April 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


What Marco Rubio's tax policies say about his campaign strategy (Howard Gleckman, APRIL 30, 2015, CS Monitor)

In March, Rubio and fellow senator Mike Lee (R-UT) proposed a significant, though incomplete, tax reform plan. Their introduction to the plan highlights the need to address income inequality and what Clinton called "the middle-class squeeze" back in 1992. [...]

Their tax plan is, at its core, a consumption tax. It would exempt investment income from tax and eliminate most tax preferences. It would allow firms to fully deduct their capital investments in the year they are made, and prohibit them from deducting interest costs on those investments.

Such a plan has real merit but it requires some mechanism, such as a refundable tax credit, to make sure it does not become extremely regressive. It is not clear that Rubio-Lee does that.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 PM


"Sex Change" Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know (Walt Heyer, April 27th, 2015, Public Discourse)

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 PM


OPEC oil output in April climbs to highest since 2012 -survey (Alex Lawler, April 30, 2015, Reuters) 

OPEC oil supply in April has jumped to its highest in more than two years, boosted by record or near-record supplies from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, a Reuters survey showed, as key members stand firm in their focus on market share.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Texas governor tells State Guard to monitor Army training (PAUL J. WEBER, Apr. 28, 2015, AP) 

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Tuesday asked the State Guard to monitor a U.S. military training exercise dubbed "Jade Helm 15" amid Internet-fueled suspicions that the war simulation is really a hostile military takeover.

The request comes a day after more than 200 people packed a meeting in rural Bastrop County and questioned a U.S. Army commander about whether the government was planning to confiscate guns or implement martial law. Bastrop County Judge Paul Pape said "conspiracy theorists" and "fear mongers" had been in a frenzy.

The funny part is that these are the same folks who question the patriotism of Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


What's work for you? : The further our economy drags us from basic doing, the less meaningful work is. (Zac Alstin | Apr 30 2015, MercatorNet)

Work is an ennobling and enriching part of human life, but career isn't necessarily, nor is having a job. Work in its purest form is ubiquitous and profound: the ancient origins of the word itself mean simply "to do". Work is doing, a doing that gradually accrued the sense of exertion, effort, labour, but also with a trace of artistic, scholarly, or constructive context. The sense is retained in the modern idiom "What do you do?"

Yet, curiously, this question now receives answers at variance with the key verb: instead of telling people what we "do" we tend to tell them what or where we are: "I work in government", "I'm a business development manager", "I'm the part-owner of a café." Sometimes this is because a single word like "doctor" or "accountant" is enough to convey to a lay audience some semblance of the work involved.

In other cases it's because the actual work encompassed by a single job title is too eclectic and diverse to be neatly summarised. But in every case such responses are encouraged by the general consensus that work is about more than what we do, that it is part of who we are, helps form and shape our identity, and gives substance to the demands of our pride or ego. "Work" in the sense of "what do you do?" is understood in terms of career.

...is when you're doing your volunteer hours, helping someplace clean up or fix up. Getting rid of jobs will give us more opportunity to do.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Baltimore, a Great Society Failure (RICH LOWRY, April 29, 2015, Politico)

The city has been shedding jobs and people for decades, including in the 1990s when the rest of the country was booming.

We don't know all the facts surrounding Freddie Gray's tragic, and highly suspicious, death. But as a general matter, it is easy to believe that the Baltimore police are corrupt, dysfunctional and unaccountable -- because most of the Baltimore government is that way. Mayors and police commissioners get convicted of crimes.

This is a failure exclusively of Democrats, unless the root causes of Baltimore's troubles are to be traced to its last Republican mayor, Theodore Roosevelt McKeldin, who left office in 1967. And it is an indictment of a failed model of government.

Baltimore is a hostile business environment and high-tax city, with malice aforethought. "Officials raised property taxes 21 times between 1950 and 1985," Steve Hanke and Stephen Walters of Johns Hopkins University write in The Wall Street Journal, "channeling the proceeds to favored voting blocs and causing many homeowners and entrepreneurs -- disproportionately Republicans -- to flee. It was brilliant politics, as Democrats now enjoy an eight-to-one voter registration advantage."

To counterbalance the taxes, they note, developers need to be lured to the city with subsidies, and the developers, in turn, contribute to politicians to stay in their good graces. This makes for fertile ground for the city's traditional corruption.

Baltimore's preferred driver of growth has been government. Urban experts Fred Siegel and Van Smith write in City Journal that Baltimore has "emphasized a state-sponsored capitalism that relies almost entirely on federal and state subsidies, rather than market investments." The model makes for some high-profile development projects, but trickle-down crony capitalism hasn't worked for everyone else.

For those left behind, Maryland has one of the most generous welfare systems in the country, according to Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute.

Baltimore has been good at sucking up federal and state subsides, and at taxing and at spending. The other functions of government? Not so much.

We all know how to fix Baltimore--move the people out.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Darwin's Robots: When Evolutionary Materialists Admit that Their Own Worldview Fails (Nancy Pearcey April 23, 2015, Evolution News)

A materialist philosophy reduces humans to machines -- complex robots determined by material forces. It denies the reality of free will, the power to make decisions. Yet all civilizations throughout history have recognized that humans are moral agents capable of making responsible choices. There is no society without some moral code. The testimony of universal human experience is that humans are personal beings capable of willing and choosing -- which means their origin must be a personal Being, not the blind forces of nature.

Even materialists often admit that, in practice, it is impossible for humans to live any other way. One philosopher jokes that if people deny free will, then when ordering at a restaurant they should say, "Just bring me whatever the laws of nature have determined I will get."

An especially clear example is Galen Strawson, a philosopher who states with great bravado, "The impossibility of free will ... can be proved with complete certainty." Yet in an interview, Strawson admits that, in practice, no one accepts his deterministic view. "To be honest, I can't really accept it myself," he says. "I can't really live with this fact from day to day. Can you, really?"

But if humans "can't really live with" the implications of a worldview, is it a reliable map to reality? Watch for phrases like this. Often they are clues that someone is trying to live out a worldview that does not fit the real world -- that he or she has bumped up against one of the intractable facts that point to the biblical God.

Darwinian Psychopaths

In What Science Offers the Humanities, Edward Slingerland, identifies himself as an unabashed materialist and reductionist. Slingerland argues that Darwinian materialism leads logically to the conclusion that humans are robots -- that our sense of having a will or self or consciousness is an illusion. Yet, he admits, it is an illusion we find impossible to shake. No one "can help acting like and at some level really feeling that he or she is free." We are "constitutionally incapable of experiencing ourselves and other conspecifics [humans] as robots."

One section in his book is even titled "We Are Robots Designed Not to Believe That We Are Robots."

Pearcey Hegel.jpgHow does Slingerland propose to resolve the contradiction between his "lived reality" and his deterministic philosophy? He does not even try. Instead he says "we need to pull off the trick of living with a dual consciousness, cultivating the ability to view human beings simultaneously under two descriptions: as physical systems and as persons." In other words, he explicitly recommends constructing a mental dichotomy. Philosophers sometimes picture the division using the image of two stories in a building: In the lower story, humans are "physical systems," in the upper story they are "persons."

Such compartmentalized thinking is what George Orwell famously called "doublethink," and it functions here as a philosophical coping mechanism. When a worldview fails to account for all of reality, what do adherents do? Do they say, "I guess my theory has been falsified; I'd better toss it out"? Most people do not give up that easily. Instead they suppress the things that their worldview cannot explain, walling them off into a conceptual area separate from reality -- an upper story of useful fictions. Wish fulfillment. Illusions.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 3:18 PM

ALL THAT JAZZ #25: International Jazz Day

I didn't even know there was an International Jazz Day, but apparently there is...and it's today.  http://live.jazzday.com/

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


After fresh tragedy, Syrian Christian leader warns: 'We could disappear' (John L. Allen Jr., April 28, 2015, Crux)

Over the years, Christian clergy in Syria have been accused of being too close to the Assad regime. What's the truth?

We are not pro-Assad. We're in favor of a government that's open to all denominations. We're in favor of a secular government. It may be led by Assad or someone else, but that's what we want.

Personally, I would say that Bashar al-Assad is a good man. I don't want to pass judgment beyond that, but I've met him a couple of times and all my colleagues, my fellow bishops and the priests and nuns, appreciate him.

And Hitler loved dogs.
Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


A Trade Deal With Help for U.S. Workers Baked In  (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, April 28, 2015, WSJ)

[A] recent Gallup survey found that 58% of Americans regard foreign trade as "an opportunity for economic growth through increased U.S. exports" rather than as a threat from foreign imports.

This figure is up 12 percentage points over the past three years, and it represents the highest level since Gallup began asking this question in 1993. Equally significant, 61% of Democrats now see trade as an opportunity, up from only 36% in 2008, when Mr. Obama was first elected president.

Support for trade among rank-and-file Democrats is now 10 points higher than among Republicans. Some of this gap represents Republican antipathy to the president, no doubt. Yet as white working-class voters shift their allegiance away from the Democratic Party, populist sentiment among Republicans has increased: witness high-pitched conservative denunciations of "crony capitalism" and Republican opposition to the Export-Import Bank. [...]

 In a 2013 study published in the American Economic Review, respected labor economists David Autor,David Dorn and Gordon Hanson found that competition from Chinese imports was responsible for one quarter of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment between 1990 and 2007. This competition depressed wages, labor-force participation and household earnings while increasing expenses for state and federal transfer programs.

Two 2014 papers flesh out these conclusions. In the Review of Economics and Statistics, Avraham Ebenstein,Ann Harrison,Margaret McMillan and Shannon Phillips reported that between 1983 and 2002, globalization put downward pressure on wages by forcing American workers out of manufacturing into lower-paying jobs in other sectors, leading to real wage losses of 12% to 17%. In a second paper extending the analysis to 2008, these economists found that offshoring and the threat of offshoring independently reduce wages in the affected occupations.

Which is why it's deranged for the Fed to be considering interest rate hikes.  Rates are too high given the deflationary climate, the one area where man-made change is genuine.

Posted by orrinj at 3:07 PM


The Bullish Charisma of John Kasich (MOLLY BALL, 4/30/15, The Atlantic)

If only, Republican voters might be thinking, there were a candidate who could appeal to blue-collar voters but also mingle with the GOP establishment. A governor who'd proven he could run a large state but who also had national experience. Someone who'd won tough elections and maintained bipartisan popularity in an important swing state. A candidate whose folksy demeanor and humble roots would contrast nicely with Hillary Clinton's impersonal, stiffly scripted juggernaut.

That's Kasich's pitch, in a nutshell.

He's not well known among the national Republican base or conservative activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. Nor has he begun to do the sorts of things--hiring big-name national consultants, seeking commitments from donors--that would put him on the radar of the pundits tracking the race. But he has a large and loyal potential fundraising base (he raised nearly $30 million for his reelection campaign despite a weak opponent), a knack for commanding a room in an unorthodox manner, and credentials that demand to be taken seriously.

Kasich has managed a $72 billion state budget and served on the House Armed Services Committee. He won 86 of Ohio's 88 counties in his reelection, including Cleveland's Cuyahoga County--unheard-of for a Republican: In 2012, President Obama won Cuyahoga by a two-to-one margin. The New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in January that Kasich was the most underrated potential Republican candidate, describing him as "fresh but seasoned and managerial." If he does get in the race, says John Weaver, a Texas-based GOP consultant who was John McCain's chief strategist, "he would absolutely be a threat for the nomination."

Kasich, however, has a couple of weaknesses of his own. He has frequently defied his party's right wing, including on the hot-button issue of Obamacare. And he has a combustible personality that strikes some as refreshing and genuine but others as erratic. "He's not an ordinary politician," says Keith Faber, the president of the Ohio Senate, who accompanied Kasich to New Hampshire. "Before he answers a question, he doesn't sit and think, 'Oh, what is the least controversial way to discuss this so no one will misinterpret me?' He says what he thinks." If Kasich runs for president, as he now seems almost certain to do, that quality could make him 2016's most interesting entrant.

The thing about John Kasich is, he's kind of a jerk.

Lobbyists in Columbus warn their clients before meeting the governor not to take it personally if he berates them. A top Ohio Republican donor once publicly vowed not to give Kasich a penny after finding him to be "unpleasantly arrogant." As a congressman, Kasich sometimes lashed out at constituents--one who called him a "redneck" in a 1985 letter got a reply recommending he "enroll in a remedial course on protocol"--and when Kasich was thrown out of a Grateful Dead concert for trying to join the band onstage, he allegedly threatened to use his clout to have the band banned from D.C. As I was writing this article, Kasich's press secretary, Rob Nichols, helpfully emailed me the thesaurus entry for "prickly," sensing that I would need it.

I spent several days with Kasich in Ohio in February, and during that time he told me, repeatedly, that he did not read The Atlantic--and his wife didn't, either. He said that my job, writing about politics and politicians, was "really a dumb thing to do." Later, he singled me out in a meeting of cabinet officials to upbraid me for what he considered a stupid question in one of our interviews. At a Kasich press conference I attended at a charter school in Cleveland, he interrupted several speakers, wandered off to rummage on a nearby teacher's desk as he was being introduced, and gleefully insulted the Cleveland Browns, to a smattering of boos.

But while Kasich can be rude--and at times even genuinely nasty--he is also prone to spontaneous displays of empathy, frequently becoming emotional as he talks about the plight of people "in the shadows." To his allies, these traits are two sides of the same coin. They describe Kasich as a sort of heartland Chris Christie--brash, decisive, authentic--without all the baggage. "He does have a tendency to ready-fire-aim," says Mike Hartley, who helped run Kasich's 2010 campaign for governor and worked in his administration. "But here's the thing--he makes things happen. His will is tremendous, and he gets people to follow him. He's an ass-kicker." Like Christie, Kasich can be a compelling speaker; he's a good storyteller, and his brusqueness gives him a similar sort of anti-charisma. A 2010 article in Columbus's alternative weekly recounted multiple episodes of Kasich's boorishness, only to conclude that "perhaps Ohio could use a good SOB in the Governor's Mansion."

Kasich's peremptory, irreverent manner, and his way of seeming to be perpetually going in a million directions at once, can strike observers as flightiness. One national Democratic strategist told me he considered Kasich "a bit of a flake," and a Republican consultant described him to me as "abrasive." The fixation on his unusual personality galls Kasich; he believes it ignores the substance of his accomplishments. At a "politics and eggs" breakfast in New Hampshire, when an audience member asked what his detractors say about him, Kasich copped to being frequently described as undisciplined. "You get a short time with me and you might go, 'Wow, what the heck do we have here?'" he said. "Well, I'm an energetic guy, and I'm not going to change it."

Bob Klaffky, a Columbus-based Republican lobbyist and consultant who has been close to Kasich since the early 1980s, says Kasich's greatest weakness is also his greatest strength. "He comes across as very genuine, sincere, and candid, but then again, in politics, not being scripted can be a weakness." Kasich's loose-cannon image may be more calculated than it appears, however: Despite seeming perpetually off-the-cuff, he rarely makes gaffes serious enough that he has to apologize for them. (The time he publicly referred to a cop who pulled him over as an "idiot" was a notable exception.)

"How do you go from an $8 billion deficit to a $2 billion surplus--while cutting taxes, reforming health care, reforming welfare, reforming education--if you're not disciplined?" Kasich told me. "People seem to be fixated on my energy level. What people need to understand is, if you don't have a lot of energy, you can't get a lot done." Kasich seemed to be on the verge of a full-blown rant, but he stopped himself. "It doesn't matter," he said. "I'm not everybody's cup of tea. Nobody is."

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


Americans don't like big government - but like many programs: poll (AMANDA BECKER, 4/26/15, Reuters) 

Ideas such as abolishing the U.S. income tax and shifting many of the federal government's responsibilities to the states draw robust support from Republican voters, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. But there is much weaker support for curbing government's role in providing a social safety net and for curbing some of its regulatory functions.

The results, from an online poll of 4,770 adults from April 10 to 24, highlight a dilemma for Republican candidates such as Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who have made reducing the size of government a top campaign theme. While many Americans, particularly Republicans and independents, favor decreasing government's size and reach, specific policies for doing so are far less popular.

Among Republicans, 51 percent support abolishing the U.S. federal income tax versus 39 percent who disagree. By 60 percent to 28 percent, Republicans said they believe state governments should have more authority than the federal government. Fifty-six percent of Republicans said the federal government should have very little authority over domestic affairs.

Forty-seven percent of independents favored abolishing the income tax compared with 38 percent who are opposed. On whether the federal government should have less authority over domestic affairs, independents were evenly divided.

But when asked about ending specific functions of the federal government, voters of all political stripes, including many Republicans, were less receptive. Nearly 80 percent of Republicans oppose eliminating middle-class entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare

Sixty-four percent of Republicans oppose getting rid of aid programs for the poor, such as food stamps and Medicaid. Forty-seven percent of Republicans disagree with abolishing or significantly reducing the authority of regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration. That compared with only 42 percent who agree.

It's why the Tea Party exists--older wealthier white Americans were afraid coloreds would take money away from them.
Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


Why George W. Bush could help Jeb Bush in 2016 (Aaron Blake April 29, 2015, Washington Post)

Qualtrics and the Stanford Labratory for Social Research ran an online poll that looked at how showing pictures of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush affected views of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, respectively. And, surprise! With the people who actually might vote for Hillary and Jeb, it improved views of both candidates.

The survey randomly assigned respondents to show people one of two sets of photos -- one with the 2016 candidates pictured alone, the other alongside their supposed ankle-weight former-president family members.

In both cases, both independents and the party of the candidate in question actually had a more positive view of the candidate after being shown the picture with their family members (though not always a statistically significant difference).

April 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Iran's Zarif Says Congress Can't Stop Obama (Josh Rogin, 4/29/15, Bloomberg View)

If Iran strikes a deal with the West, all sanctions will be lifted very quickly and there's nothing the U.S. Congress can do to stop it, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told a New York audience Wednesday. [...]

Zarif said that if there is a nuclear agreement by June 30, the negotiators' latest self-imposed deadline, then within a few days the United Nations Security Council would pass a resolution lifting all UN sanctions and requiring Obama to stop enforcing all of the U.S. sanctions immediately.

"He will have to stop implementing all the sanctions, economic and financial sanctions that have been executive order and congressional. However he does it, that's his problem," Zarif said. "The resolution will endorse the agreement, will terminate all previous resolutions including all sanctions, will set in place the termination of EU sanctions and the cessation of applications of all U.S. sanctions."

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Clause Four at 20: Tony Blair changes the Labour party constitution (Jason Rodrigues,  29 April 2015, The Guardian)

Twenty years ago today, Tony Blair won a controversial vote to amend Clause Four of the Labour party constitution, ending its hallowed commitment to mass nationalisation.

The historic vote, held at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster, where the original clause was adopted in 1918, marked a significant victory for Tony Blair and the New Labour project - Blair now had the backing to modernise the party, making it more attractive to middle class voters ahead of the 1997 general election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


A progressive's lament about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (Katrina vanden Heuvel  April 28, 2015, Washington Post)

It has come to this. To sell his trade treaty -- specifically the fast-track trade authority that would grease the skids for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP), President Obama is mobilizing a coalition anchored by corporate lobbies, the Chamber of Commerce and Republican congressional leadership. He is opposed by the majority of Democratic legislators, the labor movement and a broad array of mainstream environmental, consumer and citizen organizations.

Democrats are stunned by the intensity of the lobbying effort mounted by the administration.

All the guy cares about is trade expansion and the WoT.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


How Tesla Could End Your Electric Bill (Tom Risen April 29, 201, US news)

Tesla Motors may be close to eliminating the electric bill, at least for some consumers.

Company CEO Elon Musk is expected on Thursday to unveil batteries capable of powering a home or a business, giving consumers with solar panels a chance to generate and store their own energy, and to potentially cut the cord with traditional power providers.

Musk - also chairman of clean energy company SolarCity - revealed his plans in a recent earnings call, letting slip that his company will "unveil the Tesla home battery ... that will be for use in people's houses or businesses, fairly soon."

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Shutting Bad Schools, Helping Students (MICHAEL J. PETRILLI And  AARON CHURCHILL, April 27, 2015, WSJ)

For our new study, we looked at Ohio, home to cities that have struggled with sluggish economies, waning populations and competition from charter schools. Taken together, the school districts in the state's eight major cities lost more than 50,000 pupils over eight years. Some schools wound up with too few kids to be sustainable; others were closed because of educational failure. Some charters closed, too, for the same reasons.

As one might expect, these urban school closings affected mainly disadvantaged pupils. In the nearly 200 closed district and charter schools we studied, 73% of students were African-American and more than 85% were poor. The average student in a closing school scored at approximately the 20th percentile on Ohio's math and reading tests.

The study utilized state records to chart the trajectory of students' test scores before and after the school closings. Our research team from Ohio State and the University of Oklahoma estimated the academic impact of closure by comparing displaced-students' achievement trends with those of similar students who were unaffected by closure.

To suggest the size of the educational impact of closure, we presented the findings as "additional days of learning," which assumes that a year's worth of learning happens over a 180-day school year. This metric captures the incremental benefit of an intervention--in this case, school closure--on test scores, and is frequently used in education research to convey the results of statistical analyses.

The research reveals that displaced students typically receive a better education in their new school, relative to what they would have received in their closed school. Three years after closures, the public-school students had gained, on average, what equates to 49 extra days of learning in reading--gaining more than a year of achievement growth, as measured by state reading exams. In math, they gained an extra 34 days of learning, as measured by state math exams. In the charter sector, displaced students also made gains in math--46 additional days. These learning gains correspond to an improvement that moves students from the 20th to 22nd percentile in the achievement distribution.

Across both sectors, when students landed in higher-quality schools than the ones they left behind, the gains were even larger--60 days in both math and reading for public-school students, and 58 and 88 days, respectively, for charter students. In other words, students displaced into a higher-quality school make gains that boost their achievement from the 20th to 23rd percentile.

These results suggest that charter and district authorities should welcome school closures as a way to improve the education outcomes of needy children.

...it's the moving minority students to good schools that the white middle class objects to.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Fulfilling the Arab Spring (Jackson Diehl, April 26, 2015, Washington Post)

Some supporters of the liberal agenda, in Egypt and elsewhere, abandoned it when Islamists won Egypt's first democratic elections in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


A conservative anti-poverty agenda: Strengthening the family (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, April 28, 2015, The Week)

[W]hat can public policy do to fix marriage and thus fight poverty? Not everything. But it can do some things.

The obvious thing is to more heavily favor marriage and child-bearing through the tax code. The tax code now favors investment in economic capital, and in human capital through various tax breaks and subsidies for education. But the most important incubator of human capital is the family. Favoring it even more would strengthen the family and indirectly help fight poverty.

Longer term, Christians and conservatives should start a grassroots movement against no-fault divorce. This is not politically feasible today. But it is important. No-fault divorce is the most deleterious reform to the family and the fabric of society of the past 50 years. Rolling back no-fault divorce would reduce divorce rates, strengthen marriage, and reduce poverty. While we're at it, Christian conservative should start encouraging people to get married earlier.

The social science evidence is clear: The alarming epidemic of divorce, illegitimacy, and abortion has massively harmful effects on the people who are affected and society at large. It also mainly affects people at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale. This ought to clearly convince us all of the need to put a pro-family agenda at the top of our minds, and should help us realize that it is one of our most important levers for fighting poverty.

Divorce May Increase Psychosomatic Symptoms in Teens: Study (Robert Preidt, April 27, 2015, HealthDay News) 

Teens may have an increased risk for psychosomatic symptoms -- physical problems caused by mental distress -- if their parents separate or divorce, a new study suggests.

Those who lived mostly with one parent due to a family breakup had the most psychosomatic symptoms, while those who lived in the same home with both parents had the fewest. Children whose parents had joint custody arrangements had fewer psychosomatic symptoms than those who lived mostly or only with one parent, but still had more than those who lived with both parents in the same home.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:27 PM


Happy Birthday, Duke...

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


Thousands of new Lerner emails found (Bernie Becker, 04/28/15, The Hill)

An inspector general investigating the IRS's improper scrutiny of Tea Party groups has found thousands of emails from Lois Lerner, the agency official at the center of that controversy, according to committees involved in the probe. [...]

Of the emails the inspector general found, about 650 were from 2010 and 2011, and most were from 2012. The inspector general found about 35,000 emails in all as it sought to recover data from recycled back-up tapes.

Aides said there would likely be some duplicates among the emails that were turned over to Congress in previous document productions.

April 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Service Sector Surges, Manufacturers Learn to Do More With Less (Andrew Soergel, April 28, 2015, US News)

Manufacturers have shed more than 7 million positions since the industry's June 1979 peak - when they employed nearly 19 percent of the U.S. workforce. That number now only stands at 8 percent. [...]

But that's not to say manufacturing industries are dying. Rather, the sector is increasingly going the way of efficiency as service industries continue to suck up a growing percentage of the domestic workforce. Technological innovation and automation have cut into low-skill manufacturing positions (and created service positions in the industrial sector), which naturally trims down the number of employees needed for business.

The vast majority of the domestic manufacturing sector was more productive in 2014 than a year earlier, according to a Labor Department report released Tuesday, as automation allows a thinning industrial workforce to maintain relatively consistent output.

Productivity, which is measured in terms of output per hour, gained last year in 19 of the 21 main manufacturing industries - including textile mills, chemical plants and furniture factories. Output was up in the same 19 industries, though hours worked fell in nearly 40 percent of all manufacturing divisions between 2013 and 2014.

By maintaining (or, in this case, increasing) output while cutting down on labor hours, an employer can increase workplace productivity and save on labor costs associated with a smaller, more efficient workforce.

Always amusing when folks claim productivity hasn't increased massively in recent decades.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


Indonesia Executes 8, Including 7 Foreigners, Convicted on Drug Charges (JOE COCHRANE, APRIL 28, 2015, NY Times)

Defying international condemnation and rejecting 11th-hour pleas for clemency, the Indonesian government executed eight drug convicts after midnight on Wednesday, including seven foreigners.

...don't deal drugs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Breakthrough for quantum computers (Cathal O'Connell, 4/27/15, Cosmos)

In their quest to build a silicon quantum computer, Morello and his colleagues have so far been perfecting its basic element, the "quantum bit". This is a single phosphorus atom entombed in a silicon crystal. Using a carefully tuned magnetic field, the researchers can manipulate the atom's quantum "spin", flipping it up or down.
That phosphorus atom is equivalent to a transistor in an ordinary computer. A transistor is on or off, which is how it represents the 1s and 0s of the binary code the computer uses to process instructions. A quantum bit is more complex. It can be spin-up, spin-down or in a "superposition" of both: 1 and 0 at the same time. Theoretically, this should enable a quantum computer to weigh multiple solutions to a complex problem at once, and solve it at phenomenal speed.

A quantum computer is "not just a 'faster' computer," Morello says. "They are the equivalent of a jet plane to a bicycle."

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


EU set to resume free-trade talks at ASEAN summit dominated by China sea dispute (Deutsche-Welle, 4/27/15)

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the EU agreed Sunday to explore a free-trade agreement, which initially began in 2007 but stalled in 2009 following EU concerns over Myanmar's human rights record. The move comes as the 10-member bloc is expected to merge into a single market by the end of the year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Why Iran wins the propaganda war in Iraq (Michael Rubin, 4/28/15, AEI)

Earlier this month, Iraqi forces reportedly killed Saddam Hussein's former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri. His death reinforces the reality that there is not much space between the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) and the Baath Party. The ideological patina to both might differ, but their common core is tyranny, sectarian (anti-Shi'ite) hatred, and ethnic chauvinism.

Indeed, not only have American efforts to force reconciliation with the Baath been ham-fisted, but they have also played into Iranian propaganda, enabling the Iranian government to argue that only Tehran can protect the Iraqis from terrorist entities like the Islamic State, whereas the United State seeks to cut deals with such agents of tyranny. Indeed, this is a constant theme of the Supreme Leader.

Well, here's an example of how Iran wins the propaganda war. There were few figures more hated in Iraq than Izzat al-Duri. So what do the Iranians do after his death? They have an Iranian general pose with the body.

Had W accepted the initial Iranian peace offer, we'd have spent more time on denazification and lkess trying to hold together an Iraq that does not exist.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


The Strange Case of Modern Immigration (VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, April 28, 2015, National Review)

Immigration to the West will remain a moral and intellectual embarrassment until Westerners insist that newcomers arrive in numbers that can be assimilated, that they meet meritocratic criteria that are ethnically blind, and that they come legally and on the terms adjudicated by the host. Europeans and Americans need not be chauvinistic, but they do need to be candid about why people leave one country for another. From such knowledge comes realization that the best way to stop mass, illegal immigration is for other societies to emulate Western paradigms so that there is no need to emigrate --  after all, Japanese and Singaporeans do not hide in cargo boats to reach California. But to do all that, Westerners need first to understand their own culture and then to defend it.

Europeans and Americans need not think that the West must be perfect to be good. And they should recognize that millions in the non-West increasingly are certain that the West is far better than their own alternatives -- even if they are as unsure why that is so as they are careful to keep quiet about it.

The point of the reform movement is that they are coming because they prefer the West, are assimilating easily and should be legalized.

April 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Broaden the Talks With Iran (MOHAMMAD ALI SHABANIAPRIL 27, 2015, NY Times)

If the West wants Iran to be part of the solution to the crises in the Middle East, it needs to engage with Iran directly. Dialogue has so far been restricted to the nuclear issue. But recent progress in the talks -- amid worsening regional turmoil -- makes failure to reciprocate Iran's outreach a missed opportunity.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has made clear that Iran is willing to talk about issues "far beyond nuclear negotiations." His words are not the isolated wishes of a Western-educated moderate. The Iranian leadership, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is behind him.

Iran's regional policy is less about gaining allies than it is about depriving rival powers of anti-Iranian allies. This dynamic opens space for mutually beneficial engagement. The question is how to proceed in a manner that reduces conflict, rather than exacerbating it.

...would be for Iran to recognize the legitimacy of Israel in exchange for Israel recognizing the nation of Palestine.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 PM


TPP: What's at stake with the trade deal? (BBC, 22 April 2014)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will cover 40% of global trade

It is poised to be the world's biggest ever free trade deal and possibly its most ambitious. A dozen countries are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which if successful, will account for two-fifths of world trade.

Those countries are the US, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru.

But will pushing through such a pact prove too gargantuan a task? And will China continue to be left out of talks?

Four experts give their views on what's at stake for the US, Japan, China and Vietnam.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Kill Corker's disastrous Iran bill (Marc A. Thiessen  April 27, 2015, Washington Post)

The Iran deal is a disaster. No, I'm not talking about the nuclear agreement President Obama is negotiating with Tehran (though that is a disaster, too), but rather the Iran deal that Obama cut with Congress.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) negotiated with Obama comes up for a vote in the Senate this week. It is a terrible bill that virtually guarantees that Congress will give its de facto stamp of approval to any agreement Obama concludes with Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Assad's hold on power looks shakier than ever as rebels advance in Syria (Liz Sly, April 26, 2015, Washington Post)

A surge of rebel gains in Syria is overturning long-held assumptions about the durability of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, which now appears in greater peril than at any time in the past three years.

The capture Saturday of the town of Jisr al-Shughour in northern Idlib province was just the latest in a string of battlefield victories by rebel forces, which have made significant advances in both the north and the south of the country.

As was the case in the capital of Idlib province last month, government defenses in Jisr al-Shughour crumbled after just a few days of fighting, pointing as much to the growing weakness of regime forces as the revival of the opposition.

There was never any possibility of him surviving.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Is Your Job Creative Enough to Resist Robot Automation? (AMIR MIZROCH, 4/27/15, WSJ)

"Jobs that are considered creative today may not be so tomorrow," according to the report, Creativity versus Robots, written with Nesta, a London-based non-profit research and innovation group. The paper, published last week, delves into the possible effects of automation on the workforce.

The Nesta /Oxford report tries to handicap which occupations are creative enough to avoid near-term automation. Of the  702 occupations categorized in the U.S., 21% ranked as "highly creative,"-offering the most protection against automation. Such jobs included artists, architects, web designers and IT specialists.

And Americans loathe the "creativity" of modern artists and architects.
Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


U.S., Japan Announce New Security Agreement (JULIAN E. BARNES, April 27, 2015, WSJ)

The U.S. and Japan on Monday unveiled a new defense agreement aimed at overhauling the two countries' security arrangements and paving the way for a more robust participation of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in disaster relief, peacekeeping operations, missile defense and other military missions.

The agreement is the result of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to shed many of the limits placed on his armed forces under Japan's postwar pacifist constitution. The new guidelines were unveiled at the start of Mr. Abe's visit this week to the U.S., which will feature an address to Congress and meeting with President Barack Obama.

April 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


The U.S. Navy Needs to Radically Reassess How It Projects Power (JERRY HENDRIX, May 4, 2015, National Review)

 If the Navy wants to address its budget crisis, its falling ship count, its atrophying strategic position, and the problem of its now-marginal combat effectiveness -- and reassert its traditional dominance of the seas -- it should embrace technological innovation and increase its efficiency. 

In short: It needs to stop building aircraft carriers. 

 This might seem like a radical change. After all, the aircraft carrier has been the dominant naval platform and the center of the Navy's force structure for the past 70 years -- an era marked by unprecedented peace on the oceans. In the past generation, aircraft have flown thousands of sorties from the decks of American carriers in support of the nation's wars. For the first 54 days of the current round of airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq, the USS George H. W. Bush was the sole source of air power. But the economic, technological, and strategic developments of recent years indicate that the day of the carrier is over and, in fact, might have already passed a generation ago -- a fact that has been obscured by the preponderance of U.S. power on the seas. 

The carrier has been operating in low-threat, permissive environments almost continuously since World War II. At no time since 1946 has a carrier had to fend off attacks by enemy aircraft, surface ships, or submarines. No carrier has had to establish a sanctuary for operations and then defend it. More often than not, carriers have recently found themselves operating unmolested closer to enemy shores than previous Cold War-era doctrine permitted, secure in the knowledge that the chance of an attack ranged between unlikely and impossible. 

Such confidence in the dominance of the carrier encouraged naval architects to put more capabilities into their design, going from the 30,000-ton Essex-class carrier in 1942 to the 94,000-ton Nimitz-class carrier in 1975. Crew size of a typical carrier went from 3,000 to 5,200 over the same period, a 73 percent increase. Costs similarly burgeoned, from $1.1 billion for the Essex to $5 billion for the Nimitz (all in adjusted 2014 dollars), owing to the increased technical complexity and sheer physical growth of the platforms in order to host the larger aircraft that operated at longer ranges during the Cold War. The lessons of World War II, in which several large fleet carriers were lost or badly damaged, convinced Navy leaders to pursue a goal of a 100,000-ton carrier that could support a 100,000-pound aircraft capable of carrying larger bomb payloads, including nuclear weapons, 2,000 miles or more to hit strategic targets, making the platform larger, more expensive, and manned with more of the Navy's most valuable assets, its people. Today's new class of carrier, the Ford, which will be placed into commission next year, displaces 100,000 tons of water, and has a crew of 4,800 and a price of $14 billion. The great cost of the Cold War-era "super-carriers" has resulted in a reduction of the carrier force, from over 30 fleet carriers in World War II to just ten carriers today. While the carrier of today is more capable, each of the ten can be in only one place at a time, limiting the Navy's range of effectiveness. 

This points to the first reason the U.S. should stop building carriers: They are too valuable to lose. At $14 billion apiece, one of them can cost the equivalent of nearly an entire year's shipbuilding budget. (Carriers are in fact funded and built over a five-year period.) And the cost of losing a carrier would not be only monetary. Each carrier holds the population of a small town. Americans are willing to risk their lives for important reasons, but they have also become increasingly averse to casualties. Losing a platform with nearly 5,000 American souls onboard would not just raise an outcry, but would undermine public faith in elected officials -- and the officials know it. It would take an existential threat to the homeland to convince leaders to introduce carriers into a high-threat environment.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Catching Waves and Turning Them Into Electricity (AMY YEE, APRIL 22, 2015, NY Times)

The constant rocking of the ocean drives hydraulic pumps that push seawater and other liquids through a pipe to a power plant nearly two miles away on Garden Island. There, the high-pressure water turns standard hydroelectric turbines, which power a generator.

Wave energy from the buoys also pumps high-pressure water through the desalination plant, without using fossil fuels. In contrast, many desalination plants use diesel fuel or electricity to pump saltwater at high pressure through membranes to yield fresh water.

Carnegie is already planning to start using larger, better-designed buoys in 2017 that could each generate one megawatt of electricity. The new technology, called Ceto 6, would use buoys 65 feet wide that could produce four times the energy of the current prototype.

The new technology would generate electricity inside the buoy instead of at an onshore power plant. The electricity would be carried to shore by underwater cables, rather than by pumping water through a pipe. These larger buoys would also sit in deeper water, more than seven miles from shore, where waves are larger and have more energy. The newer buoys would be easier to maintain because they would be self-contained units that could be towed back to shore.

Ceto 5 uses heavy machinery on the sea floor next to each pump to smooth the flow of the piped water. Because no water is pumped with the newer buoys, this equipment is not needed. Ceto 6 is expected to generate 30 to 40 percent of the naval base's electricity at a cheaper rate.

Carnegie estimates that using the improved buoys in large wave farms of 100 megawatts would reduce rates to 12 to 15 cents a kilowatt-hour -- a price comparable to commercial electricity in the state of Western Australia.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Here's How Managers Can Be Replaced by Software (Devin Fidler, APRIL 21, 2015, Harvard Business Review)

Fortune 500 executives spend a fair amount of time thinking about how automation and the Internet are changing the nature of employment, but they rarely wonder how technology will have an impact much closer to home: on their own jobs.

For the last several years, we have been studying the forces now shaping the future of work, and wondering whether high-level management could be automated. This inspired us to create prototype software we informally dubbed "iCEO." As the name suggests, iCEO is a virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into small individual tasks. iCEO then assigns these micro-tasks to workers using multiple software platforms, such as oDesk, Uber, and email/text messaging. Basically, the system allows a user to drag-and-drop "virtual assembly lines" into place, and run them from a dashboard.

But could iCEO manage actual work projects for our organization? After a few practice runs, we were ready to find out. For one task, we programmed iCEO to oversee the preparation of a 124-page research report for a prestigious client (a Fortune 50 company). We spent a few hours plugging in the parameters of the project, i.e. structuring the flow of tasks, then hit play. For instance, to create an in-depth assessment of how graphene is produced, iCEO asked workers on Amazon's Mechanical Turk to curate a list of articles on the topic. After duplicates were removed, the list of articles was passed on to a pool of technical analysts from oDesk, who extracted and arranged the articles' key insights. A cohort of Elance writers then turned these into coherent text, which went to another pool of subject matter experts for review, passing them on to a sequence of oDesk editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers.

iCEO routed tasks across 23 people from around the world, including the creation of 60 images and graphs, followed by formatting and preparation. We stood back and watched iCEO execute this project. We rarely needed to intervene, even to check the quality of individual components of the report as they were submitted to iCEO, or spend time hiring staff, because QA and HR were also automated by iCEO. (The hiring of oDesk contractors for this project, for example, was itself an oDesk assignment.)

We were amazed by the quality of the end result -- and the speed with which it was produced. 

We're not going to redistribute wealth on the basis of jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Like shale oil, solar power is shaking up global energy (Reuters, 26 April 2015)

Japan is retiring nearly 2.4 gigawatts of expensive and polluting oil-fired energy plants by March next year and switching to alternative fuels. Japan's 43 nuclear reactors have been closed in the wake of the 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima power plant after an earthquake and a tsunami - since then, renewable energy capacity has tripled to 25 gigawatts, with solar accounting for more than 80% of that.

Once Japan reaches cost-revenue parity in solar energy, it will mean the technology is commercially viable in all G7 countries and 14 of the G20 economies, according to data from governments, industry and consumer groups.

A crash in the prices of photovoltaic panels and improved technology that harnesses more power from the sun has placed solar on the cusp of a global boom, analysts say, who compare its rise to shale oil.

"Just as shale extraction reconfigured oil and gas, no other technology is closer to transforming power markets than distributed and utility scale solar," said consultancy Wood Mackenzie, which has a focus on the oil and gas industry.

Oil major Exxon Mobil says that "solar capacity is expected to grow by more than 20 times from 2010 to 2040."

Investors are also re-discovering solar, with the global solar index up 40% this year, lifting it out of a slump following the 2008/2009 financial crisis, far outperforming struggling commodities such as iron ore, natural gas, copper or coal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Mitch McConnell builds case for 2016 (Alexander Bolton - 04/22/15 06, The Hill)

[S]enate Republicans are on a bit of a roll.

Republican senators say McConnell passed an important leadership test this week by reaching a compromise on a long-stalled anti-human-trafficking bill, allowing him to claim another legislative accomplishment in his first 100-plus days in charge.

Last week, President Obama signed a Medicare "doc fix" bill after the Senate passed it 92-8. And GOP leaders have recently trumpeted bipartisan deals on trade, education and reviewing the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran.

Securing the votes on the trafficking bill, which first stalled on the floor in March, wasn't easy. It was initially a noncontroversial measure but quickly became embroiled in a fight over abortion.

McConnell played hardball, saying on CBS's "Face the Nation" last month that he wouldn't seek a floor vote on attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch until the trafficking bill cleared the upper chamber.

After weeks of posturing and finger-pointing with Senate Democrats and the White House, senators struck a deal on the abortion language Tuesday.

"Yeah, I'm happy with [the deal]," he told reporters Tuesday when asked about his strategy of holding up Lynch.

"We needed to finish the trafficking bill; it's an important bill," he added.

April 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 PM


Glut of Capital and Labor Challenge Policy Makers (JOSH ZUMBRUN and  CAROLYN CUI, April 24, 2015, WSJ)

The global economy is awash as never before in commodities like oil, cotton and iron ore, but also with capital and labor--a glut that presents several challenges as policy makers struggle to stoke demand.

"What we're looking at is a low-growth, low-inflation, low-rate environment," said Megan Greene, chief economist of John Hancock Asset Management, who added that the global economy could spend the next decade "working this off."

The current state of plenty is confounding on many fronts. The surfeit of commodities depresses prices and stokes concerns of deflation. Global wealth--estimated by Credit Suisse at around $263 trillion, more than double the $117 trillion in 2000--represents a vast supply of savings and capital, helping to hold down interest rates, undermining the power of monetary policy. And the surplus of workers depresses wages.

Give the people who need the money, since there's less need for labor, the excess money, created by decreased labor costs.

Posted by orrinj at 11:51 AM


Should the US Help India Defeat China's Navy? : A new study argues yes, and pushes for closer defense ties between New Delhi and Washington. (Franz-Stefan Gady, April 23, 2015, The Diplomat)

A new paper by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that India and the United States should collaborate on building New Delhi's next Vikrant-class aircraft carrier, the 65,000 tons nuclear-powered INS Vishal, expected to enter service in the 2020s.

"Working in concert to develop this vessel would not only substantially bolster India's naval combat capabilities but would also cement the evolving strategic bond between the United States and India in a truly spectacular fashion for many decades to come," Ashley J. Tellis, the author of the Carnegie study, underlines.

America and the three I's have the world's only trouble spots well in hand.
Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


New-Home Prices Are on Fire (KATHLEEN MADIGAN, 4/25/15, WSJ)

When discussing Wednesday's news that existing home sales climbed in March, National Association of Realtors chief economist Lawrence Yun said the 7.8% yearly rise in March's median price was unsustainable. "This price gain of near 8% is not healthy, considering people's incomes are only rising by 2%," said Mr. Yun. "The only way to relieve housing cost pressure is to have more homes coming onto the market."

Yet research by economists at TD Securities show the uptrend in resale values is nothing compared to the speedy rise in new-home prices.

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Monty Python comedy troupe rails against 'political correctness' at 40th anniversary event (Scott meslow, 4/25/15, The Week)

When the Monty Python members did settle down, they spoke engagingly (and often coarsely) on a wide variety of subjects, including the filming of Holy Grail, their 2014 series of live shows at London's 02 stadium, and the state of comedy in general. "I think we don't talk enough about this awful political correcteness," complained Cleese. "I do a lot of... I don't know if they're really racist jokes, but jokes like, 'Why do the French have so many Civil Wars? Answer: Because they like to win one now and again."

"I used to do these jokes, and then I would say, 'There were these two Mexicans,' and the room would freeze. And I would say, 'Why's everybody gone quiet? We did jokes about Swedes, and Germans, and Canadians, and the French. What's the problem about the Mexicans? Are they not big enough to look after themselves?' I find a lot of that very condescending."

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


Feed More for Less (Lindsay Markle, April 25, 2015, US News)

In February, Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and Chris Coons, D-Del., reintroduced the Food for Peace Reform Act, which they claim will "free up as much as $440 million annually through greater efficiencies in delivering aid, allowing the U.S. to reach an estimated eight to twelve million more people, in a shorter time period." President Barack Obama has made the case for similar reforms. The question now is whether Congress will enact these reforms.

In almost every case, it would be more efficient to buy food in the region where it is needed rather than shipping it from the United States. For example, a 2009 study by the Government Accountability Office found that it costs 34 percent more to ship food to sub-Saharan Africa than to buy it there. Vincent Smith, an agricultural economist at Montana State University, recently testified before Congress that current practices mean that "less than 70 cents" actually benefit food aid recipients for every dollar spent on the program. In addition to the cost savings, the U.S. Agency for International Development has estimated that purchasing food from countries in the region can supply starved populations with food 11 to 14 weeks faster than shipping from the United States.

Former President George W. Bush shared Obama's interest in rationalizing these aid programs.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Was there an Armenian genocide? It depends on Turkish 'intent.' (Arthur Bright, APRIL 24, 2015, CS Monitor)

The existent case law on genocide predominantly interprets "intent to destroy" as meaning what lawyers call "specific intent." That is, those who committed the crime didn't simply intend to act they way they acted, but rather that they intended a specific result as well. It's like the difference between firing a gun and firing a gun to kill a specific person. The former was an intentional act, but it wasn't necessarily meant to result in that specific person's death. The latter was specifically aimed at an end result of that person's death.

A good example is the difference between the crimes of murder and manslaughter. In both cases, someone has died. But it is only the first case where there was a targeted intent to kill someone - the latter may have been a reckless accident.

In essence, Turkey argues that what happened to the Armenians during the war was more like manslaughter than murder. As the Turkish Foreign Ministry argues on its website, "no direct evidence has been discovered demonstrating that any Ottoman official sought the destruction of the Ottoman Armenians as such." In addition, the Turks argue, the Ottoman Empire's relocation policy wasn't targeted at Armenians because of their ethnic identity - rather, the Ottomans were targeting insurgent groups within the Armenian community.

Revisiting the Armenian Genocide (Guenter Lewy, Fall 2005, Middle East Quarterly)

The key issue in this controversy is not the extent of Armenian suffering; both sides agree that several hundred thousand Christians perished during the deportation of the Armenians from Anatolia to the Syrian desert and elsewhere in 1915-16. With little notice, the Ottoman government forced men, women, and children from their homes. Many died of starvation or disease during a harrowing trek over mountains and through deserts. Others were murdered.

Historians do not dispute these events although they may squabble over numbers and circumstances. Rather the key question in the debate concerns premeditation. Did the Young Turk regime organize the massacres that took place in 1916?

