, viewed manual work and commerce (as opposed to politics and war) as the responsibility of slaves, women, and other non-citizens.

Especially important, however, is the way a religion's understanding of God affects its appreciation of man's capacity for reason. 

...because ours is the only one.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Slouching Toward Mecca : a review of Soumission by Michel Houellebecq ((Mark Lilla, 4/02/15, NY Review of Books)

François, the main character of Soumission, is a mid-level literature professor at the Sorbonne who specializes in the work of the Symbolist novelist J.K. Huysmans. He is, like all Houellebecq's protagonists, what the French call un pauvre type.2 He lives alone in a modern apartment tower, teaches his courses but has no friends in the university, and returns home to frozen dinners, television, and porn. Most years he manages to pick up a student and start a relationship, which ends when the girl breaks it off over summer vacation with a letter that always begins, "I've met someone."

François is shipwrecked in the present. He doesn't understand why his students are so eager to get rich, or why journalists and politicians are so hollow, or why everyone, like him, is so alone. He believes that "only literature can give you that sensation of contact with another human spirit," but no one else cares about it. His sometime girlfriend Myriam genuinely loves him but he can't respond, and when she leaves to join her parents, who have emigrated to Israel because they feel unsafe in France, all he can think to say is: "There is no Israel for me." Prostitutes, even when the sex is great, only deepen the hole he is in.

We are in 2022 and a presidential election is about to take place. All the smart money--then as now--is on the National Front's Marine Le Pen winning the primary, forcing the other parties to form a coalition to stop her. The wild card in all this is a new, moderate Muslim party (the Muslim Brotherhood) that by now attracts about a fifth of the electorate, about as many as the Socialists do. The party's founder and president, Mohammed Ben Abbes--a cross between Tariq Ramadan and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan before he took power--is a genial man who gets along well with Catholic and Jewish community leaders who share his conservative social views, and also with business types who like his advocacy of economic growth. Foreign heads of state, beginning with the pope, have given him their blessing. Given that Muslims make up at most 6 to 8 percent of the French population, it strains credibility to imagine such a party carrying any weight in ten years' time. But Houellebecq's thought experiment is based on a genuine insight: since the far right wants to deport Muslims, conservative politicians look down on them, and the Socialists, who embrace them, want to force them to accept gay marriage, no one party clearly represents their interests. [...]

Cultural pessimism is as old as human culture and has a long history in Europe. Hesiod thought that he was living in the age of iron; Cato the Elder blamed Greek philosophy for corrupting the young; Saint Augustine exposed the pagan decadence responsible for Rome's collapse; the Protestant reformers felt themselves to be living in the Great Tribulation; French royalists blamed Rousseau and Voltaire for the Revolution; and just about everyone blamed Nietzsche for the two world wars. Though a minor work, Soumission is a classic novel of European cultural pessimism that belongs in whatever category we put books like Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain and Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities.

The parallels are enlightening. The protagonists in all three novels witness the collapse of a civilization they are indifferent to, and whose degradation leaves them unmoored. Trapped by history, Mann's Hans Castorp and Musil's Ulrich have no means of escape except through transcendence. After listening to unresolvable debates over freedom and submission in his Swiss sanatorium, Hans falls in love with a tubercular Beatrice and has a mystical experience while lost in the snow. Ulrich is a cynical observer of sclerotic Hapsburg Vienna until his estranged sister reenters his life and he begins having intimations of an equally mystical "other condition" for humanity. Houellebecq blocks this vertical escape route for François, whose experience at Rocamadour reads like a parody of Hans's and Ulrich's epiphanies, a tragicomic failure to launch. All that's left is submission to the blind force that history is.

There is no doubt that Houellebecq wants us to see the collapse of modern Europe and the rise of a Muslim one as a tragedy. "It means the end," he told an interviewer, "of what is, quand même, an ancient civilization." But does that make Soumission an Islamophobic novel? Does it portray Islam as an evil religion? That depends on what one means by a good religion. The Muslim Brotherhood here has nothing to do with the Sufi mystics or the Persian miniaturists or Rumi's poetry, which are often mentioned as examples of the "real" Islam that radical Salafism isn't. Nor is it the imaginary Islam of non-Muslim intellectuals who think of it on analogy with the Catholic Church (as happens in France) or with the inward-looking faiths of Protestantism (as happens in northern Europe and the US). Islam here is an alien and inherently expansive social force, an empire in nuce. It is peaceful, but it has no interest in compromise or in extending the realm of human liberty. It wants to shape better human beings, not freer ones.

Houellebecq's critics see the novel as anti-Muslim because they assume that individual freedom is the highest human value--and have convinced themselves that the Islamic tradition agrees with them. It does not, and neither does Houellebecq. Islam is not the target of Soumission, whatever Houellebecq thinks of it. It serves as a device to express a very persistent European worry that the single-minded pursuit of freedom--freedom from tradition and authority, freedom to pursue one's own ends--must inevitably lead to disaster. [...]

For all Houellebecq's knowingness about contemporary culture--the way we love, the way we work, the way we die--the focus in his novels is always on the historical longue durée. He appears genuinely to believe that France has, regrettably and irretrievably, lost its sense of self, but not because of immigration or the European Union or globalization. Those are just symptoms of a crisis that was set off two centuries ago when Europeans made a wager on history: that the more they extended human freedom, the happier they would be.

The Anglosphere values social liberty, the Continent personal freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Jeb Bush and Florida's Medicaid Meltdown (Christopher Flavelle, 3/16/15, Bloomberg View)

[W]hat really stands out about Bush's broader record on Medicaid was that by the time he left office, Florida's program overall started to buck the national trend of ever-rising costs per person. In 2007, Florida spent about $7,000 on each Medicaid beneficiary, the same as the national average. Since then, the national spending level has increased, to about $7,500 in 2013. Florida's spending went in the opposite direction, falling to below $6,200 in 2013 -- a gap of about 20 percent.

chart 2

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


What happens when robots replace all of our jobs? (Robert Reich, MARCH 16, 2015, CS Monitor)

The ratio of producers to customers continues to plummet. When Facebook purchased "WhatsApp" (the messaging app) for $19 billion last year, WhatsApp had 55 employees serving 450 million customers.

A friend, operating from his home in Tucson, recently invented a machine that can find particles of certain elements in the air.

He's already sold hundreds of these machines over the Internet to customers all over the world. He's manufacturing them in his garage with a 3D printer.

So far, his entire business depends on just one person -- himself.

New technologies aren't just labor-replacing. They're also knowledge-replacing.

The combination of advanced sensors, voice recognition, artificial intelligence, big data, text-mining, and pattern-recognition algorithms, is generating smart robots capable of quickly learning human actions, and even learning from one another.

If you think being a "professional" makes your job safe, think again.

On the bright side, jobs sucked.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


ObamaCare drove a 35 percent drop in America's uninsured rate (The Week, 3/16/15)
Approximately 16.4 million people have gained health insurance since ObamaCare went into effect, according to a report released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services. As a result, the uninsured rate has fallen from 20.3 percent at the time of ObamaCare's debut to 13.2 percent today -- a 35 percent (or 7.1 percentage point) drop.

And the great thing is that Republicans will make it more universal but reduce choice.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Can Robert Putnam Save the American Dream? (Marc Parry, 3/16/15, The Chronicle Review)

The event is billed as a lecture on a new book of social science. But the speaker visiting Cambridge's Lesley University this Monday night sounds like a political candidate on the hustings. Robert D. Putnam -- Harvard political scientist, trumpeter of community revival, consultant to the last four presidents ­-- is on campus to sound an alarm. "What I want to talk to you about," he tells some 40 students and academics, is "the most important domestic challenge facing our country today. I want to talk about a growing gap between rich kids and poor kids."

Two decades ago, Putnam shot to fame with "Bowling Alone," an essay-turned-best-selling-book that amassed reams of data to chart the collapse of American community. His research popularized a concept known as "social capital." The framework, used in fields like sociology and economics, refers to social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trust they create. "He's one of the most important social scientists of our time," says Gary King, director of Harvard's Institute for Quantitative Social Science, because of his ability to blend scientific rigor with popular appeal.

But tonight Putnam sets the science aside, at least to start. He opens his Cambridge talk with a story. It's about two young women, Miriam and Mary Sue. Their families, he says, both originally came from the same small Ohio town. Miriam, who had well-educated parents, went off to an ultra-elite East Coast university. Mary Sue, the daughter of high-school graduates who never held a steady job, ended up on a harrowing path of abuse, distrust, and isolation.

Removing a sheet of paper from a folder -- the notes from an interview that one of his researchers conducted with Mary Sue -- Putnam reads off the particulars. Mary Sue's parents split up when she was 5. Her mother turned to stripping, leaving Mary Sue alone and hungry for days. Her only friend until she went to school was a mouse who lived in her apartment. Caught selling pot at 16, she spent time in juvenile detention, flunked out of high school, and got a diploma online. Mary Sue wistfully recalls the stillborn baby she had at 13. She now dates an older man with two infants born to two different mothers.

"To Mary Sue," Putnam says, "this feels like the best she can hope for."

He pauses. "Honestly, it's hard for me to tell the story."

Miriam is Putnam's own granddaughter. Mary Sue (a pseudonym) is almost exactly the same age. And the backdrop to this tale is the professor's hometown of Port Clinton, once an egalitarian community where people looked after all kids, regardless of their backgrounds. In Putnam's telling, Port Clinton now symbolizes the class disparities that have swept the country in recent decades -- a "split-screen American nightmare" where the high-school lot contains one kid's BMW parked beside the jalopy in which a homeless classmate lives.

"In Port Clinton now, nobody thinks of Mary Sue as one of 'our kids,'" Putnam says. "They think she's somebody else's kid -- let them worry about her."

At 74, the professor is embarking on a campaign with one basic goal: getting educated Americans to worry about the deteriorating lives of kids like Mary Sue. It kicks into high gear this week with the publication of his new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster). The basic argument: To do well in life, kids need family stability, good schools, supportive neighbors, and parental investment of time and money. All of those advantages are increasingly available to the Miriams of the world and not to the Mary Sues, a disparity that Putnam calls "the opportunity gap."

The war on marriage is the war on equality.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 2:59 PM


Today would have been the 85th birthday of my favorite jazz pianist, Tommy Flanagan.  Born in Detroit, Tommy started playing professionally at 15 with other Motor City teenage stars-to-be such as Milt Jackson, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones and Kenny Burrell. By the mid-50's he was considered one of the leading bebop pianists, a position he enjoyed for the rest of his life. In the late 50's, he played on 2 of the most influential and popular albums of all time: Sonny Rollins's "Saxophone Colossus" and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Tommy was Ella Fitzgerald's accompanist and music director for many years, but spent the 80's and 90's as a headliner with his own trio (often with some combination of George Mraz or Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash or Kenny Washington on drums). His melodically sophisticated, swinging style is well-represented on his 1997 album "Sea Changes."

With Ella -

With George Mraz (bass) and Bobby Durham (drums)

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


Scientists make strides in beaming solar power from space (Andrew Tarantola, March 12th 2015, End Gadget)

The idea of powering humanity by gathering an endless supply of solar energy from space has taken a huge step towards becoming a reality. Scientists working for JAXA, Japan's space administration, have announced a major breakthrough in wireless power transmission ... in that they've actually been able to do it with a high degree of accuracy for once. The team reportedly beamed 1.8 kilowatts, enough juice to power an electric tea kettle, more than 50 meters to a small receiver without any wires. Up next: scaling the technology for use in tomorrow's orbital solar farms.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Marine Le Pen tells Zlatan Ibrahimovic to leave France over 's*** country' row (Henry Samuel, 16 Mar 2015, The Telegraph)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Paris Saint Germain star striker, ignited a political and sporting storm on Monday after calling France a "s--- country".

The notoriously outspoken Swedish player is facing disciplinary action for his post-match tirade after PSG's French first division defeat to Bordeaux on Sunday.

Far-Right Front National leader Marine Le Pen has even suggested he should "leave" if that is how he feels.

Careful, Marine, your hakenkreuz is showing.

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


Fight over Keystone XL project doesn't stall pipeline boom (HENRY C. JACKSON, Mar. 15, 2015, AP)

 In a far corner of North Dakota, just a few hundred miles from the proposed path of the Keystone XL pipeline, 84,000 barrels of crude oil per day recently began flowing through a new line that connects the state's sprawling oilfields to an oil hub in Wyoming.

In West Texas, engineers activated a new pipeline that cuts diagonally across the state to deliver crude from the oil-rich Permian Basin to refineries near Houston. And in a string of towns in Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota, local government officials are scrutinizing the path of pipeline extensions that would pass nearby.

While the Keystone project awaits a final decision, scenes like these are unfolding almost every week in lesser-known developments that have quietly added more than 11,600 miles of pipeline to the nation's domestic oil network.

Overall, the network has increased by almost a quarter in the last decade. And the work dwarfs Keystone.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


This is the U.S. dollar's fastest rise in 40 years (Patrick Gillespie, 3/16/15, CNNMoneyI)

America's greenback is enjoying its fastest rise in 40 years, according to Citibank (C). Over the past eight months, the U.S. dollar has strengthened dramatically against all the world's other major currencies.

Don't expect that to change any time soon. Since the start of 2015 alone, it's gone up in value about 14%, according to Bank of America (BAC) Merrill Lynch.

Why the jump? The dollar's rise is a direct result of America's strong economy while other parts of the world struggle. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


America's love affair with British TV (Virginia Harrison, 3/16/15, CNN/Money)

If you watch television in America, you're probably a fan of British TV -- and might not even realize it.

U.S. audiences have long enjoyed programs from across the Atlantic. The recent success of "Downton Abbey" and "Sherlock" has only reinforced Britain's dramatic credentials. But non-scripted shows are quietly generating even more hits for U.K. producers. [...]

Britain has an impressive history of developing formats that click with viewers. Two of America's highest profile and longest running reality shows, "American Idol" and "Dancing With The Stars," were based on U.K. programs.

McVay said Britain enjoys a reputation as the research and development lab for global TV. That rests on an industry culture that supports the creation of original content.

If a show works in Britain, there's a good chance it will work in the U.S., said Stephen Lambert, who created popular exports such as "Undercover Boss" and "Wife Swap." He's the chief executive of Studio Lambert, a U.K. production company owned by All3Media.

My all time favorite is that Sanford & Son was a remake of a British show.

March 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


Iran's big boost from Senate Republicans in nuclear talks (Ali Vaez, March 15, 2015, Reuters)

Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has spent the majority of his life in the U.S. and is intimately familiar with American politics and laws. This, combined with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's deep skepticism of U.S. intentions and trustworthiness, resulted in an Iranian negotiating strategy that has long insulated itself against the risk of Congressional upsets.

Knowing full well that Congress is unlikely to cooperate with the White House to relax U.S. sanctions, they have been aware from the beginning that all the Obama administration could realistically offer -- at least in the agreement's early stages -- was suspending the sanctions by using the president's waiver authority.

That realization had four specific consequences for Iran's negotiating stance. First, since suspension of sanctions is more reversible than their termination, the Iranians insist on maintaining sufficient leverage of their own in the form of thousands of centrifuges. Iran's current operating enrichment capacity has limited practical use, since fuel for the country's sole nuclear power plant in Bushehr is supplied by Russia. But Iranian leaders calculate that maintaining a meaningful enrichment capacity might deter the U.S. from reneging on its part of the bargain.

Secondly, instead of focusing on unilateral U.S. sanctions, the Iranian negotiators have gone after the UN Security Council sanctions that legitimize the American ones. The logic is that if the next U.S. president revokes the nuclear deal and tries to re-impose sanctions without the legitimacy bestowed by the UN, he/she will have a much harder time rallying international support behind enforcing the restrictions.

Thirdly, Iranian negotiators demand that a roadmap for lifting the U.S. sanctions during the agreement must be codified by a UN Security Council resolution. This would make any American infringement of it a breach of an obligation under international law. They have, moreover, indicated they intend to make the Iranian parliament's ratification of the Additional Protocol to the Nonproliferation Treaty that provides the UN inspectors with enhanced access to nuclear sites and scientists contingent on prior legislative action in U.S. Congress to terminate some specific sanctions.

Finally, based on the supreme leader's instructions, the Iranian negotiators are trying to tie up all ambiguities in the agreement to ensure that no aspect will be open to interpretation. Moreover, just as Washington insists on a role for the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Iran's implementation of its commitments, Tehran insists on establishing a mechanism to monitor Washington's performance on sanctions relief.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


More Democrats Are Going Their Own Way, and That's Away From Obama (JENNIFER STEINHAUER, MARCH 14, 2015, NY Times)

The administration's most significant policy goal right now is to secure the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be the largest trade deal since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

The accord would pull in a dozen nations from Peru to Vietnam, lowering tariffs and imposing new regulations on labor and environmental standards along the Pacific Rim. Officials have lobbied members of Congress for months to get it done. But many Democrats oppose the deal, believing that Nafta cost thousands of American jobs and continues to depress wages.

"We have been told for years that these things will benefit the economy, and I am not sure it is true," said Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who is among at least a half-dozen Senate Democrats who have denounced the proposed agreement. "I think the administration knows where people like me are."

In the House, large numbers of Democrats have joined Republicans to oppose separate legislation that would give the president "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade treaties that Congress could approve or reject but not amend.

"There is no earthly reason to take congressional authority out of trade bills," said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, who opposes the trade proposal. Acknowledging that she was siding against Mr. Obama, she added: "I represent the people of the 25th District of New York. I like having a Democratic president, but I don't agree with him on this."

While Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House minority leader, has said she "wants to get to yes" for Mr. Obama on trade, many of her members expect her to stick with them in the end. Ms. Pelosi "has been a leader on this," said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut. "She has always been a supporter of congressional authority."

Last week, the administration's formal request for authorization of military action against the Islamic State appeared headed for collapse, in many respects because Democrats found the language of the agreement too open-ended.

"What I think Democrats are not willing to do," said Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, "is to give this or any other president an open-ended authorization for war." To be sure, plenty of Republicans have criticized the administration's proposal as well, saying it is actually too constrained.

There is nothing in this presidency for Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Southerner. Wonk. Immigrants' son. Can Bobby Jindal win at every role? (David A. Fahrenthold, March 14, 2015, Washington Post)

Not long ago, the Louisiana governor was the Republican candidate of the future -- the son of immigrants and also a proud product of the Deep South. He is a devout Catholic, an experienced governor and -- in a political sphere dominated by shallow cable-television shouters -- a data-driven Rhodes Scholar.

But now, Jindal sits at about 2 percent in national Republican polls. He has become such an afterthought that he recently resorted to asking himself a "gotcha" question. The media hadn't bothered, and he wanted to stay in the conversation.

For the first time in a life of wild successes, Jindal looks lost. He has applied his trademark work ethic to the task of becoming a better politician, but he has instead wound up looking as if he's trying to be every politician at once. A hawk. A wonk. A tea party rebel. A Christian revivalist. A first-generation American. A Bubba.

In an interview, Jindal rejected the idea that he is failing at his highest ambition. After all, he said, he isn't officially running for president yet.

"We don't have a campaign strategy," Jindal said on the plane. "So it would be too early to change it."

...the tactic ought to be running on the Third Way ideas that have made recent governors and presidents successful, making him a perfect fit on either a Jeb or Walker ticket.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Ukip would prop up Tories in return for EU referendum before Christmas (Rowena Mason,  15 March 2015, The Guardian)

Ukip would demand an EU referendum before Christmas as the price for doing a deal with the Conservatives to support their spending plans, Nigel Farage has said.

The Ukip leader has previously made it clear he would consider doing a pact with any party that would offer an early referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.

He would only have a hope of doing such a deal with a Conservative minority government, because Labour is holding out against an EU referendum unless there is a transfer of powers to Brussels.

Get Ready for Britain's Constitutional Crisis (Clive Crook, 3/15/15, Bloomberg View)

British politics seems to be heading for a constitutional crisis after elections on May 7th. Recent polls suggest the Scottish National Party will take almost all of Scotland's seats at Westminster from Labour. Regardless of whether Labour or the Tories lead a new government, the SNP's support might be needed to pass legislation. A party committed to breaking up the U.K. would be a decisive force in the union's parliament.

Conceivably, the SNP could make a good-faith effort to help a Labour-led government run the U.K. Ideologically, after all, the two parties are well-aligned. But fruitful cooperation is unlikely. The SNP's strategic interest will lie in crippling the Westminster system and making England its ally in the drive for  Scottish independence. The more friction the SNP can cause -- outright paralysis, ideally -- the louder will be the demands in the south for Scotland to go. Division, not good government, serves the SNP cause.

That's why the SNP is also unlikely to do the right thing by recusing itself from voting on English law. That would  surrender its leverage -- as well as making a Labour-SNP coalition largely impotent.

Even if the party did commit to responsible all-U.K. governance, the constitutional impropriety would be outrageous. The longstanding anomaly known as the West Lothian question would assume horrendous proportions. Scotland has its own parliament and a generous measure of home rule. By what right, then, could its members in Westminster take it upon themselves to decide laws affecting England and Wales in the many areas of policy that have already been devolved to Holyrood?

In short, it was wrong to think, as many did, that the SNP's defeat in last year's referendum settled the question of independence. Far from marginalizing the party and its cause, that loss has prompted a remarkable surge of support.

Sovereignty is a classic example of how the conventional wisdom is always wrong.  While the Left anticipated the inexorable rise of transnationalism with glee and the Right with horror, both failed to recognize that the main political force around the globe was centrifugal, not centripital.  It was an understandable mistake for Europeans to make, but not anyone in the Anglosphere.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


U.S. Producers Ready New Oil Wave (ERIN AILWORTH and  BENOÎT FAUCON, March 13, 2015, WSJ)

The ocean of oil from U.S. shale drove crude prices back toward six-year lows Friday, and American energy companies say they are poised to unleash a further flood that would keep prices from returning to lofty levels for a long time.

The International Energy Agency reinforced the prospect of a prolonged slump in energy prices Friday, saying U.S. oil output was surprisingly strong in February and rapidly filling all available storage tanks. The Paris-based energy watchdog said this could lead to another sharp drop in crude prices, which fell by about 50% late last year. [...]

Now many are adopting a new strategy that will allow them to pump even more crude as soon as oil prices begin to rise. They are drilling wells but holding off on hydraulic fracturing, or forcing in water and chemicals to free oil from shale formations. The delay in the start of fracking lets companies store oil in the ground in a way that enables them to tap it unusually quickly if they wish--and flood the market again.

Artificially high oil prices were never going to survive the end of the WoT.
Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


How much has the U.S. poverty rate declined? (Tyler Cowen on March 15, 2015, Marginal Revolution)

Official percent poor in 1964: 19.0% [...]

Adjusted percent poor in 2013: 4.8%

That is adapted from a Christopher Jencks review, "The War on Poverty: Was It Lost?", in the 2 April 2015 New York Review of Books.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


UK's first 'poo bus' goes into regular service (Press Association, 15 March 2015)

Powered by biomethane gas, the Bio-Bus will use waste from more than 32,000 households along its 15-mile route.

Operated by First West of England, the bus will fill up at a site in Avonmouth, Bristol, where sewage and inedible food waste is turned into biomethane gas.

The bus, which can seat up to 40 people, was unveiled last autumn. First is showing the bus in Bristol on Tuesday before it starts operating four days a week from 25 March. 

If the route is successful, First will consider introducing more "poo buses".

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Exclusive: Netanyahu Canceled Intel Briefing for U.S. Senators on Iran Dangers (Massimo Calabresi, March 14, 2015, TIME)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to cancel a January briefing for U.S. Senators by his nation's intelligence service that warned Congress could damage talks aimed at constraining Iran's nuclear program, according to sources familiar with the events.

Tennessee Republican Bob Corker, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had requested the Jan. 19 briefing for six of his colleagues traveling to Israel so that the intelligence agency, Mossad, could warn them that a Senate proposal might inadvertently collapse the talks. After Netanyahu's office stripped the meeting from the trip schedule, Corker threatened to cut his own Israel trip short in protest.

Netanyahu relented after the personal intervention of Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, and allowed the briefing to go forward, sources say. [...]

During the Mossad briefing, the agency's chief, Tamir Pardo, warned that the Kirk-Menendez bill would be like "throwing a grenade" into the U.S.-Iran diplomatic process. After some of the contents of the briefing were first reported by Bloomberg View, Pardo released a statement saying he had used the phrase not to oppose new sanctions, but "as a metaphor" to describe the effect derailing current talks might have.

A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to say why the Prime Minister acted to prevent the Senators from receiving the briefing from Pardo. Since the Mossad briefing, Corker has rallied support for an alternative measure to replace the Kirk-Menendez proposal, support for which has faded. Corker's bill, which has broad support and potentially could receive enough votes for a veto-proof majority, would only impose new sanctions if Iran walked away from the Nov. 2013 agreement.

March 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


How do Americans stand out from the rest of the world? (GEORGE GAO, 3/12/15, Pew Research)

When Pew Research Center surveyed people in 44 countries last spring, 57% of Americans disagreed with the statement "Success in life is pretty much determined by forces outside our control," a higher percentage than most other nations and far above the global median of 38%.

True to the stereotype, surveys showed that Americans are more likely to believe that hard work pays off. When asked, on a scale of 0 to 10, about how important working hard is to getting ahead in life, 73% of Americans said it is was a "10" or "very important," compared with a global median of 50% among the 44 nations.

Americans also stand out for their religiosity and optimism, especially when compared with other relatively wealthy countries.

In general, people in richer nations are less likely than those in poorer nations to say religion plays a very important role in their lives. But Americans are more likely than their counterparts in economically advanced nations to deem religion very important. More than half (54%) of Americans said religion was very important in their lives, much higher than the share of people in Canada (24%), Australia (21%) and Germany (21%), the next three wealthiest economies we surveyed from 2011 through 2013.

