May 31, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


How Ty Cobb was framed as a racist (Kyle Smith, May 31, 2015, NY Post)

Cobb, contrary to legend, was not a Southern redneck but an upper-middle-class boy, often derided for acting aristocratic in the locker room, where he would read literary novels and biographies of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon. Both of his parents were genteel. His father, a state senator and "something of a public intellectual" in Leerhsen's words, once broke up a group of men plotting a lynching and was an outspoken advocate for the public education of black Americans.

When Cobb was 18, his mother shot and killed his father, mistaking him for an intruder after he returned unexpectedly from an out-of-town trip. At trial she was acquitted.

You might call Cobb the inventor of Moneyball -- roughly, the idea that baseball is about smarts.

"He didn't outhit the opposition and he didn't outrun them," said a teammate. "He out-thought them."

In a hilariously unprofessional era when ballplayers would chase umpires they didn't like off the field, Cobb took careful notes exploiting the weaknesses of other teams. Cobb noticed, for instance, that Walter Johnson was visibly upset whenever he hit a batter -- so he stuck his skull out over the plate. Johnson, afraid of beaning Cobb, would walk him instead.

Cobb once scored the winning run by stealing third and home when the Yankees were busy arguing with an umpire. Cobb, noted baseball legend Casey Stengel, was the only player who could steal home on an infield pop-up: He'd make his break when the guy who caught the ball was lobbing the ball back to the pitcher. He noticed a tell in Cy Young's pickoff move: the pitcher would hold his hands up close to his chin when he was going to throw to first. Cobb stole easily on him after that.

Cobb enthusiastically supported the integration of major league baseball when he was asked about Jackie Robinson in 1952. He told The Sporting News, "The negro has the right to compete in sports and who's to say they have not?"

He called Roy Campanella a "great" player, said Willie Mays was "the only player I'd pay money to see" and after Campanella's crippling car accident, praised Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley for holding a candlelit tribute "for this fine man."

Even back in the 1920s, Cobb would befriend Negro League ballplayers such as Detroit Stars infielder Bobby Robinson, who said "there wasn't a hint of prejudice in Cobb's attitude."

One of several blacks employed by Cobb, Alex Rivers, named his son after the ballplayer and said, "I love the man."

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


The Great Democratic Crack-Up of 2016 : They may have a strong presidential candidate, but at every other level, the party's politicians and activists are fighting to survive -- and fighting with one another. (ROBERT DRAPER, MAY 12, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

"It isn't that the Democratic Party is struggling," says Jonathan Cowan, the president of the centrist policy center Third Way. "It's that at the subpresidential level, it's in a free fall." The Democrats lost their majority in the Senate last November; to regain it, they will need to pick up five additional seats (or four if there's a Democratic vice president who can cast the tiebreaking vote), and nonpartisan analysts do not rate their chances as good. The party's situation in the House is far more dire. Only 188 of the lower chamber's 435 seats are held by Democrats. Owing in part to the aggressiveness of Republican-controlled State Legislatures that redrew numerous congressional districts following the 2010 census, few believe that the Democratic Party is likely to retake power until after the next census in 2020, and even then, the respected political analyst Charles Cook rates the chances of the Democrats' winning the House majority by 2022 as a long shot at best.

Things get even worse for the Democrats further down the political totem pole. Only 18 of the country's 50 governors are Democrats. The party controls both houses in only 11 State Legislatures. Not since the Hoover Administration has the Democratic Party's overall power been so low. A rousing victory by Hillary Rodham Clinton might boost other Democratic aspirants in 2016; then again, in 2012 Obama won 62 percent of Electoral College votes yet carried 48 percent of Congressional districts and a mere 22 percent of the nation's 3,114 counties. Through a billion dollars of campaign wizardry, the president did not lift up but only managed to escape a party brand that has come to be viewed in much of America with abiding disfavor.

For a giddy moment seven years ago, Democrats dared to believe that Barack Obama's election would significantly reconfigure partisan alliances. Instead, his presidency has only calcified them. "When Obama swept the 2008 primary and general elections, Democrats' image suddenly came to be defined by a city-dwelling law-school professor whose life experiences had been far different from those of most working-class whites," said David Wasserman, a congressional analyst for The Cook Political Report. "It was the culminating moment of a half-century of realignment. Democrats had already ceded Southern whites, but in the last few years they have lost droves of Midwestern, small-town and working-class whites who feel like they have little in common with the party anymore."

As to how Democrats should be responding to their poor showing below the executive branch, there are two competing schools of thought, each of which began to emerge in the middle of the last decade, when the Republicans controlled all branches of government and Karl Rove, the G.O.P. strategist, was crowing about a party majority that would endure for many decades to come. Moderates believe the only remedy is for Democrats to refashion themselves as pragmatists who care more about achieving results than ideological purity. When I asked Cowan about what he hoped for in a Hillary Clinton presidency, he said: "Senator Clinton has been in politics long enough to realize you're governing in a divided country. You use the mandate you have to get stuff done."

Progressives, on the other hand, believe that the Democrats lost their way by obsessing over what President Bill Clinton once termed "the vital center." That fixation, they say, has rendered the party brand incomprehensible and raised the question as to what exactly Democrats stand for. To them, it is the sharp-tongued populist rhetoric of Warren, whose signature line is that "the game is rigged" against working-class Americans, that represents the party's only viable future. Moulitsas of Daily Kos says: "The Democrats' branding problem isn't that people don't agree with the Democratic agenda. It's that voters don't trust them to actually carry it out. That, in huge part, is why Democratic-base turnout is so low across the board and especially so in midterms. So that's where the Warrens and Edwardses of the party come in: Democrats who aren't just saying the right thing and believing the right thing but doing the right thing and forcefully fighting for it."

We've often noted the strange but persistent phenomenon--played out across every country of the Anglosphere--that once a party is returned to power by a Third Way leader, the party activists convince themselves that they now have an opportunity to return the state to either the Second Way (parties of the left) or the First (parties of the right).  This then allows the opposition party, which has in the intervening years been forced to recast itself as a party of the center, to reclaim the Third Way.  Failure to do so is catastrophic, as Labour just demonstrated in Britain.

With Republicans poised to nominate a governor (particularly if it's the compassionate conservative Jeb) and Democrats trying to pull Hillary to the Left, this is the most dangerous election for a political party since 1992, when a George H. W. Bush re-election, giving the GOP exclusive credit for the Peace Dividend, would have returned us to a permanent Republican majority a couple decades sooner. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Cities for People--or Cars? : New Urbanism rediscovers centuries of walkable wisdom. (CHARLES L. MAROHN JR. • April 22, 2015, American Conservative)

One hot summer day I walked through an old, neglected neighborhood, the kind of place where feral cats stalk mice in the weeds near cracked foundations. I carried a tape measure and clipboard, for measuring the width of the sidewalks, the spacing between trees, the length from the back of the curb to the front of the houses. I was channeling my inner New Urbanist, my desire to practice a primitive form of urban archaeology. I was attempting to discover deeper truths about what makes a city successful.

As an engineer I had designed miles of streets and as a planner helped create hundreds of new lots. Yet I knew that I hadn't the vaguest notion of how to build a really successful neighborhood. I had assembled developments that were a random collection of homes, each built in isolation from the next. What I wanted to know was what it takes to bind that place together in a way that will endure.

New Urbanism is a civic design movement focusing on that question. It advocates the reforming development practices to support traditional patterns: building close-together homes in slow increments over time and storefronts pulled up to the street instead of buried behind nearly empty parking lots--designing cities and towns for people first and then for automobiles, not the other way around.

Before the automobile, before modern zoning, and before massive central government intervention in real estate markets, cities grew and developed around the dominant transportation technology of the day: a person's two feet. Cities were scaled to people who walked because most people walked everywhere they went.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


US College of Pediatricians: certain link between abortion and cancer : Doctor's organization urges that young women be advised of the abortion-breast cancer link (Lisa Bourne Apr 22, 2015, The Christians)

The American College of Pediatricians has made a statement advising women to be informed about the link between abortion and breast cancer - at the same time recognizing the medical establishment has been reticent to admit the connection.

"Although the medical community has been reluctant to acknowledge the link, induced abortion prior to a full term delivery, and prior to 32 weeks of gestation, increases the likelihood that a woman will develop breast cancer," the physicians' organization stated on April 7. "This risk is especially increased for adolescents."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Widespread violations found at Boston's food spots (Matt Rocheleau, MAY 25, 2015, Boston Globe)

City inspectors last year found multiple instances of the most serious type of health and sanitary code violations at nearly half of Boston's restaurants and food service locations, according to a Globe review of municipal data.

At least two violations that can cause food-borne illness -- the most serious of three levels -- were discovered at more than 1,350 restaurants across Boston during 2014, according to records of inspections at every establishment in the city that serves food, including upscale dining locations, company cafeterias, takeout and fast-food restaurants, and food trucks.

Five or more of the most serious violations were discovered at more than 500 locations, or about 18 percent of all restaurants in the city, and 10 or more of the most serious violations were identified at about 200 eateries.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Report: Russia turning its back on Syrian regime, not honoring prior agreements (Jerusalem Post, 5/31/15)

For three months Moscow has been reducing its diplomatic staff in Damascus to essential personnel exclusively and the most recent move saw 100 Russians, along with their families, board a plane.

Russia may be sensing an imminent shift against Syrian President Bashar Assad, removing its advisers and other strategic personnel from the war torn country.

"The Kremlin has begun to turn away from the regime," the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported on Sunday, quoting an opposition official.

According to the report, for three months Moscow has been reducing its diplomatic staff in Damascus to essential personnel exclusively and the most recent move saw 100 Russians, along with their families, board a plane at the Latakia airport. Lebanese figures belonging to Hezbollah, as well as Iranian officials, were also said to be aboard the flight. According to the report, none of the personnel, main-stays of the government's War-Room throughout the civil war, have been replaced. 

The opposition source also informed the Saudi-backed, London newspaper that the Russians have stopped honoring an agreement with the Syrian regime to ensure the maintenance of its Russian made Sukhoi aircraft, a strategic element of Syria's air force that has been an important technical edge in the fight against the rebels. 

May 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:46 PM


Sanctions relief, inspections at center of Iran nuke talks (AFP, AP AND TIMES OF ISRAEL,  May 30, 2015)
A month away from a nuclear deal deadline, US and Iranian diplomats tried to narrow differences over how quickly to ease economic penalties against Tehran and how significantly the Iranians must open up military facilities to international inspections.'s just going top mean a trade of more intrusive inspections for more immediate sanctions relief.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


How Comedians Became Public Intellectuals (MEGAN GARBER  MAY 28, 2015, The Atlantic)

[W]hen Schumer, in a set that aired on her show, comments with purposeful nonchalance that "we've all been a little bit raped," she may be making viewers laugh. But she is, much more importantly, making us squirm. She's daring us to consider the definition of "rape," and also the definition of another word that can be awkward in comedy and democracy alike: "we." She's making a point about inclusion and exclusion, about the individuality of experience, about the often flawed way we think about ourselves as a collective. This is comedy at only the most superficial level; what it is, really, is cultural criticism.

...but these folks have decided not to be funny and America has always held intellectuals in contempt. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 AM


The twelve best frozen food values (Laurel Randolph, MAY 30, 2015, CS Monitor)

1. Berries

Frozen fruit is typically a good deal across the board, and this is definitely true with berries. While price checking at my local grocery, the savings were most noticeable with blueberries. Fresh ones were 66 cents an ounce, while frozen were a mere 25 cents. Strawberries, cranberries, and raspberries are also great values. They are washed and frozen at their peak, and the quality is consistent all year. Fresh berries also tend to go bad quickly, and freezing eliminates that problem while locking-in nutrients.

Frozen berries are especially handy for making smoothies (they actually work better than fresh), pancakes, muffins, and other baked goods.

The 3lb bag of Wyman's blueberries at BJ's is an especially good deal--$3 cheaper than the grocery store.

Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Patriot Act That Dennis Hastert Passed Led To His Indictment (Daniel Marans, 05/29/2015, Huffington Post)

Little did Hastert know at the time that the law he helped pass would give federal law enforcement the tools to indict him on charges of violating banking-related reporting requirements more than a decade later.

The Department of Justice on Thursday announced Hastert's indictment for agreeing to pay $3.5 million in hush money to keep someone quiet about his "prior misconduct." The indictment accuses Hastert of structuring bank withdrawals to avoid bank reporting requirements, and lying to the FBI about the nature of the withdrawals. It does not reveal the "misconduct" that Hastert was trying to conceal. The recipient of the money was a resident of Yorkville, Illinois, where Hastert taught high school and coached wrestling from 1965 to 1981.

The indictment suggests that law enforcement officials relied on the Patriot Act's expansion of bank reporting requirements to snare Hastert. As the IRS notes, "the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 increased the scope" of cash reporting laws "to help trace funds used for terrorism." The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970, which was amended by the Patriot Act, had already required banks to report suspicious transactions.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Allies Against Empire : Robert La Follette and Albert Jay Nock opposed war from left and right. (RICHARD DRAKE • May 27, 2015, American Conservative)

In the anti-interventionist campaign, La Follette acquired an ally in the antiwar journalist Albert Jay Nock. Their sporadic and always strained cooperation furnishes a highly suggestive precedent for similar alliances in American politics today. Nock had supported Wilson in 1916 for keeping the United States out of war. By July of the following year, however, with America in the fighting, he would write to Atlantic editor Ellery Sedgwick that a war for trade routes had been dressed up by Wilson to look like a noble exercise in moral uplift.

Nock's antiwar views appealed to Nation editor Oswald Garrison Villard, who gave him a job writing editorials in the fall of 1917. Nock's libertarian views complicated his relationship with the magazine, however. He liked Villard but scoffed at the Nation's progressive liberalism, explaining in 1919 after leaving the magazine, "one can't waste energy on that." The next year he founded The Freeman, which H.L. Mencken would praise as one of the glories of American letters, especially for Nock's brilliant editorials.

In addition to La Follette's liberal politics, which he found tediously jejune, the Wisconsin senator's eventual enthusiasm for Wilson's war disappointed Nock. After his initial opposition, La Follette had reasoned that as a United States senator he had a moral obligation to support a democratically declared war. Then, upon listening to Wilson's idealistic Fourteen Points address on January 8, 1918, La Follette allowed that the war could be justified as the crusade for democracy that the president had said it was. 

Only after reading the Versailles Treaty and John Maynard Keynes's denunciation of the Paris conference in The Economic Consequences of the Peace did La Follette conclude that Wilson had deceived the American people. No less important to La Follette's postwar thinking about the conflict was Nock's Myth of a Guilty Nation, a volume based on articles he had written for The Freeman. Excerpts from this book appeared in the April 1922 issue of La Follette's Magazine, a periodical--today known as The Progressive--that the senator had founded in 1909.

In his editor's introduction, La Follette praised Nock for exposing the Wilson administration's collusion with the purveyors of British propaganda. Germany, Nock claimed, was the country least responsible for causing the war. British imperialism had been a much greater factor in the international turmoil immediately preceding the calamity that brought death to more than 16 million Europeans.

Nock's comparison of the prewar military budgets of the combatant powers turned inside out American suppositions about the war. That America's peace-loving brother democracy, Britain, consistently had outspent the allegedly warmongering Germany seemed to Nock like an important detail, one that might shed light on the question of which imperialist country actually bestrode the globe like a military colossus.

Nock described the Versailles settlement essentially as a capitulation to British imperialism. The peace conference had ended with the British gaining all of the objectives outlined in the secret treaties negotiated among the Allies during the war. Upon taking power in Russia, the Bolsheviks had revealed the contents of these agreements. The Allies had a keen interest in the Middle East territories of the Ottoman Empire, above all for the oil there. To Nock it seemed obvious that the war had been fought for the reasons disclosed by the secret treaties--for the acquisition or preservation of markets, territories, and resources. It was a war of big business for bigger business.

We had no business in WWI and the only thing that could have justified our participation was forcing decolonization on Britain and France.
Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


'Silicon Valley': HBO's Most Subversively Conservative Show (Amy Otto, MAY 29, 2015, The Federalist)

Silicon Valley is at its best when it exposes the conflicts between innovation and the pretension of elite Californians who inhabit Silicon Valley. That premise is what makes it the most fun and subversive conservative show on television.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


McCain: US should allow sale of defensive weapons to Vietnam (Lolita C. Baldor | AP May 30, 2015, AP)

America needs to provide Vietnam with more defensive weapons, U.S. Sen. John McCain said Saturday as tensions in the Asia Pacific region heightened over China's expanding land reclamation projects in the South China Sea.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


In Europe, Fake Jobs Can Have Real Benefits (LIZ ALDERMAN, MAY 29, 2015, NY Times)

At 9:30 a.m. on a sunny weekday, the phones at Candelia, a purveyor of sleek office furniture in Lille, France, rang steadily with orders from customers across the country and from Switzerland and Germany. A photocopier clacked rhythmically while more than a dozen workers processed sales, dealt with suppliers and arranged for desks and chairs to be shipped.

Sabine de Buyzer, working in the accounting department, leaned into her computer and scanned a row of numbers. Candelia was doing well. Its revenue that week was outpacing expenses, even counting taxes and salaries. "We have to be profitable," Ms. de Buyzer said. "Everyone's working all out to make sure we succeed."

This was a sentiment any boss would like to hear, but in this case the entire business is fake. So are Candelia's customers and suppliers, from the companies ordering the furniture to the trucking operators that make deliveries. Even the bank where Candelia gets its loans is not real.

More than 100 Potemkin companies like Candelia are operating today in France, and there are thousands more across Europe. In Seine-St.-Denis, outside Paris, a pet business called Animal Kingdom sells products like dog food and frogs. ArtLim, a company in Limoges, peddles fine porcelain. Prestige Cosmetique in Orleans deals in perfumes. All these companies' wares are imaginary.

These companies are all part of an elaborate training network that effectively operates as a parallel economic universe. For years, the aim was to train students and unemployed workers looking to make a transition to different industries. Now they are being used to combat the alarming rise in long-term unemployment, one of the most pressing problems to emerge from Europe's long economic crisis.

It's not as if they're much less productive than most white collar workers.

May 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


Magna Carta: Eight Centuries of Liberty  (DANIEL HANNAN, May 29, 2015, WSJ)

Eight hundred years ago next month, on a reedy stretch of riverbank in southern England, the most important bargain in the history of the human race was struck. I realize that's a big claim, but in this case, only superlatives will do. As Lord Denning, the most celebrated modern British jurist put it, Magna Carta was "the greatest constitutional document of all time, the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot."

It was at Runnymede, on June 15, 1215, that the idea of the law standing above the government first took contractual form. King John accepted that he would no longer get to make the rules up as he went along. From that acceptance flowed, ultimately, all the rights and freedoms that we now take for granted: uncensored newspapers, security of property, equality before the law, habeas corpus, regular elections, sanctity of contract, jury trials. [...]

And not just England. Indeed, not even England in particular. Magna Carta has always been a bigger deal in the U.S. The meadow where the abominable King John put his royal seal to the parchment lies in my electoral district in the county of Surrey. It went unmarked until 1957, when a memorial stone was finally raised there--by the American Bar Association.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


All 8 women fail Ranger School (Anna Mulrine, MAY 29, 2015, CS Monitor)

On Friday, the Army is expected to announce that all the women who had attempted to graduate from Ranger School had officially failed to meet the standards, according to a military source.

Ranger School, which grooms the Army's most elite special operations fighting force, opened its doors to women for the first time this year. Eight of the 20 women who originally entered the school's first co-ed class were allowed to recycle through the program after they fell out in their first go-round. The Friday announcement will confirm that this happened again.

The standards will be waterted down until even women can meet them.  Fortunately, modern warfare means it doesn't matter anymore.
Posted by orrinj at 4:37 PM


The Mystery of the Hardy Boys and the Invisible Authors : Along with the Nancy Drew series, almost all of the thrillers in the popular teenage franchise were produced by ghostwriters, thanks to a business model that proved to be prescient. (DANIEL A. GROSS,  MAY 27, 2015, The Atlantic)

If writing seems like a lonely profession, try ghostwriting children's books. "You're usually in touch with one person, the editor," says Christopher Lampton, who wrote 11 Hardy Boys books in the 1980s. He sent his books not to a publisher but to a packager called Megabooks--effectively a conduit between the writer and the publisher, Simon & Schuster. When Lampton mailed in drafts, they came back with comments written in several colors. "There were other people, looking at your books, making comments. They're phantoms," he says.

Book packagers are a kind of outsourced labor, not unlike factories in China or tech-support centers in Mumbai. They develop new story ideas, recruit and manage freelance writers, and edit the first drafts of series books. Then they deliver manuscripts to the publisher, who rewrite and polish them to produce the final book. "Hiring a book packager is a way of hiring staff without putting them on your payroll," explains Anne Greenberg, who worked for Simon & Schuster from 1986 to 2002, when Lampton was writing. Greenberg edited hundreds of Nancy Drew mysteries after they came in from book packagers, and suspects she worked on more books in the series (approximately 300) than anyone else. "You have to keep feeding the machine," she says.

Alice Leonhardt, who wrote Nancy Drew books for Megabooks, never even met the intermediaries who passed on her manuscripts to the publisher. "I have no idea where they were," she says.

The industry that churns out children's books has changed surprisingly little in the last century. In 1905, a prolific writer named Edward Stratemeyer founded a network of freelance writers and editors. Though you might expect a writer collective to support writers the way labor unions support laborers, the Stratemeyer Syndicate's central aim was simply to produce a huge number of books at the lowest possible cost. "Edward Stratemeyer was a genius," says Greenberg. "He was like an idea machine."

The Stratemeyer Syndicate helped prove that book packaging with ghostwriters could be incredibly profitable--for managers and owners, at least. Writers signed away their rights to royalties and bylines in exchange for a flat fee. (Early on, it was around $100 per book.) The syndicate launched dozens of series, guessing that only a few would be hits. It debuted Tom Swift in 1910, followed by The Hardy Boys in 1927, and Nancy Drew in 1930. That same year, Stratemeyer died in New Jersey, by then not so much a writer as a tycoon.

Readers rarely hear about book packagers, yet they're responsible for some of the most successful fiction series in existence, from Sweet Valley High to Goosebumps to For Dummies. Because ghostwriters and freelance editors do most of the work, packagers push down the considerable expenses of literary labor: They don't need to offer health insurance, vacation time, or office space.

There are a few benefits in writing for packagers, of course. First, they free writers from having to market and brand themselves, since they're writing for series that have been established for decades. Leonhardt says it was a relief not needing to do book tours or media appearances.

Second, the pay can be pretty good. Lampton spent about two weeks writing each manuscript, not including the time it took to develop new plots and edit manuscripts. Each book earned him $5000 in the 1980s. Leonhardt was paid $2000 up front and $2000 upon completion of each Nancy Drew book. At the time, giving up royalties and name recognition was just part of the deal. "You know that when you sign on the dotted line," says Lampton. "I just liked seeing the check show up."

One of the folks here confessed to doing the historical research for a James Patterson book, which was then mutilated by the "authors." 

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Americans Have No Idea How Few Gay People There Are : Surveys show a shockingly high fraction think a quarter of the country is gay or lesbian, when the reality is that it's probably less than 2 percent. (GARANCE FRANKE-RUTA  MAY 31, 2012, The Atlantic)

In surveys conducted in 2002 and 2011, pollsters at Gallup found that members of the American public massively overestimated how many people are gay or lesbian. In 2002, a quarter of those surveyed guessed upwards of a quarter of Americans were gay or lesbian (or "homosexual," the third option given). By 2011, that misperception had only grown, with more than a third of those surveyed now guessing that more than 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian. Women and young adults were most likely to provide high estimates, approximating that 30 percent of the population is gay. Overall, "U.S. adults, on average, estimate that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian," Gallup found. Only 4 percent of all those surveyed in 2011 and about 8 percent of those surveyed in 2002 correctly guessed that fewer than 5 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian. [...]

Contemporary research in a less homophobic environment has counterintuitively resulted in lower estimates rather than higher ones. The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, a gay and lesbian think tank, released a study in April 2011 estimating based on its research that just 1.7 percent of Americans between 18 and 44 identify as gay or lesbian, while another 1.8 percent -- predominantly women -- identify as bisexual. Far from underestimating the ranks of gay people because of homophobia, these figures included a substantial number of people who remained deeply closeted, such as a quarter of the bisexuals. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of women between 22 and 44 that questioned more than 13,500 respondents between 2006 and 2008 found very similar numbers: Only 1 percent of the women identified themselves as gay, while 4 percent identified as bisexual.

Posted by orrinj at 4:28 PM


Saudi Arabia faces many threats, and Iran isn't at the top of the list (Mohamad Bazzi, May 28, 2015, Reuters)

[S]audi Arabia and the other Sunni Arab states should not be so singularly obsessed with the danger posed by Shi'ite-led Iran. These states have other internal problems and economic worries to deal with, especially bulging youth populations and the lack of avenues for political expression. The House of Saud is facing a challenge from the militant group Islamic State, which carried out a suicide bombing last week that killed at least 21 worshippers at a Shi'ite mosque in the kingdom's Eastern Province. The Saudi regime must also cope with the long-term consequences of declining revenue due to lower oil prices.

In an interview with the New York Times in early April, Obama warned that U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia should be more worried about internal threats. These states have "populations that, in some cases, are alienated, youth that are underemployed, an ideology that is destructive and nihilistic, and in some cases, just a belief that there are no legitimate political outlets for grievances," Obama said, adding: "I think the biggest threats that they face may not be coming from Iran invading. It's going to be from dissatisfaction inside their own countries."

Obama's comments angered the Arab monarchs, including the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, who decided to send lower-level officials to the Camp David summit. But Obama was trying to initiate a difficult conversation with U.S. allies -- a discussion that got drowned out by a focus on who did and didn't make it to the summit.

Saudi Arabia must deal with its "youth bulge": more than half of the country's population of 29 million is under the age of 25. Two-thirds of the population is under 30. Most troubling, the estimated unemployment rate for Saudis aged 15 to 24 is about 30 percent.

While Saudi officials insist that their substantial foreign reserves allow them to withstand a long period of low oil prices -- and potential regional turmoil -- the reserves dropped by $36 billion in March and April alone. (Saudi reserves peaked at around $800 billion in mid 2014; some economists forecast that they could drop to $500 billion in the next two years.) When King Salman ascended to the throne after his brother's death in January, he granted salary bonuses to all public employees and members of the military. Those bonuses most likely came out of the foreign reserves, since the kingdom was already projecting a 2015 budget deficit of $40 billion -- the first in seven years. The Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen is also draining the kingdom's coffers, and the war will become more costly as it drags on.

They can't avoid the End of History.
Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Labour Doesn't Get Why The Tories Won (NICK COHEN, June 2015, Standpoint)

Labour saw the Tories win 99 more seats and two million more votes. It lost everywhere except in London. It lost Southampton Itchen, Ed Balls's Morley and Outwood, Bolton West, Telford and Derby North: seats that even Gordon Brown had held in 2010, when an exhausted party staggered to the polls after presiding over the worst financial crisis of our lifetime. In what were once the Labour heartlands of Scotland, only one Labour MP survived. In virtually every one of the 40 seats the SNP took from Labour, the nationalists now have a five-figure majority. My friends in the Scottish Labour party say Scotland has been caught in a nationalist spasm, and Labour will come back when the mania passes. Perhaps they are right, but I suspect they are comforting themselves: you don't push a landslide back up the hill just like that.

In the north of England and on the east coast the myth that UKIP would split the Right, while allowing a united Left to triumph, took the hammering it deserved. UKIP came second in 44 Labour and 76 Tory seats. It is not just that UKIP stopped Labour taking seats it should have won. It replaced Labour as the opposition in seats where it ought to be in contention. In working-class constituencies in Essex and Kent, where the Left ought to offer hope to struggling voters, Labour is not even in the game. The new battles are between Conservatives and UKIP. As for Wales, the lazy assumption is that it is a Labour fortress. But as Luke Akehurst -- a hardheaded activist in a Labour movement filled with wishful thinkers -- pointed out, the Tories held all their Welsh marginal seats and took two from Labour. Natalie Bennett, meanwhile, was one of the most useless party leaders Britain has ever seen -- a mumbling ill-informed embarrassment. Nevertheless, the Greens took one million votes that in other circumstances Labour might have collected. 

In short, despite being led by a mediocre Conservative prime minister, who has no answer to and often exacerbates the great problems Britain faces, despite the worst fall in real incomes since the 1920s, Britain has shifted to the Right.

The comforting notion that it has a "progressive majority," which one way or another will keep the Conservatives in their box, died on May 7. In 2015, the combined vote share of all right-wing political parties (Conservatives, UKIP and the Ulster Unionists) rose to 50.5 per cent of all votes cast. The left-leaning political parties (Labour, SNP, Greens, Plaid Cymru and SDLP) gained just 39.8 per cent. My colleague Michael Harris of the Little Atoms website says that if you include Liberal Democrats on the right-hand side of the ledger -- and as they were happy to vote for a party that had been in alliance with the Tories, you probably should -- you get an even worse result for the Left. In all, 58.4 per cent of the public voted for parties on the Right.

I cannot tell you how influential and damaging the consoling belief that Britain is a "progressive" country has been. It stopped the Left being frightened of the Right. It stopped it taking the fight against it seriously. In his bedtime story for lefties, The Conservative Dilemma, Jon Trickett, an ally of Miliband, argued that the Tories could not cope with the 21st century. They couldn't appeal to their base without appalling the "progressive majority", or vice versa. Miliband's Labour, he wrote in 2012, was now free to renounce the compromises of the hated Blair era. It could let rip, march leftwards, and "put an end to triangulation on to Tory territory". Every assumption he and thousands like him made has now turned to dust.

,,,for another, the results demonstrate that real incomes have risen, not fallen.
Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


A Look at Wind and Solar (Alex Trembath and Jesse Jenkins, 5/26/15, Public Discourse)

After decades of incipient growth, it seems that wind and solar power are finally ready for prime time. These two renewable energy resources are growing rapidly and are beginning to move the needle in global energy supplies.

Renewable energy's growth has been fueled for years by deployment subsidies and other support policies -- feed-in tariffs, tax credits, portfolio standards, and the like -- exactly the kind of proactive public policies that the Breakthrough Institute (where one of us worked and the other still does) has supported since its inception.

While we have both called for reforms to improve the efficacy and sustainability of dominant approaches to deployment policies, we also recognize the tremendously important role deployment policies -- however imperfect -- have played in driving nascent industries. Just as government investment in research development and demonstration and subsidies for early deployment were central to unlocking the shale gas revolution or giving rise to the modern nuclear power sector, public investment in renewable energy adoption has taken the wind and solar industries a long way.