Most of those who maintain that Armenian deaths were premeditated and so constitute genocide base their argument on three pillars: the actions of Turkish military courts of 1919-20, which convicted officials of the Young Turk government of organizing massacres of Armenians, the role of the so-called "Special Organization" accused of carrying out the massacres, and the Memoirs of Naim Bey[3] which contain alleged telegrams of Interior Minister Talât Pasha conveying the orders for the destruction of the Armenians. Yet when these events and the sources describing them are subjected to careful examination, they provide at most a shaky foundation from which to claim, let alone conclude, that the deaths of Armenians were premeditated.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 8:15 AM


Sonny Rollins - "The Bridge"

One of the enduring stories in jazz is Sonny Rollins's disappearance from the scene for 2 years starting in 1959, during which he practiced every day on the Williamsburg Bridge.  In the intervening years, his decision to step away at the height of his fame and powers has taken on a mythic quality and has been analyzed and re-told in books, on talk shows and even TV commercials.  Sonny recounts how he found his way to the bridge in this week's NY Times Sunday Magazine.

Sonny announced the end of his sabbatical with the release of the album, "The Bridge."  Here's a video of the title cut, featuring Sonny with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Ben Cranshaw (still Sonny's bass player, 50+ years later) and Ben Riley on drums:

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM

HER BIRTHMARK AND OUR BIRTH (self-reference alert):

Gothic Mystery Meets Puritan Belief : Medical ethics are at odds with the ideal of human perfection in Nathaniel Hawthorne's 'The Birthmark.' (JOHN J. MILLER, April 24, 2015, WSJ)

Around the time Hawthorne wrote "The Birthmark," his wife, Sophia, suffered a miscarriage. "Men's accidents are God's purposes," she said. One of them scratched this line into a window of the Old Manse, the home they rented from Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord, Mass. The graffito is still visible, offering what comfort it can to troubled souls. "The Birthmark" reverses its insight, as God's apparent accident gives one man a misbegotten purpose.

Hawthorne seems to say that imperfection is a part of the human condition and we meddle with it at our peril. It is a warning that eugenicists and other utopian schemers have failed to heed. They envision glorious possibility, but lack the imagination to see the costly trade-offs--the unintended consequences that curse every project of social engineering.

Readers occasionally misinterpret "The Birthmark" as a hidebound conservative's brief against any improvement at all. There's a difference, they argue, between transformative change that seeks perfection and incremental reform that merely aims to enhance quality of life. And they are right: Today, ordinary birthmark removal doesn't threaten lives or raise ethical dilemmas. Surgery can offer radical benefits to children with cleft lips and palates and other birth defects.

Hawthorne knew something of metaphorical birthmarks and cosmetic alterations. When he was born on the Fourth of July in 1804, his surname was Hathorne. He added the "w" in the 1820s, for reasons he never explained, though some have speculated that he wanted to separate himself from the legacy of John Hathorne, a great-great-grandfather who presided over the notorious Salem witch trials.

In the final paragraph of "The Birthmark," Hawthorne scolds Aylmer for not reaching "a profounder wisdom." Perhaps this is another aspect of the human condition: We're always struggling to discern right and wrong, making difficult decisions that try to balance tradition and humility with opportunity and ambition. Good judgment is a precious commodity that shows up in grimy lab assistants at least as much as it does in the hubristic geniuses who order them around.

The kerfuffle over Leon Kass using this tale--and the libertarian-dominated rightwing blogosphere's objections thereto--led to our starting this blog.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Pressed by Young Republicans, Scott Walker Sticks to Tough Immigration Stance (Trip Gabriel, 4/24/15, NY Times)

Mr. Walker's apparent hardening on immigration has inspired a flood of reporting and commentary. Most recently he told the radio host Glenn Beck that he favored restricting legal immigration in tough economic times, a position to the right of most other 2016 presidential hopefuls.

He repeated that view Friday after a speech in Cedar Rapids, when Eddie Failor, 24, expressed concern "as a young Republican" that the party must make inroads to new voter blocs, including by supporting a comprehensive overhaul of immigration.

Mr. Walker told Mr. Failor that his top priority would be securing the border. He also said he favored "making sure the legal immigration system is based on making our No. 1 priority to protect American workers and their wages.''

Alexander Staudt, the treasurer of the University of Iowa College Republicans, also told Mr. Walker in the meet-and-greet line that he was concerned that by talking tough on immigration, Republican candidates would turn off Hispanics.

"In terms of how wide or how narrow the door's open, our No. 1 priority is American workers and American wages,'' Mr. Walker told him. "I don't know how anyone can argue against that.''

Of course, his position can't be reconciled with his anti-union victory, but, then again, he isn't serious about it. Like Mitt, he'd have to scramble back to decency in the general.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


Author compares pre-state Jewish terrorists with Hamas (JP O' MALLEY, April 25, 2015, Times of Israel)

In his book, Hoffman hypothesizes that the political violence that plagued Palestine when ruled by Britain presents an ideal case by which to examine and assess contemporary terrorism's power to influence government policy and decision-making.

Some background: Before 1948, the land that eventually became the Jewish State of Israel was administered by Britain under the terms of the mandate awarded it in 1922 by the League of Nations. During the 1920s and 1930s, both Arab rioting and anti-Jewish violence dominated Palestine. By the early 1940s, however, two Jewish militant organizations emerged: the Irgun and Lehi.

Both of them strategically challenged Britain's rule over Palestine with tactical violence that aimed to gain sympathy from the international community. And it worked, very effectively.

"The Irgun and Lehi were the first postmodern terrorist movements," says Hoffman. "Especially the Irgun, primarily because of Begin's strategy. Like all good underground leaders, Begin understood, even in an era long before 24/7 news, the power of appealing to a global audience with extreme and dramatic acts of violence."

Hoffman's narrative asks the reader to suspend emotion for a moment, and to think about violence, objectively, as a political weapon. With this in mind, it appears that he's asking how one could use this knowledge and apply it to numerous multifaceted, complex political conflicts that violently rage across the globe today.

His argument includes questions like: Does terrorism work? And what exactly is the definition of a terrorist?

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


How the Midwest Is Scaling Back Big Labor's Special Privileges (James Sherk, April 25, 2015, Daily Signal)

Michigan and Indiana both passed right-to-work laws in 2012. At the time, unions promised electoral retribution, but a funny thing happened on the way to the voting booth: nothing.

Conservatives expanded their legislative majorities in both states after the laws passed. Union bosses opposed voluntary dues, but the voters did not. In Michigan, just one legislator who voted for right-to-work lost reelection: a moderate state representative defeated in the primary by a Tea Party challenger. Unions turned out to have more bark than bite.

This victory has given more policymakers the courage to tackle labor reform. Now many Midwestern states have begun reining in unions' coercive powers. Governor Scott Walker just signed legislation making Wisconsin the 25th state with workplace-freedom laws. Unions can no longer compel Badger State workers to pay their dues.

Missouri may soon follow suit. This year the state House passed right-to-work legislation for the first time in its history. The state Senate will probably do the same. Democratic Governor Jay Nixon has promised to veto it, but term limits will force him out of office in 2016. If the voters elect a conservative replacement, Missouri may soon become right-to-work.

In Kentucky, right-to-work stalled in the legislature, so local governments have taken matters into their own hands. A dozen Kentucky counties have used the "Home Rule" power the legislature delegated to them to pass local right-to-work laws.

Even Bruce Rauner, the newly elected moderate-Republican governor of Illinois, has embraced right-to-work. He has proposed local workplace-freedom zones and filed a lawsuit to block forced union dues for state employees.

The rent seeking rollback has gone far beyond union dues, however. The Indiana legislature just repealed the state's prevailing wage law, which means Indiana no longer requires taxpayers to pay union rates for construction work. Similar bills have been introduced by high-profile legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan.

Now the Ohio House has also taken a small step toward reform.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


In Jenin, once the 'suicide bomber capital,' a fragile transformation (AVI ISSACHAROFF April 25, 2015,Times of Israel)

 It takes some time to accustom our ears to the loud, incessant soundtrack of voices and shouts. There are crowds of people and close to 180 market stalls, all of them loaded with the choicest fruits and vegetables. The new shopping center that opened just a few days ago has already become one of the most popular for the inhabitants of Jenin and for Arab citizens of Israel, particularly those from Wadi Ara.

The locals call the new center, which was built by the municipality, Al-Mujma. All the illegal market stalls that had operated in Jenin's market were moved here in an orderly fashion, and vendors who received licenses can sell their wares here. One vendor shouts, "Three for ten, three for ten" -- meaning three kilograms of cucumbers for ten shekels -- almost right in my ear. "Tomatoes are seven shekels per kilo," he adds, helpfully. At the other stalls, prices are lower still.

A young Palestinian man approaches us and asks me to write down his name. "Mohammed Za'eir," he says. "I am from the city of Jenin. I want to open a market stall but the municipality isn't letting me. Why did all the people here get permits? Because they get preferential treatment. All the people who bought from me know that I sell good merchandise, that I give customers respect. I have four children and I just want to feed them."

This is, perhaps, the story of the "new" Jenin summed up in a few lines. It is no longer the city that Israelis feared from the second intifada, and has not been for some time. It used to be known as "the capital of the suicide bombers," the most dangerous place in the West Bank, where the toughest battles of 2002's Operation Defensive Shield took place.

But no one here talks about the intifada or "the war with the Jews" anymore. Everybody talks about salaries and money. The armed men are gone and more and more shopping centers are being opened in an effort to attract the (Arab) Israeli customers who come to visit.

April 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


My Parents' Israel, My Apartheid : A South African goes home to Israel (Anne Landsman, April 23, 2015, The Tablet)

The Sunday prior to the trip, I meet my Encounter group at an orientation in Jerusalem. There are about 35 of us, including the two trip leaders, Rebecca Polivy and Shani Rosenbaum, plus nine facilitators. Almost all are American Jews, many of whom who are either rabbis or rabbinical students. Others are social workers, educators. Some live in Israel, most live in the United States. The majority are much younger than me, several around the age my parents were when they came to Israel in 1948. I am immediately struck by their seriousness and their passion.

We sit in a large circle. Each of us has to mention who we are bringing on the trip, and why, in two minutes or less.

I am bringing my South African parents, I tell the group. I mention that they were Mahalniks in 1948 but I don't mention the overturned table that effectively ended any meaningful discourse with them about Israel from that day forward. All I say is that I grew up hearing one story but that there's another story I want to hear.

We are introduced to the Encounter communication guidelines, which include the idea of "listening with resilience." In the participant booklet, it is expanded upon: "Encounter suggests that listening, specifically in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a radical act. ... 'Resilient listening' allows a person and/or a community to live with tension, to hold multiple perspectives at the same time, and to continue to be open to what is new rather than guarding against it and shutting down." This was never my father's forte, I reflect, remembering the sickening slide of food, dishes, silverware, and glasses onto the ground so many Sundays ago.

Nor has this been a season for much listening. On Nov. 5, the day I left the United States for Israel, a Hamas operative drove a van at high speed into a crowd of people waiting at a light-rail station in Jerusalem. Several people (including the driver who was shot) died. On Oct. 22, there was a similar attack in East Jerusalem that killed two civilians, a woman and a baby. Tensions have escalated in the West Bank, and, on Nov. 11, a young Palestinian man was shot and killed by the IDF in the Al-Arroub area between Bethlehem and Hebron.

On Nov. 12, the day before my Encounter trip, I take a taxi from Jerusalem to the Bethlehem checkpoint, planning to see the city with a tourguide. In terms of the Oslo Accords, Bethlehem is part of Area A, which is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority. With the Encounter group, I will be in Areas B and C, outside of Bethlehem.

The taxi driver is too nervous to get too close to the checkpoint so he drops me about 100 yards away. It's 9 a.m. and Palestinian workers are streaming through what looks like a giant cage. The mood is somber, tense. I remember visiting Bethlehem in 1977 (before the separation barrier, before the checkpoints), and what I'm seeing is a shocking testament to how bad the situation has become. Everyone seems to be leaving Bethlehem, no one seems to be entering. I'm confused about which way to go, expecting to see a clearly marked entry point or a booth with IDF soldiers, but they appear to be well-hidden, tucked behind a series of Kafkaesque high fences and walls. I walk through the empty maze not seeing a soul.

A familiar feeling seizes me. I'm on high alert. It takes me back to my South African childhood, hearing sirens, screams, the guttural voices of the police in the night, a sense of impending doom ever present. I know this isn't unsafe--tourists stream into Bethlehem every day to visit the religious sites--but the soulless architecture of the checkpoint terrifies me. When I exit into the street, crowds of taxi drivers come toward me, offering their services. The streets are poorly paved, the buildings run-down. I feel as if I have stepped through the looking glass.

I realize I'm walking where my parents didn't walk but I am taking them with me, and, when things frighten me, I remember that my mother was 23 and my father was 28 when they volunteered for war. For the first time, I think about how brave they must have been and how scared they must have felt.

With a tourguide, I visit several historical sites as well as Aida Refugee Camp. I get the opportunity to see the imposing concrete separation barrier up close, as well as from far away. I see it cut through homes, dividing neighbors from one another. I see its defiant, graffitied face, as well as its stern, gray one, where long stretches of it separate Palestinian towns from Israeli settlements. At its highest, it reaches up to 26 feet. From within its boundaries, I look out at the red roofs of the settlers' homes in the distance.

How can I not remember our Sunday drives, where we drove across Durban Street into Roodewal and Riverview where the pastel-colored "ice chessies" were? How can I not think of Mr. Aesop, the Indian man who sold vegetables to my mother who had to move his business from what was declared a White area to where the "Coloured businesses" were? Or the Zwelenthemba township, even further from the town center, whose Xhosa inhabitants had no permanent residency status? How can I not think of separation as something shameful?

When we visit the Lajee Center, which is in the refugee camp, there's some activity in the street. Boys are throwing stones at the IDF soldiers at the other end of the block. The tourguide hurries me into the building before I have time to fully take in the situation. Business as usual, he informs me. This happens every afternoon. Teenagers taunting teenagers.

The soldiers fire a teargas canister at them. A cloud of white smoke fills the street. I immediately want to flee, remembering the South African township riots of the 1970s and '80s all too well, the way things can turn sickeningly from stone-throwing into chaos. Both the tourguide and the director of the Lajee Center point out that we can't leave until the tear gas clears. The boys come inside and go on the computers and do their homework. No one seems particularly perturbed.

My heart is racing, and my hands are cold as ice. I'm also deeply ashamed at how scared I am, how vulnerable I feel. The director is delivering facts and figures. There are 57 Palestinian refugee camps in Palestine, Lebanon, and Jordan. There were 800,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948 when 530 of their cities and villages were destroyed. There are close to 6 million now.

I'm trying to practice resilient listening as my head reflexively fills with a counter narrative, the one that I grew up with: the stories of Arabs fleeing of their own volition in 1948, the Holocaust that exterminated a third of the world's Jewry, my parents' pride at their part in the creation of a Jewish state.

We look out of the window at the Aida refugee camp, built by UNRWA in 1950. Where there were once green tents, there are now two-room cinderblock housing units, 100 square meters each. Still living in the same area, the refugee population has increased fivefold.

The tear gas has finally cleared, and we leave. The tourguide runs to the car, and I follow. A tall gate has been pulled closed in the area where he parked it. Rocks have been inserted under the gate. A group of boys appear and again, my heart plummets, as I'm not quite sure what they're going to do, or what's going to happen next. Instead of starting another round of stone-throwing, they help us lift the gate and roll the rocks away. The tourguide puts his foot flat on the accelerator, and we speed off, bumping along the uneven, ill-paved road.

The moment that undoes me, though, is not when we're in Area A, but when we're driving on one of the roundabout highways created to bypass Bethlehem and connect Jerusalem to one of the settlements. It's smooth, well-kept, and here the separation barrier is lower and clad in aesthetically pleasing stone. It looks like a barrier you would see along a highway anywhere in the world. Now, more than ever, I feel my South Africanness, all the immaculate highways of my childhood that kept me far away from the ice chessies, the squatter camps and the townships, that kept me in my white world. Only on those Sunday drives, out of the window of the Valiant, did I see that other world, where the good roads ended and the potholes began.

Over the next few days, as I fully enter the Encounter experience, listening to Palestinian speakers describe the difficulty and tragedy of their lives, touring Khalet Zakariya (a struggling Arab village choked by the surrounding settlements), seeing where the separation barrier moves away from the Green Line and encroaches into the West Bank, that South Africanness is with me. When Ali Abu Awwad, a charismatic activist who promotes nonviolence, tells us, "To shoot someone takes a minute, to change someone's mind takes years," I think of my own journey, how it has taken me a lifetime to get here. On the subject of Israel and South Africa, Ali, who has lost his brother in the conflict, has this to say: "Saying the occupation is apartheid closes people down. I don't need to be right. I want to succeed." He acknowledges Nelson Mandela's influence on his life, as well as Gandhi's.

Part of our itinerary includes an overnight homestay with the Palestinian families who will be joining us for community-building games and dinner. In groups of two, we were assigned to various families and would be returning with them to their homes after dinner. With great sadness, our organizer announces that it has been canceled because tensions in the area have escalated and the risk has become too great. This is extremely awkward as the Palestinian homestay families are known for their open-hearted hospitality, and the night with them is often a cornerstone of the Encounter experience. Despite this setback, they all join us for the evening. One man, swallowing his hurt pride, tells me how upset he is but that he decided to come at the last minute. He says, "Canceling the homestay touched me. I felt I was building a trust. And now I feel as if the trust is broken."

We talk and gradually he relaxes. The night is about repair and regaining his trust. His community and mine eat together, talk, laugh, play games, dance. I often feel tears well up at the fragility and beauty of what we are doing and the stories we are hearing.

Over the next 24 hours, we learn of extreme water shortages in the West Bank, particularly in summer. It is difficult for Palestinians to get building permits, including permits to build schools. An ambulance driver talks of his experience of driving a 65-year-old woman who had an infected wound from spinal surgery to a hospital and being bullied by an Israeli border guard at a checkpoint. The guard asked, "Are you a doctor or a shoe?" and insisted that he had a bomb in his ambulance. A prominent Palestinian businessman who was born and educated in the United States but has raised his family in the West Bank describes the Israeli stamp in his U.S. passport that has restricted his movements. There are the olive harvests destroyed by settlers, the Palestinian children who have never seen the sea, all the daily indignities of life under military occupation.

But is it apartheid? I realize that I am no longer the 21-year-old who compared the South Africa of my youth to Nazi Germany, my shame at my white privilege to Bertolt Brecht's agony at watching his country descend into madness. I have come to Bethlehem to see across the divide between Jews and Palestinians and, at moments, have been forcefully reminded of the sights and sounds of my childhood, but I cannot equate the one social system with the other. The South Africans were not Nazis, just as the Israelis are not South Africans. Israel is different to South Africa in the wrenching story of its founding, its history, its legal and political system, the centrality of Jerusalem to three faiths, the small size of the country, its paucity of natural resources, its geography, its weather... so different, in so many countless ways.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


A bipartisan proposal to make a universal basic income a reality in America (Jeff Spross, April 23, 2015, The Week)

Over at Vox, Dylan Matthews recently laid out the start of such a strategy: Among portions of the GOP and the conservative movement there's been growing enthusiasm for the "FairTax" -- a 30 percent national sales tax to replace all other taxes. But sales taxes are regressive -- the poor spend more of their income on consumption and basic necessities, so the tax hits them comparatively harder. So the FairTax plan includes a check from the government that compensates every household for whatever sales tax they'd pay on consumption below the poverty threshold.

For example, based on federal poverty guidelines, the FairTax scheme calculates that a two-parent family of four at the poverty level would spend $31,020. Due to some complicated math, a 30 percent sales tax rate is equivalent to a 23 percent income tax rate, so the FairTax would send the family back 23 percent of that $31,020 -- $7,135.

The FairTax's fans insist on calling this a tax rebate (or "prebate") for rhetorical purposes. But as Matthews points out, it's literally a UBI as well. If you're compensating people for consumption spending, you might as well be compensating them for breathing. Everyone gets it, no one has to be employed to get it, and it comes in 12 monthly installments. It's a UBI by the backdoor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


China's Dangerous Debt : Why the Economy Could Be Headed for Trouble (Zhiwu Chen FROM OUR MAY/JUNE 2015, Foreign Affairs)

In September 2008, when Chinese President Hu Jintao got word that Lehman Brothers, then the fourth-largest U.S. investment bank, was on the verge of bankruptcy, he was traveling by van along the bumpy roads of Shaanxi Province. Surrounded by policy advisers and members of the Politburo, Hu asked them how China should respond to the inevitable spillover. According to one participant in the discussion, the group reached a clear consensus by the trip's end: China would need to launch a massive stimulus program. And it could trust only state-owned enterprises (SOEs), rather than private firms, to carry it out.

That November, as other governments were still debating what to do next, Beijing announced that it would distribute nearly $600 billion in stimulus funds to SOEs and other institutions, principally to fund ambitious infrastructure and industrial projects. Banks began lending generously, and local governments rushed to form shell SOEs that would allow them to borrow. Over the next six years, China's nominal GDP roughly doubled, ballooning from around $4.5 trillion in 2008 to just over $9 trillion in 2014.

China recovered from the 2008 financial crisis faster than any of its peers, and it drove unprecedented growth in the process, expanding its economy at rates its competitors had failed to match even before the financial crisis. The story was positive enough that some economists called on Western governments to adopt a similar approach, advocating increases in government spending and regulation. Yet China's speedy response would have been impossible to replicate without the power and reach of its central government. The government owns, either directly or indirectly, almost all of China's land and roughly two-thirds of its productive assets, enabling it to quickly allocate resources on an enormous scale.

This advantage carries a significant cost, however, and one that has already begun to surface. According to a recent report from the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, China's total debt in 2007, counting that of private households, independent firms, and government institutions, equaled 158 percent of the country's GDP. In 2014, it reached 282 percent of GDP--among the world's highest levels for a major economy. In the past, China has been able to rely on a mix of bailouts and local dealmaking to keep toxic loans from poisoning the economy. But now that growth is slowing--a trend party leaders have euphemistically dubbed the "new normal"--many more borrowers are struggling to pay. If China doesn't get on top of its debt problem, the road ahead will be far bumpier than it was in 2008 and could even lead to a prolonged and painful crash.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Sunni tribesmen fight their own after breaking with IS group' (BRAM JANSSEN AND SAMEER N. YACOUB April 22, 2015, Times of Israel)

When Islamic State militants swept across northern Iraq last summer, the Sunni al-Lehib tribe welcomed them as revolutionaries fighting the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. But less than a year later, the tribe is bitterly split between those who joined the extremist group and those resisting its brutal rule.

The tribe hails from a village just south of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, which was captured by the IS last year. Like many Sunnis in northern Iraq, they initially welcomed the Islamic State group as liberators.

"We were happy when Daesh came," tribal leader Nazhan Sakhar said, using an acronym for the extremist group. "We thought they were going to Baghdad to establish a government. But then they started killing our own people. It turned out they were the same as al-Qaeda."

...when only one side has one.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Why North Europeans Are the Happiest People (Leonid Bershidsky, 4/24/15, WSJ)

The report's authors say six variables account for three-quarters of the differences in happiness levels among countries: Gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and freedom from corruption. Two of these -- social support and generosity -- are relatively independent of economic development or the political system, which explains why some relatively poor, institutionally weak countries have happier populations than the strongest Western democracies. For example, Mexicans are happier than Americans, Brazilians enjoy higher perceived well-being than the residents of rich, free Luxembourg, and Venezuelans like their life better than Singaporeans.

A country is an all-around winner, however, when it's rich, healthy, free and populated with generous people who support one another when there's trouble. One has to wonder if Northern Europe's Law of Jante might not be responsible for the presence of Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden among the world's 10 happiest nations. Scandinavians may scoff at that creed, which makes individualism a crime, but it does make for unusually strong social support networks. That's how the authors explain Iceland's surprising resilience during an economic collapse, and its second place in the rankings. That country has the highest percentage in the world of people who say they have someone to count on in times of crisis.

The report contains a chapter that stresses the role of "relational goods," such as reciprocity and simultaneity (which describes people taking part in meaningful activities together), in building happy nations. People are happier when they're socially fulfilled, perhaps as members of a group (both group membership and happiness levels are high in Scandinavia) [...]

The happiest countries are participatory. That goes for Switzerland with its direct democracy and tight-knit local communities, as well as for the Scandinavian countries, which, as Sachs wrote in his chapter of the report, have "perhaps the highest social capital in the world." Participation and deliberative democracy help to build mutual trust, an important part of social capital. People are more willing to pay taxes, less prone to corruption, and expansive social safety nets become the norm.

This kind of social fabric, however, is finely woven and delicate. The happiest countries in the world have small populations (the biggest country in the top 10 is Canada, with 35 million people).

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


A New 'Wrinkle in Time' (JENNIFER MALONEY, April 16, 2015, WSJ)

Many readers, then and now, have understood the book's dark planet Camazotz--a regimented place in which mothers in unison call their children in for dinner--to represent the Soviet Union. But the passage discovered by L'Engle's granddaughter presents a more nuanced worldview.

A never-before-seen section of Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" is shedding surprising light on the author's philosophy. WSJ's Jennifer Maloney reports. Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Crosswicks, Ltd
In it, Meg has just made a narrow escape from Camazotz. As Meg's father massages her limbs, which are frozen from a jarring trip through space and time, she asks: "But Father, how did the Black Thing--how did it capture Camazotz?" Her father proceeds to lay out the political philosophy behind the book in much starker terms than are apparent in the final version.

He says that yes, totalitarianism can lead to this kind of evil. (The author calls out examples by name, including Hitler, Mussolini and Khrushchev.) But it can also happen in a democracy that places too much value on security, Mr. Murry says. "Security is a most seductive thing," he tells his daughter. "I've come to the conclusion that it's the greatest evil there is."

Ms. Voiklis said she wanted readers to know the book wasn't a simple allegory of communism. Instead, it's about the risk of any country--including a democracy--placing too much value on security. The tension between safety and personal freedom is an idea that resonates in today's politics.

"It's normal to be afraid," said Ms. Voiklis, who manages her late grandmother's estate full-time in New York. "But you can't let the fear control your decisions. Otherwise, you risk becoming like Camazotz."

And we just recently escaped it.
Posted by orrinj at 2:25 PM


Obama escalates push-back against Elizabeth Warren and other trade deal critics (Greg Sargent, April 24, 2015, Washington Post)

On a conference call with a small group of reporters, President Obama significantly intensified his criticism of Elizabeth Warren and other opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, accusing them of being "dishonest" about the secrecy around the TPP process, suggesting they were playing to their "fundraising" lists, and arguing flatly that they were using "misinformation that stirs up the base but doesn't serve them well."

April 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


Trade legislation draws Republican support in House over Democratic objections (DAVID ESPO, 4/23/15, AP)

 Legislation to strengthen President Barack Obama's hand for future trade deals moved toward committee approval in the House on Thursday courtesy of Republicans and over the protests of Democrats, a political role reversal that portends a bruising struggle for passage later this spring.

The maneuvering in the House Ways and Means Committee marked the second straight day the Republican-controlled Congress lined up to hand Obama a victory on trade. The Senate Finance Committee approved a nearly identical bill on Wednesday night that would limit lawmakers to voting yes or no without making changes in trade deals like one now taking shape among Pacific-area trading partners.

"They're waiting for this to put their best offers on the table," Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House committee chairman, said of negotiating partners that include Japan and Singapore as well as Chile and Peru.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


How Much Is the U.S. Worth? (ERIC MORATH, 4/23/15, WSJ)

A government economist puts that figure, from sea to shining sea, at $22.98 trillion.

That's William Larson's estimate for the value of the 1.89 billion acres of land that accounts for the 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia. The dollar figure--equal to about 1.4 times last year's gross domestic product-represents only the value of the land, and not buildings, roads or other improvements, and excludes bodies of water.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


The State of Our Planet Is Better Than Ever (Stephen Moore, April 22, 2015, Daily Signal)

1) Natural resources are more abundant and affordable today than ever before in history. Short-term (sometimes decades-long) volatility aside, the price of most natural resources--from cocoa to cotton to coal--is cheaper today in real terms than 50, 100, or 500 years ago. This has happened even as the world's population has nearly tripled. Technology has far outpaced depletion of the Earth's resources.

2) Energy--the master resource--is super abundant. Remember when people like Paul Ehrlich nearly 50 years ago and Barack Obama just three years ago--warned the we were running out of oil and gas. Today, thanks to the new age of oil and gas thanks to fracking, the United States has hundreds of years of petroleum and an estimated 290 years of coal. Keep in mind, this may be a low-ball estimate; since 2000, the Energy Information Administration's estimates of recoverable reserves have actually increased by more than 7 percent.

We're not running out of energy, we are running into it.

3) Air and water. Since the late 1970s, pollutants in the air have plunged. Lead pollution plunged by more than 90 percent, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide by more than 50 percent, with ozone and nitrogen dioxide declining as well. This means that emissions per capita have declined even as the economy in terms of real GDP nearly tripled. By nearly every standard measure it is much, much, much cleaner today in the United States than 50 and 100 years ago. The air is so clean now that the EPA worries about carbon dioxide which isn't even a pollutant. (And, by the way, carbon emissions are falling too, thanks to fracking). One hundred years ago, about one in four deaths in the U.S. was due to contaminants in drinking water. But from 1971-2002, fewer than three people per year in the U.S. were documented to have died from water contamination.

4) There is no Malthusian nightmare of overpopulation. Birth rates have fallen by about one-half around the world over the last 50 years. Developed countries are having too few kids, not too many. Even with a population of 7.3 billion people, average incomes, especially in poor countries, have surged over the last 40 years. The number of people in abject poverty fell by 1 billion from 1981 to 2011, even as global population increased by more than 1.5 billion.

5) Global per capita food production is 40 percent higher today than as recently as 1950. In most nations the nutrition problem today is obesity--too many calories consumed--not hunger.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Saudi policy in Yemen: Sign of an inferiority complex? (Scott Peterson, APRIL 23, 2015, CS Monitor)

Analysts are interpreting the sudden Saudi assertiveness in Yemen as evidence that Riyadh sees Iran as having the upper hand now in the regional rivalry and feels increasingly incapable of countering its rival in proxy arenas across the Middle East. This perception, the analysts say, also led the Saudis to overestimate both the Iranian-Houthi relationship and Yemen's importance to Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


American who was spokesman for Osama bin Laden grew up on goat farm in California (DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press)

 Adam Gadahn, a former Little Leaguer who grew up to become a spokesman for Osama bin Laden, was born in 1978 in Oregon as Adam Pearlman.

Gadahn, who had treason charges pending against him, was killed in a drone strike in January, the White House acknowledged on Thursday. Another January drone strike killed Ahmed Farouq, the operations leader for Al-Qaida in Pakistan, as well as an American hostage and an Italian hostage.

April 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


LET THEM IN  (Brendan O'Neill, 21 APRIL 2015, Spiked)
Following a week in which an eye-watering 1,000 migrants are thought to have perished in the Mediterranean, European officials and observers are frantically asking 'What can be done?', as if it's a difficult question. But it isn't. If you want to stop these terrible deaths at sea, there's a simple solution: liberalise Europe's approach to immigration; be as open as possible to the arrival of these budding workers and aspiring citizens from Africa and the Middle East. That is what can be done, and must be done. [...]

We shouldn't demonise or infantilise these migrants. We should celebrate them for exercising their autonomy in very difficult circumstances and making a conscious decision to take a very risky journey to Europe. They want to come to this continent so badly that they're willing to trek across deserts and sail across vast seas, and how do we repay their burning aspiration to join us? By criminalising them or patronising them, negating their desire for citizenship in a new world by treating them either as demons or infants, in need of punishment or parenting. That's enough. We shouldn't pity these migrants; we should admire them, for using guile, gumption and perseverance to come here. They're precisely the kind of people sluggish Europe needs more of, an antidote to our students who can't even clap without having a mental breakdown and our new generation who think that being told to 'get on your bike' to look for a job is tantamount to abuse. Let's relax the borders and let them in to try their luck in our countries and see how they fare. If we do that, we'll put the traffickers out of business, end the deaths in the Mediterranean, and, more importantly, do our part to enable the aspirations of human beings who have committed no crime other than wanting to realise their potential in our towns, our cities, alongside us.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Google Glass In The ER? Health Care Moves One Step Closer To Star Trek ... (Lisa Gillespie April 20, 2015, Kaiser Health News)

Researchers did just this for a small sample of people at the emergency room of the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence. They found during the course of the study that 93.5 percent of patients who were seen with a skin problem liked the experience, and 96.8 percent were confident in the accuracy of the video equipment and that their privacy was protected.

"There had been a lot of talk about using Glass in health care, but at the time that we designed the study, no one had actually tried it. No one knew if it would work," said Megan Ranney, a study author and assistant professor of emergency medicine and policy at Brown University.

ER doctors normally have to page an on-call specialist - in the study, a dermatologist -- to talk through the patient's condition. With that information, the dermatologist makes a judgment call about the treatment, usually without ever seeing the patient. If there's no dermatologist available, which can frequently be the situation, doctors do what they can but then refer the patient for follow-up dermatological care. Many rural and community hospitals do not have dermatologists on staff and it's up to the emergency physician to care for the patient.

In the study, researchers instead had the physicians connect via Google Glass, enabling the specialist to see on his or her office iPad or computer what the ER doctor was seeing in person. The ER doctor was able to communicate with the dermatologist, and both physicians could ask questions of the patient in real time.

"You've rolled the first and second visit into this one visit. You have the specialist at the bedside, and if you get better, you don't need to have follow-up," said Paul Porter, a physician in the emergency department of Rhode Island Hospital and study author. "There's nothing more frustrating [for the patient than] to be seen, leave with diagnostic uncertainty, and have to go somewhere else. ... People don't want that answer."

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


The oddball start-up that shows how ObamaCare has made a friendlier insurance market (Jeff Spross, April 21, 2015, The Week)

Whatever our political divisions, one thing Americans agree on is that dealing with health insurance is a Kafka-esque hassle.

Oscar, an oddball start-up health insurer in New York state, aims to change that. It's got a user-friendly website that offers providers after you type in your symptoms, along with free 24/7 internet consultations with doctors. It lets you compare prices from different providers and refill prescriptions with one click. It's even partnering with CVS to build care locations throughout the state, and it's hiring nurses to offer in-home follow-up services, especially for new moms.

Oscar got started in New York when ObamaCare's exchanges opened. In the last year, it's tripled its value on the stock market to a staggering $1.5 billion, and tripled its customer base to 40,000. Oscar is already selling plans on New Jersey's exchange, and will enter Texas and California shortly.

Way back in 2009, David Goldhill wrote a sweeping piece for The Atlantic on how to reform the American health care system. One of his ideas was the introduction of "health care agents" who would help consumers navigate their health care choices and act as advocates for them. When you think about it, health insurers are perfectly positioned to do that. Yet they've long been considered the predatory enemies of consumers.

Oscar is the first inkling of what the shift into the agent role might look like. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Ashamed of the Gospel? : The End of Comfortable Christianity (Robert P. George, May/June 2015, Touchstone)

The days of socially acceptable Christianity in the West are surely over. The days of comfortable Christian orthodoxy are past. It is no longer easy to be a faithful Christian, a good Catholic, an authentic Evangelical witness to the truths of the gospel. A price is demanded and must be paid. There are costs of discipleship--costs that are burdensome and painful to bear.

Of course, one can still safely identify oneself as a "Christian," and even be seen going to worship services at church. That is because the guardians of those norms of cultural orthodoxy that we have come to call "political correctness" do not assume that identifying as "Christian" or going to church necessarily means that one actually believes what the Church teaches on issues such as marriage and sexual morality and the sanctity of human life.

Now, if one does not believe what the Church teaches, or, for now at least, even if one does believe those teachings but is prepared to be completely silent about them, one is safe--one can still be a comfortable Christian. In other words, a tame Christian, a Christian who is ashamed of the gospel--or who is willing to act publicly as if he or she were ashamed--is still socially acceptable. But a Christian who makes it clear that he or she is not ashamed must be prepared to take risks and make sacrifices.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Bush credits Obama for continuing NSA's metadata program (Ed O'Keefe, April 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in a radio interview on Tuesday that he supports President Obama's decision to continue the National Security Agency's metadata collection program.

The presumed presidential candidate appeared on "The Michael Medved Show," a nationally-syndicated radio program, while visiting Seattle for a fundraiser for his PAC, Right to Rise.

Asked by Medved what he thinks is the biggest accomplishment of the Obama administration, Bush gave the president credit for sticking with the NSA's bulk collection of phone call times and other "metadata," a move that he said has led to the agency "being enhanced."

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Saudi-led coalition announces end to air operation in Yemen (Deutsche-Welle, 4/21/15)

The coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday to end its military operation in Yemen at midnight, according to Saudi-owned Arabiya TV.

...they know when they've lost.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Television's 'Sabado Gigante' Problem (Mac Margolis, 4/21/15, Bloomberg View)

The unstated challenge is the demographic earthquake that has hit the Latino community in the U.S., shaking legacy media and tugging at the loyalties and tastes of some of its core customers.

That problem extends across the Latin broadcast spectrum, where younger spectators are deserting legacy shows. Of "Sabado Gigante's" 2 million regular U.S. viewers, only 307,000 were young adults in the year ending March 31 -- a 43 percent decline from the year ending in March 2011.

Across the board, "Giant Saturday" has seen its once-captive audience shrink from around 3.2 million total average viewers in 2008 to around 1.9 million in the U.S. for the week ending March 29.  Now the media chatter is over whether Univision needs to change before it, too, declines.

For years, Spanish-language programming seemed to flourish in a cultural bubble, nurtured by its audience's tightly-knit bond and a storied loyalty to the brands that filled every station break. "Hispanics used to embrace brands as an expression of who they were and to show they were coming up in the world," said cultural consultant Giovanni Rodriguez, who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in the Bronx, and now advises businesses and government on how to pitch to Hispanic communities. "My dad only believed in Buicks. When we got a new TV, my mom wanted a Zenith," he told me.

That loyalty may be history.  A recent survey showed that most Latinos are no more committed to brands than non-Latino U.S. consumers. The big exceptions are less acculturated Latinos who are still more likely to go out of their way to find their favorite toothpaste or beverage. 

Behind that shift, another more fundamental one is reshaping the Latino household, as the children and grandchildren of Hispanics gain on their immigrant relatives. In 2013, for the first time, U.S.-born Hispanics outnumbered those born outside the U.S. in the workplace, according to Pew Research Center.

For these native Hispanics, English is the new Buick. Pew Research Center found that by 2012, some 82 percent of Latinos got at least some of their news in English while nearly a third of them did so exclusively.

What makes this wave of immigrants different is that they assimilated faster than your ancestors.
Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Why George W. Bush Let a Soldier's Mom Yell at Him (Dana Perino, April 21, 2015, Daily Signal)

But there were exceptions. One mom and dad of a dying soldier from the Caribbean were devastated, the mom beside herself with grief. She yelled at the president, wanting to know why it was her child and not his who lay in that hospital bed.

Her husband tried to calm her and I noticed the president wasn't in a hurry to leave--he tried offering comfort but then just stood and took it, like he expected and needed to hear the anguish, to try to soak up some of her suffering if he could.

Later as we rode back on Marine One to the White House, no one spoke.

But as the helicopter took off, the president looked at me and said, "That mama sure was mad at me." Then he turned to look out the window of the helicopter. "And I don't blame her a bit."

One tear slipped out the side of his eye and down his face. He didn't wipe it away, and we flew back to the White House.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 PM


Despite more risks, humanity is less vulnerable to floods, study finds (Pete Spotts, APRIL 21, 2015, CS Monitor)

Humanity's vulnerability to floods has eased, despite increases in population and in the value of assets located in flood-prone areas, according to a new study.

The analysis notes a persistent vulnerability gap between rich and poor countries. But the gap has closed considerably, largely because developing countries have taken steps to reducing fatalities and economic losses from floods.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


The Road to David Brooks' Character (Jane Eisner, April 21, 2015, The Forward)

[D]espite the fact that he's the Jewish conservative whom even some liberals love to read, who proudly sent his three children to day school and has a son serving in the Israeli military, who writes about religious thought and faith traditions so approvingly, he seems at odds with contemporary Jewish life. It's not just his choice of breakfast that morning that leads me to this conclusion; it's that his politics are more old-fashioned Republican than those of most American Jews, and the starchy criticisms of modern culture woven through his columns for The Times can feel almost WASPy. [....]

As he spoke about his work that morning, Brooks didn't look like a person whose soul needed saving. He appeared just as you would expect: At 53 years old, he has hair that is thin and gray; his dress is casually professorial, his voice reasonable and recognizable from all the broadcast appearances he's done ever since, as a young journalist, he carved out a niche as an intellectual conservative pundit. He admires modesty, and tries to show it, but his ideas and the way he expresses them sound lofty and sometimes unreachable. When he writes that the "most important thing is whether you are willing to engage in moral struggle against yourself," I'm not sure how to take that abstract admonition and make it a daily practice.

...but it's important to note that she's essentially saying that to engage in moral struggle at the current time is to make oneself seem to be Christian. This is an existential problem for the idea of Judaism as a religion, as opposed to an ethnicity.

Pastor Charles Stanley declines Jewish National Fund Award (AJC, April 21, 2015)

Pastor Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta and a best-selling author, has pulled out of an event during which he was to be honored.

According to Jewish National Fund spokesman Adam Brill, Stanley informed the Jewish National Fund " that because of his deep love for Israel, and his reluctance to be a point of controversy and conflict within the Jewish community, he has declined to be recognized at the Jack Hirsch Memorial Breakfast in Atlanta, on Thursday."

Criticism had mounted from some members of Atlanta's Jewish community concerned about his stance on homosexuality.

He believes in their book, they don't.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


The Trans Pacific Partnership: A Fast Track to Lost Jobs and Lower Wages (Doug Cunningham, 4/21/15, The Progressive)

"I understand it," Trumka says, " Let me tell ya. Here's what it means. It means lost jobs and lower wages. That's it. Lost jobs and lower wages."

Public Citizens Global Trade Watch agrees. They say in "one fell swoop" the TPP could:

◦ offshore American jobs and increase income inequality;

◦ jack up the cost of medicines;

◦ sneak in threats to Internet freedom, and empower corporations to attack our environmental and health safeguards;

◦ expose the U.S. to unsafe food and products;

◦ roll back Wall Street reforms;

◦ ban Buy American policies needed to create green jobs.

"The progressive movement could not be more united, more focused, more committed to holding our leaders accountable for the actions they take in Washington than we are right now in the fight against Fast Track authority for the TPP," said Neil 

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Senators Need Not Apply (John Dickerson, 4/21/15, Slate)

On Saturday morning, pollster Frank Luntz held a focus group with about 150 Republican activists. He asked the room whether they'd like to see a senator as president, and about five people raised their hands. He asked the same question about selecting a governor, and everyone in the room seemed to raise their hand. "Wow," said Luntz.

The polling shows this, too. As Aaron Blake wrote in the Washington Post, a new CNN poll shows that when voters are asked which candidates have the right experience for the job, the governors come out far ahead. A Pew poll a year ago showed that by 51 percent to 40 percent, Republicans preferred a governor to a senator, a 19-point increase since that question was asked in 2007.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Pakistan, the Saudis' Indispensable Nuclear Partner (PERVEZ HOODBHOY, APRIL 21, 2015, NY Times)

For Saudi Arabia, the Pakistani Parliament's surprising assertion of independence was especially worrisome because it came on the heels of the American-backed preliminary nuclear deal with Iran. The kingdom has long feared rapprochement between Iran and the United States, as well as the development of Iran's nuclear program. The influential former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, has described Iran as a "paper tiger, but one with steel claws." According to documents disclosed by WikiLeaks, the late King Abdullah repeatedly urged Washington to attack Iran and "cut off the head of the snake." And now under the recent nuclear agreement, which is to be finalized by the end of June, Iran's breakout time -- the time it would need to build a nuclear weapon if it actually set out to -- would be just one year.

This development undermines Saudi Arabia's longstanding nuclear strategy. In the 1970s, partly to extend its influence, partly in the name of Muslim solidarity, it began bankrolling Pakistan's nuclear program. In gratitude, the Pakistani government renamed the city of Lyallpur as Faisalabad, after King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. When Pakistan seemed to dither after India tested five nuclear bombs in May 1998, the Saudi government pledged to give it 50,000 barrels of oil a day for free. Pakistan soon tested six of its own bombs. Later, the Saudi defense minister at the time, Prince Sultan, visited the secret nuclear and missile facilities at the Kahuta complex near Islamabad, which had been off-limits even to Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, by her account.

In exchange for its largesse, Saudi Arabia has received Pakistani military assistance in the form of soldiers, expertise and ballistic missiles. Pakistani pilots flew Saudi combat jets against South Yemen in the late 1960s. The Pakistan Air Force helped the Royal Saudi Air Force in its early years. Today Saudi officers train at Pakistan's national defense colleges.

The Saudi government has taken the quid pro quo to imply certain nuclear benefits as well, including, if need be, the delivery at short notice of some of the nuclear weapons it has helped pay for. Some Pakistani warheads are said to have been earmarked for that purpose and reportedly are stocked at the Minhas air force base in Kamra, near Islamabad. (Pakistan, which has as many as 120 nuclear warheads, denies this, and to my knowledge, there is no precedent for a nuclear country transferring weapons to a non-nuclear one.)

The Saudis have also come to expect that they fall under the nuclear protection of Pakistan, much like, say, Japan is covered by the United States's nuclear umbrella. Pakistan's nuclear forces were developed to target India, but they can strike farther, as was recently demonstrated by the successful test launch of the Shaheen-3 missile, which has a range of 2,750 kilometers.

But with Pakistan now reluctant to openly support Saudi policy in Yemen, the Saudi government is starting to worry about its reliability as a nuclear partner.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


How 'fast track' is making Democrats act like Republicans, and vice versa (Catherine Rampell, April 20, 2015, Washington Post)

President Obama is an undemocratic tyrant, seizing powers clearly granted by our Founding Fathers to Congress.

Usually you hear such accusations from the right. But lately they are, somewhat disorientingly, coming from the left. It's like Opposite Day.

As in the past, the grandstanding about procedural impropriety and secretive, unconstitutional power grabs is disingenuous. Die-hard liberals, like die-hard conservatives before them, are hiding behind tenuous constitutional complaints to obstruct a policy outcome they find distasteful.

The right's claims about unconstitutional power grabs usually involve immigration and health insurance. For the left, the cri de coeur is trade.

The two wings exist to amuse the rest of us.
Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi 'seriously wounded in air strike' (Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen, 21 April 2015, The Guardian)

The leader of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been seriously wounded in an air strike in western Iraq, sources have told the Guardian.

A source in Iraq with connections to the terror group revealed that Baghdadi suffered serious injuries during an attack by the US-led coalition in March. The source said Baghdadi's wounds were at first life-threatening, but he has since made a slow recovery. He has not, however, resumed day-to-day control of the organisation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


The shunning of Ryan T. Anderson: When support for gay marriage gets ugly (Damon Linker, April 21, 2015, The Week)

It's important to be clear about what's at stake here. This isn't about politics or the law. Unlike the recent RFRA disputes in Indiana and Arkansas, it has nothing to do with religious freedom or state power. Anderson has no right to be celebrated on the website of his alma mater. The Friends School of Baltimore can likewise link to or remove a link to anyone it wants for whatever reason.

The controversy is nonetheless important because of what it tells us about the cultural endgame of the gay-rights movement. The reaction of those who raised objections to the link as well as the decision of the head of school to remove the link and offer an abject apology for posting it -- both of these are depressing signs that liberal public opinion is evolving in the direction of theological certainties and illiberal forms of intolerance. These so-called liberals want Anderson to be shunned. Expelled from the community. Excommunicated from civilized life. Ostracized from the ranks of the decent.

That is something that should trouble all fair-minded Americans.

Just in case you were wondering, I don't agree with Anderson on most issues, and certainly not on gay marriage, which I have supported for years. I laid out some of my disagreements with him in a column written over two years ago, and I've since tussled with him on Twitter on more than one occasion.