People in richer nations tend to place less emphasis on the need to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values than people in poorer countries do. While the share of Americans holding that view is far lower than in poorer nations like Indonesia and Ghana (each 99%), the U.S. stands out when compared with people in other economically advanced nations. In the U.S., 53% say belief in God is a prerequisite for being moral and having good values, much higher than the 23% in Australia and 15% in France, according to our study of 39 nations between 2011 and 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Evangelicals embrace immigration reform, border controls, survey says (Mark A. Kellner, 3/12/15, Deseret News)

A majority of evangelical Christians say Congress should pass immigration reform, while they are split over the economic impact of immigration and they would like to hear more about the issue over the pulpit, according to a news survey.

More than two-thirds of evangelical Christians support immigration reform and enhanced border security, a survey conducted by LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based evangelical research firm, found. But evangelical approbation is not without concerns on various fronts. [...]

Evangelical support for a path to citizenship for the undocumented falls short of the 87 percent of Americans who told the Gallup Organization in 2013 they'd vote for a "multifaceted" pathway to citizenship. The 90 percent of evangelicals who want increased border security mirrors Gallup's 83 percent who agreed with that statement two years ago.

March 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Jeb Bush Says He Has a 'Grown-Up' Immigration Plan (REID J. EPSTEIN, 3/13/15, WSJ)

"It's easy to say, 'Well, anything you propose is amnesty,' but that's not a plan," Mr. Bush said during a discussion with local business leaders here. "That's a sentiment, that's not a plan. I think the best plan, the most realistic plan, the grown up plan, if you will, is once you control the border and you're confident it's not going to be another magnet, is to say, 'Let's let these folks achieve earned legal status where they work, where they come out of the shadows.'"

Later, during a brief exchange with reporters, Mr. Bush said he could also be supportive of a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally - as he did at one time - but said there currently isn't sufficient political support for it.

"If you could get a consensus done, where you could have a bill done and it was 15 years [to achieve citizenship] as the Senate Gang of Eight did, I'd be supportive of that," Mr. Bush said, referring to the comprehensive immigration legislation the Senate passed in 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


The Washington Free Beacon Is Unapologetically Conservative. It's Also Kind of Good. (Nick Baumann, March/April 2015, Mother Jones)

On July 21, 2013, Sen. Rand Paul reluctantly accepted the resignation of Jack Hunter, a.k.a. the "Southern Avenger." Hunter had been one of the senator's closest aides and had coauthored the Kentucky Republican's 2011 book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. But before that, a reporter revealed, he'd been a pro-secessionist shock jock who donned a Confederate-flag wrestling mask and annually toasted Abraham Lincoln's assassin. Why, Paul was asked a few weeks later by a National Public Radio host, would he have worked with someone like Hunter? "Many of the things he wrote were stupid and I don't agree with," the presidential contender answered. "I do think, though, that he was unfairly treated by the media."

The scoop that put Paul on the spot "and led him to blame the media" didn't come from the New York Times, a Kentucky paper, or even a Democratic opposition researcher. Credit belonged to Alana Goodman, a reporter at the Washington Free Beacon, an avowedly conservative website that had launched just a year and a half earlier.

In its short history, the Free Beacon's tiny staff of fewer than two dozen journalists has pulled off an almost unprecedented feat: Amid a conservative movement that has often evinced something between disinterest and disdain for the work of investigative reporters, it has built genuine muckraking success.

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


From minor to major : One American in six is now Hispanic, up from a small minority two generations ago. By mid-century it will be more than one in four. (David Rennie, Mar 14th 2015, The Economist)

America has twice before witnessed European migration waves that were proportionately even larger when measured against the population at the time: once in the 19th century and again at the start of the 20th century. Those new Americans came to be seen as respectable, over time, as they assimilated towards a majority culture rooted in what were explicitly called Anglo-Protestant ideals: self-reliance, rugged individualism, thrift and hard work. Yet now that white majority is on course to become a minority.

This will touch every aspect of public life, from politics to pop culture. Every year around 900,000 Hispanics born in America reach voting age. Neither party should imagine it will own their votes in perpetuity, but Republicans have the most work to do. In the 2012 presidential election Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, got nine in ten of his votes from whites, whereas Mr Obama won eight in ten of the votes cast by minorities. If the Republicans want to catch up, party hardliners will have to stop taking extreme positions on immigration. Hispanics are unlikely to listen to messages about jobs or health care from candidates who are also proposing to deport their mothers.

Business is waking up to the rise of Hispanics. Joe Uva, chairman of Hispanic enterprises and content at NBCUniversal, a big media company, is fond of telling fellow executives that with a combined purchasing power of $1.1 trillion, if Hispanic-Americans were a country they would rank 16th in the world.

A giant reason to be optimistic about the rise of Hispanics is that they are making America much younger. The median age of whites is 42; of blacks 32; and of Hispanics 28. Among American-born Hispanics, the median age is a stunning 18. As other parts of the rich world face a future of ageing, shrinking populations, Hispanics are keeping American schoolyards full of children and replenishing the supply of future workers. Since about 2011, white and non-white babies have been born in roughly equal numbers. White women already have fewer children than needed to replace their parents. Hispanic women's fertility rate has dropped a lot, but at an average of 2.4 children it is still above replacement level.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Surprise! Economy speeds up, pollution stalls (Virginia Harrison, 3/13/15, Money)

Global economic growth picked up pace slightly to 3.3% in 2014, according to the IMF, while the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere remained at 2013 levels of 32.3 billion tonnes.

"This is both a very welcome surprise and a significant one," said IEA chief economist Fatih Birol. "For the first time, greenhouse gas emissions are decoupling from economic growth," he said.

The halt in emissions growth reflected changing patterns of energy consumption in China, including using less coal. The world's biggest polluter also relied more heavily on renewable sources, such as hydropower, solar and wind to generate electricity.

Air pollution has slashed the average life expectancy in China and dirty air has driven foreign executives out of the country.

Developed countries also reduced their emissions in 2014. The IEA said recent efforts to promote more sustainable growth -- such as improved energy efficiency and the use of renewables -- have helped weaken the link between economic growth and greenhouse gas emissions.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Russia's economic misery deepens (Ivana Kottasova, 3/13/15, Money)

Russia's central bank cut interest rates by 1% to 14% on Friday, highlighting the dire state of the country's economy.

The bank also slashed its growth forecast. It expects the Russian economy to contract by between 3.5% and 4% in 2015, worse than its January prediction of 3%.

There is plenty to worry about.

Low oil prices and Western sanctions have crushed the economy. The ruble plunged 40% against the dollar in just six months -- sparking a backlash against the central bank. Some even accused it of sabotage.

The Bank of Russia is caught in a bind. Inflation is soaring -- it hit 16.7% in February, with food prices jumping by 23% compared to last year. Cutting rates could push prices even higher, but leaving them at elevated levels may mean an even deeper and longer recession.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Report Confronts Conservative Claims on Solar, Wind (Alan Neuhauser, March 13, 2015, US News)

The analysis by venture capital firm DBL Investors found that states with the highest proportion of electricity generation from renewable sources like solar and wind actually experienced cheaper-than-average retail prices compared to states with the smallest shares of green energy.

"Looking ahead, retail electricity prices and the entire electricity market are ripe for change," DBL managing partner and report co-author Nancy Pfund said in a statement. "Reliance on renewables will continue to grow as their costs decline, and as states shift away from a fossil fuels focus and move towards a cleaner energy future." [...]

Notably, residential, commercial and industrial consumers in the top 10 renewable-electricity states saw their retail rates go up by 3.06 percent - 0.17 points less than the national average. The bottom states, by comparison, saw their average utility rates rise faster, by 3.74 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Obama and Clinton complete each other (Steven Waldman, 3/13/15, Washington Monthly)

[T]he Obama and Clinton presidencies complement, complete, and reinforce each other. To oversimplify, Clinton provided the policy and ideological original thinking; Obama's the one who got the policies over the goal line.

Obama has not often been a policy innovator. Most of his big proposals were designed in the Clinton administration or by Clintonites. Obamacare was close to what Hillary proposed in 2008 and to the right of what the Clintons proposed in the 1990s. His first big environmental push was a centrist, market-oriented cap-and-trade regime. His stimulus package was almost one-third tax cuts. For all the attention to Obama's slight weakening of the welfare law, the more striking thing is that he has pretty much left welfare reform--the most conservative thing Clinton did--intact. Many of Obama's key aides--Rahm Emanuel, Jack Lew, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, John Podesta, Larry Summers, Susan Rice, Gene Sperling, Bruce Reed--served in the Clinton administration. That's not including his first secretary of state. It's a testament to how much Clinton changed the Democratic Party that even a conventional progressive like Obama ended up being "New Democrat" on most issues.

Conversely, Obama completed and expanded on the Clinton presidency in key ways. The most obvious is passing health care when Clinton couldn't. That's a big what-Joe-Biden-said. There's more: Clinton started a modest-sized "direct lending" program that allowed college students to borrow straight from the government, bypassing banks; Obama got the banks out entirely, saving taxpayers billions in the process. Clinton proposed raising fuel efficiency standards for cars from 27.5 mpg to 40. He failed. Obama has successfully raised them, with a target of 55 mpg by 2015. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Recent oil price stability is 'precarious,' IEA says (The Associated Press, March 13, 2015)

Oil prices have further to drop with no signs of slowing production in the U.S., according to a global energy agency. [...]

U.S. oil production and stockpiles of oil are at a record high, the agency said. The growth in stored oil might be slowed this spring as refineries idled for maintenance start production again, but it won't stop the growth, the report said.

The stockpiles of oil have gotten so high that the U.S. is running out of places to put it. That could be setting oil and gasoline prices up for another steep fall.

The price of oil fell another 3 per cent Friday with a barrel of U.S. crude going for $45.48. Prices were more than double that at this time last year.

March 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 PM


World powers begin talks on ending UN sanctions against Iran (Reuters, 12 March 2015)

Major world powers have quietly begun talks on a UN Security Council resolution to lift UN sanctions on Iran if a nuclear agreement is struck, a step that could make it harder for the US Congress to undo a deal, officials said.

The talks between Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - the five permanent members of the Security Council - plus Germany and Iran, are taking place ahead of difficult negotiations that resume next week over constricting Tehran's nuclear ability.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Wealth Gains Start to Lift More Boats : Household wealth hits highest level ever, up $1.5 trillion in fourth quarter to $82.9 trillion (NEIL SHAH, March 12, 2015, WSJ)

The value of stocks and mutual funds owned by households jumped $742 billion during the quarter, when the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index gained 4.4%. For the year, the index gained 11.4%.Much of the nation's stock-market gains goes to the wealthy, who tend to save the proceeds.

However, the value of residential real estate--the biggest asset for most Americans--also saw a healthy pickup of $356 billion last quarter. That shows the expansion is being felt more broadly.

"More people are participating in the wealth creation in America," said Joseph Carson, an economist at Alliance Bernstein.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


When Liberals Blew It (Nicholas Kristof, 3/11/15, NY Times)

The liberal denunciations of Moynihan were terribly unfair. In fact, Moynihan emphasized that slavery, discrimination and "three centuries of injustice" had devastated the black family. He favored job and education programs to help buttress the family.

But the scathing commentary led President Lyndon Johnson to distance himself from the Moynihan report. Scholars, fearful of being accused of racism, mostly avoided studying family structure and poverty.

In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle stepped into the breach by emphasizing the role of the family in addressing poverty, including a brief reference to Murphy Brown, a television character who was a single mom. Liberals rushed to ridicule Quayle for sexism and outdated moralism, causing politicians to tread this ground ever more carefully.

The taboo on careful research on family structure and poverty was broken by William Julius Wilson, an eminent black sociologist. He has praised Moynihan's report as "a prophetic document," for evidence is now overwhelming that family structure matters a great deal for low-income children of any color.

In 2013, 71 percent of black children in America were born to an unwed mother, as were 53 percent of Hispanic children and 36 percent of white children.

Indeed, a single parent is the new norm. At some point before they turn 18, a majority of all American children will likely live with a single mom and no dad.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Why salaries don't rise (Harold Meyerson, March 11, 2015, Washington Post)

[T]he funds corporations earmarked for their own investment, research, technology and raises during the 20th century have been redirected to shareholders in the 21st. Over the past decade, more than 90 percent of Fortune 500 corporations' net earnings have been funneled to investors. The great shareholder shift has affected more than employees' incomes. As Luke A. Stewart and Robert D. Atkinson noted in a 2013 report for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, business investment in equipment, software and buildings increased by just 0.5 percent per year between 2000 and 2011 -- "less than a fifth that of the 1980s and less than one-tenth that of the 1990s."

The power of major shareholders to appropriate corporate revenue has grown as the power of workers to win raise increases has dwindled -- even though the actual commitment of shareholders to any one corporation has diminished. (In 1960, the average length of time an investor held a stock was eight years; today, it's four months, and when computerized high-frequency trading is factored in, it's 22 seconds.) The decimation of private-sector unions has flatly eliminated the ability of large numbers of U.S. workers to bargain collectively for better pay or working conditions. But the ability of financiers to threaten the jobs of corporate managers unless they fork over more cash to shareholders has greatly increased.

Which is why universal shareholding is the model of the future.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


Wind Could Power 35 Percent of U.S. Electricity by 2050 (Bobby Magill, 3/12/15, Scientific American)

Wind power in the U.S. has grown significantly over the last decade, with Americans using three times as much wind power as seven years ago and wind now provides about 4.5 percent of the nation's electricity.

The U.S. Department of Energy believes those numbers can grow a lot more, projecting that  wind turbines could supply as much as 35 percent of U.S. electricity by 2050.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


In 23 states, richer school districts get more local funding than poorer districts (Emma Brown, March 12, 2015, Washington Post)

Children who live in poverty come to school at a disadvantage, arriving at their classrooms with far more intensive needs than their middle-class and affluent counterparts. Poor children also lag their peers, on average, on almost every measure of academic achievement.

But in 23 states, state and local governments are together spending less per pupil in the poorest school districts than they are in the most affluent school districts, according to federal data from fiscal year 2012, the most recent figures available.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Why Republicans Hold an Early Edge for 2016 : Amid Hillary Clinton's stumbles, the GOP field is keeping its poise. (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, March 11, 2015, National Journal)

With all the attention focused on the details of Hillary Clinton's personal email over the past week, it's easy to overlook the political big picture for the 2016 presidential campaign. If anything, Team Clinton's cautious, tone-deaf response to the potential scandal is a reminder of all the challenges that her candidacy will entail. Far from being the juggernaut that her campaign has been portrayed as, it's becoming clear that she will be facing strong headwinds in vying to succeed a divisive president, overcoming her past personal baggage, and convincing voters desperate for change that she's the candidate of the future.

The whole episode has raised glaring red flags about the emerging Clinton operation. It's only March, and the nascent campaign is still grasping for a message while being surprisingly unprepared to respond to criticisms about her email practices, which were known to her inner circle. A week that was designed to underscore her work for women across the globe descended into damage control over why she concealed emails as secretary of State on a private server. Her campaign operation resembles a clunky bureaucracy, filled with both allies from the last Clinton administration (Lanny Davis, David Brock) and younger strategists from President Obama's campaigns tasked to shake things up. She's got a well-defined brand, but one that's losing its luster amid controversy and organizational dysfunction. Sound familiar? [...]

One of the unheralded stories of the 2014 midterms is how Senate Republicans avoided many of the internal conflicts that dogged their party in previous elections. That success is extending into the 2016 presidential primaries, where an unusually deep roster of presidential prospects has emerged, and (for now) has avoided the pitfalls of the past. Just last weekend at an Iowa agricultural forum, Jeb Bush reiterated his support for immigration reform, and even Ted Cruz denounced ethanol subsidies. That resistance to pandering would have been unimaginable for Mitt Romney several years earlier.

As significantly, most candidates have resisted attacking Clinton, content to let her face the harsh scrutiny of the media on her own. (Only Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Mike Huckabee issued any formal response to her press conference.) Indeed, it was notable that Clinton preemptively attacked GOP senators for their letter warning Iran about a nuclear deal with the U.S. in an attempt to deflect attention from her own controversy.

Eventually the story will die down, and the GOP candidates will have to decide how to incorporate Clinton's controversy as part of their own messaging. And inevitably, some will overreach. But it's a telling early indicator of the caliber of the Republican campaigns that most haven't jumped on the shiny bright object of the moment, and are playing a longer game. It's in distinct contrast to the GOP field of 2012, which constantly got sidetracked on issues ranging from Obama's birth certificate to contraception. They're taking veteran Republican strategist Rick Wilson's advice: "Better to go dark than play this game by the Clinton rules."

Legislators are children, Iran letter blowback startles GOP (BURGESS EVERETT 3/11/15 , Politico)

Some Republican senators admitted Wednesday they were caught off guard by the backlash to a letter warning Iranian leaders against a nuclear agreement with President Barack Obama. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Republicans -- many of whom blessed the missive during a brisk signing session at a Senate lunch a week ago, as senators prepared to flee a Washington snowstorm -- should have given it closer consideration.

"It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm," McCain said. "I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is."

On this at least, Democrats and Republicans found agreement.

"I find it hard to believe that they understood the severity of what they were doing," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


States Raise Proficiency Standards in Math and Reading : Commitments to Common Core may be driving the proficiency bar upward (Paul E. Peterson and Matthew Ackerman, SUMMER 2015, Education Next)

Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was enacted into federal law in 2002, states have been required to test students in grades 3 through 8 and again in high school to assess math and reading achievement. The federal law also asks states to establish the performance level students must reach on the exams in order to be identified as "proficient." According to NCLB, each school was expected to increase the percentage of proficient students at a rate that would ensure that all students were proficient by the year 2014. Student proficiency rates have been publicly reported every year for schools in every state as well as for the state as a whole. Importantly, each state chooses its own tests and sets its own proficiency bar.

NCLB also requires the periodic administration of tests in selected subjects to a representative sample of students in 4th and 8th grade as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the nation's report card, which is administered under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education. The performance levels considered proficient on NAEP tests are roughly equivalent to those set by international organizations that estimate student proficiency worldwide. [...]

In 2009, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers formed a consortium that established the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), curricular standards that outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Many states have committed themselves to implementing "college and career ready" standards, such as those outlined in CCSS, in exchange for receiving a waiver from many NCLB regulations granted by the U.S. Department of Education. So far, 44 states and the District of Columbia have adopted CCSS for at least one subject. One of the consortium's goals is to encourage states to set proficiency levels that are on par with those set by NAEP.

In this paper we extend the five prior analyses by identifying the changes in state proficiency standards between 2011 and 2013, the last year for which the relevant information is available. We show that many states have raised their proficiency bars since 2011. Indeed, the 2013 data reveal that for the first time, substantially more states have raised their proficiency standards than have let those standards slip to lower levels. Overall, 20 states strengthened their standards, while just 8 loosened them. In other words, a key objective of the CCSS consortium--the raising of state proficiency standards--has begun to happen.

The conservative prescription is working.
Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


The Arab Joint List Is Reshaping Israeli Politics : How Ayman Odeh could end up leading the opposition after next week's legislative elections in Israel (David B. Green, March 12, 2015, The Tablet)

Until a month ago, it looked as if Israel's Arab parties might be denied a place in the 20th Knesset. In March 2014, the Knesset had passed the "Governance Bill," which raises the threshold a party needs to meet in order to enter the legislature. While in past elections, a party needed to attract 2 percent of the vote (equivalent to three Knesset seats), the new bill pushed that up to 3.25 percent (equal to four seats).

The outgoing Knesset has three Arab, or mostly Arab, parties, two of which--Hadash, the former Communist party, and Balad, a secular Arab-nationalist list--would not meet the requirements under the new law. The third list, Ra'am-Ta'al, would make the cut only because it is really two parties--the Islamic Ra'am, and Ta'al, a moderate, secular party represented in parliament by Ahmed Tibi--who have hooked up in past elections for the purpose of not falling below the required percentage.

There is no doubt that the Governance Bill was intended to keep tiny parties, the kind that often form around a single issue or a narrow population group, out of the Knesset, a change that would increase the stability of government coalitions, since it reduces the possibility of small parties--including religious parties--holding the government hostage to attain its support for their limited goals. At the same time, however, it was widely understood that the bill--which was co-sponsored by Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, whose Moldavian-born leader appears to take pleasure in denigrating Israel's Arab citizens--was an indirect attempt to push the Arab parties, none of which have ever been invited to join a coalition, out of Israel's legislature altogether. For them, the new threshold seemed to pose an outright threat of extinction, especially given the shrinking rate of participation among eligible Arab voters.

Now, however, less than a week before the March 17 snap election, a very different scenario looks to be emerging. If the polls suggesting that the Arab voting rate could surge back above the 70 percent level are correct, the so-called Arab sector could find itself in a position of political influence it has never before enjoyed. Recent polls suggest that the number of representatives it will have in the new Knesset could reach 13 or more--and not in spite of the Governance Bill, but in large part thanks to it.

Thanks, Avi.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


There is no scientific case for homeopathy: the debate is over (Edzard Ernst, 12 March 2015, The Guardian)

Now, the internationally highly respected Australian National Health and Medical Research Council have conducted what certainly is the most thorough and independent evaluation of homeopathy in its 200-year-long history. Already their preliminary report had confirmed that homeopathy is nothing other than treatment with placebos. 

March 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


How gluten intolerance became the fainting spell of the 21st century (Elissa Strauss, March 10, 2015, The Week)

For one, the popularity of gluten-free has exploded for many wrong reasons. It is part of a growing obsession with the purity of food, one that rivals the intensity of my kosher ancestors and has some calling for the classification of a new eating disorder. And yes, eating restrictions, so full of our many vanities and delusions, are ripe for parody.

But I suspect another reason gluten-free gets a bad rap is because of how easily it is associated with women.

For one, dieting is something women do, and men who do it are seen as feminine. Refusing gluten is an entirely un-macho act. There's also the not insignificant fact that women are diagnosed with celiac two to three times more often than men, making women around 70 percent of all celiacs.

This figure isn't exceptional for autoimmune diseases, which affect around 8 percent of the population, 78 percent of whom are women. Studies show that doctors often don't take young women seriously when they present symptoms of an autoimmune disease; 40 percent of women eventually diagnosed with a serious autoimmune disease have reported being told by a doctor that they're a hypochondriac. This is partially because the symptoms can be elusive -- bowel issues, fatigue, joint stiffness -- and because doctors still don't fully understand many of these ailments enough to diagnose them. Not only that, they still aren't certain as to why women experience them more, which, if solved, would likely lead to a better detection process and cures.

Elusive, like unicorns.
Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Retailers told to adapt or die in an asteroid strike of technological changes (Sarah Butler, 11 March 2015, The Guardian)

Retailers will be hit by an "asteroid strike" of technological change that will kill off those that fail to adapt, according to Dixons Carphone boss Seb James.

The arrival of household technology that communicates through the internet - the so-called internet of things - would bring a shift in consumer behaviour and the retail landscape as dramatic as that caused by the advent of the internet itself, which led to the closure of thousands of high street stores.

"We are coming to the era of the connected customer, the latest in a series of shifts created by technology," he told the Retail Week Live conference in London. "This shift is going to bump off as many retailers as the last. It will be a total asteroid strike at the heart of retail."

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Founding Bruthas (NOAH MILLMAN, March 10, 2015, American Conservative)

Hamilton, the wildly unlikely new hip-hop musical about the "ten-dollar founding father without a father" based on the Ron Chernow biography, has been hyped so much I almost didn't want to see it. But believe the hype: Lin-Manuel Miranda's new musical is truly revolutionary - and also a deeply moving work of art, and a sincere love letter to a particular vision of America.

Start with the music. Yes, it's been 20 years since Rent established the viability of the musical in a contemporary musical idiom, almost 30 years since a rap-influenced song from a Broadway musical first charted, and Mr. Miranda himself has done musicals before in a hip-hop/R&B mode. But Hamilton takes it to a whole new level, in part because the individual numbers don't have sharp corners, but weave into each other. This is musical storytelling par excellence, and the music feels supremely at home in our world. And on top of that it's really good.

That would be impressive enough an achievement in telling a contemporary story. But this is a historical play, about a period far removed from our mores as well as our music. Or is it? The most unexpected achievement of Hamilton is that it genuinely bridges that huge gap in time. It doesn't make us feel like we are in a period piece, nor does it engage in cutesy anachronism. Instead, it makes us feel like what happened then, with these people, could be happening right next door; that the founding fathers were our close cousins in spirit; that we would know each other if we met.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


AMERICAN ISLAM (Richard J. Mouw, 3 . 10 . 15, First Things)

I read recently that some young Muslims in the United States are complaining that what goes on in their mosques is not "American" enough. They say that the patterns of worship and religious education seem designed to preserve the connections to the countries from which their Muslim communities emigrated, while these young folks want their faith to guide them in their lives in America. Shouldn't their leaders be doing more, they ask, to help them understand how their faith applies to the country of which they are now citizens?

I say: Good for them. I hope they succeed in getting a positive response from their elders.

In his 1984 book, The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, Fr. Neuhaus insisted that a sustainable public morality in the United States requires a broad consensus on the kinds of values associated with "Judeo-Christian" thought. Otherwise, he wrote, we are condemned to living with one "temporary accommodation" after another. And this sort of consensus can hold, he argued, even for groups which do not subscribe to explicit biblical teaching. He noted that recent immigrant adherents to Eastern religions--he had Hindus and Buddhists particularly in mind--tend not to draw "lines of moral confrontation . . . against the prevailing Judeo-Christian ethos."

It tells us a lot about the changes in American religious life over the past three decades that Neuhaus paid no attention to Islam in referring to the pluralistic mix in the United States. But we can hope that young Muslims will fit the pattern he suggests, by entering into shared broad consensus with those influenced by Christian and Jewish thought.

We made an unwilling Catholic Church democratic, capitalist and protestant too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Netanyahu approval in US drops after Congress speech (TIMES OF ISRAEL, March 11, 2015)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's popularity dropped in the United States in the aftermath of his controversial speech before Congress last week, a poll published by Gallup on Wednesday indicated.