How far have we come exactly? In 2013, wind turbines generated almost three times as much electricity globally as they did in 2008. Solar generation grew by more than a factor of 10. Together, wind and solar increased from 1.1 percent to 3.3 percent of global electricity over that same period, not an inconsiderable feat as overall global electricity demand simultaneously expanded 14 percent. Of the 6,340.1 terawatt-hours (TWh) of power generation growth between 2003 and 2013, 10.9 percent came from wind (564.8 TWh) and solar (122.8 TWh).

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


Do atoms going through a double slit 'know' if they are being observed? (Tim Wogan, May 26, 2015, Physics World)

Does a massive quantum particle - such as an atom - in a double-slit experiment behave differently depending on when it is observed? John Wheeler's famous "delayed choice" Gedankenexperiment asked this question in 1978, and the answer has now been experimentally realized with massive particles for the first time. The result demonstrates that it does not make sense to decide whether a massive particle can be described by its wave or particle behaviour until a measurement has been made. [...]

Indeed, the results of both Truscott and Aspect's experiments shows that a particle's wave or particle nature is most likely undefined until a measurement is made. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


Trying To Understand Why Marc Andreessen And Larry Summers Disagree Using Facebook (Tim Worstall, 1/15/15, Forbes)

[W]e measure productivity in money terms. The value of output created with some set of inputs. The most usual one we talk about is the productivity of labour as that's the one that most affects general lifestyles. If each hour of labour produces more then there's more that can be consumed by each unit of labour (after we deal with those pesky problems of the distribution of rewards). But the measure is how many $'s worth of whatever is produced by one hour of labour? And that's where at least some of the productivity is going. Take, for example, Facebook. As far as the general economic statistics are concerned, GDP, labour productivity and all that, the output of Facebook is the advertising it sells. Labour productivity is what must be paid for the labour that builds the system that delivers that advertising. Which is fine as a general rule: but valuing Facebook's contribution to living standards as being the advertising it sells is near insane.

We value Facebook far more highly than that: but that advertising is the only part of the value which we do ascribe to Facebook that is actually monetised. And given that GDP, labour productivity and all that are described only in monetised terms then we're missing a very large part of what it's all about. People (for some unknown reason to me) like Facebook. Their lives are made richer by Facebook's existence: they are in fact richer. We're just not measuring that extra wealth that they derive from Facebook's existence.

Sure, this problem exists with absolutely every product. It's called the "consumer surplus" and it is the value that we consumers derive from whatever it is over and above the price we've got to pay to get it. A general assumption is that we derive a consumer surplus from absolutely everything that we do buy: if we didn't gain more value than it cost us then we wouldn't buy it, would we? Brad Delong once pointed out (or perhaps pointed to someone who pointed out) that one way of looking at rising living standards in the 20th century was a factor of about 8. Rich world people in 2000 were 8 times better off than rich world people in 1900. Roughly true by those standard measures of GDP and so on. But if we than added what people could do, the improvements in quality, all something analagous to that consumer surplus. it might be more true to say that people were 100 times better off.

That's how I would explain (some of) that productivity puzzle. A larger than normal portion of the output of the new technologies is not monetised so we're just not counting it as output at all.

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


The Childish Ayn Rand (DAVID MILLS, 5/26/15, Aleteia)

Had she not become a guru, Ayn Rand would have been the kind of person few people really like who still accumulates admiring followers, whom she would banish for the slightest deviation from total devotion. She would have been a particularly mean Mean Girl, terrorizing some suburban high school and then a middle class suburb. Judging from the stories told even by her admirers, she seems not to have had friends, only inner circles. [...]
Still, it's easy to laugh at Rand and her work. Flannery O'Connor wrote of her fiction, in which Rand incarnated her philosophy in a stick-figure kind of way: "I hope you don't have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky."
Then there is the famous comment ascribed to the writer Raj Patel: "There are two novels that can transform a bookish fourteen year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Why we should welcome our new robot overlords (Paul Waldman, May 26, 2015, The Week)

[W]hat may be most frightening about the robots in our near future is that they'll highlight our own limitations and inadequacies.

That's already happening in the workplace, where robots are replacing more and more workers, particularly in manufacturing. Though we've had industrial robots for quite a while now (the first one, called Unimate, was put to work in a General Motors factory in 1961), the number of tasks they can do is rapidly increasing, and there are whole classes of human occupations that could disappear in the next decade or two. For instance, being a warehouse "picker" for a company like Amazon may be a dreadful job, but it's something that thousands of Americans do; before long that work will almost certainly be done by robots, with fewer and fewer humans involved. Robots are even writing news stories (though I think opinion writing is safe, at least for a while).

Whenever a worker gets displaced by a robot, it's a human tragedy, and we haven't yet figured out how we're going to deal with the millions of people who are unable to find work when their jobs have been mechanized. But the combination of technology and market forces makes it inevitable: As soon as a robot can do the same work just as well as a human can, it's only a question of when the robot becomes cheaper. And it shows that while the human may have done a perfectly fine job assembling widgets, he wasn't good at it so much as he was good at it for a human -- and now there's something superior.

We all dream of retiring.  It's an achievement, not a tragedy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Fed Confronts an Economy Plagued by Mismeasurement (Jon Hilsenrath, 5/26/15, WSJ)

Goldman's note raises questions about measurement of productivity, growth and inflation.

"Structural changes in the US economy may have resulted in a statistical understatement of real (economic) growth," Mr. Hatzius argues.

The data, he says, might not be picking up changes in the economy resulting from the rapid spread of advanced software and digital content. Inflation statistics, moreover, might not grasp the leaps in quality of, say, the camera on your iPhone. My camera, for instance, can capture my dog catching a ball in slow motion, which is very cool and something I've never been able to do before. Mr. Hatzius argues growth and productivity statistics have been understated, and inflation overstated, because the data don't pick up the consequences of this technological change.

"Confident pronouncements that the standard of living is growing much more slowly than in the past should be taken with a grain of salt," he says. Mr. Hatzius, often a dove when it comes to monetary policy, adds further that overstated inflation means the Fed can keep interest rates low.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


The Case For Reparations: 40 Acres and a Mule Would Cost America at Least $6.4 Trillion Today (David A. Love, 5/23/15, Atlanta Black Star)

If you were to guess how much the United States owes Black people in economic damages for slavery, how much would it be?
In the part of the "I Have A Dream" speech that no one seems to remember, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared: "It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"

While some people would conclude that no dollar amount can make up for the centuries that Black people were kidnapped, enslaved and forced to work without pay, the fact remains that our misfortune made America wealthy. Slavery built the system of U.S. capitalism. Moreover, some people have estimated what the nation actually owes Black people.

YES! magazine published a fascinating infographic that illuminates the subject of reparations. It begins with a calculation that King made if America would stand by its promise of 40 acres and a mule, which is $20 a week since the late 1700s for 4 million slaves. The total was $800 billion, which in today's dollars is $6.4 trillion.

Just to put it in perspective, this year's federal budget is projected at $3.9 trillion. U.S. gross domestic product in 2014 was $17.4 trillion. So, this sounds like a significant deal of money, except for the fact that this is a conservative estimate. Other calculations are far higher.

For example, as the infographic shows, the National Legal and Policy Center placed reparations at $15 trillion, which would involve paying $500,000 to every slave descendant.

The best thing about paying what we owe is that it would force the same sort of accounts for all Americans.

May 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 PM


Southern Iraq is a safe place (Luay Al-Khatteeb, 5/27/15, Brookings)

Quite often when the mainstream media report on Iraq's security, they drastically fail to differentiate between the geography impacted by the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIS or Daesh) and the other safe regions of the country. False media alarms extend to further exaggeration in describing the various armed groups operating in southern Iraq, making it often impossible for business to be conducted whilst misleading public opinion, thereby deterring investors not to engage in business and sometimes even pushing foreign governments to wrongly advise their citizens not to visit Iraq.

Painting all Iraq as a 'red-zone' is completely misguided and wrong. Two-thirds of the country enjoys a significant level of security equal to countries such as Egypt or Morocco while suicide incidents in Kurdistan of Iraq or south of the country are no more than those occurring in Saudi Arabia. Foreign companies are still operating normally in the south with tens of thousands of employees, and scores of international flights cruising in and out of Iraq everyday filled with businessmen. On the security front, oil-rich provinces such as Basra, Maysan and Dhi Qar are some 300 miles from the frontlines with Daesh, meanwhile all the pro-state Shia and Sunni militias have been regulated under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), reporting to the Commander-in-Chief, Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi to ensure security across the majority of Iraq.

During my recent visits to the northern region of Iraq (Kurdistan) and the southern provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Babil, Dhi Qar, Maysan and Basra, I witnessed zero incidents, while many foreign journalists and many businessmen went about their business without personal security details, with the exception of a small number of executives.

Opponenbts of the war can neither justify continuing Saddam's regime nor the millions of deaths sanctions were causing.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 PM


Political Giantism: The Threat to Democracy? (Joseph Pearce, 5/28/15, Imaginative Conservative)

Clearly the legacy of political giantism leaves much to be desired. What then is the alternative? Essentially it is that the principle of small is beautiful must apply to politics as much as to economics. Whereas believers in the politics of scale call for centralization, politics-as-if-people-matter demands decentralization. Whereas believers in big is best look towards the evolution of ever larger, supra-national political bodies to govern humanity, those who seek the human scale in human affairs call for devolution of power to smaller nations, or to regions or states within nations. In political terms the establishment or re-establishment of genuine small-scale local and regional self-government is nothing less than the re-emergence of genuine democracy.

Since democracy is a political dogma to which most governments in the world claim allegiance, it is necessary to differentiate between nominal democracy and the genuine article. Nominal democracy, the form practised in many of the world's largest countries and in supra-national bodies like the European Union, works more in theory than in practice. At best it is inefficient and inadequate; at worst it is little more than a sham. In order to understand what is meant by genuine democracy it is helpful to reiterate the words of Aristotle: "To the size of states there is a limit as there is to other things, plants, animals, implements; for none of these retain their natural power when they are too large or too small, but they either wholly lose their nature or are spoilt."

The largest "democracies," like the largest nations, are either wholly losing their truly democratic nature or are being spoilt by the imposition of the politics of scale and the political giantism it serves. True democracy needs to be brought closer to the people through the reinvigoration of local and regional government and the devolution of power away from alien and alienating centralized bureaucracies. In politics, as in economics, small is beautiful!

40 million seems to be the upper bound.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 PM


Japan joins US-Australian military exercise in July for first time (Agence France-Presse, 26 May 2015)

Japanese troops will take part in a major US-Australian military exercise for the first time in July, as Washington looks to strengthen links among its allies in the face of an increasingly assertive China.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 PM


Talent Loves English (David Brooks, 5/26/15, NY Times)

Eight hundred years ago next month, English noblemen forced King John to sign the Magna Carta. It's still having amazing effects on the world today. The Magna Carta helped usher in government with a separation of powers. It helped create conditions in which centralized authority could not totally control fiscal, political, religious or intellectual life. It helped usher in the modern Anglo-Saxon state model, with its relative emphasis on the open movement of people, ideas and things.

The Anglo-Saxon model has its plusses and minuses, but it is very attractive to people around the world. Today, as always, immigrants flock to nations with British political heritage. Forty-six million people in the United States are foreign born, almost 1 in 6. That's by far the highest number of immigrants in any country in the world.

Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also immigrant magnets. The British political class was a set abuzz last week by a government report showing a 50 percent increase in net immigration in 2014 compared with 2013. The government has a goal of limiting immigration to 100,000 a year, but, in 2014, net inbound migration was estimated to be 318,000. Britain has the most diverse immigrant community of any nation on earth.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM


A More Perfect Union : The Framers far exceeded the convention's mandate; they devised an entirely new system of government. (JACK SCHWARTZ, May 22, 2015, WSJ)

The Congress was not only poorly attended; it had no power to tax, regulate interstate commerce, conduct a coherent foreign policy, oversee westward expansion, pay down the war debt or do virtually anything that required unified action. This dysfunction made the new republic vulnerable to foreign predators. It also called into question the viability of the American experiment in democracy.

It is under these circumstances that some patriots became alarmed at the confederation's drift toward dissolution, if not civil war and anarchy. They were led and inspired by four souls who sought to save the Revolution from an ideology that saw any form of centralized power as a return to monarchy. The dissenters--George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison--faced no less a task than redefining the meaning of the War for Independence in what amounted to a Second American Revolution. How they did so is the burden of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Joseph Ellis's "The Quartet," an engaging reconsideration of the arduous path to the Constitution.

In maneuvering the nation from the chaos of the Articles in 1783 to the constitutional convention in 1787 that supplanted them, Mr. Ellis writes, the Quartet carried off "the most creative and consequential act of political leadership in American history." In so doing they faced formidable resistance. Their opponents felt that they themselves were the guardians of the Revolution's values, that the weakness of Congress was a virtue and that political power should be vested in the states. The tribunes of emerging Federalism contended, to the contrary, that the full potential of the American Revolution would be realized only through a single nation that brought the states under federal control.

It was Hamilton who first sounded the tocsin in 1783 as a delegate to the Confederation Congress, when he sought to amend the Articles to establish a stronger executive, taxation mandates, federal treaty authority and more flexibility in enacting legislation--in Mr. Ellis's words, "a blueprint for what would eventually . . . become the Constitution." 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Robots Start to Grasp Food Processing : Advances in robotics make it possible to automate tasks such as processing poultry and vegetables. (Tom Simonite, May 26, 2015, MIT Technology Review)

It is less striking than Deep Blue's victory over chess champ Garry Kasparov, but Richard van der Linde says that his robotic hand's mastery at picking up cabbage is something of a milestone for machines. With the aid of five cameras, plus sensors in its wrist to monitor the resistance it encounters, the three-fingered gripper can carefully pick up a cabbage, reorient it, and place it into a machine that removes the core. "In industry, only humans can do that at the moment," says van der Linde.

His company Lacquey, based in Delft, the Netherlands, is working with FTNON, a manufacturer of food-processing equipment, to get the technology ready to go to work inside the giant chillers where today humans process cabbage, lettuce, and other produce for packaging. ­Lacquey is also testing versions for other sorts of jobs, such as packaging tomatoes, peppers, and mangoes.

The company's progress is an example of how advances in robotic manipulation technology are opening up new jobs for robots in the food-processing business. 

May 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Saudis' drive to kill US shale has backfired (Mark J. Perry, May 26, 2015 | Investors' Business Daily)

The Saudis assumed the $80 break-even price for U.S. shale was a firm floor. They further assumed that the American innovation and ingenuity that had suddenly turned shale rock -- long deemed unproductive -- into the source of an energy revolution, was complete. They assumed wrong.

For the shale producers, the fall in prices was a shock, but then came the response. Spending on new production was reined in. Contracts were renegotiated with oil service companies, reducing the cost of equipment, and only the best drilling and fracking crews were retained.

Statoil, for example, reported that just in a few months it cut its drilling time for new wells in Texas' Eagle Ford formation from 21 days to 17. That kind of efficiency gain has helped "petropreneurs" reduce the cost of drilling wells from $4.5 million to $3.5 million.

Other companies are experimenting with new fracking fluids and different types of sand to create better shale-rock fractures. Some are effectively incorporating Big Data to better understand the sweet spots of geologic formations and optimal well-spacing to increase productivity.

The result is a rapid decline in the break-even price across shale plays. Already, analysts believe it is now $60 per barrel and before long will fall to $50.

Goldman Sachs now predicts that prices will likely hold at $50 for at least the next five years. Shale efficiency and innovation have created a new ceiling for the price of oil. This certainly was not the Saudis' aim.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Sherman's March on Washington (THOM BASSETT,  MAY 27, 2015, NY Times)

On April 14, General Joseph E. Johnston, head of the ragtag force opposing Sherman in North Carolina, requested a cessation of hostilities in order to "enter into the needful arrangements to terminate the existing war." Sherman immediately agreed, and proposed in his reply "the same terms and conditions as were made by Generals [Ulysses S.] Grant and [Robert E.] Lee" less than a week earlier in Appomattox. Sherman also informed Grant and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton of Johnston's offer, and he pledged in the upcoming negotiations "not to complicate any points of civil policy," meaning postwar political matters.

Despite his promise, Sherman did something very different. After initial discussions with Johnston on April 17, the following day Sherman was offered a set of terms written by the Confederate postmaster general, John H. Reagan. Sherman quickly rejected these terms and sat down to draft his own proposal. Strangely, what he gave Johnston was very similar in substance to what the Confederates had themselves asked for. Sherman seems to have copied Reagan's draft without quite realizing it.

As a result, Sherman offered a surrender agreement that went far beyond what Grant had given Lee. It also addressed both immediate military matters and postwar civil issues. The agreement allowed Confederate armies to take their weapons home, on the assumption that they would be deposited in state arsenals.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


L.A. labor leaders seek minimum wage exemption for firms with union workers (PETER JAMISON, DAVID ZAHNISER AND EMILY ALPERT REYES, 5/27/15, LA Times)

Labor leaders, who were among the strongest supporters of the citywide minimum wage increase approved last week by the Los Angeles City Council, are advocating last-minute changes to the law that could create an exemption for companies with unionized workforces. [...]

"With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both. The agreement allows each party to prioritize what is important to them," Hicks said in a statement. "This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing."

Which is the argument against any minimum wage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Debunking the Benghazi Myths : It's clear pundits don't understand intelligence work. (MICHAEL MORELL May 25, 2015, Politico)

[T]he only thing that newly released document proves is that the people who trot out these reports do not understand the world of intelligence and do not take the time to ask the right people the right questions before publishing the "news." The DIA report in question was an "Intelligence Information Report" or IIR. It is what we term "raw intelligence." It was not the considered view of DIA analysts. Often from a single source, these bits of information represent one thread that some intelligence collector has picked up. The all source analysts in the Intelligence Community are charged with looking at that snippet of information and every other bit of available information from communications intercepts, human intelligence, open source material and much more to come up with an overall judgment.

Those all source analysts--without any input or pressure from above--looked at all the available information and determined that there was not a significant amount of planning prior to the attacks. You don't have to take my word for it. You can look at the briefing slides produced by the National Counterterrorism Center (which is not part of CIA) and coordinated across the Intelligence Community. These slides were declassified over a year ago and were appended to the report on Benghazi produced by the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee. In describing the attacks at the State Department facility, the slides say "attackers moving in multiple directions," "attackers do not appear well coordinated" and "no organized effort to breach every building." Not the words one would expect to see associated with an attack planned well in advance.

Some of the media reporting on the DIA IIR say that they have found another gotcha as well. They say DIA's report was issued on September 16th--the same day that former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice appeared on five Sunday talk shows, so she must have known before she went on the air, right? Wrong. The DIA report was issued hours after her final TV appearance that day. Some accounts, including the first piece written on the DIA report by Judicial Watch, erroneously say that the report was issued on September 12th, four days before Rice was on national television. They simply misread the report.

When I recently asserted my belief in an interview on Fox News that the terrorist attacks in Benghazi were not the result of a carefully planned operation, I was confronted with the Justice Department indictment of Abu Khattala, the lone participant in the attacks in U.S. custody. The indictment says the object and purposes of Khattala and others was to kill U.S. citizens at the mission and the CIA annex and that they "intentionally participated in an act intending lethal force be used." It was alleged that either I was wrong or the indictment was wrong. Not necessarily. What my interviewer failed to share with his viewers were these words from the indictment: "Beginning on a date unknown to the Grand Jury but no later than on or about September 11, 2012...defendant Khatallah did knowingly and intentionally conspire...." (emphasis mine). What does this mean? It means that the grand jury found no evidence of planning before the day of the attack either. Exactly the point of the intelligence community analysts.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Labour funding will be hit hard by changes to political levy system (Patrick Wintour, 27 May 2015, The Guardian)

The chief source of funding for the Labour party - the trade union political funds - are likely to undergo big cuts as a result of a bill being introduced by the business secretary.

The trade union bill, put forward by the business secretary, Sajid Javid, will create a shift from a current system whereby union members have to contract out from paying the political levy to one in which they have to opt in. The change, from a system of inertia to one in which members actively choose to pay, is likely to lead to a big drop in income to the unions.

A similar reform, in the 1927 Trade Union Act, resulted in a fall in the number of political levy payers from 3.5million to 2million, and a drop in party income of 20%. Between May 2010 and December 2014, Labour received donations of £48.6m from trade unions, nearly half the £110m that the party took during that period, which illustrates how important the union movement remains to Labour's electoral machine.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Is America really suffering a 'great stagnation'? Why Goldman Sachs is skeptical (James Pethokoukis, May 26, 2015, AEI Ideas)

[G]oldman thinks that while the official numbers show an IT-led productivity slowdown, other metrics do not: "Profit margins have risen to record levels, inflation has mostly surprised on the downside, overall equity prices have surged, and technology stocks have performed even better than the broader market." It was just the opposite when the productivity slowdown began in the 1970s.

Maybe metrics devised for a wheat-and-steel economy of physical commodities are poorly suited for one experiencing rapid growth in software and digital content. Maybe there is a systemic understatement of productivity and GDP growth:

But is the weakness for real? We have our doubts. ... Specifically, we see reasons to believe that the well-known upward biases in the inflation statistics related to quality changes and the introduction of new products are particularly severe for software and digital content. Quantifying the effects is difficult, but it is not unreasonable to think that they could offset a substantial portion of the measured productivity slowdown. ... How much better are the inventory management systems that retail companies contract out or develop for their own account compared with those of twenty years ago? How much better is Grand Theft Auto V than Grand Theft Auto IV? And how much more value do we now derive from our internet connection compared with a decade ago? It is very difficult for a statistician to know, and when we do not know our default assumption tends to be that there is little change.

Mismeasurement of inflation has probably for years understated real GDP and income growth. But the IT revolution has likely made that understatement a worse and growing problem. (Goldman's conclusion is also very much sync with the innovation and productivity research of AEI's Stephen Oliner.)

Producing more using less labor is productivity, nevermind that labor no longer involves working hard.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Layers Of Reality : A Conversation With Sean Carroll (Sean Carroll, 5.28.15, Edge)

 I study cosmology and the Big Bang and what happened before the Big Bang, if anything. It's a system of things that hooks up in very complicated ways to our human scale lives. There's the natural world that scientists study, and we human beings are part of the natural world.

There's an old creationist myth that says there's a problem with the fact that we live in a universe governed by the second law of thermodynamics: Disorder, or entropy, grows with time from early times to later times. If that were true, how in the world could it be the case that here on Earth something complicated and organized like human beings came to be? There's a simple response to this, which is that the second law of thermodynamics says that things grow disorderly in closed systems, and the earth is not a closed system. We get energy in a low entropy form from the sun. We radiate it out in a high entropy form to the universe. But okay, there's still a question: even if it's allowed for a structure to form here on Earth, why did it? Why does that happen? Is that something natural? Is that something that needs to be guided or does it just happen?

In some sense this is a physics problem. I've become increasingly interested in how the underlying laws of physics, which are very simple and mindless and just push particles around according to equations, take us from the very simple early universe near the Big Bang after 10100 years to the expanding, desolate, cold and empty space in our future, passing through the current stage of the history of the universe where things are rich and intricate and complex.                                 

We know there's a law of nature, the second law of thermodynamics, that says that disorderliness grows with time. Is there another law of nature that governs how complexity evolves? One that talks about multiple layers of the structures and how they interact with each other? Embarrassingly enough, we don't even know how to define this problem yet. We don't know the right quantitative description for complexity.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


FIFA indictments: Chuck Blazer secret recordings at heart of probe (KEVIN BAXTER , 5/27/15, LA Times)

The U.S. Justice Department's decision to charge nine high-ranking FIFA officials with bribery and corruption may never have happened if not for the cooperation of Chuck Blazer, the former general secretary of CONCACAF, the FIFA federation that oversees soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

Confronted by the Internal Revenue Service about tax issues stemming from the $20.6 million he received from CONCACAF between 1996 and 2011, Blazer agreed to help investigators build a case against other FIFA officials by secretly taping their conversations. And those conversations were at the heart of the three-year FBI investigation.

Once soccer became a major sport in America it was inevitable that we'd clean it up.

Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


Rand Paul is Running for the Wrong Party's Nomination (Noah Rothman, 05.27.2015, Commentary)

After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul's reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency's information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA's programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Report: Robots could replace half of American workers. What can be done? (Lisa Suhay, MAY 27, 2015, CS Monitor)

A report on the future of technology in the workplace predicts that as many as 47 percent of US jobs are at risk in coming years due to increasing computerization, and that one of the best hopes for keeping people employed may come from a dedicated effort to improve a lagging American education system.

May 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


'Less Is More': The Next Big Thing for Medicine (Joan Stephenson PhD, 5/26/15, MedPage) 

The less-is-more movement has percolated against this backdrop over the past decade, gaining traction with the 2012 launch of the Choosing Wisely campaign by the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) Foundation. The campaign enlisted clinician groups to help galvanize change by naming an evidence-based top 5 list of tests and procedures that physicians and patients should question because they offer little or no benefit and may cause harm.

To date, more than 70 specialty societies have joined the campaign, each offering a top 5 list (some later updated to a top 10 or 15 list). Consumer Reports and other consumer groups have also signed on to help educate patients about how more medicine can be harmful.

In addition, major medical journals are highlighting research findings that provide data illuminating low-value care, including the JAMA Internal Medicine Less is More series and the BMJ's Too Much Medicine campaign. Annual conferences, such as Preventing Overdiagnosis and the Lown Institute-sponsored RightCare Conference, are raising the medical community's consciousness about medical overuse.

Some specialty groups embraced the challenge, and despite potential effects on their members' financial bottom lines, presented top 5 lists that included services often performed within their own specialty that could be considered low value.

For example, the Society of General Internal Medicine advised against the routine annual physical, and the American College of Radiology listed five imaging tests to avoid under certain circumstances, such as admission or preoperative chest x-rays for ambulatory patients without specific findings from the physical exam and history.

But in an analysis reported last year, researchers at Dartmouth and Harvard pointed out that 83% of the tests and procedures selected by medical groups, especially "proceduralist societies," for their top 5 lists are either rarely done or are typically performed by clinicians in other fields.

"One of the interpretations of this was that specialty societies weren't choosing things that affected their own revenue streams, they were choosing things that affected others' revenue streams," said Carrie H. Colla, PhD, one of the Dartmouth researchers who co-authored the analysis.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM



Black Silicon: Black silicon solar cells are similar to crystalline silicon solar cells. Really similar. The difference is that black silicon solar cells are treated so that they appear to be black on the surface. Why is that a big deal? Think of wearing a black T-shirt on a hot summer day. The black color tends to absorb more sunlight, which translates to an uncomfortable summer afternoon for you, but more energy gathered for a solar cell. It's an attractive option for areas that don't get as much sunlight but still want to make good use of the light they do receive. Until now, turning silicon cells black tended to undercut their efficiency at turning sunlight into power, however. That's why the new paper, showing an efficiency of 22.1 percent is promising.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Shane by Jack Schaefer (PAUL JOSEPH PREZZIA, 5/21/15, Crisis ; The Civilized Reader)

As in any good Western, there is a love story; or rather there are love stories. They are hidden deep inside the characters, emerging to be transfigured like the man Shane himself. There is Bob's love for Shane, a love that prepares and enkindles the boy's deeper love for his father. It is a love that helps him in finding a way for "living out his boyhood" and for growing "straight inside as man should." There is a potentially adulterous love that seems to threaten the sanctity of the family, but ultimately ends with the kind of self-sacrifice that only a good and restrained loved can achieve.

While guns abound, they do not blaze until the final chapters. Shane's gun is sensed throughout the book, but only appears in the final pages, to disappear along with the man when the need and hour of trial have passed.

In these days after Ascension, it is appropriate to meditate on the Lord who seemed to have left us, while yet becoming present throughout His Church. Shane is like Christ in this way. As Marian Starret points out at the end of the book, "He's not gone. He's here, in this place, in this place he gave us. He's all around us and in us, and he always will be."

The film, of course, ends with the obligatory crucifix scene.
Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Does satire always need to be progressive? : 'Silicon Valley' is being slammed for not tackling the tech industry's real-world problems. But must it? (Jaime Weinman, May 24, 2015, Macleans)

Is Mike Judge picking the wrong targets again? The creator of Office Space returned to the white-collar world last year with an HBO comedy about socially awkward men running a software start-up. Silicon Valley's satirical story, about the adventures of a nerd who creates the world's greatest computer algorithm by accident, has done well enough to get picked up for a third season. But while Judge used to be a critics' darling, some writers have taken the show to task for not being hard enough on the real-world Silicon Valley's sexism and gold rush capitalism. Eliana Dockterman of Time magazine declared the show is failing in its satirical duty of "effecting real-world change through its representations of women," and the New Republic's Esther Breger wondered why Judge can't "add a little progressivism."

To add progressivism to humor is to cancel out the humor.

May 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


The Constitution State: High Stakes Testing Is Greeted by a Clamor (CHRIS POWELL, May 25, 2015, NY Sun)

Connecticut's biggest teachers union, the Connecticut Education Association, is increasing its clamor against what it calls "high-stakes" testing of students and against the "Smarter Balanced" test in use by the state Education Department.

This week the union complained that the test has technical problems. The union's bigger objection is that there is too much standardized testing and that test preparation distracts from learning. But the union's definition of "high-stakes" testing shows that improving learning is not its objective at all.

As the union's executive director, Mark Waxenberg, explains it, a test is "high stakes" if its results can be compared and construed to mean that a student, teacher, or school is not proficient or, worse, is a failure, or if its results can jeopardize a school's funding.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Saudi Arabia is hedging its bets with solar power (DAMIAN CARRINGTON, 5/23/25, THE GUARDIAN)

So what to make of the statement by Saudi Arabia's oil minister that the world's biggest oil exporter could stop using fossil fuels as soon as 2040 and become a "global power" in solar and wind energy?

Ali Al-Naimi's statement is striking as Saudi Arabia's wealth and influence is entirely founded on its huge oil wealth and the nation has been one of the strongest voices against climate change action at UN summits.

"In Saudi Arabia, we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we're not going to need fossil fuels," said Naimi at a business and climate conference in Paris on Thursday. "I don't know when - 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy," he said in comments reported by the Guardian, Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


US and Hizballah coordinate spy drone flights over Qalamoun, share US combat intelligence (DEBKAfile,  May 23, 2015)

Another strange pair of bedfellows has turned up in one of the most critical Middle East battlefields: the United States is helping Hizballah, Iran's Lebanese surrogate, in the battle for control of the strategic Qalamoun Mountains. DEBKAfile's intelligence sources disclose that a US special operations unit, stationed at the Hamat air base on the coast of northern Lebanon, is directing unarmed Aerosonde MK 4.7 reconnaissance drone intelligence-gathering flights over the Qalamoun Mt arena, 100 km to the west.

Washington set up the base originally in line with an assurance to Beirut of military assistance for the next three years to counter any threatened invasion by extremist elements.