But so what? I disagree with lots of public figures, writers, advocates, and intellectuals on a wide range of issues. (Don't we all?) And as the Post profile noted, Anderson is unfailingly civil in public debates. Although he's the target of constant insults and ad hominem abuse online, he invariably responds with patience and respect -- certainly more than I could muster. Why should this person, who's so patently devoted to the reasonable exchange of arguments, be considered beyond the bounds of civilized discourse?

Because, we are told over and over and over again, opposing gay marriage is rank bigotry, morally equivalent to arguing that African Americans deserve to be treated as second-class citizens, and certainly no different than denying their right to marry members of other races. Treating Anderson and others on his side of the issue with civility is just as morally outrageous as seriously entertaining the arguments of an educated and polite champion of anti-miscegenation laws in the Jim Crow South. The gay rights movement and many liberals increasingly want this to become the default, accepted, commonsense view.

They must not be allowed to succeed.

One reason why is that many millions of people still hold contrary views. Another is that their arguments are not frivolous -- and certainly not as frivolous as rationales that were once used to justify racial inequality. Arguments in favor of traditional marriage -- rooted in claims about the natural sexual complementarity of men and women -- are also far more deeply rooted in human civilization the world over, and Western civilization specifically, than arguments against miscegenation.

Anderson himself provides an accurate summary in a quote contained in the Post profile:

Every great thinker who has ever written about marriage, you never see a discussion of race... Whether it's Plato, Aristotle, or Cicero, whether it's the Jews, Christians, and Muslims, whether it's Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Muhammad, Gandhi -- none of them talk about skin color; each and every one of them talk about sexual complementarity. [The Washington Post]

Versions of these traditionalist arguments were accepted by nearly every human being who's ever lived until a couple of decades ago -- and (supposedly) Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton until just a few years ago. Like them, I've come to reject those arguments. But saying they now seem wrong is one thing. Relegating them to the category of the foulest prejudice is something else entirely. It's reckless to break so quickly with the past and jump so easily to moral condemnation.

...when opposing abortion was, likewise, considered to be beyond the Pale. One of the nice things about being conservative is that the consensus always returns to you.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Iran and I: Falling in love with my homeland that was never my home (Alma Bahman, April 21, 2015, The Week)

Tehran is nestled in a mountainside. Its hills remind me of San Francisco. Its buildings and shops remind me of London and Paris -- small, crowded in tiny spaces, built upward but not too far upward. The air is smoggy and gives me a headache. It's easy to see why many Tehran residents are moving to the suburbs where the air is cleaner.

Much of Tehran seems like it was frozen in the early 1980s (which it was). My grandmother has lived in the suburb of Karaj for the past 20 years, yet her neighborhood is still under development. Most cars are old, manual-shift Peugeots or Renaults, the kind where you have to roll down the windows and reach across to unlock the passenger side door.

My parents' college friends were stunned by how much I looked like an old friend: my mother.
At the same time, there are glimmers in Tehran of the modern, Western lifestyle. There are malls where people can buy the latest iPhone and Samsung tablet. There's no copyright law, so any small coffee shop can sell mugs with Starbucks logos. There's an "IKEA" -- but it's a teeny space on the bottom floor of a strip mall selling oversized chess pieces and artsy light fixtures. You will not find a Malm bed set there.

Flashing lights and signs advertise lunch, dinner, tea, groceries, and ice cream. With no (legal) bars or clubs, restaurants abound: fast food, pizza, smoothies and, of course, regional fare. Sidewalks range from pretty tiles to cracked concrete to stretches of dirt. Pedestrians encounter all three in the same city block. People seem to prefer driving, and no inch of road is left undriven. Traffic lines are meaningless. If there's room on the shoulder, three cars will squeeze by.

My father and I visited a mountainside neighborhood with a charming cobblestone street that winds up toward the peak. It's lined with shops selling dried fruit, preserves, lavashak (fruit leather), and of course, restaurants and tea houses. They're filled with hikers and friends. It's chilly in the early spring. The sound of waterfalls and happy chatter float in the fresh mountain air, rising above the city smog.

We went to the Ghahveh Talkh coffee shop (meaning "bitter coffee," which is also the name of a popular Iranian TV show). We sipped cappuccinos while checking emails and Instagram (the government selectively filters the internet, so no Facebook or Twitter). The barista seemed to have figured out that I'm American. He blasted "Chicken Fried" and other country music. "It's difficult to find good country," he lamented. "But I enjoy it very much."

So far, this is neither of the Irans I thought I knew.

My mother talks about the gasht-e ershad (the "morality police") with disgust. The morality police keep citizens in line socially. My mother describes the early days of the revolution where they were known to unnecessarily arrest and brutalize perceived rule-breakers. Things are better now, but they are still not good.

The uncertainties of a strict dress and moral code informed by religion are frightening. The more religious citizens follow the letter of the law, covering completely with a chador (a floor-length black cape that covers the head and body). Men and women who aren't related or married must avoid shaking hands or speaking directly to each other. The women don't remove their roosari or chador in the presence of those men, and they ride in separate sections of the Metro -- the front and back cars are women-only, the rest is co-ed.

The rest of Iran follows the spirit of the law, if not its letter. They also step out.

Non-religious men wear tailored suit jackets and jeans, or patterned shirts and colorful pants with leather wing tips. The younger men grow hipster mustaches or beards. Women adorn themselves in bright colors, chic fabrics, and gold jewelry. They treat their beautiful faces like a canvas, meticulously applying bright lipstick and eyeshadow punctuated with sharp, charcoal lines. Some have plastic surgery to plump their lips or enhance other features.

The one time I saw the gasht-e ershad -- a man in an army uniform carrying a semi-automatic weapon and a woman dressed in a chador -- the American in me froze. Should I be afraid? Are they going to arrest me?

My father thought it was a fine idea to ask them for directions.

The woman looked at me, sizing me up. She leaned over and asked my father if I understood "our language." He was baffled: To him, I'm clearly Iranian.

I was wearing my thick-rimmed, thick-lensed eyeglasses. My chambray shirt and too-tight gray jeans were visible under my one-size-too-big trenchcoat. She looked me up and down with what I can only describe as repugnance. She gruffly ordered me to button my jacket.

That was my mistake. I didn't realize I was breaking a rule.

This was the closest I came to my mother's oppressive Iran.

IRAN'S URBAN FUTURE: TEHRAN AND BEYOND (Matthew Stevenson, 04/21/2015, New Geography)

 I flew into and out of Tehran, the city that dominates the life of Iran. Even at 3:00AM the traffic was heavy, and when I went around on the metro, there was never a moment when I wasn't as squeezed as canned caviar.

For a city of never-ending tenements (similar to Queens or Brooklyn), Tehran remains, comparatively, calm. I never heard shouting, car horns, or confrontations, just as I never saw an armed police officer (except at the airports) or Revolutionary Guards. Omnipresent portraits of ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei are the only symbols of sidewalk,politics.

Diplomats and wealthier Iranians prefer to remain crowded into North Tehran, which feels like an alpine village, given the snowcapped peaks that soar in the background. This is where the last two Shahs had their palaces (which are now open as museums of imperialist decadence). The poor live in the desert flatlands to the south. I walked outside the embassy complex where in 1979 the American diplomats were held hostage; its twenty-seven acres looks like an 1850s textile mill in Pawtucket.

For reasons few can explain, Tehran works well as a city. The subway trains -- while packed -- come and go on schedule. The bazaar is a mall of plenty, even with all the sanctions; the university attracts the best students (including my gifted guide), and even the dense traffic seems to move.

Tehran may lack architectural grace, central focus, cozy neighborhoods, restaurants (I saw few), tea gardens, and sufficient parks. But it doesn't feel as if it is on the edge of a fundamentalist abyss, as it's portrayed in the Western press. It struck me more as an endless block party.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Is Government Debt Too Low? (GREG IP, 4/21/15, WSJ)

[Brad DeLong, from the University of California at Berkeley], who also blogs for the Washington Center for Equitable Growth bases his argument on a simple observation.

The interest rate that rich countries with super-safe debt (in the case of the eurozone, that means Germany but not Spain) pay is astonishingly low: lower than the growth rate of nominal gross domestic product (that is, GDP before subtracting inflation). In the U.S., the Treasury yield has gone from roughly equal to growth in nominal GDP in 2005 to 3 percentage points lower today.

By Mr. DeLong's reckoning, this means those countries are borrowing too little. Bond yields and prices move in opposite directions, so low government bond yields equate to very valuable government bonds. Mr. DeLong asks, "Isn't the point of the market economy to make things that are valuable?" Since the debt of rich countries is "very cheap to make... shouldn't we be making more of it?"

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:25 AM


Supersax (And more than you'd ever care to know about Supersax)

Supersax Plays Bird (1972); out of print, but most cuts available on Youtube and used CD's on Amazon.com and eBay.

Videos from Supersax Plays Bird:

"Ko Ko" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VxS_CUhFgg

"Hot House" 

Supersax playing live: 

The concept of 4 (or 5) saxophones playing in harmony goes back to the earliest jazz big bands of the late 1920's and early 1930's.  The early arrangements of Duke Ellington, Don Redman (writing for Fletcher Henderson and other bands) and others would occasionally feature a chorus with the reeds playing in close harmony.  The master of composing the sax soli was Benny Carter, starting with his "Symphony in Riffs" in 1931 and stretching for almost 70 more years (check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M2oYOOeU66I and  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQDwlY0REvw&list=PLqobyMeODCdr8GIyrg6W0epmnmnT3nNvj&index=3).  Carter's arrangements for saxes were different than most because their melody lines often sounded as though they could have been improvised solos. 

Well, the group Supersax took that concept to a logical conclusion by transcribing actual Charlie "Bird" Parker solos and then arranging them for 5 saxes and rhythm section, along with some help from one or two trumpets and/or trombones.  This group of Los Angeles-based musicians formed in the early 70's and gigged and recorded for about 2 decades, releasing about a dozen albums and winning some Grammys along the way.  Although the personnel for the group changed over the years (but always included some of L.A.'s very best jazz and session musicians), its constants were lead alto player and main arranger, Med Flory, co-founder Buddy Clark and baritone sax player Jack Nimitz.  

On their recordings, the group stuck to a pretty basic performance formula: the tune, followed by an arranged version of Parker's recorded solo, and, if there was any improvised soloing, it would be from a masterful brass player, usually Conte Candoli on trumpet or Carl Fontana or Frank Rosolino on trombone.  (As you'll see in the live video, at gigs the sax players also soloed.)  And, in most cases, the arrangements themselves also followed a technical formula, Parker's line would be played in unison (an octave apart) by the lead alto and the baritone sax, leaving the 3 interior voices (1 alto, 2 tenors) to provide the harmonies.  (These internal parts were entirely unmelodic, and therefore required even more amazing musicianship than playing the lead, which, no matter how intricate or fast, was a line all of these guys knew well and could sing from memory from repeated listening to Parker's recordings over many years.)

The bulk of the tunes on the album come from the mid-40's classics that launched the bop movement, such as "Ko Ko" (taken at an absurd tempo....I don't know if it's closer to 300 beats per minute or 400...my metronome doesn't go that high), "A Night in Tunisia" (featuring Parker's legendary alto break), "Be-Bop" (another scorcher) and the slow blues "Parker's Mood."   There are also a couple of tunes from the 1950 Verve release Charlie Parker with Strings (which started a trend of jazz musicians recording with small string sessions), "Just Friends" and "Repetition."

Listening to these tracks, I don't know what's the greater accomplishment, 5 guys playing such difficult parts with impeccable technical accuracy, a wonderful sense of swing and with complete synchronization of attack, dynamics and feeling...or that Flory, Clark and the other arrangers (including the great tenor man Warne Marsh) could transcribe Bird's solos so accurately in the first place.  But, in any event, if you love the sound of the saxophone (or better yet, saxophones) or the music of Charlie Parker, check out this album and Supersax's other releases, including Salt Peanuts and their various collaborations with the vocal group, L.A. Voices.

April 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Nevada's Popular Governor Brian Sandoval a Puzzle for Some in GOP (ALEJANDRO LAZO, April 20, 2015, WSJ)

Advocates say the governor, whose supporters include independents, Hispanics and one of the state's most powerful unions, serves as a model for how Republicans can broaden their appeal. He has been mentioned as a potential vice-presidential nominee.

Critics say the 51-year-old former federal judge is alienating conservative Republicans with his policies. This year, he has been at odds with two of the state's top Republicans, the attorney general and treasurer, over immigration and taxes.

Mr. Sandoval has defended his proposals, including his $1.1 billion tax increase, saying they are worth his own "political peril." "I'm as conservative as anybody, but it's not conservative to have bad schools. It's not conservative to have bad roads. It's not conservative to have budget struggles every other year," Mr. Sandoval said in an interview. "Growth isn't paying for itself."

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


The power of Moore's Law (Robert J. Samuelson  April 19, 2015, Washington Post)

To make the same point differently: Moore's Law is not a scientific truth in the sense that a given set of conditions always produces the same result. Rather, it is a loose and uncertain relationship based on simple observation. In a later article, Moore revised his doubling forecast from every year to every two years.

But something significant and peculiar happened, according to many observers. The faith in Moore's Law became self-fulfilling. It inspired advances in miniaturization and design that kept multiplying chips' computing power. Companies and engineers "saw the benefits of Moore's Law and did their best to keep it going, or else risk falling behind the competition," writes Mack.

The resulting explosion in computing power is almost unfathomable. A single chip today can contain 10 billion transistors. In 2014, global chip production was equal to 8 trillion transistors being produced every second, according to Dan Hutcheson of VLSI Research. Prices have collapsed. A single transistor is now worth a billionth of a penny. Even Moore has been surprised at the durability of Moore's Law. Engineers and scientists have repeatedly defied formidable technical obstacles to expand chip capacity.

Of course, the economic, social and political implications are enormous. Information and communications technologies, led by the Internet, are driving widespread change. Here is economist Timothy Taylor, on his blog "Conversable Economist" last week, summarizing the impact of Moore's Law:

"Many other technological changes -- like the smartphone, medical imaging technologies, decoding the human gene, or various developments in nanotechnology -- are only possible based on a high volume of cheap computing power. Information technology is part of what has made the financial sector larger, as the technologies have been used for managing (and mismanaging) risks and returns in ways barely dreamed of before. The trends toward globalization and outsourcing have gotten a large boost because information technology made it easier."

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Can Los Angeles Teachers Push Back the Corporate Education Reform Movement? (MARIO VASQUEZ, 4/20/15, in These Times)

Education reformers claim their goal is to improve public education for poor students. But education activists and teachers unions see a more insidious agenda: to render education a private good rather than a public right for all. Backed by uber-wealthy philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Eli and Edythe Broad and the Walton family (owners of Walmart), reformers ramp up high-stakes testing, villainize teachers and unions, close public schools and open non-union charter schools.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Argentine prosecutor dismisses 1994 bombing case against president (Reuters, 4/20/15)

Federal prosecutor Javier De Luca was assigned to the case by Argentina's top appeals court after it had already been rejected by a lower court in February, a decision upheld by a lower appeals court on account of "lack of evidence."

"There has been no crime," De Luca told Reuters. In his official statement, he said his decision was "equivalent to a definitive sentence."

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Abe: U.S., Japan Close to TPP Trade Deal (GERARD BAKER And  YUKA HAYASHI, April 20, 2015, WSJ)

Early Tuesday in Tokyo, U.S. and Japanese negotiators concluded a marathon session and said they had significantly closed the remaining gaps between the two sides, a critical step for the broader TPP group to reach an agreement.

"It would be good if I could reach an agreement during my meeting with the president, but when you climb a mountain, the last step is always the hardest," Mr. Abe said as the talks were under way. "Ultimately, what needs to happen is for both countries to make a political decision" to address these sensitive areas.

Japan's chief negotiator, Akira Amari, said Tuesday that rice and autos were "major challenges," but he said the talks were in the "final stage."

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


A Message From Iran (MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF, APRIL 20, 2015, NY Times)

Iran has been clear: The purview of our constructive engagement extends far beyond nuclear negotiations. Good relations with Iran's neighbors are our top priority. Our rationale is that the nuclear issue has been a symptom, not a cause, of mistrust and conflict. Considering recent advances in symptom prevention, it is time for Iran and other stakeholders to begin to address the causes of tension in the wider Persian Gulf region.

Iranian foreign policy is holistic in nature. This is not due to habit or preference, but because globalization has rendered all alternatives obsolete. Nothing in international politics functions in a vacuum. Security cannot be pursued at the expense of the insecurity of others. No nation can achieve its interests without considering the interests of others.

Nowhere are these dynamics more evident than in the wider Persian Gulf region. We need a sober assessment of the complex and intertwined realities here, and consistent policies to deal with them. The fight against terror is a case in point.

One cannot confront Al Qaeda and its ideological siblings, such as the so-called Islamic State, which is neither Islamic nor a state, in Iraq, while effectively enabling their growth in Yemen and Syria.

There are multiple arenas where the interests of Iran and other major stakeholders intersect. The establishment of a collective forum for dialogue in the Persian Gulf region, to facilitate engagement, is long overdue.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Get a Job? Most Welfare Recipients Already Have One (ERIC MORATH, 4/19/15, WSJ)
It's poor-paying jobs, not unemployment, that strains the welfare system.

That's one key finding from a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that showed the majority of households receiving government assistance are headed by a working adult.

The study found that 56% of federal and state dollars spent between 2009 and 2011 on welfare programs -- including Medicaid, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit -- flowed to working families and individuals with jobs. In some industries, about half the workforce relies on welfare.

The point of the work requirement in Welfare Reform was for reciopients to prove themselves worthy, not to get them off of welfare.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Billboards in Iran Say 'Death to America,' but Officials Say 'Let's Make a Deal' (THOMAS ERDBRINK, APRIL 19, 2015, NY Times)

Wearing business suits set off with sneakers, the American executives trailed a young guide along the narrow sidewalks of the capital of Iran, once branded by the United States as part of the "Axis of Evil."

Their destination was one of Tehran's most luxurious restaurants, where Iranian officials and business consultants greeted the visitors with open arms and the Pharrell Williams song "Happy" blasted from the sound system.

"Everybody loves us here," said Ned Lamont, a digital services entrepreneur and former politician, holding a glass of carrot juice offered by one of his hosts.

Just as the Obama administration and Congress were wrangling over details of a nuclear agreement with Iran last week, the group of 24 executives were touring the country on a fact-finding mission.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


The Roots of a Reforming Conservatism (Yuval Levin, April 20, 2015, Modern Age)

[C]onservatives who want to succeed electorally need to offer voters something more than opposition to someone else's ideas. It is also dangerous because it contributes to an impression (too often held by some conservatives themselves) that the Right is merely a brake on American life, while the Left holds the steering wheel--or that conservatives just want the liberal welfare state at a slightly lower cost than the Left has in mind.

But our oppositional mind-set is dangerous above all for a deeper reason: it threatens to make us forget what we seek to defend and advance, and so to reduce American conservatism to an outlet for nostalgia or outrage. Nostalgia and outrage are both inherently confused and unfocused forces in political life. They have their uses, but they could never do as organizing principles. The organizing principles of a political movement must involve some vision of the good of the whole--that is, some idea of how our society ought to approach its common life and why, which can help persuade the broader public and unify copartisans in the service of shared loves and hopes, not just shared frustrations or resentments.

Today's conservatism sometimes gives the impression that until fairly recently the organizing principles of American life were obvious to everyone and embodied in the nation's political practice. If this were true, then conservatives would be defenders of a threatened status quo and so would not have to work very hard to show Americans what we stand for. But it is not true. In fact, the organizing principles of our national life have always been hotly contested. American politics has involved a Left and a Right at each other's throats almost from the first. And the Left has, in some important respects, been the dominant force in these arguments for at least the last third of the nation's life. Progressivism has largely defined the status quo, in the process perverting the constitutional system to which conservatives point as the proper ideal.

To advance our cause, then, American conservatives need to offer our vision as a genuine alternative to the status quo. Doing so requires us to make an appeal to the broader public grounded in both a practical and a theoretical case, and therefore to engage simultaneously with the mundane realities of American government and the principles and philosophy that underlie our idea of the proper character of society and politics. It requires, in other words, a political program that draws on a conservative anthropology, sociology, and epistemology, and expresses itself in terms of both political philosophy and public administration.

This means that today's Right needs both a firmer grounding in the foundations of the conservative tradition in American politics and more practical policy proposals that can speak to the public's needs and wants.

The promise of the Third Way is, indeed, not simply that it will be cheaper (in the long run), but that it will be more generous. By defining the contribution, instead of the benefit, but then making sure that the contribution is universal and begins at birth, the promise can be realized.  But this a pro-active program, not a reactionary one.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Just when hope and courage are called for, Labour promises bean-counting (George Monbiot,  14 April 2015 . The Guardian)

Labour has allowed the Conservatives to frame its politics. Frames are the mental structures through which we perceive the world. The dominant Tory frame, constructed and polished across seven years by its skilled cabinet makers, is that the all-important issue is the deficit. The financial crisis, it claims, was caused not by the banks but by irresponsible government spending, for which the only cure is austerity.

In reality, the deficit should rank somewhere in the low hundreds on the list of political priorities. It's a con; an excuse for redrafting the social contract on behalf of the elite. But Labour has meekly acquiesced to this agenda, disputing only the extent of its application. By accepting your opponents' frame, you reinforce their power, allowing them to pull the entire polity into their own arena. No Labour capitulation has been as extreme and catastrophic as the one with which it begins this year's manifesto.

Its promise to cut the deficit every year commits it indefinitely to the Conservative programme, with differences of degree rather than direction.

Lindsey Graham: Bill Clinton Is Jeb's 'Illegitimate Brother' (DANIEL HALPER, 4/20/15, Weekly Standard)

Senator Lindsey Graham, a possible Republican presidential candidate, mocked Jeb Bush for being close to Democrat Hillary Clinton. 

Obama's Trade Agreements Are a Gift to Corporations (ROBERT KUTTNER, APRIL 20, 2015m American Prospect)

Late last week, legislation moved forward that would give President Obama authority to negotiate two contentious trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). But for the most part, these aren't trade agreements at all. They're a gift to corporations, here and in partner countries that view purely domestic regulations as restraints of trade.

If these deals pass, the pharmaceutical industry could get new leverage to undermine regulations requiring the use of generic drugs. The tobacco industry has used similar "trade" provisions to challenge package label warnings.

A provision in both deals, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement, would allow corporations to do end runs around national governments by taking their claims to special tribunals, with none of the due process of normal law. This provision has attracted the most opposition. It's such a stinker that one of the proposed member nations, Australia, got an exemption for its health and environmental policies.

To get so-called fast-track treatment for these deals, the administration needs special trade promotion authority from Congress. But Obama faces serious opposition in his own party, and he will need lots of Republican votes. He has to hope that Republicans are more eager to help their corporate allies than to embarrass this president by voting down one of his top priorities.

The entirety of modern national politics can be described thus : the contest is a determination of whether the candidate of the right is more plausibly liberal or of the left more plausibly conservative.  
Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 7:13 AM


The beginning of the baseball season reminds me of the ties between jazz and baseball.  (Although OJ beat me to the punch a few months ago by posting a link to some newly discovered home movies showing Duke Ellington pitching and taking some swings)

Baseball rose to prominence on the broad shoulders of Babe Ruth during a time in American history that is more generally known as the "Jazz Age."  Both pastimes were prime entertainment for the country through the dark years of the Great Depression and World War II.  And, I would argue, that the Golden Age of both was in the post-War period of 1945 through the late 50's when, among other things, both activities began to integrate at a much faster rate than the rest of the nation.  (I have long thought that there is a noir-ish Great American Novel to be written that is set in the worlds of jazz and baseball, where, somehow, the rise of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and bebop is juxtaposed with the arrival of Jackie Robinson and other early black players to the Major Leagues.  Alas, I am not the person to write this book, as I have been thinking about it for years, and have not come up with even one character or storyline...so if any of you want to have a crack at it, be my guest....just, please, get both the baseball and the jazz right.)

So, to celebrate the start of the new season, some jazz recordings inspired by baseball.

No song is more associated with baseball than "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" (with the National Anthem a close second), and jazz musicians have taken many swings at it over the years...converting the song from its natural 3/4 time signature to a more rhythmic 4/4 in the process.  One of my favorite versions of this particularly American tune is performed by, of course, a Russian-born, Israel-raised singer who lives in Canada, Sophie Milman.  Among the pleasures of this recording are the seldom-heard verses about "baseball-mad" Katie Casey.

Another fine take is the debut recording of the remarkable trombonist Frank Rosolino, who with help from pianist Barry Harris, presents the song as an upbeat bebop number

In "Van Lingle Mungo", pianist-singer-lyricist Dave Frishberg (ATJ #8) set the names of ballplayers, famous and obscure, from the 30's, 40's and 50's, to a lilting melody.  How can any baseball fan not be smitten by a song that rhymes "Max Lanier" with "Johnny Vander Meer," "Pinky May with "Frenchy Bordagaray" and "George McQuinn" with "Early Wynn"?

Finally, although Baseball's official Opening Day now falls about 10 days earlier than it did back in the days of no West Coast teams and the 154-game schedule, for me it means the Major Leagues now have 2 Opening Days - one on the first day of the regular season and another on April 15, the anniversary of Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jackie Robinson Day is wonderfully commemorated each year throughout MLB by having every player wear Jackie's number 42.  Robinson's skill and daring as a ballplayer are celebrated in Buddy Johnson's 1949 novelty "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?," played here by Count Basie and his Orchestra, with the vocal by the great blues shouter, Jimmy Rushing.

April 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 PM


Let's Get Honest About Gunter Grass (Liam Hoare, April 13, 2015, Forward)

Over time, Grass would move away from his role as the conscience of Germany, as the obituaries would have it, and come to vocalize the thoughts of Germany's underbelly.

In 2002, Grass published "Crabwalk," a novel which in a sense commemorated the German refugees who drowned on the Wilhelm Gustloff, sunk by the Soviets in the Baltic Sea in 1945. Having previously denounced Helmut Kohl for his remembrances of German victims of the Second World War in the 1980s, Grass was now joining those who thought it necessary to talk about Allied crimes, including the bombing of Dresden and the burning of Hamburg. "It was not these were in themselves inappropriate historical subjects," Tony Judt wrote in "Thinking the Twentieth Century," "but the very idea of emphasizing German suffering, and implicitly comparing it with the suffering of others at German hands, would have sailed dangerously close to a relativizing of Nazi crimes."

Grass also seemed to think it was required of him to vocalize lazy anti-Israel sentiment in his awful poem, "What Must Be Said." Published in a Munich broadsheet in 2012, Grass's verse drew an equivalency between the atomic programs of Israel and Iran, stating that "Israel's atomic power endangers / an already fragile world peace." He added that German aid to Israel in the form of nuclear submarines "will not be expunged by any / of the usual excuses." Far from confronting the past here, Grass was saying rather explicitly and disgustingly that Israel uses the Holocaust against Germany as leverage or blackmail.

Towards the end of his life, Grass would be labeled, not unfairly, a fraud and hypocrite. Having spent a lifetime encouraging Germans to pull back the curtains and come clean about the past, including the complicity of ordinary citizens in war crimes, it was only in 2006 in his memoir, "Peeling the Onion" -- seven years after he had won the Nobel, as Christopher Hitchens once pointed out -- that Grass revealed that during the War, he had been a member of the Waffen-SS.

Having failed to get into the navy as a volunteer two years prior, in the final months of the war at the age of seventeen Grass served in the Frundsberg Panzer Division in Dresden. He had previously claimed to have been a Flakhelfer - a student conscripted after 1943 to man anti-aircraft batteries -- and thus part of the generation exempt from direct culpability in German crimes.

To this extent, Günter Grass's status as the conscience of Germany was based both on a lie and an occlusion of the truth.

Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Iran supreme leader says US created 'myth' of nuclear weapons (Reuters,  19 April 2015)

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told military commanders on Sunday the US had created the "myth" of nuclear weapons to portray Iran as a threat, hardening his rhetoric before nuclear negotiations resume this week.

Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, has supported the talks but continues to express deep mistrust of the US.

Posted by orrinj at 9:52 AM


2 Cuban dissidents up for election in unprecedented vote (ANNE-MARIE GARCIA and MICHAEL WEISSSENSTEIN, 4/18/15, AP) 

At least two dissidents made it past a first round of voting and are standing as candidates in municipal elections that will be watched on and off the island Sunday as an unprecedented test of Cuba's single-party system.

Both men told The Associated Press that they expect to win the second round and become the first officials elected from outside the Communist Party since the first electoral law was established by Fidel Castro's government in 1976. Outside observers said the mere fact that dissidents Hildebrando Chaviano and Yuniel Lopez are on the ballot is the first indication Cuba's leadership may be softening at least the appearance of its monolithic control of politics.

"This wasn't an accident, especially since it's two different people," said Ted Henken, a Cuba expert at Baruch College in New York. "I think the government is taking the challenge instead of silencing it. It can be portrayed as a further sign of liberalization."

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Is the New York Times' David Brooks Converting to Christianity? : America's foremost public intellectual ponders changing faith, sources say (MARK STRICHERZ, 4/17/15, Aleteia)

 "I'm a believer." David Brooks said those words on National Public Radio Monday, and the New York Times columnist and author was not referring to his beloved New York Mets this season. Brooks was responding to a question about how his new book,The Road to Character, has changed his religious life.
"I read a lot of theology -- whether it's C.S. Lewis or Joseph Soloveitchik, a rabbi -- and it's produced a lot of religious upsurge in my heart," he said, elaborating only slightly.
Brooks' muted but heartfelt reply reflects a change in the celebrated writers' tone and the subjects he chooses to write and speak about. In the course of his long writing career the 53-year-old Brooks has rarely broached the topic of his spiritual life. But in the last twelve months, he has been quite forthcoming. 
"There's something just awesome about seeing somebody stand up and imitate and live the non-negotiable truth of Jesus Christ," Brooks told The Gathering, an annual meeting of evangelical Christian philanthropists, last October.  He hardly hid his religiosity under a bushel there, telling the crowd, "I want you to know that I am for you and I love you," he said, noting that he attends a Bible study class.
In the introduction to his new book, Brooks disclosed a personal reason for writing it: "I wrote it to save my soul." Inspired by the authentic Christian joy of what he calls "incandescent souls," Brooks decided to find out what makes them tick. Writing his book, The Road to Character, was his method.
"A few years ago I sent out to discover how those deeply good people got that way. I didn't know if I could follow their road to character (I'm a pundit, more or less paid to appear smarter and better than I really am). But I at least wanted to know what the road looked like, " Brooks wrote in a recent column adapted from the book.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 AM


Bush's Forgotten Book : Self-government begins with citizens. (ANDREW FERGUSON, 4/27/15, Weekly Standard)

In Conservative Hurricane, his indispensable account of Bush's two terms as governor, the political scientist Matthew Corrigan referred to Bush's effort to "use government to restore character in Florida society." This isn't quite right; Bush was realistic about the relationship between government and virtue. A virtuous citizenry might be necessary for self-government, as many of the Founding Fathers said, but government could do little to produce a virtuous citizenry, as Profiles in Character insisted. "Character is not something that can be legislated," they wrote. "Any movement to reverse our cultural indicators will come only from individual effort and not government."

This of course put any conservative politician, circa 1995, in a pickle: Moved to seek office by society's deepest problems, he hoped to lead a government that he believed couldn't do much to solve society's deepest problems. He had to master what might be called the Reagan Turn--the pivot point in a campaign message when the politician, having just told voters that their decadent country is racing straight for the sewer, turns to reassure them that the brightest days of this wonderful land of freedom and opportunity lie just ahead. 

Profiles in Character is an exercise in the Reagan Turn. The book abruptly goes from a list of horribles--"If you have made it this far, you are no doubt feeling a bit depressed"--to a series of sketches of individual Floridians who have made their state a more tolerable place and can, by the power of their example, show the rest of us how to do it too. The point sounds more sentimental than it is, because the examples themselves are genuinely moving: the sixth grader who demonstrates the virtue of persistence in starting a program to feed the hungry, the Vietnam POW who stands as a model of courage to the hundreds of kids he counsels, the doctor whose compassion leads him to care for the homeless, and so on. 

What is the answer to cultural decay? "They are the answer," Bush and Yablonski wrote, "because they make us realize we are the answer."

"We would never say that government is the answer," Bush said in an interview last month. "To the contrary: Our point was that a self-governing people requires virtue and character. And if you're in government you can't ignore that. There's not a program you can develop through government to develop character. This is a societal, cultural issue."

On the other hand: "I think people in public life can talk about it, to say that it's a problem. But this moral ambivalence that exists out there is a real challenge for us. The minute you suggest there's a better path for large numbers who are struggling, you're accused of 'passing judgment.' That just freezes the conversation. But it's not 'judgmental' to suggest that a baby being brought up in poverty without a dad will have a bigger challenge growing up and the mom will have a bigger challenge economically than if they had an intact family."

Hearing a politician talk like this is either refreshing or dumbfounding, depending on your point of view. Profiles in Character itself has an antique feel. Talk of virtue and character, here in the second decade of the 21st century, sounds hopelessly retrograde--very 1995. Part of the reason is that the apocalypse was somehow averted: Many of the indicators of social decline reversed themselves, particularly rates of crime, drug use, teen pregnancy, and abortion. At the same time, the "little platoons" and mediating institutions that were supposedly indispensable to reversing the indicators--the traditional family, religion, civic associations--have themselves continued to decline. The causal chain from family and church to virtue and character to good or bad behavior was more complicated than anyone knew.

Still, Bush insists the restoration of virtue is an essential part of the argument conservatives need to make--indeed, that the conservative case for limited government can succeed only if the cultivation of virtue and character again takes its place at the center of the culture.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Dreaming of Uighuristan (Rustam Qobil, 4/16/15, BBC Uzbek)

The Uighurs of north-western China have long fled to neighbouring countries of Central Asia to escape restrictions on their freedom at home. But now - as China's influence grows across the region - campaigning for Uighur independence has become impossible in Central Asia too.

The outside world knows a lot about the Tibetans' historic struggle for independence, but much less about the Uighurs' dream of a state in Xinjiang, to the north of Tibet - Uighuristan, as they call it, or just Watan, meaning "homeland".

The last attempt to create such a state was crushed by the Chinese in 1949, prompting more than 60,000 Uighurs to cross the Soviet border into Central Asia in the years that followed.
Now about 350,000 live in the region, mostly in Kazakhstan, and until recently they were free to voice support for Uighur self-rule in Xinjiang.

But things have been changing, as China has poured investment into Central Asia, building oil and gas pipelines, railways, roads and cross-border trading zones.

The PRC can delay them, not deny them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM



Major League Baseball needs to automate the strike zone, taking called balls and strikes out of the hands of umpires and put it into the hands of technology.

At this point, I think I'm obligated to duck for cover for suggesting such an abomination. But the reality is, this really wouldn't be much of a change at all -- at least on the surface. Technology has advanced so far that we're now able to tell instantly whether a pitch is a ball or a strike.

And whatever your feelings about ESPN's new live strike zone, (personally I find it intrusive, but I'm sure I felt the same way about that weird yellow first-down line when it was introduced in the NFL) there's no denying it does a better job of calling balls and strikes than the guy behind the plate.

We finally got rid of television altogether, but I bought the MLB.tv package.  Many of the telecasts include the strikezone technology (and many of the announcers are clearly referring to a statistical service to determine what type of pitch was thrown). The technology is superior to the humans.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


AUDIO: A Love Supreme: 50 Years On : The Documentary (BBC, 4/19/15)

Often cited as one of the greatest albums ever made, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme is revered not just by jazz aficionados but music fans the world over. Fifty years on from its release, British saxophonist Courtney Pine explores what makes A Love Supreme such a unique and important record.

John Coltrane intended A Love Supreme to be a spiritual album - a declaration of his religious beliefs and personal spiritual quest. However the album also had a wider cultural significance. Released in February 1965 - just days after black rights activist Malcolm X was assassinated, and weeks before Martin Luther King led the March on Alabama - for many, the sound and feel of A Love Supreme perfectly captured the sadness, confusion and anger of America's growing black consciousness movement.

Courtney visits the Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn, North London, where John Coltrane performed on a tour in 1961, and is joined by a trio of leading British jazz saxophonists - Nat Birchall, Finn Peters and Jason Yarde - each of whose lives have been inspired and shaped by A Love Supreme and the music and spirit of John Coltrane.

Our quartet of musicians explore why A Love Supreme continues to inspire music lovers across the world to this day, and what it is about this 33 mins suite of music that touches so many and continues to do so with each new generation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


How Does This Country, Neighbor of Iran and Friend of Israel, View the Iran Deal? (Josh Siegel,  April 13, 2015, Daily Signal)

"Being a neighbor of Iran and having a very long border, we of course are very interested in normalization of relations in the region," said Elin Suleymanov, the Azerbaijani ambassador to the U.S., in an interview with The Daily Signal.

In a Q&A below, Suleymanov, speaking from the Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington D.C., shares his country's unique perspective on the potential Iran nuclear deal and forecasts what the pact would mean for the wider region.

The Daily Signal: As a neighboring country to Iran, does Azerbaijan support the U.S.-led deal over Tehran's nuclear program?

Suleymanov: We welcome the agreement. And we hope the framework will bring down the tension in the region.

Being a neighbor of Iran and having a very long border, we of course are very interested in normalization of relations in the region. We are very concerned about potential instability.

I think the intention of having negotiations--to reduce the tensions and talk to the Iranians and bring down the threat of destabilization and weaponization of its nuclear program--is a very good one. Isolating Iran would not work. That has been shown.

We fully support talking to the Iranians and trying to figure it out. [...]

Q: How could the nuclear agreement impact Azerbaijan? In other words, what are the stakes for Azerbaijan with these negotiations?

A: We do have a dog in the fight in the sense we don't want to see the region destabilized. We don't want to see any more military activity in the region

Iran is a major player in the region. Whatever happens to Iran affects us just like it affects the whole region.

It's important American allies in the region, be it Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey or Israel, all feel somewhat comfortable with the solution.

It is us who live in the region.

And don't forget there is a significant number of ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran who are citizens of Iran. [...]

Q: Do the ethnic Azerbaijanis living in Iran generally support a nuclear deal? What are their biggest concerns in the negotiations?

A: The concern is their welfare. That they don't get involved in military conflict and that they don't suffer.

They would favor a deal. I think everybody would favor a deal. The question is what kind of deal. [...]

Q: What is the relationship like between the U.S. and Azerbaijan right now? Do you feel a commitment from America?

A: Azerbaijan is a partner with the U.S. in counterterrorism. We are a strong defense partner.

The long-term commitments and relationships to allies in the region is the most important thing here. We are one of few countries committed to post 2014 Afghanistan.

We have forces in Afghanistan. We provide civilian training for their police, customs and civil service. Forty percent of NATO military goods come through Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has done its share. We have felt strong support of the U.S. for years.

The entire WoT has been about empowering the Shi'a crescent.
Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Inland Empire sees surge in warehouse jobs, but many are low-pay, temporary (CHRIS KIRKHAM, 4/18/15, LA Times)

Pilar Guzman has worked for five years in a warehouse that processes luggage arriving from China and bound for the likes of Wal-Mart, Macy's and Kohl's.

She's made minimum wage for the entire stint and arrives each day not knowing whether she'll get called into work the next. One recent day, she taped 12,000 cardboard boxes.

"The work is very repetitive, and people tend to get hurt," she said in Spanish through a translator.

Guzman is on the front lines of the fastest-growing industry in one of the fastest-growing job markets in California: the Inland Empire. Once the poster child for the woes of the housing crash, the eastern spoke of the Los Angeles metro area has rebounded swiftly over the last two years.

The fastest-growing sector has been the logistics industry -- the truck drivers, inventory managers and warehouse workers serving an increasingly global and digital economy.

The sector created 1 in 5 jobs in the Inland Empire last year. That figure doesn't include the huge proportion of warehouse workers supplied by temporary employment agencies, which typically offer less job security and fewer benefits.

Other workers, like Guzman, are employed by contractors who can't always offer full-time positions because of fluctuating demand from big retailers. [...]

At Pacific Mountain Logistics in Ontario, Rodrigo Espitia started out as a forklift driver about two years ago. Since then he's worked himself into a lead role at the warehouse, supervising the packaging of all outgoing goods delivered to customers.

He's gotten a raise from $12 to $14 an hour. He sees a lot of opportunities for those who work with speed and precision.

"I'm here because I don't make lots of mistakes," Espitia said as he double-checked the billing and shipping details for outgoing electronics. "You always have to be on top of everything, and make the customer happy."

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


Finns poised for a political shakeup (Deutsche Welle, 4/19/15)
Opposition Center Party leader Juha Sipila, who has backing of the urban middle class and rural conservatives, is tipped to become the new prime minister of Finland, succeeding Alexander Stubb of the center-right National Coalition Party, as Finns take to the polls on Sunday.

"Our country deserves better," Sipila blogged on Saturday. "Politics must be returned to a climate of trust."

Sipila has indicated openness to working with the Finns Party, formerly known as True Finns, as a coalition partner. The move could complicate ties with Europe, because the Finns openly oppose financial bailouts and have campaigned to kick Greece out of the eurozone.

April 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


U.S. Suggests Compromise on Iran Sanctions (CAROL E. LEE and  JAY SOLOMON, April 17, 2015, WSJ)

President Barack Obama suggested on Friday that Iran could receive significant economic relief immediately after concluding a deal to curb its nuclear program, a gesture towards one of Tehran's key demands.

Mr. Obama said such a move would depend on the final accord allowing international sanctions to be quickly re-imposed if Tehran violated the agreement it is now negotiating with global powers. The administration has said the U.S. prefers sanctions would be lifted in phases as Iran meets certain requirements.

"Our main concern here is making sure that if Iran doesn't abide by its agreement that we don't have to jump through a whole bunch of hoops in order to reinstate sanctions," the president said at a news conference. "It will require some creative negotiations," Mr. Obama said, adding, "I'm confident it will be successful."

Such solutions could potentially include a faster timetable for lifting sanctions and also freeing up tens of billions of dollars in Iranian oil revenue that has been frozen, though Mr. Obama made no reference to that money.

Obama could ease Iran sanctions without Congress (Yakima Herald,  APRIL 17, 2015)

Only Congress can terminate its legislative sanctions. And those are some of the toughest penalties against Iran because they target its energy sector, central bank and key segments of its economy. But experts say Obama can neutralize the effect of some of those sanctions, too, and work with the Europeans to neutralize others.

Says Tyler Cullis, legal fellow at the National Iranian American Council, which favors an agreement: "Some have expressed doubt whether the president can provide Iran significant sanctions relief solely on the basis of his own authority. Such doubt should be put to rest."

He said the president "could almost gut" an entire segment of sanctions by taking Iran's major banks off the Treasury Department's list of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List. Those on this list face asset freezes, and Americans are banned from doing business with them. Moreover, many U.S. and foreign banks and businesses have opted to steer clear of those on the list just to make sure they don't violate U.S. sanctions.

If the Europeans and other nations participating with the U.S. in the nuclear talks lift their penalties against Iran, the international sanctions regime will begin to unravel, and Cullis said Obama could tell lawmakers they should work with him to join the sanctions relief campaign.

Mark Dubowitz, a leading sanctions proponent with the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, agrees.

"It is legally possible for him to go it alone," Dubowitz said. "He can do a lot on his own and he can do a lot with the Europeans."

According to Dubowitz, if the Europeans lift the Iranian oil embargo, Iran could work to increase the 1.1 million barrels a day that it's exporting now to pre-sanction levels of an estimated 2.1 million. At $50 a barrel, that would provide Iran with about $18 billion more in oil revenue every year.

Currently, those importing Iranian oil are required to pay into locked escrow accounts in a handful of countries. There's an estimated $100 billion sitting in those accounts, and that money could be released through presidential action.

"So right way, there's about $118 billion that Iran could access within about 12 months without Congress," Dubowitz said.

Iran presents four-point peace plan for Yemen (Deutsche Welle, 4/17/15)

The four-point Yemen peace plan Iran brought before the United Nations on Friday came as heavy bombing carried out by a regional coalition continued to hit the country.

Iran's proposal called for the cessation of hostilities and an immediate end to all foreign military attacks, direct delivery of medical and humanitarian aid, a resumption of political talks and the creation of a broad Yemeni unity government.

"It is imperative for the international community to get more effectively involved in ending the senseless aerial attacks and establishing a ceasefire," Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

"The only way to restore peace and stability is to allow all Yemeni parties to establish, without any foreign interference, their own inclusive national unity government," the letter said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Wizards' Paul Pierce speaks the truth (Jackie MacMullan, 4/14/15, ESPNBoston.com)

 "It was a tough situation (in Brooklyn) last year. Horrible, really.

"It was just the guys' attitudes there. It wasn't like we were surrounded by a bunch of young guys. They were vets who didn't want to play and didn't want to practice. I was looking around saying, 'What's this?' Kevin (Garnett) and I had to pick them up every day in practice.

"If me and Kevin weren't there, that team would have folded up. That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.''

The player that puzzled him the most, said Pierce, was point guard Deron Williams.

"Before I got there, I looked at Deron as an MVP candidate,'' Pierce said. "But I felt once we got there, that's not what he wanted to be. He just didn't want that.

"I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was his first time in the national spotlight. The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.'' [...]

"I talk to them a lot about mental preparation and consistency,'' Pierce said. "I keep telling Wall and Beal, 'You've got to make up your mind. Do you want to be good, or do you want to be great? Because if you want to be great, you gotta do it every single night, not just when you feel like it.'

"Both of those guys have the potential to be great. I love them. But sometimes I'm not sure they realize what it takes.

"That was (Rajon) Rondo's problem, too. Some days he did, some days he didn't. I think it's more this generation. A lot of these players have been catered to since the sixth grade. The NBA is changing so much. It's not like when I came up, with that old-school mentality that practice really mattered. You've got these 24, 25 year old guys who sit out of practice now to rest. It's hard for me to understand, but I'm trying.'' [...]

Pierce still engages in group texts with former Celtics teammates (and coach) Doc Rivers, Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby Davis, but hasn't talked to Ray Allen since he bolted from Boston to Miami in the summer of 2012.

Though much has been made of it, Pierce said, people don't understand he wasn't all that close to Allen to begin with.

"It was a weird relationship,'' Pierce conceded. "We were all good friends on the court, but Ray always did his own thing. That's just the way Ray was. Even when we were playing together, we'd be having a team dinner and Ray wouldn't show up. We'd go to his charity events but Ray wouldn't show up to somebody else's.

"I called him on it. I said, 'Man, Ray, we support all your stuff but when we ask you, you don't come to ours.' I remember when Rondo re-signed with Boston, we had a little dinner at a restaurant and Ray didn't show up.

"I know Ray probably didn't like Rondo that much, but it wasn't a fact of not liking somebody. You don't have to like everybody you play with -- it's a matter of showing support.

"Rondo probably didn't like Ray either, but he came to Ray's functions to show, 'Hey, we're together in this.'

When a sport awards massive contracts to teenage players who've never accomplished anything at the professional level then is the point of the game the money or playing well?

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


We Tax Small Businesses More Than Big Businesses And Other Reasons We Need Tax Reform (Ed Feulner,  April 18, 2015, Daily Signal)

We need to start by asking what we want tax reform to achieve. Here are five basic objectives, courtesy of tax experts Curtis Dubay and David R. Burton:

First, lower tax rates on individuals and businesses. It never hurts to state the obvious, especially when dealing with such a fundamental step, but yes, the first major component of true tax reform starts with lowering rates. In particular, the top marginal rates are too high, discouraging work, saving and investment.

Second, establish the right tax base. You can lower rates all you want, but if you're taxing the wrong thing, it won't do much good. We can encourage economic growth by moving toward a consumption tax--one that taxes income that is spent, not income that is saved or invested. Our current system is tilted far too heavily toward the latter, and we all end up paying the price--literally--with a more sluggish economy.