The Israeli leader's favorability dropped seven points to 38 percent, and his unfavorability rose by five points, to 29%, a survey of 1,025 American adults between March 5-8 found.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM



It's always tricky to compare surveys that ask different questions, but other polls have found similar attitudes among white evangelicals, and suggest these evangelical views are consistent with the rest of the population. Public Religion Research Institute reported last month that roughly six in ten Americans "say the current immigration system should allow immigrants living in the country illegally a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements."

While PRRI results show white evangelical support for Congress passing a comprehensive package is the lowest among religious groups (compared to "78 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, 76 percent of minority Protestants, 73 percent of white mainline Protestants, 72 percent of Catholics") it, too, found a majority of white evangelicals (64%) support passage of a comprehensive package.

According to the Lifeway poll, evangelical views of immigration remain conservative, with security trumping citizenship by a fairly wide margin: nearly 86 percent said that comprehensive immigration reform should "guarantee secure national borders"--much higher than the 58 percent that said a bill should include a path to citizenship.

Yet a majority still favor a path to citizenship (also known pejoratively as "amnesty" in conservative circles).

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


US effort against Isis could expand to include Boko Haram in Nigeria (Alan Yuhas,  11 March 2015, The Guardian)

The war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria may be expanded to include Boko Haram in Nigeria and militant elements in Libya, secretary of defense Ash Carter said on Wednesday.

Testifying before Senate committee on the topic of whether to authorize military force against jihadis - more than eight months after air strikes and military operations against Isis began - Carter conceded that the authorization's language would allow "flexibility" to include targets who have affiliated with Isis and threaten the US or its many coalition partners.

If it weren't for free trade, he'd be a one issue president.
Posted by orrinj at 4:05 PM


Euro just over half a cent away from parity vs dollar (Boby Michael, March 11, 2015, IB Times))

The euro's slide since Friday's US jobs data has been adding steam since and the currency has approached a historic milestones supported by weaker eurozone data and hawkish Fed remarks of late.

EUR/USD dropped to as low as 1.0637 on Wednesday, its lowest since early 2003, and down 0.56% from the previous close. Since Thursday's close, the common currency has declined 3.5%, indicating the impact over the past few sessions.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Unions to Fight Trade Pact by Freezing Political Donations (MELANIE TROTTMAN, March 10, 2015, WSJ)

Dozens of major labor unions plan to freeze campaign contributions to members of Congress to pressure them to oppose fast-track trade legislation sought by President Barack Obama , according to labor officials.

The move is part of the unions' campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which the Obama administration is negotiating with 11 nations around the Pacific Ocean. The unions worry the trade agreement could send more jobs to low-wage countries, including Vietnam and Malaysia.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


The Shocking Truth About Blacklisted Hollywood Screenwriters : Allan Ryskind documents "love affair with totalitarianism" (RAY KEATING, 3/10/15, Aleteia)

Allan Ryskind, author of Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters, Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, will have none of it, however. The longtime Human Events editor (and son of Morrie Ryskind, a screenwriter with various Marx Brothers films to his credit) offers a compelling, comprehensive tome that takes a fair--and as a result, damning--look at mountains of evidence regarding what the Hollywood Ten and other communists in the movie business actually did and advocated. For good measure, as any writer delving into history should do, Ryskind places the events and individuals he's writing about within the proper context of their time.

Ryskind writes, "The Hollywood Ten, far from being 'radical innocents,' far from having just 'flirted with Communist ideas,' as their sympathizers so frequently insist, had all been committed to a Soviet America." This is perhaps best illustrated by the flip-flopping by Hollywood's communists in and around World War II as they followed Kremlin orders via the Communist Party in America. That is, being anti-Nazi initially; then working against the anti-Nazis, including Great Britain and the U.S., during the Hitler-Stalin pact; once again, turning passionately against Hitler when he attacked the Soviet Union; and finally, turning against U.S. foreign policy and ultimately advocating our nation's violent demise. It was all about defending the U.S.S.R., not the U.S.A.

Ryskind makes clear that the Hollywood communists were working for Stalin, either unconcerned or supportive of "Stalin's swallowing of Eastern Europe, his installation of Red regimes in Asia, his aggressive acts against Western Europe, and the deep penetration of his fifth column in virtually all areas of American society." Oh yes, and there were the millions of Russians starved and murdered by Uncle Joe.

As for the much-maligned hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Ryskind takes a close look at what actually happened. He concludes that the HUAC investigation of Hollywood "proved to be one of the most effective, albeit controversial probes ever carried out by any committee of Congress." The results showed, in contrast to the revisionism heard for so long, "that Hollywood was packed with Communists and fellow travelers, that the guilds and the unions had been heavily penetrated, and that wartime films, at least, had been saturated with Stalinist propaganda."

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


The federal government could use more agencies like DARPA (David Ignatius, 3/10/15, Washington Post)

The federal government should take a lesson from DARPA, the Pentagon's high-tech incubator. The agency behaves more like a Silicon Valley start-up than a bureaucracy. It takes risks that might fail, explores dark and potentially dangerous technologies and encourages a contrarian debate about science and the future. I wish more government agencies were as creative.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, as it's formally known, is an outlier in a Washington colossus that generally seeks the safe middle zone. Many government employees these days seem terrified of making mistakes that might draw the wrath of the media or Congress. Too often, the government operates on a template that is low-risk and low-return. That's true even at agencies such as the CIA and the State Department, which are paid to think outside the box.
Arati Prabhakar, DARPA's director, told me in a recent interview that she tries to avoid worrying how a potentially controversial research project might look if it were bannered on the front page of The Washington Post. "One of our policies is not to back off these powerful technologies," she explains. "If we're cowed into not doing things because they might look funny, we won't do our mission."

Government use of "big data" is an area where Prabhakar thinks research should be pursued, accompanied by a policy debate about what rules are appropriate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


ADB: Cambodia on verge of being middle-income nation (Bangkok Post, 10 Mar 2015)

The head of the Asian Development Bank said Tuesday that Cambodia now ranks among the world's fastest-growing economies but still faces challenges.

Speaking to reporters, Takehiko Nakao said the country's rapid economic growth was driven by strong gains in industry, services and agriculture, bringing Cambodia to the verge of transitioning from a low-income to a middle-income country.

"It has rapidly reduced poverty from nearly 50% of the population in 2007 to just 19% in 2012, although many people have moved only slightly above the poverty line and remain vulnerable," Mr Nakao said. [...]

Cambodia's gross domestic product expanded at an average annual rate of 6.5% between 2007 and 2014.

The Manila-based bank predicts growth of 7.3% in 2015, underpinned by well-managed inflation, a stable exchange rate and sustained competitiveness.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


A Defiant Democratic Mayor : Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has become vocal opponent of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (MIKE VILENSKY,  March 9, 2015, WSJ)

Political observers see Ms. Miner as part of a broader re-emergence of the Democratic Party's left flank, which has lifted elected officials like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to the national stage.

Law professor Zephyr Teachout opposed Mr. Cuomo's fiscal policies during her unsuccessful primary run against the governor, and some, including Ms. Teachout, see Ms. Miner continuing that push. [...]

Mr. Cuomo has spent the first months of his second term rolling out his own upstate strategy. His administration has called for the private sector to help repair infrastructure through generating a tax base and jobs, and for upstate leaders to devise ideas that can help them create sustainable economies with less dependence on the state.

An aide to Mr. Cuomo pointed to Malta, an upstate town where private companies such as GlobalFoundries, a chip maker, invested in road and water system upgrades after an initial state investment.

Ms. Miner disagrees with this approach, which she has compared with trickle-down economics.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


The Philippines and Vietnam Forge a Strategic Partnership : Could this form the basis of multilateral maritime security cooperation? (Carl Thayer, March 10, 2015, The Diplomat)

On January 30, the Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario hosted his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh in Manila for the inaugural meeting of the Joint Commission on Concluding a Strategic Partnership. According to a Joint Statement  issued after the talks, the two ministers agreed "on the basis of amity, equality, mutual respect and cooperation... to elevate the level and intensity of bilateral exchanges between the two countries."

The bulk of the Joint Statement focused on the South China Sea and expressed concern "over the ongoing massive land reclamation activities that pose threats to the peace and stability in the region as well as to the lives of many people across the various coastal states." Del Rosario and Minh agreed that the "concerned Parties" should adhere to the ASEAN-China Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, conclude a Code of Conduct, exercise restraint, and resolve disputes peacefully in accord with international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

It appears likely that a formal strategic partnership agreement could be reached this year. Del Rosario noted that the strategic partnership with Vietnam would be the Philippines' third after the United States and Japan.

The Philippines and the U.S. became treaty allies in 1951. In 2011, the Philippines and Japan upgraded their bilateral ties to a strategic partnership. In late 2014, the Philippines and South Korea initiated discussions on a comprehensive strategic partnership.

March 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 PM


The Overly Dramatic Demise of the Light Bulb (Tali Trigg | March 9, 2015, Scientific American)

Remember when the fight against phasing out inefficient incandescent light bulbs was a big deal? Well it seems the sky didn't fall. Just recently, Canada joined the United States, the European Union, and Australia among several countries to phase out the production and import of inefficient incandescent light bulbs. While the jury is out on what exactly the best next standard is, at least they're all much, much more efficient.

While the basic incandescent light bulb is being phased out, LED light bulbs are starting to take off. And no wonder, they're 90% more efficient than the standard light bulb, and last 25 times longer. Talk about bang for your buck. But does this add up to anything really? Well, consider that Canadians alone spend 300 million (CAD) per year, equal to about 10 CAD per person per year. It's a small chunk per person, but add the longer lifetimes of the new light bulbs, and you can see why consumers are starting to take note, not to mention business owners who use them in bulk and will see a quicker payback.

Fun/important fact: halogen lamps are incandescent, just 28% more efficient than the basic model. So really, the controversy was less than about banning one particular light bulb, and more about setting an efficiency standard, letting the market provide options. And yet, there sure was a fracas surrounding the introduction of the standard, but here we are, buying more efficient light bulbs that save us money over their lifetime.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Partying Like It's 1995 (Paul Krugman, 3/09/15, NY Times)

Six years ago, Paul Ryan, who has since become the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and the G.O.P.'s leading voice on matters economic, had an Op-Ed article published in The Times. Under the headline "Thirty Years Later, a Return to Stagflation," he warned that the efforts of the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve to fight the effects of financial crisis would bring back the woes of the 1970s, with both inflation and unemployment high.

True, not all Republicans agreed with his assessment. Many asserted that we were heading for Weimar-style hyperinflation instead.

Needless to say, those warnings proved totally wrong. Soaring inflation never materialized. Job creation was sluggish at first, but more recently has accelerated dramatically. Far from seeing a rerun of that '70s show, what we're now looking at is an economy that in important respects resembles that of the 1990s. [...]

 Recent job gains have brought the Fed to a fork in the road very much like the situation it faced circa 1995. Now, as then, job growth has taken the official unemployment rate down to a level at which, according to conventional wisdom, the economy should be overheating and inflation should be rising. But now, as then, there is no sign of the predicted inflation in the actual data.

The 1880s even more than the 1990s.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Let Iraq Die: A Case for Partition (Michael J. Totten, March/April 2015, World Affairs)

The Kurds in the north, who make up roughly twenty percent of the population, want out. They never wished to be part of Iraq in the first place. To this day, they still call the bathroom the "Winston Churchill," in sarcastic homage to the former British prime minister who shackled them to Baghdad. Since the early 1990s, they've had their own government and autonomous region in the northern three provinces, and they held a referendum in 2005 in which 98.7 percent voted to secede and declare independence. The only reason they haven't finally pulled the trigger is because it hasn't been safe; the Turks--who fear the contagion of Kurdish independence inside their own country--have threatened to invade if they did.

The Sunni Arabs in the west, who make up another rough twenty percent of Iraq, aren't itching for independence necessarily, but they sure as hell aren't willing to live under the thumb of Shiite-dominated Baghdad any longer. Millions of them live now under the brutal totalitarian rule of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which has declared its own state not only in a huge swath of Iraq but also in much of northeastern Syria. ISIS either controls or has a large presence in more than fifty percent of Iraq at the time of this writing.

Iraq's Shiite majority, meanwhile, is terrified of its Sunni minority, which oppressed them mercilessly during Saddam Hussein's terrifying rule and which now flies the black flag of al-Qaeda and promises unending massacres.

W gave this one the old college try, but it was always a mistake.  There is a Kurdistan and there is a Shi'a state.  The Sunni can either get their act together or face annihilation by the Shi'a of Iraq and Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Iran's foreign minister explains international law to Senate Republicans (Peter Weber, 3/10/15, The Week)

The next time Republicans in the Senate try to explain treaties and the U.S. Constitution to Iranian officials, they may want to pick someone other than a foreign minister with a masters and PhD in international relations from the University of Denver, plus two degrees from San Francisco State University. Javad Zarif, who is also Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, responded to a letter from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and 46 other GOP senators with an explainer of his own.

Not only are the senators shaky on their own Constitution's separation of powers, Zarif wrote, according to Iran's Tasnim News Agency, but "the authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfill the obligations they undertake with other states, and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations."

Of course, the reality is that international law means whatever we say it does.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Who Is the Greatest Fictional Basketball Player of All Time? : The greatest players and greatest moments in basketball movie history (JASON CONCEPCION AND SHEA SERRANO ON MARCH 10, 2015, Grantland)

To organize our research, we needed rules. They are as follows:

Rule 1: You can't pick more than two players from any one movie. This is the Blue Chips Rule. Blue Chips was loaded with actual players. In a movie-vs.-movie basketball tournament, Blue Chips waxes everybody.

Rule 2: If someone has played a basketball player in more than one movie, you can pick only one of his or her roles. For example, Marlon Wayans was in The Sixth Man and Above the Rim, and he played basketball in both. You could pick him for only one of those performances -- though we can't imagine anyone would ever, ever, ever pick Marlon Wayans twice for anything.

Rule 3: You can't pick anyone who was portraying a real-life basketball player. That's no fun. The legend's already been written. This is the Earl Manigault Rule.

Rule 4: There is no restriction on the type of movie referenced. It doesn't have to be described as "a basketball movie"; it only needs to contain some basketball scenes. Remember when Rufio played halfpipe basketball in Hook? Remember when Jim Carrey broke the backboard in The Cable Guy? Remember when John Tucker did that flip dunk in John Tucker Must Die? It's all up for grabs. This is the Fletch Rule.

Rule 5: This is not a Who Was the Best Basketball Player thing, this is a Who Was the Best Fictional Basketball Player thing. That means acting has to be considered.

Hustler, from Fast Break.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


The Cost of Relativism (David Brooks, 3/10/15, NY Times)

One of America's leading political scientists, Robert Putnam, has just come out with a book called "Our Kids" about the growing chasm between those who live in college-educated America and those who live in high-school-educated America. It's got a definitive collection of data about this divide.

Roughly 10 percent of the children born to college grads grow up in single-parent households. Nearly 70 percent of children born to high school grads do. There are a bunch of charts that look like open scissors. In the 1960s or 1970s, college-educated and noncollege-educated families behaved roughly the same. But since then, behavior patterns have ever more sharply diverged. High-school-educated parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less, encourage them less and spend less time engaging in developmental activity. [...]

The health of society is primarily determined by the habits and virtues of its citizens. In many parts of America there are no minimally agreed upon standards for what it means to be a father. There are no basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically.

Reintroducing norms will require, first, a moral vocabulary. These norms weren't destroyed because of people with bad values. They were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another. People got out of the habit of setting standards or understanding how they were set.

Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Next it will require holding everybody responsible. America is obviously not a country in which the less educated are behaving irresponsibly and the more educated are beacons of virtue. America is a country in which privileged people suffer from their own characteristic forms of self-indulgence: the tendency to self-segregate, the comprehensive failures of leadership in government and industry. Social norms need repair up and down the scale, universally, together and all at once.

The nice thing for those who preach relativism is that since they don't practice it they don't pay the cost.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


Gold's Long Decline Is the Real Story (Barry Ritholtz, 3/10/15, Bloomberg View)

 In February, gold slipped about $60 and the fall continued this month. Gold now is down about 1.6 percent year-to-date and it wouldn't be a surprise if the precious metal fell more this month.  "March has a history of being the worst" month for gold, according to Bloomberg. During the past four decades, on average, bullion futures decline 1 percent in March. "Prices fell 65 percent of the time, more than any other month."

The reasons gold prices can't seem to gain any traction are many: Job creation has been robust, inflation is low and the Federal Reserve is widely expected to begin the process of easing back on monetary accommodation -- strengthening the dollar and further reducing gold's appeal.  

As we noted late last year, the gold narrative has failed. The promised hyperinflation that was supposed to send gold soaring never arrived. Instead, we had disinflation, with a threat of global deflation. 

...but always wrong in the long term.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Why Alberto Nisman Is No Hero for Argentina -- or the Jews : Prosecutor's Terror Cover-Up Case Is Falling Apart (Graciela Mochkofsky, March 10, 2015,The Forward)

I don't know of anyone in Argentina who considered Nisman a hero before he was found dead in his apartment on January 18. He was part of a species born and bred in my country, a specimen of the politicized federal justice system -- typically, someone who stretches the law, lives beyond his means and always stands close to power. Nisman was also known among his colleagues for his close ties to Argentina's intelligence services. The services have long been involved in political espionage, financing of political campaigns, bribing of judges and lawmakers, and every dirty operation you can imagine.

In 1997, when he first became involved in the case -- known in Argentina by the JCC's acronym, AMIA -- Nisman was a young and ambitious prosecutor making a career in the newly inaugurated system of open trials.

His task was to make presentable the fabrication concocted by Judge Juan José Galeano. With forged evidence, Galeano and other authorities had accused a ring of corrupt police officers of being the "local connection" in the bombing.
The open trial began in 2001 and ended in disaster in 2004. The forgery was so apparent that it didn't survive scrutiny. The policemen were exonerated. The judge, the prosecutors, the head of the intelligence service, a high-ranking police officer, former president Carlos Menem and the leader of the main political Jewish organization were eventually indicted for the cover-up (and are going to trial in a few months). Nisman somehow survived, and President Néstor Kirchner (Cristina Kirchner's now late husband, who took office in 2007) appointed him as special prosecutor for the AMIA case. He had to rebuild it from scratch. In 2006, based mostly on foreign intelligence reports, Nisman accused the Iranians of sponsoring the attack, allegedly carried out by Hezbollah militants. [...]

The first judge who received Nisman's accusation rejected it as baseless. The Jewish leadership refused to stand by him in parliament (they started supporting him post-mortem). The victim's relatives' associations rejected not only the accusation, but also Nisman himself: They had been asking for his removal from the case all along.

Then, on January 18, Nisman was found dead, shot in the head with a .22-caliber bullet inside the bathroom of his locked 13th-floor apartment in the posh Puerto Madero area of Buenos Aires.

With the country in shock -- half the public thinking it was murder and 77% believing that the truth about his death would never be known, according to a national poll -- Nisman's 289-page accusation was made available online. His allegations of a cover-up, it turned out, were based on two weak journalistic reports and hundreds of hours of wiretapped phone conversations between peripheral political operators aligned with the government, a criminal who tried to pass as a secret agent and the leader of the Islamic community in Buenos Aires who is also an agent of Iranian interests in Argentina.

Several of the country's most prominent jurists agreed that there was no evidence to prove that a crime of any kind had been committed. But with demonstrators in the streets paying homage to Nisman, federal prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita picked up the case and filed the accusation again.

On February 26, Rafecas demolished it.

His 63-page dismissal is devastating: Not only was there "not even circumstantial evidence" of the alleged cover-up or obstruction of justice in Nisman's last document, the judge wrote, but the evidence gathered by Nisman himself openly contradicted his accusations. In essence, the judge offered three points. First, since the memorandum of understanding was never actually implemented -- the Iranian Parliament had not approved it, and an Argentine court ruled it unconstitutional -- the alleged crime never took place.

Second, Nisman had accused Timerman of trying to cancel Interpol's international arrest warrants against the Iranian suspects. Rafecas proved with testimonies and documents from Interpol and the Argentine Foreign Ministry that the opposite is true: Timerman was adamant that the warrants, known as "red notices," stayed in place before and after the agreement with Iran. They still are in place. "There is not a single piece of evidence, a single trace, that supports the prosecutor's hypothesis.... that Héctor Timerman had ever planned or prepared an attempt of a cover-up," Rafecas wrote. "If anything becomes apparent in the wiretapped conversations (among the Iranian agents and their Argentine counterparts), it is that [(Timerman)] was the enemy to be vanquished."

Third, the wiretapped conversations, involving people who are not public officers, could have been, at best, hints of a plan that was also never put into action -- that is, the alleged trade-off of impunity for oil. Rafecas showed that there's no trace of any real link to the Argentine government, only a lot of boasting among small-time characters.

Nisman's criminal hypothesis, the judge concluded, "lacks all validity."

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Why Scott Walker Should Hope the Supreme Court Leaves Obamacare In Place (Joshua Green, 3/04/15, Bloomberg)

Of the Republican presidential contenders, no one has more at stake than Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. Led by Walker, Wisconsin declined the ACA's Medicaid expansion and opted against creating a state-based exchange to provide access to health insurance, relying instead on the federal exchange. This means that should the court side with the King challenger, residents of Wisconsin and 33 other states will lose the subsidies that make their insurance affordable. If Congress doesn't devise a fix--and let's be real: it's Congress--responsibility would fall to the states.

Walker isn't the only presidential prospect facing this dilemma. Chris Christie would, too, since New Jersey also relies on federal exchanges. But Walker will be in a tougher spot because his own health-care plan also removed 83,000 people from BadgerCare (Wisconsin's Medicaid program) and directed them to seek coverage the federal exchange. In Wisconsin, these people are called "transitioners," since they're transitioning into the private market. If you're a Republican presidential hopeful trying to appeal to conservatives, pushing people out of a government program and into the private market is sure to be a hit. 

However, while Walker himself wouldn't emphasize this, his plan is built upon Obamacare. As he explained to Milwaukee Public Radio in 2013, the law's subsidies are what allow him to move the transitioners off of Medicaid without leaving them no access to insurance: "You're going to hear some detractors claim that moving people to the private market or to the exchanges isn't affordable. I think most people would find it hard to imagine that with the tax subsidies, that $19 a month is somehow not affordable. I think it is."  

But if the court strikes down the subsidies and Congress doesn't bail him out, Walker will find himself in an especially difficult position. He'll have to come up with a way to help the roughly 185,000 Wisconsinites who will lose their subsidies. And in addition, he'll be personally culpable for the 83,000 low-income transitioners who would not have been affected by a court decision had he left them on Medicaid, but would now lose their subsidies and probably their health insurance. "The success of his policy of transitioning adults off of BadgerCare is built on the existence of the ACA and the availability of those subsidies," says Donna Friedsam, Researcher and Health Policy Programs Director at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Two points worth noting: Friedsam also points out that Walker expanded Medicaid eligibility to a different group of childless adults who fall below the federal poverty line and weren't previously covered (although he pointedly did not do it though the ACA). And he couldn't possibly have foreseen--because no one did--that relying on a federal exchange, rather than a state exchange, might one day cost Wisconsinites billions in federal health-care subsidies and jeopardize their coverage.

If it does, Walker says he'll count on Washington for a fix. But if none is forthcoming, the responsibility will be his.

March 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


The weaker sex : Boys are being outclassed by girls at both school and university, and the gap is widening (The Economist, Mar 7th 2015)

To see why boys and girls fare so differently in the classroom, first look at what they do outside it. The average 15-year-old girl devotes five-and-a-half hours a week to homework, an hour more than the average boy, who spends more time playing video games and trawling the internet. Three-quarters of girls read for pleasure, compared with little more than half of boys. Reading rates are falling everywhere as screens draw eyes from pages, but boys are giving up faster. The OECD found that, among boys who do as much homework as the average girl, the gender gap in reading fell by nearly a quarter.

Once in the classroom, boys long to be out of it. They are twice as likely as girls to report that school is a "waste of time", and more often turn up late. Just as teachers used to struggle to persuade girls that science is not only for men, the OECD now urges parents and policymakers to steer boys away from a version of masculinity that ignores academic achievement. "There are different pressures on boys," says Mr Yip. "Unfortunately there's a tendency where they try to live up to certain expectations in terms of [bad] behaviour."

Boys' disdain for school might have been less irrational when there were plenty of jobs for uneducated men. But those days have long gone. It may be that a bit of swagger helps in maths, where confidence plays a part in boys' lead (though it sometimes extends to delusion: 12% of boys told the OECD that they were familiar with the mathematical concept of "subjunctive scaling", a red herring that fooled only 7% of girls). But their lack of self-discipline drives teachers crazy.

Perhaps because they can be so insufferable, teenage boys are often marked down. The OECD found that boys did much better in its anonymised tests than in teacher assessments. The gap with girls in reading was a third smaller, and the gap in maths--where boys were already ahead--opened up further. In another finding that suggests a lack of even-handedness among teachers, boys are more likely than girls to be forced to repeat a year, even when they are of equal ability.

What is behind this discrimination? One possibility is that teachers mark up students who are polite, eager and stay out of fights, all attributes that are more common among girls. In some countries, academic points can even be docked for bad behaviour. Another is that women, who make up eight out of ten primary-school teachers and nearly seven in ten lower-secondary teachers, favour their own sex, just as male bosses have been shown to favour male underlings. In a few places sexism is enshrined in law: Singapore still canes boys, while sparing girls the rod.

Boys should have woodworking, auto shop, computer lab and the like.
Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


At Iowa summit, Scott Walker shifts gears on ethanol mandate (Jason Stein, March 8, 2015, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

 Only weeks after taking this key state in the presidential race by surprise, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker defended his front-runner status in Iowa by pledging to support a federal ethanol mandate, shifting his position on renewable fuels at a Republican roundup on farm issues. [...]

Walker, a past critic of ethanol, acknowledged in January that he would have to spell out his position on the issue as part of his likely presidential bid. In other key issues for Iowa, Walker said that he favored drawing down federal tax credits for wind power over time and opposed mandatory labeling of foods made from genetically modified crops.