However, it turns out that the data the US drones pass to Lebanese army general staff in Beirut goes straight to Hizballah hea

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Public-Sector Jobs Vanish, Hitting Blacks Hard (PATRICIA COHEN, MAY 24, 2015, NY Times)

Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs. They are about 30 percent more likely to have a public sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.

"Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities," said Jennifer Laird, a sociologist at the University of Washington who has been researching the subject.

During the Great Recession, though, as tax revenues plunged, federal, state and local governments began shedding jobs. Even now, with the economy regaining strength, public sector employment has still not bounced back. An incomplete recovery is part of the reason, but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.

The Labor Department counts half a million fewer public sector jobs than before the start of the recession in 2007. That figure, however, understates just how much the government's work force has shrunk, said Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research organization in Washington. That is because it fails to account for the normal growth in the country's population: Factor that in, she said, and there are 1.8 million fewer jobs in the public sector for people to fill.

The decline reverses a historical pattern, researchers say, with public sector employees typically holding onto their jobs even during most economic downturns.

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 AM


Syria Regime 'Ready to Accept De-Facto Partition' (Sammy Ketz, 5/24/2015, AFP) 

People close to the regime talk about a government retreat to "useful Syria".

"The division of Syria is inevitable. The regime wants to control the coast, the two central cities of Hama and Homs and the capital Damascus," one Syrian political figure close to the regime said.

"The red lines for the authorities are the Damascus-Beirut highway and the Damascus-Homs highway, as well as the coast, with cities like Latakia and Tartus," he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The coastal Latakia and Tartus provinces are strongholds of the regime, and home to much of the country's Alawite community, the offshoot of Shia Islam to which Assad adheres.

The Alawitian rump state will get to elect its leaders too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Edelweiss (Mark Steyn, November 26, 2014, SteynOnline)

In mid-October the production moved on to Boston, and Hammerstein was well enough to take the train up from New York. As usually happened on an R&H show, everything was going smoothly with just a few little peripheral matters to be attended to here and there. But, after watching the show in Boston and with only a week and a half till they moved on to Broadway, Rodgers and Hammerstein felt there was something lacking in the score. The plot of The Sound Of Music is often mocked - captain meets nun in Nazi Austria - but it works if you get the underlying emotions right. Baron von Trapp, whose family has lived on this land for generations, is facing a terrible decision: The Anschluss is transforming his country, and he has no choice but to leave it. But for that to have any impact on an audience you have to understand that this man loves his native land, and that fleeing it will exact a toll. How to express that? A song obviously. But what kind of song? Theodore Bikel, the actor and folk singer, had been cast in the role, and could certainly relate to the von Trapp experience, because he'd lived it: He had been born in Vienna but his family had escaped to British Palestine after the Anschluss. More to the point, he could also strum the guitar. So Dick and Oscar figured they should write a number Baron von Trapp could play live on stage - an "old" Austrian folk song, to be performed in Act Two as part of the Trapp family's singing act at the Kaltzberg Festival.

So fifty years ago, in a room at the Ritz-Carlton furnished with a piano, the last ever Rodgers & Hammerstein song was written. As always in this partnership, the words came first:

Every morning you greet me
Small and white
Clean and bright
You look happy to meet me...

It's such a simple idea. But the von Trapps have already decided to flee Austria, and, even if the "audience" at the Kaltzberg Festival and the various bigshot Nazis don't know that, we - the audience at the play - most certainly do. Today, most writers would hit the thing head on and write some Oh-God-I-love-this-land-I'm-gonna-miss-it-why-did-things-have-to-turn-out-like-this? overwrought ululated power ballad. But Hammerstein was a sure enough dramatist to know that, when the captain starts singing about a simple white flower, everyone in the audience would understand how much he loves his country. Edelweiss grows up high, in rocky terrain north of 6,000 feet or so, and it's long been a symbolic bloom in the Alps. In 1907, Franz Josef made it the official emblem of the Habsburg Empire's mountain troops, and it remains their insignia in the Austrian army to this day. On the other hand, the Wehrmacht and the SS also made it the official emblem for their mountain troops. Nonetheless, it took a couple of New Yorkers in a Boston hotel room to wring the full symbolic juice out of the flower. Earlier in the show, Gretl presents a small bouquet of edelweiss to Elsa Schraeder upon her visit to the von Trapp home, and so Hammerstein decided to extend its metaphorical power: Edelweiss is the Austria that will endure and, when the winter of tyranny melts, will flower anew. As always, Hammerstein's deft, memorable imagery is hopeful: "Blossom of snow/May you bloom and grow..." It's a small song for a big moment, and Rodgers set it to a wistful waltz tune, simple and folk-like but very affecting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


How Homo Economicus Went Extinct : a review of MISBEHAVING By Richard H. Thaler  (CAROL TAVRIS, May 15, 2015, WSJ)

The problem, Mr. Thaler argues, is that although economists "hold a virtual monopoly" on giving policy advice, the very premises on which that advice rests are deeply flawed. That is why "economic models make a lot of bad predictions": some small and trivial, some monumental and devastating. "It is time to stop making excuses," he admonishes his colleagues. Mr. Thaler calls for an "enriched approach to doing economic research, one that acknowledges the existence and relevance of Humans." By injecting economics with "good psychology and other social sciences" and by including real people in economic theory, economists will improve predictions of human behavior, make better financial and marketing decisions, and create a field that is "more interesting and more fun than regular economics." In that way, Mr. Thaler believes, economists will finally produce an "un-dismal science."

That enriched (and fun) approach is on display in "Misbehaving." Mr. Thaler's goal in this conversational, informative book is to "tell the tale of how it all happened, and to explain some of the things we learned along the way." He tells us that he began having "deviant thoughts" about economic theory as a graduate student in the 1970s--an unsettling experience for a not-yet-professor, comparable to having deviant thoughts about Freudian theory when it dominated clinical psychology.

The book's organization is both chronological, describing Mr. Thaler's discoveries over time and productive collaborations with scholars from other fields, and topical, devoting long sections to findings from four areas of particular interest to him. These are "mental accounting" (with chapters on bargains and sales, sunk costs, budgets and gambling), self-control (the difference between people who plan and people who impulsively act), finance (including the irrationality of people's behavior in the stock market), and fairness games (why people often prefer fairness to self-interest). In a two-person game in which one person must allocate, say, $50, most recipients would prefer to walk away with nothing than accept an offer they consider "unfair" (such as $5).

Dense with fascinating examples, each of Mr. Thaler's topical areas tells, in a way, the same story: Traditional economics predicted X; evidence failed to confirm X and indeed often contradicted X; establishment explained away the evidence as an anomaly or miscalculation. For example, by the 1980s, investment guru Benjamin Graham's classic, decades-old work on "value investing"--"in which the goal is to find securities that are priced below their intrinsic, long-run value"--had become passé. Mr. Thaler explains that Graham's evidence of the benefits of buying cheap stocks rather than expensive, fashionable "darlings" had become inconsistent with the Efficient Market Hypothesis, which said that value investing simply could not work--not that anyone had bothered to refute Graham's claim empirically.

Therefore, when the accounting professor Sanjoy Basu published a "thoroughly competent study of value investing that fully supported Graham's strategy," in the late 1970s, Mr. Thaler writes, he "had to offer abject apologies for the results" in order to get it accepted for publication; indeed, Mr. Basu "stopped just short of saying 'I am sorry.' " When another economist found that the assumption of market efficiency was not supported by his data, he concluded that there must have been a "pricing model mis-specification." When Mr. Thaler and Werner De Bondt, his psychology-and-economics graduate student, did their own research, using psychological principles to predict market anomalies that occur because of what they called the market's "generalized overreaction," the researched showed why the Efficient Market Hypothesis was wrong. Their paper, ultimately published in 1985, got in through the back door thanks to their having an ally on a major journal--without an apologetic conclusion. "Werner was too principled" to write one, says Mr. Thaler, "and I was too stubborn."

Time after time Mr. Thaler cheerfully reports how many of his most famous papers in behavioral economics, often written with scholars across enemy lines (that is, noneconomists), were "pure heresy" that "got people's blood boiling." One article directly attacked the "core principle underlying the Chicago School's libertarian beliefs," namely consumer sovereignty: "the notion that people make good choices, and certainly better choices than anyone else could make for them." By empirically demonstrating that consumers often do precisely the opposite, because rationality and self-control are bounded by human perceptual distortions, their paper undercut this principle. This was "treacherous, inflammatory territory," he writes. In 1998, Christine Jolls, then an assistant law professor at Harvard, Cass Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, and Mr. Thaler published their groundbreaking paper, "A Behavioral Approach to Law and Economics," which infuriated members of both professions in one blow.

Mr. Sunstein and Mr. Thaler then collaborated on another scandalous claim, that human beings are susceptible to cues in the environment that affect their behavior--a fact that governments and businesses can use to promote healthy behavior and wiser choices. Needless to say, many economists and others were outraged by the implication that the authors were promoting "paternalism" and intervention by government bureaucrats. Not at all, says Mr. Thaler. They were simply noting that "the knee-jerk claim that it is impossible to help anyone make a better decision is clearly undercut by the research." No matter how often they added that bureaucrats are Humans, with their own biases, their critics wouldn't listen, even when Mr. Sunstein kept repeating that they were not pro-paternalism but rather "anti-anti-paternalism." Mr. Thaler preferred the term "libertarian paternalism," but that didn't catch on either. Eventually they found the right word to capture the gist of their argument, using it for the title of their book "Nudge."

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


My  Saga, Part 1 : Karl Ove Knausgaard Travels Through North America (KARL OVE KNAUSGAARD, FEB. 25, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

I lost my driver's license over a year ago. I lose stuff all the time. Credit cards, passports, car keys, cash, books, bags, laptops. It doesn't worry me, they usually turn up eventually. The last time I was in New York, I left my backpack in a taxi. I had taken three of my kids with me, so I was a little distracted when we got out. All of our passports were in the backpack, as well as my laptop, where everything I have written in the last 20 years is stored. I never talk to taxi drivers, but this one had been so friendly that I ended up questioning him a little. At a red light he even took out a photograph of his children, which he showed me. When we got back to the hotel that afternoon, I asked the receptionist what we could do. He just shook his head and said I could forget about seeing my backpack again. This is New York, he said. But the driver was from Nepal, I objected. And he had two kids. I'm sorry, the receptionist said, I don't think that will help much. But of course you can report it missing. At that point the doorman came over, he had overheard our conversation and said he knew some Nepalis, should he call them for me? So he did, and I met them outside the hotel a while later. Based on my description, they identified the driver, and the next morning the backpack was waiting for me at the reception desk.

These things happen often; in my experience they always turn out fine. There is a saying in Norway that he who loses money shall receive money, and I think that's true, because when you lose things, it means you're not on your guard, you're not trying to control everything, you're not being so anal all the time -- and if you aren't, but allow yourself to be open to the world instead, then anything at all might come to you.

I know that's true, but at the same time I also know that the reason I say it is to turn all my faults and weaknesses into strengths. It's good that I'm afraid to speak on the phone with anyone except my closest friends. It's good that I always put off paying bills. It's good that I never cash the checks I receive. That means I'm a writer, I think I'm not so focused on worldly matters, which in turn means that some day I just might write a masterpiece.

So when my driver's license stayed gone, the loss went into the same mental category; it became part of the stuff a writer is made of. I could drive without it anyway. Where I live now in Sweden, there are seldom any police checkpoints.

When The New York Times Magazine contacted me in December to ask whether I would travel across the United States and write about my trip for them, at first I didn't think of my missing license. The editor proposed that I travel to Newfoundland and visit the place where the Vikings had settled, then rent a car and drive south, into the U.S. and westward to Minnesota, where a large majority of Norwegian-American immigrants had settled, and then write about it. "A tongue-in-cheek Tocqueville," as he put it. He also suggested that I should see the disputed Kensington Runestone while I was in Minnesota. It was on display in a little town called Alexandria, near where a farmer had claimed to discover it in 1898, and it could be proof -- if authentic -- that the Vikings had not only settled Newfoundland but made it all the way to the center of the continent. It probably was a hoax, he said, but seeing it would be a nice way to round out the story.

I accepted the offer at once. I had just read and written about the Icelandic sagas, and the chance to see the actual place where two of them were partly set, in the area they called Vinland, was impossible to turn down. [...]

When I woke up in my hotel room early the next morning, there was a blizzard outside. Snowflakes chased through the air, swirled, blew furiously along the ground. The darkness was full of blinking headlights from snowplows, the roar of engines, warning sirens, loud thuds when the heavy plows or tractor scoops struck the ground. The temperature had risen during the night, from 1 to 25 degrees.

I dialed the number of the driver's-license office at the Swedish Transport Agency, keyed in my personal identity number and sat down at the desk, scrolling through some Norwegian newspapers as I waited my turn.

A prerecorded voice came on and informed me about opening hours, then the line went dead.

What the hell?

Had they closed?

But it couldn't be later than 1 p.m. in Sweden.

I looked at the Transport Agency website. To my dismay, I discovered that it was a holiday in Sweden tomorrow, Trettondagsafton, the Feast of the Epiphany, and a half-day today.

That meant I couldn't get the driver's-license confirmation letter until three days from now at the earliest, more likely four.

Oh, no.

I wasn't even in the U.S. yet, I was just in Canada!

I lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling. I should email The Times and explain the situation. Maybe they had a solution. But I couldn't. I just couldn't bring myself to tell them that I'd undertaken this great road-trip assignment across the U.S. without my license. They'd think I was a complete idiot.

In any case, there was nothing I could do today.

When it got light outside, I could see from the terrace where I stood smoking that the flag outside the hospital hung at half-mast again. I wondered whether it was in memory of the same deceased or whether a new person had died.

The previous evening, I ate dinner at Jungle Jim's restaurant. Everyone had looked up at me when I entered, a sort of ripple traveling through the room, heads lifting, necks turning, only to subside as I sat down at one of the tables. The walls were clad in bamboo, there were a few plastic palms strewn about and some of the dishes had jungle-related names. The contrast to the dark and empty town outside, the freezing cold air, which made it painful to breathe, the snow and the vast sky full of stars, couldn't have been bigger. Several TVs were on with the sound muted, showing a hockey game between Sweden and Russia, a semifinal for the World Junior Championship. Everyone in the place, except the waiter, was fat, some of them so fat that I kept having to look at them. I had never seen people that fat before. The strange thing was that none of them looked as if they were trying to hide their enormous girth; quite the opposite, several people were wearing tight T-shirts with their big bellies sticking out proudly.

I couldn't quite figure out a lot of the dishes, all those chicken wings and barbecue. I didn't know what went with what, and was none the wiser after checking out what other people were eating, because they seemed to be having myriad dishes, served in baskets; some tables were entirely covered with them, some even stacked on top of one another. So I picked a spaghetti dish -- that I could relate to. It consisted mainly of cheese, and tasted like something I could have cooked myself, back when I was still a student and would mix myself something out of whatever was in the fridge.

This evening, I ate at a place called Pizza Delight. It was located in the Viking Mall, and I was the only guest. The waitress, a girl of maybe 18, seemed permanently amazed at everything I said and did. I ordered a pizza; she asked me several times whether that was all I was having. Yes, I said. When it was brought to my table and I started to eat, she stood behind the counter, glancing at me surreptitiously. I knew I was doing something wrong, but I had no idea what.

I had brought another book with me, the Dutch reporter Geert Mak's description of a trip he made across the U.S. in 2010, in the footsteps of John Steinbeck. I brought it to see how he did it, I thought I might use it as a kind of template, not for the content, but for the form. Now it filled me with intense shame. He had just gotten off the plane, picked up his rental car, got in and started driving. No fever, no insecurity, no anxiety, no missing driver's license, no unproductive days hiding out in a hotel unknown to his employers while he waited for the holiday season back home to end. He had paragraphs presenting statistics about America and Americans, he quoted from a wide array of books, including Tocqueville's, and, not least, he had something to say about America, he was able to put what he saw into an economic, political and cultural context.

Whereas I didn't know anything. I knew nothing about the U.S., much less Canada. And my only observation thus far was that people here were fatter than back home. What was that if not the cliché about America?

As I returned the book to my backpack and went to look for the waitress, who had been out of sight for a while, I was furious and in despair. And now, on top of everything, there was the business of tipping. I hated leaving tips, not because I was stingy, to the contrary, but because I never knew how much to give or how to do it if I paid by credit card and the card terminal didn't have a tipping function. Worst of all, however, were the times when someone carried my luggage to my room. I could never bring myself to give them money, the situation was too embarrassing, I felt that stuffing some cash into their hands would just humiliate them.

This time I had a $10 bill in my pocket, which I put on the counter after I paid, sort of casually and by-the-way, full of shame, because I was treating her as a servant.

One of the best things about Mr. Knausgaard's remarkable series of memoirs is that he demonstrates how thoroughly this deeply Protestant guilt permeates the Scandinavian soul.  People tend to mistake the lack of churching with a lack or religion.

May 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Amid the ruins of Syria, is Bashar al-Assad now finally facing the end? : As Isis surges ahead and the Syrian regime teeters on the brink of collapse, our Middle East correspondent, winner of the 2015 Orwell prize for journalism, reports on the deadly struggle for dominance in the region (Martin Chulov, 23 May 2015, The Observer)

One evening at the end of March, a Syrian rebel leader returned from a meeting across the border in Turkey and called an urgent gathering of his commanders. The five men turned up at their boss's house in Idlib province expecting to receive the same pleas for patience that they had always heard and more grim news about cash and weapons being hard to find. This time, though, they were in for a shock.

"He arrived looking eager," said one of the commanders. "That caught our attention straight away. But when he started to speak, we were all stunned."

The leader, who asked that his unit not be identified, said he told his men that the grinding war of attrition they had fought against the Syrian government since early 2012 was about to turn in their favour.

"And the reason for that was that I could now get nearly all the weapons I wanted," he told the Observer. "For the first time they were not holding anything from us - except anti-aircraft missiles. The Turks and their friends wanted this over with."

The leader says he explained that they and every other opposition group in the north, with the exception of Islamic State (Isis), were about to be beneficiaries of a detente between regional powers who had agreed to put their own rivalries aside and focus on a common enemy - the Syrian regime.

The agreement had been secured by Saudi Arabia, which had resolved to do all it could to end the Bashar al-Assad regime and, more important, to quash the ambitions of Assad's main backer, Iran, to control the course of the war. It signified a new phase in an age-old tussle between regional rivals for power and influence that was to have profound ramifications for the way the war in Syria, and proxy standoffs elsewhere in the Middle East, were to be fought.

In early March, senior regional figures had been summoned to Riyadh by the newly crowned King Salman to hear his plans for the region. The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was one of the first to arrive. Qatari officials and Gulf Co-operation Council leaders soon followed.

His message was threefold: first, there was to be no more division along regional lines, which had seen the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned governments of Turkey and Qatar pour support into allied Syrian groups, while Saudi focused on more mainstream outfits. Second, Riyadh would agree to send gamechanging weaponry to northern Syria in return for guarantees of coordination and discipline. And, finally, the US would not stand in the way. "Quite frankly," a Saudi official told the Observer, "it would not have bothered us if they had tried to."

Within weeks, the new push had paid clear dividends. Armed with dozens of guided TOW anti-tank missiles, which could take out regime armour from several miles away, opposition groups - among them al-Qaida's affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is proscribed by the US as a terror group and has long been viewed warily by Riyadh - started advancing into towns and cities that they had not dared to attack until then.

The results were shocking. The regional capital of Idlib fell within days. Several weeks later, the nearby town of Jisr al-Shughour also fell to an amalgam of jihadists and moderates who had kept their end of the bargain.

Now, the agricultural plains that stretch towards Syria's third and fourth cities, Homs and Hama, appear more vulnerable than at any time since mid-2012. So does the Mediterranean coast, and the mountains to the north, which are the heartland of the Alawite sect, dominant in Syria's political and security establishment. And to the east, Aleppo, which had been under serious threat of being encircled by Assad's forces six months ago, now looks much more likely to fall to the rebels.

In Ankara and Riyadh and even Baghdad and Beirut - both nominally Assad allies - there is now a strong sense that the war is going poorly for the regime.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


The Best of Thelonious Monk (RICHARD BRODY, 5/23/15, The New Yorker)

The boxed set was made under the aegis of Orrin Keepnews (who died in March, at the age of ninety-one), the producer and the co-founder of the Riverside label, who, as a critic in the late forties, was among the first to recognize Monk's genius. In 1955, he succeeded in poaching him from another record company, where his albums were unappreciated and his place on the roster was subordinate. Recordings were especially important to Monk at the time because, as a result of trumped-up drug charges, he had lost his cabaret card (in effect, a New York City performance license) and couldn't play in any venue that served alcohol--i.e., jazz clubs.

In the set's copious booklet, Keepnews discusses his plan for establishing the modernist Monk--namely, by making explicit his ties to jazz tradition. He recorded the Monk trio playing compositions by Duke Ellington, in 1955, and followed that album early the next year with one of the trio performing standards from what wasn't yet called the Great American Songbook. Those albums offer delightful shocks, such as the "Name That Tune" trouble that Monk so gleefully provokes with his radical rearrangements of familiar melodies. His revision of "Mood Indigo" seemingly puts more notes into the first phrase than Ellington's whole composition contains. He reharmonizes Fats Waller's "Honeysuckle Rose" nearly to the breaking point and plays exuberantly with "Tea for Two," toying with its simple melody to tease out a comically obsessive syncopation.

In October, 1956, Keepnews had Monk throw down a wild gauntlet of compositional and organizational audacity, "Brilliant Corners," featuring the saxophonists Sonny Rollins and Ernie Henry and the drummer Max Roach. In his notes, Keepnews details the trouble that the complex title tune caused the musicians, and the editing tricks that gave rise to the released performance. This recording has a grand, grave sense of moment: it is a coming out of the composer from behind the mask of eccentricity and idiosyncrasy and displaying, in several difficult and expansive works, his thoroughgoing and large-scale musical imagination, even within the relative intimacy of a quintet. [...]

Monk made his drummers--and, for that matter, almost all of his musicians--rise to the occasion. For me, the most exhilarating of these occasions is the series of recordings issued on the album titled "Monk's Music," from June, 1957, featuring Coltrane, Hawkins, and, in particular, Blakey, who displays a scintillating synergy with the pianist. Blakey drives the band with an astonishingly contained heat that is tempered with lyricism--his accompanying accents are witty and melodic, and his solos are the most singable, witty ones that I've ever heard. The entire band is electrified. Coltrane wasn't yet the meteoric inventor that he'd become after his six-month stint with Monk at the Five Spot, but his sound is searching, his tense rhythms and broken phrases pregnant with far-reaching ideas. Hawkins, who more or less single-handedly turned the tenor sax into a jazz soloist's heavy weaponry in the nineteen-twenties, is roaring, robust, and good-humored. The bassist Wilbur Ware, with his uniquely percussive tone, does some remarkable duets with Blakey, and the trumpeter Ray Copeland, who didn't record often, displays a tone that veers between brazenly bright and intimately grainy for his concise, poised solos. I consider it Monk's single greatest studio recording.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


A Hillary Clinton Match-Up With Marco Rubio Is a Scary Thought for Democrats (JEREMY W. PETERS, MAY 22, 2015, NY Times)

[T]he worriers include some on Mrs. Clinton's team. And even former President Bill Clinton is said to worry that Mr. Rubio could become the Republican nominee, whittle away at Mrs. Clinton's support from Hispanics and jeopardize her chances of carrying Florida's vital 29 electoral votes.

Democrats express concerns not only about whether Mr. Rubio, 43, a son of Cuban immigrants, will win over Hispanic voters, a growing and increasingly important slice of the electorate. They also worry that he would offer a sharp generational contrast to Mrs. Clinton, a fixture in American politics for nearly a quarter-century who will turn 69 before the election.

As her supporters recall, Barack Obama beat Mrs. Clinton for the nomination in the 2008 elections after drawing similar contrasts himself.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


What Fuels the Rocket Man? : A theory of Elon Musk. (Will Oremus, 5/22/15, Slate)

At 43, Musk has helmed at least three companies that could fairly be said to have upended their respective industries. PayPal did it to payments, Tesla to cars, and SpaceX to space travel. SolarCity, whose board he chairs, is among a handful of startups threatening to do the same to electric utilities. 

Forget Jobs: Vance places Musk in the pantheon of history's great industrialists, alongside Edison, Ford, and Rockefeller. Some critics have chided the veteran Businessweek columnist for his apparent hyperbole. Those critics are, of course, just the sort of people whose conventional wisdom Musk has made a career out of defying. The electric car was dead; against all odds, Musk's Tesla revived it--and built one of the great vehicles of all time in the process. The space race was over; Musk's SpaceX reignited it. The residential solar power industry was moribund; thanks in part to SolarCity, it's booming.

For all his achievements, however, Musk is not an uncomplicated figure--nor, by any account, an easy man to work for. Vance's lively book yields all manner of fascinating insights about Musk's companies, his vision, and his personal life. But what I hoped to glean from it was this: What could drive one man to tackle so many seemingly impossible problems, let alone solve them all? And: Is there a fatal flaw that might yet prove his undoing?

A close reading of Musk's life suggests the answer to both questions may be related. He tends to assume--not without reason--that he is smarter and more capable than just about everyone around him. So whatever others are doing--whether it's finance, cars, rockets, solar panels, or his own company's public relations--he naturally assumes he could do it better. From a precocious but harsh childhood in South Africa, meanwhile, he absorbed the lesson that the status quo is largely a product of layer upon layer of laziness and incompetence. That the reigning consensus holds a given task to be impossible presents no obstacle to Musk: It might just mean no one as ingenious and determined as he has seriously tackled it yet.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Labour drops opposition to EU referendum (The Guardian, 23 May 2015)

Labour has dropped its opposition to an in/out referendum on EU membership, the party's acting leader has said.

Acting leader Harriet Harman said on Sunday her party would now support David Cameron's planned referendum bill, clearing a path for a UK-wide ballot by the end of 2017.

It marks an about-turn for the party, which had rejected the idea under Ed Miliband's leadership during the general election campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


The Best NBA Teams Of All-Time, According To Elo (NATE SILVER and REUBEN FISCHER-BAUM, 5/21/15, 538)

Elo is like the iPad of sports power ratings: Their design is quite simple, and they do a lot with a little, depending only on the final score of each game and where it was played. Teams always gain Elo points after winning games -- although more for upset wins and for winning by wider margins -- and lose ground after losing them. They account for both regular-season and playoff games. If you want (much, much) more detail, see here. For the rest of you, here's a quick guide on how to interpret different Elo ratings and about how many wins they'd translate into over the course of an 82-game regular season.

Elo ratings above 1800, which imply a team would be able to sustain at least a 67-15 record over the long term, are extremely rare. Only three teams have achieved them: the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (whose 1853 Elo rating from June 9, 1996, is the all-time record), the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls and the 1985-86 Boston Celtics. This year's Golden State Warriors have a chance at an 1800-plus rating, depending on how the rest of the playoffs go.

MJ was so good he made people think Scottie Pippen was a hall-of-famer.

May 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


The Trade Paradox : Though congressional Democrats are resisting Obama's trade agenda, blue metropolitan areas are now generating the most jobs from exports. (RONALD BROWNSTEIN, 5/21/15, National Journal)

The importance of exports to metro economies has opened a revealing divide between House and Senate Democrats, who are mostly resisting Obama's request for expedited Trade Promotion Authority, and Democratic mayors, who are mostly supporting it. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which is dominated by Democrats, has endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and the trade-promotion authority for Obama. Providing Obama with expedited legislative authority and completing the Asian deal, which would lower trade barriers among 12 countries including America, "is a critical step to ensuring that the United States and its metro economies remain leaders in the global market place," conference president Kevin Johnson of Sacramento and vice-president Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, each African-American Democrats, wrote to Senate leaders on May 12.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, also a Democrat, was even more emphatic in a conference call with reporters. "We live on trade," Parker said of her city. "It is important to our economy, it keeps people employed, and we absolutely believe it's our future."

New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors' tilt toward trade. Though overall U.S. exports first slowed, and then declined after early 2014, Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth from 2009-2014. "This has metro leaders and elected officials placing an increasing focus on exports as a way to grow and maintain their regional economies," said Bruce Katz, the Metropolitan Policy Program's codirector, in an email. In their letter to Senate leaders, Johnson and Rawlings-Blake indicated the conference's own forecast projects that exports will account for one-third of metro areas' economic growth in coming years.

The cities at the very top of the list for export-related jobs overwhelmingly tilt toward the Democrats. The Metropolitan Policy Program's analysis found that the cities that generate the most jobs from exports include such Democratic bastions as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Dallas, Boston, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Portland, San Jose, and Minneapolis.

In all of those cities, Brookings calculates that exports support at least 132,000 jobs. Export-related jobs account for around one-in-six of all jobs in the Seattle metro area, about one-in-seven in Portland, Oregon, and San Jose, California, about one-in-eight in Houston and San Francisco, and roughly one-in-nine in Los Angeles, Miami, and Detroit, the analysis found. Exports contribute just over one-in-ten jobs in New York, Boston, Charlotte, and Las Vegas, and just slightly less than one-in-ten in Chicago, Dallas, and San Diego. (The Metropolitan Policy Program calculates metro-area jobs linked to exports by adding the direct jobs supported by export revenue, the jobs created by businesses supplying parts or services to the exporting industries, and jobs in freight and transportation related to shipping goods abroad.)

Democrats now control the mayor's office in 18 of the 20 cities that anchor the metro areas that Brookings found derive the most jobs from exports. (The only exceptions are Republicans Kevin Faulconer in San Diego and Tomas Regalado in Miami.) More relevant to Obama's immediate challenge, a Next America analysis found, Democrats control 121 of the 203 House seats mostly situated in those 20 metropolitan areas. That means Democrats now control about three-fifths of all the House seats in the metro areas producing the most jobs from exports. Put another way, representatives from just these 20 high-export metro areas account for almost two-thirds of all 188 House Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Expert: North Korean nuclear claims 'neither reliable nor believable' : North Korea ramped up its nuclear threats, boasting of its ability to deliver miniaturized warheads on high-precision long range rockets - an unbelievable claim, as nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker tells DW. (Deutsche-Welle, 5/21/15)

DW: Earlier this month, North Korea announced it had launched a ballistic missile from a submarine. The National Defense Commission now claims to have perfected the technology required to make nuclear warheads fit a missile. How reliable is this information?

Siegfried Hecker: Not reliable and not believable, especially for a long-range missile. It is not even certain that the missile was launched from a submarine rather than a submersible platform. [...]

Claims like this one have been made before and so there is skepticism among experts. How difficult is it to provide estimates regarding the state of affairs of the North Korean nuclear program?

It is very difficult to estimate the size and nature of the North Korean nuclear program. Since there is virtually no direct intelligence about these programs, one has to interpret what they claim and what one can see from satellite imagery.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


How Jeb Bush Would Address Climate Change (David Brody, May 21, 2015, The Daily Signal)

Bush does believe the climate is changing but isn't sure how much of it is man-made.