Third, eliminate the bias against saving and investment. Yes, the right tax base helps in this regard. Gone, for example, would be the double taxation of capital gains and dividends under a consumption tax. But we also need to lower our corporate tax rate, which at 39.1 percent is the highest in the developed world.

It's worth noting that, under our current system, the tax rate on small businesses is even higher than it is for large ones. Thanks in part to the 2013 tax increases and to Obamacare, the top federal rate on small business income is 43.4 percent, versus 35 percent for large corporations. This needs to change.

Fourth, get rid of tax preferences. Simply put, our tax system should be neutral. It shouldn't pick winners and losers. A key part of any serious reform will be eliminating the current polyglot system of deductions, credits and exemptions.

Fifth, simplify the system. One of the main reasons so few Americans think our tax system is working well is the fact that it's so ludicrously complicated. But we need simplicity not only to reduce aggravation and errors--we need it because reducing the size and scope of government without transparency is practically impossible.

"Because of income and payroll tax withholdings, and the hidden costs of corporate, employer payroll, and excise taxes, most Americans have little idea how much they are paying to fund the federal government or how proposed policy changes will affect them," Dubay and Burton write. "The sheer complexity of the system makes it difficult to understand the true impact of the tax system. Tax reform should strive to make that cost explicit to taxpayers."

One of the keys to an effective consumption tax is that it be a separate line item on your bill, not just so you see what tax burden we place on ourselves as a society, but so you see what you could save by not making the purchase and investing the money instead.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Innovation Scorecard (Consumer Electronics Association)
America is founded on choice, including the choice of where to live, innovate and prosper. Entrepreneurs and business owners in the U.S. have a choice when they decide to start new businesses ventures - 51 of them, really. Do they set up shop in a state with a strong talent pool, a favorable tax system and a track record of encouraging small business, or do they surrender to the laws and regulatory structure of their home state?
The license to innovate, the flexibility to hire qualified workers in science and engineering, and freedom from burdensome taxes and regulatory structures are key factors for entrepreneurs and business owners deciding where to establish roots. But what makes a state a champion of business innovation?

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM


The End of the Republic : Review: Barry Strauss' The Death of Caesar (Tom Rogan, April 18, 2015, Daily Signal)

The struggle for power is the heart of this skillful, accessible account. Strauss is keen that we understand just how ruthless the men of Rome were, noting how Brutus had once locked debtor councilmen in their homes until they starved to death. He provides profiles of all the major figures involved in the Ides of March--Brutus, Cassius, and Decimus--but focuses, naturally, on Caesar's power. He explains how Caesar "replaced republican austerity with imperial pomp and sealed it with a dynasty's stamp." In essence, Caesar began the transformation of Rome from a republic back to an effective monarchy--a form of government from which it had long before escaped.

By pursuing his own absolutist authority with such aggressiveness so quickly, Caesar sowed the seeds of his own demise. As Strauss puts it:

In three months, Caesar had disrespected the Senate, dispensed with People's Tribune, and flirted with monarchy. By February, the conspiracy that would bring Caesar down was being born. In fact, it might already have been alive.

Physical arrogance (the conqueror refused to accept a bodyguard) and poor political calculations were more proximate causes of his death. Strauss explains how Caesar had long cultivated a reputation as a forgiving political master who would grant wealth and prestige in return for absolute loyalty.

But Caesar failed to heed that what he had to offer would not trump the wounded pride of the Roman nobility, members of which determined that Brutus must be at the fore of the plot. Brutus' family was immensely distinguished, and believed to have been involved in the original transition from monarchy to self-rule. Strauss describes how the "conspirators insisted on him. Their principle was that to kill a king it takes a king--or at least a prince, and Brutus was practically a republican prince."

April 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Experts: Powering your home with batteries is going to get cheaper and cheaper (Chris Mooney April 16, 2015, Washington Post)

A recent study in Energy Policy, for instance, found that the cost of batteries for home systems (to store the energy collected by rooftop solar panels) is starting to decline - although even with these systems, it probably won't be economically optimal for most people to ditch the grid entirely. Another report by the Rocky Mountain Institute similarly found that within 10 to 15 years in some places, the most economical choice for home energy could be a solar plus battery system, meaning that there could be a great deal of "load defection" from the traditional electricity grid.

Finally, a new study in Nature Climate Change documented that there has been a steep decline in the cost of lithium ion batteries for electric vehicles like Teslas - 14 percent per year plunge since 2007.

All of which is being hailed as pretty revolutionary. "Solar-plus-batteries is set to begin a dramatic transformation of human civilization," wrote Bloomberg commentator Noah Smith recently, commenting not only on the declining price of batteries for electric vehicles, but also the potential for more batteries in homes.

Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


How Factory Workers Learned to Love Their Robot Colleagues (MIKE RAMSEY, April 15, 2015, WSJ)

The trend is best seen at a plant in Fremont, Calif., operated by Tesla Motors Inc., a company founded by the huge comic book fan Elon Musk. The biggest robots are named after Marvel superheroes.

They are surrounded by Plexiglas, and they have nametags that include Wolverine, Professor X, Iceman and Beast. The labels fit the plant's Mojo. The factory, once co-owned by Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co., now displays an "Evolution of Man" mural showing apes morphing into men and men morphing into Iron Man.

More than a dozen of Tesla's robots have names.

"They are superheroes--they do superhuman things," said Nick Tabak, who along with fellow engineers named the robots. "We named them after X-Men and that made them a little bit less intimidating and more part of the team."

At the Fremont plant, the huge robots lift the aluminum bodies of the Model S and transfer them over to a new line. Keeping with the theme, the company had a designer create a comic-book style diagram of what is happening at each station.

Tesla isn't alone and the phenomenon isn't unique to North America. Workers at Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co., General Motors, Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota all have pet names for the most revered robots in the plants.

At a corner in Nissan's Kyushu plant in southern Japan there are rows of yellow robots named after famous anime characters, welding and shooting out sparks as metal vehicle bodies pass through on their way to final assembly.

One is named Son Goku, another is called Vegeta. Those are characters from Japanese television's "Dragon Ball Z," an animated series that follows adventurers defending the world against evil.

Also working at Nissan are robots named Doraemon and Dorami from the show "Doraemon," a hit anime series with story lines dating back decades. One machine is tagged Luffy. He is the main character of "One Piece," a series about a young man whose body has the elastic properties of rubber.

Minsoo Kang, a University of Missouri-St. Louis humanities professor, says people are typically ambivalent about coexisting with machines, but naming robots could be a sign of kinship or comfort. "We don't name scissors, but when they start performing human-like actions, we do."

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


A little more nationalism might be just what the Welsh need (Ellie Mae O'Hagan,  15 April 2015, The Guardian)

As we prepare for the third leaders' debate tomorrow, we should reflect on the fallout from the second - a seven-way affair that one could easily have mistaken for the world's most boring episode of Take Me Out. As a native of Wales, I have been particularly interested in the reaction to the Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood, which seemed mostly to consist of grumbling that all she talked about was Wales (imagine that), and withering references to her party's nationalism. [...]

According to Save the Children, Wales has the highest child poverty rate in the UK, with one in three families living on an income that is 60% lower than the national average. In terms of the share of national income, the poorest region in northern Europe is in west Wales; the richest is London (incidentally, nine of the 10 poorest regions in northern Europe are in the UK, so perhaps anyone living outside a 100-mile radius of London should be feeling pretty angry, too). Figures show that poverty is having serious effects on pupils' attainment rates in schools, and Wales has the highest death rates for drug misuse in the UK. The country has also seen a 20% rise in food bank use in the past year, and Welsh people are being hit hardest by the bedroom tax, with more than one in five in rent arrears.

But people living in Wales don't need facts to tell them the country is suffering the consequences of national neglect. They only need to visit the towns that have been abandoned by industry, walk the high streets where local businesses have been replaced by bookies and pawn shops, or wave off their children who are moving elsewhere to find work. Any Westminster politician who derides Plaid Cymru for running on an anti-austerity ticket needs to ask themselves why Plaid MPs are so convinced that opposing austerity might win them votes in the first place.

Scotland, another country that has suffered from England-centric Westminster politics, is finally finding its voice. The sight of the national media following politicians as they rushed to Glasgow to plead with the electorate in September was nothing short of remarkable. Wales must now have a similar political moment - not so Welsh people can indulge in some pro-independence flag-waving, but because being treated as a national irrelevance has tangible and disastrous effects. Forcing Wales up the political agenda is not a matter of ideology; it's a matter of necessity.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Rubio-backed insurance market covers 80 people (RACHANA PRADHAN, 4/17/1, Politico)

In 2008, while Democrats were declaring that the time was right for national health care reform, Marco Rubio, the speaker of the Florida House, had a ready response: Florida should build a market-based system that would help contain the cost of insurance and make it more available.

Rubio pushed his no-mandate health insurance exchange, dubbed Florida Health Choices, through the state Legislature that year. "It's about competition, it's about choice, and it's about the marketplace," he told The Palm Beach Post at the time.

Florida Health Choices, which finally opened last year, now covers 80 people.

Obamacare, which Rubio wants to repeal, covers 1.6 million in Florida alone. And 93 percent of them are subsidized.

Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Democrats Enraged Over Closely Guarded Trade Deal (ROB GARVER, 4/17/15, The Fiscal Times)

Accompanied by howls of outrage from President Barack Obama's traditional political allies, a bill to grant special legislative status to a secretive trade agreement, supported by both the president and the Congressional Republicans with whom he has sparred for his entire tenure in the White House, is expected to come to the floor of both Houses of Congress in coming weeks. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Jeb Bush calls on Republicans to confirm Loretta Lynch (NICK GASS 4/17/15 7:02 AM EDT

Jeb Bush says that the Senate should confirm the nomination of Loretta Lynch, President Barack Obama's choice for attorney general. A number of Senate Republicans oppose her nomination.

"I think presidents have the right to pick their team," Bush said, according to reports of his stop at the "Politics and Pie" forum in Concord, New Hampshire, on Thursday night. [...]

"If someone is supportive of the president's policies, whether you agree with them or not, there should be some deference to the executive," Bush told reporters. "It should not always be partisan."

It's revealing that he's the one guy acting like he'll need to get cabinet officers approved too.

April 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


No Child Left Behind Rewrite Heads to Senate Floor (Allie Bidwell April 16, 2015, US news)

The Senate bill - dubbed the Every Child Achieves Act - was introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the committee's chairman, and ranking minority member Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., weeks after the two announced they would work together to craft a measure to update the law, formally known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The bill strikes a balance between dueling priorities across the aisle by scaling back federal oversight and giving states much more flexibility in developing their own accountability systems, while also laying out minimum federal protections states must meet in those systems and keeping in place annual testing mandates.

The whole point is the testing.
Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Iran Calls For Trilateral Military Operations Inside Afghanistan, Pakistan (Tariq Majidi, 4/14/15, Tolo News)

Iranian Interior Minister Abdul Reza Rahimi Fazli on Tuesday proposed launching a trilateral counter-insurgency operation inside Afghanistan and Pakistan territories in order to halt the expansion of Daesh, which has increasingly collaborated with other insurgent groups in the region to wage a campaign of indiscriminate violence that threatens stability in all three nations.

The Iranian official's proposal comes just a few days after a terrorist group known as Jaishuladl killed eight Iranian border police in the region between Iran and Pakistan.

"Tehran doesn't face a critical security threat right now, and the recent events inside Iranian territory happened because of the lack of preemptive measures in neighboring countries," 

Minister Fazli said on Tuesday. "But Iran wants a joint military operation against the insurgents to be conducted inside the Afghan and Pakistani territories."

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM



 A new Marquette Law School Poll finds Gov. Scott Walker's job approval rating has fallen to 41 percent, with 56 percent of registered voters in Wisconsin saying they disapprove of how he is handling his job as governor. In the previous poll, in October 2014, Walker's approval among registered voters was 49 percent, with 47 percent disapproving.

To look ahead to a possible 2016 presidential matchup, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leads Walker in Wisconsin, 52 percent to 40 percent.

The Governor won the national spotlight before he could handle it.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Europe Is Running Low on Children (PAUL HANNON, 4/16/15, WSJ)

[T]he eurozone economy may be heading into a rather bleak couple of decades.

Figures released by the European Union's statistics agency Thursday show the 28-member bloc  is running low on children, a trend that is set to continue. People aged less than 15 years accounted for 18.6% of the population in 1994, but just 15.6% in 2014. Eurostat estimates the rate of decline will slow in the coming decades, but just 15% of the population will be children in 2050.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Study Finds Illegal Immigrants Pay $11.8B in Taxes (ERIC PIANIN, 4/16/15, The Fiscal Times)

A new nationwide study on the fiscal implications of illegal immigration concludes that millions of undocumented immigrants are paying billions of dollar in taxes into state and local coffers, and that substantially more would be generated if President Obama prevails in imposing a new executive order protecting many of those workers from deportation.

The 50-state analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released on Thursday found that roughly 8.1 million of 11.4 million undocumented immigrants who work paid more than $11.8 billion in state and local taxes in 2012, even while they were living illegally in the country.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Jeb Bush visits Mississippi to show support for a new education law (Ed O'Keefe April 16, 2015, Washington Post)

Jeb Bush is spending part of Thursday in Mississippi at a bill-signing ceremony for legislation backed by his education foundation.

Bush is scheduled to be at the Mississippi state Capitol as Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signs a bill that provides vouchers to parents of children with special needs to spend up to $6,500 annually in taxpayer funds to pay for private schools or other services to help the child. In its first year, the program will benefit up to 500 students and another 500 each year up to the fifth year, when the legislature would have to reauthorize the program.

The Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Act is backed by the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit group launched by Bush after he left governorship in 2007. The new law is also modeled on a program Bush established as Florida governor that benefits roughly 28,000 students, according to Bush aides.

Bush's visit to see Bryant is his second visit in recent weeks with a governor inspired by his education reform proposals. Last month he visited South Carolina's Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has also implemented education ideas advanced by Bush's foundation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Why I Like The Iran Deal (Sort Of) : The former joint chiefs chairman thinks it's the only way to change the regime. (ADM. MIKE MULLEN (RET.) April 16, 2015, Politico)

[T]he real significance of this agreement is broader. If successful, it portends historic opportunities for change, not only in Iran but in the Middle East as a whole.

Let's talk about Iran first. In the West, we tend to see that country as monolithic. It is not. An epic struggle is underway for Iran's soul. While there is consensus among the leadership of that country and some of its population about the importance of an Islamic republic, visions about what exactly that implies or how best to ensure its success differ. Hardliners or so-called "Principalists" see such a theocracy as an exemplar and catalyst for regional hegemony-for a return to empire of sorts, or at least increasing Shi'a dominance.  Reformists, on the other hand, see it leading Iran back into the community of nations, still a strong nation, but more responsible regionally and more responsive to the needs of its people.

And then there are the Iranian people themselves--the median age is only 28--many largely open to the West and hungry to be reconnected to the world. Theirs is a generation not driven solely by religion, but rather by soaring unemployment, unfulfilled economic opportunities and mounting frustration with the social and moral shackles placed on them by Tehran. They are proud to be sure, and will not blithely sacrifice what they rightly believe are attributes of Iranian sovereignty, such as a peaceful nuclear capability.  But so too are they pragmatists, eager for reform and reengagement.   As one young woman put it, "I pray that my children will be able to live in an Iran that can play nice with the international community."

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Abraham Lincoln assassination: How Britain mourned 150 years ago (Professor Richard Carwardine, 15 Apr 2015, The Telegraph)

This was no local American tragedy. Booth's shot ricocheted around the world. Nowhere did it prompt more profound emotions abroad than in Britain. As reports of the "odious wickedness" spread, grown men wept openly in the streets. American consulates were deluged by a blizzard of condolences, from Aberdeen to Waterford, Anglesey to York.

Official voices - Lords and Commons; town and borough councils - were only part of the story. An anguished people spoke out through a striking range of voluntary agencies, including working men's clubs, church bodies, antislavery societies, Sunday schools, freemasons, rifle volunteers, chambers of commerce, temperance associations, universities, secularists, literary societies and theatre groups.

Their expression of intense loss was not summer snow. Lincoln had lastingly touched the nerve of British progressive sentiment. Here was the humane emancipator of his country's slaves, the re-unifier of the broken American republic, the advocate of democracy and representative government, and the man of the people. Here, in sum, was the welcoming doorkeeper to the modern world.

He inspired liberals, radicals, socialists and all those who challenged ancestral privilege, celebrated the dignity of labour, and worked to widen life chances. In a typical lament, Bristol suffrage reformers grieved at the loss of a leader who sought to confer "the blessings of equal rights and privileges on all, without distinction of party, creed, or colour."

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Top Republicans, Democrats agree to fast-track trade deals, give Congress up or down vote (LAURIE KELLMAN, 4/16/15, Associated Press)

Top lawmakers struck a bipartisan agreement Thursday to allow President Barack Obama to negotiate trade deals subject to a yes-or-no vote from Congress without the possibility of changes.

The "fast track" legislation comes as Obama seeks a sweeping trade deal with 11 Pacific nations. The Trans-Pacific Partnership proposes a trade agreement involving the United States, Japan, Vietnam, Canada, Mexico and seven other Pacific rim nations.

The debate scrambles traditional partisan alliances, sharpening differences between the Democratic Party's liberal and pro-business wings. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee; the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, announced the deal.

Passing the Iran deal and the TPP the same week is epic.

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


John Kasich good for GOP, good for U.S. (Nolan Finley, 4/16/15, The Detroit News)

The Ohio governor is a middle of the road Republican from the nation's middle. Should he decide to run, he'll bring to the campaign qualities that should appeal to voters weary of Washington gridlock and partisanship: Pragmatism and a "willingness to solve problems with legitimate compromise that makes America stronger," as Kasich described his governing philosophy to the Detroit Economic Club earlier this week.

He also talked about values -- and not the ones being mouthed by the GOP's hard right. The governor says he stands for personal responsibility, teamwork, family and faith.

He wears his faith on his sleeve, but before you place him on the religious right stack, here's how Kasich described his core belief: "Love your neighbor." He then laid out a reprise of compassionate conservatism: meeting the needs of the poor today while preparing them to take care of themselves tomorrow.

His speech was absent vitriol and stridency, offering instead the mix of economic conservatism and social moderation the majority of American voters identify with, and urging common sense rather than ideological solutions to divisive issues such as immigration reform. "We don't have enough buses to ship 12 million people across the border," he said.

Kasich has a resume to match his message. Under five years of his leadership, Ohio has built a $2 billion budget surplus while cutting taxes by $3 billion and adding 350,000 jobs. He won re-election last fall by 30 percentage points, picking up 26 percent of the minority vote and nearly two-thirds of women. For those who say the nation's changing demographics disadvantage the GOP, Kasich would seem to have found an answer.

He's appealed to Ohio's African-American voters, who helped deliver the state twice for President Barack Obama, by "doing my best every single day to make sure every single person in my state feels included." In practice, that meant forming one of the first state commissions on police/community relations.

Perfect man for the times, right? 

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Moore's Law has well exceeded Moore's expectations (Bret Swanson, 4/16/15, AEI)

[T]he case for information technology is much brighter than either the pessimistic or catastrophically optimistic scenarios. (See our new report: Moore's Law: A 50th Anniversary Assessment.)

It's true that to avoid excessive heat, clock speeds of chips leveled off around 2005. To compensate, however, Intel and other firms started designing chips with, among other innovations, multiple processor cores. Steve Oliner, a former Federal Reserve economist now with the American Enterprise Institute, shows that annual chip performance gains over the last decade have actually continued at 32%, near the five-decade average of 40%. A microprocessor in 2013 was thus 1.5 million times more powerful than Intel's first in 1971.

In addition, Google, Amazon, and others spent the last decade linking tens of thousands of chips and disks to deliver "warehouse scale computing" - or supercomputing for the masses. Parallelism on chips was thus matched and augmented with parallelism across Internet data centers, now accessible via two billion smartphones. In 1965, the only computers were large, centralized mainframes at universities and large corporations that were still fed by punch cards. A small number of lucky workers, professors, and students had to wait in line to access scarce computer time. Today, the centralized computers of our era - those in "the cloud" - generate 4.7 zettabytes (1021) of data per year.

The economic benefits have likewise been underestimated. The government's producer price index (PPI), for example, says microprocessor prices have virtually stopped declining. But Oliner and his colleagues believe this reflects a quirk in Intel's pricing strategy. They estimate that the actual annual price drop for 2000-13 was 44 percent. According to the official government measure, $100 worth of computing power in 2000 could be purchased for $1.40 in 2013, which sounds impressive. The actual cost in 2013, according to Oliner, however, may be just 5 cents ($0.05). By this measure, consumers can purchase 28 times more computing power per dollar than the official data suggests.

Dale Jorgenson of Harvard, using new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, shows that over the last 40 years nearly all the gains in total factor productivity (or technical innovation) have come from information technology and that IT accounts for between 50% and 70% of all productivity growth. In 2007, William Nordhaus of Yale, looking back two centuries, found that the labor cost of computing (hourly income per unit of computation) had declined by a factor of 73 trillion. Based on his numbers, I estimate that since Gordon Moore plotted those first few data points the labor cost of computing has fallen by a factor of roughly one trillion.

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 PM


What Are Jewish Conservatives Trying to Conserve? (YORAM HAZONY, APRIL 16 2015, Mosaic)

It goes without saying that not all Jews of patriotic or conservative temperament believe in God.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Iran bill unlikely to scuttle deal : The White House believes it got what it needed from Congress. (EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE and BURGESS EVERETT 4/16/15, Politico)

"If the deal ends up looking a lot like the framework, I think the president will be able to sell it," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a major proponent of the bill because he believed in Congress's constitutional prerogative.

Asked about the possibility of Democrats opposing Obama on Iran, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) replied: "It looks unlikely given the details of the framework."

White House officials believe they got the best outcome possible, and they need to hold just 34 Democrats in the Senate or 144 in the House to keep Republicans from getting in its way.

"Given the noise of this debate, it quickly became in our interest to channel that noise in a direction where it can be contained," a White House official said Wednesday. "We concluded that we're just better off locking them into a position so they can have their say -- that's the compromise -- but the benefit is there's no longer any ambiguity about what Congress can do to interfere. This is the only vehicle, the vote will only be on sanctions, there's a limit on the timing."

And now, the administration believes, the Iran negotiators can carry on in Switzerland as they try to get a deal by the June 30 deadline without worrying about what might be coming their way from Capitol Hill.

...is that the opponents support the deal, which is why they're happy to have this fake vehicle for "opposing" it.

April 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Obama's proposal for more trade with Asia may not go over so well in his own party (David Nakamura April 15, 2015, Washington Post)

 As early as this week, Congress is expected to debate "fast-track" legislation that would give the administration more authority to complete a massive, 12-nation free trade pact in the Asia Pacific that Obama has called a cornerstone of his second term -- a way to ensure U.S. competitiveness in the face of a rising China.

It will mark a leadership test for the president, who has pledged to invest his waning political capital to woo skeptical Democrats. White House allies said the danger is that Republicans are supporting the president on trade in large part because they know it could divide Democrats going into an election year.

Obama's embrace of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) faces fierce opposition from some of his closest political allies and the organizational heart of the Democratic coalition: labor unions, environmental groups and the progressive wing of Congress. His critics on the left contend the pact would help American corporations in state-controlled foreign markets but would lead to job losses and exacerbate the growing income gap at home.

Looked at objectively, all the guy cares about is expanding trade.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Early snapshot of GOP race -- White, born again Christians dig Jeb Bush (Tobin Grant, Apr 13, 201, Religion News Service)

The April Washington Post/ABC poll asked about potential candidates. The results give an early snapshot of how the race is going and who the born-again base of the GOP likes so far.

This graphic is not offered for republication.

The poll asked Republicans which candidate they preferred -- who would they vote to the Republican nominee if the primary was today? Among all Republicans and white, born-again Christians, the top pick was Jeb Bush. This is a good harbinger for the Bush campaign, as a challenger is unlikely to be successful without organized opposition.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Is Your Job 'Routine'? If So, It's Probably Disappearing (JOSH ZUMBRUN, 4/08/15, WSJ)

New research from Henry Siu at the University of British Columbia and Nir Jaimovich from Duke University shows just how much the world of routine work has collapsed. The economists released a paper today, published by the centrist Democratic think tank Third Way, showing that over the course of the last two recessions and recoveries, a period beginning in 2001, the economy's job growth has come entirely from nonroutine work. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 PM


With the right policies in place, fracking can contribute to an American economic renaissance and rebirth of manufacturing (Jeb Bush, April 14, 2015, Cleveland.com)

One of the greatest economic transformations in American history is less than a decade old and it's happening right here in Ohio. 

Fracking and other new drilling techniques to unlock vast shale oil and gas reserves deep underground have given new life to cities like Youngstown and Canton. They've produced new wealth for property owners throughout Ohio, but especially farmers. They've put hope in the hearts of workers who've found manufacturing jobs with better pay and benefits.

You would think leaders in Washington would want to take every advantage of this newfound economic boon. But instead, the Obama administration is blocking pipelines, export opportunities and access to drilling on federal lands. If the Obama administration and other liberals had their way, Ohio workers, landowners and taxpayers wouldn't benefit from fracking at all. 

This is a classic example of how bad government policy gets in the way of Americans who are just trying to find good-paying and secure jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Study: Genetic Testing of Tumors Often Gives False Results (Christine Gorman, 4/16/15, Scientific American)

Performing genetic tests on cancer tumors without comparing the results to patients' normal tissue could lead to inaccurate diagnoses and poor treatment decisions in nearly half of all patients under certain circumstances. This unexpected conclusion comes from a study of more than 800 people published in the April 15 issue of Science Translational Medicine and underscores how complicated the genetic testing of tumors is becoming as well as how careful clinicians must be in interpreting the results. Currently, most genetic pathology tests are performed on tumor samples only and do not include comparisons with DNA taken from normal tissue.

...that we start from perfection.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Cohabitation may be hazardous to your health (Patricia Lee June, Apr 13 2015, Mercator.Net)
The American College of Pediatricians recently published a paper, Cohabitation, which cautions adolescents and young adults about the negative consequences of cohabitation for both themselves and their children, and urges parents to teach their children about the advantages of waiting until marriage. [...]

Cohabiting couples are now less likely to later marry than 40 years ago. Controlling for other factors that increase risk of divorce, marriages preceded by cohabitation are still 50 percent more likely to end in divorce.  (Some recent studies challenge this, but are scientifically flawed and omit the raw data.)  Also 27 percent of cohabitations dissolve without marriage in the first three years.

Cohabiters commit increased violence against their partner. Women are nine times more likely to be killed by a cohabiting partner than by their husband. Severe violence is four times as common among cohabiting couples; any violence is nearly 50 percent more common among couples cohabiting before marrying and doubled among couples continuing to cohabit after five years.

Men who cohabit without marrying in 5 to 10 years have more than double the rate of alcohol abuse as married men; women who cohabit without marrying have 4 to 7 times the rate of alcohol abuse as married women.

Cohabiters, both men and women, have rates of infidelity in the preceding year more than triple that of married spouses. Among the married, those cohabiting prior to marriage were 50 percent more likely to be unfaithful as those marrying without cohabiting.

Poverty is more common among cohabitating women and their children. Their male partners have both a higher unemployment rate (15 percent vs 8 percent), and work less hours if employed. Cohabitating women are ten times more likely to have an abortion than married women, and suffer from its associated mortality and morbidity. In fact, 89 percent of women who have had abortions have at one time cohabited; 40 percent have lived with three or more men. Abortion also puts future children at risk, especially from extremely premature birth.

Children who survive also suffer due to parental cohabitation. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Jeb Bush Says America Is World's 'Best Hope' for Religious Freedom; It's 'Non-Negotiable' (ANUGRAH KUMAR , 4/13/15, CHRISTIAN POST)

Focus on the Family and its constituents were involved in the efforts to save Terri, and Bush tried to use his executive powers to preserve her life.

"Almost every week there's an example of conflicting rights under the law," Bush acknowledges in the interview. "And I think, in the case of unborn children, who are the most vulnerable ... I think this is an issue not just among the unborn but also people that ... there's a big movement now, increasing number of assisted suicides. The most vulnerable in our society need to be protected. They need to have legal rights, and as a society we need to recognize their value and their worth."

Regarding his concerns in the area of religious freedom, Bush says it's a global issue, including the ongoing unprecedented persecution of Christians, which is about religious freedom.

Religious freedom is crucial in the United States because "we are the last great, best hope for freedom and we've been that way for a long while that amongst ourselves we have to figure out how we can sort out the fact that people are not going to be discriminated against under the law, and that people have the right space to act on their conscience. It is a non-negotiable point," Bush adds.

Talking about the immigration issue, the former governor mentions that he met his wife for the first time in Mexico when he was 17, and she was 16. He said he fell in love with her "at first sight."

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Senate overwhelmingly approves 'doc fix' (eter Sullivan and Sarah Ferris, 04/14/15, The Hill)

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $200 billion Medicare reform package that will end a two-decade-old headache for Congress known as the "doc fix."
The rare bipartisan bill, which passed 92-8, marks one of the biggest achievements yet from the newly GOP-controlled Congress. It will now head to President Obama, who has promised to sign the bill. [...]
Eight senators opposed the bill, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) who are both seeking the presidency in 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Saudis Should Welcome the Iran Deal (VALI R. NASR, APRIL 14, 2015, NY Times)

[A] final nuclear deal is much likelier to make the Arab world more secure for a decade or more, by preventing Iran from getting near a "breakout" -- the ability to produce enough bomb-grade material to become a nuclear power. And that would give the whole region time to address the real cause of its instability: the lack of effective pluralist government in fragile states throughout the Levant, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa.

Fixing that gap requires time to resolve internal political divisions left over from the 20th century. And time to pursue that goal is one likely outcome of the formula reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, last month, particularly if it also promotes Iran's reintegration with the global economy. That alone has potential to temper Iran's foreign policy in the region.

So far, the Arab countries have operated on a logic precisely opposite. 

Given that the solution to Arab woes involves replacing their undemocratic regimes, why would those regimes welcome an alliance between the two great democratic actors in the region?

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM



"Liberty University is honored to welcome Gov. Jeb Bush to campus for our 42nd commencement exercises," President Jerry Falwell said. "Throughout his years of public service, Gov. Bush has been a champion for excellence in education and so many other issues of vital importance to our university community."

During his time as governor, Jeb Bush was well known for his education reform. Recently, he is known for his support of Common Core. Jeb Bush also campaigns for comprehensive immigration reform, and he is a strong gun rights advocate.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Conservative Bennett Voices New Pro-Common Core Ad (NH Journal, Apr 15, 2015)

The New Hampshire Journal has learned that the Collaborative for Student Success has bought radio time all across New Hampshire in support of the Common Core standards. In the ad, Bill Bennett, Secretary of Education under former President Ronald Reagan, makes the case for Common Core standards in the ad by targeting conservative voters in the first-in-the-nation state with a pitch from the Right.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Iran Nuclear Deal Raises Hopes for Science : Iranian physicists are excited at the prospects for a new physics lab and greater collaboration with the rest of the world (Declan Butler, 4/15/15,  Nature)

According to the proposed deal, some of the uranium-enrichment centrifuges at the Fordow site would be repurposed to produce isotopes such as molybdenum-99, which is widely required for medical imaging (see go.nature.com/jafnpt). Rüdiger Voss, head of inter­national relations at CERN, Europe's particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, says that such a capability could help to stem a global shortage of these isotopes.

Other parts of the underground site would house experimental physics facilities; the usefulness of this would depend heavily on the nature of the facilities, which are vague right now, says Voss. Physicist Ernest Moniz, the US energy secretary who is the nation's lead scientific negotiator on the agreement, has mentioned the possibility of installing a particle accelerator there. Iranian physicists are already on the case too, says Reza Mansouri, an astronomer at the IPM and a former deputy science minister. The Physics Society of Iran intends to write to politicians to ask to be involved in the choice of any future projects, he says, and Rouhani plans for the society to set up a working group to examine the possibilities for exploiting Fordow. He cites the construction of a neutrino detector as a possibility; Mansouri suggests research on cosmic rays.

Iran has a vibrant physics community and is already home to facilities such as the Iranian Light Source Facility in Qazvin, northwest of Tehran, which provides intense beams of X-rays for research in many fields. Iranian physicists also have many international collaborators, for example through the country's membership of CERN, and so are well poised to discuss any plans with colleagues abroad. "I can only be open to the initiative," says Patrick Fassnacht, who is in charge of international relations with Iran at CERN.

The negotiations also include easing nuclear-related sanctions, which have affected Iran's ability to do research and to collaborate with foreign scientists, says Hamid Javadi. He is a member of the council of the Iranian-American Physicists group, a body set up in 2007 to represent Iranian members of the American Physical Society. Foreign scientists often avoid contact with their Iranian peers for fear of falling foul of the tough sanction laws, he says. Iranian scientists wishing to travel abroad have also had difficulty obtaining visas.

Furthermore, the sanctions have made experimental equipment and journal subscriptions expensive for Iranian researchers, says Warren Pickett, a physicist at the University of California, Davis, who has promoted science diplomacy with Iran through visits (W. E. Pickett et al. Nature Phys. 10, 465-467; 2014), and whose university last year agreed to collaborate with Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. More perniciously, international tensions have often driven a wedge between foreign and Iranian researchers, he says: "When I described my visit to Iran, some colleagues would seem to roll their eyes in a 'why would you go there?' fashion."

He adds: "Introducing a large country of 75 million people back into the international community would be a great breakthrough."

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Christie Is Served a Ribbing at New Hampshire Restaurant (Michael Barbaro, 4/15/15, NY Times)

First, Dick Moquin, 68, challenged Mr. Christie with an unanswerable question, about the famously unsatisfying series finale of New Jersey's famous television drama.

"We want to know about Tony Soprano," he said. "In the last episode, what happened?"

Mr. Christie played along. "You know, they didn't tell me, either," he replied. "The screen went blank and nobody filled me in, either."

Then Buck Mercier, 69, brought up gun control and made clear his distaste for new regulation.

Mr. Christie spoke of "balance" and assured him that "the only way it's going to be taken away is if they amend the Constitution, which I don't think they are going to do."

Mr. Mercier, a hunter, seemed unenthusiastic.

But as Mr. Christie turned away, preparing to meet another group of customers, Mr. Mercier decided to fire off another barb at the governor.

"When they told me you were coming here, I went down to make sure -- personally -- that the bridges were going to be open," he said.

The room erupted in laughter.

April 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


AP Interview: Hezbollah's No. 2 lashes out at Saudi Arabia over its airstrikes in Yemen (ZEINA KARAM, 4/13/15, Associated Press)

The deputy chief of the militant Lebanese Hezbollah group lashed out at Saudi Arabia on Monday, accusing the kingdom of committing "genocide" with its airstrikes campaign that has been targeting Yemen's Shiite rebels for over two weeks.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press, Sheikh Naim Kassem said Saudi Arabia made a "strategic mistake" by interfering in Yemen's internal affairs and warned that the kingdom will "pay a heavy price" for the campaign. [...]

Kassem, who spoke in the Shiite group's stronghold in southern Beirut, suggested that the situation inside Saudi Arabia could implode as a result of its "aggression" in Yemen.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


AP Was There: 150 years later, the original AP dispatch reporting Lincoln's assassination (The Associated Press)


President Lincoln and wife visited Ford's Theatre this evening for the purpose of witnessing the performance of 'The American Cousin.' It was announced in the papers that Gen. Grant would also be present, but that gentleman took the late train of cars for New Jersey.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Print your own everything: Is this machine the cure for conformity? (Sheena McKenzie, and Rosie Tomkins, 4/14/15,  CNN)

You know what you want. You can imagine the exact size, color, texture and shape of the product you've already wasted hours searching for on the internet -- or heaven forbid, at the shopping mall. If only there was a store that could read your mind.

There is.

If you can dream it up, then an increasing number of 3D printing companies can create it and deliver it to your door within days -- regardless of whether it's made from titanium, plastic, or even chocolate.

But by turning the consumer into the craftsman, could 3D printing actually turn back the clock on mass production as we know it?

...the youngest is already taking 3-D printing in 7th grade.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Taxes on Employment Continue to Rise (PAUL HANNON, 4/14/15, WSJ)

Governments in developed economies raised taxes on employment for the fourth straight year in 2014, although at a slower pace, as they strove to cut their budget deficits without doing too much harm to economic and jobs growth, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Tuesday.

Releasing its annual Taxing Wages report, the Paris-based research body said the tax wedge rose in 23 of its 34 members during 2014, fell in nine and was unchanged in two. The tax wedge is the difference between what businesses pay to employ a worker, and what that worker receives after income taxes and social security contributions from both employers and workers.

On average the tax wedge rose to 36.0% of the cost of employing an unmarried worker without a child, from 35.9% in 2013. In the decade to 2010, the tax wedge fell steadily, but that trend reversed as governments sought to shore up revenues as their debts soared in the years following the financial crisis.

It's impossible/inevitable that taxes on employment will be replaced by consumption taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


An ancient imam at the center of Iran nuclear deal (Mohamad Bazzi April 13, 2015, Reuters)

By using the phrase "heroic flexibility" -- and repeating it several times since -- Khamenei reached back into Shi'ite history to provide theological justification for the possibility of a rapprochement with Iran's Western adversaries.

After the 2013 speech, Iranian journalists worked to decode the reference. They found that in 1969, when Khamenei was a 30-year-old junior cleric, he had translated a book, Imam Hassan's Peace, from Arabic into Farsi. It told the story of Shi'ite Islam's second imam, Hassan, who in 661 reached a compromise with a rival Muslim leader that prevented a new war between the emerging Sunni and Shi'ite sects. Khamenei subtitled the book, The Most Splendid Heroic Flexibility in History.

Khamenei has often said that his political decisions are guided by examples from early Islamic history. So his use of "heroic flexibility" signaled that, in negotiations with the United States and five other world powers, he would be guided by the actions of Hassan.

By echoing the supreme leader's comments, Zarif encouraged other Iranian officials to support the deal. On April 3, a day after the tentative agreement was announced, most of Iran's Friday prayer leaders, who are appointed by Khamenei's office, praised the pact. Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani, Tehran's main prayer leader, applauded the negotiators for hewing to Khamenei's directive. "They have followed the supreme leader's advice on heroic flexibility," Emami-Kashani said.

More broadly, Khamenei's comments reflect two historical paths within Shi'ism: one that emphasizes compromise, the other, rebellion and martyrdom. The two paths define Shi'ite history.

April 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Pakistan's Neutrality on Yemen Draws Gulf Allies' Ire (SAEED SHAH, April 12, 2015, WSJ)

Pakistan shares a long border with Iran but has never been close to Tehran, choosing instead to ally with Saudi Arabia and the U.S. But relations between Tehran and Islamabad have been improving in recent years. While Pakistan is a Sunni-majority country, 20% of its population is estimated to be Shiite, and sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis has been a problem for decades. With trouble on Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan and India, Islamabad wants to avoid tension on its Iran border.

Over the weekend, Pakistani lawmakers insisted that Gulf states should respect the verdict of Pakistan's Parliament.

"Monarchies perhaps do not understand the restrictions imposed on the government of Pakistan by being a democracy," said Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, a senator with the opposition Muttahida Qaumi Movement. "Parliament is the voice of the people of Pakistan."

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Could We Get an Iran Peace Dividend? (Barry Ritholtz, 4/13/15, Bloomberg View)

[T]he U.S. involvement in the Middle East has been costly in terms of both blood and treasure. Estimates of the unfunded cost of the war in Iraq exceed $3 trillion. That is before we fully factor in care of returning military veterans. We should expect a significant reduction of military spending to continue having a positive effect on federal deficits.

The bigger issue is the role of the U.S. in the Middle East if tensions with Iran are eased. Recall that for many years, the Middle East served as a proxy battlefield for the conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and many of today's hostilities evolved from those earlier confrontations.

Perhaps the biggest unknown is the role of U.S. in the Middle East as the country becomes less dependent on the region for energy. It isn't just whether cessation of hostilities and ending of sanctions against Iran will create a peace dividend, but whether the U.S. footprint in the region will be as large and as costly. If the huge amount of American spending in the region were used domestically, say on infrastructure projects, the impact in terms of the economy and quality of life would be significant.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


How high taxes and regulation are killing one of the most prosperous states in the nation (William Tucker, 4/10/15, American Media Institute)

Binghamton, New York -- once a powerhouse of industry -- is now approaching Detroit in many economic measures, according to the U.S. Census. In Binghamton, more than 31 percent of city residents are at or below the federal poverty level compared to 38 percent in Detroit. Average household income in Binghamton at $30,179 in 2012 barely outpaces Detroit's $26,955. By some metrics, Binghamton is behind Detroit. Some 45 percent of Binghamton residents own their dwellings while more than 52 percent of Detroit residents are homeowners. Both "Rust Belt" cities have lost more than 2 percent of their populations.

Binghamton is not alone. Upstate New York -- that vast 50,000-square mile region north of New York City -- seems to be in an economic death spiral.

The fate of the area is a small scene in a larger story playing out across rural America. As the balance of population shifts from farms to cities, urban elites are increasingly favoring laws and regulations that benefit urban voters over those who live in small towns or out in the country. The implications are more than just economic: it's a trend that fuels the intense populism and angry politics that has shattered the post-World War II consensus and divided the nation.

Upstate New York, the portion that lies beyond the New York metropolitan area, has become "The Land That Time Forgot," a broad swath of depressed cities and low-profit farmlands that stretches from Newburgh and Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley through the old manufacturing centers of Schenectady and Troy, across the Allegheny Plateau to Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, all the way west to Jamestown, the city with the lowest percentage of college graduates in America.

For more than half a century, this huge region -- once the nation's breadbasket and a manufacturing capital -- has been losing jobs, dollars and people. "It all began in 1959 when the interstate highway system was completed," says Carl Schramm, professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Syracuse University. "That was also the year commercial jets went into service and half the homes in Florida were air-conditioned."
Weather was certainly a contributing factor. Of the country's 12 medium- and large-sized cities with the heaviest annual snowfall, nine are in upstate New York, with Syracuse on top of the list at 115 inches. Not for nothing is the 363-mile long corridor of the old Erie Canal called the "Snow Belt."

But other states -- New Hampshire, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Colorado -- have similar weather and have not seen mass evacuation. The difference is that upstate New York is tethered to New York City, whose residents overwhelmingly support higher taxes, stricter regulation and bigger spending than the national averages. Those policies are blamed for upstate's economic woes by many in the region.

"Basically what you've got in New York is a state tax code and regulatory regimen written for New York City," says Joseph Henchman, vice president for state projects at the Tax Foundation in Washington. "Legislators say, `Look, New York is a center of world commerce. Businesses have to be here. It doesn't matter how high we tax them.' I hear that a lot. But when you apply that same logic to upstate, the impact is devastating."

Why stay tethered?  Just make the City its own state.

Posted by orrinj at 11:17 AM


How a smartphone for the blind may save drivers' lives (DAVID SHAMAH, April 13, 2015, Times of Israel)

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


Five reasons Americans aren't up in arms about income taxes (Karlyn Bowman, 4/10/15, Forbes)

Ho hum. April 15. Tax Day. Nowadays it comes and goes without a ripple.

The Gallup Organization has the longest trend on taxes in the polling world, and recent findings indicate that tax fever has cooled. Since 1947, the organization has asked people "Do you consider the amount of federal income tax you have to pay too high, about right, or too low?" more than 70 times. Most of the time, people have told Gallup the amount they paid was too high. On a handful of occasions over the past seven decades, around 70 percent gave that response. But in recent years, far fewer have. The last two times Gallup has asked this question in 2013 and 2014, 50 and 52 percent, respectively, said too high.

Why doesn't the federal tax burden generate the bad feelings it once did? 

Why would we mind the tax burden when there isn't one?
Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


A strong step toward a safer Iran (Ernest Moniz, April 12, 2015, Washington Post)

[T]he key parameters for the agreement that was announced April 2 in Switzerland provide a technically sound path for certifying Iran's nuclear program as peaceful, quickly determining if it is not and providing the breathing room needed to respond appropriately.

Iran has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to a peaceful program, but today's reality of national and U.N. sanctions highlights the international community's concern about Iran's past nuclear activity. The Lausanne understanding is not built on trust. It is built on hard-nosed requirements that would limit Iran's activities and ensure vital access and transparency.

An important part of the parameters is a set of restrictions that would significantly increase the time it would take Iran to produce the nuclear material needed for a weapon -- the breakout time -- if it pursued one. The current breakout time is just two to three months. Under the JCPOA, that would increase to at least a year for at least 10 years, more than enough time to mount an effective response.

The negotiated parameters would block Iran's four pathways to a nuclear weapon -- the path through plutonium production at the Arak reactor, two paths to a uranium weapon through the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities, and the path of covert activity.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Probing the Heart of French Malaise (PASCAL-EMMANUEL GOBRY, APRIL 13, 2015, NY Times)

Mr. Zemmour argues that the well-known French "melancholy" -- the typically French feeling of gloom and decline -- has its roots back in the early High Middle Ages. In his telling, as the Valois kings were building what would become the French nation into a prominent European power, jurists from the south -- where the tradition of Latin legal scholarship had survived the Dark Ages -- pined for a restoration of the Roman Empire. They saw the fledgling French monarchy as the tool to implement their beliefs. Joining the royal court, they laid the foundations of the modern nation-state by building Europe's first technocratic, merit-based central government bureaucracy, a crucial innovation in feudal Europe. This enabled King Philip the Fair to crush nonstate powers like the Knights Templar, and even to push the pope to move the seat of the papacy to Avignon.

This vision of a new Roman Empire, Mr. Zemmour recounts, explains the French self-definition of identity as relating to language, culture and laws (as with ancient Rome), and not simply a question of shared ethnicity or territory, as with most European countries. Hence the relentlessly expansionist foreign policy of the French state up to World War II. Hence the self-aggrandizing French belief in the country's vocation to greatness -- and hence the French melancholy, since the state failed to achieve that grand goal.

The Industrial Revolution happened first in England, where economic power fueled the expansion of the British Empire. When Napoleon lost Russia, the death of the Grande Armée also meant the death of the French dream of uniting the West under French culture and laws. Until then, France had always been the foremost European power, helped by greater population and natural resources, although always frustrated in its designs for true hegemony, either by meddling Hapsburgs, English resistance, or alliances of rival Europeans fearing French might.

The trauma of the 25 years of total war that followed the French Revolution caused France's birthrates to shrink and its power in the 19th century to wane. England ruled the seas, and Germany ruled the Continent. Two World Wars dealt the final blows to the French dream, the first leaving France too exhausted to build upon its victory, the second laying bare the nation's spiritual exhaustion.

Today, the Anglosphere is the new Roman Empire, and the culture that is to the modern world as Latin was to the ancient is Anglo-Saxon, not French.

It's bad enough that France's own secular statist experiment was a disaster, but unfortunately the rest of continental Europe adopted it too.  The Anglosphere won the Long War in a rout.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Why Food Prices Are Drought-Resistant (TIM YORK And  DANIEL A. SUMNER, April 12, 2015 , WSJ)

So what does this mean for consumers? Even if water remains short over the next decade, an adequate supply of fresh fruits and vegetables should not be a concern. In a global market, produce suppliers from the U.S., Mexico, Chile and beyond compete to keep prices low.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Poll: Rate of Uninsured Americans Drops to 11.9% (LOUISE RADNOFSKY, 4/13/15, WSJ)

The rate of uninsured Americans fell to 11.9% in the first quarter of 2015, down one percentage point from the end of 2014, according to a Gallup survey.

The rate was the lowest since Gallup began tracking it with the Healthways company in 2008, and a sharp decrease from a high of 18% on the eve of the rollout of the Affordable Care Act in the fall of 2013.