"This is one of those where I believe it's served its purpose," Walker said of the credits. "I would support phasing that out over a period of time."

When Walker arrived in this state for his breakout speech at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January, he was a candidate with more potential than organization or momentum. Now he has staff and an office in the state, a national campaign apparatus and a leading position in many polls.

Increasingly, he is adopting positions, such as supporting ethanol incentives, that fit the needs of his likely presidential campaign even if they are inconsistent with his past stances.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Hamas offers long-term calm in exchange for end of blockade (AVI ISSACHAROFF, March 9, 2015, Times of Israel)

Hamas recently sent a series of messages to Israel indicating interest in a long-term ceasefire lasting for several years, in exchange for an end to the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, sources told The Times of Israel.

Senior Hamas officials met with Western diplomats about the ceasefire, and also reached a number of understandings about the character of the ceasefire, also known as a tahdiyya.

During the talks, Hamas officials emphasized that they were willing to agree on a ceasefire of at least five years (though some sources said the offer was for 15 years), during which time all military activities "above and below ground" from both parties would end. At the same time, the blockade on Gaza would be removed, including restrictions on exports, and Israel would allow the construction of a seaport and an airport.

Electorates are hard taskmasters.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Islamic State appears to be fraying from within (Liz Sly March 8, 2015, Washington Post)

The Islamic State ­appears to be starting to fray from within, as dissent, defections and setbacks on the battlefield sap the group's strength and erode its aura of invincibility among those living under its despotic rule.

Reports of rising tensions between foreign and local fighters, aggressive and increasingly unsuccessful attempts to recruit local citizens for the front lines, and a growing incidence of guerrilla attacks against Islamic State targets suggest the militants are struggling to sustain their carefully cultivated image as a fearsome fighting force drawing Muslims together under the umbrella of a utopian Islamic state. only have to push as hard as the times push against you and, at the End if History, that's not much push.
Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


How conservatives capsized school reform (Juan Williams, 03/09/15, The Hill)

The House had planned a vote on the "Student Success Act" on the last Friday in February. 

After years of difficult debate, Republicans seemed to be on their way to passing a bill that at least provided a basis for future negotiations with the Senate. 

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) enthused that it was a "good conservative bill that empowers America and does not empower the bureaucracy here in Washington."

But with the largest GOP majority in memory, the Speaker still could not get the votes to pass the bill and Republicans cancelled the vote. The Associated Press described it as a "political embarrassment for Republicans."
It was a national embarrassment. [...]

[Y]ears of work on school reform have gone up in smoke. Why? The answer is a purely ideological grandstand play in which Republicans demanded the bill completely eliminate the federal hand in dealing with failing schools. 

That was never going to happen. The bill already included more discretion for local and state government when it came to dealing with failing schools. The idea of eliminating the federal role while federal dollars continue flowing is absurd. 

Too many states have a history of ignoring disadvantaged or disabled students for the federal government to relinquish all control. Total removal of federal oversight is, at best, a talking point for outside groups, including Heritage Action and Club for Growth.

But GOP hardliners abandoned the entire bill over this issue. They walked away from a decade of impassioned debate over fear of too much testing for students and too much pressure on teachers. There was too much political barking and too little focus on young Americans trapped in bad schools.'s not their constituents who have kids stuck in failing schools and their constituents don't want those klids attending schools in their districts.  
Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Scott Walker, Anti-Union Man : The signing of a "right-to-work" law gives the Wisconsin governor another victory to offer Republican primary voters. (RUSSELL BERMANMAR 9 2015, Atlantic Monthly)
[W]alker's ongoing battle with unions could risk becoming a defining issue for him, and not necessarily in a positive way. This was most clearly illustrated when the one-term governor, obviously not well-steeped in foreign policy, used the 2011 law as an awkward punchline to suggest his victory over Democrats and organized labor qualified him to take on ISIS as commander in chief. "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, " he said at CPAC, "I can do the same across the world." The clumsy boasting demonstrated his weakness in foreign affairs, but it also came close to exposing him as a one-issue pony. 

...but if you aren't advocating for Third Way reforms along with it, you have given away the issue of income inequality.
Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Give Credit Where It's Due to U.S. Stress Tests (Jon Hilsenrath, 3/09/15, WSJ)

We spend a lot of time these days reading and writing about U.S. government failures and the nasty political divisions that impede problem-solving in Washington. With that in mind it's worth pausing for a moment to recognize a bipartisan success.

Six years ago this month, with the economy in freefall and markets unstable, the Federal Reserve was deep into executing stress tests of the nation's largest financial institutions. The plan was to formally assess the resilience of big banks to a deepening shock and use funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program to get capital into those in need of more financial buffering. The TARP law was passed by Democrats in Congress and signed by a Republican in the White House, George W. Bush. Then the stress tests were executed by a Democrat in the White House, Barack Obama, and a Republican nominee at the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke.

Today, the government is out of the capital infusion business, but the Fed continues stress tests, counting on the market to provide capital where needed. Banks complain about the opaque nature and cost of the Fed's annual stress testing ritual. Some supervisors wonder whether the Fed has gotten too consumed in stress test number-crunching, at the expense of old-fashioned, face-to-face supervision.

Still, it is hard to argue with the results. Since 2009, the eight biggest U.S. financial institutions have added $500 billion of capital, which works out to $10 trillion of lending capacity with a 5% minimum capital ratio.

It's not just that they were wrong about the policy, but the politics of opposition cost the party the White House.  
Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


THE COSTS OF "VICTORY" : Collateral Damage (KIRK BENNETT, 3/09/15, American Interest)

 Paradoxically, notwithstanding the recent triumph of Russian arms in the Donbass--in fact, partly because of it--the Russians are shaping up to be the biggest losers of all.

Recall that the original justification for Russia's intervention was to save ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians from slaughter at the hands of roving bands of Ukrainian fascists, reportedly on their way to Crimea when the polite green men arrived to save the day. How, then, have the Russians of Ukraine fared one year on?

The Russians of Crimea, the initial beneficiaries of Moscow's humanitarian intervention, have seen the collapse of tourism and agriculture, soaring prices, physical isolation, and massive disruption as the peninsula switches from Ukrainian to Russia law, regulation and practice. All the same, the most acute problems are potentially only of a transitional nature. If Moscow comes through with the promised funding, and most of it isn't stolen (two very heroic assumptions), Crimea could with time settle into, if not exactly prosperity, then at least a state of tolerable stagnation.

The Donbass, on the other hand, would be lucky to have Crimea's problems. Desultory demonstrations and the seizure of a few municipal centers and armories were transformed into armed conflict once Igor Strelkov and his gang of Russians gunned down the Ukrainian security forces who tried to stop their incursion. However, Moscow failed to repeat its Crimean cakewalk in the Donbass, which became a theater of fierce positional fighting punctuated by heavy artillery bombardment in densely populated areas.

As a result, the overwhelmingly Russian-speaking Donbass has suffered the brunt of the war's destruction, casualties and displacement. The local economy, which was seriously depressed even before the war, is now devastated. To make matters worse, Moscow has decided to finance its occupation of the Donbass on the cheap. Blanching at the astronomical price tag just to maintain the Donbass, let alone reconstruct it, Russia has indignantly insisted that Kyiv continue paying salaries and pensions, as well as foot the gas bill. Kyiv, of course, doesn't even have the funds to cover its obligations in the territory it controls, and is not about to bankroll separatism. So, while Moscow self-righteously waits for Kyiv to pick up the check, the needs of the Donbass' Russian-speaking population go unmet. If the Russians of Crimea can plausibly hope for a brighter tomorrow, the Russians and Russian-speakers of the Donbass can have no such illusion. Their future bodes unremitting misery under any plausible scenario.

Oddly enough, the best-off Russians in Ukraine are arguably the ones who still live under Ukrainian rule.

Is something still a paradox when it is always true?
Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


A Nuclear Deal with Iran Starts to Look Likely (PATRICK SMITH, 3/09/15, The Fiscal Times)

Let's look at what each side has so far brought to the party. Then we consider the likely impact of Benjamin Netanyahu's much noted address to Congress last week.

Iran has proven a nice surprise, in my read. A year ago Tehran was breathing fire as to its inalienable right to a nuclear program and aspects of its sovereignty it would never compromise.

Well, it has. It now seems willing to accept strict limitations on its centrifuge count and its uranium stockpiles. In the latter case, it is prepared to send part of the material it enriches to Russia, which will return it according to the needs of a civilian nuclear power program and its emerging medical technologies.

Most impressively, Iran will have to accept the most rigorous inspections regime ever imposed on a national nuclear program. Reports suggest the arrangements finally struck will probably extend beyond the life of the agreement.

President Obama said today in an interview, that the U.S. would not accept any agreement that allows Iran the ability to make a nuclear weapon. "If we don't have that kind of deal, then we're not going to take it," Obama said.

I credit Hassan Rouhani, the reformist president whose election two years ago set this big ball in motion, and Mohammad Javad Zarif, his able foreign minister, for bringing Iran this far along without provoking the kind of nationalist backlash many worried about at the outset. isn't easy to make us look like the most unreliable party in a negotiation with Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


How the oil price drop can lift a 'curse' (Monitor's Editorial Board  MARCH 9, 2015, CS Monitor)

"What we're witnessing in part ... is the failure of the petro state, where the resource curse has finally reached its logical conclusion," says Edward Morse, head of commodities research at Citibank, who adds that $100 a barrel may not be seen for a very long time.

Others see a blessing in disguise as the drop in petrodollars exposes the illusions of governance that many petro states have been prone to: corruption by a well-connected elite, concentration of power, little transparency, reckless welfare spending and, most of all, a failure to improve their citizens' productivity and create a healthy future in nonoil business.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Future Obamacare Costs Keep Falling (NICK TIMIRAOS and  STEPHANIE ARMOUR, 3/09/15, WSJ)
Floridians sign up for the Affordable Care Act in February. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects the law will cost the government 11% less than their forecast six weeks ago. Getty Images
Nearly five years after President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, federal budget scorekeepers have sharply revised down the projected costs of the signature bill.

In the latest projection, published by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday, the major provisions of the law will cost the government 11% less than they forecast six weeks ago, or $142 billion over the coming decade.

Overall, the health-care law will now cost 29% less for the 2015-19 period than was first forecast by the CBO when the law was signed in March 2010.

March 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


The Remodeled Midwestern Republican (Sam Tanenhaus, 3/08/15, Bloomberg View)

The first thing to note is that Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio are all either "purple" or "blue," with a mix of urban as well as suburban and rural populations. Barack Obama captured all of them in two elections, and even Indiana went for him in 2008.

No Republican can effectively serve these diverse electorates by simply declaring himself "against" government or by rousing the conservative base. And appeals to identity politics or cultural warfare will only go so far. The emphasis falls instead on claiming to promote what one of the greatest of Midwestern Republicans, Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, called "efficient, honest and sound government." 

You can hear echoes of this approach from Walker, who has repeatedly drawn a bright line between beltway and statehouse Republicans. In November 2013, for instance, a month after the federal government shutdown that marked a low point of Republican politics in the Obama years, he wrote:

In Washington the fight is over "fiscal cliffs," "debt limits," "sequesters" and "shutdowns." In the states, Republicans focus on improving education, caring for the poor, reforming government, lowering taxes, fixing entitlements, reducing dependency, improving health care, and creating jobs and opportunity for the unemployed.

Yes, Texas Governor George W. Bush said similar things when he was running for president in 2000. But Walker's pitch is keyed to our particular moment -- for instance, in his description of a curious hybrid: "Obama-Walker" supporters, that is, the roughly 10 percent in Wisconsin who had voted for both men. Potentially, there are more such voters, Walker argued, but to attract them Republicans must take up the business of governing.

More recently, Walker has said that while his policies in Wisconsin place him at the "polar" end of the spectrum from his state's celebrated lineage of progressives, "I actually think I'm a progressive too. I think I fit in that tradition." This too echoes Taft, whose friends and allies in the Senate included Robert La Follette Jr., a member of the first family of Wisconsin politics.

Given that W and Jeb are two of the most successful governors in recent history, it's hardly surprising to see other governors follow their lead. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Europe is being torn apart - and the torture will be slow (Timothy Garton Ash, 8 March 2015, The Guardian)

"If the euro fails, Europe fails": thus spake Angela Merkel. Unfortunately, the euro is failing, but it is failing slowly. Even if Greece grexits, the eurozone seems unlikely to fall apart in the near future, although there is still a chance that it will. There is a much higher chance that it will grind along like a badly designed Kazakh tractor, producing slower growth, fewer jobs and more human suffering than the same countries would have experienced without monetary union. However, the misery will be unevenly distributed between debtor and creditor countries, struggling south and still prospering north.

These different national experiences will be reflected through elections, creating more tensions of the kind we have already seen between Germany and Greece. Eventually, something will give, but that process may take a long time. "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation," said Adam Smith. Given the extraordinary achievements of the 70 years since 1945, and the memories and hopes still invested in the European project, there is a lot of ruin still left in our continent.

Posted by orrinj at 11:07 AM


The Conservative Case Against Enforcing Immigration Law (RUSSELL BERMAN, MAR 6 2015, The Atlantic)

[W]ith conservatives still reeling from their defeat in a battle over immigration policy and security funding earlier this week, a right-leaning policy group is releasing a new report aimed at nudging the GOP back toward the center. The study, which the American Action Forum plans to publish later on Friday, tests a rather straightforward proposition frequently offered by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform: How much would it cost to "immediately and fully enforce current law"--that is, to deport all undocumented immigrants while preventing another wave of people from entering illegally?

The answer, researchers found, is quite a lot, both to taxpayers and the economy more broadly. Removing all 11.2 million undocumented immigrants, both forcibly and through Mitt Romney's infamous "self-deportation" policy, would take about 20 years and cost the government between $400 billion and $600 billion. The impact on the economy would be even larger, according to the study: Real GDP would drop by nearly $1.6 trillion and the policy would shave 5.7 percent off economic growth. Researchers Laura Collins and Ben Gitis also write that their estimates are conservative, since they do not include, for example, the cost of constructing new courts, prisons, and other buildings that might be needed to process and detain millions of immigrants.

The study does not envision a new policy of mass deportation, with ICE agents rounding up immigrants in vans or going door-to-door to find them. Rather, researchers used the government's own statement that it currently has the capacity to deport up to 400,000 immigrants annually (330,651 were removed in 2013) and asked what would happen if it actually did that, every year until the 11 million are gone. They also estimate that after the government announces a new policy of full enforcement, about 20 percent of the 11 million would leave voluntarily, leaving just about nine million that would need to be forcibly removed. "It still would be, I think, a shocking sight to the American people, to have the detentions, the deportations, the detention centers, the need for the administrative end of this," said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the group's president. "If you were to do it faster and have vans sweeping in, I think that would have the untenable feel of the police state to the American people. We didn't look at that."

Returning Dred Scott to slavery was just a matter of enforcing the law too.

The end of Lincoln's spiritual struggle (Richard Brookhiser, March 3, 2015, NY Post)

[W]hy would God want the war to drag on? Lincoln began to answer in an April 1864 letter to Albert Hodges, a Kentucky editor: "God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in" it.

That is: God willed the Civil War to abolish slavery, and also to punish all those, South and North, who had profited from it.

Eleven months later, in his Second Inaugural, Lincoln cast these thoughts in sonorous prose.

"Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, . . . so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.' "

How far Lincoln had moved from Paine, who wouldn't tell the crucifixion story to a child because it involved a murder.

Now Lincoln's God exacted the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men in battle to atone for the enslavement of millions throughout American history.

It was a vision of implacable justice. But Lincoln wasn't done yet.

His closing thought in the Second Inaugural described man's duties going forward:

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace. . ."

God remained in the picture as a guide. But it was men who had to repair the damage of the past and establish a just future -- to do the hard work of mercy.

Lincoln's parade of verbs -- strive, finish, bind, care, do, achieve, cherish -- suggested the labor that lay ahead.

His last thought was a hope: Americans could work to make their country more just. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Health-Law Ruling Could Prompt Some States to Act (LOUISE RADNOFSKY and  JESS BRAVIN, March 5, 2015, WSJ)

Justice Samuel Alito 's suggestion that the Supreme Court could delay for months the impact of a decision to gut the health law revives the possibility that at least a dozen states could take action to limit the effect of such a ruling.

Justice Alito's remarks came Wednesday during oral arguments in a case that seeks to halt the use of tax credits to offset the cost of insurance premiums for residents in about three dozen states that don't operate their own insurance exchanges and use the federal site instead. Challengers in the case argue the law allows the tax credits only for insurance buyers in states with their own exchanges--currently just 13 states.

When even Justice Alito wants to mend it, not end it, the fight is over.
Posted by orrinj at 11:02 AM


New York Just Showed Every Other State How to Do Solar Right : "This is as exciting as the Public Service Commission gets." (Tim McDonnell, Mar. 6, 2015, Mother Jones)

[H]ere's the thing: Even the most ardent climate hawks agree that we can't afford for utilities to go out of business altogether. Someone needs to maintain and manage the grid. Hardly any solar homes are actually "off the grid," since they still depend on power lines to soak up their excess electricity during sunny afternoons and deliver power at night. In fact, net metering is a key factor in making solar economically viable to homeowners.

The question of how to aggressively slash carbon emissions without completely undermining the power sector (and simultaneously raising the risk of blackouts and skyrocketing electric bills) is one of the big existential questions that climate-savvy lawmakers are now trying to figure out. And last week in New York, they took a huge step forward.

Under a new order from the state's Public Service Commission, utility companies will soon be barred from owning "distributed" power systems--that means rooftop solar, small wind turbines, and basically anything else that isn't a big power plant. (There are some rare exceptions built into the order, notably for giant low-income apartment buildings in New York City that small solar companies aren't well-equipped to serve.)

"By restricting utilities from owning local power generation and other energy resources, customers will benefit from a more competitive market, with utilities working and partnering with other companies and service providers," the commission said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


The Buckeye Medicaid Boom : How Ohio's Medicaid expansion is paying huge dividends for the Cleveland Clinic and MetroHealth, and what it all means for you, the patient (Daniel McGraw, 3/04/15, Cleveland Scene)

Health care analysts, think-tank policy wonks and insurance executives all watched the MetroHealth experience in 2013 to see if signing up more people for Medicaid was a good idea, especially as the Medicaid expansion that states were being encouraged to adopt was moving into the legislative decision phase. What everyone was wondering was this: Would signing people up for Medicaid get them out of going to the expensive emergency room for basic treatment? And would more people see primary care physicians for treatment that perhaps would help prevent bigger problems down the line, as diseases often worsen over time without proper routine attention?

Here's what MetroHealth found in getting 30,000 people out of self-pay and into government-pay: Emergency room visits dropped by 60 percent, while primary care visits increased by 50 percent. The money the hospital had saved was about $450,000 more per month than they had projected. And surveys of the patients found they were in better health than they had been a year earlier.

It reinforced a basic tenet in health care financial dynamics. Going to an emergency room for a non-life threatening condition costs the hospital about $5,000 per visit. Going to a doctor's office to get treated for the same non-life threatening condition costs about $120. And people with health care coverage tend to go to the doctor's office more than the emergency room because, well, the doctor will see them without a down payment and they don't have to wait around for several hours (probably).

One other major point that the MetroHealth experiment proved: A business and patient care model that finds ways to keep people out of the hospital is much better at caring for them in the hospital. This works whether a person is on Medicaid or has private insurance. Get them in treatment prior to serious emergency care, and the costs go down significantly. It also holds down costs for the entire populace: Estimates put the tab at about $1,000 a year that is passed on to the insured by the non-insured who show up to emergency rooms and can't, or don't, pay.

Dr. James Misak, associate director of family medicine for MetroHealth, said the basic notion for access to care is a way to cut costs, pure and simple. "A person with diabetes without access to care might have renal failure which could lead to needed dialysis or amputation of a leg," he says. "Those are costly implications from a lack of care that can be avoided. Access to insurance leads to access to care which leads to a healthier population which over time costs less to care for."

This was a big change in thinking for the medical community, one that had been percolating for some time but got forced to the front burner by the Affordable Care Act. The old model said the real money was to be made by getting patients into the hospital and doing all sorts of tests and treatments and surgeries. "Fee for service" is the name used for that model, because the more services the patient gets the more fees the hospital gets. The new model -- in part because of changes with Obamacare -- says the better money now is made by keeping people out of the hospital. The new model fuses incentives into the program that makes it more profitable if their patients stay healthy and get fewer services.

Nowhere is that change of thinking more apparent than at the Cleveland Clinic, an institution once called "the Clinical Factory" by one author. The local hospital system -- one routinely recognized as among the best in the world in a number of specialties, one that made heart bypass surgery a run-of-the-mill procedure, one led by a surgeon who has done more than 22,000 heart operations in his career -- is now figuring out that maybe finding ways to avoid some of those assembly line heart operations is better for the patient and the bottom line.

For the Cleveland Clinic and other health care systems in states that have approved Medicaid expansion, there are many reasons to change that way of ingrained thinking. Most think the changes that Obamacare has brought involve changes in the way we pay for health care. But it is also very much about how the health care is delivered, and there are many reasons hospitals are embracing those changes. In the case of the Cleveland Clinic, there are about 300 million of them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:51 AM


Lincoln's 700 Words of Biblical Meditation (DANIEL DREISBACH, 3/04/15, Liberty & Law)

America has produced no political figure more adept in appropriating the distinct cadences and vernacular of the King James Bible than Abraham Lincoln. Another Lincoln biographer, William E. Barton, observed that Lincoln

read the Bible, honored it, quoted it freely, and it became so much a part of him as visibly and permanently to give shape to his literary style and to his habits of thought.

He was not the first President to consider the place of providence in the life of the nation. A third of George Washington's First Inaugural Address, for example, was devoted to a reflection on the "providential agency" at work in the nation's Founding. "These reflections, arising out of the present crisis," Washington declared, "have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed." John Quincy Adams was the first President to quote directly from the Scriptures in an inaugural address, and he did so in a closing prayer (drawing from Psalm 127:1) for divine favor and an "overruling providence."

Lincoln's, though, was a more nuanced and searching reflection on the role of providence in the affairs of nations. He routinely incorporated into his political prose direct quotations from and allusions to the Bible, as well as phrases and rhythms resembling the distinctive language of the Jacobean Bible.

In the 700 words he offers on March 4, 1865, he does both. Unlike the Gettysburg Address, replete with Biblical language and themes but containing no direct Biblical quotations, the Second Inaugural has at least 45 words that are direct or approximate quotations from the King James Bible. Several phrases are unquestionably borrowed from the Jacobean Bible, such as "bind up the nation's wounds" (cf. Psalm 147:3) and care for the widow and orphan (cf. James 1:27; Isaiah 1:17). The speech mentions the Deity 14 times and prayer three times.

Among the assembled throngs at the Capitol that day was the former slave Frederick Douglass. As Douglass famously quipped, the President's address "sounded more like a sermon than a state paper." More recently, religious historian Ronald C. White, Jr. called it Lincoln's "Sermon on the Mount."

The speech opens a window into how Lincoln had come to view and understand God, the work of divine will and providence in history, and the war that had torn the nation asunder. In Lincoln's Greatest Speech: The Second Inaugural (2002), Ronald C. White, Jr. argued that

God's providence is the prism through which [Lincoln] carefully refracted the meaning of the war. Lincoln points beyond himself and his generals to God as the primary actor in the war.

The speech is premised on a belief in a superintending providential agent Who is firmly in control of the affairs of men and nations, and dispenses judgment and facilitates reconciliation according to His divine plan and will. The devastating conflict that engulfed the continent during the preceding four years could only be understood in the light of God's will.

But how does one understand God's will in the context of civil strife, given that, as Lincoln says midway through, Northerners and Southerners alike "read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other"? Pondering this problem signals an intent, perhaps, to speak about the nation's plight less as the commander-in-chief and more as theologian-in-chief. Only such themes--sin, judgment, atonement, redemption, restoration--are adequate to approach events so sweeping and so tragic.

"It may seem strange," Lincoln says, that men would have the temerity "to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces." This is a reference to mankind's fall and God's punishment for sin in Genesis 3:19. Lincoln has rephrased the Biblical text to emphasize the moral offense of slavery. The sweat of one's brow is the source of one's property. In Lincoln's rendering, it is sinful to deny another (that is, the slave) the fruits of his labor. Herein lies the sin of slavery.

Lincoln does not linger long on this point before somewhat unexpectedly pivoting to Jesus's instruction from the "Sermon on the Mount" to "judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1). In a slight revision, Lincoln inserts "let us" judge not, and replaces the Biblical "ye" with "we," suggesting that blame for the sin of slavery extends beyond the Southern states. And this injunction is the hinge that will later turn the oration toward its finishing expression of reconciliation, "With malice toward none; with charity for all."

Before reaching that resolution, though, he explores the consequences of this sin. He first acknowledges that "the Almighty has His own purposes," which, once again, underscores God's place at the center of his analysis. He follows this with another of Jesus's sayings: "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" (Matthew 18:7; see also Luke 17:1.)

Dispensing judgment is among the purposes that believers ascribe to the Almighty, Lincoln observes. He says that "American Slavery" is "one of those offenses" that is surely followed by "woe," or punishment: the incalculable carnage and death of the "terrible war." The war, in short, is divine judgment on "both North and South" for the offense. Then, in words surely discomfiting to his audience, he says that God's will may yet require more shed blood before "this mighty scourge of war . . . pass[es] away." Lest we complain about the horrible punishment God inflicts upon the nation for this offense, Lincoln recalls, in the words of Psalm 19:9, "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

That Lincoln calls it "American Slavery" and not Southern slavery, sparing no American from blame, contrasts with his opening assertion that the "peculiar and powerful interest" of slavery, localized in the Southern states, was the "cause of the war." As historian Mark A. Noll has written, Lincoln invoked Scripture in this speech "in order to make a profound public statement about the superiority of divine providence over any partisan grasp of God's will."