"The climate is changing. I don't think anybody can argue that it's not. I don't think anybody truly knows what percentage of this is man-made and which percentage is just the natural evolution of what happens over time on this planet," he said. "I think we have a responsibility to adapt to what the possibilities are without destroying our economy, without hollowing out our industrial core. There are things that we can do that are commonsensical about this."

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


How Republicans should respond to the Iraq question  (Michael Gerson, 5/18/15, Washington Post)

[N]o one would have supported the Iraq war if it had been known that Saddam had suspended his WMD programs. It was the prospect of proliferation that elevated Iraq above a containable regional threat.

So the proper answer for Republican candidates (no matter who their siblings might be) when asked if they would have invaded Iraq while lacking the main strategic justification to invade Iraq: Of course not.

Except, of course, that proliferation was not the centeral part of W's justification for removing a murderous tyrant, only of Tony Blai's argument to Labour and Colin Powell's to the UN. 

America's strategic vision has been steadfast for centuries and continually gets us into "failed" wars--any government that is not representative of its people is illegitimate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Hezbollah may call 'general mobilization' against IS (TIMES OF ISRAEL AND AP May 23, 2015)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah warned Friday that the Islamic State posed an existential threat to Lebanon and said his organization may soon be required to call for a general mobilization to fight the group.

May 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:16 PM


At Last, Scrutiny for Public-Union Deals (MATTHEW J. BROUILLETTE, May 21, 2015, WSJ)

Year after year, elected officials behind closed doors negotiate labor contracts for 19 million state and local government workers. The result? Skyrocketing salaries, health-care costs and pension benefits are making services like public schools and policing unaffordable for taxpayers. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, compensation for government workers nationwide has grown 21% since 2000, compared with only 9% in the private economy.

Fortunately a growing list of states now shine light on secretive contract negotiations with public-employee unions--putting taxpayers back in charge. In April, Idaho's governor signed a bill requiring open meetings and records in all executive labor negotiations. Colorado did the same last fall for public-school district contract talks. Similar legislation is advancing in Washington, and the Pennsylvania Senate passed two transparency bills this month.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


The disenfranchisement of America's center (David Ignatius, May 21, 2015, Washington Post)

Hillary Clinton's move to the left on trade and other issues is a reminder of the growing power of activists in the wings in presidential nominating politics -- and a corresponding diminution of the power of the center.

"Social and demographic shifts mean that no left-leaning position Clinton takes now would be likely to hurt her" in next year's general election, The Post's Anne Gearan writes in a recent assessment of Clinton's strategy. Meanwhile, GOP candidates are doubling down in the other direction, as they move toward their party's right wing.

No one genuinely believes that Hillary would oppose trade, or business generally, as president, anymore than anyone believed Mitt would oppose amnesty.  The only modern politician silly enough to try to stay on the wing that the primaries had pushed him to was Al Gore and it cost him an unlosable election.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


No more dieting, and 7 other things we do differently after reporting on health care (Julia Belluz and Sarah Kliff, May 20, 2015, Vox)

3) Getting health care is dangerous, so use the health-care system as little as possible

Medical errors kill more people than car crashes or new disease outbreaks. They kill more people annually than breast cancer, AIDS, plane crashes, or drug overdoses. Depending on which estimate you use, medical errors are either the third or ninth leading cause of death in the United States. Those left dead as a result of their medical care could fill an average-size Major League Baseball stadium -- sometimes twice over.

We typically think of hospitals as places where we go to get better. And that's definitely true; we've seen lifespans extended and diseases cured as a direct result of advances in modern medicine.

At the same time, hospitals are dangerous places. This is something I've learned a lot about in the past six months, as I've been working on a yearlong series about fatal medical harm. I've come to understand that every trip we take to the doctor's office and every stay in the hospital comes with the risk of something going wrong.

In many cases, screening doesn't help people -- it turns healthy people into patients unnecessarily
The doctor could prescribe us the wrong drug, or the wrong dose of the right drug (this happens about 1.5 million times each year). Improper hygiene practices -- a nurse who forgets to wash her hands before accessing a central line catheter, for example -- could lead to a deadly blood infection. This happens about 30,000 times each year.

This is not to say health-care professionals are trying to harm patients. Quite the opposite -- every doctor I've ever met is trying to do his or her absolute best to help patients. That is, after all, why they went into medicine in the first place.

Medical harm reflects the fact that medicine is complicated and humans are fallible. Doctors will make mistakes if their hospitals don't set up the proper systems to safeguard against harm -- if they don't, for example, create a checklist that reminds a nurse to wash her hands before accessing a central line, or switch to a digital prescribing system that makes it way harder for a pharmacist to misread a doctor's scribbled drug prescription.

Modern medicine can do incredible things, and the work providers do day in and day out is humbling. But each trip to the hospital is a chance for something to go wrong, too -- something I keep in mind thinking about my own care decisions.

-Sarah Kliff

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


The unbearable lightness of Hillary Clinton's management style : Two stories about Hillary Clinton's tenure at State raise some troubling questions that will need to be answered at some point before November 2016. (Daniel W. Drezner, May 20, 2015, Washington Post)

[T]wo stories this week do give me some serious pause.

First, the New York Times' Nick Confessore and Michael Schmidt add some detail to an ongoing story about former speechwriter Sidney Blumenthal's access to Hillary Clinton during her time in the office.

[There are] a series of memos that Mr. Blumenthal -- who was not an employee of the State Department -- wrote to Mrs. Clinton about events unfolding in Libya before and after the death of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. According to emails obtained by The New York Times, Mrs. Clinton, who was secretary of state at the time, took Mr. Blumenthal's advice seriously, forwarding his memos to senior diplomatic officials in Libya and Washington and at times asking them to respond. Mrs. Clinton continued to pass around his memos even after other senior diplomats concluded that Mr. Blumenthal's assessments were often unreliable [emphasis added].

But an examination by The Times suggests that Mr. Blumenthal's involvement was more wide-ranging and more complicated than previously known, embodying the blurry lines between business, politics and philanthropy that have enriched and vexed the Clintons and their inner circle for years. [...]

Every policy principal comes into office with a coterie of close friends and private advisers that can bend the principal's ear from time to time. It happened fairly frequently when I was working in government. As a result, an op-ed or private correspondence by a close friend gets pulsed into the system by a cabinet secretary that otherwise would have disappeared into the ether. This phenomenon is hardly unique to Hillary Clinton.

But the depth of this phenomenon might be unique to Clinton. I can't recall a private person being able to insert 25 memos into the system -- especially someone like Blumenthal, who was in no way, shape or form a Libya expert. And it's costly for a bureaucracy to shoot these things down, particularly when they come from the secretary. [...]

Even more disturbing, however, is the Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler's report on how Clinton's political staff at the State Department interfered with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests:

When Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, her staff scrutinized politically sensitive documents requested under public-records law and sometimes blocked their release, according to people with direct knowledge of the activities. [...]

There is simply no way to spin this as anything other than Clinton's staff contravening the rules of the bureaucratic game to protect her political viability for a 2016 campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


If you don't want your food genetically modified, tell nature to stop it. (Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, May 22, 2015, Reuters)

Recent research drives home how misled alarmists are about genetically modified food. All human beings, two Cambridge University scientists have established, are genetically modified, including Chipotle's customers. Over the years, hundreds of foreign genes have jumped into human DNA through a natural phenomenon called "gene flow." As a result, all humans carry genes that originated in algae, bacteria and fungi.

If humans can safely accept alien genes without mishap, why not food, too?

Farmers and breeders have for centuries used cross-breeding to improve the genetic characteristics of crops and animals. Because this process involves gene transfers within the same species, environmental advocates label it "natural" -- even though cross-breeding is clearly man-made. Modern genetic splicing makes it possible to combine genes from completely different species to produce much-needed products, including pest-resistant and high-yielding crops.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


The new Saudis : Chaos in the Middle East casts Saudi Arabia as the Arab world's leader. But it must reform faster (The Economist, May 23rd 2015)

[S]audi Arabia is grappling with three new factors. All around, Arab states have collapsed or faded away. Iraq, once the Arab bulwark against Iran, is devastated, as is Syria. Egypt, the most populous Arab country, is busy consolidating its counter-revolution. That leaves Saudi Arabia as the only state with the standing, size and wealth to salvage something from the wreckage.

A second factor is geopolitical realignment: the American protector wants to retreat from the chaos, and the Iranian arch-enemy is surging forward. By negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, America has deepened Arab monarchs' fear of abandonment. They think they must fend for themselves.

The third factor is the new economics of shale: America has displaced Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer. As the price falls, Saudi Arabia is fighting to retain its share of the market and put higher-cost producers out of business.

The trouble is that the plan is not working. The war in Yemen, though popular at home, is going badly. After weeks of bombing, the Houthis are still advancing. A naval blockade has led to a humanitarian crisis that is causing outrage.

The war, and the rush to buy Western weapons, are burning a hole in the public finances. Saudi Arabia is running a double-digit budget deficit at a time when the oil price shows little prospect of further recovery. Although the princes are changing the pecking order in their palaces, they are not giving the people any more of a voice. On the contrary, Bedouin-style consultation has yielded to top-down direction. They have done nothing to revise their unholy pact with Wahhabi clerics, whose puritanism helps underpin jihadist ideology--indeed, public beheadings are more frequent.

The old Saudi model, in which the people ask no questions of their munificent, American-protected rulers, is reaching a dead end. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Traditional energy firms to go extinct with solar power becoming as cheap as coal (Jerin Mathew, May 22, 2015, IB Times)

Technological advancements in the production of solar panels would make solar power as cheap as coal, in a further blow to major energy companies, claims John Straw, author of the book, iDisrupted.

The price of the crystalline silicon modules, which are currently used in solar panels, has recently dropped to $0.50 (£0.32, €0.45) per watt in 2014 from $4 per watt in 2007 - a development once believed to be impossible.

The price drop is primarily attributed to a new low cost production method, which replaces the previous inefficient production process.

The cost of solar panel production is expected to be cut further to as low as $0.25. Massachusetts-based 1366 Technologies claims that its new method of silicon wafer production can further reduce costs. The company says it was able to cut the overall cost of a crystalline silicon module by a further 20%, rivalling the cost of coal.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


Author retracts study of changing minds on same-sex marriage after colleague admits data were faked (Ivan Oransky, Retraction Watch)

In what can only be described as a remarkable and swift series of events, one of the authors of a much-ballyhooed Science paper claiming that short conversations could change people's minds on same-sex marriage is retracting it following revelations that the data were faked by his co-author.

Donald Green, of Columbia, and Michael LaCour, a graduate student at UCLA, published the paper, "When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality," in December 2014. The study received widespread media attention, including from This American Life, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post,  The Los Angeles Times, Science Friday, Vox, and HuffingtonPost, as LaCour's site notes.

David Broockman and Joshua Kalla, graduate students at University of California, Berkeley, were two of the people impressed with the work, so they planned an extension of it, as they explain in a timeline posted online yesterday:

As we examined the study's data in planning our own studies, two features surprised us: voters' survey responses exhibit much higher test-retest reliabilities than we have observed in any other panel survey data, and the response and reinterview rates of the panel survey were significantly higher than we expected. We set aside our doubts about the study and awaited the launch of our pilot extension to see if we could manage the same parameters. LaCour and Green were both responsive to requests for advice about design details when queried.

Earlier this month, they began a pilot of their extension. They soon realized that

The response rate of the pilot study was notably lower than what LaCour and Green (2014) reported.

When Broockman and Kalla contacted the firm they thought had performed the original study upon which the Science paper was based,

The survey firm claimed they had no familiarity with the project and that they had never had an employee with the name of the staffer we were asking for. The firm also denied having the capabilities to perform many aspects of the recruitment procedures described in LaCour and Green (2014).

May 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 PM


Will US fast food workers fight for $15 backfire? (Deutsche-Welle, 5/21/15)

The problem is that in the high-tech, globalized world of the 21st century, businesses have greater leverage over workers due to the double threat of outsourcing and automation.

"We already have lost a lot of jobs to off-shoring and to new, sophisticated capital equipment that replaces unskilled workers," Lee Ohanian, an economist at the University of California Los Angeles, told DW via email.

"It probably won't be long before McDonald's has an app that allows you to touch an icon on your smart phone, order a happy meal for your kid, pay for it, and then go pick it up," he said. "Call this the 'Uber app' for fast food restaurants."

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


IDF claims it is easing travel around West Bank for Palestinians : New roads paved, previously closed junctions reopened, officers say, arguing that terror less likely to flourish if economy thrives (ONATHAN BECK May 22, 2015, Times of Israel)

The IDF's Judea and Samaria Division is quietly promoting actions to ease travel and movement for Palestinians around the West Bank, even as critics in Israel and abroad slam an aborted plan for separate bus lines for settlers and for Palestinians, Israeli military officials said.

The policy aims to better the lives of Palestinian residents and avoid penalizing them for the crimes of terror organizations active in the West Bank, the officials told the Ynet news site.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 PM


Yet Another Ghost Town in China Shows Extent of Regional Debt Crisis (Bloomberg, May 21, 2015)

China's Ordos city, where towers that sprang from Inner Mongolian farmland now sit empty, is showing the hangover has just begun from a decade-long building boom.

Ordos City Huayan Investment Group Co., a developer whose chairman headed a group of livestock researchers, is at high risk of defaulting on 1.2 billion yuan ($194 million) of bonds if investors exercise an option to offload them in December, said Haitong Securities Co. and China Investment Securities Co. Also in the city, Inner Mongolia Hengda Highway Development Co. asked noteholders to defer rights to sell back private securities in April due to cash shortages, according to China International Capital Corp.

The city whose fortunes reversed as a coal boom turned to bust is grappling with China's slumping property market that researcher SouFun Holdings Ltd. said led to more than 10 "ghost towns." Five years after the first building was finished in the eastern city of Tianjin's replica of Manhattan, the district remains almost deserted. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Low Rates Mean You Can Now Get a Mercedes With a Chevy Income (Ben Steverman, May 21, 2015, Bloomberg)

Low interest rates make it possible to afford pricier cars for the same monthly cost. In the past five years, the average vehicle's cost is up about $5,000, to almost $33,000. 

Despite this, the monthly payment on that car is up only about $30, an analysis by Bloomberg Intelligence shows. That's because the interest rate on the average five-year auto loan is now only about 3 percent per year, down more than four points since 2009.

Gas prices have also tumbled. That has little direct impact on car buyers, but it has a psychological one, says Bloomberg Intelligence senior auto analyst Kevin Tynan. When prices are high, consumers tend to be more conservative. Now that they're low, drivers can feel like using their savings to upgrade their wheels.

Finally, luxury automakers such as BMW and Mercedes are eager to get young buyers to try their cars. They've come out with lower-priced models, and they're offering big incentives for those who lease them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


In Saudi Exile, Yemen Leaders Risk Losing Touch With Country (Deema Almashabi, Mohammed Hatem, Nafeesa Syeed, May 19, 2015, Bloomberg)

Hadi still enjoys support in parts of Yemen, especially the south. That's being eroded, as Yemenis on the ground view him as endorsing prolonged airstrikes amid severe food and fuel shortages, said Farea al-Muslimi, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut.

The Riyadh meeting "is simply irrelevant to everything," al-Muslimi said. It will make Hadi more unpopular, because "you're going on TV and asking the world to keep bombing your country."

The United Nations World Food Programme said on Tuesday that the five-day cease-fire wasn't long enough to reach all those needing aid, and called for regular "predictable pauses." The UN estimates that 1,820 people have been killed and more than half a million displaced since March.

Leaders who are in touch with their people hold elections.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


'You'd Have to Be Insane Not to Conduct Some Soul-Searching' (ROBERT DRAPER, MAY 20, 2015, NY Times Magazine)

"We just keep losing," Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut told me. "You'd have to be insane not to conduct some soul-searching. And that soul-searching, when you keep losing, can easily -- unfortunately -- lead to recriminations and backbiting."

Impatience toward the party's House leadership -- headed by the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi -- began bubbling over after the midterms. As Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told me: "After the last election, they refused to even admit that we were just destroyed. They were patting themselves on the back for the losses we took: `Oh, it could've been so much worse.' There's a great deal of frustration." She added: "Most members don't want to come to caucus or whip meetings. I think some of them see the House as a quagmire, and they want to find a way out."

It was in that atmosphere of postelection anxiety that House Democrats began having furtive discussions on the House floor and on the phone with Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Since winning his House seat in 2002, Van Hollen had been a rising star in the Democratic Party. He had solid progressive credentials, and Pelosi accorded him star-pupil status in her caucus. And at 56, he is what Washington considers youthful; Pelosi, Steny Hoyer (the minority whip) and James Clyburn (the assistant Democratic leader) are all in their mid-70s. By January of this year, several of Van Hollen's colleagues, convinced that the party was in desperate need of a new direction, were encouraging him to immediately begin mounting an effort to succeed Pelosi by the end of 2016.

The question was how. Apart from making vague references to the desirability of "generational change," Pelosi had sent no signals as to when she might give up her top post. What she had made tacitly clear was that she had no intentions of ceding it to Hoyer, who like Pelosi was raised in Maryland and about whom Pelosi nurtured some ancient but intractable grudge.

Speaking of her attitude toward Hoyer, one Democratic congressman told me: "That's not been good for us, and it has complicated a lot of our challenges. I consider myself a real fan of Steny. But the cards on the table are the ones we have to play. If the only way there's going to be a change is for Chris to ascend, then that's what we have to do."

Still, for Van Hollen to ascend, he and his supporters would have to furnish proof to Pelosi that he could muster a majority of votes within the caucus to beat Hoyer in a leadership race. So, early in 2015, Van Hollen proceeded to do just that. In this task, he was assisted by seven House Democratic colleagues from across the party spectrum: Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut liberal who happens to be one of Pelosi's closest associates; Steve Israel, a centrist representing Long Island who had until recently been Van Hollen's successor at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; two veteran progressives, Lloyd Doggett from Austin and Paul Tonko from upstate New York; the two-term moderates Beto O'Rourke from El Paso and Dan Kildee from Flint, Mich.; and Donna Edwards, a fellow Maryland representative and a protégée of Pelosi.

But then something entirely unexpected took place: On March 2, Maryland's senior senator, Barbara Mikulski, announced that she would not be seeking another term in 2016. Van Hollen had thought hard about running when the other Maryland Senate seat opened up in 2006. Now, after 27 years holding her seat, Mikulski had offered a rare opportunity for a fellow Maryland Democrat to break free from the minority in the raucous lower chamber and join the elite Senate. For an upwardly mobile politician like Van Hollen, such a temptation was akin to a biological imperative -- unless, perhaps, Nancy Pelosi offered him the one enticement that might keep him in the House. 

...and realize it's hostile to the very idea of the soul?

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Yes, Robots Really Are Going To Take Your Job And End The American Dream (Ben Schiller, 5/20/15, Co.exist)

[T]here's reason to be believe that, unlike those previous times, we really are entering an age when people will work less. As author Martin Ford puts it in his recent book Rise of the Robots, "this time is different." New artificially intelligent machines, he says, are not so much tools to improve the efficiency of workers but really are tools to replace workers themselves.

"The question of whether smart machines will someday eclipse the capability of average people to perform much of the work demanded by the economy will be answered by the nature of the technology that arrives in the future--not by lessons gleaned by economic history," he writes.

Surveying all the fields now being affected by automation, Ford makes a compelling case that this is an historic disruption--a fundamental shift from most tasks being performed by humans to one where most tasks are done by machines. That includes obvious things like moving boxes around a warehouse, but also many "higher skill" jobs as well, such as radiology and stock trading. And don't kid yourself about your own importance: that list almost certainly includes your job.

We really could be headed for an economy with many fewer jobs in it and a severely eroded middle class, he argues. one aspired to be a paver.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 PM


Is Rooftop Solar Finally Good Enough to Disrupt the Grid? (Nathan Richter, MAY 21, 2015, Harvard Business Review)

Over the past two decades, there have been many attempts to reform the electric utility market. The costly and complex operations of transporting energy have made utilities natural monopolies, while regulatory barriers and the high fixed costs of building and maintaining regional electrical grid infrastructure have also kept much competition at bay. But recent technological advances and new business models are now allowing nimble players to compete and provide consumers with cost-saving alternatives. With the rise of distributed forms of energy, such as rooftop solar power, and batteries, it's become much more feasible to match individual demand for electricity with on-site production.

Distributed energy systems are basically comprised of small-scale energy-generating devices (the most common example being solar panels) that allow for electricity to be produced on-site and consumed immediately, without drawing from the local electrical grid. Recent developments, such as falling solar panel prices and increases in efficiency rates (the rate at which sunlight hitting panels is turned into usable energy), have made distributed energy increasingly economical, while new business models and financing methods have made it more accessible. [...]

In the case of distributed energy, various financing options let consumers save in a number of ways. They are offered either solar leases (leasing the panel and its energy for a fixed periodic payment) from a solar company, power purchase agreements (they purchase each unit of electricity produced by the panel at an agreed upon rate), or solar loans (the consumer, rather than the service provider, owns the panel; effectively a solar panel mortgage). In each case, the cost per unit of electricity is not only cheaper but more stable when compared to rates charged by utilities.

With the introduction of batteries that can store electricity, such as Tesla's, solar energy's value proposition may well increase. Batteries can store excess solar energy produced in the middle of the day when the sun is strongest and then release the energy at peak price hours. While this isn't quite as cost-effective for the residential sector yet, due to battery costs and regulatory issues, batteries are already being used in commercial and industrial sectors, where extra charges for using energy during high-demand periods can make up 30% of electric bills. Instead, batteries can pull electricity from the grid when prices are low, like in the middle of the night, and store it. That electricity can then be consumed later when energy is more expensive and demand charges come into play.

New energy management software can also help identify consumption inefficiency and automate electricity usage when necessary by collecting site-specific energy data. But before distributed energy can make a greater impact, more comprehensive energy management platforms must be developed. Ultimately, Internet of the Things software could optimize the interactions between a distributed energy system comprised of solar panels, batteries, and commercial or residential buildings' energy management systems, based on real-time data from each component -- much the way Uber's platform oversees and coordinates a ride by transmitting and analyzing data from mobile devices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


Millions Spent on Benghazi Probes with No Answers in Sight (ROB GARVER, 5/19/15, The Fiscal Times)

After spending nearly three years and countless millions of taxpayer dollars, the federal investigations into the September 2012 attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, which killed an American ambassador and three other U.S. citizens, have thus far yielded no proof that the Obama administration orchestrated a cover-up to conceal either a failure to prevent the attacks, or a bungled response in the aftermath.

The House Select Committee on Benghazi was supposed to change that. Created to deliver the final word on the long-running saga, the committee headed by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), a former prosecutor, has the funding, the jurisdiction and the subpoena power that lawmakers said would be necessary to bring an end to the debate over what happened in Libya in 2012.

However, in an interview with his hometown Greenville News, Gowdy over the weekend set out to lower expectations. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Dive into Ross Macdonald's California noir masterpieces : The legendary writer of psychoanalytic mysteries captured the culture of postwar California better than anyone (SCOTT TIMBERG, 5/20/15, Salon)

The Library of America has just released "Four Novels of the 1950s," edited by Macdonald biographer Tom Nolan. (Ross Macdonald was the pen name of California-born, Canadian-reared Kenneth Millar, who lived in Santa Barbara with his wife, the mystery writer Margaret Millar, and died in 1983.)

We spoke to Nolan, a veteran journalist, from his home in Los Angeles.

Let's start with Macdonald in general. There are hundreds of detective novels coming out every year. For people who don't know Macdonald's work, why is this guy worth reading? Similarly, why is it worth Library of America, which is sort of the guardian of the literary world, putting out 60-year-old novels?

Well, as you know, they put out the best of American literature, including nonfiction and speeches and poetry. Of course, a lot of the things they publish are much, much older than 60 years. But Macdonald matters because I think he's one of the finest fiction writers in American literature, not just detective fiction but all of American modern fiction. The things that are most interesting and appealing about him, and valuable to people still, are the beauty of the expression, of the language, the beauty of the prose, which has poetic qualities and is informed by a great lyric talent. The beauty of the expression, and it's the emotional content and the human experience that touches people in the heart in ways that are very special to a lot of readers. A lot of empathy, which is not always the same as sympathy, but often it is. It represents a lot of experience, it's beautifully expressed, that a lot of people can relate to.

Although he initially wrote about criminals and traditional elements of crime fiction, as he matured as a writer and a person, he dealt more with universal situations. You could say his overarching theme was the dysfunctional family, which I think anybody can relate to, because all our families were to some degree dysfunctional. He drew on his own youth and on his own experience as a parent, and the themes that recur in his books are things that were crucial to his own life.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Political Mobilization:  Researchers Seek Participants in Online Study

My name is Raynee Gutting and I am conducting an online survey about people's personal characteristics and beliefs, and how people become politically active and engaged. The study is brief and interesting, and should help me understand how individuals think about important political issues and American society more generally. In our current political climate, I think developing an understanding of how people interact with the political environment is critical for America to thrive. I hope you will take a few minutes to participate!
The survey can be accessed by using the following link.  We ask you to please do not discuss your participation in the study for the next few weeks (please do not post comments), as to not influence other participants! As a thank you for your participation, you will have the opportunity to enter into a lottery to win one of four $25 Amazon gift cards. 

Follow this link to the Survey:

I am based at Stony Brook University.  This study has been approved by Stony Brook University's Institutional Review Board protecting research involving human subjects. Questions about participation or results of the study can be directed to Raynee Gutting at

May 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Give Up on Netanyahu, Go to the United Nations (HENRY SIEGMAN, MAY 19, 2015, NY Times)

[I]t was clear to anyone familiar with the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that what little hope remained for a two-state solution would depend on the emergence of an Israeli government entirely under the control of Israel's far right. Only a far-right government that so deeply offends American democratic sensibilities -- as this one surely will -- could provide the political opening necessary for a change in America's Middle East policy.

Mr. Netanyahu has wasted no time providing that offense by appointing as his justice minister a Knesset member, Ayelet Shaked, who approvingly posted an article on her Facebook page that called for the destruction of "the entire Palestinian people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure."

The victory of Israel's far right has thus provided an unexpected, if narrow, opening for Mr. Obama, allowing him to call for a reassessment of America's peace policy.

Such a reassessment must begin by abandoning the old assumption that Palestinians can achieve statehood only by negotiating with Mr. Netanyahu. Because of Mr. Netanyahu's statements and behavior during the elections (not to mention the continued construction in the settlements), that belief has been irreparably discredited. It is now certain that a two-state agreement will never emerge from any bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Such an agreement can only be achieved if the United Nations Security Council, with strong support from the United States, presents the parties with clear terms for resumed peace talks that will produce an agreement within a specified timeframe.

Just do it unilaterally and, as with Israel, American recognition will suffice,

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


NFL Has Let QBs Become Masters of Inflation (Chip Scoggins, 5/19/15, Star Tribune)

Turns out, NFL quarterbacks are a meticulous bunch when it comes to footballs and getting them prepared for game day, even if they stop short of letting air out of them.

Once footballs arrive in shipment, equipment managers use -- among various tricks -- a dirt compound, water, players' sweat, Coca-Cola, special brushes, dryers, steam baths and good old-fashioned elbow grease to make footballs feel worn.

New footballs have a slick, waxy sheen that makes them hard to grip. Quarterbacks hate shiny footballs.

"You just can't play with a brand-new ball," former Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham said. "It's virtually impossible. The statistics would never be what they are now." [...]

Most quarterbacks are incredibly particular about their preferences. ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck preferred less air, more nubby leather and raised laces.

"I was crazy picky," he said.

As a young player, Frerotte had equipment managers wrap new footballs in damp towels and put them in the dryer to soften the leather. Hasselbeck saw guys drench towels in Coke and wrap the footballs to add some tack. Hasselbeck liked to practice on grass in the morning to take advantage of dew.

Quarterbacks say the best breaking-in method is to have teammates use footballs in practice to get sweat on them. Former Denver Broncos quarterback Adam Weber only wanted running backs handling them.

And only the right amount of sweat.

"You can get too much sweat on it and ruin the ball," Weber said. "You have to find that perfect medium."

Hasselback knew a football needed more work if the ball discolored his hand.

"I would be like, 'Dude, my hand's pink. You didn't even get the first layer off,' " he said.

Former Viking Sage Rosenfels said geography plays a role in the process, too. When he played in Miami and Houston, his footballs would be game ready after only a few practices because of the high humidity.

That wasn't the case in Minnesota, but Rosenfels said Vikings longtime equipment manager Dennis Ryan had a special touch with footballs. Rosenfels declined to reveal Ryan's methods, saying only that everything was "all legal, the things that they did."

"It's a special sauce I don't think Dennis would give away," Rosenfels joked.

He's right. The Vikings wouldn't provide the secret formula, either.

Frerotte, who played for seven NFL teams, also gave his stamp of approval.

"Dennis is probably the best I've ever seen in getting the ball ready," he said. "The method that he uses is great because it doesn't ruin the integrity of the ball. It gets that wax off and gets you a good grip so you can throw it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


U.S. Releases Contents Of Bin Laden's English-Language "Bookshelf" (Rosie Gray, 5/20/15, BuzzFeed)

 "Of the 38 full-length English-language books he had in his possession, about half of them were conspiracy theory books" about the Illuminati, Freemasons, and other conspiracy topics. Texts listed on the "bookshelf" include Bloodlines of the Illuminati by the American conspiracy theorist Fritz Springmeier; The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 by the 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin; and The Secrets of the Federal Reserve, a book by the Holocaust denier and anti-Semite Eustace Mullins.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Mao's China: The Language Game (Perry Link, 5/19/15, NY Review of Books)

It can be embarrassing for a China scholar like me to read Eileen Chang's pellucid prose, written more than sixty years ago, on the early years of the People's Republic of China. How many cudgels to the head did I need before arriving at comparable clarity? My disillusioning first trip to China in 1973? My reading of the devastating journalism of Liu Binyan in 1980? Observation of bald lies in action at the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 and in the imprisonment of a Nobel Peace laureate in more recent times? Did I need all of this to catch up to where Chang was in 1954 in her understanding of how things worked in Communist China, beneath the blankets of jargon? In graduate school I did not take Chang's Naked Earth (published in Chinese in 1954 and translated by Chang into English in 1956) and its sister novel, The Rice-Sprout Song (also published in 1954 and translated by Chang into English in 1955), very seriously. People said the works had an anti-Communist bias.

Sadly, it was instead 50 million Chinese who were getting the cudgel, not the fellow travellers in the West.
Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


Evangelical Protestants Are The Biggest Winners When People Change Faiths (LEAH LIBRESCO, 5/19/15, 538)

Pew's survey data makes it possible to calculate where all 12 of the religions for which Pew has data -- including some non-Christian religions -- settle into a steady demographic distribution. This equilibrium is the logical extension of present trends, fast-forwarding until a new, persistent normal emerges. This kind of analysis gives us a chance to zero in on one factor that drives religious change -- recruitment of new members and retention of old ones -- but excludes other factors like immigration and doctrinal shifts. (You can check out the model and data on GitHub.)