HSAs will be truly universal.

April 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Palestinians won't regain planning rights, court indicates (ELHANAN MILLER, April 12, 2015, Times of Israel)

Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli watchdog, had submitted a petition to the High Court in August 2011 on behalf of nine Palestinian villages in area C, demanding that residents be given the right to form regional planning councils, as was the situation across the West Bank prior to 1971, when a military decree transferred planning prerogatives to the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, an arm of the IDF responsible for civil and security coordination with the Palestinians. [...]

"Military Order 418, which abolished the local and district planning committees in the occupied West Bank ... effectively precluded any meaningful Palestinian participation in Israeli-controlled planning processes," wrote Amnesty. "This formal denial of participation in planning for an entire population, coupled with the establishment of a parallel planning system for Israeli settlements... is unique globally, to Amnesty International's knowledge, and fails to conform to widely accepted and practiced planning standards."

According to Rabbis for Human Rights, less than one percent of area C is designated for Palestinian development, as opposed to some 70% of the area, lying within Jewish municipal councils.

With few legal possibilities to build houses in their villages, Palestinians living in the communities in question have resorted to illegal construction of makeshift homes or have refrained from building altogether, residents said.

The state, represented in court by attorney Aner Hellman, argued that the issue of planning in area C -- comprising some 60% of the West Bank and incorporating all Jewish settlements -- is a diplomatic one, and should therefor be left for peace negotiations, not a judicial decision.

That argument was countered by attorney Netta Amar-Schiff of Rabbis for Human Rights. "We refuse to consider planning as a grace used by Israel as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations," she told the court.

Odeh Najadeh, head of the municipal council of Ka'abnah-Dqeiqeh, a hamlet of 350 residents situated 22 kilometers (14 miles) east of Hebron, told The Times of Israel that the Civil Administration issued 25 stop-work orders for ongoing construction in March. The total number of pending demolition orders for his community now stands at 126.

"Life must go on. When a man gets married, he must leave his parents' home. Where can he go?" wondered Najadeh, a school headmaster living in a community of shepherds.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


China's Already Preparing for a Post-Sanctions Iran (Shannon Tiezzi, April 08, 2015, The Diplomat)

Iran is eager to rid itself of international economic and financial sanctions that have crippled its economy in recent years. Two tweets from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed how much of an emphasis Tehran will place on getting the maximum number of sanctions removed as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, other negotiating powers, particularly the U.S., are keen to see Iran's compliance with the deal verified before any sanctions are lifted.

Iran, however, is not waiting for verification to seek expanded economic engagements - in fact, it's not even waiting until the final deal is unveiled in late June. According to Reuters, Iran has already sent a group of Iranian oil officials to China seeking increased investments and oil exports. Iran's oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, is also expected to visit China in the near future.

Iran hopes to double its oil exports in the first two months after sanctions are lifted; China will be a crucial part of making that dream a reality. Prior to 2012, when sanctions took hold, Iran was the third-largest oil exporter to China. By 2013, Iran had dropped to sixth place, falling behind Oman, Russia, and Iraq.

Two Chinese state-owned oil companies, China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) and Sinopec, had already promised billions to Iranian oil projects before sanctions were laid down. Sinopec, for instance, has a $2 billion deal to develop an oil field in Khuzestan, while CNPC has a $2 billion contract for a field in North Azadegan. But as sanctions tightened on Iran post-2011, China's oil companies began to back away from further investments in Iran. CNPC, for example, withdrew from a deal to develop a natural gas field in South Pars in 2012, saying sanctions had made it too difficult to get the necessary equipment from western companies.

However, at the first sign of sanctions relief - the preliminary deal between the P5+1 powers and Iran reached in November 2013 - China moved quickly to recommit to Iranian oil. In the first six months of 2014, China's oil imports from Iran increased 48 percent from the same period the previous year. That pace slowed over the rest of 2014, but the year as a whole still registered a 28 percent increase in oil imported from Iran. In other words, China began acting on the expectation of permanent sanctions relief almost immediately - putting pressure on negotiators to actually reach a deal.

...Iran abandoned even the pretense of a nuke program and the sanctions regime collapsed.  The two parties are just explaining that reality to their hard-liners.

Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


Al-Qaida's Indian branch says US drone attacks in Pakistan kills 2 of new group's leaders (ISHTIAQ MAHSUD, 4/12/15, Associated Press)

U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan killed two leaders of al-Qaida's Indian branch earlier this year, a spokesman for the militants said Sunday, a major blow to the affiliate only months after its creation.

In an audio message, spokesman Usama Mahmood identified the dead as deputy chief Ahmed Farooq and Qari Imran, in charge of the group's Afghan affairs. Mahmood said a Jan. 5 drone strike in North Waziristan killed Imran, while a later drone strike killed Farooq. His claim corresponds with dates that previously reported suspected U.S. drone attacks were carried out in Pakistan's tribal region near the Afghan border.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Why does Hillary Rodham Clinton want to be president? (Dan Balz, 4/11/15, Washington Post)

She will receive plenty of advice, from her advisers and the world at large, about how to answer the question of why she wants to be president. The cover of the latest issue of the Economist magazine features a picture of her with the words, "What does Hillary stand for?" As she assembled a campaign team, she has presumably been thinking about what to say about all that. It is what everyone wants to know.

Yet so much is known already. There is a decades-long résumé that offers answers, a record of battles fought and won or lost that point to priorities: women's and children's issues; economic policies somewhat to the left of her husband's but not as far left as progressives would like; a focus on the middle class; a belief in education standards but caution about too much reform; a muscular foreign policy, including a vote for the Iraq war resolution that still rankles some in her party.

The unknowns are unknown in part because there are few easy answers to some of the questions people want answered. Exactly what is a 21st-century economic plan that can do something about stagnant wages and the lack of economic mobility? Clinton and her Republican rivals face the same quandary on this. It is easy to identify the problems, but difficult from either the left or the right to present plausible alternatives to each party's old policies.

...is that they can (Jeb, Jindal and Kasich, at least) just run on the Third Way reforms they instituted, all of which are equalizing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Obama conquered the West for Democrats, but now it's back in play (MARK Z. BARABAK, 4/12/15, LA Times)

If anything, the interior West has grown even more competitive, as Republicans rolled up big midterm victories last year in Colorado and Nevada. They kept single-party control of Arizona's capital and, from all appearances, pushed Montana off the table for Democrats.

The ups and downs of Obama and his party, the Republican comeback after two losing presidential campaigns, and the demographic changes remaking the face of the country have been broadly writ across the Rocky Mountain West, and what happens here could go a long way toward deciding which party wins the White House in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Monsters Together : a review of The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941 by Roger Moorhouse (John Lukacs, APRIL 23, 2015, NY Review of Books)

At the end of September 1939 Ribbentrop flew to Moscow once more to arrange some border deals that would carry out the Secret Protocol. Throughout the war, of all Germany's high officials, he was the most inclined to seek and keep agreements with the Russians. (His counterpart among the Russians, Molotov, had often reciprocal inclinations.) In this respect we may also notice the reciprocal tendencies of Hitler and Stalin. Hitler thought it necessary to carry out the terms of the alliance with Stalin; Stalin, for his part, was more enthusiastic about it than Hitler. One example is his perhaps unnecessary toast to Hitler after the signing of their pact on August 24, 1939: "I know how much the German nation loves its Führer, I should therefore like to drink to his health." More telling for the historical record and more consequential for the peoples of Eastern Europe were the Soviets' intentions and their aggressive behavior soon after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

On the day of Ribbentrop's second visit to Moscow the Russian pressure on the Baltic states began. Russia demanded changes in the Baltic governments, first in Estonia, then its neighbors Latvia and Lithuania. More important, now Russia stationed many troops in those countries, particularly in their seaports, drastically reducing their independence. Their governments were under pressure to defer to Soviet orders and, except for Finland, did so. Two months later the Winter War with Finland began. The small Finnish army fought well and courageously, a fact that even Stalin had to accept; the result was a treaty that gave up pieces of territory to the Soviet Union but for the most part maintained Finnish independence.

Far more ominous and horrible was the situation in Poland. There the Soviet occupation was at least as brutal and murderous--if not more so--than in the parts of Poland subjugated by the Germans. The Russians deported at least one million people--including entire families, without any of their belongings--to Siberia, Kazakhstan, and the Russian far north, with very few ever seeing their homelands again. In April and May 1940, some 22,000 Polish officers were shot to death near Katyn. More than a million Polish prisoners and workers were deported to Germany for forced labor during the war.

It is telling that many of these practices began soon after the Soviets occupied eastern Poland in September 1939. Some Poles, including Jews, welcomed the Russian soldiers, thinking that they had come to relieve them from the Nazis. (Their subsequent disappointment in the Russians was such that some Jews in eastern Poland thought it better to escape to the Nazi zone, even though they knew how the Germans treated Jews.) Between 1939 and 1941 perhaps the majority of Jewish people in the world lived in Eastern Europe, most of them in eastern Poland, western Russia, Ukraine, and Byelorussia. Their final extermination by the Germans was not decided by Hitler until September 1941 and not put into effect before January 1942: but in many ways their fate had been foreshadowed by the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

On June 14, 1940, the very day the German army marched into Paris, Moscow finally decided to implement the Secret Protocol. Within a day or two it declared the total incorporation of Estonia and Latvia and Lithuania into the Soviet Union. Their governments were imprisoned or exiled. Many of their former officers were executed, and at least 25,000 of the Baltic peoples were deported to the Soviet Union. Hitler transported the German minorities in the Baltics to Germany on German ships.

In November 1940 Molotov traveled to Berlin. His journey was not a success. His diplomatic manner was characteristically stiff. In view of the German conquest of almost all of Europe, he proposed to include Bulgaria in the Russian sphere. The Soviet Union would thus have a presence near the Bosphorus, at the expense of Turkey. The Germans did not respond to this. Sometime in December 1940 Hitler began to plan for an eventual war against Russia.

Stalin was somewhat critical of Molotov's behavior in Berlin; he thought his foreign minister may have been too rigid. This was typical of Stalin during the next six months. He could not and would not believe that Hitler would start a war against him while Germany still had Britain to deal with.

Stalin made some moves to improve Russia's situation. He negotiated a friendly pact with Yugoslavia, which amounted to nothing, since Hitler invaded Yugoslavia on the day of its signing. He invited the Japanese foreign minister, Yōsuke Matsuoka, to visit Moscow on his way back to Japan after his visit to Berlin. Surprisingly, he then signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Japan. (Soon after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Matsuoka, back in Tokyo, suggested a Japanese invasion of Russia from the east. So much for the value of Non-Aggression Pacts in 1941. But he didn't get his way, since Japan's main enemy was now the US.)

Stalin ordered many friendly gestures toward Germany, including speeding up the deliveries of Soviet products there. He did not in the least react to a warning from Churchill about a prospective German attack against the Soviet Union. During the ten days before the Nazi invasion--all kinds of information about the German threat notwithstanding--Stalin did his best or, rather, his worst, to affirm his faith in Hitler and in Germany. I do not know of a single instance of such abject behavior (for that is what it was) by a statesman of a great power.

The German attack shocked Stalin into silence at first. (Molotov's words after the German declaration of war were also telling: "Did we deserve this?") Stalin's first orders for the Soviet army were not to respond at all. It took him hours after the invasion--until noon--before he ordered the army to resist.

There is still a controversy about how shaken he was during the first days of the Nazi onslaught. Eventually he pulled himself together. On July 3, 1941--eleven days after the German invasion--he addressed the peoples of the Soviet Union as a patriot. By that time some Nazi troops were more than one hundred miles inside the western Soviet Union and advancing toward Moscow. Roger Moorhouse concludes his modest introduction: the history of the Nazi-Soviet Pact "deserves to be rescued from the footnotes and restored to its rightful place.... I can only hope that this book makes some small contribution to that process." It does.

April 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 PM


Netanyahu said to fear Iran will stick to deal if one is signed (TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 12, 2015)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is concerned that Iran will abide by the terms of a nuclear deal, thus diverting the world's attention from its nuclear program, and ensuring that renewed sanctions and long-term monitoring of Tehran's nuclear sites is made nearly impossible, two unnamed officials told Haaretz overnight Saturday-Sunday

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Iran and the Obama Doctrine (Thomas Friedman, APRIL 5, 2015, NY Times)

There is clearly a debate going on inside Iran as to whether the country should go ahead with this framework deal as well, so what would the president say to the Iranian people to persuade them that this deal is in their interest?

If their leaders really are telling the truth that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon, the president said, then "the notion that they would want to expend so much on a symbolic program as opposed to harnessing the incredible talents and ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the Iranian people, and be part of the world economy and see their nation excel in those terms, that should be a pretty straightforward choice for them. Iran doesn't need nuclear weapons to be a powerhouse in the region. For that matter, what I'd say to the Iranian people is: You don't need to be anti-Semitic or anti-Israel or anti-Sunni to be a powerhouse in the region. I mean, the truth is, Iran has all these potential assets going for it where, if it was a responsible international player, if it did not engage in aggressive rhetoric against its neighbors, if it didn't express anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish sentiment, if it maintained a military that was sufficient to protect itself, but was not engaging in a whole bunch of proxy wars around the region, by virtue of its size, its resources and its people it would be an extremely successful regional power. And so my hope is that the Iranian people begin to recognize that."

Clearly, he added, "part of the psychology of Iran is rooted in past experiences, the sense that their country was undermined, that the United States or the West meddled in first their democracy and then in supporting the Shah and then in supporting Iraq and Saddam during that extremely brutal war. So part of what I've told my team is we have to distinguish between the ideologically driven, offensive Iran and the defensive Iran that feels vulnerable and sometimes may be reacting because they perceive that as the only way that they can avoid repeats of the past. ... But if we're able to get this done, then what may happen -- and I'm not counting on it -- but what may happen is that those forces inside of Iran that say, 'We don't need to view ourselves entirely through the lens of our war machine. Let's excel in science and technology and job creation and developing our people,' that those folks get stronger. ... I say that emphasizing that the nuclear deal that we've put together is not based on the idea that somehow the regime changes.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


A New History of the Crusades Obama Should Read : a review of The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf   (STEPHANIE PACHECO, 4/10/15, Crisis)

In The Glory of the Crusades, Weidenkopf explains how the Crusades marked an innovation in the Church's approach to lay spirituality. Pope "Urban's summons to Jerusalem was a 'universal call to holiness' oriented specifically at the laity, who otherwise believed the only sure way to contribute to their salvation was to renounce the world and enter the monastery." Many of the crusaders professed sincere faith, and "took the cross," though they stood to lose a great deal of wealth, if not their lives. Indeed, in the First Crusade, begun in 1096, there was an 80 percent casualty rate. [...]

If the men who participated in the crusades were motivated largely by real appreciation for the holy sites of the Christian faith and the safety of indigenous Christians and pilgrims, then in it was indeed a defensive religious war. The proposition that must be rejected is that fighting in the name of faith is inherently problematic or flat-out wrong, despite how frowned upon faith commitments are today in secular democracies.

As Weidenkopf makes abundantly clear, the medieval world was a good deal different from our modern system. There were no nation-states but only kingdoms and lords held in a delicate balance of peace that often broke into war among the worldly princes; the unifying feature of the whole of Europe was not its geo-political authorities, but its faith--"Christendom," the force of which has sustained Europe still today in its cultural unity regardless of how very scrupulously the EU constitution attempts to skirt around it.

The idea that faith provided cultural coherence in a land without nation-states is very foreign to the modern Western mind. Today the cultural unity organized around "America" or "democracy" is considered valid and primary. Faith is seen as valid only tenuously and certainly second in importance to the nation-state. This difference allows many commenters to blithely decry religious violence as the reprehensible action of "extremists," while turning an uncritical eye to the ethics of wars waged by states in the name of "democracy."

There's a reason Ike and W both referred top their wars as Crusades.  

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Le Pen vs Le Pen: 50 years of far-right family squabbles (DEBORAH CLAUDE AND MARIE WOLFROM, April 11, 2015, Times of Israel)

The latest spat in the Le Pen family history threatens to split the National Front in two and is being played out in the full glare of the French media.

The 86-year-old, nicknamed the "Menhir" -- an ancient rock -- partly because of his Breton roots but also his immovability, reiterated his long-held view that the Nazi gas chambers were a "detail of history."

"He's really pissing me off," was the reported response of Marine, now president of the party and in the middle of a drive to clean up its racist and anti-Semitic image.

The doddering old fool doesn't even know they want to Holocaust a different group of Semites now.

Posted by orrinj at 9:57 AM


The Battle Is On to Save Military Bases from Closure (JONATHAN BERR, 4/10/15, The Fiscal Times)

With the Iraq War officially over and combat operations in Afghanistan wind down, the size of the military is shrinking. Experts note bases are going to pay the fiscal piper. It's a question of when.

The Pentagon's recent budget proposal calls for the funding of 1.3 million troops, a decline of about 12,000 from a year earlier, with much of that decline coming from the Army. General Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, said recently that his branch of the military had cut 98,000 active duty and reserve soldiers in eliminating 13 combat brigades. The overall size of the Army is due to fall to 980,000 by fiscal 2018, though military leaders have warned that automatic spending cuts known as the sequester may force a reduction of 60,000 extra troops.

8 decades of global war was a boon to the Military-Industrial complex, but with even Cuba and Iran being let in from the Cold, it's time to get off the teat.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


College Preparedness Over the Years, According to NAEP (Michael J. Petrilli and Chester E. Finn, Jr., 04/09/2015, Education Next)

 We decided to use NAEP to track college preparedness over the past two decades. This was easy for reading, since the "prepared" level is set at the same point as "proficient"--and it's a breeze to find the percentage of students at or above proficient since 1992. Math was harder both because its cut score fell between "basic" and "proficient" and because a new test and scale were introduced in 2005. We owe special thanks to the National Center for Education Statistics, which calculated the results for math that are displayed below using restricted NAEP data.

Here's what we found--the trends for "college preparedness" over time--since 1992 for reading and since 2005 for math [...]

The main storyline is consistency. The rates have bounced between 35 and 40 percent; they are currently up a bit since a low point in 2005. Considering that U.S. high school graduation rates are also up significantly over this period--and thus a greater portion of students are reaching the twelfth grade--these are mildly encouraging trends, despite the overall flatness of the lines.

Furthermore, the (mostly) flat lines are not due to "Simpson's Paradox." In education, that phenomenon explains why some aggregate trend lines look flat or worse, even though every student subgroup is improving, because of the changing demographic composition of the total student population (e.g., lower-scoring Latino students are gradually replacing higher-scoring white students). In this case, though, each of the three main subgroups shows basically the same flat trends:

Nobody should celebrate the fact that fewer than 40 percent of high school seniors are academically prepared for college-level work. (ACT shows similar "readiness" proportions for those who take its high-stakes test.) But why do we have the sense that this problem has worsened over time?

That's because the proportion of recent high school graduates attending college is far higher than the proportion of twelfth graders who are prepared for college--and that gap has worsened over time.

Given how few people are educable, the notion that we should all seek degrees is absurd.  But the effort is noble and quintessentially American.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


As Fast Track/TPP Becomes New Third Rail, Where Is Clinton? (Dave Johnson, 04/07/2015, Huffington Post)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- and the rigged "fast-track" process designed to pass it before the public has a chance to react -- has become a new "third rail" for progressives and the activist Democratic "base." (This is also true on the right, by the way.) [...]

With progressive voice Sen. Elizabeth Warren helping lead the fast track/TPP opposition, and possible candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley joining in opposition, it's time for Hillary Clinton to tell people where she stands on fast track and TPP. Will she join with working people and the 99 percent, or will she bend to the D.C./Wall Street crowd (aka "the donor class")?

It's always our Republican President and Congress vs Progressives...

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Montana House Republicans break ranks to pass Medicaid expansion (Cristina Maza, APRIL 10, 2015, CS Monitor)

A contentious legislative battle in Montana ended this week, after the state's GOP-controlled House voted to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid to the working poor - a feature of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that Republicans had vigorously opposed. [...]

For many Republicans, the move to expand access to Medicaid amounts to an endorsement of Obamacare and a larger government role in health care, which they say taxpayers can't afford.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Sufjan Stevens Reflects on God and Death on 'Carrie & Lowell' : Sufjan Stevens' new album is an honest, emotional look at loss, faith and lament. (Mack Hayden, March 31, 2015, Relevant)

Nearly all Stevens' records operate around a central concept, and it's deeply saddening that the central theme of this one is the death of his mother. Grief soaks every ballad here--the emotion met perfectly with instrumentation and lyricism just subtle and honest enough to portray how heartbreaking this experience was to him. In past interviews, Stevens has referred to how he wasn't that close to his mother, and in track after track on this album, you can feel the pain of losing someone he already lost in large part years ago.

He speaks the language of belief in a vocabulary just foreign enough to shed light on new nooks and crannies.

He's also back to predominately telling stories and painting pictures of a spiritually enlivened mundanity. Where The Age of Adz specialized in impressionistic ally writing about anxiety, Carrie & Lowell uses word pictures just specific and just vague enough to ground us both in Stevens' life as well as our own.

There are references to being left at a video store when he was three or four, learning to swim from an instructor who calls him Subaru, and memories called up by the Fourth of July.

It's that last one (detailed in a song plainly titled "Fourth of July") which may be the record's true standout. Over ethereal soundscapes, a lilting piano chord progression anchors Stevens' remembrance of the events and conversations immediately preceding his mother's death. In the midst of asking her questions about what life has taught her, calling her pet names and dealing with hospital workers, he repeatedly intones "We're all gonna die."

This is the general theme of the record: the looming presence of the reaper's scythe ready to take us all and most of our friends and family before we go. There comes a time when grief will become one of the most common tunes sung in everyone's life, and, luckily, we now have an entire album of songs to teach us how to sing that unfortunate medley.

The first single off the album, "No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross," proved early on this was to be no conventional hymnal. The title of that song should give you an idea of its content but you could argue it's no more blasphemous than the book of Job (though it does employ the use of particularly strong language and some profanity).

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


'The truth is hard': an interview with Roger Scruton : The philosopher and novelist was right about immigration and education, 30 years too soon (Douglas Murray, 4/04/15, The Spectator)

'I've been thinking about these things for quite some time,' he says as we settle into his book- and piano-filled study. 'The problem of the integration of the Muslim community into our cities.' He is aware of the landmines on this territory. Thirty years ago he inadvertently stepped on one by publishing a piece by a Bradford headmaster, Ray Honeyford, about multiculturalism in schools. 'I looked back at my experience [in 1984] with the Salisbury Review and the Ray Honeyford case and the huge difficulty that teachers have. Because our political class has transferred to teachers the whole obligation to integrate new immigrant communities... People find themselves with classrooms where nobody can speak English, with customs they can't relate to and with those problems that Honeyford had with discipline and outright antagonism. That was in Bradford, and of course when I read about the Oxford grooming cases, I just had this vision of a story that would bring these things together -- the dreadful situation of the teacher in a modern city, and also the situation of young girls who are vulnerable because their families have not worked out and the various problems that have arisen through secularisation and so on. And so I put together a story out of these things.' [...]

'The truth is hard. We don't need reminding that there is a heavy censorship in all matters to do with immigration, to do with the integration of immigrant communities and in particular the integration of Muslim communities. The police forces of those northern cities were heavily intimidated by the Macpherson report, accusing police forces all over the country of institutional racism, which was an incredible injustice, which means they are going to lean over backwards not to get involved in what's going on in the local immigrant communities for fear of this. That's clearly what has happened in Rotherham and also people don't want to write about it because they've also seen the penalties.'

He has been hearing the same stories from teachers for 30 years now. 'If you're a schoolteacher and trying to survive in these circumstances and knowing that you're up against all these assembled forces, then self-censorship is not just likely, it's necessary. But if you're a philosopher who is self-employed at the end of his career, then it's pointless to engage in self-censorship. It's great, I can just say what is true. People will shout and scream, and all the usual things will be said. But more and more people will realise that this self-censorship is not just counter-productive in itself but has actually worsened the problem because it has prevented people from dealing with it. It has prevented the immigrant communities themselves from dealing with it.'

But things have got better, haven't they? Hasn't the discussion at least opened out? We are speaking a couple of days after Trevor Phillips has made another noted intervention, attacking those 'anti-racists' who have shut down debate for years. This prompts a classically Scrutonian response: 'Things have changed now because as always when a battle is lost you can speak freely about it.'

Does he really mean that? I ask with trepidation. 'The big battle to maintain a proper educational system which will be continuous with the old curriculum and passing on what we have while adapting to all the changes, that big battle was lost, I think.' When? 'Over the past 20 years. Certainly by the time that New Labour were in they didn't have much work to do. When people first raised the question about integrating the new communities it was in a spirit of hope -- that one would be able to maintain the core of what we have. It's the other side who actually want to destroy that core. Certainly the multicultural activists in the Labour party and the universities wanted to destroy the old white Anglo-Saxon education system as they saw it, and produce something completely different -- with no conception of what that completely different thing would be, of course. It's always easier to destroy than to create, and I think that's what we've seen. But then people start again.'

What are the signs of rebirth? 'I was very impressed visiting Katharine Birbalsingh's free school the other day -- 110 faces, all of them black except for a little handful of Romanians -- in which there was real discipline and they were being taught the old curriculum and the teachers were really trying to integrate these children into what they saw as the culture to which they were destined.'

So the battle is for continuity? 'Yes, and for the survival of western civilisation. It's not as though we've lost it completely. We still have got this civilisation -- it's all we've got, and it's not as though we're going to be able to replace it with any other. I think that's really what underlies this story of The Disappeared. A lot of things have disappeared.' 

...is the ease with which we assimilate immigrants, which we're doing more easily now than ever.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


Pity the Maytag Repairman (Kathleen Madigan, 4/05/15, WSJ)

Consumers facing stagnant wages and tight budgets are rethinking spending on an array of services. They are lengthening the time between haircuts, shunning movie theaters for in-home entertainment and taking over tasks once left to professionals. The shift is one reason inflation-adjusted household spending on services has grown more slowly in this economic expansion than during previous upturns.

The can-do attitude saves consumers money and gives them a sense of empowerment, but it also dings the appliance- repair industry. Spending on appliance repair collapsed an inflation-adjusted 15.7% from the housing bust in 2006 through the recession's end in mid-2009, according to Commerce Department figures. It fell 11% more so far during the expansion.

The drop is contributing to a thinning of the ranks of repair professionals and weaker wage growth for those who remain. Market-research firm IBIS World named appliance repair as the riskiest career for 2015.

...and men will be useful to their wives even after jobs go away.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


This Map Shows Most Conservative and Liberal Town in Each State (Kate Scanlon, April 11, 2015, Daily Signal)


Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


What Causes Recessions? (Noah Smith, 4/10.15, Bloomberg View)

One time, at a dinner, I asked a famous macroeconomist: "So, what really causes recessions?"

His reply came immediately: "Unexplained shocks to investment."

...where it was revealed that the supposedly low risk derivatives that had been sold to investors were actually packed with high risk debt.

April 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Congress Can Raise Your Income 10 Percent By Updating the Tax Code (Curtis Dubay, April 10, 2015, Daily Signal)

Congress could raise your family's income by 10 percent, or maybe even more. And it could do it with a policy reform that has the support of 71 percent of the American people.

Even better news is this is not some big-government spending program that would deliver a 10 percent raise. Instead, it's tax reform.

The Tax Foundation, in a recent study, found that if Congress implemented a consumption tax, the economy would grow by 15 percent and wages by 10 percent.

It's not really a question of whether but of how quickly we move to away from taxing the money we make to the money we spend.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Reformasi in the Islamic world? (Roger Smith, 10 April 2015, Online Opinion)

In the country where the world's largest number of Muslims live, we paradoxically witnessed in 2014 developments that would have appeared wildly optimistic-even in the heady post-Cold War days of 1990s. In what was arguably the largest single day free and fair election ever held anywhere in the world, on Wednesday, 9th July 2014, an energised electorate, over 85% Muslim, voted in an explicitly pro-reform, pro-tolerance candidate with a reputation for clean administration over his autocratic rival.

Unlike their Egyptian counterparts in 2011, a majority of Indonesians did not vote for Islamist parties in 2014. But just as significantly, and again unlike their Egyptian counterparts in 2013, neither did they vote for a former military authoritarian figure when presented with that clear choice in the case of presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto. In fact, in the days following that now famous pro-Jokowi vote, a grassroots civil society movement known as 'Kawalpemilu' or 'guard the election' was organised to record polling booth results on citizens' smart phones and then tally them so as to prevent the ballots being tampered with. And indeed they succeeded! Observers overwhelmingly accept that the 53% to 47% vote in favour of President Jokowi reflected voting intentions. From the villages of Java to the suburbs of Canberra, literally millions of Indonesian housewives, workers, farmers, students, professionals and expatriates mobilised online to safeguard their hard won freedoms. Nothing more tellingly illustrated both the dynamism of Indonesia's civil society and its digital literacy!

Although not as numerous as those professing more fundamentalist views, there are in the country with the world's largest number of Muslims, voices radically at odds with Daesh's brutal and backward world view. There is a Liberal Islam Network and even Tolerant.Islam.com. We should also not forget that one of the world's largest Muslim cities Jakarta is, in fact, run by a highly respected and democratically elected Christian mayor of Chinese descent, Mr Ahok. This highly inclusive, pluralist and democratic Islamic world deserves our respect and attention as much as the horrors of northern Syria and Iraq.

Recently in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo atrocities, I undertook a journey through another place that is often somewhat patronisingly lumped along with Indonesia in the ranks of so-called 'moderate Muslim' countries. Indeed, Morocco and Indonesia despite their locations at opposite ends of the Islamic world do share a lot in common.

There is the same striking hospitality and grace at the heart of everyday life. On my first day in Morocco, the lighthouse keeper of Casablanca's famous el-Hank phare kindly offered to show me the best view of the city made famous by Bogart and Bacall from the top of his beacon. The same was true of the kids on the buses offering me updates on progress of the Socceroos in the Asia Cup. And the young women on the Casablanca light rail-some clad in headscarf and some not-chatting freely with their male counterparts in an effortless mixture of Arabic and French. Not to mention the easy comradery of the Marrakesh rail car where an older women offered me her heartfelt welcome to Morocco in French, German, Italian and Spanish. And the fascinating discussions with English literature students who expressed their admiration and fascination for both the writings of George Orwell and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest!

...is that most Muslims live in democratic societies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


Cuba expected to come off U.S. terror list: Corporate America cheers (Patrick Gillespie, 4/10/15, CNNMoney)

Companies moving in: Netflix (NFLX, Tech30), Airbnb, American Express (AXP) and Mastercard (MA) have already put a foot in Cuba's door -- a virtual foot though. None of those companies actually have an office or employees in Cuba.

Over 200 business leaders congregated last week at the Cuba Opportunity Summit in New York, co-hosted by Nasdaq and UPenn's Wharton School.

"Cuba presents probably the largest opportunity -- outside of China -- to grow our industry," Frank Del Rio, CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCLH), a Miami-based company, told CNBC last week.

Airlines and tourism companies stand to benefit from American travelers' pent up demand to see Cuba, which has been off limits for 50 years. Plus Cuba offers what most in the Caribbean don't: beautiful beaches and a big, historic city. JetBlue (JBLU) already charters flights to Cuba, but it wants to start commercial flights, a sentiment echoed by other airlines.

April 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


For Saudis, Yemen conflict 'becoming their Vietnam' (Hugh Naylor, April 9, 2015, Washington Post)

Two weeks into a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, the airstrikes appear to have accelerated the country's fragmentation into warring tribes and militias and done little to accomplish the goal of returning the ousted Yemeni president to power, analysts and residents say.

The Yemeni insurgents, known as Houthis, have pushed ahead with their offensive and seem to have protected many of their weapons stockpiles from the coalition's bombardments, analysts say.

Though, in fairness, the Houthi are the South Vietnamese.
Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


In 2012 Tribute, Rubio Asked 'What Would Jeb Do?' (Michael Barbaro, 4/09/15, NY Times)

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida may have written Jeb Bush's campaign bumper sticker. [...]

"Often in the Senate when faced with a tough choice, I ask myself: WWJD. What would Jeb do!"

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Start From Scratch on Taxes? Why There's a Bipartisan Push to Sunset the Tax Code (Kevin Mooney,  April 09, 2015, Daily Signal)

Few people in either party in Washington are happy with the current tax code, so what if we simply started over?

That is at the root of a proposal to sunset the current tax code on Dec. 31, 2019. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., has introduced the Tax Code Termination Act (HR 27), which would do exactly that.

"Even though tax reform has been discussed for many years, we have yet to see any major actions to simplify the tax code," Goodlatte said in a press release.

"We must force Congress to tackle tax reform head on. The best way forward is to scrap the current tax code and start fresh. 

April 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


C.I.A. Director Says Iran's Economic Peril Helped Drive Nuclear Deal (DAVID E. SANGER, APRIL 8, 2015, NY Times)

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency has provided the first public glimpse of American intelligence assessments about why Iran's leadership agreed to the tentative nuclear accord last week, saying that Iran's president persuaded its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that their country's economy was "destined to go down" unless he reached an understanding with the West.

The director, John O. Brennan, speaking Tuesday night at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, also dismissed as "wholly disingenuous" the claim of Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that the framework accord reached last Thursday in Lausanne, Switzerland, would provide Iran with a "pathway to a bomb." [...]

Mr. Brennan suggested that the key to the deal was the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who had hardly been the supreme leader's first choice. It took more than two years, he suggested, for the new president, a former nuclear negotiator himself, to convince the far more isolated Ayatollah Khamenei that "six years of sanctions had really hit," and that the economic future imperiled the regime. [...]

"I think over time Rouhani was able to explain to Khamenei just how challenging the economic environment was in Iran right now, and it was destined to go down," he said. "The only way they were going to address" the problem was to get sanctions lifted.

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 AM


Brett Lawrie saw 12 pitches last night. He struck out four times. (Craig Calcaterra, Apr 8, 2015, Hardball Talk)

Second Inning: Strike (looking), Strike (looking), Strike (swinging), Lawrie struck out swinging
Fifth Inning: Strike (looking), Strike (foul), Strike (swinging), Lawrie struck out swinging
Seventh Inning: Strike (looking), Strike (swinging), Strike (swinging), Lawrie struck out swinging
Ninth Inning: Strike (looking), Strike (looking), Strike (swinging), Lawrie struck out swinging

He's not Kevin Youkilis, eh?

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Democrats Have an Identity-Politics Problem : In the Obama era, Democrats have become a party defined by identity. What happens when they run out of candidates who can excite their diverse base? (JOSH KRAUSHAAR, April 7, 2015, National Journal)

[T]he main reason why Clinton is a near-lock for the nomination is that Democrats have become the party of identity. They're now dependent on a coalition that relies on exciting less-reliable voters with nontraditional candidates. President Obama proved he could turn out African-American, Hispanic, and young voters to his side in 2012 even as they faced particularly rough economic hardships during a weak recovery. As the first female major-party nominee for president, Clinton hopes to win decisive margins with women voters and is planning to run on that historic message--in sharp contrast to her campaign's argument playing down that uniqueness in 2008.

It's part of why freshman Sen. Elizabeth Warren inspires excitement from the party's grassroots, but former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, whose progressive record in office set liberal benchmarks, isn't even polling at 1 percent nationally. It's why Sherrod Brown, a populist white male senator from a must-win battleground state is an afterthought in the presidential sweepstakes. It's why Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a runner-up to be Obama's running mate in 2008, quickly jumped on the Clinton bandwagon instead of pursuing any national ambitions. On Bernstein's list of 16 possible challengers, 15 are white and nine are white males. That makes many of them untenable standard-bearers in the modern Democratic Party.

Just look at the party's (few) competitive Senate primaries of recent vintage for an illustration of this dynamic. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, whose tenure as Newark mayor drew considerable scrutiny and occasional mockery, coasted to victory in a 2013 special election primary against Rep. Frank Pallone, a respected 25-year veteran of the House who had been angling for a promotion for many years. With Democrats lacking a single African-American senator at the time, Booker's election to the Senate was fait accompli.

The 2014 Hawaii primary between appointed Sen. Brian Schatz and then-Rep. Colleen Hanabusa hinged on issues of ethnic identity, pitting a white candidate against one who is Japanese-American (and was backed by the widow of the late longtime Sen. Daniel Inouye). Schatz, despite holding an advantage as the incumbent, only eked out a victory by 1,782 votes despite a lockstep liberal record and support from national liberal groups. (Asian-Americans comprise a 38 percent plurality of Hawaii residents; whites make up 27 percent.)

This year, the Democratic primary royale will be taking place in Maryland, where Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is white, is pitted against Rep. Donna Edwards, who is African-American. Both are reliable progressives, but Van Hollen has held more prominent leadership positions. She has been playing up their differences on several issues--entitlement reform, most significantly--but the real contrast for voters will be on race. In a state where nearly half of the Democratic primary electorate is African-American, Edwards is betting she'll have a strong floor of support, regardless of what happens in the campaign. [...]

Consider: When President Obama was elected in 2008, the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of whites defined themselves more closely with Democrats, while 42 percent did so with Republicans. In 2014, that two-point deficit for Republicans has transformed into a nine-point advantage. According to Pew, 49 percent of whites now consider themselves Republicans, while just 40 percent view themselves as Democrats.

It is certainly possible that an identity candidate would also choose to run on issues, but it is not necessary.  Thus you can get a President Obama who is running just to pad his resume, not because he actually wants to do anything as president.

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Dietrich Bonhoeffer: pacifist, religious reformer and victim of the Nazis (Deutsche-Welle, 4/08/15)

[I]t was on attending the Theological Seminary in New York in 1930 that Bonhoeffer's faith shifted. He became profoundly fixated on, and influenced by, the famous Sermon on the Mount and the notion of living in Christ's image. Bonhoeffer later wrote that "until New York I was a theologian but not yet a Christian."

The scholar many contemporaries had once considered arrogant suddenly was reborn as a campaigner for social justice and peace. His new credo: The church should be open to all, even non-Christian victims of every social order. He viewed Nazi Germany's rejection of the Jews as a rejection of Jesus Christ, who himself was a Jew.

Not wanting to be involved in the Nazi-influenced national church, Bonhoeffer moved to London to preach in 1933. Returning to Germany in 1935, he helped found the opposition Confessing Church in Finkenwalde before it was forcefully shut by the Nazi secret police in 1937. And in 1940 Bonhoeffer was silenced by an official Nazi gag order.

In the same year he joined the resistance group of Major General Hans Oster and his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi and began his risky double life as a resistance courier and preacher of peace.

On April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested for "undermining the military." In the Berlin-Tegel prison where he was confined he found time to read, write letters and poems and, most importantly, to work. After the failure of the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944, the Gestapo uncovered documents indicting Bonhoeffer in the plot.

Six months later he was transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp before being executed in another camp in Flossenbürg. According to a fellow inmate, Bonhoeffer reportedly departed with the words: "This is the end - but for me the beginning."

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


The End of Asymmetric Information (Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, April 6, 2015, Cato Unbound)

A lot of economic theories about asymmetric information, while logically correct, have been rendered empirically obsolete. We are not suggesting that this new world is perfect in every way, and indeed privacy is one of the major concerns. Still, the passing of many information asymmetries will lead easier trade, higher productivity, and better matches of people to jobs and to each other.

These changes also cast new light on the costs of a political system that  produces many new regulations but repeals very few old ones. The American regulatory apparatus is increasingly out of date. It is geared to problems that peaked in the previous generation or even earlier. We should revisit the topic of regulatory reform, with an eye toward making more regulations temporary, or having automatic sunset provisions, unless they are consciously and intentionally renewed for reasons of their continuing usefulness.

...would be one requiring that all laws and regulations sunset and require reauthorization.

Posted by orrinj at 10:14 AM


Hydrogen fuel breakthrough could pave the way for clean cars (Joseph Dussault, APRIL 8, 2015, CS Monitor)

A new breakthrough in fuel production could put hydrogen cars back in the race for clean transportation.

Researchers from Virginia Tech have developed a way to drastically cut the time and money necessary to produce hydrogen fuel. By using discarded corn cobs, stalks, and husks, they have improved on previous methods deemed too inefficient by energy experts. Their research, which was funded in part by Shell, was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences .

"This means we have demonstrated the most important step toward a hydrogen economy - producing distributed and affordable green hydrogen from local biomass resources," lead author Percival Zhang said in a press release.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


One Walker legacy: making the political process more favorable to GOP (Craig Gilbert, 4/07/15,  Journal Sentinel)

Since they came to power in 2011, Walker and his party have not only changed the way the state is governed, but they have changed the political playing field.

In a few big ways and lots of little ways, they have seemingly made it easier for Republicans and harder for Democrats to win elections.

Whichever way the pendulum swings next year, the 2016 race will be contested under a different set of political rules than those of previous decades, rules adopted by one party over the ardent opposition of the other.

The most consequential of these changes involve redistricting, which has given the GOP a virtual lock on the Legislature, and Act 10, which disarmed a critical Democratic election ally, public employee unions.

But the changes also involve an extensive rewrite of the state's election rules.

A high court decision last month removed the last big legal obstacle to the 2011 law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls. That policy will be in place for the 2016 presidential, congressional and legislative contests.

Early voting has been cut short, and banned on weekends. And the rules have been altered in myriad smaller ways, from the numbers of days voters need to establish residency in their voting precincts to the elimination of the straight-ticket voting option.

It's impossible to know the partisan impact of each of these changes. Some are too new or haven't taken effect yet, such as photo ID. Some may have little to no effect. In general, changes in campaign and election rules have a lot less impact on which party wins than shifts in public opinion and the political climate.

But taken together, these changes represent the most significant makeover of Wisconsin's political system in decades. And while other states controlled by Republicans have adopted some of the same changes, few have done so as aggressively and systematically as Wisconsin has under Walker.

"One side is fundamentally rewriting the rules," says political scientist Ken Mayer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


White House backs overhaul of military retirement, health coverage (Travis J. Tritten, 4/01/15, Stars and Stripes)

 President Barack Obama announced Monday he will back sweeping overhauls to the military retirement and health care systems as a way to ensure the costly benefits survive into the future.

Obama said he will provide Congress a list of proposals by the end of April that will be based on the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, a panel created by lawmakers to find solutions to ballooning personnel expenses.

The panel has advised the military to modernize its 20-year pensions by reducing payouts and adding a 401(k)-style option, and replace Tricare health coverage with a wide variety of private insurance plans. Those and a list of 15 changes to military compensation -- including a consolidation of commissaries and exchanges -- could save almost $5 billion next year and up to $10.4 billion per year by 2020, the panel claims. [...]

It found the lifelong pensions guaranteed to those who put in 20 years of service have racked up big expenses and the military could save money by contributing smaller amounts to military thrift savings plans over the course of servicemembers' careers.

Define the contribution, not the benefit.
Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


A decade of Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida has seen minority college enrollment rise (Shannon Colavecchio, 12/13/09, Tampa Bay Times/Herald)

A decade after Gov. Jeb Bush announced his controversial plan to end race-based university admissions, the number of minority students statewide has risen, according to a Times/Herald review of enrollment figures.

"That certainly flies in the face of those who were predicting Armageddon all those years ago," said universities chancellor Frank Brogan. He was Bush's lieutenant governor during the launch of One Florida, a plan that sparked marches and sit-ins in the Capitol and across the state.

The increasing diversity of Florida's 11 public universities has been fueled mostly by Hispanic enrollment -- from 13.8 percent to 18 percent of total enrollment statewide -- which reflects in part the changing demographics of the Sunshine State.

Black enrollment offers a mixed picture: a statewide dip, from 14 percent to 13.6 percent, with increases at some universities and decreases at others. For example, the University of South Florida in Tampa went from 9.2 percent to 11.5 percent black enrollment while Florida International University in Miami dropped from 14.6 percent to 12.4 percent.

"I'm of mixed opinion as to whether or not it's ultimately had a negative impact on diversity," USF admissions director Bob Spatig said of eliminating race-based admissions. "It certainly hasn't on the growing Hispanic population. ... But I think in some ways we're all stretching as much as we can to make sure it doesn't impact our African-American numbers."

College admissions officials agree, though, that One Florida better focused their attentions on diversity and alternative methods to recruit minorities. They now look at factors like geography, family college history, and socioeconomics. They reach out to first-generation students through scholarships and have closer ties with schools in low-income, urban areas. [...]

Bush announced the admissions changes eliminating race as a factor in November 1999.

One Florida set off a firestorm of opposition. Two of the most outspoken critics, lawmakers Kendrick Meek and Tony Hill, staged a sit-in for 25 hours until Bush agreed to slow down implementation of the admissions changes. Three weeks after the sit-in, 1,000 students marched into the Capitol to give Bush their critique of One Florida.

Bush and four Florida A&M students met and came up with this: Race was still out as a factor, but the admissions changes' effect on diversity would be regularly reviewed.

"The system as it currently exists in Florida is far from perfect, but the broader discussion of removing obstacles and creating access to higher education for Florida's children and their families happened as a result of public input," said Meek, now a U.S. Representative, D-Miami, in a statement this week.

"It's always nice to have your ideas validated," Bush said during a recent interview about the increase in minority enrollment. "But the important thing is that students of all backgrounds are getting an opportunity, and the students are stronger than ever."

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Clean Energy Revolution Is Ahead of Schedule (Noah Smith, 4/08/15, Bloomberg View)

The most important piece of news on the energy front isn't the plunge in oil prices, but the progress that is being made in battery technology. A new study in Nature Climate Change, by Bjorn Nykvist and Mans Nilsson of the Stockholm Environment Institute, shows that electric vehicle batteries have been getting cheaper much faster than expected. From 2007 to 2011, average battery costs for battery-powered electric vehicles fell by about 14 percent a year. For the leading electric vehicle makers, Tesla and Nissan, costs fell by 8 percent a year. This astounding decline puts battery costs right around the level that the International Energy Agency predicted they would reach in 2020. We are six years ahead of the curve.

The impossible is not only inevitable, it's generally imminent.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


False positive breast cancer diagnoses cost U.S. $4 billion: study  (MEREDITH ENGEL, 4/07/15,    NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

It's a medical mistake that costs taxpayers $4 billion a year - and millions of women a lot more than money.

A bombshell study found that false positive mammograms, when a healthy patient is misdiagnosed with breast cancer, happens 11% of the time, affecting 3.2 million women a year.

Over 10 years, a woman's odds of getting a false-positive result are 61%, according the report published in the journal, Health Affairs.

Those false positives can spur more testing and overtreatment, which jacks up costs and causes the women unnecessary distress, the authors of the study found.

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


Watson unhappy with execution on crucial pitch ( Tom Singer, 4/08/15,  MLB.com)

In a very roundabout way, Pirates reliever Tony Watson had just testified for his craft, for the everyday brilliance of Major League pitchers.

Late in Monday's Opening Day affair, Todd Frazier had absolutely destroyed a pitch from Watson, sending it fast and high and far over Great American Ball Park's upper-deck railing to lead the Reds to a 5-2 win.
"Bad execution. Left the pitch in the middle, and I paid for it," Watson said.

"He missed his location. Wanted to go up and in, and it came back over the middle part of the plate," manager Clint Hurdle said.

Here is the point, however: Frazier just showed what big league hitters do to mistakes; and they relatively rarely get to do it, because the Watsons keep them from doing it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Iran Deal Is Inevitable (Pankaj Mishra, 4/06/15, Bloomberg View)

Speaking at the United Nations in 1951, Iran's first elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh asked why Iran had lagged behind in a neighborhood where "hundreds of million of Asian people, after centuries of colonial exploitation, have now gained their independence and freedom." Why did Westerners, who had acknowledged even Indonesian claims to sovereignty, Mossadegh asked, continue to ignore Iran?          