Posted by orrinj at 10:42 AM


Substitute teacher who showed graphic movie to classes sentenced to 90 days in jail (John Futty, 3/05/15, The Columbus Dispatch)

A Franklin County judge criticized Columbus City Schools on Wednesday for putting Spanish-language classes at East High School in the hands of a long-term substitute who didn't know Spanish and showed students a movie containing graphic sex and violence. [...]

Sheila Kearns, 58, was convicted in January of four counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles, all low-level felony offenses. [...]

Kearns, of Miller Avenue on the South Side, told police she showed the movie The ABCs of Death to her classes on April 11, 2013, without reviewing it in advance. 

These modern day kids couldn't have cut it in the East Orange public school system.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


It's Complicated. But Hopeful. (Megan McArdle, March 4, 2015, Cato Unbound)

Diet. We have a tendency to romanticize "the good old days" of fresh foods and home cooked meals. Yet when you look at what the majority of people were actually eating on an average day in 1930, it looks considerably less appealing: fresh vegetables in season, yes, but the rest of the year it was grain, milk, more grain, beans, and cuts of meat, like salt pork and calf's liver, that most Americans won't touch today. Bread and milk was an actual meal that many people ate for supper, and not because it was homey and charming, but because most people could not afford the rich diet of the modern American.

In 1901, the average "urban wage earner" spent nearly half their family budget just on the raw ingredients for their meals. They ate less, and less appealingly. Meat, eggs, and fats and oils were precious and expensive, so they economized on them to what now seems a ridiculous degree--old cookbooks praise one-egg cakes not by saying they are good, but on the grounds that they are "economical." We've all read the articles on the obesity epidemic, but in the first half of the twentieth century, similarly worried pundits were obsessing about the high percentage of draftees who showed up too malnourished to qualify for service, with diseases like rickets and pellagra that are now seen only in extreme cases of child neglect.

Food processing. And without the much-reviled modern American food processing industry, the average American housewife spent more than thirty hours a week preparing those meals: plucking birds, grinding coffee, shelling nuts. Her raw materials were also inferior to what is now available: if fresh produce wasn't in season, or she didn't feel like cooking, canned goods were her only alternative. Frozen produce didn't arrive until after World War II, and it wasn't until late in the twentieth century that trade liberalization and container shipping made a variety of produce and fresh meats widely and cheaply available year round. Today families with less than $5,000 in annual income still only spend about 16% of their budget on food. It's not surprising that we're fatter; what's surprising is that we aren't all perfect spheres.

Household appliances.  If you do not think that we are living in miraculous times, I suggest you go read these old instructions for doing laundry. But I don't suggest that you try them, as they involve hydrochloric acid and lye. Laundry is perhaps the worst job that has been automated, in the process changing from backbreaking labor into a slightly tedious chore. But of course we also have clean-burning stoves that don't require constant tending of a fire, refrigerators that keep our food safe and refreshingly cold, vacuum cleaners that keep our carpets vastly cleaner without hours of beating, mixers that save our aching arms, drip coffee makers that make our favorite beverage better, faster, and with much less work ... the list is potentially endless, but the general results are the same: our homes are cleaner, and our food requires a few hours a week to buy and prepare, instead of most of a housewife's day.

Homes. A 1,000 square foot home in the first Levittown was an aspirational goal for people who had grown up cramming large families into smaller quarters.  Now the average new home is over 2,500 square feet, well insulated, stuffed with bathrooms and closet space, and of course, climate controlled year round.  We are fooled into thinking that our ancestors had huge and lovely homes because most of the homes that survive from earlier eras are the houses built by the prosperous; the ugly, tiny, unventilated spaces that most previous generations grew up in have been long ago torn down and replaced with something else.

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


The bull market is six years old. Now what? (Matt Egan, 3/08/15, Money)

Exactly six years ago Monday the S&P 500 closed at 676, the lowest closing level of the terrible bear market in stocks.

Investors brave enough to pull the trigger on stocks back then would have made a killing: The S&P 500 is up more than 200% since March 2009, making this the fourth-longest bull market in history.

Veteran market strategist Art Hogan was one of the few stock pickers brave enough back then to predict the carnage was over. He appeared on CNBC in October 2008 to declare: "Enough is going to be enough. ... The bottom gets put in today."

The call became known as "Hogan's Bottom," and it proved to be a medium-term basement for stocks.

"It was not a very crowded room of people who felt the worst was over," Hogan told CNNMoney.

'This is for real': Hogan's call was based on a realization that stocks had fallen more than even during the Crash of 1929 and a feeling that the federal government would respond more forcefully this time. He was right: The U.S. rescued the banks and the Federal Reserve restored confidence by doing things no one had ever seen before like quantitative easing and near zero percent interest rates.

Posted by orrinj at 10:29 AM


Why the government should fund research into finding a replacement for alcohol (Ryan Cooper, March 5, 2015, The Week)

Roughly 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder, and about half the country has a close family member with a current or previous alcohol addiction.

Something like a third of convicted people in jail or prison were drinking when they committed their crime, and nearly 40 percent of violent criminals. Two-thirds of domestic violence victims report alcohol was involved. That doesn't necessarily mean all those crimes would not have happened without alcohol, but given its effects on impulse control, it's safe to say it was a big factor.

Worldwide in 2012, according to the World Health Organization, alcohol caused 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 percent of the total. But alcohol was responsible for about a quarter of all deaths among people aged 20 to 39. In the U.S., alcohol accounts for almost 90,000 deaths yearly; it is the third-place finisher among causes of preventable death.

Alcohol also has many benefits. In minor doses it has some protective effects on the cardiovascular system, and may reduce the risk of kidney stones and gallstones.

Its primary benefits are probably social, however. Alcohol lubricates gatherings. Loosened inhibitions help people strike up conversations and become friends. Dedicated communities get great pleasure out of the complex flavors of scotch, beer, wine, and other drinks. And as I will be the first to testify, a nice buzz feels pretty good! I am certainly not in favor of reinstating full-scale prohibition.

But that brings us to the question: would it be possible to discover another drug with similar properties to alcohol, but without its toxic side effects? Dr. David Nutt is working on that question right now. Like the famed drug chemist Alexander Shulgin, who developed more than 200 new psychedelic drugs, Nutt has filed for patents on some 85 different compounds, and claims to have a new one called "alcosynth" that mimics alcohol's buzz without the long-term damage. He's got another that can apparently help people sober up quickly and prevent hangovers.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Why Atheists Don't Really Exist (JOE BISSONNETTE, 3/05/15, Crisis)

Confirmation bias is the tendency to ascribe greater significance to information which supports our pre-existing theories and lesser significance to information which contradicts those theories. We often do this subconsciously. For example you get a new car, and suddenly you notice that type of car on the road with a much greater frequency than you had noticed before. But though confirmation bias generally refers to the inclusion or exclusion of data, there are other ways we can shoehorn the obvious to make it fit within our world view.

Last month in The Atlantic, Matthew Hutson wrote a fascinating article titled: "The Science of Superstition: No One Is Immune to Magical Thinking." Actually as an article it's really not that fascinating, but as an illustration of the mental contortions one must make to defend atheism, it is Olympic. Hutson cited a number of studies which demonstrated that "...even physicists, chemists and geologists at MIT and other elite schools were instinctively inclined to attach a purpose to natural events." Hutson illustrates the point through research which subjected scientists to time pressure, thereby getting a more honest, reflexive response to questions, rather than a response filtered through reflection and vetted for consistency with conscious beliefs. They were asked whether they approved of statements like: "Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe." When asked under time pressure, scientists were twice as likely to approve of such statements.

Of course modern theories about the evolution of plants and animals posit that the capacity of plants to produce oxygen is merely an accident that just so happens to facilitate the breathing of animals. To say that plants produce oxygen for the purpose of supplying animals would imply design, and therefore God. Physicists, chemists and geologists are very familiar with this reasoning, and yet with a high frequency, they assented to statements that placed things within an ordered framework and were implicitly teleological. For Hutson this demonstrates the persistence of "magical thinking." Here were scientists, most of whom were decidedly non-religious, assenting to statements that implied an architectonic and therefore religious framework.

Skeptics call this patternicity, or projecting pattern where there is none. But for religious thinkers, the persistence of this type of thinking in non-religious scientists is evidence not of a logical lapse, but rather of irrepressible natural faith. C.S. Lewis famously said that when he was an atheist he did not believe in God, and he was angry at God for not existing. In his inimitably ironic way, Lewis pointed to the fact that there really are no such things as atheists.

March 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 12:25 PM


Le Pen red faced after backing 'neo-fascist rally' (The Local, 06 Mar 2015)

On February 28th Le Pen sent a video message of support to her far-right allies in Italy the Northern League (Lega Nord) who were holding a rally in Rome.

The message was broadcast live to the massed ranks of far-right followers from across Europe, who included supporters of Greece's Golden Dawn party, considered as a bunch of lawless thugs by many and a party for whom Marine Le Pen has distanced herself from.

Anti-Immigrant Le Pen Finds Rising Jewish Support in France (Helene Fouquet, February 24, 2015, Bloomberg) 

French Jews' growing support for the anti-immigration National Front was brought into focus after a community chief said Monday that the party's leader Marine Le Pen was "beyond reproach."

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Nobody Knows Nairu, and That's a Problem for the Fed (JON HILSENRATH, 3/06/15, WSJ)

On average, analysts said the "nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment," also known as Nairu, was 5.1%. In all 69 analysts were surveyed, though all of them didn't answer every question.

Nairu is a theoretical threshold at which the economy is in balance and inflation pressures are neither rising nor falling. A jobless rate below this chokepoint in theory would create inflation pressure. The unemployment rate was 5.7% in January, still a good distance above the average 5.1% estimate.

Federal Reserve officials are paying close attention to these estimates now because the jobless rate is falling rapidly, down from 6.6% a year ago. Fed officials estimate the unemployment rate's long-run range-which is akin to a Nairu-is between 5.2% and 5.5%. Officials will update their projections in March. Some of them are thinking about revising their estimates down, because they see unemployment falling without much evidence of inflation pressure building.

One of the things that our long social experiment in making jobs for women and minorities demonstrated is that virtually everyone is employable.  During this exercise in purely social employment we drove the participation rates to historically extreme levels.  But this was just a function of white men not replacing white men in the workplace.  We added make work jobs so we could keep our own.  As decision-making of this kind returns to a meritocratic and productivity/profitability based rationale, employment participation will trend back towards normal levels.  As automation, information technology, robots, etc. come on line, the employment participation level should trend well below historic levels.  

At the same time, the workplace faces two other historic shifts, away from unionization and towards defined contribution benefits, away from defined benefit.

And, of course, this is all taking place against a setting of increasingly globalized trade.

Given these factors, it's hard to see how any significant wage pressure can come into being for the forseeable future.  If you want more money for the job that's being offered, someone else won't.  If both of you do, there's a foreigner (here and/or there) who won't.  If all four of you do, there's a technology that won't. The only thing that will sustain employment levels and wages at all is social policy, not any economic force.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Official: Technical roadblocks for Iranian nuclear deal eliminated (Associated Press, March 7, 2015)

Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also in charge of Iran's nuclear agency, told state television on Saturday that Tehran offered proposals to remove "fake concerns" over the country's nuclear program, paving the way for a final deal.

But the hardline daily paper Kayhan slammed the negotiations, saying that an American proposal of a 10-year suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment activities is a first step aimed at finally toppling Iran's ruling Islamic government.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


Congestion charge has led to dramatic fall in accidents in London (Jamie Doward, 7 March 2015, The Guardian)

Research to be presented at the Royal Economic Society's annual conference later this month found that traffic accidents have fallen in the capital by an astonishing 40% since 2003. The work is the first study of its kind and is likely to be examined closely by other cities that have flirted with the idea of imposing a similar charge.

The £5 charge was hailed as a triumph of economics that forced those contributing to congestion to pay. The resulting fall in traffic confirmed predictions that the charge - increased to £8, then £11.50 - could change motorists' behaviour.

With fewer cars on the roads in central London, motorists can go faster. This could have increased the risk of accidents. However, the research team led by Professor Colin Green of the economics department at Lancaster University found that the charge has instead resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of accidents and fewer fatalities.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


The Coming Chinese Crack-Up (DAVID SHAMBAUGH, March 6, 2015, WSJ)

Despite appearances, China's political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself. China's strongman leader, Xi Jinping , is hoping that a crackdown on dissent and corruption will shore up the party's rule. He is determined to avoid becoming the Mikhail Gorbachev of China, presiding over the party's collapse. But instead of being the antithesis of Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Xi may well wind up having the same effect. His despotism is severely stressing China's system and society--and bringing it closer to a breaking point.

Predicting the demise of authoritarian regimes is a risky business. Few Western experts forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union before it occurred in 1991; the CIA missed it entirely. The downfall of Eastern Europe's communist states two years earlier was similarly scorned as the wishful thinking of anticommunists--until it happened. The post-Soviet "color revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan from 2003 to 2005, as well as the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, all burst forth unanticipated.

China-watchers have been on high alert for telltale signs of regime decay and decline ever since the regime's near-death experience in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Since then, several seasoned Sinologists have risked their professional reputations by asserting that the collapse of CCP rule was inevitable. Others were more cautious--myself included. But times change in China, and so must our analyses.

The endgame of Chinese communist rule has now begun, I believe, and it has progressed further than many think. We don't know what the pathway from now until the end will look like, of course. It will probably be highly unstable and unsettled. But until the system begins to unravel in some obvious way, those inside of it will play along--thus contributing to the facade of stability.

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


REVIEW: of  'Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis', by Robert Putnam (Francis Fukuyama, 3/06/15, Financial Times)

Putnam moves seamlessly from these stories to social-science data that confirm a truth understood by specialists for some years now. Beginning with the publication of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's 1965 report The Negro Family, a broad consensus formed that poverty among African-Americans and the attendant ills of drug use and crime were directly connected to the decline of two-parent families. It turns out, however, that African-Americans were the canary in the coal mine, and that the social decline that hit residents of inner cities in the 1970s and 1980s has now spread to the entire white working class.

Putnam defines social class by education: with technological advance, the premium on higher education has risen relentlessly. For Americans with a bachelors degree or higher, the past three decades have seen both rising incomes and a huge restoration of family values, while, for their less educated peers, this period has been an utter disaster. One of the most sobering graphs in Our Kids shows that while the proportion of young children from college-educated backgrounds living in single-parent families has declined to well under 10 per cent, the number has risen steadily for the working class and now stands at close to 70 per cent. This is the same percentage that rang loud alarm bells when it happened to the black community a generation ago.

Putnam then goes on to explain, through the lens of accumulated social-science research, how important parenting and family structure are to life outcomes for children. Early childhood stimulation, appropriate role models, stable expectations and family dinners are all part of the environment needed to produce upwardly mobile adults, and almost all are lacking today for Americans from less educated backgrounds. Many people overcome dysfunctional families, but it is far easier to do so with adequate resources. Economic inequality thus becomes self-reinforcing through the mechanism of absent families.

Putnam points out that while both gender and racial equality have greatly improved over this period, the gains have been completely offset by widening class differences. College-educated Americans have been pulling away from their high school-educated peers within subgroups such as African-Americans, Hispanics and women. There is today a substantial upwardly-mobile black middle class that, like its white counterpart, has moved to the suburbs and segregated itself from the poor.

Back in the 1980s, the debate over black poverty was polarised between liberals who blamed structural (ie economic) factors such as the decline in manufacturing jobs, and conservatives who denounced permissiveness and shifting cultural norms for the breakdown of families. Putnam makes very clear that both of these causes are at work in the present crisis. The huge erosion of middle-class jobs in countless manufacturing industries has led to a decline in real incomes of 22 per cent since 1980 for high-school dropouts, and 11 per cent for high-school graduates. But culture also matters: while rising joblessness produces social dysfunction in all societies, the stresses of the Great Depression did not lead to an explosion of single-parent families because of cultural norms then in place, such as the stigmatisation of unwed parenthood and shotgun weddings. Conservatives who see family breakdown as a simple matter of cultural decay, however, have to explain the emergence of "helicopter parents" and steadily strengthening family bonds among the college-educated.

The data in Our Kids parallel many of the findings in Charles Murray's 2012 book Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960-2010. Putnam, however, does not have Murray's libertarian blinders and recognises that government policies such as the Morrill Act of 1862 and the 1944 GI Bill were critical in reducing inequality in earlier periods of American history. The final chapter of Our Kids focuses on policy solutions, and runs through a familiar list of interventions, including expansion of the earned income tax credit, increasing use of long-term contraceptives, reducing sentencing for non-violent crimes (which keeps many poor fathers away from their children), a renewed focus on vocational education, better mentoring and extracurricular activities, and outright cash transfers to the poor.

The dirty secret of the successful upper classes is that we don't practice the pathologies we foist upon the poor.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


We're at Our Lowest Level of Misery in 56 Years  (JOSH ZUMBRUN, 3/06/15, WSJ)

By one measure, the U.S. economy is the best it's been since the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower. The recent plunge in inflation has helped drive the U.S. Misery Index to its least miserable level since the spring of 1959.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


New York school abolishes homework. Does homework do any good? (Lisa Suhay, MARCH 6, 2015, CS Monitor)

Author Alfie Kohn, of Boston, author of the book 'The Homework Myth,' agreed with the decision. "What is disturbing is that this makes headlines because all the research and evidence point to the fact that no elementary school in America should be making students work a second shift with homework because there are no proven benefits."

"Homework is all pain and no gain," Mr. Kohn says. He is also known for his blog which covers a range of education topics and talking points for both educators and parents.

He illustrates his point by talking about how it is often a common practice for elementary school teachers to tell students to "read for 20 minutes."

"Telling kids how much and how long they have to read is an excellent strategy for making kids hate reading," Kohn says. "Good teachers, their goal isn't mindless compliance but rather tapping into the excitement and inherent interest a student has in reading."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Hemispherio Criativo Nimbus e-Car (Duncan Larkin, Mar 6, 2015, Outside)
One look at the concept Hemispherio Criativo Nimbus e-Car will make you want to find a mystery-solving talking dog and hit the highway.

This five-person electric-powered van sports a micro-combustion generator that gets its juice from solar panels. Bolstering the eco-friendly credentials is a regenerative brake mechanism, which recycles the car's kinetic energy into stopping power.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


GOP 2016: Scott Walker Has the Lead, Jeb Bush Has the Money (ERIC PIANIN, 3/05/15, The Fiscal Times)

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida governor Jeb Bush continue to dominate the GOP field of potential presidential candidates for 2016. Bush, meanwhile, is right now outpacing Walker and other potential rivals in early fundraising.

A new Quinnipiac University national poll shows Walker as the favorite, with 18 percent of Republicans selecting him compared to 16 percent for Bush. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee trail with eight percent each. Dr. Ben Carson is at seven percent.

The GOP can hardly do better than a choice between two religious conservative governors.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


10 things your primary-care doctor won't tell you (Elizabeth O'Brien, Mar 6, 2015, Market Watch)

3. Medically speaking, you don't need to be here

Patients often visit primary-care doctors for common ailments, and technology has evolved to the point where a doctor doesn't need to be in the same room with a patient to listen to the patient's heart or look into his throat. And yet, the vast majority of primary medicine still happens face to face. "It takes place in the office because that's how they get paid," says Tom Blue, chief strategy officer for the American Academy of Private Physicians, an organization that supports the growth of "concierge" medicine and other forms of personalized medicine, whose practitioners may not take insurance.

Telemedicine, which typically connects doctors and patients via video, is gaining wider acceptance. There were an estimated 10 million telemedicine visits in the U.S. in 2014, and that number is expected to grow to 21 million by 2018, according to an analysis by IHS, a research analytics firm. (The 10 million visits included some conducted via telephone, but analysts expect phone-based telemedicine to continue to decline in favor of more modern technology.)

But it is not yet common practice for insurers to reimburse doctors for virtual encounters, says Walker Ray a retired pediatrician and vice president of the Physicians Foundation, a Boston-based organization that gives grants to improve health care delivery. "The insurers have really been very hesitant until they see how it affects their bottom line," Ray says. What's more, medical licenses generally don't cross state lines, creating headaches for would-be teledoctors.

Robert G. Darling, chief medical officer of Patronus Medical, in Ashburn, Va., is licensed to practice medicine in every place where he has patients--that's 15 states and Washington, D.C. His concierge practice, which does not accept insurance, often uses telemedicine. It's more convenient for the patient, and can be healthier to boot, he says: "Doctors' waiting rooms are a great place to get sick."

...which is why it needs to come out of your own pocket.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


In Praise of Fox News's Greg Gutfeld (KELEFA SANNEH, 3/07/15, The New Yorker)

From the beginning, "Red Eye" was cheerfully repetitive, finding humor in a series of running gags. Gutfeld liked to introduce guests with absurd, sexually suggestive hypotheticals that were meant to be flattering. (On Greg Proops, the comedian: "If hilarity were a telethon, I'd do him in front of a bunch of sick kids.") For a time, Andy Levy served as the show's pesky "ombudsman," delivering persnickety or off-topic corrections during a "halftime report" in the middle of the show. "You said we need to weaponize space," Levy told Gutfeld, one night, deadpan. "Actually, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits the U.S. or any other signatory nation from installing any kind of nukes or weapons of mass destruction in space, and limits the use of the moon and other celestial bodies to purely peaceful reasons."

Sometimes, Gutfeld tweaked cable-news conventions, as when he purported to address banking reform by convening a sixteen-person panel of experts, including familiar Fox News personalities such as John Bolton, and markedly unfamiliar ones, such as Rosie O'Donnell. As he introduced them, they appeared (or seemed to appear) live, forming a four-by-four matrix of pundit redundancy--by which point it was time, of course, for Gutfeld to thank them all, by name, and then end the segment. Other times, the show came joyfully unmoored from those conventions, as when Levy, throwing the broadcast back to Gutfeld, suddenly began quoting "A Midsummer Night's Dream":

GUTFELD: Thank you, Andy.

LEVY: Get you gone, you dwarf; you minimus, of hindering knot-grass made; you bead, you acorn. Greg.

GUTFELD: Why rebuke you him that loves you so?

LEVY: I apologize for nothing.

This last line was Levy's catchphrase, and it also served as a constant reminder of the time, in 2009, when Gutfeld was obliged to apologize to the Canadian military, after a particularly irreverent discussion. The head of the Canadian land forces had said that the Army might need "a short operational break" lasting "at least one year" following its engagement in Afghanistan. Gutfeld had wondered whether this might not be "the perfect time to invade this ridiculous country," adding, "The Canadian military wants to take a breather, to do some yoga, paint landscapes, run on the beach in gorgeous white Capri pants." Gutfeld probably regretted offending Canadian troops and their family members, but he was probably also pleased that his biggest scandal involved the phrase "gorgeous white Capri pants."

For all his seeming clumsiness, Gutfeld had a remarkable knack for saying ridiculous things without getting himself fired. (When one guest, a musician, set his electric guitar ablaze, Gutfeld was afraid that he might face punishment; he concluded, when no punishment came, that none of the executives stayed up late enough to watch his show.) On Friday night, during his final broadcast, he revisited some favorite old segments, including an excellent clip of Mick Foley, the former professional wrestler, mistaking Chris Barron, a co-founder of the gay conservative group GOProud, for Chris Barron, the lead singer of the Spin Doctors. ("I looked you up, man," said Foley, sounding embarrassed but also disappointed--he had prepared a zinger about "Little Miss Can't Be Wrong.") "I dare you to find one boring moment," Gutfeld said, sounding uncharacteristically earnest. "Excluding this one." [...]

The central insight of "Red Eye" was its contention that cable news is driven as much by the demands of time as by the demands of ideology. Every show, every day, is another hour that must be filled with chatter, no matter the quantity or quality of the day's news. And while conventional cable news shows work hard to maintain a tone of urgency, "Red Eye" was often unapologetically slack: the joke was that Gutfeld and his guests had nothing better to do--and neither, apparently, did you, the viewer. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Self-Braking Cars Are Safer, but Do They Boost MPG? (MIKE SPECTOR, March 6, 2015, WSJ)

Auto makers say autonomous driving features that have the potential to make cars safer also make them cleaner--and they want the government to give them credit for it.

As safety features like automatic braking and adaptive cruise control become more widely available, traffic accidents are expected to fall. Fewer accidents will lead to less congestion and better traffic flow--factors that, when combined with speed management, could cut vehicle emissions by as much as 30%, say University of California at Riverside researchers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Asian currencies to fall sharply as US jobs data pushes dollar index to new 11-year high (Boby Michael, March 7, 2015, US News)

Asian currencies are set to fall sharply on Monday as the late Friday US jobs data has pushed the dollar to a 12-year high versus a trade-weighted basket of six majors.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Joint chiefs chairman optimistic about battle for Tikrit led by Iranian and Iraqi forces (ROBERT BURNS, 3/07/15, (AP) 

The one-two punch of Iranian-back militias and Iraqi government troops is likely to prevail in the unfolding battle for Tikrit, but it would not have been possible if U.S. airstrikes had not tied down Islamic State fighters elsewhere in northern Iraq, the top U.S. general said.

Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked by reporters traveling with him from Washington to Iraq whether he believes the Islamic State group will be pushed out of Tikrit.

"Yeah, I do," he said.

...this is a co-ordinated strategy.

March 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Iraqi troops, Iran-backed militia enter key town in anti-IS offensive (Deutsche-Welle, 3/06/15)

In their biggest offensive against "Islamic State" (IS) fighters so far, Iraqi government forces and Iran-backed militia have entered the town of al-Dour on Tikrit's outskirts.

Al-Dour is where executed former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was found hiding in 2003. Tikrit was his home city.

Hadi al-Amiri, leader of the largest Shiite militia group taking part in the operation, said al-Dour had been "totally liberated" and that the advance on al-Alam, another key town north of Tikrit, would take place on Saturday.

The Iraqi army, joined by thousands of Shiite militiamen backed and advised by Iran, is five days into the advance on Tikrit 140 km (80 miles) northwest of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on the Tigris River.