If conversions went on as they do today and all other factors were held steady, America would wind up with the religious demographics of the stable distribution.

Unaffiliateds would wind up modestly gaining ground (from 23 percent at present to 29 percent).1 And Christian denominations would drop a little (from 69 percent at present to 62 percent at equilibrium).2

But there would be substantial redistribution among Christian groups, with evangelical Protestants gaining (26 percent at present to 32 percent) and Catholics losing more than half their current share of the population (21 percent to 8 percent).

Why do evangelicals wind up ahead of other Christian sects in this model? They're better at holding on to the people born into their tradition (65 percent retention compared to 59 percent for Catholics and 45 percent for Mainline Protestants), and they're a stronger attractor for people leaving other faiths. According to Pew's data on conversion rates, 10 percent of people raised Catholic wind up as evangelicals. Just 2 percent of people born as evangelicals wind up Catholic. The flow between mainline and evangelical Protestants is also tilted in evangelicals' favor. Twelve percent of those raised evangelical wind up in mainline congregations, but 19 percent of mainline Protestants wind up becoming evangelical.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Scott Walker jobs agency in 'chaos' amid calls for federal probe (Zachary Roth, 5/19/15, MSNBC)

Three days after being sworn in as Wisconsin governor in 2011, Scott Walker announced an ambitious plan to turn the state's commerce department into a semi-private corporation laser-focused on economic growth and job creation.

"Transforming the Department of Commerce will align state government with our most important mission: creating jobs," Walker said in a statement announcing the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), whose major role would be to make loans to private companies.

Four years later, as Walker lays the groundwork for a presidential run, WEDC appears rudderless and deeply troubled. Government and press reports have raised serious questions about the agency's transparency, effectiveness, political independence and compliance with the law. Walker, who serves as chair of the WEDC board, has twice in recent months announced major shifts to the agency's structure and mission--and this week he has been forced to deny that he knew about a questionable loan to a political contributor's company.

Democrats are calling for a federal investigation. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's job growth continues to lag far behind the nation's--taking a toll on the governor's popularity at home.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


The GOP Is the Strongest It's Been in Decades (Sean Trende & David Byler, May 19, 201, RCP)

Our index is the sum of five parts: presidential performance, House performance, Senate performance, gubernatorial performance and state legislative performance. The first is measured by the party's performance in the previous presidential popular vote (NB: In this, and all other measurements, third parties are excluded). 

House performance is the average of the popular vote for the House and the average of the share of the House won by the party. This helps mitigate the effects of gerrymandering.  Senate performance is the share of the Senate held by the party.

Gubernatorial performance is the party's share of governorships (again, with third party candidates excluded). We do not weight for population, for reasons explored further below.  For state legislatures, we average four numbers: the share of state Houses and state Senates held by each party along with the share of state House seats and state Senate seats held by each party.

This gives us five metrics, all of which run on a scale from 0 to 100.  Adding them together gives us a scale from 0 to 500.  We then subtract 250 from the total.  All this does is assign a score of zero to a situation where the parties are evenly matched, rather than 250. A positive score then means that the Republican Party is stronger while a negative score means the Democratic Party is stronger.

We ran the scale back to the founding of the Republican Party in 1856. The average score is -4 and the median is -6, suggesting that over time the parties have been pretty evenly matched.  The low score for the Republicans came in 1936, when they hit a bottom of -119. Their strongest performance was 108 in 1866 (post-Reconstruction, their strongest performance was 79 in 1920).  The standard deviation was 45.6 - in plain English, that means when a party rises above 45 it can be thought of as doing unusually well, and when it rises above 90 or so it is doing exceptionally well.  About 60 percent of the results fall between -30 and 30.

Before the 2014 elections, the parties were pretty close to parity: The index stood at 7.98.  This indicated an insignificant advantage for the Republicans, although it placed them well above their post-World War II average of -20.

It goes without saying that Republicans improved upon their showing in the 2014 elections.  Their 54 Senate seats represent the second-best tally for the party since 1928.  Their 247 House seats is the most the party has won since 1928, although when combined with the popular vote percentage, it drops to the second-highest since then (in 1946, the party did slightly better).

At the state level, the GOP's share of governorships is the ninth-highest since Reconstruction, and the third-highest in the post-war era (1996 and 1998 were higher). The party's showing in state legislatures is the highest since 1920, the ninth-highest ever, and the third-highest since the end of Reconstruction.

Overall, this gives the Republicans an index score of 33.8.  This is the Republican Party's best showing in the index since 1928, and marks only the third time that the party has been above 15 in the index since the end of World War II.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Doctor Uses 3-D Printing To Help Rebuild Parts Of 2-Year-Old's Face (Jared Keever, April 9, 2015, Opposing Views)

A 2-year-old Oregon girl is smiling again -- but this time with a new smile -- after undergoing a complicated surgery to rebuild portions of her face. The doctor who did the work is saying everything worked out so well because he was able to use 3-D printing to plan his approach to the procedure. 

May 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 PM


The U.S. Underestimates Growth : The official statistics are missing changes that are lifting American incomes. (MARTIN FELDSTEIN, May 18, 2015, WSJ)

[T]he problem begins at the beginning--when an army of shoppers go around the country at the government's behest to sample the prices of different goods and services. Does a restaurant meal with a higher price tag than a year ago reflect a higher cost for buying the same food and service, or does the higher price reflect better food and better service? Or what combination of the two? Or consider the higher price of a day of hospital care. How much of that higher price reflects improved diagnosis and more effective treatment? And what about valuing all the improved electronic forms of communication and entertainment that fill the daily lives of most people?

In short, there is no way to know how much of each measured price increase reflects quality improvements and how much is a pure price increase. Yet the answers that come out of this process are reflected in the consumer-price index and in the government's measures of real growth.

This is why we shouldn't place much weight on the official measures of real GDP growth. It is relatively easy to add up the total dollars that are spent in the economy--the amount labeled nominal GDP. Calculating the growth of real GDP requires comparing the increase of nominal GDP to the increase in the price level. That is impossibly difficult.

The measurement problem is particularly severe for new products. Consider a new drug that improves the quality of life, reducing pain or curing a previously incurable disease. The ability to buy that new product means that a dollar is worth more than it used to be, and that the properly measured level of real GDP is higher.

The official method of calculating the price index doesn't incorporate this new product until total spending on it exceeds some threshold level. It is then added to the government's price calculations, but only to record whether the cost of the drug goes up or down. The main effect of raising well-being when the drug is introduced is completely ignored. The same is true of other new products.

The result is that the rise in real incomes is underestimated, and the common concern about what appears to be the slow growth of average household incomes is therefore misplaced. Although the dollar amount of median household income nearly doubled in the past two decades, the increase in the official price index has cut the corresponding increase of real household income down to less than 5%.

Official statistics also portray a 10% decline in the real median household income since 2000, fueling economic pessimism. But these low growth estimates fail to reflect the remarkable innovations in everything from health care to Internet services to video entertainment that have made life better during these years, as well as the more modest year-to-year improvements in the quality of products and services.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 PM


Antony Beevor: 'There are things that are too horrific to put in a book' : The historian Antony Beevor tells Keith Lowe why his next book will confront one of the last taboos of the Second World War (Keith Lowe3:51PM BST 17 May 2015, The Telegraph)

If there's one thing that sets Beevor apart from other historians - beyond his gifts as a storyteller - it's that he is not afraid to look at the most uncomfortable, even frightening subjects, but does so in a way that doesn't threaten the reader. There's rarely a judgmental note to his writing. It's like having Virgil there to lead you through the underworld: he doesn't leave you stranded amid the horror, but leads you back out again, a wiser person for having undergone the journey.

He has a knack for choosing controversial subjects at the right moment - when they are raw enough to touch a nerve, but not so raw as to be too painful to acknowledge. His latest is an account of the battle of the Ardennes in 1944. The book, which comes out this month, is a natural progression from his earlier history of D-Day. There is the same political tension between the British and American commanders; there is the same desperation in the fighting of ordinary soldiers on both sides; but at the heart of it lies another dark subject: the indiscriminate killing of prisoners. This, Beevor says, is "unmentionable", one of the last taboos of the war. "I still haven't read any American historian on the subject of the shooting of prisoners. And until recently I don't think many British historians have written about the British killing of prisoners. That was something the Germans did, but we prefer not to talk about our boys doing it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Skip Your Annual Checkup (Joseph Hooper, 5/15/15, Men's Journal)

Since the 1940s, the venerable annual physical has been regarded as one of the cornerstones of good health. Each year, many primary care physicians across the country still send out a boilerplate reminder: It's time for your checkup. But privately, if not publicly, most doctors regard the annual physical as a medical emperor with no clothes, not even a hospital gown. (Ask your doctor how often he or she gets a checkup.) And as University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel says, "Spending billions on something that we have pretty good evidence is not working is not the way to go."

After tracking nearly 60,000 people for a decade, researchers in Denmark reported last year that regular checkups had no effect on preventing cardiovascular disease or death. That study followed a 2012 meta-analysis that included 182,000 people and arrived at a similar conclusion: Regular checkups are unlikely to save lives or prevent disease. Meanwhile, the U.S. Preventive Health Services Task Force, an independent panel of health experts, explicitly recommends that people skip a number of the usual procedures of the annual checkup (for instance, the heart EKG and the prostate-cancer PSA test); its Canadian counterpart recommends against annual visits altogether.  [...]

[W]hen doctors attempt to discover and treat the early signs of disease, they often do more harm than good. "We all harbor abnormalities, so our diagnostic technologies find all sorts of things," says Gilbert Welch, a professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and the author of Less Medicine, More Health. "That leads to more testing and more prescriptions and procedures, and that's a recipe for making people sick."

How does that happen? New York cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar, the author of Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician, says, "Doctors are trained to be uncomfortable with uncertainty." An example Jauhar sees frequently are patients who have no history of heart problems yet fail a basic stress test; this could be a false positive, but doctors often order cardiac catheterization, just in case -- an invasive procedure that can result in infection. "Every doctor I know would tell you stories about minor problems getting worked up and leading to all sorts of downstream complication," he says. "And that's the aspect of the annual physical that I worry about the most, the unnecessary testing."

The problem is, when you take a closer look at what happens during a checkup, much of it begins to look unnecessary. Screening for cancer is a classic example; it's a big reason many people believe they should see a doctor, even if they're feeling fine. But there is less here than meets the eye. Screening for colon cancer once a decade is generally considered a good idea, but screening more often than that yields no additional benefit. And the PSA test, still a common feature of the annual physical, is a mixed blessing at best, considering the risk of false positives and unnecessary overtreatment. Welch estimates that for every prostate- cancer death prevented by early detection and treatment, 50 men are needlessly treated and about a third of them are harmed. Hunting for early-stage testicular cancer, meanwhile, is no longer recommended, because treatment success in its obvious, later stages is so great; you risk a potentially damaging biopsy of a testicle that otherwise would have caused no harm. In fact, there is only one regular cancer screen that we can definitively say saves lives, a CT scan of the lungs of smokers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


The Promise of Telemedicine (Vik Bakhru May 18, 2015, US News)

In today's increasingly connected world, accessibility, convenience and efficiency have become the watchwords for industries everywhere. Whether it's paying bills, ordering food, watching movies, booking appointments or all other manner of daily activities, time is a valuable commodity - and there is little room for businesses that don't recognize that fact. As consumers, we have grown unaccustomed to waiting.

On a large scale, however, patients have yet to demand that same level of service from their health care providers. [...]

The fact of the matter is that many of the 1 billion doctor visits that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports occur each year in the United States can be avoided altogether. As a physician, I see many patients whose questions could be addressed using smartphone technology. A quick conversation via video chat with a physician could be sufficient in getting the information needed to address these health questions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


Catholic church warms to liberation theology as founder heads to Vatican (Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome and Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro, 11 May 2015, The Guardian)

For decades, Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian theologian and Dominican priest, was treated with suspicion and even contempt by the Vatican's hierarchy, which saw him as a dangerous Marxist firebrand who used faith as an instrument of revolution.

Gutiérrez was the founder of a progressive movement within the Catholic church known as liberation theology, and while he was never censured in the manner that some of his philosophical compatriots were, there were often rumblings that Gutiérrez was being investigated by Pope John Paul II's doctrinal czar, a German cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger who would later become Pope Benedict.

But when the 86-year-old Peruvian arrives in Rome this week as a key speaker at a Vatican event, he will be welcomed as a guest, in a striking show of how Pope Francis - the first Latin American pontiff - has brought tenets of this sometimes controversial movement to the fore of his church, particularly in his pronouncements against the blight of poverty and the dangers of capitalism.

Next he'll return the Church to opposing democracy and protestantism....
Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Obama, Senate Republicans oppose currency manipulation amendment on trade bill (DAVID ESPO, 5/19/15, AP)

The Obama administration and Senate Republicans worked in unusual harmony Tuesday to advance major trade legislation opposed by many rank-and-file Democrats, an expanding struggle already leaving a mark on the 2016 campaigns for the White House and control of Congress.

In rapid-fire order, the administration threatened to veto a proposed change in the trade bill to require U.S. negotiators to target currency manipulation more directly in trade talks, and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the GOP was prepared to vote down the amendment.

"We'll be working hard to keep any amendment off the bill that could tank" it, he said of the proposal, backed by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and others.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


How an Iran nuclear deal means cheaper oil and why Tehran is OK with that (Jan H. Kalicki May 12, 2015, Reuters)

New investments and higher exports are big incentives for Tehran to reach a nuclear deal. The Iranian economy has been in a tailspin under the sanctions regime. It can recover only with greatly increased oil and gas exports, even at low prices.

Under favorable scenarios, Iran could increase its sanctions-constrained oil exports of 1.2 million barrels a day by about 300,000 barrels a day, drawn from its floating storage. That could add 1 million barrels a day to global supply within 12 months to 18 months. Low global growth forecasts indicate that this prospect would add, longer term, to downward pressures on oil prices -- good news for consumers and challenges for producers.

For Tehran's traditional rival, Saudi Arabia, the additional oil on the market would not be welcome. But the kingdom can be expected to maintain its policy of defending its market share, even at lower prices.

Iran would also likely accept lower prices in return for badly needed revenues and as a means to rebuild its share of the global oil market. Tehran would likely need an increase of tens of billions of dollars each year to reverse the 15 percent rate of decline in output from its aging fields.

The geopolitical consequences of ending sanctions against Iran would be at least as important. As Iran re-enters the nonnuclear energy market, its incentives to develop and defend its market share would increase. In parallel, its incentives to stick to a nuclear accord would also increase to avoid any possibility that sanctions might be reimposed.

Tehran has made it clear that ending sanctions has been the single most important impetus to making a nuclear deal.

US poll: Many approve Iran deal, but most don't trust Tehran (LOLITA C. BALDOR AND EMILY SWANSON, May 12, 2015, AP)

An Associated Press-GfK poll found that just 3% said they were very confident that Iran would allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, remove plutonium from the country and shut down close to half of its uranium-enriching centrifuges as the preliminary deal says would be required. [...]

Although more than half of Americans polled said they approve of making the deal, few people -- 16% -- were actually paying close attention to the complex Iran negotiations that have angered Israel and unnerved Gulf nations who are concerned about Tehran's rising influence and aggressive behavior in the region.

May 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


The Center-Right Moment (David Brooks, 5/12/15, NY Times)

Over the past few years, left-of-center economic policy has moved from opportunity progressivism to redistributionist progressivism. Opportunity progressivism is associated with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair in the 1990s and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago today. This tendency actively uses government power to give people access to markets, through support for community colleges, infrastructure and training programs and the like, but it doesn't interfere that much in the market and hesitates before raising taxes.

This tendency has been politically successful. Clinton and Blair had long terms. This year, Emanuel won by 12 percentage points against the more progressive candidate, Chuy Garcia, even in a city with a disproportionate number of union households.

Redistributionist progressivism more aggressively raises taxes to shift money down the income scale, opposes trade treaties and meddles more in the marketplace. This tendency has won elections in Massachusetts (Elizabeth Warren) and New York City (Bill de Blasio) but not in many other places. Ed Balls, the No. 2 figure in the Labour Party in Britain, co-led the group from the Center for American Progress that wrote the most influential statement of modern progressivism, a report on "inclusive prosperity." Balls could not even retain his own parliamentary seat in the last election.

Many on the Left and Right--and all of Europe--consider the UR the most "progressive" president we've ever had : he's cut taxes, passed the Heritage Foundation's health plan and worked assiduously to expand trade.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Shiite militias converge to take back Ramadi (Deutsche-Welle, 5/18/15)

Al-Abadi's government saw its biggest defeat in 2015 last week, as Ramadi in the Western province of Anbar became the first major city to fall to "Islamic State" (IS) militants since last summer.

"Now that the Hashid has received the order to march forward, they will definitely take part," Ali al-Sarai, a member of the Hashid Shaabi's media wing, said to Reuters news agency, adding that he could not give more details due to security concerns.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Is it heresy for Baptists to baptize a baby?  (Heidi Hall, May 18, 2015, RNS) 

The sprinkling-style baptism of a Dayton, Ohio, infant -- a scene heartwarming and commonplace for Catholics and mainline Protestants -- is touching off accusations of doctrinal heresy in the evangelical world.

In April, an influential American Baptist Churches USA pastor performed the rite, which most Baptists believe is reserved for Christians who are able to make a mature confession of faith. Although there are dozens of Baptist denominations in the U.S., the news made instant waves among those who know and understand Baptist teachings.

Before long, a Southern Baptist seminary president compared the notion of Baptists baptizing infants to vegetarians eating steak.

More similar to pretending the grape juice is transubstantiated at communion.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Some states' school tests say kids are fine, but national tests say they're not (RENEE SCHOOF, 5/14/15, McClatchy)

A report on student testing released Thursday finds big gaps in most states between the percentage of students shown to be proficient in reading and math on state tests and the much lower number found to be proficient on a national benchmark test.

Georgia, Texas and South Carolina and dozens of other states showed significant gaps between their state tests in the 2013-14 school year and the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress on tests of reading and math in fourth and eighth grades.

No one wants to accept that their kid is ignorant compared to his peers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Motorcycles in the Spotlight Due to Waco Shootout (ALLEN G. BREED, 5/18/15, AP)

[Terry Katz, former commander of the Maryland State Police's organized crime section] says bikers maim and kill each other all the time. The only thing unusual about the Waco confrontation was that it happened in public.

"I get that question all the time: 'Are these guys still around?'" he says. "Of course, they are. But they've lowered their profile, because it's bad for business to be involved in something where you're going to attract a great deal of law enforcement attention. They've never gone away. In fact, they've grown."

Some clubs boast chapters on the other side of the globe.

"You look at crime syndicates. They come to America from other places," says Dobyns, who lives in Tuscon, Arizona. "But the biker culture? That is America's export to the ... world of crime syndicates."

Part of the problem, says Dobyns, is that the entertainment world tends to glamorize these groups.

The Hollister riots spawned "The Wild One," Marlon Brando's 1953 classic. But Johnny, with his dungarees turned up at the ankles and cap at a rakish angle, seems quaint compared to FX Networks' "Sons of Anarchy."

"They prey on the Americana of it," says Dobyns, who used his own childhood nickname of "Jaybird" in his undercover work. "And it's sexy and it's glamorous. The reality of it is that it's a very dangerous world, inhabited by violent men. And the reality of it is that it's very unsexy and it's very unglamorous."

FX spokesman John Solberg declined to respond to Dobyns' comments.

Like the Mafia, motorcycle gangs aren't interested in big public displays, says Katz. But the cornerstone of that culture is a willingness to kill -- and die -- for your club.

"And that's what you saw yesterday," he says. "I mean, there were marked police cars outside that event ... Once the fight started, it didn't matter."

If she feels compelled to hate on someone, how 'bout these guys?

Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


Soon They'll Be Driving It, Too : Intelligent machines are ousting low-skilled workers now. Next they'll start encroaching on white-collar livelihoods. (SUMIT PAUL-CHOUDHURY, May 15, 2015, WSJ)

 Martin Ford's "Rise of the Robots" offers a more prosaic reason for concern: Partially intelligent machines might render humans not so much extinct as redundant. "No one doubts that technology has the power to devastate entire industries and upend specific sectors of the economy and job market," writes Mr. Ford, a Silicon Valley software developer turned futurist. Will machine intelligence, tackling tasks once thought of as humanity's exclusive preserve, "disrupt our entire system to the point where a fundamental restructuring may be required if prosperity is to continue?"

Mr. Ford invokes Norbert Wiener, who in 1949 prophesied an "industrial revolution of unmitigated cruelty" in which machines would outstrip humans in routine work "at any price." In Mr. Ford's view, just such a revolution is under way in blue-collar work. Robots are ousting low-skilled workers everywhere, from fast-food joints to factory floors--a trend that Mr. Ford argues is central to the puzzling "jobless recovery" of the past decade as well as to other anomalous trends in pay and employment.

Now the machines are encroaching on white-collar livelihoods, which is why the intelligentsia have begun to wake up to their advance.

A fundamental restructuring will obviously be needed, but not a terribly complex one.  Right now, we produce things via a system where some significant component of the final cost is a function of paying for human labor.  This has been convenient because it allows us to redistribute some considerable portion of the cost of the finished good to the human laborers.  Key to making the modern economy function so well under these circumstances was the series of decision by businesses and government to transfer more wealth to the laborers than their labor was actually worth--via unionization, minimum wages; etc.

The transition to a labor-less economy will either see the cost of finished goods plummet or transfers of wealth that are even less related to the value of labor (since it will be worthless) or, most likely, some combination of the two.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


An Eye To Iran: European Businesses Prepare for Life After Sanctions (Martin Hesse, Susanne Koelbl and Michael Sauga, 5/18/15, Der Spiegel)

[Iran's oil minister] Bijan Zanganeh is one of the Iranian pragmatists who would like to see a change in relations with the West. His schedule during a visit to Berlin the week before last was accordingly jam-packed with meetings.

He had breakfast with company representatives from Volkswagen and Linde, the world's largest gases and engineering company; held discussions with owners of small- and medium-sized businesses and also showed German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel the enormous possibilities that lie in the expansion of the Iranian energy sector.

The Tehran official found attentive listeners. Officials in Gabriel's ministry estimate that Iran has investment needs of around $100 billion per year. The country needs to update aging infrastructures, it needs modern automobiles, heavy machinery and pharmaceuticals -- all segments in which Germany is a global market leader.

Before sanctions against the country were tightened four years ago, German companies exported just under €4 billion ($4.56 billion) worth of goods and services to the country each year. If the embargo is lifted in phases next year, the Economics Ministry claims, trade volume could "markedly exceed" that figure.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Potty-mouthed Alan Grayson and his offshore investments (Adam C. Smith, May 13, 2015, Tampa Bay Times)

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, the outspoken, populist Democrat who thunders against Wall Street fat cats,and used to to joke about Mitt Romney's low tax bill, incorporated a couple hedge funds in the Cayman Islands so investors could avoid taxes.

Grayson Fund Ltd. and Grayson Master Fund were incorporated in 2011 in the Cayman Islands, a well known tax Haven that Romney used as well, records show.. That was the same year he wrote in the Huffington Post that the IRS should audit every Fortune 500 company because so many appear to be "evading taxes through transfer pricing and offshore tax havens."

Of course, the question here is why anyone would tax investment.

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


Man behind iconic Coke ad: I quit watching 'Mad Men' (Tom Kludt. 5/18/15, CNN Money)

"Mad Men" capped its seven-season run on Sunday night with a tantalizing development. Meditating atop a hill in California, Don Draper appeared to find inspiration for creating Coca-Cola's 1971 "Hilltop" ad.

But the man who actually conceived of the iconic spot had no idea that his work was featured in the series finale.

"I don't care," Bill Backer told CNNMoney on Monday morning. "I didn't see it."

Backer, who was an ad man at McCann Erickson and creative director on the agency's Coca-Cola account, said he watched the first two seasons, but eventually lost interest. The series, he lamented, had evolved into "more of a soap opera" than a show about advertising.

"It had become more about the tangled lives of the people and less about the industry they were working in and presenting the ads in ways that was attention-getting, and hopefully uplifting and fun to watch," he said.

We let the tiger out of the cage on the first episode.  Every character was unlikable.

May 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 PM


George W. Bush Delivers SMU Commencement Speech (RCP, 5/17/15)

I've also learned that it's important to refer to someone associated with the University. So I picked one, an SMU trustee (who by the way is not here), Reverend Mark Craig. Now, I asked Mark to deliver the sermon at the First United Methodist Church in Austin before my second inauguration as Governor of Texas. I still remember his Fort Worth twang as he talked about Moses. God called Moses to action, and Moses repeatedly found excuses not to act. "Who am I that I should go to Pharoah, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt? Oh, my Lord, I pray, send some other person. I have sheep to tend. And the people won't believe me -- I'm not a very good speaker."

Moses wasn't the only one who could mangle his language. (Laughter.) [Inaudible.]

Fortunately, Moses recognized the call to serve something greater than himself. He answered the call, led his people, and history was made.

You, too, will be called at some point. The question, as Mark aptly and artfully laid out, is: Will you be optimistic and hopeful, or pessimistic and cynical? Here are three reasons why you should be optimistic and hopeful.

One, you are graduating from a great university. Your SMU degree will open the door to a wide variety of career options. Millions will never have had this opportunity. SMU has laid a foundation so you can reason, and continue to learn throughout your life. It has given you the tools to be productive citizens.

One of the great strengths of America is our active public square. Issues are influenced by the will of the people. That is why an educated citizenry is so important to the success of our country. As SMU graduates, you are well-equipped to participate in these vital debates. My hope is that you speak out on the issues that matter to you. Participate in your Nation's civic life as citizens, not spectators. You'll come to learn that who you are is more important than what you have--and that you have responsibilities to your fellow citizens, your country, and your family. By taking part in American democracy, you will make our country stronger.

Secondly, you are blessed to live in the greatest Nation - ever. (Applause.) Here you can strive and succeed as far as you dare to dream. It says something about our country that millions around the world are willing to leave their homes and families and risk everything to come here and realize the American dream. Their pursuit of that dream invigorates our national soul. It renews our country's character. And it adds vitality to our culture.

You live in a land that is compassionate and decent. Because we believe in the rights and dignity of our own citizenry, we are committed to defending the rights and dignity of people everywhere. America has liberated millions around the world from tyranny and terror. We've helped turn the tide against deadly disease in places like Africa. In our hearts we believe all are created equal under God. The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is Almighty God's gift to humanity.

At home, there are thousands of platoons in the Army of compassion working to honor those beliefs. No matter what your career path, enlist. When you help another, you enrich your heart, and you strengthen the fabric of our collective goodness.

Many of you have already made service a priority in your lives by volunteering during winter, spring, and summer breaks; and completing more than one-hundred community projects through Engaged Learning. I thank you for recognizing the timeless truth: of those to whom much is given, much is required.

As you serve others, you can inspire others. I've been inspired by the examples of many selfless servants. Winston Churchill, a leader of courage and resolve, inspired me during my Presidency--and, for that matter, in the post-presidency. Like Churchill, I now paint. (Laughter.) Unlike Churchill, the painting isn't worth much without the signature. (Laughter.)

In 1941, he gave a speech to the students of his old school during Britain's most trying times in World War II. It wasn't too long, and it is well-remembered. Prime Minister Churchill urged, "Never give in ... in nothing, great or small, large or petty. Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

I hope you'll remember this advice. But there's a lesser-known passage from that speech that I also want to share with you:

"These are not dark days. These are great days. The greatest our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race."

When Churchill uttered these words, many had lost hope in Great Britain's chance for survival against the Nazis. Many doubted the future of freedom. Today, some doubt America's future, and they say our best days are behind us. I say, given our strengths--one of which is a bright new generation like you--these are not dark days. These are great days.

And finally, you can be hopeful because there is a loving God. Whether you agree with that statement or not is your choice. It is not your government's choice. It is essential - (applause). It is essential to this nation's future that we remember that the freedom to worship who we want, and how we want--or not worship at all--is a core belief of our founding.

I have made my choice. I believe that the Almighty's grace and unconditional love will sustain you. I believe it will bring you joy amidst the trials of life. It will enable you to better see the beauty around you. It will provide a solid foundation amidst a rapidly changing, somewhat impersonal, technologically-driven world. It will show you how to love your neighbor, forgive more easily, and approach success with humility--and failure without fear.

It will inspire you to honor your parents and eventually be a better spouse and parent yourself. It will help you fully grasp the value of life--all life. It will remind you that money, power, and fame are false idols. And I hope and believe that God's love will inspire you to serve others.

I want to thank you for letting me share this special day with you. I wish you all the very best. Stay in touch with your friends. Love your family. Treat this day as a step toward a lifetime of learning. And go forth with confidence. May God bless you.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


Waterboarding Worked (Debra Saunders, May 17, 2015, RCP)

DiFi argues that waterboarding and other coercive techniques are "a stain on our values and our history." Morell writes: "I believe that waterboarding was one of the two most effective of all the harsh techniques (the other being sleep deprivation). That complicates things. Doesn't it?" If waterboarding stains American values, then surely drones do, as well; yet Feinstein supports Obama's use of drones. In DiFi's world, it's good policy to blow suspected terrorists to bits, just as long as you don't get them wet first. It's politically expedient to use drones to save U.S. military lives but not OK to waterboard to save civilian lives.

...then is it really harsh?
Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


You're Remembering Reagan Wrong (H.W. Brands,  May 16, 2015, TIME)

[R]eagan was more than a speechmaker, more than a visionary. He was also a brilliantly successful politician. Reagan had no military experience--beyond performing in films for the army during World War II--but he instinctively understood the difference between strategy and tactics. His strategic goal was to shrink government at home and defeat communism abroad. (On the latter he memorably told Richard Allen, who became his national security adviser: "My theory of the Cold War is: We win and they lose.") But Reagan recognized that progress came in stages, and that a step forward was a step in the right direction, even if it didn't achieve the goal all at once. "If Reagan told me once he told me fifteen thousand times," James Baker, Reagan's chief of staff and later his Treasury secretary, recalled in an interview: "'I'd rather get 80 percent of what I want than go over the cliff with my flags flying.'"

In case after case, Reagan demonstrated the flexibility necessary to advance his conservative agenda. He called for cutting taxes, and he was astonishingly successful in doing so, reducing by half the top rate on personal income. But he was willing to accept slight tax increases when necessary to consolidate gains already made and to achieve other conservative goals, such as streamlining the tax code and putting Social Security on a sounder footing. His willingness to accept less than his maximum program similarly made possible broad deregulation of business and a landmark immigration reform act.