Within a few months of his UN speech, Mossadegh, who was fighting to renegotiate Iran's grossly unfair deal with a British-owned oil company, was overthrown in a joint Anglo-American coup.

The 20th century was defined by decolonization, the overthrow of European empires, and the steady empowerment of non-Western peoples. But Soviet and American neo-imperialist interventions curtailed the sovereignty of many weak nation-states in Asia and Africa, condemning them to prolonged internal conflicts and external wars.           

For decades Iran has been trapped in a cycle that became depressingly familiar during the Cold War: brutal rule by an unpopular, foreign-backed strongman, who is then overthrown in a popular uprising by an ideological movement that turns out to be more repressive for many of the country's citizens.

Their encounter with the West had turned traumatic for ordinary Iranians long before Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi unleashed his CIA-trained torturers and spies on them. One previous Shah presided over a business deal with Baron Reuter (founder of Reuters news agency) that even the arch-imperialist Lord Curzon described as "the most complete surrender of the entire resources of a kingdom into foreign hands that has ever been dreamed of much less accomplished in history."

The country was invaded and occupied by European powers during both world wars. It should not surprise anyone that leaders of Iran's Islamic Revolution have been fiercely obsessed with securing the country's sovereignty and security, whether in the terrible war with Saddam Hussein, who was backed by the West as well as many Arab countries, or in creating buffer zones through proxy Shiite movements and regimes across the region.

"We are not liberals like Allende and Mossadegh, whom the CIA can snuff out," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, now Iran's Supreme Leader, warned during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. Iran's intransigence, at the risk of extreme isolation, stands as stark warning of how paranoia, pent-up hatred and resentment work themselves out in geopolitical terms.

We're still just draining pus from the wound.  The alliance and economic boom will heal it.
Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


A third of Republicans support Iran nuclear deal: Reuters/Ipsos poll (Reuters, 4/08/15) 

Thirty-one percent of Republicans favor a new nuclear deal with Iran, creating a challenge for their party's lawmakers who largely oppose the framework accord sealed between Tehran and world powers, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Wednesday.

Another 30 percent of Republicans oppose the pact, while 40 percent are not sure, according to the poll, which revealed a sharp split in the party as its leaders ramp up opposition to the deal championed by President Barack Obama, a Democrat.[...]

 Though 50 percent of Democrats supported it, 10 percent were opposed and 39 percent were not sure.

Among independents - an important constituency group for both parties ahead of the 2016 presidential election - 33 percent voiced support, 21 percent registered opposition, and 45 percent said they were unsure about the deal.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


The Brontosaurus Would Like to Know: What Is a Species, Really?  (MEGAN GARBER, APR 8 2015, The Atlantic)

The brontosaurus--the gentle giant that ate plants and sneezed on children--has spent the past century-plus as, if not an actual genus, then a cultural one. Tyrannosaurus, stegosaurus, triceratops ... and brontosaurus. The sauropod was like the fourth Beatle, only more beloved. Sure, the long-necked lizard might not have technically existed; in another sense, though, the brontosaurus was more real in the human imagination than the apatosaurus ever was.

So it was big news, this week, when a new paper brought some redemption--for brontosaurus fans, for Lynnaean taxonomy, for the U.S. Postal Service. A team of scientists, cross-referencing the digital scans of bones from hundreds of long-necked dinosaurs, is claiming that the brontosaurus deserves to be reinstated as a genus unto itself.

It's vocabulary, not science.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


How Scott Walker Has Escaped the 'Inauthentic' Label So Far (Brendan Nyhan, 4/07/15, NY Times)

Right now, Mr. Walker is making the transition from the set of positions that helped him win two terms as governor of Democratic-leaning Wisconsin to the ones that will help him win the 2016 G.O.P. nomination. He's backing federal ethanol mandates and reversing his support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

This process has often been awkward. He has not only changed a number of his positions, but he has also appeared to contradict himself on multiple occasions, which provides ammunition to critics who say Governor Walker isn't ready for the national stage.

Mr. Walker's struggles aren't just about his general readiness (though that's part of the problem). He is adapting to a new constituency on the fly, which inevitably leads to errors as he learns the appropriate way to speak about controversial issues without making news.

It's notable, however, that very few people are calling him inauthentic for making these changes in his positions -- a charge that dogged candidates like Mitt Romney and John Kerry during their presidential campaigns. The concerns expressed about Mr. Walker focus largely on his political skills, not his authenticity.

In some ways, the manner in which Governor Walker is being covered represents progress in how we think about -- and cover -- candidates for office. Politicians are ambitious people who want to win elections. The idea that anyone is behaving completely authentically during this highly strategic process is preposterous.

And Mr. Walker has several advantages in seeking to avoid these kinds of criticisms. First, he was genuinely conservative for the state he represented, which reduces the distance he has to travel ideologically to match up with the G.O.P. primary electorate. Mr. Romney, by contrast, governed a state that required him to adopt positions that were out of touch with his party and later had to be discarded.

...than seeming authentic on both sides of an issue?  It was Ronald Reagan's greatest gift.

April 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


On Iran, the Least-Worst Option (JEFFREY GOLDBERG, APR 3 2015, The Atlantic)

The preliminary nuclear deal announced on Thursday in Switzerland means that Obama may very well succeed in keeping his promise to Israel. Iran, it appears, will not gain possession of a nuclear weapon while he is president. If Iran adheres to the terms of the deal, as best as we understand those sketchy terms today, it will not have a nuclear weapon during the terms of the next one or two U.S. presidents. However, this deal, should it actually be ratified in June, formalizes Iran's status as an eventual nuclear-threshold state by allowing it to maintain a vast nuclear infrastructure. This was not part of the international community's original plan, and it is a cause for worry.

I've been reading many of the early analyses of this deal, and I agree with the commentators who argue that the United States and its partners in the "P5+1" group of world powers actually succeeded in extracting significant concessions from the Iranians. Opponents of the Iranian nuclear program should be pleased to see in the preliminary deal limitations on the number of centrifuges Iran is allowed to operate; they should be pleased to learn about the level and intensity of outside inspection of Iran's nuclear facilities; they should also be provisionally pleased to learn, contra statements from the Iranian foreign minister, that many sanctions will be lifted only in response to specific Iranian actions.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


How Hispanic Is Jeb Bush? (SILVIA KILLINGSWORTH, 4/07/15, The New Yorker)

At a Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Miami in 2013, the former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, who is a Cuban-born Republican, described Jeb Bush as "just as Hispanic as everyone in this room, and maybe a little more." He was embellishing the truth, but not by much--Bush married Columba Garnica de Gallo, in 1974, after meeting her four years earlier while on a school trip to Mexico. He studied Latin American affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, and he and Columba lived in Caracas, Venezuela, for two years before settling down in Florida, where he began a long career in Republican politics. [...]

Bush speaks fluent, near-effortless Spanish as the result of his long-term life choices rather than as part of an effort to win Hispanic votes (a political tactic I have previously called "Hispandering"). As a result, the Spanish-language media is taking him seriously as a candidate who might appeal to Latino voters. Earlier this year, on his Sunday morning talk show, "Al Punto," Ramos told Gutierrez, "For the first time in history, we have two Hispanic candidates from the Republican Party"--Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz--and, with a good-natured shrug of his shoulders, he added, "and Jeb Bush, if we want to convert him to Latino as well!" Gutierrez responded, "I think it's very good that we have Hispanics, but there are different types of Hispanics." He wasn't referring to Caribbean versus Central American Hispanics, or the difference between Mexicans and Chicanos. He said he preferred not to compare Cruz (a Canadian-born Cuban-American) with Rubio (an American-born Cuban), because the latter is more moderate and the former is on the extreme right. His Goldilocks candidate is the effectively Hispanic Jeb Bush, whose policies he says he knows and likes best. Like many centrists, Bush supports comprehensive immigration reform--legal status and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants--and has distanced himself from the Tea Party extremism of calls for sealing borders. He said in 2013 that immigrants are the economic engine of the U.S., and, in a brief interview last December, told Miami's NBC affiliate, "I think there's a compelling case that, if we want to be young and dynamic again, we have to make legal immigration easier." So if heritage matters less than track records and platforms, then what should it matter to Hispanic voters how Jeb Bush identifies himself, mistakenly or otherwise?

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Man caught with 32 cellphones glued to his body (TIMES OF ISRAEL, April 7, 2015)

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


In Syria's war, Alawites pay heavy price for loyalty to Bashar al-Assad : The Alawites, the Assad family's sect, have seen up to a third of their young men killed in the Syrian conflict and mothers are now refusing to send their sons to war (Ruth Sherlock, 07 Apr 2015, The Telegraph)

In the Assad regime's heartland, dead officers are sent home in ambulances, while the corpses of ordinary soldiers are returned in undecorated pick-up trucks.

Then come the press gangs: military recruiters raid houses to find replacements by force for the dwindling ranks of Syria's military.

Sharing their sect with President Bashar al-Assad, Alawites have long been the core constituency for the Syrian regime. As the civil war drags into its fifth year, the minority sect is seen by opposition rebels as remaining unwaveringly loyal.

But from inside the community, the picture looks very different: as their sons die in droves on the front lines, and economic privileges - subsidies and patronage - cease, Alawites increasingly feel they are tools and not the beneficiaries of the regime. [...]
The scale of the sect's losses is staggering: with a population of around two million, a tenth of Syria's population, the Alawites boast perhaps 250,000 men of fighting age. Today as many as one third are dead, local residents and Western diplomats say.

It's just a matter of whether the rewgime is changed before, after or during the defeat of ISIS.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Get Ready to Pay More Tolls If Infrastructure Isn't Funded (ROB GARVER, 4/07/15, The Fiscal Times)

Despite calls for increased spending on federal infrastructure from economists, civil engineers, municipal planners and others, Congress has for years delayed taking serious steps to address to keep infrastructure funding at levels that meet the country's future needs. One of the side-effects of that, according to the Brookings Institution, is a notable increase in the number of toll roads in the U.S. 

According to an analysis by Joseph Kane and Patrick Sabol, both senior policy research assistants at Brookings, and Robert Puentes, a senior fellow in its Metropolitan Policy Program, the construction of new toll roads has proceeded at twice the pace of the construction of non- toll roads in recent years, extending a trend that goes back more than a decade.

Tolls are infrastructure funding; it's just paid for by the users.

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


The Rauner revolution: From campaign themes, an agenda to reinvent Illinois (Chicago Tribune Editorial Board Monday, April 6, 2015)

[H]e's focused on precisely one item: an agenda he calls The Illinois Turnaround. He's barnstorming the state this week, distributing thick binders and committing himself to transform our governments -- especially the broke, broken one headquartered in Springfield.

How refreshing to hear a governor devoted not to pleasing this or that constituency, or pushing this or that tax hike, or triple-thinking every utterance that might offend someone. Monday morning, Rauner spent an hour with the Tribune Editorial Board, and from start to finish he stressed the need for structural reform of a state government driven by insiders, for insiders. Balancing budgets, he said, won't be as hard as returning control of that government to its citizens: "The system is rigged for the insiders against the interests of taxpayers."

Who might those insiders be? If you're thinking of public employee unions that donate money to the politicians who approve their contracts, or lawyers who contribute to the campaigns of judges who rule on their cases, or officials who'd rather keep big staffs than modernize their operations, then your list is similar to the governor's: "The trial lawyers and unions have owned state government," he said (without then backtracking).

And as for the plaint from his predecessor that without more taxation, Illinois can't function: Rauner asserts that if Illinois transforms how it does business, it'll have enough revenue to meet its needs: "How we spend drives how much we spend," he said early on, adding later, "We get these structural reforms done, and we'll have a lot of money." We could insert here long passages from the new governor about nonsensical union work rules, multilayered university bureaucracies and copious state mandates, such as so-called prevailing wage standards -- all of which inflate government costs. With the savings, "think about how much more help we can give to our developmentally disabled, think how much more we can put into our schools, think how much more we can put into our help for our low-income kids, early childhood education."

Posted by orrinj at 12:41 PM


Job Openings Climb to Highest Level in 14 Years, But Hiring Declines (JOSH ZUMBRUN, 4/07/15, WSJ)

The number of job openings in the U.S. climbed to the highest level in 14 years, surpassing five million for the first time since January 2001. But the number of Americans actually getting hired for jobs fell for the second consecutive month, as did the number of people who voluntarily quit.

Job openings climbed to 5.13 million in February, up from 4.97 million in January and from 4.88 million in December. But the number of Americans actually hired to fill jobs declined--falling to 4.9 million in February, down from five million in January and 5.2 million in December,  according to the Labor Department's Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, known as Jolts.

We're going to need an awful lot more immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 12:36 PM


Investors are lining up to get into Iran (Heather Long, 4/07/15, CNN Money)

An hour after news broke of the Iran nuclear deal "framework," people started calling Mahdi Yazdizadeh.

Yazdizadeh is one of the partners in Pasargad, an Iran-based investment fund. [...]

Iranians are certainly optimistic. The Tehran Stock Exchange has surged nearly 8% since the deal was announced on Thursday.

Interest in doing business in Iran started long before last week. Everyone from investors to banking institutions to auditors have been analyzing the possibilities. The country has large natural resources and, equally as important, a well-educated workforce.

Yazdizadeh has been flying around the world in recent months explaining possibilities to potential investors. He's seen the most interest from Iranians living abroad, including in the U.S., and people in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and even Saudi Arabia.

"A lot of them have already done their homework," he said. "No check has been issued yet from foreign investors, but they have started traveling [to Iran]."

One of the keys to the deal is that growth will be so explosive it will be destabilizing.

April 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Ritual, Not Science, Keeps The Annual Physical Alive (Jenny Gold, April 6, 2015, Kaiser Health News)

[9]2 percent of Americans say it is important to get an annual head-to-toe physical exam, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation). And 62 percent of those polled said they went to the doctor every year for their exam.

But the evidence is not on their side. "I would argue that we should move forward with the elimination of the annual physical," says Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, a primary care physician and a professor of health policy at Harvard Medical School.

Mehrotra says patients should really only go to the doctor if something is wrong, or if it's time to have an important preventive test like a colonoscopy. He realizes popular opinion is against this view. "When I, as a doctor, say I do not advocate for the annual physical, I feel like I'm attacking moms and apple pie," Mehrotra says. "It seems so intuitive and straightforward, and [it's] something that's been part of medicine for such a long time."

But he says randomized trials going back to the 1980s just don't support it.

The Society for General Internal Medicine even put annual physicals on a list of things doctors should avoid for healthy adults. One problem, Mehrotra says, is the cost. Each visit usually costs insurers just $150, but that adds up fast.

"We estimate that it's about $10 billion a year, which is more than how much we spend as a society on breast cancer care," Mehrotra says. "It's all a lot of money."

And then there's the risk that a doctor will run a test and find a problem that's not actually there. It's called a false positive, and it can lead to a cascade of follow-up tests that can be expensive and could even cause real harm. Dr. Michael Rothberg is another primary care physician and a health researcher at the Cleveland Clinic. He generally avoids giving physicals.

"I generally don't like to frighten people and I don't like to give them diseases they don't have," Rothberg says. "I mostly tell my family, 'if you're feeling well, stay away from doctors. If you get near them, they'll start to look for things and order tests because that's what doctors do.' "

"The flip side of that is if you're not feeling well, don't keep it to yourself. Don't minimize it. Don't pretend it's not there," he adds.

Personally, I had one last century, which seems recent enough.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Why do North Dakota and New Hampshire have such giant legislatures? (Philip Bump, April 6, 2015, Washington Post)

[S]omeone on Twitter reminded me that North Dakota's legislature is positively humble when compared to New Hampshire's. New Hampshire has so many legislators that its state's legislator Web site doesn't even list them all, instead bragging, "Did you know the NH House of Representatives is the third-largest parliamentary body in the English speaking world?" There are 409 of them, which is -- if I may editorialize for a minute -- dumb. (You can see them all here.) There's a sort-of reason for it: Many districts elect multiple legislators. I mean, that's the reason. I didn't say it was a great reason.

...which is the same reason we saddle our two-year termed governor with an Executive Council.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Want Kids to Learn Math? Stop Teaching It (Susan Engel, 4/06/15, Bloomberg View)

People typically offer some combination of four reasons children should learn math: for everyday functions such as doing taxes, buying groceries and reading the news; for getting a job in an increasingly technologically advanced market; as a powerful way of thinking and understanding the world; to tackle high school or get into a good college.

Let's consider these one by one. To some degree, children naturally learn basic arithmetic just by spending time with people who use it, and by carrying out such tasks as setting the table, going to the store or sharing toys with friends. Research shows that even illiterate children can compute sums quite quickly and accurately in familiar settings (such as selling produce on the street). Babies are born with an intuitive knowledge of numbers. It wouldn't take much for schools to teach every child how to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

Those interested in highly quantitative fields such as technology, finance or research are likely to have a natural inclination for math. They can obtain the knowledge they need later, in a much more effective and profound way, in college or beyond. People who invent new industries are rarely using math they learned in school, and often aren't using any at all. Why drag all elementary school students through a compulsory curriculum that turns off as many as it prepares, on the off chance that a few might need it?

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


The heart of Iran's debate on a nuclear deal (Monitor's Editorial Board  APRIL 6, 2015, CS Monitor)

Mr. Rouhani, along with other relative moderates in Tehran, have scored a victory over their more conservative domestic opponents. They may now be emboldened to show that a new Iran can emerge from this initial step - such as a decision last month to allow Iranian women to attend public sporting events.

Merely by coming to an agreement with the United States and other powers on an issue of its own security, Iran's religious leaders hint that their 36 years of Islamic revolution - exported through violence - may now be tempered by a new era of reason and by a listening to their restless people, nearly half of whom are under age 25.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Handicapped  (The Economist, Dec 20th 2014)

Golf has more than itself to blame for its challenges. Its decline is due in part to something even the most meticulous golfer cannot control: the economy. Paying to spend hours getting a white ball into tiny holes with as few strokes as possible becomes harder to justify during times of economic hardship. In 2008 golf participation and spending slid at private clubs and public courses alike.

Since the economy has picked up, benefiting the rich more than the poor, high-end courses in good locations have been doing well, according to Donald Trump, who owns 18 of them. People earning $100,000 or more now make up 45% of all golfers, up from 40% in 2005, according to KeyBanc Capital Markets. The middle and lower classes have been squeezed, which hurts mid-range golf courses and those in sparsely populated areas. Many municipal golf courses have closed, because governments are unable to justify support for golf when they have cut spending on education and social services.

Cut the fees to something reasonable and we'll play.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Jeb Bush's Team Is Taping His Private Events 'As Much As Possible' (SHANE GOLDMACHER, 4/06/15, National Journal)

As Jeb Bush rubs shoulders and schmoozes with the business titans and Republican financiers at fundraisers all across America, somewhere in the room a tape recorder is likely rolling.

And it belongs to the Bush campaign's own team-in-waiting.

Bush's team has been quietly taping his private appearances in hopes of pushing back on false narratives dished by donors to reporters and to have a record to disprove any misinformation wafting from closed-door events.

"We want to have a full record of his comments," said Tim Miller, a senior adviser to Bush's Right to Rise PAC and the expected communications director for his expected presidential campaign. "Full information awareness."

It's not just a way to discipline the press but your own candidate.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Time to Test Your Baseball Knowledge (GEORGE WILL, April 4, 2015, National Review)

Can you answer these questions about America's pastime correctly without striking out? Visiting a struggling pitcher on the mound, Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver advised, "If you know how to cheat, start now." Be advised that Googling is cheating...

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Tehran's reborn symphony orchestra: an ovation before playing a note (Saeed Kamali Dehghan, 6 April 2015, The Guardian)

In its eight-decade history, the Tehran Symphony Orchestra has ridden out some turbulent events: a western-engineered coup that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister in the 1950s, the Islamic revolution, and war with Iraq.

Under the country's previous president, the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, this once glamorous music institution experienced one of its darkest periods when it was disbanded due to negligence by officials and financial stringency.

But now, the culture ministry has hired a world-class conductor and it is rising from the ashes nearly three years after it was shut down. Last month musicians took to the stage as Beethoven's Symphony No 9 filled Tehran's Vahdat hall at the opening ceremony.

"I walked on to the stage and the audience rose to its feet," said Alexander Rahbari, the principal conductor. "I've performed for 40 years outside Iran and never seen a standing ovation before the performance. This was something totally different. It showed what having the orchestra back meant to them. I was close to tears."

The front row was filled with dignitaries and senior officials, an indication of the support the new Iranian administration is throwing behind the group. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


Jeb Bush Listed Himself as 'Hispanic' on Voter Form (Alan Rappeport, 4/06/15, NY Times)

He speaks fluent Spanish. His wife, Columba Bush, was born in Mexico. For two years in his 20s, he lived in Venezuela, immersing himself in the country's culture.

Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor and likely presidential candidate, was born in Texas and hails from one of America's most prominent political dynasties. But on at least one occasion, it appears he got carried away with his appeal to Spanish-speaking voters and claimed he actually was Hispanic.

In a 2009 voter-registration application, obtained from the Miami-Dade County Elections Department, Mr. Bush marked Hispanic in the field labeled "race/ethnicity."

April 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Praise Him : Celebrating the life and work of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Joseph J. Feeney, 4/06/15, America)

Gerard Hopkins was born on July 28, 1844, in the London suburb of Stratford, Essex, the oldest child of nine in a comfortable Church of England family. His father, Manley Hopkins, owned a London firm that insured ships against shipwreck. But Stratford was soon industrialized, and when Gerard was 8, the family moved to Hampstead, a quiet, leafy London suburb. Young Gerard was a happy boy who loved to climb trees, joined in family prayers and wrote schoolboy poems. He went up to Oxford University in 1863, made many new friends, was a brilliant student of the classics and wrote more poems, including his first sonnets. Like all Oxford students, he went to Church of England services, but he gradually grew uncertain about his religion. He read, thought and prayed, talked with the famed convert John Henry Newman (later a cardinal) and became a Roman Catholic in 1866. In 1867 he won a "first"--Oxford's highest degree--in Greek and Latin classics, then went off to begin his life.

At Oxford Hopkins wanted to be both a painter and a poet, and after his conversion he also considered the Catholic priesthood. For eight months he taught at Newman's school in Birmingham--the Oratory School--then, deciding to be a priest, he became a Jesuit in 1868. As a novice in London he learned Jesuit life and prayer, then studied philosophy in Lancashire and theology at St. Beuno's College in North Wales. The first flashes of his poetic genius shone out at St. Beuno's in 1875, when he wrote his great shipwreck ode, "The Wreck of the Deutschland," and later 11 brilliant sonnets about nature and God. In 1877 he was ordained a priest at St. Beuno's and at the age of 33 became Father Hopkins.

For seven years he worked in Jesuit schools and parishes in England and Scotland, writing poems about the environment, about his students and parishioners (like the Liverpool blacksmith "Felix Randal") and about the Blessed Virgin Mary. He wrote lively sermons too. Once in Liverpool he compared the Holy Spirit to a cricket player urging a teammate, "Come on, come on!" As Paraclete, he told the congregation, the Holy Spirit "cheers the spirit of man...calling him on...: This way to do God's will, this way to save your soul, come on, come on!" The Holy Ghost as a cricket player? Hopkins had a most lively sense of humor!

In 1884 he was sent to Dublin as a professor of Greek in the new University College on St. Stephen's Green and as an examiner in the Royal University. He made many good friends in Ireland and enjoyed his teaching and his students but twice a year grew exhausted from grading hundreds of examination papers from all over the country. For months in 1885 he suffered from deep depression, even failing to contact God in prayer and wondering if he was losing his mind. He screamed out his pain in anguished--and brilliant--sonnets like "I wake and feel the fell of dark" and "No worst, there is none." After a few months he recovered from his depression, but in 1889 he contracted typhoid fever and died at the age of 44, seven weeks before his 45th birthday. People remembered him as a warm friend and fine priest, but he was unknown as a poet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Hassan Rouhani: reformist insider who has ended Iran's isolation : The Iranian president has long carried the hopes of his country's reformists. Now, thanks to last week's nuclear deal with the US, the pragmatist has made good on his promise (Emma Graham-Harrison, 4 April 2015, The Guardian)

Nearly two years after Hassan Rouhani was elected Iran's president and began the slow process of rebuilding trust with Washington, a nuclear deal was reached last week in Switzerland. His nation promised to make drastic cuts to its nuclear programme in return for the gradual lifting of sanctions as part of a historic breakthrough in Lausanne that could end a 13-year nuclear standoff.

"Today is a day that will remain in the historical memory of the Iranian nation," the moderate cleric said shortly after the deal was announced, as he thanked Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, without whose approval he could never have stepped up engagement with the west.

Rouhani swept to a surprise landslide victory in Iran's 2013 presidential elections as a candidate of curious contradictions - a cleric from the heart of the political establishment who carried the battered hopes of reformists.

A former nuclear negotiator who had preached and practised moderation and compromise, he promised Iranians that he would be the candidate to end their country's isolation, without also ending its peaceful nuclear programme.

It was an ambitious pledge that would be battered by the opposition of hardliners at home, in western capitals and Israel, and until last week no one was really sure if he could pull it off.

Sometimes it takes awhile, but electorates get what they want. It's why it was foolish (and counter-productive) to fear the Muslim Brotherhood.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Wage Growth Remains Largely in Check (BEN LEUBSDORF, April 5, 2015, WSJ)

Average hourly earnings of private sector workers rose last month by 7 cents to $24.86, the Labor Department said Friday. The 0.3% increase, which was a bright spot in a broadly weak jobs report, followed a tepid 0.1% rise in February.

But monthly readings can be volatile, and the trend remains muted. Hourly earnings in March rose 2.1% from a year earlier, little changed from their 2% annual pace over the past half-decade.

Given how far that is ahead of inflation though, there's plenty of room to pass on more retirement and health care costs to employees.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Ten purchases that may pay for themselves : You may save money in the long run by investing in a coffee maker, washer/dryer, LED bulbs, and other items.  (Jeff Somogyi, APRIL 5, 2015, CS Monitor)
How Quickly a Cable Modem Pays for Itself: 9 Months

To some, the $7.95 a month you pay to "rent" your cable modem is just an irritating inconvenience that you learn to live with, but to Comcast, it equates to about $1 billion in revenue every year! Very few people even know that you can buy your own modem, to avoid that fee; fewer still actually do it, because the up-front cost of the hardware is more annoying than the smaller monthly charge.

For our comparison, we chose an after-market modem that has the highest level of certification by Comcast (and we chose Comcast, because it's the largest broadcasting and cable company in the world by revenue), the ARRIS/Motorola SB6121 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem, which we routinely see for $69.99 (this time with free shipping at Walmart, a low by $10). Because of math, that means it'll pay for itself in only nine months! [...]

How Quickly an LED Bulb Pays for Itself: 2 Years

The estimated cost of one LED bulb plus the energy it takes to run it across its lifespan will cost you a total of $27.97, whereas the total cost of buying and using one incandescent bulb is $7.79. Since a typical incandescent lasts for only six months, you'll break even with an LED bulb after two years. That sounds like a long time, but since an LED bulb is going to last for about seven years, you're getting five "free" years of light out of it and saving yourself about $86 in the long run too.

That might not seem like a lot, but consider that the average lifespan of a human is 84 years; over your life you'll save $1,032. (Still not impressed? Well, LED bulbs are supposed to be good for the environment, too, so try to think globally?)

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Tobacco tax could lead to 'a cigarette-free world by 2040' (Jamie Doward, 4 April 2015, The Guardian)

Pressure is growing for the introduction of an additional levy on cigarette sales in the UK, a move that campaigners say could help eradicate tobacco consumption within decades.

All three main political parties have signalled that they are open to the idea, which has been discussed by senior civil servants in the Treasury and the Department of Health and would be the latest salvo to be fired across the bows of big tobacco. From tomorrow, newsagents will no longer be able to display tobacco products behind their counters and from next year cigarettes will have to be sold in unbranded packs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Iran partially lifts ban on women attending sports matches : Move ends complete restriction put in place after 1979 revolution; not clear which sports to be allowed (ALI AKBAR DAREINI, April 5, 2015, AP) 

Iranian authorities have partially lifted a ban on women attending men's sports matches, a senior sports official said Saturday.

Deputy Sports Minister Abdolhamid Ahmadi said Iran's State Security Council has approved a plan by his ministry to allow women and families to attend some sports events, the official IRNA news agency reported Saturday, adding that the plan would be implemented sometime this year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Shia crescent: self-fulfilling prophecy (RANJ ALAALDIN, 3 April 2015, Open Democracy)

The "Shia Crescent" has been a self-serving and self-fulfilling prophecy. Since its inception in 1979, never has the Islamic Republic of Iran had such influence and control over a range of state and non-state actors. In Iraq, Iran has unparalleled control over the Shia-dominated state and the country's range of Shia militias currently fighting so-called Islamic State (IS). Elsewhere, Iranian influence over Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria's al-Assad regime has been reinforced since the outbreak of conflict in Syria and its transformation into a regionalised sectarian proxy war. 

Whilst for Iran it is mostly geostrategic interests that are at stake, for the others it is their survival. IS and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have made clear their intent to reverse the Shia ascent in the region and eliminate the Shia community altogether. In other words, Iranian influence in the region has as much to do with the policies and reactions of the Arab world as it does Iran's own maneuverings. Iran does not have influence over the region's various Shia actors by default, but is helped by the way the Arab world regimes have historically treated Shia actors in the region.

From taking out Saddam to insisting on self-determination to our emerging alliance with Iran, we are the architects of the Shi'a Crescent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


New poll: just 54% of Americans see Israel as an ally (Middle East Monitor, 03 April 2015)

The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the United States has sharply decreased, according to a new poll published Thursday.

Only 54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country's ally, a decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012.

Rasmussen Reports, who conducted the poll, said Israel had "tumbled down the list."

The last time addressing Congress worked that badly it was Alger Hiss talking.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Another Side of Kerouac: The Dharma Bum as Sports Nut (CHARLES McGRATH, May 15, 2009, NY Times)

Almost all his life Jack Kerouac had a hobby that even close friends and fellow Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs never knew about. He obsessively played a fantasy baseball game of his own invention, charting the exploits of made-up players like Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody and Zagg Parker, who toiled on imaginary teams named either for cars (the Pittsburgh Plymouths and New York Chevvies, for example) or for colors (the Boston Grays and Cincinnati Blacks).

He collected their stats, analyzed their performances and, as a teenager, when he played most ardently, wrote about them in homemade newsletters and broadsides. He even covered financial news and imaginary contract disputes. 

It's nearly enough to redeem him.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Iran stocks soar after nuclear framework deal (AP AND JUSTIN JALIL, April 5, 2015, Times of Israel)

The Tehran Stock Exchange has rallied after world powers clinched a nuclear framework agreement with Tehran, reflecting hopes that some crippling international sanctions could soon be lifted.

The official IRNA news agency says the Tehran Stock Exchange index rose 6.9 percent over two days. The agency says the index improved by 4,535 points to 70,261 on Sunday -- the second working day of Iran's new year. It was the highest level in at least 18 months.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Easter In The United States By The Numbers (Niall McCarthy, 4/05/15, Forbes)

This year, 80 percent of American adults will celebrate Easter. That's good news for business - the average person will spend $140.62 on this year's holiday. All in all, total planned Easter spending across the United States will amount to $16.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That's a slight improvement on last year, when total planned spending stood at $15.9 billion.

Where are people going to purchase their Easter gifts this year? Most shoppers, 58.6 percent, will purchase something at the discount store while 40.7 percent are going to buy something at a department store.  18.8 percent will embrace technology and order items online.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Culture's Champion : On rereading 'Culture and Anarchy.' (GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB, 12/01/14, Weekly Standard)

It was by chance that my first reading of Culture and Anarchy with my students coincided with the centenary of its publication. But it was not by chance that I chose to read it then, in 1969, at the height of the culture war. Anticipating that war by more than a century, Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) wrote a passionate defense of culture--high culture, we would now say--against the prevailing low culture that he saw as tantamount to "anarchy."

Arnold's culture is high indeed.  It is nothing less than the pursuit of "sweetness and light" (Jonathan Swift's epigram for beauty and intelligence), "total perfection," "the best which has been thought and said," and the "right reason" that comes from the "best self" rather than the "ordinary self."  

His countrymen, unfortunately, were animated by quite the opposite principle: "doing as one likes" and "saying what one likes." Perhaps out of deference to John Stuart Mill, Arnold did not cite On Liberty to that effect (the book had appeared, to great acclaim, only a decade earlier). Instead, he quoted a Mr. Roebuck, a Liberal member of Parliament who was fond of asking, "May not every man in England say what he likes?"--asserting that this was the source of England's greatness. To which Arnold replied that culture requires that "what men say, when they may say what they like, is worth saying--has good in it, and more good than bad." Anything short of that is an invitation to anarchy, for it lacks "the much wanted principle" of authority that governs the culture as well as society.

...is that it is the high--the intellectuals--who chose anarchy, while we low--people of faith--chose culture.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


The hidden hand behind the Islamic State militants? Saddam Hussein's. (Liz Sly April 4, 2015, Washington Post)

When Abu Hamza, a former Syrian rebel, agreed to join the Islamic State, he did so assuming he would become a part of the group's promised Islamist utopia, which has lured foreign jihadists from around the globe.

Instead, he found himself being supervised by an Iraqi emir and receiving orders from shadowy Iraqis who moved in and out of the battlefield in Syria. When Abu Hamza disagreed with fellow commanders at an Islamic State meeting last year, he said, he was placed under arrest on the orders of a masked Iraqi man who had sat silently through the proceedings, listening and taking notes.

Abu Hamza, who became the group's ruler in a small community in Syria, never discovered the Iraqis' real identities, which were cloaked by code names or simply not revealed. All of the men, however, were former Iraqi officers who had served under Saddam Hussein, including the masked man, who had once worked for an Iraqi intelligence agency and now belonged to the Islamic State's own shadowy security service, he said.

His account, and those of others who have lived with or fought against the Islamic State over the past two years, underscore the pervasive role played by members of Iraq's former Baathist army in an organization more typically associated with flamboyant foreign jihadists and the gruesome videos in which they star.

Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group.

They have brought to the organization the military expertise and some of the agendas of the former Baathists, as well as the smuggling networks developed to avoid sanctions in the 1990s and which now facilitate the Islamic State's illicit oil trading.

Abu Hamza, a former Islamic State fighter is pictured in Sanliurfa, Turkey, in September 2014. He said that in Syria, local "emirs" are shadowed by an Iraqi deputy who makes the real decisions. (Alice Martins)
In Syria, local "emirs" are typically shadowed by a deputy who is Iraqi and makes the real decisions, said Abu Hamza, who fled to Turkey last summer after growing disillusioned with the group. He uses a pseudonym because he fears for his safety.

"All the decision makers are Iraqi, and most of them are former Iraqi officers. The Iraqi officers are in command, and they make the tactics and the battle plans," he said. "But the Iraqis themselves don't fight. They put the foreign fighters on the front lines."

It was entirely noble and very American to stay in Iraq and try to make it a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional state, but it was a mistake because it prevented reprisals.  

Everyone--other than the Sunni who'd oppressed Iraq's Kurds and Shi'a and the Alawites--would have been better served had we just turned to Syria and done Assad's regime.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Scott Walker has spent most of life planted firmly in middle class (Jason Stein, 4/04/15,  Journal Sentinel)

As a governor with a $147,328 salary and a mansion, vehicles and armed bodyguards -- all provided by taxpayers -- Scott Walker is no longer an average Joe.

But for all his childhood and most of his adult life, the Wisconsin governor was just that: successful but middle class.

In an age when most potential presidential contenders are millionaires, Walker may end up being the closest thing to a middle-class presidential candidate that voters will see in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


"Wolf Hall" Shows a Different Side of St. Thomas More (EAMON DUFFY, 4/03/15, Aleteia)

We know More better than almost anyone else in Tudor England. We are familiar with his eloquence, learning and often risqué humour, his legal reforms and judicial integrity, and his sardonic realism about the snake-pit of Tudor politics. Roper's words and Holbein's paintings open windows into More's household at Chelsea, full of laughter, music and exotic pets, where girls were treated as equal to boys and taught Greek and Latin to a standard that would shame any modern undergraduate. 

But More's reputation has fallen on hard times. For centuries, he was an icon of innocent suffering for conscience's sake; more recently, he has been represented as a hypocrite, a bigot and a persecutor. The More of Wolf Hall is the latest and most powerful example of this reversal. Mantel's character is More as he was perceived by his enemies - a joyless puritan, a man whose social charm but cruel humour masked a steely religious bigotry. He is a sneering misogynist who enjoys humiliating the women in his household. Above all, he is a religious fanatic, flogging himself in a fear-driven piety, obsessively writing vitriolic and obscene polemical books, implacably hunting down defenceless Protestants, imprisoning and torturing them in his own cellars. 

Far from being the innocent victim of a cruel regime, this More is a calculating political schemer, treated better than he deserved. After More's arrest, Thomas Audley, the contemptible climber who succeeded More as Lord Chancellor and pronounced the death sentence on him, tells him: "We spare you the methods that you used on others."

One of the avowed motives of Wolf Hall was to correct the idealized picture of A Man for All Seasons. In this unforgettable but misleading portrait, More featured as an icon for twentieth-century liberals, defending the rights of the individual against a coercive society. Bolt projected on to his hero opinions More would have indignantly repudiated; Mantel's starker portrait has sixteenth-century warrant, and far greater plausibility.

What makes More so problematic is that, no matter the rest, his stand was still on legal principle, and there's always value in that, even if it's more important that the sovereign carry the day.  We need both W and those who protest the (successful) methods of the WoT.
Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Soaring dollar puts the world on sale for Americans (Tom Petruno, 4/04/15, LA Times)

Suddenly, the dollar's problem may be that it buys too much -- a change that has huge implications across the global economy for consumers, businesses, investors and governments.

The U.S. currency's value has surged over the last nine months, reaching levels against some world currencies last seen more than a decade ago. In Europe, it now costs just $1.09 to buy one euro, down from $1.37 a year ago and almost $1.50 four years ago.

To put it another way, an American tourist strolling the streets of Paris this April can buy 25% more croissants, cafe au laits or mini Eiffel towers than a year ago with the same dollars.

The greenback's advance has been even more dramatic against some rivals. With its latest rally, one buck buys 30% more Swedish kronor than a year ago, 40% more Brazilian reais and 61% more Russian rubles.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Rhode Island Settles Lawsuit on Union Pension Overhaul (KATHARINE Q. SEELYE, APRIL 2, 2015, NY Times)

The settlement also relieves the new governor, Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, of what could have been a financial and political albatross as she seeks to revive Rhode Island's struggling economy; as the state's former general treasurer, she was the chief architect of the pension overhaul under challenge.

"The state had a very strong case," Ms. Raimondo said Thursday. But, she said, "to take the litigation risk off of the table is the right thing to do."

The settlement gives financial certainty to employees and retirees, she said, and is affordable for taxpayers.

"All of the structural elements of the original pension legislation remain intact," she said, adding that those elements provide "a fundamental restructuring of the system and fundamentally puts the system in a much healthier position."

The $14.8 billion pension system, on the brink of collapse, was overhauled in 2011 and again in 2012. The legislature created a hybrid plan that split direct contributions between the state and employees. It also suspended cost-of-living adjustments and raised the retirement age by five years, measures intended to save $4 billion over 20 years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Thunderbirds Are Go, ITV, review: 'wonderfully nostalgic' (Gerard O'Donovan, 04 Apr 2015, The Guardian)

It's wonderful how evocative a simple countdown can be. Just the opening strains of Jeff Tracy (the late Peter Dyneley) booming out the original Thunderbirds' "Five, four, three..." at the start of Thunderbirds Are Go sent me rocketing back across the decades for a wobbly, dry ice-shrouded touchdown in the land of my childhood.

Like so many of my generation, I loved the original Thunderbirds. Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's supermarionation sci-fi masterpiece, which originally aired in 1965-6 but entertained generations through reruns, was perfect entertainment for a child of the Space Race age. My love for it wasn't a full-on passion like the one I later developed, briefly, for Doctor Who.

It was a childish, entirely unanalytical pleasure, as much driven by my desire, and that of my friends, to own, swap and play with the die-cast models that recreated - and made possessable - the Tracy family's brilliantly imagined air, sea and space craft. For me the TV experience was focused purely on lapping up the action - then rushing out to reproduce it, or reimagine it, with my pals.

All of which made watching this revamped version a surprisingly enjoyable experience.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Erdogan due in Iran despite spat over Yemen (AFP, April 5, 2015)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to visit Iran on Tuesday despite a war of words between the neighboring countries over conflicts from Syria to Yemen, Tehran confirmed.

There had been calls from Iranian conservatives for the visit to be canceled after Erodgan accused Shiite Tehran of backing "terrorist" rebels in the face of an air campaign in Yemen led by its Sunni arch-rival Riyadh.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Yemen's Houthi militia gain ground in Aden (Reuters,  5 April 2015)

Yemen's Houthi militia, supported by army units, have gained ground in the southern city of Aden, pushing back loyalists of the Saudi-backed President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi. [...]

Houthi forces have inched forward in street-fighting in the city despite an 11-day nationwide bombing campaign by a Saudi-led coalition.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:59 AM


Why The Jews Did or Did Not Reject Jesus (Richard John Neuhaus, February 2005, First Things)

In his new book, [Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History], [David] Klinghoffer is admiring of Christianity's civilizational achievements, although not of its theology. He rebuts the claim that it is anti-Semitic to say that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, citing Maimonides and other Jewish authorities who say the Jews were right to eliminate a false messiah. He debunks the notion that Nazism and the Holocaust were a product of Christianity, and he underscores Nazi hatred of Christianity and the Judaism from which it came. He treats sympathetically Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, and is witheringly critical of the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations that thrive by exploiting irrational fears of anti-Semitism in America. In sum, Klinghoffer is in many respects Christian-friendly.

Except for the fact that Christianity itself is premised upon the fatal falsehood that Jesus is the Messiah. Much of the book is given to a detailed point-by-point rebuttal of the claim that Jesus fulfilled the messianic promises of the Hebrew Scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament. These arguments will be of interest mainly to those who describe themselves as Hebrew Christians or Messianic Christians, and who believe they are fulfilled as Jews by becoming disciples of Jesus. The arch- villain in Klinghoffer's story is the apostle Paul who, he says, radically rejected Judaism and invented a new religion dressed up in "biblical trappings." Although Klinghoffer excoriates the liberal theological reductionisms of the nineteenth century, both Jewish and Christian, at this point his argument is oddly similar to a long liberal tradition of blaming Paul for distorting the more attractive religion of Jesus. Along with many Christians, he fails to appreciate the implications of the fact that Paul's epistles were written well before the gospel accounts of Jesus. In part because of their prior placement in the New Testament, it is a common error to think that the seemingly more straightforward gospel accounts were later and complicatedly "theologized" by Paul, whereas, in fact, Paul's writings reflect what was generally believed about Jesus in the community that later produced the gospel accounts.

This tendency to get things backwards is at the crux of Klinghoffer's argument. He writes, "We arrive here at the very heart of the difference between Judaism and the religion that Paul originated. The difference is still observable in the faith of Christians, as compared with that of Jews, down to our own time. Followers of Paul read and understand the Hebrew Bible through a certain philosophical lens--they bring to it the premise that Jesus is the savior, that salvation is from him. They read the Old Testament from the perspective of the New. They prioritize the New over the Old."

Well, yes, of course. Only some Messianic Christians and Jews such as Klinghoffer think that the truth of Christianity stands or falls on whether, without knowing about Jesus in advance, one can begin with Genesis 1 and read through all the prophecies of Hebrew Scripture and then match them up with Jesus to determine whether he is or is not the Messiah. As with Saul on the road to Damascus, Christians begin, and Christianity begins, with the encounter with Christ. As with the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the first Christians, who were Jews, experienced in that encounter the opening of the Hebrew Scriptures, revealing, retrospectively, how they testify to Jesus as the Christ. Klinghoffer writes, "The resurrection works as a proof that Jesus was 'the Christ' only if you have already accepted his authority to render interpretations of Scripture contrary to the obvious meaning of the words. That is, it works only if you are already a Christian." The more one takes seriously Old Testament prophecy, writes Klinghoffer, "the more convinced he becomes that it is awfully hard to make Christian doctrine sit naturally on its presumed foundation, the Hebrew Bible. Yet even the arguments based on prophecies obviously aren't perfectly invulnerable to refutation. Otherwise there would be no Christians, or at least no thoughtful Christians. They would all be Jews."

This is, I'm afraid, gravely muddled. The argument, in effect, is that Jews reject Jesus because they are already Jews, and the mark of being a Jew is that one rejects Jesus. This is quite unconvincing in its circularity. Christian thinkers, including Paul, viewed Christ and the Church as the fulfillment of the promise to Israel not because they were engaged in tit-for-tat exegetical disputes with Jews over what Klinghoffer recognizes are often ambiguous and enigmatic Old Testament prophecies. Christians early on, and very importantly in engagement with Greek philosophy, developed a christology that entailed an understanding that all of reality, including the history of Israel, finds its center in Christ who is the Word of God (the Logos), the image of the invisible God in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Colossians 1), and, finally, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. These philosophical and theological developments, almost totally ignored by Klinghoffer, form the matrix within which the Church--mainly Jewish in its beginnings--understood Israel and its Scriptures. For the early Christians, as for Christians today, the person of Jesus Christ was revelatory also of the history and sacred writings of Israel, of which he is the fulfillment.

You have to figure Paul takes the brunt of these criticisms because folks are afraid to attack Christ and Christianity directly.

[Originally posted: February 19, 2005]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:53 AM


Seven Stanzas At Easter (John Updike, 1964)

Make no mistake: if He rose at all

it was as His body;

if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules

reknit, the amino acids rekindle,

the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,

each soft Spring recurrent;

it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled

eyes of the eleven apostles;

it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,

the same valved heart

that--pierced--died, withered, paused, and then

regathered out of enduring Might

new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,

analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;

making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the

faded credulity of earlier ages:

let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,

not a stone in a story,

but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow

grinding of time will eclipse for each of us

the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,

make it a real angel,

weighty with Max Planck's quanta, vivid with hair,

opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen

spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,

for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,

lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are

embarrassed by the miracle,

and crushed by remonstrance.

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[originally posted: 4/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM



LET man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th' intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul's, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg'd and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom'd us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


The Truth about Everything: Death on a Friday Afternoon (Charles Colson, March 24, 2005, BreakPoint)

As [Father Richard John Neuhaus] writes [in Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus], "If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything." That "everything" starts with telling the truth about the human condition. How? By paradoxically punishing the offended party, instead of the guilty.

As Neuhaus tells us, we are all aware that "something has gone terribly wrong with the world, and with us in the world." It is not just history's best-known list of horribles. It's also "the habits of compromise . . . loves betrayed . . . lies excused . . . "

Yet, instead of acknowledging our complicity in the world's evil, we minimize our own faults and regard our sins as "small." Good Friday puts the lie to that claim. If the Son of God had to suffer such a horrible death, then our sins cannot have been "small."

The Cross reminds us that "our lives are measured," not by us or by our peers, but "by whom we are created and called to be, and the measuring is done by the One who creates and calls." Instead of glossing over our sin with an understanding nod, the Cross renders "the verdict on the gravity of our sin."

Our unwillingness to see our sins as they really are, as God sees them, leads us to embrace another falsehood: that is, that we can make things right. Even though our culture is, in many respects, post-Christian, it still clings to the idea of redemption. However, just as with our ideas about sin and guilt, our ideas about redemption are pitiful and impoverished.

On Good Friday, God made it clear "that we are incapable of setting things right." He made it clear by taking our place. On the Cross, "the Judge of the guilty is Himself judged guilty." This is, of course, the great scandal, one that paradoxically points to the great truth at the heart of Good Friday: We are powerless to set things right, and only God, the offended party, could undo the mess we created.