Army officials said on Friday that they had captured a farm to the east of Tikrit that belonged to Saddam's deputy Ezzat Ibrahim al-Douri. He is now a prominent ally of the jihadist fighters. He is also the only member of the former regime still at large following the 2003 US led invasion of Iraq.

Iran-backed advance in southern Syria rattles Israel (Nicholas Blanford, Correspondent  MARCH 6, 2015, CS Monitor)

If the offensive is successful, it could leave Iranian forces and their Shiite allies in control of the Syrian side of the Golan. And from that vantage point, Tehran could gain an additional means of deterrence against Israel in the remaining months before the June 30 deadline for negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

"The Iranians through Hezbollah really do wish to complete this encirclement from the north [of Israel] now that they have access to the Golan.... I think that is a key strategic move for them," says Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the Hizballah Cavalcade blog, which focuses on Shiite militarism in the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


A Tax Plan Republicans Should Learn to Love (Ramesh Ponnuru, 3/03/15, Bloomberg View)

Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio have come up with the most pro-growth tax reform since Calvin Coolidge's presidency. That's a point that could easily get lost in the intra-party debate over their plan -- a debate that could shape the next presidential race and influence conservative policy for years to come.

Some news coverage has treated this debate as a struggle between "supply-siders" and other conservatives. That's a mistake. Both sides consider themselves supply-siders. Both sides, that is, believe that tax rates affect the amount of labor and capital supplied to an economy. They think lower tax rates would improve incentives to work, save and invest, and thus promote long-term economic growth.

...then we would tax consumption, not work, saving and investing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


FDA OK of 1st 'Biosimilar' Drug May Mean Cheaper Options for Patients (Dennis Thompson, March 6, 2015, HealthDay News)

This first drug, Zarxio, is considered by the FDA to be a strong stand-in for a cancer drug called Neupogen, which was originally approved in 1991.

Both Zarxio and Neupogen help cancer patients by increasing white blood cell counts and staving off harmful infections. People with cancer often experience a decrease in white blood cells, either because of the cancer itself or the cancer treatments.

Biologic drugs -- innovative medications derived from living organisms -- are paving the way for improved treatment of a number of conditions, most notably cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

But biologic drugs also tend to be pricey. To combat these high costs, the Affordable Care Act authorized the FDA to create a streamlined approval process for "biosimilars" -- products that act in the same way and are as safe as existing biologic drugs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


Ex-Mossad chief says PM misled Congress on Iran breakout time (AVI LEWIS March 6, 2015, Times of Israel)

A former head of the Mossad who served for two years under Benjamin Netanyahu launched a bitter assault on the prime minister Friday, saying Netanyahu knowingly misled Congress in parts of his speech on Tuesday, while also claiming that the prime minister came close to attacking Iran some four years ago despite the united opposition of the security services.

Dagan, who led the Mossad for over eight years from August 2002, also warned that Netanyahu's policies on the Palestinians risked turning Israel into an apartheid state. [...]

He stressed that it would be "almost impossible for Israel" to live with a nuclear Iran, and that if there was no alternative to military intervention to thwart Iran, "then we'll have to consider it. But I don't think we have reached that moment." He said "there are ways" for Israel to thwart Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


A crash course in foreign policy for Gov. Walker (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, March 6, 2015, Washington Post)

The reason for Walker's crash course was urgent: He has not impressed many leading Republicans with his grasp of foreign affairs. He drew mockery from members of both parties last month for refusing to talk about foreign policy on a trip to London and then for comparing his experience battling labor protesters to taking on Islamic State terrorists.

In contrast to the compelling and confident way Walker talks about his Wisconsin record, he has been shaky on foreign policy. He has traveled only rarely overseas and showed little interest in world politics in college or as governor. Policy experts and donors who have met with him privately said he lacks depth of knowledge about the international scene and speaks mostly in generalities. At a Club for Growth meeting last weekend, one major donor publicly portrayed Walker as "not prepared" to talk about global issues.

"I can pretty well guarantee you that he is not a subscriber to Foreign Affairs," said Elliott Abrams, a prominent neoconservative who was among those briefing Walker at the Willard.

Still, several conservatives who have met with him said Walker has the right temperament and with time can gain more knowledge, comparing his foreign-policy outlook to President George W. Bush. Abrams said Bush viewed diplomacy "as a form of politics. I saw that same phenomenon in Walker."

Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


China's Factories Are Building a Robot Nation (Li Xuena, Wang Xinci and Zhang Boling, 3/05/15, Caixin)

Every day, two quality-control supervisors monitor four robots tirelessly assembling remote-control devices for home appliances at a Midea Group factory in Foshan, in the southern province of Guangdong.
The robots recently replaced 14 workers on the plant's assembly line for remote controls. And soon, according to Midea's Home Air Conditioner Division Deputy General Manager Wu Shoubao, more robots will arrive to replace the quality-control supervisors.

Midea, a major appliance maker, is in the forefront of a full-blown charge by China's manufacturing sector into robot-powered factory automation. Companies nationwide over the past five years have ramped up robotics in the face of labor woes, such as worker shortages and rising wages, and to cut their production costs. In the process, they've helped build a new market for Chinese robot manufacturers that are competing against multinational rivals.
Labor shortages are partly linked to what Wu says are changing attitudes among young workers. Young adults historically formed the backbone of the country's assembly-line workforce, but he said many born between 1990 and 1999 now shun manufacturing jobs for other pursuits.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Scott Walker's Electoral Record Is Just As Impressive As It Looks (HARRY ENTEN, 3/06/15, 538)

Of all the Republican governors running for re-election in 2014, Walker is the most conservative compared with the type of governor you'd expect was elected based on the 2012 presidential vote. The next closest is Paul LePage in Maine. Based on Walker's ideology and the ideology of the incumbents running in 2014, you'd expect him to have been a governor of a state that Romney won by about 13 percentage points (Montana, for example) instead of one he lost by about 7 percentage points.

Walker may not be more electable than an average Republican, but electability isn't the only thing that matters. As my colleague Nate Silver pointed out, Republican voters will be looking for a candidate who is both conservative and electable.

Will Walker's balance of the two be enough?

Past research indicates that presidential nominees tend to get more moderate for every term their party has been kept out of the White House. It may be that Republican primary voters will sacrifice ideology for electability given that a Republican hasn't won the presidency since 2004. If that's the case, Walker is probably in trouble. But if voters are willing to take a chance on someone very conservative who has an average electability record, Walker has a real chance.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM



Published in 1938, Johnny Got His Gun is an under-appreciated gem of experimental American literature. Told in a narrative mixture of first, second, and third-person, Trumbo's First World War-set novel is a dream and a nightmare. The protagonist, Joe, regains consciousness in a military hospital only to discover that he has lost his arms, legs, eyes, mouth, nose and hearing. The novel is a gripping but depressing journey, through which Joe remembers his rosy - and pointedly physical - life in America, and his attempts to communicate with the outside world and to come to terms with existing as a conscious piece of meat. In its own extreme way, it highlights the sensory struggles that all those wounded or disabled must endure. The huge efforts made for the tiniest of victories -  such as telling the time of day by feeling sunlight on his skin  -  are situated in an unremittingly bleak context: Joe is imprisoned within his wounded body forever.

Despite focusing on the journey of one man, Johnny Got His Gun is about the manipulation and obliteration of a generation of American youth. The title is a response to the wartime song 'Over there', which called, in short, for Johnny to get his gun to fight the Hun and make his mother proud. Joe got his gun, and lost everything. The extent of his wounds represent all the horrors of war in one character. Trumbo may have written specifically about the suffering of one man, but it is clear that this novel is about every other Joe and Johnny who picked up their guns and died on the battlefields. His prose shifts freely from a third-person narrative, to a polemical 'J'Accuse!' from the point of view of 'us' against them. It's all very reminiscent of Anthem for Doomed Youth, Dulce et Decorum est, and All Quiet on the Western Front, which similarly dwelt on the industrial, futile loss of life in the First World War.

Johnny Got His Gun suffered an unfortunate history. Published in 1939, its subject matter didn't perhaps grab the American imagination in the same way as novels of the Great Depression. As America moved towards the Second World War, the novel's ostensible pacifism worked against it. It was popular among the American left, being serialised by the Daily Worker in 1940, but this only earnt Trumbo the suspicion of the FBI. Johnny Got His Gun was subsequently championed by anti-war American fascists and anti-Semites, who were seeking a compassionate cover for their Nazi sympathies.

Huh?  It's not an anti-war novel at all.  It's a propoganda piece to try and keep America from intervening while Stalin and Hitler waged war on Eastern Europe, which, of course, is why the Daily Worker serialized it.

Posted by orrinj at 2:07 PM


February Jobs Report: Wage Growth Is Stuck Around 2% (JEFFREY SPARSHOTT, 3/06/15, WSJ)

Average hourly earnings in February rose by a meager 3 cents to $24.78, the Labor Department said Friday. That's up only 2% over the past year, well below the more typical 3% pace seen before the recession.

That dangerously outpaces deflation.

March 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Red States Will Suffer (Walter Dellinger, 3/05/15, Slate)

During the oral argument in King v. Burwell on Wednesday, at least some of the Supreme Court justices seemed concerned about the consequences of a ruling against the government. Largely unstated was the most dramatic likely consequence of such a ruling: Citizens in blue states would continue to have major federal income tax breaks that are not available to their fellow citizens who live in red states. The result would be an extraordinary and anomalous federal tax regime. Moreover, it is one that neither Congress nor the states would be likely to cure, at least not in the foreseeable future.

First, a ruling against the government would not be a national disaster for Obamacare. It would be a disaster, to be sure, but basically only in red states in which conservative politicians might find it politically impossible to set up state-run insurance exchanges. Obamacare is doing just fine in the states that have established their own exchanges. They may be fewer than a third of the states by number, but they include major jurisdictions such as California and New York. And they are likely to be joined by a few other major states such as Pennsylvania where the politics will allow the establishment of state exchanges.

If the court's majority were to rule against the government, I would guess that when all this shakes out over the next year, states with (very roughly) half the population would have well-functioning health insurance markets because the working-class citizens in those states would be entitled to federal income tax subsidies enabling them to purchase affordable health insurance. Almost all of the states whose citizens will continue to receive those hundreds of millions of dollars in health insurance subsidies will be blue states. In most red states, the dollar amount of the subsidies would be zero, and the private insurance market would collapse.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Women Are Being Overmedicated So They'll Stop Being...Women? (CAROLYN MOYNIHAN, 3/04/15, Aleteia)

The most emailed article on the New York Times website over the weekend, " Medicating Women's Feelings," was by a female psychiatrist concerned about a boom in the number of Americans taking psychiatric medications and, in particular, the number of women. Julie Holland reckons that at least one in four women now takes such medication, and one in seven men. 
This is "insane," she says, and one has to agree with her. But it is her opening that really amazed me: 
Women are moody. By evolutionary design, we are hard-wired to be sensitive to our environments, empathetic to our children's needs and intuitive of our partners' intentions. This is basic to our survival and that of our offspring.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. Ruled by our emotions rather than reason? By evolutionary design? Hard-wired, indeed? Aren't we supposed to believe these days that behaviour is all by social conditioning, that the body has very little to do with it, and that it's time to give women their head and men their heart? 
Perhaps 90 percent of those emails were sent by feminists and gender studies professors fuming at the biological drift of Julie Holland's assertions: 
Some research suggests that women are often better at articulating their feelings than men because as the female brain develops, more capacity is reserved for language, memory, hearing and observing emotions in others.

Oh? What about all the female brains that are getting better every day at analyzing the stock market and manipulating genes? What about the enlightened view that the human race is not just male and female but expresses itself in a spectrum of genders which we are now seeing in all its beautiful diversity? 

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Misunderstanding the millennials (JOEL KOTKIN, 2/20/15, OC Register)

Urban theorists, such as Peter Katz, insist that millennials (the generation born after 1983) have little interest in "returning to the cul-de-sacs of their teenage years." Manhattanite Leigh Gallagher, author of "The Death of Suburbs," asserts with certitude that "millennials hate the suburbs" and prefer more eco-friendly, singleton-dominated urban environments.

Such assessments thrill the likes of real estate speculators, such as Sam Zell, who welcomes "reurbanization" as an opportunity to cash in by housing a generation of Peter Pans in high-cost, tiny spaces unfit for couples and unthinkable for families. Others of a less-capitalistic mindset see in millennials a post-material generation, not buying homes and cars and, perhaps, not establishing families. Millennials, for example, are portrayed by the green magazine Gris as "a hero generation" - one that will march, willingly, even enthusiastically, to a downscaled and, theoretically, greener future.

In reality, these views reflect more fantasy than reality, as a host of surveys of millennials demonstrate. When asked - in a 2010 survey by Frank Magid and Associates - where would be their "ideal place to live," more millennials identified suburbs than previous generations, including boomers. Another survey, published last year by the National Association of Homebuilders, found that 75 percent of millennials favor settling in a single-family house, 90 percent preferring the suburbs or even a more rural area but only 10 percent the urban core.

This, not surprisingly, is not what you read about regularly in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Young reporters, virtually all of whom live in dense, expensive places like New York or Washington, instinctually believe the world they know first-hand, the one in which they and their friends reside, epitomizes their generation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Top al-Qaida leader killed in air strike, says militant group in Syria (Reuters, 5/05/15)

Al-Qaida's official Syrian wing, the Nusra Front, announced on Thursday the death of its top military commander, who insurgent sources said fell victim to a blast targeting a high-level militant meeting.

Abu Humam al-Shami, a general military commander and veteran of Islamist militant fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, was the senior-most member of the group to die in the Syria war, an insurgent source said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Did John Roberts Tip His Hand? (JEFFREY TOOBIN, 3/05/15, The New Yorker)

Roberts's one question may turn out to be extremely important. The issue in the case is whether the Obama Administration, in implementing the Affordable Care Act, violated the terms of that law. The plaintiffs assert that the A.C.A. only authorizes subsidies for individuals who buy health insurance on the fourteen state-run exchanges, or marketplaces. Under their reading of the law, the eight million or so people in the other thirty-six states who currently buy their insurance from the federal marketplace should be denied their subsidies. Most of the justices' questions dealt with the issue of how to read the law correctly, but Roberts, in his single substantive question, took a different tack.

Anthony Kennedy had asked about "Chevron deference," a doctrine of law that describes how much leeway the executive branch should have in interpreting laws. Verrilli, not surprisingly, said that the Chevron doctrine gave the Obama Administration more than adequate permission to read the law to allow subsidies on the federal exchange. "If you're right about Chevron," Roberts said, at long last, "that would indicate that a subsequent Administration could change that interpretation?" Perhaps it could, Verrilli conceded.

The question suggests a route out of the case for Roberts--and the potential for a victory for the Obama Administration. Roberts came of age as a young lawyer in the Reagan Administration, and there he developed a keen appreciation for the breadth of executive power under the Constitution. To limit the Obama Administration in this case would be to threaten the power of all Presidents, which Roberts may be loath to do. But he could vote to uphold Obama's action in this case with a reminder that a new election is fast approaching, and Obamacare is sure to be a major point of contention between the parties. A decision in favor of Obama here could be a statement that a new President could undo the current President's interpretation of Obamacare as soon as he (or she) took office in 2017. In other words, the future of Obamacare should be up to the voters, not the justices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Russia Accuses U.S. of Plot to Oust Putin Via Opposition Aid (Evgenia Pismennaya & Henry Meyer, March 4, 2015, Bloomberg) 

Russia's Security Council accused the U.S. of plotting to oust President Vladimir Putin by financing the opposition and encouraging mass demonstrations, less than a week after a protest leader was murdered near the Kremlin.

The U.S. is funding Russian political groups under the guise of promoting civil society, just as in the "color revolutions" in the former Soviet Union and the Arab world, council chief Nikolai Patrushev said in an e-mailed statement Wednesday. At the same time, the U.S. is using the sanctions imposed over the conflict in Ukraine as a "pretext" to inflict economic pain and stoke discontent, he said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


DNA reveals bird habitat shift surprise (Mark Kinver, 3/05/15, BBC News)

A "dramatic" shift in behaviour and appearance obscured the identity of two birds on remote Indonesian islands.

The forest-dwelling birds are members of the pipit and wagtail families, but were not recognised as such, partly because they live in very different habitats to their relatives. [...]

DNA samples confirmed the their true identities, and it suggests that birds can change appearance in short periods of time.

"This is surprising because these birds do not look anything like a pipit or wagtail," explained co-author Per Alstrom from the Swedish Species Information Centre, based at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

He told BBC News that the birds also occurred in "completely different habitats".

Adaptation is not speciation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


The Forgotten Emancipation (AMY DRU STANLEY,  MARCH 4, 2015, NY Times)

March 4, 1865, is remembered as the day of Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural address, but it was also a moment that has been forgotten in the long history of slave emancipation in America.

As Lincoln spoke of malice toward none, almost 100,000 slaves went free in states loyal to the Union. All were women and children, emancipated by an act of Congress designed to "encourage Enlistments" by black men in the Union Army.

This wartime liberation has disappeared from public memory. But it was a turning point in the downfall of American slavery - in which slaves played a leading part in transforming the Civil War into a war for abolition.

The Enlistment Act reached beyond the Emancipation Proclamation, which applied only to areas in rebellion. By declaring "forever free" the black soldier's wife and children, the act brought liberation to slaves owned by loyal masters in the border states - human property that Lincoln had pledged the Civil War would leave untouched.

By 1865, saving the Union had become inseparable from destroying slavery. But men still enslaved in the border states refused to wage war for the Union unless, in exchange, they won their families' freedom as well as their own.

The Enlistment Act was revolutionary. In a world in flux, where constitutional change flowed from the tides of war, it based abolition on slave marriage. It assumed precisely what slavery denied - the right of chattel property to marry and have a family. And, for the first time, Congress stripped loyal slaveholders of property without compensation, a challenge to the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.

And at the heart of the revolutionary law lay the aspirations of slaves. The question of who freed the slaves is a longstanding one; whether it was Lincoln, or Congress, or Union generals or fugitives who fled from masters. Yet it is clear that the enlistment act originated in claims pressed by slaves.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Could sweat-free exercise be in our future? (AFP, 5 March 2015)

Diet-free weight management could be in the pipelines, for the hormone dubbed "MOTS-c" appears to let your body tolerate a high fat diet without gaining weight.

It works by targeting muscle tissue, restoring insulin sensitivity and neutralising insulin resistance that comes with age and as a result of diet, and could become important in preventing diabetes.

"This represents a major advance in the identification of new treatments for age-related diseases such as diabetes," says senior author Pinchas Cohen, dean of the University of Southern California Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

Supplementation with the hormone, which has yet to be tested on humans, kept laboratory mice trim and healthy on a diet that would make them obese under normal circumstances, according to the study.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Spain welcomes energy deal with Portugal, France as a step toward EU independence from Russia (Associated Press March 5, 2015) 

Spain says that a new agreement to connect its energy networks with Portugal and France is a major step toward breaking Europe's dependence on Russian gas supplies.

Spanish Energy Minister Jose Manuel Soria said Thursday that the deal to double the electricity interconnection capacity between the three countries and kick start a major gas project is "a very important political agreement."

Posted by orrinj at 3:43 PM


How Iran's feminist genie escaped (Amy Guttman, 3/04/15, BBC Magazine)

Farah talks of the major changes Iranian women have experienced in the last 30 years, while I imagine the morning commute back home... a sea of heads face-down in tablets, others dozing to iTunes lullabies. On Tehran's metro, I'm getting a spontaneous, unprompted lesson about gender equality in Iran.

Farah tells me it all began, not with imports from the West, but with the 1979 revolution. A confluence of access, education and a bad economy created a society where women now have independence, careers and husbands happy to help around the house with chores and children.

The revolution, Farah says, was very good for women.

"The revolutionists supported women coming out of their homes to demonstrate. They used women to show their strength, but they never anticipated these women also believed in their right to exist outside the home," Farah remembers.

Iran's genies were let out of the bottle. The same genies have gone on to become active members of theological schools and hold positions as judges and engineers. "I don't care what they spread, radical or fundamental, whether I believe in it or not, they have a voice, it makes me happy," Farah says proudly.

Women, Farah says, now outnumber men in their pursuit of graduate degrees"

There's no greater evidence of women in the workplace, than where we're sitting, surrounded by women on their way to work. It's another outcome the Ayatollah hadn't expected, but with Iran's economy battered by the revolution, women had no choice but to join the workforce.

"It forced men to acknowledge that their wives could go out and earn money," Farah says. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


A Bright Future for Clean Technology (Jon Creyts & Martin Stuchtey, 3/05/15, Project Syndicate)

The convulsions in the clean-tech sector are simply symptoms of a cycle that characterizes emerging technologies: excitement, inflated expectations, and consolidation - ultimately followed by stability and the resumption of growth. Indeed, underlying recent developments are signs of a much more significant transformation: clean tech is becoming commercially viable.

Confidence in the clean-tech sector's future is rooted in the need for sustainable solutions for a planet that is supporting an ever-wealthier population. Over the next 20 years, the number of middle-class consumers is expected to rise to some three billion, from 1.8 billion today. Their new lifestyles will require resources, including energy.

This surge in demand will occur at a time when finding, developing, and extracting new sources of energy and resources will be increasingly challenging and expensive. Over the last 12 years, for example, the average real construction cost of an oil well has doubled, and in recent years new mining discoveries have been few, despite the industry's best (and often expensive) efforts. But clean-energy costs are trending in the opposite direction, ripening these solutions at a time when need - particularly in some of the world's largest developing cities - is becoming acute.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


Brownback softens stance on Medicaid expansion (Peter Hancock, March 4, 2015, Lawrence Journal-World)

Kansas is currently one of only 14 states that has not adopted a plan to expand its Medicaid program.

Brownback's comments, which came in response to a question from one of the insurance agents, stood in stark contrast to his remarks on the campaign trail last year when he said he strongly opposed the federal health care law, also known as Obamacare, and criticized his Democratic opponent Paul Davis for supporting it. [...]

His softened tone also came amid mounting pressure at the Statehouse from hospitals and other health care providers who want Kansas to take part in the expansion because it would mean additional reimbursements for them, offsetting losses they suffer from providing uncompensated care, as well as reduced reimbursements from Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Look Out Below, Copper's Falling (A. Gary Shilling, 3/05/15, Bloomberg View)

The commodity price boom that began after China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 has turned to bust. Copper prices are down 41 percent from their 2011 peak and probably have a lot further to go. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:24 PM


Saudis in unusual agreement with Netanyahu about Iran, but question Israel's motives (AYA BATRAWY, 3/05/15, Associated Press)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's fiery speech this week before the U.S. Congress, in which he argued against an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, has received tacit support from an unlikely quarter -- Saudi Arabia.

The oil-rich Sunni kingdom views Shiite Iran as a regional rival that is perhaps even more menacing than Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 1:59 PM


Rand Paul bailed on a Parks and Recreation cameo because he thought he'd get ridiculed (Jon Terbush, 3/05/15, The Week)

March 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 PM


Why an SNP surge at Westminster could mean the end of Britain (Alex Massie, 2/28/15, The Spectator)

Anyone seeking to understand the strength of the SNP should look to those parts of Scotland where the party is supposed to be weakest. At the last election, the nationalists took just under 10 per cent of the vote in the Scottish Borders. This year, Tory canvass returns suggest the SNP may treble its share of the vote in one of the most staunchly unionist seats in Scotland.

For months, opinion polls have made unremittingly gloomy reading for unionists. The nationalists are heading for a victory on a scale still not fully comprehended in England. The polls suggest the SNP could win as many as 55 of Scotland's 59 seats, up from six at present. No one can quite bring themselves to believe an earthquake of such magnitude is about to strike Scottish politics. Bookmakers' odds forecast a smaller SNP landslide, but winning even 35 seats might be enough to prevent Ed Miliband from winning a majority. Without its Celtic base, Labour would struggle to govern Britain -- unless a deal is cut with the nationalists.

Far from finishing the SNP, the referendum campaign has left them stronger than ever. Indeed, the SNP is no longer just a party, it is a movement -- and one boasting, per capita, more than twice as many members as the three main unionist parties combined.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


The spy who came in from al-Qaeda : Aimen Dean is a founder member of al-Qaeda, who changed tack in 1998 and became a spy for Britain's security and intelligence services, MI5 and MI6. Interviewed by Peter Marshall, he describes his years working in Afghanistan and London as one of the West's most valuable assets in the fight against militant Islam. (Peter Marshall, 3/02/15, BBC)

Dean was at a training camp in Afghanistan when the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam took place in 1998. He was concerned to learn that as well as the 12 American casualties, 240 or more local people died, and 5,000 were wounded.

I think that is when the horror of it started to sink in. And this is when I realised that if this is the opening salvo of this war, where is the next target? Argentina, South Africa, Mozambique? Are we going to fight Americans in Africa in order to expel them from the Middle East, from the Arabian peninsula? It just didn't make sense.

And as a theologian, that's when I started to have doubts about the legality of the whole thing. So I started to ask questions. I went, I remember, to Abdullah al Mohaja, who was the de facto mufti of al- Qaeda... I said, "It's not that I have doubts or anything but can you please enlighten me about the religious justifications for attacking an embassy belonging to the enemy, yes, but at the same time the fact that it's surrounded by potentially huge collateral damage?"

And he said to me, "Well look, there is a fatwa issued in the 13th Century AD throughout the Muslim world, which legitimises attacking an enemy even if it means there are civilian deaths because the enemy is using them as a human shield." And he said, "This fatwa is comprehensive, it gives us justification and there is no doubt about the legality of what we have done."

So I decided to go and look for myself, and this is when I received a big shock. The fatwas were issued in response to questions sent by Muslim cities in Central Asia, Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, asking this particular question: "Look, the Mongols are invading. Every time they sack a city, they take a segment of the population from that city, a thousand or two or three, and make them push the siege towers towards the walls of the next city. So do we shoot at our fellow Muslims, who are against their wills pushing the siege towers into the walls of our city, or not?"