Reagan is often cited as an enemy of government. The most frequently quoted line from his first inaugural address has him saying, "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." But what is almost always omitted is the prefatory clause: "In this present crisis..." Reagan was not an enemy of government, and he did not think government was the enemy of the American people. He believed government should be smaller than it had become by the 1980s, and that it should be more efficient, but he didn't believe it should be dismantled. As Greg Leo, who served in the Reagan administration told me, "We were not anarchists; we were conservatives."

Reagan's tactical flexibility appeared in other arenas. He was famous for declaring the Soviet Union an "evil empire." He had no doubt that communism was the most pernicious of modern creeds, and that the Kremlin was, as he put it in the same speech, "the focus of evil in the modern world." Reagan directed the rebuilding of American defenses to combat communism and bolster freedom. Yet even as he built up arms, he sought ways to negotiate them down. Indeed, the purpose of the arms buildup was to make arms reductions possible--to convince the Russians they couldn't beat the United States in an arms race.

Reagan repeatedly sought to engage Soviet leaders in negotiations, to no initial avail. "They kept dying on me," he said of the Moscow gerontocracy. But the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev gave Reagan someone to negotiate with, and in the culmination of an unprecedented series of summits, Reagan and Gorbachev eliminated one whole class of nuclear weapons and laid the basis for dramatic additional cuts in the superpower arsenals. Visiting Moscow during his last year in office, Reagan was asked whether he still considered the Soviet Union an evil empire. "No," he said simply. Later prompted to explain, he acknowledged that even communists could change for the better. "There is quite a difference today in the leadership and in the relationship between our two countries."

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Why so many Dutch people work part time (THe Economist, May 11th 2015)

THE Dutch are generally a pretty content bunch. The Netherlands consistently ranks as one of the best places in the world to live. Dutch kids are among the happiest in the world, according to Unicef. Some attribute their high quality of life and general good nature to a rather laid-back approach to work: more than half of the Dutch working population works part time, a far greater share than in any other rich-world country. On average only a fifth of the working-age population in EU member states holds a part-time job (8.7% of men and 32.2% of women); in the Netherlands 26.8% of men and 76.6% of women work less than 36 hours a week (see chart). Why? 

Part of the reason is that Dutch women were relative latecomers to the labour market. Compared with other countries, few men had to leave to fight in the world wars of the 20th century, with the result that women did not labour in factories as they did in America and Britain. Thanks to the country's wealth, a dual income was often not a necessity for a comfortable life. And Dutch politics was dominated by Christian values until the 1980s: the focus was mainly on providing state aid (implicit subsidies in the fiscal system) so that women could stay at home with children. 

This changed in the late 1980s, when the state realised that it would be a good idea to mobilise women into the job market. But the cultural conviction that families still needed mothers home for tea-time prevailed, and thus the state worked closely with employers to ensure that the new part-time jobs would enjoy similar legal positions to their full-time equivalents. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


We are ignoring the new machine age at our peril : Could sudden shifts in technology soon be coming over here and taking jobs? (John Naughton, 5/17/15, The Guardian)

The thinker who has done most to explain the consequences of connectedness is a Belfast man named W Brian Arthur, an economist who was the youngest person ever to occupy an endowed chair at Stanford University and who in later years has been associated with the Santa Fe Institute, one of the world's leading interdisciplinary research institutes. In 2009, he published a remarkable book, The Nature of Technology, in which he formulated a coherent theory of what technology is, how it evolves and how it spurs innovation and industry. Technology, he argued, "builds itself organically from itself" in ways that resemble chemistry or even organic life. And implicit in Arthur's conception of technology is the idea that innovation is not linear, but what mathematicians call "combinatorial", ie one driven by a whole bunch of things. And the significant point about combinatorial innovation is that it brings about radical discontinuities that nobody could have anticipated.

In recent years, we've begun to see the results of this in information technology. The most dramatic case is probably the self-driving car, a development that most of us failed to predict and which was made possible by the sudden conjunction of a whole lot of different technologies. These include: the near-infinite computing power provided by Moore's law; precise digital mapping; GPS; developments in laser and infrared sensor technology; and machine-learning algorithms plus the availability of massive data-sets on which to train them. Put these together using the kind of skilled engineering resources possessed by a company such as Google and you get the self-driving car.

The implications of this vehicle stretch far beyond the future of the automobile industry or even the future of transport. What it signals is that vast swaths of human activity - and employment - which were hitherto regarded as beyond the reach of "intelligent" machines may now be susceptible to automation. So we need to revise our assumptions about the future of work in the light of combinatorial innovation.

Last September, Dr Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, two researchers at the Martin School in Oxford, published the results of a major study of the susceptibility of jobs to this new kind of automation. Their report, The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?, makes for a pretty sobering read. Frey and Osborne used machine-learning techniques to estimate the probability of computerisation for 702 detailed occupations, based on US government classifications of those occupations. Their conclusion? About 47% of total US employment is at risk from technologies now operational in laboratories and in the field.

Nothing tells you how easy we have it more clearly than the fact that the main "threat" we face is not having to have jobs soon.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Is the US president an elected monarch? : President Obama has been accused of acting like a monarch. But the US presidency has been an elected kingship since 1776 in all but name, argues the historian David Cannadine. (BBC Magazine, 5/15/15)

To begin with, the denunciation - and the demonisation - of King George III in the Declaration of Independence was based on a seriously misleading exaggeration of his royal prerogatives. Those powers were increasingly being claimed by the politicians, and insofar as George III did re-affirm Britain's right to rule, to tax and to legislate for the American colonies, he believed he was asserting the sovereignty of the British parliament rather than that of the British crown.

But ironically, when the leaders of the American Revolution tried to work out what powers they should give to the newly created American presidency, the only models available were those of contemporary European monarchies, and especially the British. And so the founding fathers gave to the American presidency just those powers they erroneously believed King George III still possessed - to appoint and dismiss his cabinet, to make war and peace, and to veto bills sent up by the legislature. From the outset, then, the American presidency was vested with what might be termed monarchical authority, which meant that it really was a form of elective kingship. So when Henry Clay, the leader of the American Whig Party regretted that, under Andrew Jackson, the presidency was "rapidly tending towards an elective monarchy", he was in error because it had been an elective monarchy from the very beginning.

Indeed, better-informed Americans fully understood this. "We elect a king for four years", Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State once observed, "and give him absolute power within certain limits, which after all he can interpret for himself". Some commentators went even further, insisting that although America claimed to be a republic, because it had no hereditary sovereign, it was in reality a disguised monarchy - whereas Britain might claim to be a monarchy, because it had a royal head of state, but it was in fact a concealed republic, because the politicians rather than the sovereign were actually in charge. In the words of one late 19th Century American newspaper: "Great Britain is a republic, with a hereditary president, while the United States is a monarchy with an elective king." That may not have been the whole truth of things then, and it is not the whole truth of things now, but it should certainly give both President Obama, and also his Republican critics, some food for thought - to say nothing of the occupants of 10 Downing Street and of Buckingham Palace.

The British monarch sould exercise the power to veto bills and dismiss governments and both our kings should override legal rulings.
Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Ukip should be more compassionate, says party deputy (The Guardian,17 May 2015)

The author of Ukip's general election manifesto has said the party should concentrate on "compassionate, centre-ground" policies, denying the party was riven with bitter infighting.

Suzanne Evans, the party's deputy chairwoman, said the party's post-election troubles were related to advisers who had now left. "I don't think anyone hates anyone," she said on Sunday.

Evans also backed calls for Nigel Farage, the party leader, to take a break in the aftermath of the punishing election campaign - but insisted it should be a short holiday rather than anything longer.

Turmoil erupted in Ukip after Patrick O'Flynn, the party's campaign director, gave an interview saying Farage had been led astray by an inner circle of advisers, which had made him become "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive".

After a power struggle, two of Farage's key allies, Raheem Kassam, his chief of staff, and Matthew Richardson, the party secretary, announced their departure. Kassam is to join the rightwing news website, Breitbart.

Hate is a tough sell in the Anglosphere.

May 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 PM


Village of Bedouins Faces Eviction as Israel Envisions a Village of Jews (DIAA HADID, MAY 16, 2015, NY Times)

Salim al-Qian settled back on his white faux leather couch strewn with pink cushions and took a sip of tea, clearly comfortable in his tiny home in this ramshackle hamlet in the dusty hills of southern Israel. The sense of permanence suggested by his comfort, however, looks to be short-lived.

Mr. Qian and the other members of some 70 Bedouin families are likely to be evicted soon from their homes in the hamlet of Umm al-Hiran, where they have been living since the 1950s. In their place, the Israeli government plans to build a community with nearly the same name, Hiran -- but its expected residents will be religious Zionist Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


B.B. King left us with one last reminder of his greatness in 2008's One Kind Favor (Nick Deriso, 5/15/15, Something Else Reviews)

B.B. King could have done what most guys his age are doing nowadays: Put out an overhyped, but essentially soul-free album of duets featuring a head-scratching phalanx of with-it stars like, I don't know, Kid Rock and Jessica Simpson, then run a rut to the check-cashing place. Instead, B.B. King opened himself up creatively and, in some ways, even musically (since he's always been more known for a polished, citified sophistication) in the still-stirring winter of his justly legendary career.

One Kind Favor was like a trip to the bottom of a popping 1950s pot of country-cooked dirty rice, familiar yet complex. King opened with a song that, in anybody else's hands, playing with any other producer, might have been a sad valedictory: Here, however, Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" shuffled in as a quick-step admonition: B.B. King recognizes his looming mortality, and he's going to have a knee-slapping hootenanny in the meantime. "I'm not going anytime soon," he memorably welped, "but when the day comes, don't forget me."

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


Why Secular Liberalism Isn't Liberal : John Gray, René Girard, and the return of tribal religion (FORFARE DAVIS, Spring 2015, University Bookman)

In The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky reconfigures the ideological themes of his The Possessed into the microcosm of the dysfunctional Karamazov family fathered by the flamboyantly cruel Fyodor Karamazov. The novel's plot centers upon an act of parricide, the murder of the father by one of his sons, but its symbolism is about the nature and cost of deicide, the murder of God by ideology. The instigator of murder and middle son Ivan Karamazov is an atheist intellectual whose reasons for his crime, the cruelty of the father, are echoes of his arguments for his ideological commitment to atheism. As if to foreshadow what Ivan Karamazov's generation would inflict upon Russia, what follows in the aftermath of the revelation of Ivan's culpability is the surreal but revelatory episode of Ivan arguing with a vision of the Devil.

According to Girard, mimetic rivalry at its most extreme manifestation is a game the Devil, figuratively speaking, plays upon those who work to displace God. In The Brothers Karamazov the reader is introduced to many such figures, some in religious robes such as the Grand Inquisitor, others revolutionaries like Ivan. The game is that in the end, all the aspiration to transform the world by coercion or violence is really but the expression of unbounded vanity that feeds the mind full of visions of paradise while bringing only hell to the world.

When Ivan shares his reasons for his atheism to his younger brother Alexi, a novice in a Russian Orthodox monastic order, the younger brother is stunned by the emotional force of Ivan's argument: children are suffering and God is nowhere to be seen. But what Ivan uses to rationalize his metaphysical revolt drives Alexi to seek out and to help in his community just those children who exemplify Ivan's argument. Alexi takes to heart, even mimics, the legitimate concern expressed by his brother, but chooses to respond by healing, not ideology. Thus does Dostoyevsky show how imitation is not necessarily exclusively diabolical, but alternatively can direct the better angels of our nature.

In what is perhaps one of the more revealingly misunderstood endings to a novel, the reader, after being drawn into this melodramatic storyline is left with a seemingly anti-climactic final scene: Alexi among his ragamuffins and street urchins celebrating one of their number who had just passed away. Typically viewed as a false note to an otherwise epic storyline, the Russian is really revealing something about the modern reader. The epic, it turns out, is really in the seemingly mundane: love your neighbor as yourself. In contrast, the revolutionary is revealed as a vain banality: a vanity that claims to love mankind while displaying indifference toward individual human beings who are obstacles to his vision--or, as Lenin would refer to them, "broken eggs." What distinguishes the Ivans from the Alexis is the dramatic difference in the scope of their ambitions, reflecting respectively the magnitude of their self-importance and humility.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


How the church gave B.B. King the blues (Daniel Silliman, May 15, 2015, Washington Post)

He was attracted to the Church of God in Christ because of the music. The King family had been Baptist. The Baptists' musical tastes were more staid, more traditional than the young King liked, however.

"If you were in the Baptist church, they didn't want you to bring a guitar in," he said in an interview with the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1999. "So I didn't really dig the Baptist church too much."

The pastor of the local Church of God in Christ, on the other hand, played a Sears Roebuck Silvertone guitar. The Rev. Archie Fair led church with his guitar.

The church was a part of a strict sect of pentecostals, who believed true Christians could live free from sin, "sanctified." In some ways, the Church of God in Christ was more conservative than the Baptists. But not when it came to music. King thrilled to the church's worship style.

One fateful Sunday, a pentecostal pastor taught King to play three basic chords.

After that, King was converted.

He volunteered to be a janitor at the church so he could spend time with the instruments. Though King worked all week in the cotton fields, he taught Sunday school to children younger than himself. He got the nickname "church boy" and didn't care.

King soon found more thrilling music outside the walls of church, though. An aunt, only a few years older than King, exposed him to her collection of 78 rpm records. She played him Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson. He started going to the store in Indianola, Miss., on Saturdays to listen to the blues on the radio. A cousin, Booker "Bukka" White, was living in Memphis, making a living playing the blues, and would come back to Mississippi sometimes with a beautiful guitar and sharp new clothes.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


US special forces kill Isis commander and capture wife in Syria raid (Spencer Ackerman,  16 May 2015, The Guardian)

US special operations forces have killed an Islamic State commander through a dramatic and secretive raid into Syria and have taken a woman prisoner, the first US-held detainee of the war against Isis and a move that places immediate stress on one of Barack Obama's signature wartime policies.

Ashton Carter, the US defense secretary, confirmed on Saturday that Obama ordered the elite troops to raid a location in eastern Syria and "capture" an Isis figure, Abu Sayyaf. Unusually, Carter said the raid also targeted the man's wife, identified as Umm Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf was killed in the raid, Carter said. Umm Sayyaf was taken prisoner - a rarity for the Obama administration, whose reluctance to add to the complexities of US wartime detentions has often led it to kill battlefield targets instead of capturing them.

All the guy cares about is winning the WoT and expanding trade.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Khamenei: US destabilizing Gulf for own interests (AP, May 16, 2015)

Iran's supreme leader said Saturday the US is destabilizing the Persian Gulf in pursuit of its own interests, just after US President Barack Obama hosted Arab leaders at Camp David to assuage their security concerns.

The destabilization of Yemen, towards separate states with representative governments, is a good example of how the Shi'a/Christian alliance is working. Stability in the Gulf serves only rotten regimes.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


The Secret Corporate Takeover (Joseph E. Stiglitz, 5/13/15, Project Syndicate)

The United States and the world are engaged in a great debate about new trade agreements. Such pacts used to be called "free-trade agreements"; in fact, they were managed trade agreements, tailored to corporate interests, largely in the US and the European Union. Today, such deals are more often referred to as "partnerships,"as in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But they are not partnerships of equals: the US effectively dictates the terms. Fortunately, America's "partners" are becoming increasingly resistant.

It is not hard to see why. These agreements go well beyond trade, governing investment and intellectual property as well, imposing fundamental changes to countries' legal, judicial, and regulatory frameworks, without input or accountability through democratic institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Seeded With Tax Cuts, Kansas Harvests the Benefits (ANDREW B. WILSON, May 15, 2015, WSJ)

What the news coverage missed was that if Kansas hasn't exactly catapulted into the front ranks in economic growth and employment, then it has at least moved a long way from the stagnation of recent decades. Consider:

• In March 2013, unemployment in Kansas stood at 5.5%. It has since dropped to 4.2%, tied for 14th lowest in the country.

• From 1998-2012, Kansas ranked 38th in private-sector job growth, according Bureau of Labor Statistics data crunched by the Kansas Policy Institute. In 2013--the first year after the tax reform--the state climbed to 27th place, and in 2014 it moved to 21st, placing it in the top half of states.

• In the second half of 2014, hourly wages in Kansas grew 3.5%, according to BLS data, far faster than the national average of 1.9%.

Then there is the Kansas City metropolitan area, a living laboratory that straddles the border with Missouri. On Mr. Brownback's side of the divide, the top personal income-tax rate is now 4.9%, beginning at $15,000 for single filers; in Missouri the top 6% rate starts at $9,000.

"I just think Kansas City is a great study," the governor says. "This is an unusual place, where you've got a city virtually equally divided between two states." The results? Over the past two calendar years, private-sector jobs increased by 5.6% on the Kansas side and only 2.2% on the Missouri. In the same period hourly wages grew $1.22 on the Kansas side, compared with $0.61 on the Missouri side.

To Mr. Brownback, those kinds of statistics show the success of his tax cuts. He says a reporter recently asked whether he could "definitively say this wouldn't have happened" without the reforms. "We don't have the studies that say that," he replies, "but we're in terrain that we have not seen before--and it's good terrain."

Such results make intuitive sense. Patti Bossert, who owns two employment agencies in Topeka, estimates the tax cuts saved her firms $40,000 last year. Seeing a windfall on its way, she spent $375,000 to buy and remodel an old building for a new company headquarters. "Our business has been phenomenal," she says. "Wages are going up, and the big problem now is that there are many more available job openings than there are qualified people to fill them."

Critics contend that Mr. Brownback's tax cuts have blown a hole in the state budget--$344 million in the 2015 fiscal year and $600 million in the next. The governor is filling those gaps by moving money from highway projects and delaying some public pension contributions. He has also proposed raising cigarette and alcohol taxes and pausing some of the tax cuts still scheduled to take effect. But he insists that the state will maintain a balanced budget and at the same time "continue our march to zero income taxes."

Posted by orrinj at 8:20 AM


'You think I'm mad?' - the truth about psychosomatic illness (Suzanne O'Sullivan 16 May 2015, The Guardian)

One of the greatest challenges for most doctors is the struggle to believe in the truly subconscious nature of their patients' psychosomatic symptoms. Pierre Janet, a French philosopher and psychologist in the late 19th century, was pivotal in the development of what we call the subconscious. He described consciousness as those sensory experiences and thoughts of which we are actively aware, whereas our subconscious is a place to store information not immediately available to the conscious mind.

Janet thought our consciousness could expand and contract, and choose what we perceived and what we ignored. There are examples of this in everyday life - looking for a friend in a crowd, for example. They are right in front of you, waving, but somehow you look right past them. "You must have seen me," they say afterwards. "You looked right at me!" But you didn't. For a moment, your mind employed selective attention and blocked something from your view.

Janet said that a separation between the subconscious and conscious could see memories and feelings exist in parallel parts of the mind, neither knowing of the other. This he referred to as dissociation, arguing that a psychological trauma could cause the subconscious to slink away so it was no longer available. In his model, it would be possible for Yvonne both to see and be unaware of seeing at the same time.

I saw Yvonne just once more, to arrange her psychiatry assessment. What little I would learn later would come in correspondence from the psychiatrist. These letters were factual, plainly written but always slightly cagey, as they have to be. Yvonne's accident at work had resulted in an argument at home, the first letter said. Gerald had been called away from work to collect her from hospital. When he learned what had happened, he insisted she resign instantly. Yvonne, whose vision was not affected in the incident's immediate aftermath, tried to plead otherwise, but he called her employer and offered her resignation. Later that evening the argument became moot when Yvonne discovered she had lost her vision.

The letter stated that Yvonne was struggling at home. Gerald had hired a housekeeper who did all the housework and helped with the children, but would not take responsibility for Yvonne. This left her feeling both superfluous and frightened.

After meeting the psychiatrist, Yvonne agreed to an admission to the psychiatric ward for intensive rehabilitation and talking therapy.

The final letter came months later:

I am happy to let you know that Yvonne's vision has returned to normal. She has engaged well with treatment, although both she and her husband still struggle a little to accept the diagnosis in full. She has recently moved back to the family home and reports that things are going well. So much so that she has decided it would not be right to return to work.

Yvonne has crossed my mind several times since then, and I feel I did her a disservice. I was a fool to question her motives and insight because she had, suspectingly or unsuspectingly, told me exactly how things were when she handed me the card she had made. A woman who wishes to lie and fake wears dark glasses , carries a cane and stumbles about. That woman certainly does not draw a picture. Yvonne's drawing was evidence not of guilt but of innocence, and, at the moment she handed it to me, it was I who could not see.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Iran maps out plans to revive economy once sanctions are lifted (Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Roula Khalaf, 5/15/15, Financial Times)

A senior banker who has managed some of the country's biggest institutions, Mr Seif faces an uphill challenge in restoring stability and credibility to the central bank. Under the previous government of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad it was treated like a cashier and forced to finance the president's populist policies, including massive housing projects for the poor.

Mr Seif has hired back some of the country's most prominent economists and the Rouhani government has brought down inflation from over 40 per cent to 15.5 per cent in less than two years. Wild fluctuations in the rial, the local currency, have also been halted.

A much-needed overhaul of the ailing banking sector has also started, with the central bank working on defining standards and restoring financial discipline. Mr Seif said banks needed capital injections, management restructuring and improvements in corporate governance.

The banking sector, most of it privately owned in name but with strong affiliations to state bodies, has been ravaged in recent years, with a non-performing loans ratio now reaching 14.5 per cent according to Mr Seif. Other bankers say the rate probably exceeds 20 per cent.

Mr Seif said he has been approached by European and Arab investors interested in the banking sector. "They are asking whether they can get licences to establish new banks, buy stakes in existing private banks, and whether they can open up branches," he said.

Foreign banks are allowed to take a 40 per cent stake in a local bank but the central bank is reviewing regulations to provide banks with easier terms in free trade zones.

Mr Seif said Iran needed not only capital but also technology and know-how. "For all requests, we will review the background of the institutions in their home country and our relations with those countries will also be looked into," he said.

As the government struggles to bring back some normality to a dysfunctional economy, ordinary Iranians and businessmen complain that they have yet to feel the results. The pressure on the government to deliver tangible benefits will grow only if and when a nuclear accord is struck.

The return to alliance with the US removes all the excuses.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


Rome hails illegal immigrant who saved drowning Israeli (TIMES OF ISRAEL, May 16, 2015)

Sobuj Khalifa, 32, told authorities he had been walking along the city's River Tiber when he noticed something floating by. It took him several moments to realize he was looking at a person.

"I saw a body in the water and at first I thought it was a big fish but then I saw it was a person. I ran along the banks as she was being carried along by the current," Khalifa told the Telegraph.

"People were watching from a bridge and I yelled, telling them to call for help. Then I dived into the river without even taking off my shoes. I wasn't afraid. I swim well and was a fisherman in my home country."

Khalifa managed to pull the unconscious woman out. Police believed the woman, a 55-year-old Israeli living in Rome, had jumped into the river in an attempt to commit suicide.

"The woman had a bloated stomach. She had swallowed water. I didn't see her again but I knew she survived," he said.

Khalifa said he had been living in Rome since 2008, but his one-year permit had long-since expired and he eked out a meager existence selling flowers or umbrellas on the streets. He explained that he sent some of the 50 Euros he earned each week to his sick mother in Bangladesh.

Italian authorities have hailed Khalifa's bravery. The state has bestowed him with a one-year resident's permit in gratitude for his actions, and Mayor Ignazio Marino has personally thanked him for his "wonderful gesture."

May 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


Dennis Potter: there is a nostalgic, rightwing impulse in England : In a BBC World Service broadcast in 1979, Dennis Potter - who would have turned 80 this weekend - talked to Michael Billington about the relationship between good and evil in his play Brimstone and Treacle (Michael Billington, 15 May 2015, The Guardian)

MB: Can I bring you on to the political aspects of the play, because those intrigue me honestly as much as the religious ones. The head of the house, Mr Bates, Tom, does in fact lean towards the British fascist organisation the National Front, yet you also give him a speech in which he laments the England that once was, and in which he foreswears racial violence, and I wonder, do you feel that in England today there is a sort of sour middle-class discontent, but one that stops well short of fascism and well short of physical violence?

DP: Yes, I think in England it will take something utterly exceptional to produce a genuinely dangerous, fascist party. On the other hand, there is in England - and quite understandably - a yearning, a nostalgia, a basically rightwing impulse which is simple in the sense that it wishes things to be as they were: that is, socially, politically impossible.

Oxford's Influential Inklings (Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski, 5/08/15, The Chronicle Review)

We must picture Oxford, during the First World War, not as the neo-medieval paradise it would like to be, but as the military compound it was obliged to become. The colleges of Oxford turned nearly overnight into hospitals and officer-training camps, strangely quiet and emptied of students, "like monasteries where all the monks have died," as Victor Gollancz remembered it. The Oxford University Roll of Service records that of 14,561 students who served in the war, 2,708 -- nearly 20 percent -- perished. In a society known for its masculine "clubbability," yet haunted by the memory of so many friendships severed, so many men cut down in their prime, it scarcely surprises that the surviving remnant would seek out every opportunity for male companionship. The Inklings were, to a man -- and they were all men -- comrades who had been touched by war, who viewed life through the lens of war, yet who looked for hope and found it, in fellowship, where so many other modern writers and intellectuals saw only broken narratives, disfigurement, and despair.

If Virginia Woolf was right that "on or about December 1910 human character changed" in the direction of modernism and daring social experiments, the Great War intensified that change; according to standard histories of this period, the rising generation of British writers reacted to the catastrophe by severing ties to tradition and embracing an aesthetic of dissonance, fragmentation, and estrangement.

Yet the Great War also instilled in many a longing to reclaim the goodness, beauty, and cultural continuity that had been so violently disrupted. The Inklings came together because they shared that longing; and it was the Inklings, rather than the heirs of the Bloomsbury Group -- the other great, if ill-defined, English literary circle of the 20th century -- who gave that longing its most enduring artistic form and substance. Far from breaking with tradition, they understood the Great War and its aftermath in the light of tradition, believing, as did their literary and spiritual ancestors, that ours is a fallen world yet not a forsaken one. It was a belief that set them at odds with many of their contemporaries but kept them in the broad currents of the English literary heritage. They shared much with Bloomsbury, including love of beauty, companionship, and conversation, but they differed from their older London counterpart in their religious ardor, their social conservatism, and their embrace of fantasy, myth, and (mostly) conventional literary techniques instead of those dazzling experiments with time, character, narrative, and language that mark the modernist aesthetic.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


Left's labor lost: Why Europe's social democrats are on the ropes (John Lloyd, May 15, 2015, Reuters)

Both the German Social Democrats and the Dutch Labor Party are in government, but with a more powerful center-right force. The Swedish Social Democrats retain leadership of the government only with the support of the Moderates. The Austrian party of the left also leads a coalition but, as one academic put it, is "merely continu(ing) to administer rather than actively shape the future of Austria."

The German and the Swedish social democrats have been hegemonic forces in their societies, with hundreds of thousands of members, sub-national cultures in their own right. These cultures are thinning fast.

The French socialists govern alone, but both the party and the president, Francois Hollande, remain very low in the polls. The Spanish socialists, in opposition, have revived a little, but not convincingly. In the former Communist countries Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary, the left is weak. 

[T]here is one party of the left that has been hugely successful: the Italian Partito Democratico, center-left, with a solid majority in the lower chamber of the Parliament, driven on relentlessly by Matteo Renzi, the 40-year-old prime minister. Renzi is a very New Labour centrist kind of man: indeed, many of his comrades don't believe he is a leftist at all.

His agenda is changing the constitution to bring more stability to the electoral system; reforming the labor laws to make them more flexible for employers; slashing public spending to reduce Italy's vast debt; and confronting trade unions, which have had an arm lock on economic change for decades. Very far from what a leftist government has traditionally seen as its role.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


How Labour's election strategy backfired (William A. Galston | May 14, 2015, Brookings)

I managed to locate constituency-level polls taken in 2014 for 23 of these seats, and they tell a revealing story. If the election had been held in the summer or fall of last year, Labour would have won a majority of the contested seats, many by substantial margins. The story since then is not one of Labour losses but rather of Conservative gains. Between mid-2014 and last week's election, Labour maintained its support but increased it outside the margin of error in only 1 of the 23 constituencies, compared to 22 for the Tories. The Conservative gain in these constituencies averaged 11 percentage points, compared to a 1 point average loss for Labour.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that Labour's left-leaning campaign solidified its base but persuaded few voters beyond that core, a result likely to influence the selection of its next leader. As veteran UK political advisor and commentator Patrick Diamond observes, Labour's strategy "dragged the party even further away from the vital centre-ground of British politics. The leadership mistakenly assumed that, following the financial crisis, the country had moved radically to the left. But voters were as wary of government as they were of the market, making it essential for Labour to be the party of economic competence and the party of aspiration. Labour fought the election on policies that would never command an electoral majority or build a dynamic centre-left coalition."

By contrast, the Conservatives managed to expand their support in contested areas, compared not only to their nadir last year but even to 2010. Which voters contributed to the Conservative surge? Between the summer of 2014 and the 2015 election, support for the UK Independence Party (UKIP) declined by an average of 5 points in these crucial constituencies. The LibDems lost an average of 3 points; decisions by previously uncommitted voters netted the Tories an additional 3 points.

Several of the Repuiblican candidates are hell-bent on pursuing the Labour strategy instead of the Conservative (or the conservative).
Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Does immigration impact institutions? (J. R. Clark, Robert Lawson, Alex Nowrasteh, Benjamin Powell, Ryan Murphy, June 2015, Public Choice)

The economics literature generally finds a positive, but small, gain in income to native-born populations from immigrants and potentially large gains in world incomes. But immigrants can also impact a recipient nation's institutions. A growing empirical literature supports the importance of strong private property rights, a rule of law, and an environment of economic freedom for promoting long-run prosperity. But little is known about how immigration impacts these institutions. This paper empirically examines how immigration impacts a nation's policies and institutions. We find no evidence of negative and some evidence of positive impacts in institutional quality as a result of immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Why the First Amendment Has Nothing To Do with Separation of Church and State (Anthony J. Gockowski, May 13, 2015, Intercollegiate Review)

[W]e should start by looking at the constitution. The First Amendment of the constitution reads:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

A strict interpretation of the First Amendment excludes the Jeffersonian language of separation. In the Amendment above, the only phrases that have anything to do with religion are "establishment" and "free exercise." This language implies an indifference towards religion, not an exclusion of it, and certainly not hostility towards it, which is often the posture of our culture.

The establishment clause was influenced by the abundance of religious views in America at the time of its founding. It was written out of openness to all religious beliefs and customs­--the furthest thing from a rejection of religion. It would have been unjust to establish a single national religion.

The free exercise clause is a bit trickier. Properly understanding it requires a working definition of freedom, which I'm not ready to provide. But I don't think it's ridiculous to assume that freedom to practice includes freedom to bring faith to the public square. Freedom of religion is more than being able to practice behind closed doors.