The Cross--God's way of bearing witness to the truth about our condition--is as offensive today as it was two thousand years ago. Now, as then, we insist on misinterpreting the events of that Friday afternoon, but to no avail. Our sin has been judged, and God Himself bore the punishment. And that is the truth about everything.

One need not believe directly in this truth to understand that it is the only basis for a decent state.

What's the matter with liberalism? (William Rusher, March 24, 2005, World Net Daily)

The truth is that liberalism's last two really big ideas - that government should micro-manage the economy to uplift the poor, and that fascism was unrelievedly evil but that communism should be appeased because its aims were noble - both lost resoundingly, in world competition, to the conservative propositions that a free market is the greatest engine of prosperity for everyone and that communism must be opposed and destroyed. The present happy condition of conservatism is simply more support for the old adage that nothing succeeds like success.

What, then, should liberals do? [...]

To be blunt, they must come to terms with reality. That means accepting the principles of the free market wholeheartedly - not simply with "mouth honor," as Macbeth put it. And it also means coming to terms with the world as it really is. Peretz warns that liberals have invested far too many hopes in the United Nations. He is absolutely right.

At a deeper level, liberals must give up the conviction, born of the Enlightenment, that humanity, by the use of reason alone, can design a happy future for itself and the planet. That will entail abandoning their long romance with atheism and accepting a more modest place and role for mankind in God's plan for His universe.

[originally posted: 3/24/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:52 AM


Original Sin, the 'madness' of the Cross and the 'foolishness' of God's love (Fr Dennis Byrnes, April 2008, AD 200)

To help us gain some insight into sin we need to think about our faith which is based very much on what St Paul calls the 'madness' of the Cross. The saints through the ages describe it as the 'foolishness' of God's love.

To refer once more to the Compendium, 78: 'After the first sin the world was inundated with sin but God did not abandon man to the power of death. Rather he foretold in a mysterious way in the 'Protoevangelium' (Genesis, 3:15) that evil would be conquered and that man would be lifted from the fall. This was the first proclamation of the Messiah and Redeemer. Therefore, the fall would be called in the future a 'happy fault' because it 'gained for us so great a Redeemer' (Liturgy of Easter Vigil).'

The pictures we have presented certainly confront us with two extremes. It is difficult to understand God's love. We can only begin to understand it when we follow him in the way of the Cross, in his journey in the desert. As the Compendium, 85, informs us: 'The Son of God became man for us men and for our salvation. He did so to reconcile us sinners with God, to have us to learn of God's infinite love, to be our model of holiness and make us 'partakers in divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4).' It is only when we follow Christ in this 'foolishness' of his love that we can learn something of the madness of sin.

We are born with a fallen nature; in a state of separation from God. It is not a question of personal sin on our part at birth. The baby who is born cannot be guilty of any personal sin for it is not yet mature enough to make a personal choice which is necessary for sin. But it is born human, in a fallen state, with a nature that calls out for God, yet is incapable of reaching him by its own powers. It is in Christ we have hope.

When we realise in faith the depths of man's fallen state we in turn realise that we rise in hope to the glory of Christ's risen life. If we have failed to appreciate the extreme of God's love it is because we have not recognised the extreme of man's sin.

[originally posted: 1/11/09]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:47 AM


Believing Is Seeing (Romano Guardini, Bruderhof.com)

Thomas declared, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." -John 20:25
Thomas appears to have been a realist - reserved, cool, perhaps a little obstinate.

The days went by, and the disciples went on living under this considerable tension.

Another week, and they were together again in the house, and this time Thomas was with them. The same thing repeated itself. Jesus passed through closed doors, stepped into their midst, and spoke: "Peace be upon you!" Then he called the man who was struggling against faith: "Let me have thy finger; see, here are my hands. Let me have thy hand; put it into my side. Cease thy doubting, and believe!" At this point Thomas was overwhelmed. The truth of it all came home to him: this man standing before him, so moving, arousing such deep feelings within him, this man so full of mystery, so different from all other men - He is the very same One they used to be together with, who was put to death a short time ago. And Thomas surrendered: "Thou art my Lord and my God!" Thomas believed.

Then we come upon the strange words: "And Jesus said to him, 'Thou hast learned to believe, Thomas, because thou hast seen me. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have learned to believe!'"

Such words as these are really extraordinary! Thomas believed because he saw. But our Lord did not call him blessed. He had been allowed to "see," to see the hands and the side, and to touch the blessed wounds, yet he was not blessed!

Perhaps Thomas had a narrow escape from a great danger. He wanted proofs, wanted to see and touch; but then, too, it might have been rebellion deep within him, the vainglory of an intelligence that would not surrender, a sluggishness and coldness of heart. He got what he asked for: a look and a touch. But it must have been a concession he deplored having received, when he thought on it afterwards. He could have believed and been saved, not because he got what he demanded; he could have believed because God's mercy had touched his heart and given him the grace of interior vision, the gift of the opening of the heart, and of its surrender.

[originally posted: 3/27/05]

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:27 AM


Why Was Jesus Crucified?: A historical perspective. (Larry Hurtado, April 9, 2009, Slate)

A central statement in traditional Christian creeds is that Jesus was crucified "under Pontius Pilate." But the majority of Christians have only the vaguest sense what the phrase represents, and most non-Christians probably can't imagine why it's such an integral part of Christian faith. "Crucified under Pontius Pilate" provides the Jesus story with its most obvious link to larger human history. Pilate was a historical figure, the Roman procurator of Judea; he was referred to in other sources of the time and even mentioned in an inscription found at the site of ancient Caesarea in Israel. Linking Jesus' death with Pilate represents the insistence that Jesus was a real person, not merely a figure of myth or legend. More than this, the phrase also communicates concisely some pretty important specifics of that historical event.

For one thing, the statement asserts that Jesus didn't simply die; he was killed. This was a young man's death in pain and public humiliation, not a peaceful end to a long life.

It's revealing that one of the chief objections to Mel Gibson's Passion was that Christ was shown to suffer.

[originally posted: 4/12/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:26 AM


The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: An excerpt from God and the World: A Conversation with Peter Seewald (Ignatius Insight)

Seewald: We are used to thinking of suffering as something we try to avoid at all costs. And there is nothing that many societies get more angry about than the Christian idea that one should bear with pain, should endure suffering, should even sometimes give oneself up to it, in order thereby to overcome it. "Suffering", John Paul II believes, "is a part of the mystery of being human." Why is this?

Cardinal Ratzinger: Today what people have in view is eliminating suffering from the world. For the individual, that means avoiding pain and suffering in whatever way. Yet we must also see that it is in this very way that the world becomes very hard and very cold. Pain is part of being human. Anyone who really wanted to get rid of suffering would have to get rid of love before anything else, because there can be no love without suffering, because it always demands an element of self-sacrifice, because, given temperamental differences and the drama of situations, it will always bring with it renunciation and pain.

When we know that the way of love-this exodus, this going out of oneself-is the true way by which man becomes human, then we also understand that suffering is the process through which we mature. Anyone who has inwardly accepted suffering becomes more mature and more understanding of others, becomes more human. Anyone who has consistently avoided suffering does not understand other people; he becomes hard and selfish.

Love itself is a passion, something we endure. In love experience first a happiness, a general feeling of happiness.

Yet on the other hand, I am taken out of my comfortable tranquility and have to let myself be reshaped. If we say that suffering is the inner side of love, we then also understand it is so important to learn how to suffer-and why, conversely, the avoidance of suffering renders someone unfit to cope with life. He would be left with an existential emptiness, which could then only be combined with bitterness, with rejection and no longer with any inner acceptance or progress toward maturity.

Seewald: What would actually have happened if Christ had not appeared and if he had not died on the tree of the Cross? Would the world long since have come to ruin without him?

Cardinal Ratzinger: That we cannot say. Yet we can say that man would have no access to God. He would then only be able to relate to God in occasional fragmentary attempts. And, in the end, he would not know who or what God actually is.

Something of the light of God shines through in the great religions of the world, of course, and yet they remain a matter of fragments and questions. But if the question about God finds no answer, if the road to him is blocked, if there is no forgiveness, which can only come with the authority of God himself, then human life is nothing but a meaningless experiment. Thus, God himself has parted the clouds at a certain point. He has turned on the light and has shown us the way that is the truth, that makes it possible for us to live and that is life itself.

[originally posted: 4/12/09]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:20 AM


The 'Small' God Who Brought Heaven Down to Earth (Rev. Robert A. Sirico, December 22, 2010, Acton)

"Yet," she continued, "how is it that Christianity, whose priests invented the scientific method, and who built the institutions of the hospital and university, can hold to the idea of such a small God?"

The pugnacious New Yorker in me wanted to reply to the effect that, "Well even a small God is bigger than no god." But I knew that would not go down well, and that the issue was not about "size" after all, but about meaning and, ultimately, Truth.

Feeling something like I imagined Flannery O'Connor did when confronted with collapsed-Catholic Mary McCarthy's observation about the Eucharist as a impressive symbol, O'Connor retorted, "Well, if it's just a symbol, I say to hell with it."

Instead I swirled my shiraz and asked, "Whatever do you mean?"

She responded: "Well, all this stuff about God being born as a baby. This business about the ineffable inhabiting time and space. It just seems so small, so concrete, so ... improbable."

The lady had it right, or more precisely, she had it half right. The doctrine of the Incarnation is indeed a scandal, not to say improbable, to the modern mind that does not yet grasp the immensity of the concept or the enormity of its impact on all that would follow from it throughout history from that first Christmas to this one.

That the eternal God should deign to co-mingle in time and space with humanity does tell us something, not about the 'smallness' of God, but about the inestimable dignity of the human person who is created in the image of the Lord of History. Thus it tells us about the importance of human history to eternity; of the relation of the visible world to the invisible one; and of the way the mortal life we each live here and now determines our immortal destiny.

Big God never understood. He only gained insight by becoming small. The peculiar thing is that He cared enough to do so.

[oriuginally posted: 2/13/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:09 AM


Death on a Friday Afternoon: an excerpt from Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (Richard John Neuhaus, First Things)

Exploration into God is exploration into darkness, into the heart of darkness. Yes, to be sure, God is light. He is the light by which all light is light. In the words of the Psalm, "In your light we see light." Yet great mystics of the Christian tradition speak of the darkness in which the light is known, a darkness inextricably connected to the cross. At the heart of darkness the hope of the world is dying on a cross, and the longest stride of soul is to see in this a strange glory. In John's Gospel, the cross is the bridge from the first Passover on the way out of Egypt to the new Passover into glory. In his first chapter he writes, "We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father." The cross is not the eclipse of that glory but its shining forth, its epiphany. In John's account, the death of Jesus is placed on the afternoon of the fourteenth day of the month of Nisan, precisely the time when the Passover lambs were offered up in the temple in Jerusalem.

Lest anyone miss the point, John draws the parallel unmistakably. The legs of Jesus are not broken, the soldier pierces his side and John writes, "For these things took place that the scripture might be fulfilled, 'Not a bone of him shall be broken.' And again another scripture says, 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced.'" In the book of Exodus, God commands that no bone of the paschal lamb is to be broken. Then there is this magnificent passage from the prophet Zechariah: "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of compassion and supplication, so that, when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn."

Here on Calvary's hill, all is fulfilled. It is the glory of Jesus' cry, "it is finished." The cross is the moment of passover from the old covenant to the new. Weeping at the cross, Mary is both the mother of sorrows and the mother of hope. The resurrection glory is discerned in the way that Christ dies. Now the reason for the whole drama becomes clear in the Son's unqualified obedience to the Father, even to death, and the Father's promise to glorify the Son. John says nothing about the risen Christ appearing to his mother. The other disciples discovered the resurrection glory at the dawn of the third day. Mary had already discovered the glory in the cross. There she took "the longest stride of soul."

"In the Cross of Christ I Glory," declared the nineteenth-century hymn writer John Bowring. It seems a strange, even bizarre, glory. "We have beheld his glory," St. John wrote, meaning that he was there, with Mary, beholding the final and perfect sacrifice. In the churches of Asia Minor that were founded by John, Easter was celebrated not on Sunday, as with the other churches, but on 14 Nisan, the anniversary of Christ's death. This was his "hour" of glory.

Father Neuhaus's book is great not just for its exegesis on the Crucifixion and the Seven Last Words generally, but in particular for his explanation of what the events mean for the relationship between Jews and Christians.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


'Father, Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit': Jesus' important addition to David's cry. (David Neff, 3/20/2008 , Christianity Today)

Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46)

Jesus' spiritual life was bathed in the language of the Psalms of David. He was a descendant of David and was hailed on Palm Sunday as the Son of David (Matt. 21:9). The Psalms reflect the rough emotional terrain of Jesus' famous forebear's turbulent life.

Like a leitmotif in a Wagnerian opera, the theme of trust in the face of doom returns, repeats, reasserts itself in the Psalms of David: "They conspire against me and plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God'" (Ps. 31:13b-14).

In his most trying moments, in his dying moment, Jesus reached into the depths of his experience for the words of his archetypal forebear David. He brought forth Psalm 31:5: "Into your hands I commit my spirit." His dying moment was a moment of trust.

Recall, though, that but for the circumstances under which these words were spoken they would be little more than boilerplate. After all, how much different would God sending His Son to tell us we can trust Him be than John McCain or Hillary Clinton sending their kids as surrogate speakers to tell us we can trust them.

What freights Christ's words with significance is that they follow hard upon the heels of Him calling into question God's trustworthiness. Had Christ died after saying, "My Lord, My Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me," it would have been an indictment of Creation. If human existence was such a hard row to hoe that we were left with no other option but to despair of God's goodness then life would have no point and the world would approach the unredeemable.

Instead, even after having been brought to the singular moment in History, when God despaired of Himself -- and, thereby, finally came to comprehend His creations -- He got past the crisis and offered words of reassurance that He was still to be trusted.

It really is the greatest story ever told.

[originally posted: 3/23/08]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:02 AM


Mercifully Forsaken: There is a reason Good Friday is called good, and why we can be thankful when God forsakes us. (Mark Galli, 4/21/2011, Christianity Today)

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" --Mark 15:33-34, ESV

Here Jesus speaks a word we could have spoken. Not always, not everywhere. But there are times when this word has become our word, words he may have taken right out of our mouths: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" [...]

We often glibly say that we want to be like Jesus. We want our lives to be like his life. We want our values to be shaped by his values. We want our relationship with God to be like his relationship with God. So we pray to be like Jesus. But we're generally blind to the full reality of who Jesus is. We want be shaped by the glorious Jesus. We want to heal the sick and raise the dead; we don't want to feel his grief at the unbelief of Jerusalem. We want to speak eloquent words of wisdom, but we don't want to say to anyone, "Get thee behind me, Satan," or "You brood of hypocrites!" We want to be raised to new life, but go to great lengths to avoid the cross. We want an intimate life with God, but never want to know the experience of being forsaken.

But to share in the life of Jesus means to share in all of his life, and that means to share in his suffering.

Now, I'm about to venture into a deep mystery here. Who can say what Jesus experienced on the cross? What exactly was the nature of this forsakenness that he exclaimed? We know in one sense that Jesus' death, and his forsakenness, was utterly unique, never to be repeated. In his death and his death alone--and in nothing we experience--do we stand secure in our redemption. In him alone was God reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins. Period.

But if Christ's incarnation--which includes his forsaken crucifixion--is a participation in humanity and thus our participation in him, then all humanity shares in Christ's forsakenness, and to freely share in this forsakenness by faith becomes a way we grow fully into Christ-likeness. Whatever it meant for Jesus, it surely means this much for us: It means to know the abandonment that is the dead fruit of human sin and evil. It means to recognize the incomprehensible distance between us and an infinite and righteous God, to recognize again the terrors of life outside of life in him. It means also to grieve, not unlike Jesus, over our own and our world's hardness of heart ("O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!"). It is indeed a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God, for it means to suffer in ways not unlike the suffering of Jesus.

Again, let's not wax tragic here. This is not the end of the story. Forsakenness would be tragic had Jesus not risen from the grave. We would not have the courage to talk about this sobering reality if it were not Easter. Nor is this the constant refrain of our Christian lives. God is good and will not tempt us with forsakenness beyond our ability to endure.

Still, they come, these times of forsakenness. We are wise to remind ourselves that the cross is indeed part of the story of Jesus, and to the degree we would be like him, it becomes part of our story. You want to be like Jesus? "Okay," says God. "Good for you! Be prepared to know forsakenness!"

[originally posted: 4/24/11]

Posted by Orrin Judd at 12:00 AM


The Cross and the Cellar (Morton T. Kelsey, Bruderhof)

Let us look at some of the people who brought Jesus of Nazareth to crucifixion. They were not monsters, but ordinary men and women like you and me.

Pilate receives most of the blame for Jesus' death, and yet Pilate didn't want to crucify the man. Why did Pilate condemn Jesus? Because Pilate was a coward. He cared more about his comfortable position than he did about justice. He didn't have the courage to stand for what he knew was right. It was because of this relatively small flaw in Pilate's character that Jesus died on a cross. Whenever you and I are willing to sacrifice someone else for our own benefit, whenever we don't have the courage to stand up for what we see is right, we step into the same course that Pilate took.

And Caiaphas, was he such a monster? Far from it. He was the admired and revered religious leader of the most religious people in that ancient world. He was the High Priest. His personal habits were impeccable. He was a devout and sincerely religious man. Why did he seek to have Jesus condemned? He did it for the simple reason that he was too rigid. He thought he had to protect God from this man, thought he had to protect the Jewish faith, and so he said: "It is good for one man to die instead of a nation being destroyed." Caiaphas's essential flaw was that he thought he had the whole truth. People who have fought religious wars, those who have persecuted in the name of religion, have followed in his footsteps. Those who put their creeds above mercy and kindness and love, walk there even now.

Why did Judas betray his master? He wasn't interested in the thirty pieces of silver, at least not primarily. Judas had wanted Jesus to call upon heavenly powers, to take control of the situation and throw the Romans out of Palestine. When he failed to do this, Judas no longer wanted anything to do with him. Judas' fault was that he couldn't wait. When we can't wait and want to push things through, when we think we can accomplish a noble end by human means, we are just like Judas.

Then there was the nameless carpenter who made the cross. He was a skilled workman. He knew full well what the purpose of that cross was. If you questioned him he probably would have said: "But I am a poor man who must make a living. If other men use it for ill, is it my fault?" So say all of us who pursue jobs which add nothing to human welfare or which hurt some people. Does the work I do aid or hinder human beings? Are we crossmakers for our modern world? There are many, many of them.

These were the things that crucified Jesus on Friday in Passover week A.D. 29. They were not wild viciousness or sadistic brutality or naked hate, but the civilized vices of cowardice, bigotry, impatience, timidity, falsehood, indifference - vices all of us share, the very vices which crucify human beings today.

This destructiveness within us can seldom be transformed until we squarely face it in ourselves. This confrontation often leads us into the pit. The empty cross is planted there to remind us that suffering is real but not the end, that victory still is possible if we strive on.

Still as of old
Men by themselves are priced --
For thirty pieces Judas sold
Himself, not Christ. -
Hester H. Cholmondeley

[Originally posted: 2005-03-25]

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April 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 2:43 PM


Tesla Model S: The Future Is Here (DAN NEIL, April 3, 2015, WSJ)

The all-electric Tesla Model S sedan is brilliant, beautiful, as user-friendly as a smartphone, fast as hell, quieter than C-Span, American made and years ahead of its luxury-sedan competition. [...]

Mostly, though, what I have is awe. The Model S is a daring public experiment in automotive vision that has the impudence to make the finest, fastest luxury cars feel like Edwardian antiques. I know a lot of gear heads. The only ones who don't think the Model S is the best in the world haven't driven one.

Here is a report from the field: My wife took some veterinarians to lunch in the P85D, and all they could talk about was the car's one-pedal operation. Due to its strong regenerative braking, when the driver eases off the pedal, the car slows down immediately, often rendering the use of the friction brakes unnecessary. That's so great, she said. Why aren't all cars like that? Why, indeed?

I was more interested in what it did when you didn't lift. This particular version of the car, the P85D, is the company's exuberant drag bot, with two mighty AC induction motors, producing together 691 hp and 687 pound-feet of torque, bonging electrons from an 85 kWh battery pack. What strikes me about this arrangement is how it must have been future-proofed years ago, because the surrounding packaging was almost undisturbed. Interior room is undiminished by the second motor. The front trunk, the "frunk," gives you a little over one cubic foot of capacity (2.3 cubic feet).

In a lighthearted moment, engineers created two Acceleration modes for the P85D: "Sport" and "Insane." There is actually a little slider icon. Among its party tricks, the P85D can go from what I'll call "standing there" to "going like hell" (100 mph) in a breathless, jaw-clenching eight seconds. It's Six Flags over Silicon Valley. In the one-eighth mile, the P85D just buries elite super four-seaters such as the Ferrari FF and the Porsche Panamera Turbo.

These demonstrations weren't the point, says Tesla. The idea of the dual-motor cars was to make the Teslas more attractive in Snowbelt markets. Uh-huh. Setting that aside, the acceleration of the Tesla is a singular automotive experience.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


A U.S. Concession to Reality in the Battle Against Islamic State (HELENE COOPER, APRIL 3, 2015, NY Times)

In the battle to retake Saddam Hussein's hometown, Tikrit, from the Islamic State, the United States and Iran have found a template for fighting the Sunni militancy in other parts of Iraq: American airstrikes and Iranian-backed ground assaults, with the Iraqi military serving as the go-between for two global adversaries that do not want to publicly acknowledge that they are working together.

The template, American officials said privately this week, could apply in particular to the looming battle to retake Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city. Given that President Obama has ruled out the use of American ground troops in Iraq, and that the Iraqi military remains ill-trained for urban warfare, the fight for Mosul will require some combination of American air power, Iranian-backed Shiite militias, Iraqi military forces and perhaps Kurdish pesh merga fighters.

"You can see where this is going," a senior Pentagon official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


What Is Morgellons? Singer Joni Mitchell's Disputed Diagnosis (CATHERINE SAINT LOUIS,  APRIL 1, 2015, NY Times)

Joni Mitchell, 71, was taken to a hospital in Los Angeles on Tuesday after she was found unconscious at her Los Angeles home. In recent years, the singer has complained of a number of health problems, including one particularly unusual ailment: Morgellons disease.

People who believe they have the condition report lesions that don't heal, "fibers" extruding from their skin and uncomfortable sensations like pins-and-needles tingling or stinging. Sufferers may also report fatigue and problems with short-term memory and concentration. [...]

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied 115 people who said they had the condition. In a report published in 2012, they said they were unable to identify an infectious source for the patients' "unexplained dermopathy." There was no evidence of an environmental link, and the "fibers" from patients resembled those from clothing that had gotten trapped in a scab or crusty skin.

The investigators cast doubt on Morgellons as a distinct condition and said that it might be something doctors were already familiar with: delusional infestation, a psychiatric condition characterized by an unshakable but erroneous belief that one's skin is infested with bugs or parasites.

Drug use can contribute to such delusions, and the investigators noted evidence of drug use -- prescription or illicit -- in half of the people they examined. Of the 36 participants who completed neuropsychological testing, 11 percent had high scores for depression, and 63 percent, unsurprisingly, were preoccupied with health issues.

Not an April Fool's story?
Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


An Iran Nuclear Deal Built on Coffee, All-Nighters and Compromise (DAVID E. SANGER and MICHAEL R. GORDON, APRIL 3, 2015, NY Times)

The agreement calls for Tehran to slash its stockpile of nuclear materials and severely limit its enrichment activities, theoretically bringing the time it would take to produce a nuclear weapon to a year -- a significant rollback from the current estimate of two to three months.

Both sides made significant compromises. For the United States, that meant accepting that Iran would retain its nuclear infrastructure in some shrunken form. For Iran, it meant severe limits on its production facilities and submitting to what Mr. Obama has called the most intrusive inspections regime in history. [...]

Wherever Wendy Sherman, the lead American negotiator, traveled in the ornate hotel here, she was trailed by a whiteboard, where the Iranians and the Americans marked down their understandings, sometimes in both English and Persian.

The board served a major diplomatic purpose, letting both sides consider proposals without putting anything on paper. That allowed the Iranians to talk without sending a document back to Tehran for review, where hard-liners could chip away at it, according to several American officials interviewed for this article, who all spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

"It was a brilliantly low-tech solution," one White House official said. [...]

As the negotiations sputtered forward, it became clear that to reach an agreement at all, Iran would have to be able to preserve a narrative of not backing down, not dismantling. [...]

As the talks grew more intense in the past two months, the Iranians decided to bring in their minister of atomic energy, prompting Mr. Obama to send Ernest Moniz, his energy secretary and one of the nation's leading nuclear scientists. This changed the dynamic. The two men set up a separate process and, as one senior administration official said, "they treated these matters as scientific problems."

...one has already lost.  The Iranians decided to trade their nuclear program for economic groweth but had to do it in a way that saved some face.  We have an interest both in limiting the program and in kicking their economy into gear, we couldn't lose.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Christianity, when properly understood, is a religion of losers (Giles Fraser,  3 April 2015, The Guardian)

When he was nothing but a suspended carcass, dripping with his own blood and other people's spit, there were no worshippers around clapping their hands and singing their hymns. They were long gone. At the very end, ironically at the moment of greatest triumph, he had no followers left. That says something profoundly counterintuitive about what a successful church looks like. For if the core of the Christian message - death first, then resurrection - is so existentially full-on that nobody can possibly endure it, then a church that successfully proclaims that message is likely to be empty and not full. Which is also why, quite possibly, a successful priest ought to be hated rather than feted. For here, as elsewhere in the Christian story, success and failure are inverted. The first will be last and the last first. The rich are cast down and the poor are exulted. The true king is crowned with mockery and thorns not with gold and ermine.

Christianity, properly understood, is a religion of losers - the worst of playground insults. For not only do we not want to be a loser, we don't want to associate with them either. We pointedly shun losers, as if some of their loser-ness might rub off on us. Or rather, more honestly, we shun them because others might recognise us as among their number. And because we secretly fear that this might actually be true, we shun them all the more viciously, thus to distance ourselves all the more emphatically. And so the cock crows three times.

But it is true. Deep failure, the failure of our lives, is something we occasionally contemplate in the middle of the night, in those moments of terrifying honesty before we get up and dress for success. Ecce homo, said Pilate. Behold, the man. This is humanity. And the facade of success we present to the world is commonly a desperate attempt to ward off this knowledge.

...is that people resort to faith because it's "feel-good." As evangelists oft-complained, the opposite is true : we're even trying to sell people a God who died.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


8 REASONS WE NEED THE PURITANS (Jeff Robinson, MAR 31, 2015, TGC)

1. Because they were mature in ways we are not.

J. I. Packer hits the mark:

Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don't. We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-travelled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent and sentimental, as it blatantly is, to be 3,000 miles wide and half and inch deep. The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God.

Would anyone deny the truthfulness of his assessment in much of modern evangelicalism today?

2. Because they understood the deep sinfulness of the human heart.

John Owen (1616-1683) called the human heart a hornet's nest of evil. He wrote The Mortification of Sin, the most famous treatment of sin among the Puritans. Because they understood the depravity of the human heart, the Puritans realized that only a unilateral work of sovereign grace can rescue fallen man. Thus, their keen understanding of the deadness of the human heart led them to plant their feet firmly upon a theology of grace as the sole catalyst that will draw dead hearts out of the grave. [...]

4. Because they viewed the family as a little church.

Puritan fathers were deeply committed to catechizing their children and serving as shepherds in their homes. One of the great needs of our day is for God to raise up an army of lion-hearted and lamb-like husbands/fathers who will love their families by teaching them the Word of God, by modeling biblical headship and churchmanship. I have written more extensively on the Puritans and family discipleship here.

5. Because they saw all of life as being lived coram deo--before the face of God.

For the Puritans in both old England and new, there was no sacred/secular divide. If they worked as blacksmiths, the calling was to blacksmith to the glory of God. If they farmed, they sowed and reaped in dependence upon God. The Puritans knew vividly that God is omnipresent, that there is not one square inch in all creation where he is not present or where he is not interested in radiating forth his glory. Hard work was for the Puritans a central part of Christian living, and what we call the Protestant work ethic is a gift passed down from them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


MLB.TV 2-day free preview coming your way (Mark Newman, 4/03/15, MLB.com)

It's time for MLB.TV.

The Internet's first OTT product returns on Opening Day for its 13th season of streaming live Major League Baseball games, and MLB.TV will conclude its Spring Training broadcast schedule with a two-day free preview on Friday and Saturday.

It's your chance to watch live any of the two dozen remaining scheduled broadcasts across the more than 400 supported mobile and connected devices. Included among those exhibitions are 15 games in Major League ballparks, plus a two-game Reds-Blue Jays series in Montreal that marks MLB's second consecutive year of playing exhibitions at the former home of the Expos.

...than being able to fall asleep to the voice of Vin Scully.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Clinton has inevitability, but Bush has the Electoral College (Eric Ham, 4/03/15, The Hill)

Based on early polling numbers, Clinton has the path of least resistance to the Democratic nomination. Yet a head-to-head battle with Bush could spell doom, as his advantage in the all-important Electoral College is unquestioned.

Bush still enjoys enormous popularity in his home state of Florida, a key battleground state. That enduring popularity, along with the infrastructure of recently reelected Republican Gov. Rick Scott, will give Bush a decided edge over Clinton. Other key battleground states that deserve attention include Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado. A recent Quinnipiac University poll has Clinton and Bush even in a hypothetical match-up in the Virginia. However, Virginia has gone Democratic the last two presidential election cycles and Sen. Mark Warner's (D) razor-thin victory over former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie, along with Terry McAuliffe's (D) gubernatorial win, could be the Democratic firewall Clinton needs to win that crucial state. Additionally, Clinton's deep roots in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania, combined with Philadelphia being the host city of the Democratic National Convention in 2016, all but assures that Pennsylvania will remain blue.

Meanwhile, Republicans might feel the wind at their backs in the Centennial State after tremendous gains in the 2014 midterms. Republican Cory Gardner was able to unseat Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and Colorado Republicans took control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade. Amid this backdrop, 2014 saw Colorado's turnout among women at its lowest point since 1992. However, Colorado Republicans should not expect a similar turnout among women in a presidential election year with Clinton possibly at the top of the ticket.

Though Pennsylvania, Virginia and possibly Colorado lean toward Clinton in an all-important White House run, no two states are more integral to any presidential victory than Nevada and Ohio, and they stand solidly in Bush's corner.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Yemen: The Houthi Enigma (Robert F. Worth, 4/02/15, NY Review of Books)

There is a scene in Safa al Ahmad's remarkable BBC documentary, Yemen: The Rise of the Houthis, when a spokesman for the Houthi movement escorts her to a remote and unguarded section of the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. It is nothing more than a half-trampled barbed-wire fence, in a golden-brown landscape of dry hills and scattered acacia trees. "This means nothing, it represents nothing," he says of the border. The Houthis, a once-obscure band of insurgents from the mountains of northern Yemen who adhere to the Zaydi branch of Shia Islam, have over the past few months taken over much of the country. "We cannot be defined by sect or confined by borders," the spokesman says. "We will help oppressed people all over the world." Then, flourishing a confident smile, he predicts the imminent demise of the House of Saud. [...]

Al Ahmad's film is a rare close-up look at the most mysterious player in this agonizing and complex drama. The Houthi movement has long been an enigma, even to many Yemenis, and it defies easy explanation. This is partly because the Houthis are secretive and protective of their leaders, and partly because their goals have shifted over time. When I first started reporting on them, almost a decade ago, they were an obscure group confined to Yemen's far northwest, and the Yemeni military was bombarding them for reasons few Yemenis seemed to understand. Their movement grew out of a deep sense of victimization by the state, and al Ahmad captures this with unusual footage from Saada, the Houthi heartland, including scenes of the cave (now a kind of shrine) where the group's founder, Hussein al Houthi, made his last stand before being killed in 2004.

Yemen's population is about a third Zaydi (the rest are Sunnis), and the country was ruled--on and off--for a thousand years by an elite caste of Zaydis who traced their ancestry to the prophet Muhammad. After the republican revolution in 1962, the state mistreated many of these Zaydis, seeing them as a potential fifth column. In the 1980s, the government started subsidized the building of Saudi-style Sunni schools and mosques right in the Zaydi heartland, provoking the Zaydis to fight back with their own revivalist religious ideology. The more militant Zaydis increasingly saw Saudi Arabia, with its intolerant view of all Shiites, as their enemy; and they took inspiration from the Iranian revolution of 1979, including its opposition to Western interference in the Middle East (they are known for chanting a slogan that includes the words "Death to America" at mosques and rallies). Hussein al Houthi declared his resistance to Yemeni policies in 2003, and the state quickly took up arms against him and his followers.

After Hussein's death in 2004, Yemen's US-backed president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, continued waging intermittent wars on the Houthis--now led by his brother, Abdulmalik. These were carried out with such brutality and incompetence that the Houthi movement grew in size and fighting ability, gaining sympathy from northern tribes who suffered in the wars. After the uprising in 2011 that ultimately forced Saleh to step aside, Yemen was theoretically governed by Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the new president named in a transitional process underwritten by the Gulf states and the US. In reality, the government was losing control of the country, with al-Qaeda bombers and kidnappers running rampant. The Houthis were the only group with the cohesion and discipline to hold terrain. They grew even stronger after forming a tactical alliance with their former enemy, ex-president Saleh, who still controlled much of the military. And the Iranians gave them the money they needed for the final push to Sanaa, the capital, last fall.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


The Master Writer of the City : Man in Profile: Joseph Mitchell of The New Yorker by Thomas Kunkel (Janet Malcolm, APRIL 23, 2015, NY Review of Books)

In 1942 The New Yorker published Joseph Mitchell's profile of a homeless man in Greenwich Village named Joe Gould, whose claim to notice--the thing that separated him from other sad misfits--was "a formless, rather mysterious book" he was known to be writing called "An Oral History of Our Time," begun twenty-six years earlier and already, at nine million words, "eleven times as long as the Bible." Twenty-two years later, in 1964, the magazine published another piece by Mitchell called "Joe Gould's Secret" that ran in two parts, and that drew a rather less sympathetic and a good deal more interesting portrait of Gould.

Mitchell revealed what he had kept back in the profile--that Gould was a tiresome bore and cadger who attached himself to Mitchell like a leech, and finally forced upon him the realization that the "Oral History" did not exist. After confronting Gould with this knowledge, the famously kindhearted Mitchell regretted having done so:

I have always deeply disliked seeing anyone shown up or found out or caught in a lie or caught red-handed doing anything, and now, with time to think things over, I began to feel ashamed of myself for the way I had lost my temper and pounced on Gould.
Mitchell went on to make a generous imaginative leap. "He very likely went around believing in some hazy, self-deceiving, self-protecting way that the Oral History did exist.... It might not exactly be down on paper, but he had it all in his head, and any day now he was going to start getting it down."

"It was easy for me to see how this could be," Mitchell continued in a remarkable turn, "for it reminded me of a novel that I had once intended to write." The novel, conceived "under the spell of Joyce's Ulysses,...was to be 'about' New York City" and to chronicle a day and a night in the life of a young reporter from the South who was no longer a believing Baptist but is "still inclined to see things in religious terms" and whose early exposure to fundamentalist evangelists has

left him with a lasting liking for the cryptic and the ambiguous and the incantatory and the disconnected and the extravagant and the oracular and the apocalyptic.... I had thought about this novel for over a year. Whenever I had nothing else to do, I would automatically start writing it in my mind.... But the truth is, I never actually wrote a word of it.
In fact, however, Mitchell did write--if not a novel exactly--a book about New York City that fully achieved his young self's large literary ambition. The book is The Bottom of the Harbor, published in 1959, a collection of six pieces that are nothing if not cryptic and ambiguous and incantatory and disconnected and extravagant and oracular and apocalyptic. The book was reprinted in the thick anthology of Mitchell's writings, Up in the Old Hotel, published in 1992, but it deserves to stand alone. The other books reprinted in the anthology--McSorley's Wonderful Saloon, Old Mr. Flood, and Joe Gould's Secret--are wonderful, but they are to The Bottom of the Harbor what Tom Sawyer and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court are to Huckleberry Finn.

...what they've donne to The New Yorker.

April 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Prospect of Bolder Iran Unnerves Some, Encourages Others (BILL SPINDLE, April 3, 2015, WSJ)

President Hasan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif--pragmatists who are front and center in the nuclear negotiations--have stressed the economic and practical benefits for all sides that would come with a relaxation of sanctions and better international relations.

They have spoken to Iranians' exhaustion with economic challenges and concern over the country's growing isolation, and have played up the potential business opportunities for Western companies in Iran.

On the other hand, ideological hard-liners--including the Revolutionary Guard Corps that wields control over regional foreign policy--have pushed the notion that a deal would amount to proof that the West can't thwart Iran's ability to pursue its interests, whether they be enriching uranium or openly pursuing what they see as Iran's regional prerogatives.

"The people who are managing nuclear negotiations are very different from those handling Iran's regional policies," said Karim Sadjadpour, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held those two sides together in support of the negotiations by essentially encouraging each to promote their own view. He will almost certainly continue that course through the remainder of negotiations to June 30, and likely even after any final deal takes effect.

Iran could well very well seek to re-establish ties with the world--inviting European and U.S. companies to work in Iran for example--while simultaneously continuing to aggressively expand its influence across an increasingly chaotic Middle East.

Iran's leadership sees no immediate contradiction in that. The regime sees itself as both leader and protector of Shiite Muslims. It frames its push for new influence as essential to fighting ultra-extremist Sunni groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda--both of which, Iranians point out, the West also is battling.

"For Iran, the big problem is these groups. They are the key challenge," said Seyed Mohammad Marandi, a professor of international relations at Tehran University.

Given that we share a mutual interest in self-determination for Shi'a communities, we both expand our influence by helping liberate them.
Posted by orrinj at 4:22 PM


Don't be a bachelor: Why married men work harder, smarter and make more money (W. Bradford Wilcox April 2, 2014, Washington Post)

Men who get married work harder and more strategically, and earn more money than their single peers from similar backgrounds. Marriage also transforms men's social worlds; they spend less time with friends and more time with family; they also go to bars less and to church more. In the provocative words of Nobel Laureate George Akerlof, men "settle down when they get married; if they fail to get married they fail to settle down."

Research findings on heterosexual marriage are surprisingly consistent with Akerlof's insight, especially when it comes to engaging the world of work.

Our research, featured in a recent report, "For Richer, For Poorer: How Family Structures Economic Success in America," indicates that men who are married work about 400 hours more per year  than their single peers with equivalent backgrounds. They also work more strategically: one Harvard study found that married men were much less likely than their single peers to quit their current job unless they had lined up another job.

This translates into a substantial marriage premium for men. On average, young married men, aged 28-30, make $15,900 more than their single peers, and married men aged 44-46 make $18,800 more than their single peers.

That's even after controlling for differences in education, race, ethnicity, regional unemployment, and scores on a test of general knowledge. What's more: the marriage premium operates for black, Hispanic, and less-educated men in much the same way as it does for men in general.

For instance, men with a high-school degree or less make at least $17,000 more than their single peers.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


The World's First Hydrogen-Powered Tram Is Now Running In China (Ben Schiller, 4/03/15, Co.Exist)

Hydrogen is an incredibly clean fuel--the only emission is water, and it has high energy density. Sifang's tramcar can travel 60 miles (or 100 kilometers) on a single three-minute refill. "The average distance of tramcar lines in China is about 15 kilometers, which means one refill for our tram is enough for three round trips," Liang said. Top speed is 43 mph.

Hydrogen is also a potentially world-changing companion for renewables like solar, since it's able to store excess power (that is, electricity that can't be used immediately). But that prospect is still some years away, at least at scale.

Sifang's tram seems to be the first that's commercially ready, but there are other "hydrail" projects out there. The Japanese, in particular, have been building hydrogen trains for over a decade. There are also fuel-cell-powered mining trains and research prototypes, like this one at the University of Birmingham, in England.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Israeli Response to Iran Nuclear Deal Could Have Broader Implications (JODI RUDOREN, APRIL 3, 2015, NY Times)

[S]everal Israeli commentators said Friday that the deal looked better than expected, noting that even if it only delays Iran from producing a nuclear weapon by its decade-long duration, that is far longer than what an Israeli or American military strike could achieve.

"Even Israel could learn to live with it," wrote Ron Ben-Yishai, a security analyst for the news site Ynet. "Put simply, Obama is offering an olive branch to Netanyahu in an attempt to cooperate on the design of the final agreement over the next three months. The Israeli government should warmly embrace the offer without batting an eye."

Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, described Israel's crusade against the deal as "a resounding failure," writing, "As the clash between Netanyahu and Obama on the Iranian issue heightened, Israel's influence on the course of the negotiations and its outcome lessened."

"The dilemma that Netanyahu faces today is not an easy one. He can push the leaders of the Republican majority in the two houses of Congress to try to torpedo the agreement," Mr. Barnea said. "It is doubtful whether doing this would achieve its purpose."

...is that behind closed doors Israel is going to support the deal.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


The Solar Price Revolution (Klaus Töpfer, 4/03/15, Project Syndicate)

A silent revolution is under way. In November, Dubai announced the construction of a solar energy park that will produce electricity for less than $0.06 per kilowatt-hour - undercutting the cost of the alternative investment option, a gas or coal-fired power plant.

The plant - which is expected to be operational in 2017 - is yet another harbinger of a future in which renewable energy crowds out conventional fossil fuels. Indeed, hardly a week seems to pass without news of a major deal to construct a solar power plant. In February alone, there were announcements of new solar power projects in Nigeria (1,000 megawatts), Australia (2,000 MW), and India (10,000 MW).

There can be no doubting that these developments are good for the fight against climate change. But the major consideration driving them is profit, not the environment, as increased efficiency in energy distribution and, where necessary, storage, reduces the cost of producing renewable energy.

As efforts to improve the management of electricity from fluctuating sources yield further advances, the cost of solar power will continue to fall. Within ten years, it will be produced in many regions around the globe for 4-6 cents per kilowatt-hour, according to a recent study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (commissioned by the think tank Agora Energiewende). By 2050, production costs will fall to 2-4 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


The Tax Deductions Economists Hate (BEN CASSELMAN, 4/03/15, 538)

Of course, to say "economists" think anything is a bit nuts. There are thousands of economists in the U.S., with widely varying ideologies and opinions. When it comes to taxes, much of that disagreement focuses on tax rates -- both how much the government should be raising in total and how evenly distributed those taxes should be up and down the income ladder. There's less disagreement (though certainly not none) on how those taxes should be structured. And there are some tax breaks that a wide swath of economists hate.

At the top of many economists' hit list is the mortgage-interest deduction. If you have a mortgage on your home, you don't have to pay taxes on the interest on that loan. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that tax break cost the federal government $70 billion in 2013.

Economists have all sorts of problems with the mortgage-interest deduction. For one thing, because wealthier people own bigger homes with bigger mortgages, the benefit disproportionately benefits the rich. In 2013, 73 percent of that $70 billion went to the wealthiest 20 percent of earners; 15 percent went to the richest 1 percent. The poorest 20 percent, who rarely own homes, got essentially nothing.

The problems don't stop there, economists say. The mortgage-interest deduction also gives people an incentive to borrow as much money as possible -- to buy bigger homes and make smaller down payments. That probably isn't good for either homeowners or the economy (remember the housing bubble?), and it might even drive up home prices artificially, making homes less affordable for new buyers.

Perhaps because of the effect on prices, the mortgage-interest deduction doesn't even seem to encourage homeownership. Thomas L. Hungerford, an economist with the liberal Economic Policy Institute, notes that Canada and the United Kingdom have homeownership rates similar to that of the U.S., even though they don't let borrowers write off the interest on their mortgages. "Having the mortgage-interest deduction does almost nothing for increasing homeownership rates," Hungerford said. Economists at the libertarian think tank Reason reached the same conclusion in a 2011 report. [...]

Next up on economists' chopping block: the deduction for state and local taxes. Right now, if you pay taxes in your home state, you can write them off on your federal tax return.7 That might seem reasonable -- you're already paying taxes once! -- but from the federal government's perspective, state taxes really aren't much different from any other expenditures. Your taxes pay for roads, schools and police protection, the same way your rent pays for housing.8

The deduction for state and local taxes helps the rich even more than the mortgage-interest deduction. Eighty percent of the benefit goes to the top 20 percent of earners, and 30 percent to the top 1 percent. That's hardly surprising: The wealthy pay more state and local income tax, both because they have more income and because most state income taxes are progressive -- they tax the rich at a higher rate.

Inequality isn't the only issue, though. "It's in effect a subsidy for having higher taxes at a state level," said Alan Cole, an economist at the Tax Foundation, a Washington think tank. If New York raises its state taxes, its citizens don't actually have to pay for that full tax increase themselves because they can deduct the state taxes on their federal returns. Instead, taxpayers around the country are in effect picking up part of the tab. That especially bothers conservative economists, since it makes it easier for some states to have higher taxes. But even liberal economists generally agree that it isn't the most efficient system.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


The Persian Paradox: Iran Is Much More Modern Than You Think (Erich Follath, 4/03/15, Der Spiegel)

The Iran of today has changed dramatically. In more liberal cities like Shiraz and Isfahan, young entrepreneurs have opened small cafés and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin," has become the favorite song. Young students hold hands in public and women pull their obligatory headscarves back to the point where their hair is visible (a forbidden act). Tourists are welcomed all over the place and are treated with overt hospitality.

With the exception of Israel, there is unlikely any other country in the Middle East where pro-Western sentiment is as pronounced as it is in Iran. Millions of young people attend university. And even though women are still discriminated against -- laws limit their right to divorce and custody of their children and also stipulate that they can be subject to prosecution starting at the age of nine as opposed to 15 for boys -- they live more freely here than in many other countries in the region. With the help of quick-to-install illegal satellite dishes that can be found everywhere, they also have access to Western news programs.

Only a few hundred kilometers west of here, fanatical Islamists have erected a caliphate in Iraq and Syria. In Iran, however, the role of religion is in decline. People here consider the mullahs to be corrupt and they are the objects of contempt. Friends tell me to avoid standing next to a cleric wearing a turban and robe when hailing a taxi. The drivers, they say, won't stop. And while the many mosques may be empty, the country's consumer cathedrals, its new shopping centers, are packed. Group-think today is scorned and individualism is in vogue.

The disillusionment, of course, isn't new. Already back in 2003, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, a former comrade-in-arms of Khomenei's who would later be placed under house arrest as a member of the opposition, openly admitted this failure during a meeting we had in Qom. "We have lost the world's respect through our excesses -- and my dreams are dead," he said. "The religious leader should limit his role to representative duties -- and that is what will happen."

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Billions up for grabs if nuclear deal opens Iran economy (ANDREW TORCHIA, 4/03/15, Reuters) 

Iranian investment banker Ramin Rabii says he shouted in joy when he learned that Tehran and world powers had reached a deal which promises to lift economic sanctions on Iran. Then he called colleagues to discuss the business implications. [...]

"We've been preparing for this moment for 10 years," Rabii said by telephone, adding that in the months leading up to the deal Turquoise was in touch with hundreds of potential foreign investors about opportunities for them if sanctions were lifted. [...]

Frozen out of the international banking system, its foreign trade slashed by the sanctions, Iran looks likely to become the biggest country to rejoin the global economy since post-Communist eastern Europe in the early 1990s.

The resulting boom could create tens of billions of dollars worth of business for both local and foreign companies and shift the economic balance in the Gulf, which has so far been heavily weighted toward the rich Gulf Arab oil exporting countries.