And then the fatwa came: "Yes, this is a case where the Mongols are using civilian Muslims as human shields in order to achieve a military aim and if you don't shoot at them, you will end up being killed yourself if the attacks succeed."

Now when I learned of this, I was thinking: "OK, how do I reconcile this fatwa which applies to a life-and-death situation, regarding a vicious enemy using people as human shields to sack another place and to kill every man, woman and child in that city, with what happened really in Nairobi and Tanzania?" There is no resemblance here.

Q: And this fatwa based on siege towers from 800 years ago, that's what's used to justify all acts of jihadi terrorism?

A: That would result in civilian casualties, yes.

Q: So it's important?

A: It is important but you know I'm not going to say it has shaky foundations. It has no foundations at all. It's basically castle of sand in the air.

Q: It's nonsense?

A: Absolutely, and two months down the line I decided that it's no longer for me and that I wanted to leave.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Wall Street Has Its Eyes on Millennials' $30 Trillion Inheritance (Michael P. Regan, March 3, 2015, Bloomberg)

It seems that the millennials are going to inherit a lot more from their baby boomer parents than just some tie-dyes, Steely Dan LPs, and Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic books. To the tune of $30 trillion, according to Federated. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Iran Talks Closer on One-Year Nuclear 'Breakout' Demand (LAURENCE NORMAN, March 4, 2015, WSJ)

An understanding is emerging between Iran and six major powers that a final nuclear deal between the two sides must be structured around a key demand of the U.S. and its European partners: that Tehran stay at least a year away from amassing enough fuel for a nuclear weapon, according to people familiar with the negotiations. [...]

[I]n recent weeks, people familiar with the talks say that Iran's position is shifting. While there is no explicit agreement on the 12-month breakout period, officials say there is a growing understanding on all sides that it must be part of a deal.

Critically, some officials say, Iran has also accepted that in order to achieve that, it will have to agree to a reduction in the nearly 10,000 centrifuges it now operates and cut its enriched-uranium production.

The narrowing of gaps on this principle, and other potential compromises, have helped encourage a shift in sentiment among diplomats in recent weeks that a nuclear deal is finally possible after more than a decade of talks.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Government Email (Ira Stoll, 3/04/15, Future of Capitalism)

Amid the furor over Hillary Clinton's reported use of a non-government email account as secretary of State, one issue I haven't seen raised is how much the government spends on running government email systems, and how much money might be saved if all government workers followed Mrs. Clinton's example and used their personal email accounts (or a free Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail account) for intra-governmental communication.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


How Jeb Bush is tweaking his brother's brand of 'compassionate conservatism' (Michael Brendan Dougherty, March 3, 2015, The Week)

 "Compassionate" implied that George would be solicitous of the economic interests of the working class and the poor. He even said that as president he would be the leading lobbyist on behalf of the poor. It was a concession that the chief problem for the Republican Party was that it was seen as the party of big business and the wealthy, not the little guy.

This perception still holds. A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of respondents said the Democratic Party "cares about the middle class." Forty-three percent of respondents said the same of Republicans, a 17-point gap.

But the same Pew survey found that 59 percent of respondents said that Democrats are "tolerant and open to all groups of people," and only 35 percent said the same of Republicans, a 29-point gap.

"Inclusive" is a word that says much less about economics. It's a cultural word, the kind used in college campus orientation literature. It is also corporate-speak, usually swiftly preceded or followed by phrases like "commitment to diversity." Intentional or not, Jeb's tweak of a re-brand gets at this larger partisan gap.

The compassion part is policy, the inclusive bit is politics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Shell unveils plan to replace union workers 2 days before talks (Bloomberg, 3/03/15)  

Two days before contract negotiations are scheduled to resume between Royal Dutch Shell and the United Steelworkers' oil union, the company announced plans to run its second-largest U.S. refinery without union labor.

Shell will have trained and deployed enough "relief workers" by mid-summer to keep the 327,000-barrel-a-day Deer Park refinery in Texas running at full operations, The Hague, Netherlands-based company said late Monday on its website. USW members went on strike at the complex on Feb. 1 after their contract expired and talks broke down.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Pro-Growth, Pro-Family Tax Reform : Cut the corporate rate to 25%.For individuals and families, reduce the current seven brackets to two: 15% and 35%. (MIKE LEE And  MARCO RUBIO, March 3, 2015, WSJ)

The tax code's failures are manifold--impeding growth, discouraging investment, and restricting freedom on the business and the individual side--but they are all rooted in the same fundamental unfairness and inequity of a government that picks winners and losers.

A tax code that works for, not against, American businesses, families and individuals must be built on the twin pillars of equal opportunity and fair treatment for all.

That was precisely our objective when we joined together to design a comprehensive tax-reform plan. We built our plan on the simple, yet powerful, truths at the heart of the free-enterprise system: that economic growth is a function of economic freedom, and that economic freedom depends on equal opportunity and fair treatment under the law. continuing taxes on income.

March 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


The Iranian nuclear deal looks like a reasonable compromise (Avner Cohen, Mar. 2, 2015, Ha'aretz)

True, the deal is not optimal for Israel, far from it, but overall there are potential advantages. True, a few matters may need improving and explaining here and there, but in general it's a reasonable compromise. [...]

For Israel, the biggest disadvantage of the agreement is that it does not strip Iran of its nuclear assets. Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded "no enrichment," but everyone knows this is just rhetoric with no political horizon or legal foundation. There is no source for such a demand in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Despite this disadvantage, the agreement still reduces and limits Iran's nuclear assets to a lower level than in the interim agreement.

True, the agreement also grants Iran legitimacy as a nuclear threshold state. But we must remember that Iran was already a nuclear threshold state before it signed the interim agreement. In any case, the question of a threshold state is the original sin that derives from the ambiguity in the Nonproliferation Treaty itself. The treaty bans the development of nuclear weapons but does not explicitly ban member nations from becoming threshold states.

The agreement also contains unique advantages barely discussed in Israel. It clearly distances Iran from a nuclear bomb -- from a few weeks as was the case in 2012 to about a year. Most importantly, it establishes a regime of safeguards and transparency for almost a generation. After that, Iran's nuclear status will be the same as for any other nonnuclear state under the Nonproliferation Treaty. True, this may not be ideal, but that's a problem for the very distant future, almost a generation away.

Despite its flaws, the proposed agreement is far from bad for Israel -- the only nuclear power in the Middle East -- but it is very bad for Netanyahu. The agreement offers Israel almost a generation, or even more if it succeeds, in which Netanyahu won't be able to sow fear about Iran as an existential danger. It would leave Netanyahu as a leader whose raison d'être has been taken away from him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Could Gas Prices Go Even Lower? (JONATHAN FAHEY, 3/03/15, AP)

[T]he U.S. has so much crude that it is running out of places to put it, and that could drive oil and gasoline prices even lower in the coming months.

For the past seven weeks, the United States has been producing and importing an average of 1 million more barrels of oil every day than it is consuming. That extra crude is flowing into storage tanks, especially at the country's main trading hub in Cushing, Oklahoma, pushing U.S. supplies to their highest point in at least 80 years, the Energy Department reported last week.

If this keeps up, storage tanks could approach their operational limits, known in the industry as "tank tops," by mid-April and send the price of crude -- and probably gasoline, too -- plummeting.

US oil keeps booming despite low prices - for now (Jared Gilmour, Staff writer  MARCH 3, 2015, CS Monitor)

"I'm not surprised we haven't seen production drop. Oil production lags oil drilling," says Severin Borenstein, a professor at University of California's Haas School of Business in Berkeley, adding that rig counts didn't begin declining until months into the price drop. "I am surprised we've continued to see increases in production, and I think that says something about how effective the technology is."

US crude output hit 9.23 million barrels per day in December, according to US Energy Information Administration data, more than any time since 1973. Production today is more than double the 3.98 million barrels the US extracted per day in September 2008, when the financial crisis threw oil prices and production - not to mention the rest of the economy - into a tailspin.

That production boom is partly what has pushed oil prices down more than 50 percent since last June. Over time, low prices could threaten the shale boom, analysts say, since shale producers require higher prices to turn a profit. So far production hasn't dipped, though, despite the fact that oil prices remain stubbornly low, particularly in the US. In fact, even with oil at $50 a barrel for the first half of this year, EIA expects crude production to rise from 8.6 million barrels per day in 2014 to 9.3 million barrels per day in 2015 and 9.5 million in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Jimmy Wales: The next billion people are coming online quicker than anyone thought (Amanda Connolly, 3/03/15, The Next Web)

Speaking today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales discussed how people in the developing world are joining the global conversation online at a rapid rate - quicker than anyone had anticipated.

According to Wales, this is a result of the improvements in the speed of connections and the falling prices of mobile devices.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Costco-Visa deal shows why Medicare should negotiate drug prices (David Lazarus, 3/03/15, LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Costco's deal to replace American Express with Visa as its exclusive credit-card company highlights an economic principle that should surprise no one.

Consumers benefit when a business uses its market power to negotiate lower prices and passes along the savings to customers.

Conservatives have championed such market forces for decades, arguing that if government regulators just got out of the way of businesses, consumers would be the big winners.

That is, unless we're talking about drug prices.

Medicare, the federal healthcare program, is prohibited by law from haggling with makers of prescription drugs over the prices paid by its 54 million beneficiaries.

Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Employees not benefiting from slower growth in healthcare costs (NOAM N. LEVEY, 3/03/15, LA Times)

American workers already struggling with stagnant wages are being saddled with higher medical bills even as employers reap the benefits of a sustained slowdown in the growth of healthcare costs, a new report indicates.

While employees' insurance premiums and out-of pocket medical expenses shot up 21% from 2007 to 2013 to an average of $3,273 a year, employers' total healthcare costs rose only 14.5%.

"Almost everyone in the health system is realizing savings, but employees' costs are rising," noted the new report from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank.

They need to rise faster, which universal HSAs would achieve..

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Tikrit: Iran key in fight to wrest city from IS (Nafiseh Kohnavard, 3/03/15, BBC Persian)

As Iraqi and Shia militias try to recapture the city of Tikrit from Islamic State (IS), the key role of Iran in the campaign is becoming clearer.

Shia militia sources in Iraq have confirmed that Gen Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force is personally taking part in leading the operation. [...]

A Brigades commander told BBC Persian that Iranian forces under Gen Soleimani were training and morally preparing Iraqi Shia fighters for the operation long before it began.

Although Iran was left out by the US and its allies when they formed a coalition against IS last year, its direct involvement in fighting IS militants in Iraq was revealed long before the coalition was formed.

Since last summer, a number of Shia militia groups have emerged in Iraq that openly pledge their allegiance to Iran and declare themselves as followers of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian officials have always pointed out that their country is helping both Shia and Kurdish forces in the fight against IS but it was in a battle in late August 2014 that Iran's direct military involvement was made clear.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


How that volcano in Chile could slow global warming (Lisa Suhay, MARCH 3, 2015, CS Monitor)

Villarica, a 9,000 foot volcano in Chile's Central Valley, erupted around 3 a.m. Tuesday, spewing smoke and molten rock and prompting the Chile's National Emergency Office to order thousands to evacuate, according to the Associated Press. About 3,500 people have been evacuated so far, including tourists, according to published reports.

The material ejected by the volcano does more than just imperil aircraft and frighten spectators; in sufficient quantities, tiny particles injected into the stratosphere by an eruption can produce a global cooling effect that persists for years.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


Study Questions Close Monitoring of Thyroid Growths (Amy Norton, March 3, 2015, HealthDay News)

According to the American Thyroid Association, by age 60 about half of all people develop a thyroid nodule, an abnormal lump of cells within the gland.

Most nodules cause no symptoms, the association says, and they are only detected by chance, when someone has an imaging test for an unrelated reason -- such as a CT scan of the chest or an ultrasound of the carotid arteries in the neck. [...]

[T]hyroid association guidelines say that people with benign nodules should get follow-up ultrasound scans after one year, and then "periodically" after that, said Dr. Hossein Gharib, a past thyroid association president and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

If the nodule grows by about 50 percent in volume, guidelines say a repeat biopsy should be done, Gharib said.

But the new study, published March 3 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, challenges the need for such close monitoring in many cases.

Italian researchers followed nearly 1,000 patients with presumably benign thyroid nodules. All patients had either had a biopsy, or had skipped the biopsy because an ultrasound showed their nodules to be tiny and free of suspicious features that could signal cancer.

Over five years of monitoring with yearly ultrasound scans, most patients' thyroid nodules showed no substantial change. For 15 percent, the nodule grew by 50 percent in volume, while it shrank for 19 percent.

Most important, only five nodules -- or 0.3 percent -- were eventually diagnosed as thyroid cancer, the investigators found.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


Americans want a deal with Iran on its nuclear program (Scott Clement March 3, 2015, Washington Post)

The poll found a surprisingly bipartisan result. Just over six in 10 (61 percent) favored pursuing a long-term agreement that allowed some nuclear enrichment, including 66 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of Republicans. Among independents, 54 percent supported making a deal that allows limited enrichment, while 36 percent favored increasing sanctions in an effort to end the program.

The results were no fluke. They were, in fact, nearly identical to results of a PPC survey last summer asking the same questions; more than six in 10 supported a deal with Iran allowing enrichment, including similar numbers of Democrats and Republicans.

A separate survey in May found that Americans are willing to back up such an agreement with military force, which could embolden U.S. negotiators to push for greater concessions and comfort Israel. Six in 10 respondents said they would authorize a military strike against Iran's nuclear energy facilities, including majorities across party lines, according to a poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Nukes would make Iran more vulnerable, not less.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


House passes bill to fully fund Homeland Security (Sean Sullivan March 3, 2015, Washington Post)

The House passed a bill Tuesday afternoon to fund the Department of Homeland Security for the rest of the fiscal year, sending it to President Obama for his expected signature. The measure will not target Obama's executive actions on immigration, giving Democrats what they have long demanded and potentially enraging conservatives bent on fighting the president on immigration.

Might be time to stop pretending you're going to repeal Obamacare too.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


ROBOTS VS. THE UNDERCLASS : Pundits say automation is decimating the middle class. The truth is even crueler. (JOHN B. JUDIS, 3/03/15, National Journal)

The effects of this first wave on the economy were profound. From 1979 to 2013, U.S. manufacturing employment fell 37 percent, from 19.3 million to 12.1 million. Some of that was due to outsourcing--one study estimates that Chinese-import competition accounted for a quarter of the loss of manufacturing employment between 1990 and 2007--but a great deal of the rest was due to the automation of basic, repetitive factory labor, the kind you would find on an automobile assembly line. Indeed, largely because of automation, American manufacturers today produce far more goods with far less labor than they did just a few decades ago. (Productivity in manufacturing increased 75 percentage points between 1987 and 2007.)

The second wave of the automation revolution came in the 1980s. This time, the key change was the introduction of the personal computer, which gradually began to replace lower-level office staff: secretaries, tax-preparers, typesetters, and file clerks.

You can see evidence of both waves at companies like Conveyers & Automation--a Towson, Maryland, firm that uses robots to create lights-out packaging facilities for Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Corning Glass, and other big manufacturers. When I visited recently, what was most striking was not only the way the large yellow robots picked up and put down cans and bottles, but also the fact that at the firm's headquarters, I couldn't spot a single clerical or blue-collar worker.

The third wave arrived in the early 1990s with the rise of the Internet. It transformed the distribution as well as the production of goods and services, creating what economist W. Brian Arthur calls a "secondary economy." "Business processes that once took place among human beings are now being executed electronically," Arthur writes. "They are taking place in an unseen domain that is strictly digital." The secondary economy can make financial decisions, do inventory, diagnose illnesses, wage war, regulate electricity use, and sell everything from books to automobiles to machine tools.

Amazon began as the archetypical third-wave firm. It sold books and later other goods through the Internet, threatening the existence of bookstores and shopping malls. But it has also become a pioneer in fulfilling the promise of automation's first wave. The company bought Kiva Systems, which produces orange robots the size of ottomans that roam unlit, unheated sections of Amazon's warehouses all day and night, transporting shelves of goods to stations where they are packed and sent off. Amazon won't discuss how much labor these devices have saved, but a manager of Amazon's subsidiary Zappos has estimated that they cut labor in half. Moreover, the robots are supposed to speed up packaging by 400 percent.

In all these respects, automation has cut a wide swath through the economy. Like electricity, it's a general-purpose technology; its effects are pervasive and not confined to a single industry. But while it has eliminated the jobs of clerical staff at firms like Conveyors & Automation, as well as the jobs of workers who used to scurry around Amazon warehouses grabbing packages off shelves, automation has not eliminated mid-skill, median-wage, middle-class positions.

That, at least, is the conclusion now drawn by MIT's Autor and by two researchers at Oxford, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne. In a presentation last summer to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Autor, drawing on categories he had developed earlier with Harvard's Frank Levy and Richard Murnane, set out the ways that automation has eliminated, added, modified, or left untouched various jobs. His categories (which I'll use with minor variations) provide a useful way to see how automation has changed rather than destroyed the middle class.

First, there are the parts of the economy where automation has supplemented the human role--but not made it obsolete. These occupations fall into roughly three categories: complex abstract tasks (surgeons, dentists, lawyers, engineers, scientists, editors, architects, stock brokers, loan officers, therapists, school teachers, sales representatives, and a bevy of different kinds of technicians, especially in health care); jobs involving nonroutine personal interactions (specialized store clerks and technical-support personnel, home health aides, personal trainers, police, paramedics, and firefighters); plus those skilled crafts that cannot easily be reduced to routine instructions and now often require computer training (computer, utility, or telecommunications repair personnel, truck drivers, pilots, electricians, mechanics, and machinists).

Of course, some of these occupations may eventually fall victim to automation. Google, for instance, has developed a driverless car that could eventually be used to transport goods. But for now, none of these jobs are likely to be eliminated by technology.

So what jobs are in danger? Autor defines them as "routine tasks ... that follow an exhaustive set of rules and hence are readily amenable to computerization." These include low-level clerical and secretarial work, rule-driven interpersonal encounters at banks, stores, and anywhere tickets are sold, and much blue-collar work in factories and warehouses.

In other words, the occupations that are safe from automation are all over the map in terms of income and education level--ranging from home health aides to telecom repair personnel to surgeons.

So much done, so much yet to do.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Open English Borders (Alex Tabarrok, March 3, 2015, Marginal Revolution)

[I] fully support the petition of the Commonwealth Freedom of Movement Organisation:

Because of the unique relationship and socio-economic bonds that the U.K, Canada, Australia and New Zealand share, we believe that each country can benefit from a free movement agreement with each other, similar to the policies of the European Union and the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement (T.T.T.A) between Australia and New Zealand.

We propose that the governments of the aforementioned countries finalise agreements (and inevitably, legislation) which make it possible for citizens to move freely with no restrictions regarding work permits or visa controls.

Amen to that.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM



The defeat of the Miners' Strike signalled the end of the era of militant trade unions

Of course, there have been industrial disputes since 1985. And some of these have displayed some of the features of traditional trade-union militancy. But the conditions that assisted the flourishing of union militancy in its real sense came to an end as a result of the socioeconomic realities of the 1980s. Trade unions had gained in strength and militancy in the context of the postwar boom. During this period of economic expansion, unions, through industrial action, succeeded in raising living standards for workers. With the end of the boom, however, there came an economic slowdown and a crisis of public expenditure. As unemployment rose, trade unions lost their power and their militant members became marginalised. By the 1990s, the British labour movement's influence had shrunk and its institutions had been sidelined.

The trade unions of today are caricatures of their pre-1985 predecessors. They rarely mobilise or fight. Instead, they prefer to offer a variety of consumer services to their members - insurance, holidays, legal assistance in tribunals, and so on.

One of the key victories in the war on wages.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


North Korea: U.S.-South Korea drills 'unprecedentedly provocative' (The Associated Press, March 3, 2015)

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong told the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Tuesday that the exercises "are unprecedentedly provocative in nature and have especially high possibility of sparking off a war," according to a text of his speech.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


The GOP's Damage Done : How the Homeland Security stalemate is hurting the Republican brand. (CHARLIE COOK, 3/03/15, National Journal)

But I can't help but think that what happened last week is terribly corrosive of the Republican brand and not something that any thinking Republican would like to see happen. So can something look horrible and yet be politically inconsequential?

If the GOP could convince moderates that it was no longer willing to throw money at "national security" it would be a triumph.  It's what W won on and what Jeb will run on. But it's a tough sell.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


U.S. CEOs See an Improving Economy But Will Hold Steady on Hiring (ERIC MORATH, 3/03/15, WSJ)

Chief executives of large U.S. companies see the economy accelerating modestly in 2015, but are holding steady on their hiring plans, according the Business Roundtable's first-quarter survey released Tuesday morning.

The CEOs expect gross domestic product to advance 2.8% this year. That would be a pickup from the economy's 2.4% expansion last year and marks a 0.4 percentage-point increase from the executives' last projection released in December. [...]

Among the CEOs, 40% said their firms would increase hiring over the next six months, while 23% expect to cut staff. Both readings matched the prior survey.

Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Russia's rainy day fund drops 10 pct in dollar terms in Feb as state tries to support budget (Associated Press March 3, 2015)

The Russian government's rainy-day fund has shrunk by almost 10 percent in dollar terms in February after the state sought to fill a hole in its budget, where revenues have suffered due to low oil prices.

The Reserve Fund is used to support Russian public finances in time of low oil and gas prices and is held in dollars, euros and British pounds. It fell to $77.05 billion from $85.09 billion in January, the finance ministry said Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:52 PM


Boehner Outfoxes His Critics. Again. (Jonathan Bernstein, 3/03/15, Bloomberg View)

John Boehner is very, very good at his job.

You'd never know that from the news coverage of the House defeat of his proposed three-week funding extension for the Department of Homeland Security. After an unusual combination of conservative Republicans and almost all House Democrats rebuffed the speaker's bill, the Senate jumped in to pass a one-week interim measure, which the House then approved, avoiding a partial government shutdown.

The House will reportedly complete the process today by passing a "clean" bill to fund the department for a full year without the riders that would have restricted Barack Obama's actions on immigration. 

Pundits and reporters have portrayed the chain of events as a disaster for the speaker, and are wondering again if his job is in jeopardy. So why do I think Boehner's "defeat" was actually a brilliant maneuver?

Remember the basic story: Republican foes of immigration reform are suffering a defeat.

March 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 PM


Why Terrorism Works (Bruce Hoffman, 3/02/15, The Chronicle Review)

"Terrorists can never win outright," Prime Minister Ian Smith of Rhodesia declared in 1977. Following the 1983 suicide truck bombing that killed 241 U.S. military service personnel in Lebanon, President Ronald Reagan defiantly proclaimed that "the main thing" is to show that terrorism "doesn't work," and "to prove that terrorist acts are not going to drive us away." Margaret Thatcher described the attempt by the Provisional Irish Republican Army to kill her at the 1984 Conservative Party Conference as illustrative not only of a failed attack but of a fundamentally futile strategy. And in July 2006, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel promised that his government "will not give in to blackmail and will not negotiate with terrorists when it comes to the lives of Israel Defense Force soldiers."

The simple truth is that terrorism always works when it demands of Western nations that they honor the principle of self-determination.
Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Bill Clinton's Portrait Artist Secretly Includes Monica Lewinsky (A.J. Feather, 3/02/15, ABC News)

In a recent interview with the Philadelphia Daily News, the artist who painted a portrait of President Bill Clinton that hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. revealed a surprise -- the portrait "subtly" incorporated Monica Lewinsky.

Artist Nelson Shanks told the newspaper that the shadow on the left side of the portrait was cast by a mannequin in a blue dress -- a nod to the president's affair with his 22-year-old intern. [...]

The portrait originally stirred controversy when it was released in 2006 for the notable absence of a wedding ring on the President's hand.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Niche no longer : Thatcherism is winning adherents (The Economist, Feb 28th 2015)

AMONG the buskers on Avenida Paulista, São Paulo's main thoroughfare, one act stood out on a recent Friday afternoon. A live rock band played spiffy renditions of "Blue Suede Shoes" and other 1950s classics; between numbers, six panellists sang the praises of competition and fielded questions from 100-odd onlookers about such issues as transport prices. The event was organised by the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), a group founded last year to promote free-market answers to the country's problems. The al fresco concert-cum-colloquium was a riposte to demonstrators who took to the streets a half-dozen times in January to demand free bus transport. A better idea would be to open bus services to competition among private firms, which would improve quality and lower costs, the MBL-ers claimed.  

Although Brazil thinks of itself as a "tropical Sweden", advocates of freer markets and a less intrusive state are making headway. Of the 50 organisations that belong to the Liberty Network, an umbrella group, all but a handful were founded in the past three years. A "liberty forum" in April is expected to draw some 5,000 South American freedom-lovers to Porto Alegre, a southern city. This year's theme, inspired by the Charlie Hebdo murders, is freedom of expression.

Soon such folk will have a new political party to represent them. Called simply Novo ("new"), the party stands unabashedly for free markets, a minimal state, low taxes and individual liberties. This would extend Brazil's narrow political spectrum. The Workers' Party of the president, Dilma Rousseff, is decidedly left-wing. The main opposition party, the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), is friendlier to markets but, as its name suggests, it is by no means Thatcherite.

Novo sounds like it will be.

Mrs. Thatcher was, of course, Third Way, like her friend Augusto Pinochet, not First Way.
Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Israelis Worry About Inequality, Not Iran (Daniel Gordis, 3/02/15, Bloomberg View)

[M]ost of the vitriol leading up to Israel's March 17 elections has been about Netanyahu's handling (or mishandling) of the economy and the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor in Israel, and not on the congressional showdown.

Haaretz, Israel's left-leaning newspaper of record, gave the speech top billing Monday morning, but, in its Hebrew version, it peppered its website with many more stories about economics. The paper reported that at Sheba Medical Center, one of Israel's leading medical establishments, overcrowding is so great that the hospital has asked ambulances to bring no more patients. Haaretz attached a photograph of a patient being treated in the hallway. Haaretz also reported on a small revival of the tent city that had sprouted in Tel Aviv two summers ago to protest the high cost of housing. The paper covered a court ruling that said teachers cannot stage a semi-strike over changes in their working conditions, and discussed what has emerged as the top symbolic issue of rich versus poor in the Israeli press: the investigation of alleged financial mismanagement and excessive expenditures in the prime minister's residences.