The point is, neither of these clauses is evidence for separation. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Poll: 69 percent of voters don't want a political newcomer as president (Meghan DeMaria, 5/15/15, The Week)

A new poll from The Wall Street Journal and NBC News found that a majority of voters (69 percent) don't want a president who lacks political experience.

May 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Let Syrians Settle Detroit (DAVID D. LAITIN and MARC JAHR, MAY 14, 2015, NY Times)

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, a Republican, has already laid the groundwork. In January 2014 he called for an infusion of 50,000 immigrants as part of a program to revitalize Detroit, and signed an executive order creating the Michigan Office for New Americans.

Syrian refugees would be an ideal community to realize this goal, as Arab-Americans are already a vibrant and successful presence in the Detroit metropolitan area. A 2003 survey by the University of Michigan of 1,016 members of this community (58 percent of whom were Christian, and 42 percent Muslim) found that 19 percent were entrepreneurs and that the median household income was $50,000 to $75,000 per year.

What confidence can we have that traumatized war refugees can be transformed into budding American entrepreneurs? We cannot know for sure. But recent evidence of recaptured children from the clutches of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and victims of violent crime across five continents reveals that they become more active citizens than similar compatriots who have not suffered from these traumatic events. In the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan, Syrians, despite psychological scars and limited resources, have set up 3,500 shops, stores and other businesses.

Refugees resettled from a single war zone have helped revitalize several American communities, notably Hmong in previously neglected neighborhoods in Minneapolis, Bosnians in Utica, N.Y., and Somalis in Lewiston, Me.

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


Art has ceased to be beautiful or interesting -- but we are more obsequious than ever to artists (Stephen Bayley 16 May 2015, The Spectator)

Artists once served, in turn, the religions of God, of beauty, of sex and political or social subversion. In all of these categories very great masterpieces were realised. A dead Christ, a Venetian hooker, a Dutch townscape, a cathedral in a meadow, and a gas station, all became things of thrilling beauty. But at some point in the last 50 years, art ceased, on the whole, to be either beautiful or interesting. Rem Koolhaas, a Dutch architect who, black-clad in Prada, bestrides the 'art world', enjoys discussing EU administration in his interview with Obrist.

Who can say why artists are now so boring? Maybe in a global culture European painting and sculpture seem provincial. Certainly, Obrist's manic dealings with artists depend very much on the easy availability of international flights. Or perhaps when consumers receive aesthetic gratification from so many sources, 'fine' art becomes redundant. Today, art has long since left the studio or atelier and is out on the street, yet there are still 'artists', many of whom are forced up dead ends of performance and conceptualism. 

No one can even name a current artist and none of their work appears in our homes.  They have no interest in beauty; we have no interest in them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Pearls Before Swine

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


TESTED UNDER FIRE : When Ronald Reagan was shot, Al Haig famously declared that he was "in control," but it was the vice president from Texas who stepped calmly into the breach. (Alan Peppard, May 13, 2015, Dallas Morning News)

One year earlier, it had been inconceivable that Reagan's and Bush's destinies would seamlessly merge and propel them both to the White House.

In the Pennsylvania GOP primary, Bush uttered three words that almost doomed his political rise. At Carnegie Mellon University, he dismissed Reagan's plan to cut taxes, increase defense spending and balance the budget as "voodoo economic policy."

"That really pissed off Reagan," says Richard V. Allen, who was the Californian's foreign policy specialist.

A month later, Bush dropped out of the race. In his diary, he pondered, "What's it going to be like? Driving a car, being lonely around the house?"

But on a July night when Reagan was nominated, fate intervened. At 11:35 p.m., a plan to pick Gerald Ford as his running mate collapsed during a meeting between Reagan and the former president.

After Ford left the nominee's 69th-floor suite at the Detroit Plaza Hotel, Reagan explained to his inner circle, "All this time, my gut instinct has been that this is not the right thing."

The room was silent until Reagan asked, "Well, what do we do now?"

"We call Bush," said Allen, who had already put out feelers to see if the Texan could embrace the platform -- voodoo economic policy and all. He could.

At 11:38 p.m., Reagan grabbed the phone and invited Bush to be his running mate.

"Bush found in Ronald Reagan somebody who himself valued friendships and good relations, so they hit it off splendidly," said Untermeyer.

"I already looked at Ronald Reagan as a friend and someone I respected," Bush told The News. "There was no doubt who was the senior partner in our relationship, but our trust and friendship had grown with each passing day."

Conservatives around Reagan, however, were suspicious of the moderate Ivy League vice president and his former campaign manager Jim Baker, the new White House chief of staff.

At a meeting in the West Wing, the Harvard-educated Untermeyer introduced himself to Deaver.

"Chase Untermeyer?" Deaver said. "Sounds like a George Bush staff name. Are you a third or a fourth?"

"The administration was becoming divided between 'us,' the Reaganites, and 'them,' the moderates, recalled Reagan's longtime assistant Helene von Damm.

Reagan joked about his team at his first Gridiron Club dinner: "The right hand doesn't know what the far-right hand is doing." [....]

In the stateroom aboard Air Force Two, Matheny, the crewman, and Pollard, the head of the security detail, told Bush of the arrival plans for Washington. The plane would taxi into Hangar 7 at Andrews Air Force Base. The vice president would walk outside under the gaze of sharpshooters to a Marine helicopter. It would fly him to the South Lawn of the White House.

Bush firmly overruled them.

The helicopter, he said, would land at the vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory. He would go by car to the White House.

"Something about landing on the South Lawn didn't sit well with me," Bush told The News. "It might well have made for great TV, but I thought it would have sent the wrong message to the country and to the world. As I told my military aide, 'Only the president lands on the South Lawn.'"

The South Lawn landing area was directly under the bedroom window of the president.

"I was also thinking about Nancy Reagan," Bush added, "and how she probably didn't need that kind of distraction at that time."

Around 6 p.m., Air Force Two was over Virginia when Bush took a call from Meese at the hospital.

"That's wonderful," Bush said. "That's very good. See you at the house."

"They got the bullet out," Bush told Untermeyer. "The president is stable."

At 6:30 p.m., nine hours after leaving Andrews, Bush's plane returned. As it taxied inside the hangar, a steward handed Bush the raincoat he had last seen that morning.

Secret Service Agent John Magaw exited first, followed by Bush and Pollard. Magaw pointed to the big hangar door. Bush walked under the plane's white nose and boarded Marine Two.

As the sun set, the helicopter lifted off. That morning, Washington had been shrouded in clouds and rain. With the rain now gone, the illuminated Capitol and Washington Monument pointed the way home.

When the wheels touched the pad at the Observatory, Barbara Bush was there with the couple's cocker spaniel, C. Fred. She and her husband embraced.

Meese waited with a full, presidential-scale motorcade to whisk Bush to the White House.

"At almost exactly 7, the vice president came to the Situation Room and very calmly assumed the chair at the head of the table," Weinberger recalled.

The tapes reveal that Bush never hinted that he had seen Haig's press briefing. The secretary of state was the first person he greeted.

"Hi, Al, how are you?" he said warmly. "Good to see you."

"Haig completely changed demeanor," Allen said. "He shut up when Bush came in. Then, I briefed."

In the 4½ hours since the shooting, the situation had clarified. The planned strike in Poland had been postponed. Allen and CIA Director Casey provided fresh satellite images of Eastern Europe that showed no hostile troop movements near Poland.

It was learned that five months earlier, Hinckley had stalked President Carter and Vice President Walter Mondale in Nashville, Tenn.

"Apparently, he's one of those fellows who's just after somebody of note," said Attorney General Smith.

Bush suggested they all adjourn to their offices.

"My view," he said, "is the more normal everything is, the better it is."

"He came in with perfect equanimity," said Allen.

Soon, the reassuring face of George Bush appeared on television sets across the country. Introduced by Speakes, he entered the Briefing Room and read a short statement.

Back in his office, he called the congressional leadership.

"Then, as becomes him," Untermeyer recorded in his diary, "the wives of the D.C. policeman and Secret Service agent gunned down in defense of the president."

Before leaving for the night, Bush walked over to the White House residence for a visit with Nancy Reagan.

"She looked tiny and afraid," he told Untermeyer.

"While it was clear the day's events had taken an understandable toll on her," he told The News, "I also had a feeling everything would work out."

Later, Mrs. Reagan firmly directed Deaver and the Secret Service to ensure that a shooting never happened again.

"They saw to it," recalled Sam Donaldson, the newsman. "He never walked across an airport tarmac. He never worked a fence line. He never got out of his limousine on a public sidewalk. But it began to close down the presidency."

The assassination attempt did little to calm the temperament of Haig, who continued to threaten resignation. In June 1982, Reagan accepted.

"We were high-fiving inside the Oval Office," Deaver said.

"He wanted to be president, which was fair enough," recalled Weinberger. "I think he just felt he was being undermined by a cabal of the White House."

In 1988, Haig ran for the GOP presidential nomination. He never polled above single digits.

On Nov. 8, 1988, George H.W. Bush was elected 41st president of the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 2:50 PM


What Labour needs to do is estrange its awful voters (Rod Liddle, 16 May 2015, The Spectator)

And so now we have to suffer the epic delusions, temper tantrums and hissy fits of the metro-left. They simply cannot believe how you scumbags could have got it so wrong last Thursday, you morons. You vindictive, selfish morons. That has been the general response from all of the people, the liberal middle-class lefties, who have cheerfully contributed towards making the once great Labour party effectively unelectable. You lot voted Tory out of fear -- because you are stupid, stupid people. The Conservatives ran a 'negative' campaign and, because you are either simply horrible human beings, or just thick, you fell for it.

That's been the subtext of most of the bien-pensants, when they're not out screaming with fury in the streets, stamping their little feet and daubing 'Tory scum' on war memorials. It was the subtext of Ed Miliband's magnificently patronising and deluded analysis that Labour (i.e. Ed Miliband) lost the election but 'did not lose the argument'. No Ed, you lost both. You lost the election because you lost the argument. And also because lots of people, including members of your family, thought you were a ludicrous creature increasingly resembling one of those confections in a Dr Seuss book for kiddies. My favourite little temper strop, though, came from a woman called Rebecca Roache, who is a lecturer at Royal Holloway. Tory voters are akin to racists, sexists and homophobes, she asserted on her blog, before adding that she had 'defriended' people on Facebook who had posted links to pro-Tory pages. 'I'm tired of reasoned debate,' she added.

...what use is reason to those who lost the argument?

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters (Neil Irwin, 5/04/15, NY Times)

Imagine an elite professional services firm with a high-performing, workaholic culture. Everyone is expected to turn on a dime to serve a client, travel at a moment's notice, and be available pretty much every evening and weekend. It can make for a grueling work life, but at the highest levels of accounting, law, investment banking and consulting firms, it is just the way things are.

Except for one dirty little secret: Some of the people ostensibly turning in those 80- or 90-hour workweeks, particularly men, may just be faking it.

Many of them were, at least, at one elite consulting firm studied by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University's Questrom School of Business. [...]

Some 31 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women whose records Ms. Reid examined managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it.

They made an effort to line up clients who were local, reducing the need for travel. When they skipped work to spend time with their children or spouse, they didn't call attention to it. One team on which several members had small children agreed among themselves to cover for one another so that everyone could have more flexible hours.

A male junior manager described working to have repeat consulting engagements with a company near enough to his home that he could take care of it with day trips. "I try to head out by 5, get home at 5:30, have dinner, play with my daughter," he said, adding that he generally kept weekend work down to two hours of catching up on email.

Despite the limited hours, he said: "I know what clients are expecting. So I deliver above that." He received a high performance review and a promotion.

What is fascinating about the firm Ms. Reid studied is that these people, who in her terminology were "passing" as workaholics, received performance reviews that were as strong as their hyper-ambitious colleagues. For people who were good at faking it, there was no real damage done by their lighter workloads.

Time spent at "work" does not correlate with work done.
Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


5 questions every presidential candidate should answer: Saudi Arabia edition (AEI, 5/14/15)

3.) Should the United States support Saudi democratic reform and human rights?

Saudi Arabia gets a lot of bad press for its poor human rights record. Critics point to the kingdom's restrictive laws toward women, including the prohibition against women driving and the guardianship system, under which any woman requires her male guardian's permission to marry or divorce, seek education or employment, travel, or even open a bank account. But Saudi Arabia's poor human rights record extends beyond women's rights. Saudi authorities continue to implement harsh punishments, including flogging, amputation, and public executions. The recent case of blogger Raif Badawi is but one example. Torture, sectarian discrimination, restrictions on religious freedom, and exploitation of migrant workers remain problems.

US policy toward Saudi Arabia has favoured stability, and US criticism of internal Saudi policy is generally muted. Will the next president continue the policy of quiet critique, or will he or she favor a more proactive stance against authoritarian restrictions on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law? Should US allies share our values, or only our goals?

4.) How should the United States assess Saudi Arabia's radicalism problem?

Saudi Arabia rests upon a compact between the monarchy and conservative religious leaders, some of whom promote a strict Salafi interpretation of Islam that is sometimes used to legitimize violence or terrorism. The US Treasury Department has designated Saudi religious charities like the International Islamic Relief Organization and the al Haramain Foundation as financiers of terrorism. Saudi nationals carried out the highest percentage of suicide attacks on US forces in Iraq, and Saudis are believed to be the leading group of foreign fighters joining the Islamic State.

The future of American/Arab relations depends on the Sa'uds--or the Arabs themselves--liberalizing their government and working to expunge Salafism from Islam.

Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


A Real Trade War (David Brodwin, May 14, 2015, US News)

To understand what's at stake, we need to understand the economic war that is underway. On one side are multinational corporations who want to maximize their power and profits in all the countries where they operate. Opposing them are the national governments that make and enforce the rules of the market in each country. It's a fight over who gets the wealth that flows as the economy hums along. Does the wealth go mostly to workers, consumers and small businesses in the country? Or does it mostly get extracted by the multinationals?

National governments' main tool in this war is regulation. They pass laws that, for example, prohibit child labor, preserve clean water and ensure that drugs are safe before they are sold. They strive to develop a vibrant and diverse national economy in which locally owned and operated firms can flourish. Multinational corporations don't generally like these laws and would prefer to operate in an environment where they are free to pull as much money out, by any means necessary.

To date, the struggle between those who favor local prosperity and those who favor wealth extraction has taken place issue by issue, law by law. But recently, the extractors have gotten smarter and smarter about how to block the entire ability of local governments to make policy regardless of the issue. It would save the extractors a lot of time and trouble if they could shut down all government regulation and policymaking at once and not have to battle one issue at a time.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is, first and foremost, a tool for gutting rulemaking. Though the full text has been kept secret (even from Congress), bits have been leaked. From those bits, we can see the overall thrust of the proposal. The trade agreement enshrines a legal doctrine - so-called Investor Protection - that lets corporations sue to overturn practically any regulation that costs them money. For example, Philip Morris can sue countries that require graphic warnings on cigarettes. (In fact, they are already doing so.) Nike could sue a country that restricted the importation of products made with sweatshop labor. Citigroup Inc. could sue a country that had rules protecting homeowners from inadequately-documented foreclosures. Wal-Mart could sue a city that had a procurement preference for locally-owned or minority-owned businesses. These are just examples; the possibilities are endless.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Firms Tell Gay Couples: Wed or Lose Your Benefits (RACHEL EMMA SILVERMAN, May 12, 2015, WSJ)

Amid a push that has made same-sex marriage legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia, some employers are telling gay workers they must wed in order to maintain health-care coverage for their partners. About a third of public- and private-sector employees in the U.S. have access to benefits for unmarried gay partners, according to a federal tally, but employment lawyers say the fast-changing legal outlook is spurring some employers to rethink that coverage.

"If the Supreme Court rules that suddenly there is marriage equality in 50 states, the landscape totally changes," says Todd Solomon, a law partner in the employee-benefits practice group at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago, who has been tracking domestic partnership benefits for nearly two decades.

Such a decision will likely result in more employers dropping same-sex partner benefits in favor of spousal benefits, according to Mr. Solomon.

Americans can tolerate homosexuality to precisely the degree they can make it ape normality.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Jeb Bush: 'I would have not gone into Iraq' (Ryu Spaeth, 5/14/15, The Week)

Jeb Bush this week has struggled mightily with what would seem like a basic question: Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded Iraq? On Thursday, he gave what we are guessing is his final answer: "Knowing what we know now, I would have not engaged. I would have not gone into Iraq."

This one is like the other guys pretending they'd oppose amnesty if elected.

May 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


We have such a weak internet signal coming into our house (in a rural area) that it's always been hard to spread the signal to the whole house and, since we got rid of cable, with everyone streaming we were cutting each other out all the time.

So I plunked down some serious cash money for a great router that happens to be on deep discount today and the bundled with a 1T external drive: NETGEAR Nighthawk X4 AC2350 Smart Wi-Fi Router and Toshiba 1TB Canvio Basics USB 3.0 Portable Hard Drive Bundle

We highly recommend it if you're in the market for a router.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Is the US economy actually leaving China behind? (Derek Scissors, 5/13/15, AEI)

Credit Suisse has been measuring net household wealth in most countries since 2000. This is a difficult task, and errors are unavoidable. Nonetheless, Credit Suisse has found consistent numbers from applying comparable methodology over the past 15 years. Further, their figures for the United States are fairly close to the Federal Reserve series on American net private wealth.

At the end of 2000, Credit Suisse put net private American wealth at $42.9 trillion, compared to $4.7 trillion for China: a ratio of more than 9:1. The Credit Suisse numbers do capture China's rise. By 2007, the figures sat at $64.5 trillion and $15.4 trillion, respectively. China's net private wealth had more than tripled, and the size ratio of the two economies had fallen sharply, to well under 5:1.

In 2008, of course, the financial crisis hit. It was seen as speeding up America's decline and paving the way for China's rise. Closing on seven years later, the outcome looks quite different.

The latest Credit Suisse figures are from the middle of 2014. Chinese private wealth stands at $21.4 trillion, and American wealth at $83.7 trillion. It would have obviously been unreasonable to expect Chinese wealth to triple again, but the absolute increase from 2007 to mid-2014 was only $6 trillion, versus $8.75 trillion from 2000 through 2007. China grew only 40 percent over this period.

The financial crisis certainly affected the United States as well. American private wealth growth dropped to 30 percent from 2007 to mid-2014. But the pace at which China is overtaking the United States slowed dramatically, and the size ratio barely budged. From 2007 to mid-2014, the private Chinese economy moved only from 24 percent to 26 percent of the size of the private American economy.

Moreover, the slightly shrinking ratio may be trumped by the absolute wealth gap. This gap rose from $49 trillion to $62 trillion, a bigger expansion than that seen from 2000 to 2007. On this score, China is not catching up - it is losing ground by the trillions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Vin Scully tells a tale of Satchel Paige and Whitey Herzog (Eric Stephen, May 13, 2015, True Blue LA)

During Tuesday night's Dodgers win over the Marlins, Vin Scully called on his 66 years of major league broadcast experience to tell a wonderful story.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Senate Democrats Relent on Trade Bill (RUSSELL BERMAN,  May 13, 2015, 

Senate Democrats on Wednesday relented in their opposition to the consideration of legislation expediting trade agreements, just 24 hours after their vote blocking the bill put a temporary halt on President Obama's trade agenda.

In exchange for allowing Trade Promotion Authority to move forward, Democrats will get to vote Thursday on bills cracking down on Chinese currency manipulation and giving preferential treatment to imports from African countries.  Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced the deal on the Senate floor on Wednesday. Trade Promotion Authority allows the president to negotiate agreements that Congress must vote on without amendment. To secure Democratic votes, McConnell will combine that bill with a separate measure providing aid to workers displaced by foreign trade. Senate Democrats on Tuesday had demanded that McConnell package all four bills together, but he refused on the grounds that the currency proposal would have sunk the underlying trade legislation in the House. Now House Republicans can choose to ignore the currency and Africa measures even if they clear the Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Why Public Silence Greets Government Success (JONATHAN COHN, MAY 8, 2015, The American Prospect)

"Ebola has crystallized the collapse of trust in state authorities," columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post. Ron Fournier, writing in National Journal, hit the same theme. "Ebola is a serious threat," he wrote, "but it's not the disease that scares me. What scares me is the fact that we can't trust the institutions that are supposed to deal with such threats, and we can't trust the men or women who lead them."

By the middle of November, the outlook on Ebola had changed dramatically. Every single person who had contracted the disease in the United States had recovered from it--thanks to care at specially equipped facilities that the U.S. government either had built previously or had, in response to the crisis, retrofitted to handle Ebola cases. The administration's decision to rely exclusively on light airport screening and self-reporting, pilloried as weak even by some fellow Democrats, had apparently done the trick. Since the imposition of those measures, not one single person had contracted the disease in the United States. In West Africa, where the epidemic had been spreading out of control, health-care workers had finally begun to contain it--thanks in part to assistance that the Obama administration had sent.

In short, the Ebola response turned out to be a clear public health success--a model for effective, responsive government action. So, of course, the earlier critics admitted their mistakes, and the media celebrated a great triumph of government policy.

Not exactly. In fact, it's hard to tell whether anybody in America noticed. Media coverage of Ebola nearly vanished in November: According to a study by Media Matters, CNN ran 146 stories on Ebola the week of October 14, when panic was peaking. One month later, during the week of November 11, it ran just five. The change at other networks was nearly identical. Public polling on the issue stopped around Election Day, so there's no way to tell whether confidence in the CDC, which had started falling during October, ever recovered. But the pundits and politicians who had attacked the agency (and the administration) for its supposedly feckless response were in no rush to apologize or hail its good works. 

It's not like they have time to apologize about the last panic when they're worried about the military invading Texas....
Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Why boundary changes could keep Labour out (John Curtice / May 12, 2015, tHE pROSPECT)

[L]abour now potentially faces a mountain to climb in its efforts to win power in 2020--at least if it is trying to do so simply by winning over Conservative voters. While it would take only a small swing--just 0.4 per cent--to deny the Conservatives to win an overall majority, it could take as much as a 9.6 per cent swing--or the equivalent of a 12.5 point lead over the Conservatives--for Labour itself to win an overall majority. Even the objective of becoming the largest party would require a 3.7 point lead.

Or at least these are the targets that Labour would face if it were to fail to dent the 50 per cent vote that the SNP now has north of the border. In short, Labour faces a monumental task in its quest for power in the absence of a significant decline in the SNP vote next time around. That implies that any strategy for Labour recovery has to be aimed at lost left-leaning Scottish voters as well as the aspirational voters that Labour supposedly failed to win over in England.

Meanwhile there is another fly in the ointment--the prospect of a boundary review aimed at eliminating the differences in constituency sizes--and thus the advantage that Labour currently enjoy on that front. A review should have been implemented before May 7th, but it was blocked by Labour and the Liberal Democrats after the latter fell out with their coalition partners over Lords reform.

The Conservatives will not even have to use their new overall majority to ensure a review takes place; their opponents only succeeded in delaying the review until after the election. The government may drop the idea of reducing the size of the Commons from 650 to 600 MPs, because that would put Tory MPs' careers at risk too, but doing so need not compromise the aim of making the constituencies more equal.

Thanks to the very radical changes that were proposed, working out what would have happened on May 7th if the review had not been blocked is not straightforward. But if we take as our starting point estimates prepared by Anthony Wells of what the outcome would have been in 2010 if the new boundaries had been in place and take into consideration the regional variation in party performance this time around, it looks as though the Tories would have won at least 312 seats in the new reduced Commons. If the lower swing in marginal seats was replicated as well the Tory tally might have been as much as 325--or a majority of 50.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


How Americans miss out on $24 billion a year (Katie Lobosco, 5/12/15, CNN Money)

If someone handed you $1,300, would you turn it down?

One in four workers are essentially doing just that because they're not taking full advantage of their employer's 401(k) matching contribution. These workers end up leaving $24 billion on the table each year by not saving enough to get the full company match, according to a new report from Financial Engines.

For one person, that's like passing up on a $1,336 bonus.

"We're talking about real money here," said Greg Stein, director of financial technology at Financial Engines.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


U.S. Will Allow Drilling for Oil in Arctic Ocean (CORAL DAVENPORT, MAY 11, 2015, NY Times)

 The Obama administration on Monday gave conditional approval to allow Shell to start drilling for oil off the Alaskan coast this summer, a major victory for the petroleum industry and a devastating blow to environmentalists.

May 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


4 al-Qaeda leaders die in possible US drone strike (AP, May 12, 2015)

 Islamic militant websites say four leading members of Yemen's al-Qaeda branch have been killed in a suspected US drone strike the previous day in an eastern Yemen province.

The four died in Yemen's southern port of Mukalla on the Arabian Sea, where rockets believed to have been fired by US drones hit al-Qaeda militants based in the city's presidential residence on Monday, according to security officials.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


King's Absence at Meeting Signals a Saudi-U.S. Marriage Adrift (PETER BAKER and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, MAY 11, 2015, NY Times)

The decision by King Salman of Saudi Arabia to skip a summit meeting called by President Obama reflects a new reality for two nations that for generations shared goals in the Middle East but that are now at odds in fundamental ways.

...and unless they spend as much to purge Wahhabism as they spent to create it and allow their people to vote, we're enemies, not allies.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 PM


Simplify Taxes and Make Work Pay (The Editors, 5/12/15)

The crucial thing is simplicity. The last big U.S. tax reform, in 1986, broadened the tax base by removing or limiting exemptions for various kinds of income and spending, then used the proceeds to cut tax rates. This approach spurs efficiency in two ways. First, lower rates encourage people to work and invest; second, simplicity lets market forces, rather than the unintended interaction of complex preferences, guide choices. It's also more fair, because the tax breaks that Congress has added back since the last cleansing favor the most prosperous taxpayers.

Taken together, so-called tax expenditures -- including the deductions for mortgage interest and employer-provided health insurance -- cost taxpayers more than what the government spends on Medicare and Medicaid, or on Social Security or defense. It would be best to eliminate such deductions altogether. If that is politically impossible, their cost can at least be capped or reduced.

The same idea applies to taxes on capital. The current system taxes income from capital at two stages -- first as corporate profits, then in the form of interest, dividends or capital gains received by individuals. The complexity of the code causes huge distortions. Exemptions at the corporate and individual levels combine, so that some capital income is taxed too heavily, and some too lightly or not at all. Also, earnings from work can sometimes be recast as capital income; that way, much less tax is due. The notorious carried-interest loophole, which partners in private-equity firms have made their specialty, is only one example.

First you have to explain why you want to tax work, investment and savings at all.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


New machine could one day replace anesthesiologists (Todd C. Frankel May 11, 2015, Washington Post)

For now, the Sedasys anesthesiology machine is only getting started, the leading lip of an automation wave that could transform hospitals just as technology changed automobile factories. But this machine doesn't seek to replace only hospital shift workers. It's targeting one of the best-paid medical specialties, making it all the more intriguing -- or alarming, depending on your point of view.

Today, just four U.S. hospitals are using the machines, including here at ProMedica Toledo Hospital. Device maker Johnson & Johnson only recently deployed the first-of-its-kind machine despite winning U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2013. The rollout has been deliberately cautious for a device that hints at the future of health care, when machines take on tasks once assumed beyond their reach.

Everyone is watching to see how this goes.

 Resident nurse Rachen Roudebush checks Lisa McLaughlin's breathing after her colonoscopy at the ProMedica Toledo Hospital. (Dustin Franz for The Washington Post)
"We've had a lot of anesthesiologists who've been dropping by to get a look," said Michael Basista, the gastroenterologist who was about to work on Youssef-Ringle.

Then Sedasys did its job. And his patient was out cold.

Anesthesiologists tried to stop Sedasys.

They lobbied against it for years, arguing no machine could possibly replicate their skills or handle an emergency if something went wrong. Putting someone to sleep is an art, they said. Too little sedation, and the patient feels pain. Too much, and the patient dies. Anesthesiology requires four years of training after medical school, meaning careers might not launch until the doctors are in their 30s. It's one reason the profession's median salary is $277,000 a year, according to research firm Payscale.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Just How Do 'Thomas & Friends' Drive Sodor's Economy? (Elizabeth Blair, 5/12/15, All Things Considered)

Is Sir Topham Hatt a robber baron or a paternalistic CEO? Are Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends part of a union? How does anyone make money on the Island of Sodor?

Turns out, these are some of the serious issues that have perplexed more than one grown-up forced to read or watch Thomas & Friends for the umpteenth time with their kids. On the 70th anniversary of the Railway Series, the books by Reverend Wilbert Awdry that spawned the shiny engines, we explore this elaborate train of thought.

If you haven't had the pleasure of reading or watching Thomas, here's the gist: The colorful trains have human faces and human names like Percy, James, Gordon and Thomas. They have a range of personalities, from "bossy boilers" to chug-chug cheerful. Regardless of their temperament, all of the engines want to please their boss, Sir Topham Hatt, or The Fat Controller, as he's also called. Hatt is all human. He likes iced buns and really "useful engines," and loathes "confusion and delay."

I first became interested in Sodor's economy when I overheard my husband tell my son, then five years old, that Sir Topham Hatt was "the embodiment of corporate malfeasance." My husband now admits the spontaneous remark was a "total exaggeration." Still, Sir Topham Hatt's authority is perplexing.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Patriots will pay $1 million, but save money from Brady suspension (JIMMY GOLEN, 5/12/15, AP)


That's how much the Patriots will save -- that's right, save -- as a result of the punishment handed down by the NFL on Monday. Sure, owner Robert Kraft will have to pay a $1 million fine. But the team would also save four of Brady's game checks, which are $470,588.23 for each week of the 17-week season -- about $1.88 million.

Even better: The Patriots get a salary cap credit for the money they don't have to pay Brady, according to the players' union. Some of that will have to go to the player who replaces the three-time Super Bowl MVP on the roster. But the team could spend the rest of it elsewhere, perhaps on a cornerback to bolster its secondary for the entire season.

May 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Hamas Wins the Hearts of Students at West Bank Campus Election (DIAA HADID, MAY 11, 2015, NY Times)

Lina Halsa certainly made a splash at the student rally for the Islamist Hamas movement here at Birzeit University last month. Wearing a sleeveless top, tight jeans, and a ponytail, Ms. Halsa's attire was revealing even by the standards of this liberal, secular campus. But it was downright scandalous according to Hamas norms.

Yet, Ms. Halsa was the very image of Hamas success on her campus, where the Islamist party beat out the more moderate Fatah faction in student elections. A photograph of her waving the faction's signature green banner rocketed around social media, followed by a video in which she explained that she voted Hamas in part because her clothing "shows how much they are able to embrace other people."

A headline in the Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat trumpeted: "A Blonde Turns Birzeit Green."