"Precautionary talks have already started between Iran and some big Western investors" in areas such as oil and autos, said Iranian-born economist Mehrdad Emadi of London's Betamatrix consultancy. "Now there will be accelerating momentum."

He predicted annual growth of Iran's $420 billion economy would rise by as much as 2 percentage points to over 5 percent in the year after a final nuclear deal. It could accelerate further to 7 or 8 percent in the following 18 months - matching the growth of Asia's "tiger economies" during their boom years.

Iran's trade with the European Union, which totaled 7.6 billion euros ($8.3 billion) last year, could balloon 400 percent by mid-2018, Emadi said.

Note that it was ten years ago that Khatami/Khameini tried getting W to let them in from the Cold.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


Tesla sold 10,300 cars between January and March; sales up 55 percent (John Voelcker, APRIL 3, 2015, CS Monitor)

Posted by orrinj at 12:03 PM


Rest, recover, reload: O's ahead of curve in injury prevention : Baltimore's toned-down approach between games keeps players healthy and on the field (Brittany Ghiroli, 4/02/15, MLB.com)

 About two years ago, Chris Tillman bought in. The right-hander, who is slated to make his second consecutive Opening Day start for the Orioles on Monday against the Rays, stopped throwing the day before and the day after a start. No long toss, no catch, nothing with his throwing arm.

"I did the math and talking to [fellow starters Wei-Yin] Chen and [Kevin] Gausman and [Miguel Gonzalez] Gonzo about it, I'm not throwing two days around my start," Tillman said. "Say I make 30 starts. That's 60 days of not throwing, that's two months of the season that I'm not throwing. And over your career, that's a big difference, that's a lot of recovery. So I think it makes all the sense in the world to do your work on the mound and try to save your bullets."

That's precisely the goal in the O's recovery program, the beginnings of which date back 15 years under head athletic trainer Richie Bancells. The program has really taken off recently as it's been accepted and implemented throughout the organization.

"The thing that boggles my mind is guys think they have to do something every day with their arm," said Bancells, who is in his 31st year as a trainer with Baltimore. "That's when the education process starts. It really has not been a hard sell [to pitchers new to the organization]. They see what our guys here do and they see that it's been successful. A lot of times, guys won't even wait to see me watch what they do. They'll just say, 'Tell me about your program, l want to do your program.'"

The Orioles, who haven't had a pitcher on the 25-man roster undergo Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery since manager Buck Showalter took the helm in late 2010, aren't on to anything new. But perhaps what sets them apart from other organizations is that they are unrelenting in keeping their guys out of harm's way. The biggest complaint Showalter heard while serving as an ESPN analyst was about the way bullpen guys were managed. To that end, every pitch an O's reliever throws -- be it in warmups or in the game -- is tracked by the team, their workouts and exercises adjusted by the trainers based off of that.

Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM


Iran hardliners slam deal, but throngs hail Zarif  (AP April 3, 2015)

Iran's hard-liners on Friday criticized a tentative nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers -- saying the deal was a bargain for the West and a disaster for Iran. Meanwhile supporters of the deal compared Iran's conservative opposition to the Israeli government -- which remains heavily critical of the agreement. [...]

Another conservative analyst, Mahdi Mohammad, referred to the Fordo underground uranium enrichment facility and told the news outlet that under the deal, "A disaster happened in Fordo."

As part of the deal, Iran agreed to stop enrichment at Fordo, changing the facility to a nuclear research center. The preliminary agreement places various limits on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for an end to crippling economic sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


Ebola Vaccine Appears Safe, Effective (JAMES HAMBLIN, APR 2 2015, The Atlantic)
Tests of an experimental Ebola vaccine have found that 100 percent of vaccinated people mounted a promising immune response and incurred no serious side effects, according to results published this morning in The New England Journal of Medicine. A large, international group of researchers report that between two studies, all 200 subjects in the United States, Switzerland, and Germany who were given the recombinant vesicular stomatitis virus-based vaccine (rVSV) vaccine developed an immune response that should be effective in warding off future infection.

...was for white people to be at risk.

Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Texting Bans Tied to Drop in Car Crash Injuries (Amy Norton, 4/03/15, HealthDay News)

Researchers found that car-crash hospitalizations dipped in states that instituted relatively strict bans on texting and driving between 2003 and 2010.

Overall, the hospitalization rate in those states declined by 7 percent versus states with no bans, the researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health. [...]

Specifically, the benefit was seen in states with "primarily enforced" texting bans, Ferdinand said.

That means law enforcement can pull drivers over just on suspicion of texting.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Book Review: The Hizbullah Phenomenon: Politics and Communication (Morgane Colleau, 3/23/15, LSE Review of Books)

Matar and Khatib highlight that the Lebanese 'Party of God' evolved from an Islamic jihadi group to a mainstream political party after the end of the fifteen-year civil war. Its policy of infitah ('opening up') and participation in successive national elections aimed to portray its nationalist identity and its transformation as authentic and legitimate. Hizbullah was successful at reaching out to constituencies beyond its initial Lebanese Shiite followers. The May 2000 Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the July 2006 war with Israel considerably strengthened its identity as a national Lebanese party. In the latter case, it also propelled its image as an Arab nationalist force.

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


France votes to ban ultra-thin models (AFP, 4/03/15)
Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Wolf Hall : A rich, riveting TV adaption brings Hilary Mantel's book to life. (Dan Kois, 4/02/15, Slate)

 Directed by Peter Kosminsky and originally telecast on BBC Two--the first episode premieres in the U.S. on Sunday night--the series is a robust and satisfying experience, one that doesn't skimp on the story's world-spanning political and religious intrigue, but keeps at its center one man whose calm gaze focuses the sweeping material and makes it feel manageable.

That man is Cromwell, the blacksmith's son from Putney who becomes Henry VIII's most trusted adviser, who stage-manages the ascent of Anne Boleyn to the throne and, mere years later, to the scaffold on Tower Green. He's played by Mark Rylance, wonderful stage actor and weirdo, with a reserve that feels beautifully out of place in a grand six-part miniseries. "From the day he was sworn into the king's council, he has had his face arranged," Mantel writes in Wolf Hall, and I get the impression that Rylance underlined this passage three or four times in his copy before filming began. Cromwell, Mantel writes, spends his time:

watching the faces of other people, to see when they register doubt, reservation, rebellion--to catch that fractional moment before they settle into the suave lineaments of the courtier, the facilitator, the yes-man.
As Cromwell, Rylance is aggressively blank, convincingly intimidating as a man who intimates, in Mantel's writing, that he might once have torn out a man's heart--but convincingly mournful as a man who lives through tragedy and still pursues his goals because, he says, "God takes out your heart of flesh, and gives you a heart of stone." The series underplays those tragedies somewhat--the deaths that tug at Cromwell throughout Mantel's books earn only occasional mentions onscreen--but Rylance's impossibly large eyes and deeply lined face do a lot of emotional work on their own.

Mr. Rylance's performance is a welcome reminder that acting consists of more than reading lines.

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Analysts cast doubt on Russian plans for supercarrier (Reuben F Johnson, 3/31/15,  IHS Jane's Defence Weekly)

Russian Navy commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov's claim that Russia will build a new, super-sized aircraft carrier exceeding 85,000 tonnes has been met with scepticism by analysts.

Many have questioned how realistic this ambition might be, given the current limitations of Russia's shipbuilding industry in particular and defence industry in general.

April 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 PM


Better than expected : Dogged diplomacy produces an impressively detailed agreement (The Economist, Apr 2nd 2015) 

The main components of the deal struck in Lausanne plausibly succeed in extending Iran's "breakout capability"--the key yardstick of the time it would need to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon--from a couple of months currently to at least year, and to do so for a decade or more. To that end, Iran will reduce its installed enrichment centrifuges from 19,000 to 6,000, only 5,000 of which will be spinning. All of them will be first-generation centrifuges: none of its more advanced models can be used for at least ten years and R&D into more efficient designs will have to be based on a plan submitted to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog.

Fordow, Iran's second enrichment facility (its main one is at Natanz) buried deep within a mountain and thought to be impregnable to conventional air strikes, will cease all enrichment and be turned into a physics research centre. It will not produce or house any fissile material for at least 15 years.

Despite earlier Iranian briefings claiming there was no agreement on the size of its low-enriched uranium stockpile (which can be spun further into weapons-grade material), Iran has said it will reduce its LEU stockpile from 10,000 kg to 300 kg for the next 15 years--probably sending fresh stocks to Russia for reprocessing.

Iran's alternative plutonium path to a bomb also appears to have been satisfactorily dealt with. The heavy water reactor at Arak will be redesigned and its original core, which would have produced significant quantities of weapons-grade plutonium, will be removed and destroyed. No other heavy water reactor will be built for 15 years.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Joyful Iranians dance into night after nuclear deal (AFP, April 3, 2015)

The capital's longest street, Val-e-Asr Avenue, was lined with cars as drivers sounded their horns in approval of a framework deal intended to lead to a comprehensive agreement with world powers in June.

"Whatever the final result of the negotiations, we are winners," 30-year-old Behrang Alavi said on Val-e-Asr at around 1:00 am as the noise reverberated around him.

"Now we will be able to live normally like the rest of the world," he said, as people flashed V-signs for victory and danced while waving white handkerchiefs in a traditional Iranian celebration.

No one cares about nukes, it's just about liberating the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Greece's Syriza Confronts Reality (Leonid Bershidsky, 4/02/15, Bloomberg View)

The Thessaloniki program was based on a Syriza government's ability to negotiate a partial debt write-off, a temporary moratorium on debt servicing and a link between economic growth and debt service. But the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have not agreed to those things, and Greece has had to accept a continuation of the current bailout program, with the creditors periodically reviewing the progress of reforms. Tsipras entered the negotiation unable to walk away from the table, and that quickly eroded his bargaining power. That was the first reality check.

Back when Tsipras made his bold election promises, he did not foresee having to act under extreme financial constraints, with funding about to run out almost every day. His government has had to raid social security funds to pay pensions and salaries, and bank runs have made Greece's banking sector desperate for more ECB assistance.

The second reality check must have been domestic: The shock of finding out how things really stood from a government's prospective. Like any opposition party in a badly managed, non-transparent country, Syriza had only an approximate idea of the costs and benefits of its proposed measures -- or, indeed, of why previous governments hadn't done all these nice, kind, sensible things for the Greek people. It turns out it wasn't because those governments were just evil and criminal.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


The Myth Of The Stay-At-Home Republicans (Karl Rove, 4/02/15)

Republicans concerned about voters who failed to show up should look elsewhere. There were approximately 4.9 million fewer self-identified moderates, 1.7 million fewer white Catholics, and 1.2 million fewer women who voted in 2012 than in 2008.

While Mr. Obama carried both moderates and women in 2012, it is likely that those in each group who dropped out of the electorate were unwilling to support Mr. Obama a second time but simply couldn't bring themselves to vote for Mr. Romney. 

Similarly, while Mr. Romney carried 59% of white Catholics who voted in 2012, those who didn't turn out appear to be middle-class and often blue-collar voters, like those in GOP-leaning counties in northwestern Ohio, who would never vote to re-elect Mr. Obama but apparently felt Mr. Romney did not care about people like them.

These missing moderate, white Catholic and women voters who didn't vote in 2012 can be motivated to vote for a Republican candidate in 2016--if they think that candidate cares about people like them. Still, getting back some voters in these three groups, while also generating higher turnout among conservatives who generally don't vote, is probably not enough. To win, the GOP must also do a good deal better among Hispanic, Asian-American and African-American voters than they have since 2004. 

Doing better with any of these segments of the electorate does not require a Republican presidential candidate to forsake a conservative message. It does require finding the right message and presenting it in a compelling way to people not usually drawn to the GOP or motivated to turn out. 

The three Republicans who won the presidency in the past 40 years offered clear, consistent conservative messages and themes from the day they entered the race. They understood the impressions they created in the primaries largely determined the general election's outcome--and that building a broad, winning, center-right coalition was too difficult and too important a task to leave until after the convention and the campaign's final four months. It's a lesson worth remembering in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Iran deal could unlock huge economic potential (John Defterios, 4/02/15, CNNMoney)

[I]nvestors are beginning to size up the potential of an economy that has been isolated for three decades.

The checklist of attributes Iran possesses is impressive. It has the second largest population in the Middle East with 80 million, 9% of proven oil reserves, 18% of proven gas reserves and an abundance of strategic minerals.

"If you put together the consumer potential of Turkey, the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, the natural gas reserves of Russia, and the mineral reserves of Australia you have it all in one country," said Ramin Rabii, CEO of Iranian investment firm Turquoise Partners, on a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Iranians have had to live with the pain of being largely shut out of the global economy for years.[...]

When Goldman Sachs drew up its list of "Next 11" most promising emerging markets back in 2007, Iran made the grade. The investment bank cited its energy potential, human capital and technology.

The country also has a strong, but often overlooked, industrial base. It's a heavyweight when it comes to autos, cement and steel. Iran produced 1.6 million autos in 2010, and was ranked third in cement production last year.

A good deal of the confusion about the UR's deal with Iran stems from thinking of it as a nuclear agreement rather than a trade treaty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 PM


Common Core is unpopular in Louisiana when you call it Common Core, LSU survey finds (Julia O'Donoghue, 4/02/15, The Times-Picayune)

Louisiana residents will back the Common Core academic standards the state is currently using in primary and secondary schools, as long as the standards aren't called Common Core, according to a recent LSU poll. 

All comedy is conservative.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


Why Cheap Food Makes Us Richer (Joe Carter, 4/02/15, Acton)

"We are purchasing more food for less money, and we are purchasing our food for less of our income," says Annette Clauson, an agricultural economist. "This is a good thing, because we have income to purchase other things."

A recent report published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows how the average share of per capita income spent on food fell from 17.5 percent in 1960 to 9.9 percent in 2013.


Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Autonomous car completes 3,400-mile US road trip with almost no hands at the wheel (DEE-ANN DURBIN, 4/02/15, AP)

An autonomous vehicle has completed a 3,400-mile U.S. road trip with almost no intervention from drivers.

Auto supplier Delphi Corp. says the Audi Q5 fitted with radar, cameras and laser sensors drove itself 99 percent of the time from San Francisco to New York.

Drivers intervened once when traffic was weaving around in a construction zone, and again when the car didn't want to move into a busy left lane. But for the most part, it easily navigated bridges, traffic circles and open highways.

Posted by orrinj at 2:58 PM


Scientists Are Arguing About When, Exactly, Humans Started to Rule the Planet (Tim McDonnell, Apr. 2, 2015, Mother Jones)

If defining what the Anthropocene represents is straight-forward, assigning it a commencement date has proved a monumental challenge. The term was first proposed by Russian geologist Aleksei Pavlov in 1922, and since then it has occupied off-and-on the attentions of the niche group of scientists whose job it is to decide how to slice our planet's 4.5 billion-year history into manageable chunks. But in 2009, as climate change increasingly gained traction as a matter of public interest, the idea of actually making a formal designation started to appear in talks and papers. Today, if the scientific literature is any indication, the debate is fully ignited.

In fact, "it has been open season on the Anthropocene," said Jan Zalasiewicz, a University of Leicester paleogeologist who is a leading voice in the debate. Within the last month a heap of new papers have come out with competing views on whether the Anthropocene is worthy of a formal designation, and if so, when exactly it began. The latest was published in Science today.

In some cases, geologic time periods are demarcated by a mass extinction or catastrophic natural disaster (the meteor that likely killed off the dinosaurs being the classic example). In other cases it can be the emergence of an important new group of species. But either way, Zalasiewicz explained, it has to be something that is readily identifiable in the global fossil record. That's what makes the Anthropocene so difficult to nail down.

All comedy is conservative.
Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Iran nuclear talks: 'Framework' deal agreed (BBC, 4/02/15)

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Iran's "enrichment capacity and stockpile would be limited".

As well as imposing limitations on Iran's nuclear capabilities, a final deal would also include the "termination" of nuclear related economic and financial sanctions by the EU and US.

April 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


A Sense of Where You Are (JOHN MCPHEE, 1/23/65, The New Yorker)

Bradley calls practically all men "Mister" whose age exceeds his own by more than a couple of years. This includes any N.B.A. players he happens to meet, Princeton trainers, and Mr. Willem Hendrik van Breda Kolff, his coach. Van Breda Kolff was a Princeton basketball star himself, some twenty years ago, and went on to play for the New York Knickerbockers. Before returning to Princeton in 1962, he coached at Lafayette and Hofstra. His teams at the three colleges have won two hundred and fifty-one games and lost ninety-six. Naturally, it was a virtually unparalleled stroke of good fortune for van Breda Kolff to walk into his current coaching job in the very year that Bradley became eligible to play for the varsity team, but if the coach was lucky to have the player, the player was also lucky to have the coach. Van Breda Kolff, a cheerful and tmcomplicated man, has a sportsman's appreciation of the nuances of the game, and appears to feel that mere winning is far less important than winning with style. He is an Abstract Expressionist of basketball. Other coaches have difficulty scouting his teams, because he does not believe in a set offense. He likes his offense free-form.

Van Breda Kolff simply tells his boys to spread out and keep the ball moving. "Just go fast, stay out of one another's way, pass, move, come off guys, look for one-on-ones, two-on-ones, two-on-twos, three-on-threes. That's about the extent," he says. That is, in fact, about the substance of basketball, which is almost never played as a five-man game anymore but is, rather, a constant search, conducted semi-independently by five players, for smaller combinations that will produce a score. One-on-one is the basic situation of the game--one man, with the ball, trying to score against one defensive player, who is trying to stop him, with nobody else involved. Van Breda Kolff does not think that Bradley is a great one-on-one player. "A one-on-one player is a hungry player," he explains. "Bill is not hungry. At least ninety per cent of the time, when he gets the ball, he is looking for a pass." Van Breda Kolff has often tried to force Bradley into being more of a one-on-one player, through gentle persuasion in practice, through restrained pleas during timeouts, and even through open clamor. During one game last year, when Princeton was losing and Bradley was still flicking passes, van Breda Kolff stood up and shouted, "Will . . . you . . . shoot . . . that . . . ball?" Bradley, obeying at once, drew his man into the vortex of a reverse pivot, and left him standing six feet behind as he made a soft, short jumper from about ten feet out.

If Bradley were more interested in his own statistics, he could score sixty or seventy-five points, or maybe even a hundred, in some of his games. But this would merely be personal aggrandizement, done at the expense of the rela- tive balance of his own team and causing unnecessary embarrassment to the opposition, for it would only happen against an opponent that was heavily outmatched anyway. Bradley's highest point totals are almost always made when the other team is strong and the situation demands his scoring ability. He has, in fact, all the mechanical faculties a great one-on-one player needs. As van Breda Kolff will point out, for example, Bradley has "a great reverse pivot," and this is an essential characteristic of a one-on-one specialist. A way of getting rid of a defensive man who is playing close, it is a spin of the body, vaguely similar to what a football halfback does when he spins away from a would-be tackler, and almost exactly what a lacrosse player does when he "turns his man." Say that Bradley is dribbling hard toward the basket and the defensive man is all over him. Bradley turns, in order to put his body between his opponent and the ball; he continues his dribbling but shifts the ball from one hand to the other; if his man is still crowding in on him, he keeps on turning until he has made one full revolution and is once more headed toward the basket. This is a reverse pivot. Bradley can execute one in less than a second. The odds are that when he has completed the spin the defensive player will be behind him, for it is the nature of basketball that the odds favor the man with the ball--if he knows how to play them. Bradley doesn't need to complete the full revolution every time. If his man steps away from him in anticipation of a reverse pivot, Bradley can stop dead and make a jump shot. If the man stays close to him but not close enough to be turned, Bradley can send up a hook shot. If the man moves over so that he will be directly in Bradley's path when Bradley comes out of the turn, Bradley can scrap the reverse pivot before he begins it, merely suggesting it with his shoulders and then continuing his original dribble to the basket, making his man look like a pedestrian who has leaped to get out of the way of a speeding car.

The metaphor of basketball is to he found in these compounding alternatives. Every time a basketball player takes a step, an entire new geometry of action is created around him. In ten seconds, with or without the ball, a good player may see perhaps a hundred alternatives and, from them, make half a dozen choices as he goes along. A great player will see even more alternatives and will make more choices, and this multiradial way of looking at things can carry over into his life. At least, it carries over into Bradley's life. The very word "alternatives" bobs in and out of his speech with noticeable frequency. Before his Rhodes Scholarship came along and eased things, he appeared to be worrying about dozens of alternatives for next year. And he still fills his days with alternatives. He apparently always needs to have eight ways to jump, not because he is excessively prudent but because that is what makes the game interesting.

The reverse pivot, of course, is just one of numerous one-on-one moves that produce a complexity of possibili- ties. A rocker step, for example, in which a player puts one foot forward and rocks his shoulders forward and backward, can yield a set shot if the defensive man steps back, a successful drive to the basket if the defensive man comes in too close, a jump shot if he tries to compromise. A simple crossover--shifting a dribble from one hand to the other and changing direction--can force the defensive man to over-commit himself, as anyone knows who has ever watched Oscar Robertson use it to break free and score. Van Breda Kolff says that Bradley is "a great mover," and points out that the basis of all these maneuvers is footwork. Bradley has spent hundreds of hours merely rehearsing the choreography of the game--shifting his feet in the same patterns again and again, until they have worn into his motor subcon- scious. "The average basketball player only likes to play basketball," van Breda Kolff says. "When he's left to himself, all he wants to do is get a two-on-two or a three-on-three going. Bradley practices techniques, making himself learn and improve instead of merely having fun."

Because of Bradley's super-serious approach to basketball, his relationship to van Breda Kolff is in some respects a reversal of the usual relationship be-tween a player and a coach. Writing to van Breda Kolff from Tokyo in his capacity as captain-elect, Bradley advised his coach that they should prepare themselves for "the stern challenge ahead." Van Breda Kolff doesn't vibrate to that sort of tune. "Basketball is a game, he says. "It is not an ordeal. I think Bradley's happiest whenever he can deny himself pleasure." Van Breda Kolff's handling of Bradley has been, in a way, a remarkable feat of coaching. One man cannot beat five men--at least not consistently--and Princeton loses basketball games. Until this season, moreover, the other material that van Breda Kolff has had at his disposal has been for the most part below even the usual Princeton standard, so the fact that his teams have won two consecutive championships is about as much to his credit as to his star's. Van Breda Kolff says, "I try to play it just as if he were a normal player. I don't want to overlook him, but I don't want to over-look for him, either, if you see what I'm trying to say." Bradley's teammates sometimes depend on him too much, the coach explains, or, in a kind of psychological upheaval, get self-conscious about being on the court with a superstar and, perhaps to prove their independence, bring the ball up the court five or six times without passing it to him. When this happens, van Breda Kolff calls time out. "Hey, boys," he says. "What have we got an All-American for?" He refers to Bradley's stardom only when he has to, however. In the main, he takes Bradley with a calculated grain of salt. He is interested in Bradley's relative weaknesses rather than in his storied feats, and has helped him gain poise on the court, learn patience, improve his rebounding, and be more aggressive. He refuses on principle to say that Bradley is the best basketball player he has ever coached, and he is also careful not to echo the general feeling that Bradley is the most exemplary youth since Lochinvar, but he will go out of his way to tell about the reaction of referees to Bradley. "The refs watch Bradley like a hawk, but, because he never complains, they feel terrible if they make an error against him," he says. "They just love him because he is such a gentleman. They get upset if they call a bad one on him." I asked van Breda Kolff what he thought Bradley would be doing when he was forty. "I don't know," he said "I guess he'll be the governor of Missouri."

Many coaches, on the reasonable supposition that Bradley cannot beat their teams alone, concentrate on choking off the four other Princeton players, but Bradley is good enough to rise to such occasions, as he did when he scored forty-six against Texas, making every known shot, including an eighteen-foot running hook. Some coaches, trying a standard method of restricting a star, set up four of their players in either a box-shaped or a diamond-shaped zone defensive formation and put their fifth player on Bradley, man-to-man. Wherever Bradley goes under these circumstances, he has at least two men guarding him, the man-to-man player and the fellow whose zone he happens to be passing through. This is a dangerous defense, however, because it concedes an imbalance of forces, and also because Bradley is so experienced at being guarded by two men at once that he can generally fake them both out with a single move; also, such over-guarding often provides Bradley with enough free throws to give his team the margin of victory. Most coaches have played Princeton straight, assigning their best defensive man to Bradley and letting it go at that. This is what St. Joseph's College did in the opening round of the N. C.A.A. Tournament in 1963. St. Joseph's had a strong, well-balanced team, which had lost only four games of a twenty-five-game schedule and was heavily favored to rout Princeton. The St. Joseph's player who was to guard Bradley promised his teammates that he would hold Bradley below twenty points. Bradley made twenty points in the first half. He made another twenty points in the first sixteen minutes of the second half. In the group battles for rebounds, he won time after time. He made nearly sixty per cent of his shots, and he made sixteen out of sixteen from the foul line. The experienced St. Joseph's man could not handle him, and the whole team began to go after him in frenzied clusters. He would dribble through them, disappearing in the ruck and emerging a moment later, still dribbling, to float up toward the basket and score. If St. Joseph's forced him over toward the sideline, he would crouch, turn his head to look for the distant basket, step, kick his leg, and follow through with his arms, sending a long, high hook shot--all five parts intact--into the net. When he went up for a jump shot, St. Joseph's players would knock him off balance, but he would make the shot anyway, crash to the floor, get up, and sink the dividend foul shot, scoring three points instead of two on the play. On defense, he guarded St. Joseph's highest-scoring player, Torn Wynne, and held him to nine points. The defense was expensive, though. An aggressive defensive player has to take the risk of committing five personal fouls, after which a player is obliged by the rules to leave the game. With just under four minutes to go, and Princeton comfortably ahead by five points, Bradley committed his fifth foul and left the court. For several minutes, the game was interrupted as the crowd stood and applauded him; the game was being played in Philadelphia, where hostility toward Princeton is ordinarily great but where the people know a folk hero when they see one. After the cheering ended, the blood drained slowly out of Princeton, whose other players could not hold the lead. Princeton lost by one point. Dr. Jack Ramsey, the St. Joseph's coach, says that Bradley's effort that night was the best game of basketball he has ever seen a college boy play.

When I worked as the body man on the NJ gubernatorial campain in '85 the candidate was always late.  The cops who drove us during the week and I, driving on the weekend, were expected to make up the time.  One morning we picked up Senator Bradley so he and the candidate could go shake hands at the commuter stop on the GWB.  I was riding in back and as we raced North the Senator gripped his knees ever more tightly, craning his neck to see how fast we were going.  I hissed at the cop to get him to slow down, but not fast enough. Mr. Bradley finally exploded and screamed at him to slow down.

When we got there, and the pols were inside, his driver came up to us and asked what we were thinking : "The Senator never exceeds the speed limit...ever."   

There is such a thing as being too straight and narrow.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Mammoth remains unearthed by oil workers: 10,000-year-old tusks, teeth and bones from Ice Age giant dug up in Siberia (WILL STEWART and RICHARD GRAY, 31 March 2015, Daily Mail)

The remains of a woolly mammoth that died 10,000 years ago have been unearthed in Siberia by oil workers.

Two tusks, teeth and rib bones of the extinct giant mammal were discovered buried three metres down in the frozen soil around 31 miles (50km) from Nyagan in Khanty-Mansi, Russia.

Oil workers had been digging at a site owned by Rosneft close to the town when they noticed a tusk sticking out of the excavator bucket.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


How 3-D printing has helped countless amputees : Faith Lennox is a 7-year-old who now has a prosthetic hand thanks to 3-D printing. Her story is becoming one of many as the technology advances. (Tess Danielson, APRIL 1, 2015, CS Monitor)

Faith's new arm demonstrates a viable solution for children looking for prosthetics. She will need to be refitted with a new hand every six to 12 months as she grows, but instead of her parents spending thousands of dollars for each new model, the total cost will continue to be around $50.

The modernization of commercial 3-D printers has opened doors for prosthesis. Most prosthetic limbs are made of two components. One part is the replacement limb and the other is the "socket," which connects the prosthetic to the body. Each part is made with a combination of materials including metals, plastics, and sometimes electronics.

Thanks to modern technology - and a number of charitable organizations and individuals - Faith's story is becoming more commonplace. From Iron Man presenting a prosthetic limb to a young fan to Boy Scouts building and shipping robotic hands to individuals around the world, amputees everywhere are gaining access to prosthetics in ways they could only have dreamed of years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


That £250,000 lab burger can now be grown for less than £10, claims its creator (Olivia Solon, 3/30/15, Daily Mirror)

In 2013 a 5oz (142g) patty of lab-grown beef was cooked and eaten in London. It cost a massive £250,000 to produce the burger from muscle cells originally taken from a cow. [...]

Now the scientist who made that burger - Dutch professor Mark Post - estimates he can produce a kilogram of the "meat" for just $80 - which means that a burger of the same size would now cost $11.36.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


Why do progressives hate Walmart for low prices and its 3% profit margin but love high-priced Apple and its 24% profit margin? (Mark J. Perry, 3/31/15, AEI)

Evil Walmart makes a lot of money, right? We hear that all the time even though the retail giant's profit margin was only 3.12% in the most recent quarter.[...]

Think about Walmart's 3.12% profit margin this way: For the first 30 days of every 31-day month, 100% of the sales revenue collected during that 30-day period (about $39 billion) go entirely towards paying Walmart's monthly operating expenses: the costs of merchandise, labor, taxes, etc. In other words, it takes 30 days of sales during every 31-day period for Walmart to cover its costs and break even. [...]

In contrast, Apple's whopping 24.2% profit margin means that the company can typically cover its costs to operate for 31 days in a little more than three weeks (23.5 days) and it then usually has 7.5 "profit days" every 31 days. That is, for more than an entire week every month, all of the sales revenue collected by Apple during those 7.5 days turns into profits for Apple's shareholders.

So why is Walmart so reviled by progressives when its profits (and prices) are so low that it might earn a "profit day" every 31 days, and its main corporate objective is to provide low-cost merchandise to America's low- and middle-income households? Every day that a Walmart opens its doors for business, it gives everybody in that local community a raise and makes them better off. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 PM


Smart Tax Reform Has to Account for This Massive Change (ERIC PIANIN, 4/01/15, The Fiscal Times)

The Joint Committee on Taxation review of the tax system shows how the mix between individual and corporate taxes has shifted over time. In fiscal 2014, individual federal income tax receipts were 8.1 percent of the gross domestic product, while corporate income taxes were 1.9 percent of GDP. 

Indeed, individual income tax revenues provide nearly half of all revenue in the federal coffers and Social Security payroll taxes account for roughly another third. Corporate tax revenues contributed just 10.6 percent of overall revenues, or about a third of what they were in the mid-1950s.

There are two important factors that help explain this disparity. The first is obvious: Despite the business community's loud complaints that the U.S.'s 35 percent top corporate tax rate is the highest in the world, most companies have dramatically reduced their tax liabilities through tax breaks or sheltering their income overseas. 

The other factor that gets little attention is that more and more businesses have changed their corporate structure to become "pass through" entities, such as sole proprietorships, partnerships and S-corporations. In these types of operations, profits are treated as individual income for tax purposes and are subject to lower tax rates than corporate income. Business owners who take this route also don't get hit with a second round of taxes on dividends and interest. 

...why would we want to punish profits/income?

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM



This hostility to the ACA has become impervious to contrary evidence. Like all major federal legislation, the law has exhibited flaws and produced unintended consequences. But, by any reasonable accounting, it is contributing to an array of positive health care trends.

Since Obama signed the law, the number of Americans lacking health insurance has declined by 16.4 million. That's fewer than advocates hoped, but it has still reduced the share of uninsured Americans by more than one-third. In a 2014 survey by the nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund, three-fourths of the newly insured said they were satisfied with their coverage. Fourteen million fewer adults in 2014 than 2012 said they deferred needed care because they couldn't afford it, the survey found.

From 2011 to 2013, federal figures show, per capita health expenditures grew at the slowest rate ever recorded; although cost growth ticked up in 2014, largely because of rising drug expenses, the long-term trends remain promising. "It's hard to be wildly optimistic," says Len Nichols, director of George Mason University's Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics, "but I do think we've bent the [cost] curve, and there is momentum in our direction." Premiums for employer-provided insurance rose nearly 40 percent less from 2011 to 2014 than they had in the previous three years. In the ACA exchanges, premiums increased minimally in year two, largely because 25 percent more insurers participated. The exchange markets "show significant stability," says Caroline Pearson, senior vice president of consulting firm Avalere Health.

Total cost estimates for implementing the ACA have plummeted. At the same time, quality is improving: Studies have found steady declines in both hospital-acquired illnesses and hospital readmissions since the law's passage. In states that expanded Medicaid, doctors are diagnosing more diabetes cases early, too--ensuring cost-savings and better health later.

The law isn't solely responsible for these trends. But with provisions that range from penalizing hospitals for substandard care to rewarding coordination between doctors, it has accelerated a critical shift toward linking physician compensation to the standard--not just the volume--of care. The law's initial experiences offer promise that expanding access, restraining costs, and improving quality can be complementary, even reinforcing, goals.

In a rational political system, Americans would be debating how to improve the law and smooth its inevitable bumps (like overly restrictive coverage networks). Instead, we remain trapped in a theoretical debate increasingly disconnected from the law's actual impact.

Posted by orrinj at 4:29 PM


King Dollar Reaffirms Its Global Supremacy (IRA IOSEBASHVILI And  MIN ZENG, March 31, 2015, WSJ)

The proportion of dollars in global foreign-exchange holdings has risen to its highest level in six years, cementing the greenback's role in the center of the financial system.

Central banks held 62.9% of their reserves in dollars at the end of the fourth quarter, up from 62.3% in the third quarter and marking the highest level since 2009, according to data released Tuesday by the International Monetary Fund. The share held in euros fell to 22.2%, the lowest allocation in 13 years.

The figures show how central banks have ceased efforts to diversify their foreign-exchange reserves away from the dollar amid a plunge in the value of the euro. Because central banks with their large reserves wield unrivaled influence in currency markets, their shift back toward the dollar gives many investors confidence in the greenback's rally.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Yemenis Turn Against Saudi-led Bombing as Civilian Casualties Rise (Dow Jones Business News,  April 01, 2015)

Yemenis once supportive of the Saudi-led bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in their country are turning against the operation as civilian casualties mount and vital economic infrastructure is destroyed by airstrikes, including one on Wednesday that killed 29 employees at a dairy factory far from rebel-held areas.

At least 164 civilians have been killed since the airstrikes started last week, according to Yemen's health ministry, while the United Nations put the figure at 93 dead and 364 wounded. Aid agencies say their ability to provide Yemen with urgent medical and food supplies has been restricted by both ground fighting between local factions and the Saudi airstrikes.

Even those who cheered the Saudi intervention against Houthi rebels are now appealing for its end.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM

60-40 NATION:

Majority in gay-rights poll back religious exemptions for businesses (Associated Press, Feb. 6 2015)

 While finding that Americans narrowly favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry, a new national poll also shows most believe wedding-related businesses should be allowed to deny service to same-sex couples for religious reasons.

Roughly half the country also thinks local officials and judges with religious objections ought to be exempt from any requirement that they issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, according to the Associated Press-Gfk poll. [...]

The poll found that 44 percent of Americans favor and 39 percent oppose legal same-sex marriage in their own states, while 15 percent expressed no opinion. But the country is evenly divided, 48 percent to 48 percent, on which way the Supreme Court should rule when it decides the issue for the entire nation this spring. [...]

David Kenney, a self-employed Catholic from Novi, Michigan, said he's fine with same-sex marriage being legal. He's among the 57 percent of Americans who said wedding-related businesses -- such as florists -- should be allowed to refuse service if they have an objection rooted in their religion.

"Why make an issue out of one florist when there are probably thousands of florists?" asked Kenney, 59. "The gay community wants people to understand their position, but at the same time, they don't want to understand other people's religious convictions. It's a two-way street."

Kenney isn't alone. About a quarter of those who favor legal same-sex marriage also favor religious exemptions for those who issue marriage licenses, the poll finds, and a third say wedding-related businesses should be allowed to refuse service.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Egypt's grand mufti: No justification for terror in any religion (Shawky Allam April 1, 2015, REUTERS)

There is no true religion that does not regard the sanctity of human life as one of its highest values, and Islam is no exception. Indeed, Allah made this unequivocal in the Qur'an. He emphasized the gravity of the universal prohibition against murder, stating that when a person takes even one life, "it is as if he has killed all mankind."

Egyptians are still torn by grief for the 21 countrymen who were horrifically beheaded in Libya. It was an exceptionally sad day for the Egyptian nation to have to watch a video of its citizens massacred by a group of thugs. The scenes of bloodbath are heart-wrenching in their severity.

This grisly crime finds no justification in any reasonable understanding of any religion. Only extremists who have perverted the essence of Islamic teaching could countenance the idea that our religion of mercy and reason might allow the killing of innocent workers  earning money so their families can live dignified lives. [...]

These thugs are invoking religious texts to justify their inhumane crimes. Their ill- conceived linking of sacred texts to violence and aggression has led to much misinterpretation of Islam's lofty ideals. We must make clear that the terrorists' justification is nothing more than a hallucination of sick minds. It is a flagrant misreading of both the letter and spirit of the Islamic tradition and an aberration from the long history of Islamic civilization.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Nasser's Ghost Hovers Over Yemen (JESSE FERRIS, APRIL 1, 2015, NY Times)

Nasser set about exporting Egypt's revolution throughout the Middle East, sowing fear in the hearts of monarchs from Baghdad to Sana. In 1956, the kingdom of Jordan nearly fell to pro-Nasser forces. In 1958, the Iraqi monarchy collapsed. That same year, Nasser announced the formation of a union between Egypt and Syria, laying the foundations for a pan-Arab empire. The Saudis, desperate to stop the Egyptian project before it reached Riyadh, allegedly funded a failed attempt on Nasser's life and conspired to break up the Syrian-Egyptian union.

It was only a matter of time before Nasser struck back.

Exactly one year later, a group of Yemeni officers, supported by Egyptian intelligence agencies, staged a coup in Sana, overthrew Yemen's monarchy and established a republic. The ousted imam, Muhamad al-Badr, retreated to a mountain stronghold among supportive Zaydi-Shiite tribes in northern Yemen -- the same tribes from which the Houthi movement was to emerge in the 1990s -- and declared war on the republic.

For Nasser, the coup in Yemen was a chance to set off a revolutionary chain reaction in the Persian Gulf that would, he hoped, bring down the House of Saud. The Saudis, horrified by the idea of a hostile Egyptian army encamped in their backyard, decided to back the imam with bountiful supplies of arms and gold. A protracted and costly civil war ensued, only ending with the withdrawal of Egyptian forces from Yemen in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. [...]

Back then, Saudi Arabia's nemesis was Nasser's republican Egypt, which sought to ride the wave of Arab revolution and spread its influence over the ruins of toppled monarchies across the Middle East. Today the Saudis' chief adversary is Shiite Iran, which has deftly maneuvered among the wreckage of the Arab Spring in an effort to construct a "Shiite axis" extending from Baghdad to Sana. Then, as now, the central arena of conflict is Yemen, an impoverished backwater whose importance stems from its geographic proximity to Saudi Arabia and the crucial Red Sea choke point at Bab el-Mandeb.

Once again, the meddling of an adversary in Yemen has led the Saudis to take action -- this time under a new king, Salman, and his ambitious son, Muhammad. Iran's support for the Houthis today is not comparable to Egypt's invasion of Yemen in the 1960s, but the regional context is eerily familiar. First in Iraq, then in Syria and now in Yemen, the Saudis have watched with concern as Iran gains influence amid chaos.

As if things were not bad enough, America, the Saudis' trusted ally and longtime guarantor of their power, is making diplomatic overtures to the enemy. Seen in this context, the Saudi-led intervention represents a line in the sand -- a demonstration of power aimed as much at Washington as Tehran.

The only influence the Sa'uds ever had was tied to their oil.  We were never allies.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


How the Vise on U.S. Wages Tightened (WILLIAM A. GALSTON, March 31, 2015, WSJ)

 Between 2000 and 2014, employment in U.S. car-parts makers declined 36%. Some of this decline represents the rise of foreign firms, but much of it is driven by U.S. companies moving production offshore. Messrs. Hagerty and Bennett cite Detroit-based American Axle, which should probably change its name. The company operates plants in seven foreign countries, and only 30% of its employees work in the U.S.

This story isn't restricted to auto parts. In the past few years, academic research has showed the impact of trade and offshoring on U.S. workers. In a much-discussed 2013 article for the American Economic Review, David Autor,David Dorn and Gordon Hanson found that rising imports from China between 1990 and 2007 accounted for about one-quarter of the decline in manufacturing employment during that period, lowered wages and the labor-force participation rate, and pushed up publicly financed transfer payments.

Also in 2013, a paper for the Brookings Institution by Michael Elsby,Bart Hobijn and Aysegul Sahin explored competing explanations for the decline of labor's share of the U.S. national product. They found that more capital-intensive production methods that substitute equipment for human work have not been a major factor and that changes in unionization rates explain only a small part of the change.

By contrast, increased exposure to imports has a powerful effect. Specifically, "those industries that faced the biggest rises in their import exposure also tended to experience the largest declines in their payroll share."

A paper by Avraham Ebenstein,Ann Harrison and Margaret McMillan published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research expanded these conclusions. They found significant wage declines for American workers exposed to globalization, especially among workers performing routine tasks. Older workers and workers without postsecondary education are disproportionately affected. Some are forced out of manufacturing into lower-wage service jobs while others (especially older workers) leave the labor market.

The NBER report also found that offshoring has an independent, negative effect on wages--and that the rise of China constitutes a powerful new source of disruption. "Insofar as the threat to move a factory to China is credible," the writers said, "globalization can exert downward pressure on wages, and affect even those workers whose jobs are not sent overseas."

Asia's Manufacturers Feel Squeezed (RACHEL ROSENTHAL, 4/01/15, WSJ)

China's factory-floor readings picked up in March. Here, a worker at a garment factory in Jinjiang in southeast China's Fujian province. Associated Press
While falling raw-materials prices have lowered costs for Asia's manufacturers, firms are feeling pressure to pass savings to customers to keep market share--squeezing profit margins and triggering job cuts, according to factory-floor readings in March. [...]

 In March, factories shed jobs at the quickest pace since last summer, HSBC said.

Despite lower costs of raw materials amid plummeting commodities prices, "any savings were generally passed onto clients as part of attempts to attract new business, suggesting a further squeeze on profit margins," says Markit economist Annabel Fiddes.

Though markets rose on the news, economists say the overall picture of a slowing China hasn't changed much. Many continue to expect further cuts to China's interest rate and bank reserve requirements before the end of the year.

The picture is bleaker in South Korea. Dismal export data coupled with a weak PMI reading on Wednesday could intensify calls for further easing there, too, after a surprise rate cut last month. Exports, which comprise about half of the country's growth, fell 4.2% in March from a year earlier, compared with a drop of 3.3% in February.

South Korea's HSBC reading fell to 49.2 in March from 51.1 in February. While several companies said falling prices for raw materials lowered costs, "increased price competition and price negotiations with clients" drove down selling prices, according to the survey.

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


The False Hope of a Limited Government, Built on Tax Breaks (Eduardo Porter, 3/31/15, NY Times)

[T]hough the health insurance tax break has since grown into the nation's costliest tax expenditure, it is only one of many. Tax deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions were born with the income tax code in 1913. The government later added breaks for retirement savings. More recently, the earned-income tax credit for the working poor was created in 1975 and broadly expanded by President Bill Clinton with his first budget. In response to the rising cost of higher education, Washington provided a deduction for college tuition.. [...]

Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, notes how different the American government looks when one includes all it spends through the tax code.

By conventional measures, public social spending in the United States -- defined as what the government spends directly to help people get through hard times like illness, unemployment or old age -- ranks significantly below the average among the other 33 industrialized countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In 2011, social spending from all levels of government amounted to 19 percent of gross domestic product, about three percentage points less than in Norway and 11 points less than in Denmark.

But including both taxes on government benefits, which tend to be higher in other countries, and the cost of tax subsidies like the deduction for company-provided health insurance, American public spending on social insurance rises to almost 21 percent of G.D.P.

That is above the O.E.C.D. average, ahead of Norway and no longer that far behind Denmark.

And this doesn't even count government spending on education above the age of 6, which the O.E.C.D. considers an investment rather than social insurance, nor the costly mortgage tax deduction, which provides the vast bulk of its benefit to the most affluent households.

Welfare reform never starts at home.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


The Self-Contradictory Argument All Republicans Are Making on the Indiana Discrimination Law (PAUL WALDMAN, MARCH 31, 2015, The American)

Their argument is: 1) We must allow religious people to discriminate; and 2) This has nothing to do with discrimination. But both those things can't simultaneously be true. You can call it "simply allowing people of faith space to be able to express their beliefs" or "people acting on their conscience," but the whole issue is that the act of conscience that they want to undertake is also an act of discrimination. That's because the particular acts of conscience we're talking about are those that are not in the realm of speech or worship but in the realm of commerce, and they involve another person.

The cases in question are essentially zero-sum conflicts of claimed rights. Janet wants to have an anniversary dinner in a restaurant; Mike, the restaurant owner, doesn't want to serve gay couples. There are only two possible outcomes: Janet and her partner get served, in which case Mike has to give; or Mike gets to refuse that service, in which case Janet has to give. You can dress up Mike's motivations any way you want--"sincere religious beliefs," "act of conscience," whatever--but that doesn't change the fact that one person is going to win and the other is going to lose.

Likewise, if Janet is allowed to win, she's been given a right to force Mike to violate his religious beliefs. It's really just a question of whether society has a greater interest in protecting religious choices or sexual.  

Of course, it can be argued that Mike could simply choose to go out of business (in other words, the cost of having religious beliefs would be that you weren't allowed to have a business).  But, the obvious response is that Janet could simply patronize another business. 

It can also be argued that this no different than when we desegregated businesses along racial lines, requiring white owners to serve black customers.  Setting aside the question of whether that too was a mistake, the big differences are that color is a function of birth, not of personal choice, and that there is no moral component to one's color.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM


Does the Anti-Common Core Movement Have a Race Problem? : Poll shows big differences in support (Emmanuel Felton, 4/01/15, Washington Monthly)

The NBC News State of Parenting Poll, which was sponsored by Pearson, a publisher of Common Core textbooks and tests, found that 50 percent of parents surveyed approved of the Common Core and 38 percent opposed the standards, which are grade level expectations in math and English in place in more than 40 states. But the plurality of white parents - 49 percent - opposed the standards, while 73 percent of Hispanic parents and 56 percent of black parents favored the Common Core.

When suburban white mothers hear about giving kids in substandard schools other choices they see inner city kids in their kids' classrooms. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


A Win for Democracy in Nigeria (The Editors, 3/31/15, Bloomberg View)

Nothing invigorates democracy more than an incumbent's defeat. In that and other respects, challenger Muhammadu Buhari's win over President Goodluck Jonathan represents a potentially transformative moment for Nigeria -- a victory by the opposition in Africa's biggest economy. It may begin Nigeria's first peaceful transition of power between political parties since independence from the U.K. in 1960.

The aftermath of Nigeria's last presidential election, also between Buhari and Jonathan, was marred by violence that tapped divisions between north and south and Christians and Muslims. Thankfully, this time, President Jonathan has already called Buhari to congratulate him. That said, the first task facing Buhari, a former Muslim general from the north who had taken power after a military coup in the 1980s, will be to persuade Jonathan's supporters that his campaign pledges to fight corruption and crime and restore growth are not a cover for settling old scores. One of Buhari's former critics, the writer Wole Soyinka, believes Buhari when he says that he has shed his authoritarian past and become a "born again" democrat. Let's hope they're both right.