On YNet, Israel's most-read Internet news site, the Sheba hospital story led the news; YNet included a photo of bedlam in the hospital and another of ambulances lined up, presumably with nowhere to drop off their patients. Interestingly, on YNet this morning, the only discussion of Netanyahu's imminent speech was a tiny entry at the bottom of the page.

Israel's first debate leading up the elections was held last week. Netanyahu and the joint candidates for the leading left-wing party, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, declined to participate, assuming that they only had something to lose. In the conversation between the numerous other candidates, the prime minister's speech to Congress was hardly mentioned. Most of the tumultuous evening ("debate" is a generous description of what actually unfolded) was devoted to the cost of housing, the high percentage of Israelis who are sinking further into debt and the burden that Israel's largely unemployed ultra-Orthodox population places on the rest of the population.

To the extent that foreign policy figured into the debate, the issue was whether the mere notion of a Palestinian state is now irrelevant. Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party claimed that "two states for two peoples" is not an option, while others insisted that solution still makes sense, except there is no partner with whom to negotiate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


The innovators : Cheap and ultraslim circuits could make the internet of things a reality (The Guardian,  1 March 2015)

In Scott White's vision for the supermarket of the near future, there would be no irritating interruption, no barcodes to scan and no check-outs. Instead shoppers would simply load their trolleys and walk out of a supermarket with wireless technology registering all of the items they have bought from tiny flexible circuits embedded on the food packaging.

It is those small integrated circuits - the equivalent of a silicon chip on a piece of plastic - that PragmatIC Printing, the company which White heads, specialises in. His hope is that the ultra-thin microcircuits will soon feature on wine bottles to tell when a Chablis is at the perfect temperature and on medication blister packs to alert a doctor if an elderly patient has not taken their pills.

"With something which is slimmer than a human hair and very flexible, you can embed that in objects in a way that is not apparent to the user until it is called upon to do something. But also the cost is dramatically lower than with conventional silicon so it allows it to be put in products and packaging that would never justify the cost of a piece of normal electronics," said White.

The main objective is to make everyday objects as intelligent and interactive as our mobile phones, tablets and laptops, he adds.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


The spread of western disease: 'The poor are dying more and more like the rich' (Bjorn Lomborg,  2 March 2015, The Guardian)

In rich countries, the biggest killers are strokes, heart attacks and cancer, accounting for more than two-thirds of all deaths. But for the poorer world, people often assume that infectious diseases like diarrhea, tuberculosis, Aids, malaria, measles and tetanus are the biggest killers. That is no longer true. While they are still substantial threats, broader availability of medication and vaccines along with higher living standards has caused such communicable diseases to drop dramatically to below 9 million deaths each year.

For the first time, more people in the developing world now die from strokes and heart attacks than infectious diseases. Combined, the diseases that are not infectious - the so-called non-communicable diseases or NCDs - cause almost two-thirds of all deaths in the developing world, about 23 million each year. In short, the poor are dying more and more like the rich. not a disease. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Healthy in a Falling Apart Sort of Way (JANE E. BRODY  MARCH 2, 2015, NY Times)

The widespread belief that medicine today has the potential to prevent most health problems or detect them early enough for a cure has succeeded in "medicalizing" modern life and raising the costs of medical care to unsustainable levels.

It has also prompted Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor at Dartmouth Medical School, to write "Less Medicine, More Health: 7 Assumptions That Drive Too Much Medical Care." A primary care physician and health policy wonk, Dr. Welch submits that too many people are being tested for too many things, being subjected to treatments they do not need and, in the process, being exposed to procedures that may do more harm than good.

One assumption, that all risks can be lowered, can create risks of its own. Case in point: A belief (sadly mistaken) that the measles vaccine is hazardous has sparked a mini-epidemic of a potentially life-threatening disease that had been eliminated from these shores 15 years ago.

Dr. Welch suggests focusing on reducing big risks and ignoring those that are average or lower. "Many health risks you hear about are exaggerated," he wrote. "Interventions to reduce average risks can create as many problems as they solve."

Another assumption, that it is always better to fix a problem than to manage it, has fostered a different epidemic: the ballooning and stenting of every coronary vessel found to have a partial blockage in patients with stable angina. However, as a randomized clinical trial showed, patients treated with medications to control blood pressure and cholesterol were no more likely to suffer a heart attack or die than those who underwent an angioplasty. Only if symptoms of cardiac pain persist is a more invasive procedure justified, Dr. Welch said.

Perhaps Dr. Welch's most controversial "assumption" is that detecting a potential health problem early is better than waiting until it produces symptoms. The value of screening people without symptoms is perhaps the most hotly debated issue in modern medicine. Should every woman over 40 have an annual mammogram? Should every man over 45 get an annual PSA test for prostate cancer?

It makes intuitive sense that early cancer detection and treatment are lifesaving. But what if the cancer would never have become a threat to life? To this day, I don't know if my cancer would have been deadly had I not had surgery and eight weeks of radiation. But once I knew it was there, I had little choice but to treat it.

Men with PSA readings on the rise face an even more challenging decision since definitive treatment, usually surgery or radiation of the prostate, can leave them impotent and incontinent.

Dr. Welch submits that sometimes early diagnosis does little more than turn people into patients for more years. "Action," he wrote, is not reliably the 'right' choice." Sometimes it's best to "don't just do something, stand there."

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


Are humans getting cleverer? (William Kremer, 3/02/15, BBC World Service)

The researchers - Peera Wongupparaj, Veena Kumari and Robin Morris at Kings College London - did not themselves ask anyone to sit an IQ test, but they analysed data from 405 previous studies. Altogether, they harvested IQ test data from more than 200,000 participants, captured over 64 years and from 48 countries.

Focusing on one part of the IQ test, the Raven's Progressive Matrices, they found that on average intelligence has risen the equivalent of 20 IQ points since 1950. IQ tests are designed to ensure that the average result is always 100, so this is a significant jump. [....]

The new research is further confirmation of a trend that scientists have been aware of for some time. In 1982, James Flynn, a philosopher and psychologist based at the University of Otago in New Zealand, was looking through old American test manuals for IQ tests. He noticed that when tests were revised every 25 years or so, the test-setters would get a panel to sit both the old test and the new one.

"And I noticed in all the test manuals, in every instance, those who took the old test got a higher score than they did on the new test," says Flynn. In other words, the tests were becoming harder.

This became known as the Flynn Effect, though Flynn stresses he was not the first to notice the pattern, and did not come up with the name.

But if the tests were getting harder, and the average score was steady at 100, people must have been getting better at them. It would seem they were getting more intelligent.

If Americans today took the tests from a century ago, Flynn says, they would have an extraordinarily high average IQ of 130. And if the Americans of 100 years ago took today's tests, they would have an average IQ of 70 - the recognised cut-off for people with intellectual disabilities. To put it another way, IQ has been rising at roughly three points per decade.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Estonia Can Handle Putin's Soft Power (Leonid Bershidsky, 3/02/15, Bloomberg View)

The only participant in Sunday's ballot that improved its performance compared with the previous election was the Center Party, which is supported by the overwhelming majority of Estonia's Russian population. The group won  24.8 percent of the vote, a slight increase from 23.3 percent in 2011. Yet the ruling Reform Party still beat it with 27.7 percent of the vote (down from 28.6 percent four years ago), and since it will form the ruling coalition, the Center Party -- shunned by most other Estonian political forces -- will not be part of it. This situation is echoed in Latvia, where Harmony, the party of Russian speakers, formed the biggest faction in parliament last October but was kept out of the governing coalition.

On the surface, the treatment of the sizable Russian minorities in both Baltic states might seem patently unfair. In Estonia, they make up more than a quarter of the total population of 1.24 million, yet only a dozen ethnic Russian politicians -- most of them from the Center Party -- earned a place in the 101-member parliament. But that's partly due to many Russian speakers' citizenship status. Some 90,000 of them carry so-called "grey passports" which do not grant them voting rights, and another 130,000 are Russian citizens (though some of these hold Estonian citizenship, too). Once that's all taken into account, ethnic Russians who are Estonian citizens are, in fact, adequately represented in the legislature.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Jeb Bush's James Baker Problem (Michael Rubin, 03.02.2015, Commentary)

[A] better question than which Bush would Jeb hone most closely to in foreign policy might be whether, given his most senior advisors, a Jeb Bush foreign policy would differ substantively from that of President Barack Obama.

Only in the sense that it will be more Promised Land and less Crusader State, thanks to W and the UR winning the WoT.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:26 PM


Buy-and-hold fund prospers with no new bets in 80 years (ROSS KERBER, Feb 27, 2015, Reuters)

Equity investors pursuing a buy-and-hold strategy might want to check out a fund that hasn't made an original stock market bet in 80 years.

    The Voya Corporate Leaders Trust Fund, now run by a unit of Voya Financial Inc bought equal amounts of stock in 30 major U.S. corporations in 1935 and hasn't picked a new stock since.

    Some of its holdings are unchanged, including DuPont, General Electric, Procter & Gamble and Union Pacific. Others were spun off from or acquired from original components, including Berkshire Hathaway (successor to the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe Railway); CBS (acquired by Westinghouse Electric and renamed); and Honeywell (which bought Allied Chemical and Dye). Some are just gone, including the Pennsylvania Railroad Co. and American Can. Twenty-one stocks remain in the fund.

    The plan is simple, and the results have been good. Light on banks and heavy on industrials and energy, the fund has beaten 98 percent of its peers, known as large value funds, over both the past five and ten years, according to Morningstar.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM



 Almost two decades ago, in 1996, Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress where he darkly warned, "If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for the Middle East, but for all mankind," adding that, "the deadline for attaining this goal is getting extremely close."

Almost 20 years later that deadline has apparently still not passed, but Netanyahu is still making dire predictions about an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon. Four years before that Congressional speech, in 1992, then-parliamentarian Netanyahu advised the Israeli Knesset that Iran was "three to five years" away from reaching nuclear weapons capability, and that this threat had to be "uprooted by an international front headed by the U.S."

In his 1995 book, "Fighting Terrorism," Netanyahu once again asserted that Iran would have a nuclear weapon in "three to five years," apparently forgetting about the expiration of his old deadline.

For a considerable time thereafter, Netanyahu switched his focus to hyping the purported nuclear threat posed by another country, Iraq, about which he claimed there was "no question" that it was "advancing towards to the development of nuclear weapons." Testifying again in front of Congress again in 2002, Netanyahu claimed that Iraq's nonexistent nuclear program was in fact so advanced that the country was now operating "centrifuges the size of washing machines."

Needless to say, these claims turned out to be disastrously false. Despite this, Netanyahu, apparently unchastened by the havoc his previous false charges helped create, immediately went back to ringing the alarm bells about Iran.

A 2009 U.S. State Department diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks described then-prime ministerial candidate Netanyahu informing a visiting Congressional delegation that Iran was "probably one or two years away" from developing weapons capability. Another cable later the same year showed Netanyahu, now back in office as prime minister, telling a separate delegation of American politicians in Jerusalem that "Iran has the capability now to make one bomb," adding that alternatively, "they could wait and make several bombs in a year or two."

In statements around this time made to journalists, Netanyahu continued to raise alarm about this supposedly imminent, apocalyptic threat. As he told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in a 2010 interview, "You don't want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs," adding, "that's what is happening in Iran."

In 2012 Netanyahu said in closed talks reported by Israeli media that Iran is just "a few months away" from attaining nuclear capabilities. Later that same year, he gave a widely-mocked address at the United Nations in which he alleged that Iran would have the ability to construct a weapon within roughly one year, while using a printout of a cartoon bomb to illustrate his point.

Despite this heady rhetoric, Netanyahu's estimates of an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb have consistently been at odds with analyses made by his own intelligence agency. In 2011, departing Mossad intelligence chief Meir Dagan said in his final intelligence summary that, contrary to Netanyahu's repeated statements at the time, an Iranian nuclear weapon is in fact not imminent...

March 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Empire strikes back (JOEL KOTKIN, 2015-02-27, OC Register)

In his first six years in office, President Obama has performed well for those who wrote those checks. He brought in Wall Street insiders such as Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers to concoct his economic policy, which brought a recovery to the financial plutocracy before virtually anyone else. Wall Street was back by 2009; the rest of us have had to wait for 2015.

Obama and the Democrats in Congress also handed the big banks a nice gift in the form of the Dodd-Frank Bill which helped them achieve that "too big to fail" status and has accelerated the growing consolidation of the American financial system. Indeed, since Dodd-Frank was passed smaller banks' share of banking assets has dropped twice as quickly as before, notes a recent Harvard Kennedy School of Government study. Smaller and community banks - historically more likely to loan to small businesses - have seen a 50 percent drop in their share of lending while the the five largest banks now control over 40 percent of lending, twice their share 20 years ago.

The big banks were saved as well by Attorney General Eric Holder's decision not to engage in tough prosecutions of Wall Street's biggest malefactors, in part, he explained, due to their enormous size.

Essentially, he has argued the giant banks, nurtured by the government, are too big to not only fail but see their executives placed in the docket.

To be sure, President Obama's occasional populist rhetoric did offend many on Wall Street, which in 2012 shifted much of its support to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who, after all, was one of their own. Obama still did fairly well on Wall Street. In his two campaigns he ended up raising almost twice as much from Wall Street as his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Posted by orrinj at 3:29 PM


CNN apologizes for Putin gaffe : Network claims technical glitch caused image of Russian president to appear above the title 'Jihadi John' (JUSTIN JALIL AND JUDAH ARI GROSS, March 1, 2015, Times of Israel)

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Nigerian mob kills girl accused of being suicide bomber (Associated Press, 1 March 2015)

A crowd has beaten to death a teenage girl accused of planning to be a suicide bomber and then set her body on fire, according to police and witnesses.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Iran says it will open up to internet firms if they respect cultural values (Agence France-Presse, 1 March 2015)

Iran could allow internet firms such as Google to operate in the Islamic republic if they respect its cultural rules, a senior official has said..

"We are not opposed to any of the entities operating in global markets who want to offer services in Iran," the deputy telecommunications and information technology minister, Nasrollah Jahangard, told the Fars news agency on Sunday.

"We are ready to negotiate with them and if they accept our cultural rules and policies they can offer their services in Iran," he said.

Jahangard said Iran is also ready to provide Google or any other company with facilities that would enable them to provide their services to the region.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Scott Walker, possible 2016 contender, admits he's flipped to tougher line on immigration (Associated Press March 1, 2015)

Gov. Scott Walker once envisioned a world where the 11 million immigrants living in the country illegally could embark on a path to citizenship.

But now the Wisconsin Republican calls that position "amnesty" and says his view has changed.

Mitt tried the same thing, which killed him in the general.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


How Jeb Bush's school reforms really played out in Florida (Valerie Strauss February 2, 2015, Washington Post)

His critics call him not a "reformer" but a "privatizer" of public education in part because of his attitude about traditional public schools -- calling them "politicized, unionized monopolies" or "government-run monopolies run by unions" -- while advocating for charter schools as well as voucher and voucher-like programs, which use public money to pay private school tuition for students. [...]

To understand what really happened, I had an e-mail conversation with professor Sherman Dorn of the University of South Florida, who has spent years researching and writing about public education in the Sunshine State. He maintains a blog about public education at

Here's our conversation:

Q) Let's start with the basics. When Jeb Bush became governor of Florida in 1999, how did he proceed in terms of school reform?

A) In his first term, most of Jeb Bush's efforts in education came in three areas: test-based accountability, private-school vouchers, and support for improved reading instruction. In 1999, Bush signed legislation that required annual testing of all children in grades 3-10, tied test scores to annual "A" through "F" labels assigned to local public and charter schools, and required retention of children in third grade if they did not meet critical scores in the state reading test or provide other evidence of reading skill. In the same year, the Florida legislature created two voucher programs, one tied to the state labeling of local public schools and the other available to children with disabilities. Bush also created the Florida Center for Reading Research in 1999, which used both state and federal funding to support classroom teachers and reading coaches. [...]

Q) Bush frequently talks about how his test-based policies led to higher test scores. I'm not sure if he was referring to NAEP or to FCAT. What happened with the test scores and the achievement gap?

A) [...] Governor Bush and his allies generally point to fourth-grade reading as the most important story, and that is where one can see large increases in average scale scores, not only across cohorts of fourth-grade students but in comparison with the national sample of fourth-grade students. Between 1998 and 2013, Florida's fourth graders rose from being quite a bit below the national average on the NAEP testing program to being well above the national average. You can quibble with testing samples and comparison issues, but this is an unambiguous good.

The picture is less optimistic when you look at reading in eighth grade or math at either fourth or eighth grade. NAEP reading scores for Florida eighth graders slowly converged to the national average, with large bounces up and down across the years. That's good if less impressive than fourth grade. [...]

Q) The former governor talks about closing the achievement gap, especially with Hispanics. Did that happen? [...]

A) I focused on fourth-grade reading, where there is the best evidence for improvement in Florida children's achievement during and since Bush's terms. For fourth-grade reading looking at NAEP, there is evidence of gap-closing for children in low-income households and students with disabilities, and reduction of the gap at a faster pace than the nation as a whole. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


'Demand Response' Is How The Smart Grid Will Save Us Billions (James Conca, 3/01/15, Forbes)

An energy company in the Pacific Northwest just demonstrated that Demand Response works really really well. Although demand response is being implemented in many places, Energy Northwest in Richland, Washington launched a demand response project last Monday that worked perfectly. Energy Northwest is already a model power company, producing all of its power from non-fossil fuel - wind, solar nuclear and hydroelectric. It is a non-profit public entity that sells its power at cost.

Using something called a Demand Response Aggregated Control System (DRACS), Energy Northwest demonstrated to the regional Bonneville Power Administration that this new DRACS system could be relied upon to handle the changes in electricity demand in this new way.

Using this system, many electricity customers are aggregated into a network of users whose electricity use can be varied to adjust demand as needed, in minutes. One such user is the Northern Pacific Paper Corporation (NORPAC) in Longview, a giant consumer of electricity. NORPAC uses huge thermal mechanical pulping refiners that are driven by over three dozen 6,000-horsepower motors (see figure).

As part of this demand response project, NORPAC agreed to let Energy Northwest shut down eight of these huge motors at a moments notice to reduce electricity demand.

That's a big chunk of energy.

"Energy Northwest met a significant commitment to the region by successfully launching the demand response pilot project by the target date," said Jim Gaston, general manager of Energy Services and Development for Energy Northwest. "This was a great team effort involving partners throughout the Northwest."

Indeed, the response to take 32 MW offline was 4 minutes, well under the 10-minute window dictated by the Bonneville Power Administration. BPA, itself a federal non-profit agency, actually called the event without warning to see if they could catch Energy Northwest off-guard.

"From receipt of the event notification through termination by the DRACS, each of our demand response assets performed beyond all expectations," said John Steigers, Generation Project Developer.

This kind of broad-geographic project involves a lot of people. The City of Richland and the Cowlitz County Public Utility District signed on to let their power needs be varied as needed, and were part of this demonstration last week. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory also helped out by hosting the DRACS in its Electricity Infrastructure Operations Center, a DOE-funded incubator facility built and operated for just such an opportunity.

If we evolve our energy infrastructure as we should in the years to come, almost everyone would be involved in some way. Not just a smart grid, but a smart total system.

Then there's the batteries. Large battery storage systems are an obvious tool in this demand response toolbox, able to be kept charged until needed, and able to come online immediately to smooth out changes in demand. Energy Northwest has some big ones, 500 kW each, and the efficiency of these batteries are now up to 85% (see figure).

The plan is for dozens to hundreds of these mobile lithium-ion battery energy storage systems to be spread out across the region, all acting in concert, along with the demand response customers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Georgia's education chief has some words for Arne Duncan (Valerie Strauss February 27, 2015, Washington Post)

Richard Woods became the State School Superintendent of Georgia last month after spending 22 years in public education in various roles: teacher, teacher mentor, assistant principal, principal, curriculum director, testing coordinator, pre-K director and alternative school director.  He is also a former small business owner and was a purchasing agent for a multi-national laser company. This week, Woods wrote a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and sent it, too, to members of Georgia's delegation in the U.S. Congress and to the House and Senate education committees, which are currently working on legislation to rewrite No Child Left Behind. One of the key issues is whether annual standardized testing, as mandated in NCLB for grades 3-8 and once in high school, will continue in a new education law.

Woods, in his letter to Duncan, urges changes to federal mandates on standardized testing, saying in part:

Our broken model of assessment is too focused on labeling our schools and teachers, and not focused enough on supporting our students. Our current status quo model is forcing our teachers to teach to the test. We need an innovative approach that uses tests to guide instruction, just as scans and tests guide medical professionals. Oftentimes, we hear teachers called professionals because they have the knowledge and skill set to reach the needs of their individual students, yet in our accountability measures we have not supported or given value to diagnostic tools and tests that teachers need to fully utilize that knowledge or those skills. We must find a balance between accountability and responsibility.

...the jobs would be high-paying and filled by men.  All we want is folks capable of teaching to the test we write for them.  The whole testing regime is designed to end educator autonomy and experimentation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


The truth about the Sound of Music family (Louise Hidalgo, 3/01/15, BBC World Service)

Johannes was born in 1939 - by then his mother and father had been married for 12 years and had already had two children together, to add to the seven that the widowed Captain von Trapp had from his first marriage.

In the film the couple marry in 1938 and as Johannes says: "It was quite tough enough with seven kids for the movie company."

The von Trapp children also already played music before Maria came to their home as a governess. "My mother was the energy and the instigator that took them to almost concert quality," says Johannes.

But it was another important figure in their life, the priest, Father Franz Fausner, who was instrumental in their musical success, touring with them in Europe and America. He was left out of both the film and the Broadway musical.

Another more hurtful change was the portrayal of Georg von Trapp. Far from being the distant rather domineering father of the Sound of Music, Johannes says he was "a very charming man, generous, open, and not the martinet he was made out to be both in the stage play and in the film. My mother did try to alter that portrayal for the film, but she was not successful."

It was Maria von Trapp's book, The Story of Trapp Family Singers, which was published in 1949 that inspired first the musical and then the film.

The family had lost all their money when the Austrian bank that held it failed in the 1930s - they managed to keep their villa outside Salzburg.

But after the Nazi annexation of Austria in March 1938, life became increasingly untenable and later that year they left.

They didn't cross the mountains as shown in the film though - they went by train to go on a concert tour from which they never returned. They finally travelled by boat to New York and when they arrived had only a few dollars to their name.

They continued giving performances and later bought a farm in Vermont where the family still runs a hotel, the Trapp Family Lodge. But when Georg died in 1947 Maria was left with 10 children to support.

That's when she wrote the book which became a best-seller. A German-language film and the musical followed.

Maria later recalled, in a BBC interview, that she only learned Hollywood was making a film when she read about it in a newspaper.

"I felt very alarmed," she said. "I didn't know what they are going to do with us... Hollywood being Hollywood, [I thought] they will have me three times divorced and five times married or whatever. And then it turned out so nice - especially the beginning with the mountains and me coming up over the meadow."

She had some reservations about how her character, played by Julie Andrews, was portrayed though: "My long drawn out misery is, I can't get these diverse Marias to be as wild and untamed as I was at that age - they are all very ladylike you see and I was not."

Maria was a "force of nature" says Johannes. "It wasn't easy to disagree with her but she kept everything together... She was an extraordinarily strong person and that was both wonderful and sometimes difficult.

"She did everything quickly. She walked very fast, with a rolling gait developed from hiking in the Austrian mountains and it was hard to keep up with her. She ate fast, she drove too fast. My wife borrowed her car once to go the village, and was astonished that everyone in front gave way when they saw my mother's car coming."

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Zero inflation is great (so long as you're not in government) : Victorians enjoyed higher living standards without price rises. Maybe the 20th century was an aberration (HAMISH MCRAE,  01 March 2015, The Independent)

[I]n a very long view, the aberration was the 20th century, with Germany and a number of other countries having hyperinflation in the 1920s and the entire developed world having very rapid inflation in the 1970s and 1980s. There is a famous study of prices in England from the Middle Ages onwards by Henry Phelps Brown and Sheila Hopkins which showed that there was no significant increase in prices from the 1300s to the 1500s, that prices then rose roughly four times as a result of the opening up of gold and silver mines in Spanish America, and there was another period of reasonable stability until 1914. Periods when prices rose, such as during the Napoleonic wars, were offset by periods when they fell, such as the long Victorian era. If you were born in 1820, you would only know stable or falling prices.

This is not to say this will be the experience of young people in Britain now, though something close to that has occurred in Japan over the past 25 years. Our sub-1 per cent inflation is a function of one-off forces, notably the plunge in energy prices, and underlying inflation is around 2 per cent. But the working assumption of most of us that inflation over the next few years will be 2 per cent or a bit more may be wrong. Our long-term rates are not as low as Germany's, but they are lower than in Victorian times. This would suggest that inflation in the UK will be 1 per cent or less over the next 30 years. Of course, the markets may be wrong; this has been known. But the narrower point that in the short-term there will be very little inflation in much of the developed world stands. The longer that price stability persists, the more our attitudes will change. [...]

For the business community, a world where you can't increase your prices is a stern discipline. "Why," a top retailer asked me the other day, "if the statistics say the economy is booming, does it not feel like a boom to us?"

I think the answer is that, in a world of flat prices, retailers have to run to stand still. Zero inflation is obviously bad for those who have over-borrowed, countries as well as companies and people, because the value of the debt is no longer whittled away. But it is not bad for consumers. Quite the reverse. During the 19th century, living standards rose by between 1 and 2 per cent a year as prices fell. We already get a lot of improvements in living standards from falling prices: think of the way mobile communication costs have fallen while the service has become more extensive and competent.