The April 22 election was about far more than clothing, of course. Student elections are seen as an important benchmark of the Palestinian political mood, particularly since there has been no national balloting since Hamas won the legislative contests in 2006, and president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, is starting the 11th year of what was to be a five-year term. The nod to Hamas was broadly interpreted as another indication of just how unpopular and weak President Abbas and his government have become.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


With Plane Delivery, Iran Sanctions Collapsing Already (Eli Lake, 5/11/15, Bloomberg View)

Mahan Air has been singled out before -- not for its support for Iran's nuclear program, but for its role in providing weapons and crowd control equipment to the Syrian regime in its brutal suppression of popular unrest. The delivery of the used airplanes comes at a moment when Iran is seeking to rejoin the international economy, even before it signs a final deal. Last month Russia's president Vladimir Putin announced he would resume the sale of a sophisticated air defense system, known as the S300, to Iran. Western oil companies are already meeting with Iranian officials to discuss how to get back into the country's lucrative oil and gas markets.

Abbas Akhoundi, Iran's transportation minister, said Sunday that 15 planes had been acquired by Iran since February, with nine arriving over the weekend. Other Iranian media reported that the planes -- which used to be part of the Virgin Atlantic fleet -- were headed to Mahan Air. On Monday, the Financial Times reported that Western governments suspect Iraq's Al-Naser Airlines to have been a front for Mahan to acquire the planes.

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 PM


The Killing of Osama bin Laden (Seymour M. Hersh, 5/21.15,LOndon Review of Books)

It's been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama's first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan's army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration's account. The White House's story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida's operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan's two most senior military leaders - General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI - were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she'd been told by a 'Pakistani official' that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he'd spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who - reflecting a widely held local view - asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was 'quite possible' that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, 'but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo - if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.'

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden's whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration's account were false.

...this is the sort of story they'd leak to cause trouble between the Islamicists and Pakistani security services.

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM


House GOP Revives Bill To Block Late-term Abortions, Armed with New Preemie Viability Data (Dina Fine Maron, May 11, 2015, Scientific American)

The bill, which bans abortions after 20 weeks, was put on legislative purgatory in January over provisions that some lawmakers feared would force rape victims to report crimes. But the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" is now being reintroduced with tweaked language that would require abortion seekers to complete an informed consent form signed by a physician performing the procedure and a witness. It removes the rape reporting requirement that was part of the earlier version of this bill.

"Knowing that premature babies are being saved as early as 22 weeks into fetal development, there is no legitimate reason to oppose this bill," Rep. Diane Black (R-Texas), a sponsor of the bill, said in a press release, referring to findings published May 7 in the New England Journal of Medicine. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


THE FURY OF THE ELITES: WHEN THE LITTLE PEOPLE REJECT LABOUR : Behold the oligarchical contempt for the demos, and for democracy itself. (BRENDAN O'NEILL, 11 MAY 2015, spiked)
All the post-election tortured commentary about what mean people the Tories are doesn't only confirm that sixth-form sentimentalism has entered the mainstream, elbowing aside cool analysis. It's also mind-blowingly ironic. For if hatefulness has come from anywhere since last Thursday, it has been from Labour backers outraged that their party didn't win. In the same angry breaths with which they denounce the Tories' contempt for 'ordinary people', these dumbfounded supporters of Labour reveal their own far deeper disdain for ordinary people, for what one of them calls 'gloop-brained voters' who don't know what is in their own best interests.

As soon as the polls opened last Thursday morning, influential Labour supporters started panicking. Their distrust, even fear, of that unpredictable blob entrusted to select the next government was palpable. I 'still fear the Tories' campaign of fear and smear will work', said Guardian columnist Owen Jones. He echoed a clearly concerned Russell Brand, whom Labour hoped would win it the youth vote, who took the opportunity of election day to tell the electorate to 'ignore Murdoch'. Brand promoted the ad campaign of the online activist group Avaaz, which shows a huge picture of Murdoch alongside the warning '[Don't] vote for who he tells you to'. The idea that 'ordinary people', especially tabloid-reading ones, are easily swayed by Murdoch, referred to by Jones as the 'Dark Lord', is commonplace on the left, speaking to their view of the electorate as an easily instructed herd.

Other celebs, including Steve Coogan and John Cleese, supported this election-day hectoring of the electorate to break free of their alleged slavishness to Murdoch. 'Vote for what's best for you... not what's best for Rupert Murdoch', they said, conjuring up a bizarre image of unthinking plebs heading to the voting booths thinking: 'I must obey Murdoch, I must obey Murdoch.' The Guardian's Polly Toynbee used election day, not to celebrate the great right of people to choose their leaders, but to continue the slurs against what she called 'weak readers' -- members of the electorate whose 'mind-blowing ignorance' means they are 'unaware how their daily struggles will be fought out in distant Westminster'. In a profound irony, Jones tried to get people to vote by reminiscing on the struggles of the Chartists and Suffragettes, yet he and other prominent Labour supporters trotted out the same arguments that were used against the Chartists and Suffragettes: namely that working men and women are too fearful and emotional to be trusted with voting, since 'government by emotion quickly degenerates into injustice', as one anti-Suffragette magazine put it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


The 'miracle of the marketplace' brings tropical fruit from 2,300 miles away in Colombia to your local grocery store (Mark J. Perry, 5/10/15, AEI)

Based on the fruit's label, those four bananas had traveled from somewhere near the equator in Colombia to the nearby Harris Teeter store in DC, and even after traveling more than 2,300 miles from another continent, were available to me for only 20 cents a piece!

The realization that I can walk to a local grocery store and pay 20 cents for an exotic, tropical fruit that was delivered to me from South America seems like such a miracle that I started to wonder: How do today's banana prices compare to prices in the past? Well, here's a little banana history: Bananas were first available commercially to American consumers in 1876, when they were introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and sold for ten cents. In today's dollars, that would be the equivalent of about $3.00 per banana, or 15 times more expensive in real cost than the 20 cents I paid at my local grocery store! Stated differently, the price consumers pay today for bananas is 93% lower (adjusted for inflation) than the original price paid by Americans in 1876 when they were first introduced.

Over a more recent time period, the chart above displays inflation-adjusted retail banana prices from 1980 to 2015, based on BLS data, and shows that banana prices have been declining steadily over the last thirty years. Banana prices today ($0.59 per pound), after adjusting for inflation, are almost 40% lower than in 1980 ($0.98 per pound), see blue line in chart. It's likely that nothing has changed as far as the physical product is concerned, but greater efficiencies in production, distribution, and transportation of bananas have resulted in a price reduction of 39.4% over the last 35 years.

I've also calculated he "time cost" of bananas measured in the number of minutes it would take a worker earning the average hourly wage to earn enough income to purchase a pound of bananas at the retail price in each year (see red line in chart). By that measure, the "time cost" of bananas has fallen from 3 minutes in 1980 to only 1.7 minutes this year, which is a reduction in cost of 43.3%. At the current average hourly wage today of $20.90 the "time cost" of one 20-cent banana would be less than 35 seconds of work - almost free!

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Where Have All Japan's Young People Gone? (Peter Drysdale, 5/04/15, East Asia Forum)

The remarkable ageing of the populations in most advanced economies is no more evident or precipitate than in Japan. Earlier, Japan's and other countries' anti-natal policies encouraged a lowering of birth rates in an attempt to boost the chances of economic advancement.

In a decade or two, the impact of China's one-child policy, and the subsequent low Chinese fertility rate, will also lead to a rapid decline in its population and acceleration of the ageing of its population. China may get old before it's rich, as the popular aphorism now suggests, but most agree that while a reversal of the one-child policy may alleviate the decline in its fertility rate witnessed over the past several decades, that is hardly likely to entirely take the pressure off China's coming demographic crunch.

Policy inducements and fiats that limit the size of families alone are not the only cause of the trend to lower fertility rates in many parts of the world, especially in economies that have made the transition to higher levels of income. The causes are rather a complicated interaction between the impact of economic growth and its social consequences on procreative social behaviour, the development and diffusion of contraceptive technologies as well as, in varying degree, the impact of anti-natal policies.

In a comprehensive review of demographic change in Asia, distinguished Australian demographer Peter McDonald notes that, sixty years ago, both Japan and India already had policies in place to lower the level of fertility. McDonald cites an influential book of that time by Coale and Hoover which argued that economic development in Asian countries was constrained by high levels of fertility because available capital at both the national and the household level needed to be devoted in large measure to the care and nurture of the 40 per cent of the population under 15 years of age. Fewer children, Coale argued, would make it possible for more productive investment of capital in factories, equipment as well as in the skills and education of people -- the essential enablers of economic development. As a larger proportion of the population moved into the workforce and the 'dependency ratio' (or the proportion of those not in the workforce) fell, the economy would enjoy a boost to growth through this 'demographic dividend'.

As McDonald points out, two senior American demographers who were strong proponents of this strategy, Warren Thompson and Frank Lorimer, worked with McArthur's Occupation administration in early post-war Japan. 'Thompson had argued since the 1920s that rapid population growth in Asian countries was an obstacle to development and a potential source of insecurity and', says McDonald, 'within the McArthur administration, he advocated for lower fertility in Japan. Lorimer was part of the same group of demographers as Coale at the Office of Population Research at Princeton University. 

Japan's rural schools run out of students (Anna Fifield,  11 May 2015, Washington Post)

In Aone's historic wooden schoolhouse, decked out in the kind of bright artwork done by kids the world over, there are two classrooms, each containing three desks that sit marooned in the middle of a space made for many more. At breaktime, a boy kicks a football around the yard by himself.

"It's a little bit lonely," said Taiki Kato, 11, who said he was looking forward to going to middle school next year. "It's a bit bigger and there might be kids from other elementary schools."

The middle school has eight students. The elementary school, where Kato started sixth grade last month, has six. And two of them, the only girls, are from the same family.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


George Zimmerman suffers minor injuries in shooting incident, attorney says (Kevin Clay, May 11, 2015, WESH)

Lake Mary police said Zimmerman and Apperson has an ongoing dispute and were involved in an altercation in September. Both men are waiting for legal counsel before speaking with police.

In January, Zimmerman was accused of assault by his girlfriend, but no charges were filed after she recanted her allegation.

In September 2014, a driver accused Zimmerman of threatening to kill him while on the road in Lake Mary.

He was also arrested in November 2013 on domestic violence allegations after his girlfriend called police. His girlfriend later recanted her story, and charges were never filed.

Zimmerman was acquitted in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2013.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


No Labels, No Drama, Right? (JORDANA NARIN, 5/03/15, NY Times)

And just like that, a name -- one I referred to often -- became an archetype, a trope, an all-purpose noun used by my college friends to talk about "that guy," the one who remains for us in some netherworld between friend and boyfriend, often for years.

I met mine, the original Jeremy, at summer camp in the Poconos at 14, playing pickup basketball by day and talking in the mess hall late into the night. Back home we lived only 30 minutes apart, but I didn't see him again until 11th grade, when we ran into each other at a Halloween party in a Lower Manhattan warehouse. [...]

Whenever I believed he was out of my life, I'd get a text or Facebook comment that would reel me back in.

And I wouldn't let me, either. His affection, however sporadic, always loomed like a promise. So I accepted his invitation, asking myself what I had to lose.

I lost a lot that weekend: A bet on the football game. Four pounds (from nerve-driven appetite loss). A pair of underwear. My innocence, apparently.

Naïvely, I had expected to gain clarity, to finally admit my feelings and ask if he felt the same. But I couldn't confess, couldn't probe. Periodically I opened my mouth to ask: "What are we doing? Who am I to you?" He stopped me with a smile, a wink or a handhold, gestures that persuaded me to shut my mouth or risk jeopardizing what we already had.

On the Saturday-night train back to Manhattan, I cried. Back in my dorm room, buried under the covers so my roommates wouldn't hear, I fell asleep with a wet pillow and puffy eyes.

The next morning I awoke to a string of texts from him: "You get back OK?" "Let's do it again soon :)"

And we did, meeting up for drinks in the city, spending the night at my place, neither of us daring to raise the subject of what we were doing or what we meant to each other. I kept telling myself I'd be fine.

And I was. I am.

But now, more than three years after our first kiss and more than a year after our first time, I'm still not over the possibility of him, the possibility of us. And he has no idea.

I'm told my generation will be remembered for our callous commitments and rudimentary romances. We hook up. We sext. We swipe right.

All the while, we avoid labels and try to bury our emotions. We aren't supposed to want anything serious; not now, anyway. But a void is created when we refrain from telling it like it is, from allowing ourselves to feel how we feel. And in that unoccupied space, we're dangerously free to create our own realities.

Unoccupied space is emptiness.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


The Hot Money Cools on China (Enda Curran, Fion Li, Peter Coy, May 7, 2015, Bloomberg)

While the world marvels at the rise of Chinese stock prices, money is quietly leaving the country at the fastest pace in at least a decade. Louis Kuijs, Royal Bank of Scotland's chief China economist, estimates that China lost $300 billion in financial outflows in the six months through March. Deltec International, a Bahamas investment firm, puts the number even higher.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


Castro May Return to Catholic Church, He Says After Meeting Pope Francis (DIANE MONTAGNA, 5/11/15, Aleteia)

The visit of the Cuban head of state, his brother's successor, since he became unable through lll health to continue as full-time dictator, is a recognition of the pontiff's contribution. No one, however, excepted such dramatic statements of possible  conversion as Raúl offered yesterday.

"As I've already told my council of advisers, I read all of the Pope's speeches," Castro said. "If the Pope continues to speak like this, sooner or later I will start praying again and I will return to the Catholic Church -- and I'm not saying this in jest."

According to the statement, President Castro also "presented to the Pope the sentiments of the Cuban people as they await and prepare for his upcoming visit the island in September." 

Appearing alongside Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome following his meeting with the pontiff, Castro said he too would be in attendance to see the pope speak during his September visit to Cuba.

"I promise that I will go to all of his Masses -- and with satisfaction. I left the meeting this morning impressed, very impressed by his knowledge, his wisdom, modesty, and by all the virtues that we know he has," Castro said.

In 1992, the last communist ruler of Russia, Michael Gorbachev, travelled to the Holy Land and visited many of the sites associated with the Lord's life and ministry. When touring the traditional location of the feeding of the multitude, he remarked that he felt "like the last socialist, who has come to honor the first socialist, Jesus." 

Perhaps the (last?) Communist President of Cuba feels that a similar miraculous abundance may form part of his reward for yesterdays' pilgrimage.

Raúl Castro remarked that he himself is a Jesuit "to a degree" having been educated by the Society in his youth. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Bashar al-Assad's spy chief arrested over Syria coup plot (Ruth Sherlock, and Carol Malouf, 11 May 2015, The Telegraph)

The Assad regime has placed its intelligence chief under house arrest after suspecting he was plotting a coup, in a sign that battlefield losses are setting off increasing paranoia in Damascus.

Ali Mamlouk, the head of the country's National Security Bureau, and one of the few officials still to have access to President Bashar al-Assad, was accused of holding secret talks with countries backing rebel groups and exiled members of the Syrian regime.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


No-Growth Republicanism (WSJ, May 10, 2015).

In the waning days of the Obama Presidency the GOP's Buchanan wing is making a comeback, and in ways that are revealing about its ultimate agenda. The leader of this movement in Congress is Jeff Sessions, who has long railed against illegal immigration but since becoming chairman of the Senate's subcommittee on immigration has taken a more public stance against legal immigration.

Now he's opposing the bipartisan effort to pass trade promotion authority and in the process showing that his objections aren't only about the law or immigrants. They're rooted in the same hostility to markets and globalization that animates the slow-growth Democratic left.

May 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


Obama Pushes Skeptical Legislators Hard on Pacific Trade Deal (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and JONATHAN WEISMAN, MAY 10, 2015, NY Times)

President Obama's most aggressive and sustained legislative push since the Affordable Care Act faces a crucial first test this week, when a divided Senate considers a bill that would grant him accelerated power to finalize a massive trade accord with 11 nations across the Pacific Rim.

But after a lobbying campaign that has included giving members of Congress rides on Air Force One, pitching them at meetings in the West Wing, making private vows of political support and attacking publicly critics in his own party, Mr. Obama's top legislative priority remains at risk.

A vote scheduled for Tuesday on legislation granting him trade promotion authority, also known as "fast track," has become mired in a procedural thicket, with Democrats -- many of them loyal to labor unions bent on killing the bill -- vowing to oppose it.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 AM


Unless You Are Spock, Irrelevant Things Matter in Economic Behavior (RICHARD H. THALER, 5/08/15, NY Times)

Early in my teaching career I managed to get most of the students in my class mad at me. A midterm exam caused the problem.

I wanted the exam to sort out the stars, the average Joes and the duds, so it had to be hard and have a wide dispersion of scores. I succeeded in writing such an exam, but when the students got their results they were in an uproar. Their principal complaint was that the average score was only 72 points out of 100.

What was odd about this reaction was that I had already explained that the average numerical score on the exam had absolutely no effect on the distribution of letter grades. We employed a curve in which the average grade was a B+, and only a tiny number of students received grades below a C. I told the class this, but it had no effect on the students' mood. They still hated my exam, and they were none too happy with me either. As a young professor worried about keeping my job, I wasn't sure what to do.

Finally, an idea occurred to me. On the next exam, I raised the points available for a perfect score to 137. This exam turned out to be harder than the first. Students got only 70 percent of the answers right but the average numerical score was 96 points. The students were delighted! [...]

In the eyes of an economist, my students were "misbehaving." By that I mean that their behavior was inconsistent with the idealized model at the heart of much of economics. Rationally, no one should be happier about a score of 96 out of 137 (70 percent) than 72 out of 100, but my students were. And by realizing this, I was able to set the kind of exam I wanted but still keep the students from grumbling.

This illustrates an important problem with traditional economic theory. Economists discount any factors that would not influence the thinking of a rational person. These things are supposedly irrelevant. But unfortunately for the theory, many supposedly irrelevant factors do matter.

Economists create this problem with their insistence on studying mythical creatures often known as Homo economicus.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


Bush courts evangelicals, defends religion in public life (LESLEY CLARK, May 9, 2015, McClatchy)

 Looking to win over skeptical evangelical voters, Jeb Bush pushed back Saturday against what he said are modern intrusions on religion as he lauded graduates and their families at Liberty University, a Christian college popular on the path to the Republican presidential nomination.

"Fashionable ideas and opinions - which these days can be a religion all by itself - have got a problem with Christians and their right of conscience," Bush told an audience of 34,000 in the school's football stadium.

"That makes it our problem, and the proper response is a forthright defense of the first freedom in our Constitution." [...]

[T]he convert to Catholicism pledged that he would not apologize for allowing faith to influence his decision making.

"The simple and safe reply is, 'No. Never. Of course not,' " Bush said. "If the game is political correctness, that's the answer that moves you to the next round."

He defended the role of religion in contemporary life arguing that religious Americans are being cast as "intolerant scolds, running around trying to impose their views on everyone."

He declared "our friends on the left like to view themselves as the agents of change and reform, and you and I are supposed to just get with the program."

He cited Houston Mayor Annise Parker's controversial decision to subpoena pastors in connection with a lawsuit over the city's equal rights ordinance.

And he got applause slamming the Obama's administration's health agency for "dictating" to the Catholic charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, what goes into their health plan.

"I'm betting that when it comes to doing the right and good thing, the Little Sisters of the Poor know better than the regulators at the Department of Health and Human Services," Bush said. "From the standpoint of religious freedom, you might even say it's a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother - and I'm going with the Little Sisters."

A Lesson in How Faith Improves Politics (Peter Wehner, 05.10.2015, Commentary)

Jeb Bush delivered the commencement address at Liberty University on Saturday. It's a beautifully written speech, and it constitutes the kind of thoughtful and balanced reflection on Christian faith that is unusual to find, especially among political leaders. To do justice to it requires me to quote extensively from it, so I shall. [...]

[T]o me the most interesting parts of the address were those in which Governor Bush described how many critics of Christianity perceive it as a "backward and oppressive force... something static, narrow, and outdated... some obstacle to enlightened thought, some ancient, irrelevant creed wearing out its welcome in the modern world."

Governor Bush described Christianity in a very different, and much truer and more textured, way. Faith doesn't give answers to every question, he said, and it doesn't spare us from doubt or difficulties in life. But if often awakens the conscience. "One of the great things about this faith of ours is its daring, untamed quality, which is underrated," Bush said, adding:

As moral wisdom goes, for example, loving our neighbors seems kind of an easy call - especially if we already like them. But how about loving our enemies, too, as a bold challenge to leave our comfort zone and lift our sights to larger purposes?

As for the suggestion that Christianity is a static faith, that sure isn't how it reads in the original. Offhand, I cannot think of any more subversive moral idea ever loosed on the world than "the last shall be first, and the first last."

Governor Bush also spoke about how, whether we acknowledge it or not, the Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament still provide the moral vocabulary we use in America. He quoted C.S. Lewis, who said that trying to separate ideals from the source of ideals is like "a rebellion of the branches against the tree", and added this:

Justice, equality, the worth of every life, the dignity of every person, and rights that no authority can take away - these are founding moral ideals in America, and they didn't come out of nowhere.

"Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice," Bush said, "there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action."

In their unwillingness to bend to elite opinion, many people of the Christian faith believe thus: "Wherever there is a child waiting to be born, we say choose life, and we say it with love. Wherever women and girls in other countries are brutally exploited, or treated as possessions without rights and dignity, we Christians see that arrogance for what it is. Wherever Jews are subjected to the oldest bigotry, we reject that sin against our brothers and sisters, and we defend them." The former Florida governor also spoke about a generation of Christians who are "striving to be protectors of creation, instead of just users, good shepherds instead of just hirelings - and that moral vision can make all the difference."

When you read the speech in whole, what stands out, I think, is that Governor Bush is articulating his understanding of the Christian faith in a way that is principled but not harsh, in a manner that is persuasive rather than aggressive, unapologetic and not offensive. He cares very much about the state of the culture, but he's no culture warrior. This speech was his effort to unwind some fairly widespread caricatures, to represent his faith in a way that invites understanding rather than promotes division and distrust.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


GOP Will Lose in 2016 Absent Coherent Plan Favoring Immigration (LAWRENCE KUDLOW, Special to the Sun | May 9, 2015, NY Sun)

If the GOP doesn't put together a sensible immigration policy it will lose the 2016 presidential election. When President Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012, with the former Massachusetts governor attracting only 27% of the Hispanic vote with his self-deportation argument, Republicans across the map decided they must develop an immigration-reform policy with an outreach approach to minority groups.

According to the Republican National Committee, the days of harsh language and punitive legislation must end. In its place, the GOP must reconstruct the Ronald Reagan/Jack Kemp "big tent" theory of politics, where there is plenty of room for all groups -- blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Millennials, women, and gays. As Reagan put it, if you and I agree 80% of the time and disagree 20%, we are not enemies.

A lot of clear-headed Republicans have a strong dislike for identity-group politics. Me too. Instead, I prefer a program of economic growth, strong national defense, deregulation, low flat-tax-rate reform, free trade, and sound money to unleash American prosperity and bolster national security. If this positive message is sold -- to everyone and all groups -- it will work politically.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Here's the Hispanic Evangelical Pastor Leading His Flock to Jeb Bush : The Reverend Samuel Rodriguez says immigration isn't the only issue that matters to conservative Latino voters. (Michael C Bender, 4/29/15, Bloomberg)

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush is in Houston on Wednesday to deliver the keynote address to the annual meeting of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, a group started by the Reverend Samuel Rodriguez and one that counts 40,200 member churches across the country. Rodriguez, 45, is the pastor at New Season Christian Worship Center in Sacramento, Calif., and has spent more than a decade prodding Republican lawmakers in Congress to provide a path to citizenship to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.

In an interview ahead of the annual meeting, Rodriguez described himself as profoundly disappointed in the path Republican leaders recently have taken in Washington. Yet he remains hopeful in Bush's candidacy. [...]

Rodriguez: Hispanic evangelicals aren't necessarily caucus voters in Iowa, but if you do your due diligence with Pew, you'll see we vote, on average, more than other segments of the Hispanic electorate. Even the Cuban American community is shifting now from a generational perspective. There are about 16 million Hispanic evangelicals in the U.S. and it is a very staunch socially conservative constituency.

Bloomberg: Just 27 percent of Hispanics voted for the Republican nominee in 2012. How staunchly conservative are we talking here?

Rodriguez: Even with Romney, Hispanic evangelicals were very faithful to the conservative cause. Even with the self-deportation rhetoric, all that was taking place on immigration, Hispanic evangelicals said, 'We hate this stuff on immigration, yet the Republican Party truly resonates with us a bit more on traditional values than the Democratic Party.' That offers a great opportunity in 2016, if Republicans can get it right.

Bloomberg: So if not in Iowa, where are these evangelicals voting?

Rodriguez: The hotspots would be, in order, Texas, California and Florida. Nevada is one of our fastest growing chapters in the country, as is Colorado.

Bloomberg: And how is the immigration issue playing out now among Hispanic evangelicals?

Rodriguez: Republicans are alienating Latino Christian conservatives. The Republican Party has to figure out if short-term viability trumps long-term sustainability. This time around, in 2016, I would say you will not hear talk about self-deportation. Period. I would say--if I were a betting man, which I'm not--I would predict that the Republican establishment will make sure that immigration is contextualized in a way of, 'We are pro-immigration, we want to secure our borders. But we likewise want to secure our values, values that include compassion and a Judeo-Christian value system that compels us to address the issue of immigrants.' I think you'll hear that balance and nuance. And if not, they're going to end up with 27 percent again. [...]

Rodriguez: I can tell you were I see hope. I see hope in the candidacy of Governor Jeb Bush. I think Governor Bush gets it. He's not pro-amnesty, but he knows we have to find a solution to the immigration issue in America. I have a great respect, an admiration toward Governor Bush for his exemplary leadership in Florida. His multi-ethnic outreach in Florida was really amazing, and you saw the results in his Latino support base. He was able to transcend the stereotypical Republican motif. We've communicated and worked together over the years, but I have yet to physically shake his hand. I look forward to having him keynote our convention. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


Social Justice Sociologist Denounces "Bedtime Reading Privilege" (Daniel Greenfield, 5/06/15, FrontPage)

The difference between a lunatic and a liberal egalitarian sociologist is that the latter has tenure and visiting professorships at Harvard. As the frontier of social justice continually expands, like a balloon filled with stale toxic gases, it has become time to investigate the privilege enjoyed by children whose parents read to them at night, instead of smoking crack over their beds.

This story comes to us courtesy of Adam Swift, a political philosopher and liberal egalitarian sociologist with an interest in social justice and the family, and Australia's ABC.

"Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?" asks a story on the ABC's website.

"Should parents snuggling up for one last story before lights out be even a little concerned about the advantage they might be conferring?"

"Evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don't -- the difference in their life chances -- is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don't," British academic Adam Swift told ABC presenter Joe Gelonesi.

Gelonesi responded online: "This devilish twist of evidence surely leads to a further conclusion that perhaps -- in the interests of levelling the playing field -- bedtime stories should also be restricted."

Swift said parents should be mindful of the advantage provided by bedtime reading.

"I don't think parents reading their children bedtime stories should constantly have in their minds the way that they are unfairly disadvantaging other people's children, but I think they should have that thought occasionally," he said.

They should feel guilty... for being good parents. This is the logic of the left. And if you're not illiterate, check your bedtime reading privilege. You enjoyed the advantage of parents who cared about you. You should feel guilty. Very guilty.

This is all the Long War was about, the notion of an "egalite" that lowers all boats.
Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


In Britain, an electoral earthquake shatters pre-election assumptions (Dan Balz, May 9, 2015, Washington Post)

Cameron successfully made central to the debate the fear of rising deficits under a prospective Labor government vs. allowing his party to finish the job of restoring the economy. To soften the edges of his own party against charges that it favored the rich at the expense of others, he also offered a variety of new spending initiatives -- though without fully explaining how he would pay for them.

Labor under Miliband had moved left from its Blairite domestic policy moorings, with a sharper critique of capitalism. But the message attacking rising economic inequality and insensitive Conservative policies proved less effective with voters than Cameron's emphasis on rising overall growth.

Public opinion polls and other signs before the election suggested that the fairness issue could cut against the Conservatives in the short and long term -- and I wrote a week ago that the Republican Party might have to take a lesson from that. The election results suggest something different, at least here and now.

Some Republicans, former House speaker Newt Gingrich among them, think Cameron's victory proves that if Democrats follow the wishes of the Elizabeth Warren wing of their party, the GOP will have a major opening to exploit in 2016, if they can present a strong, and positive vision for the economy and the middle class.

It will take more time to understand all the reasons for what happened here and the parallels for U.S. politics. But the Conservative victory here should be read by Democrats as evidence that their own economic messaging will need work heading into 2016, that it might not be as simple as claiming the deck is stacked, calling for an increase in the minimum wage and expecting voters to follow.

Labor suffered as well from the deficit in how many people judged the leaders of the two main parties. At a time of deep disaffection with politics and politicians, neither Cameron nor Miliband was especially admired. But in comparisons between the two, Cameron generally came out ahead -- somewhat better liked and generally preferred by a decent margin as the next prime minister. That no doubt is a lesson that translates across borders.

Economic Mobility Trumps the Income Gap as Bigger Worry -- WSJ/NBC Poll (NICK TIMIRAOS, 5/10/15, WSJ)
Americans are more concerned about moving up than they are about how much more, or less, their neighbor might make. JUSTIN SULLIVAN/GETTY IMAGES
Presidential candidates, take note: When it comes to class differences, Americans are far more concerned about moving up the economic ladder than about the rich becoming richer.

The debate over rising income inequality jumped into high gear last year when French economist Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, became a surprise bestseller.

By a greater than 2-to-1 margin, however, Americans said they're less worried about the income gap, per se, and more worried about how middle- or working-class Americans can get ahead financially, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


The inconsistent Libertarians of Convenience (AARON M. RENN, 5/10/15, LA Times)

[T]he urban left's sudden passion for deregulation goes beyond housing. When hip food establishments run into red tape, progressives jump into gear. The regulatory travails of Chicago's Logan Square Kitchen attracted a series of articles in the alternative weekly Chicago Reader, which observed: "The minutiae of this licensing confusion are mind numbing."

Libertarians and city-dwelling foodies have joined forces to promote "food freedom" and fight bans on unpasteurized milk and meat curing. "Farmers should be able to smoke a ham and sell it to their neighbors without making a huge investment in federally approved facilities," wrote food activist and author Michael Pollan.

Rules that make food trucks illegal or hard to run are yet another irritant. "Many restaurateurs would prefer a downtown free from competitors," Greater Greater Washington editorialized, "but it makes as much sense to give restaurants input on where food trucks can operate as it does to give food trucks control over prices restaurants can charge."

Much of the new "sharing economy" -- made up of firms such as Airbnb and Lyft, which facilitate the peer-to-peer rentals of things like apartments or cars that the owners aren't using -- has made regulators uneasy, but progressives have proved more friendly than not to this burgeoning market.

Urban progressives' enthusiasm for deregulation is highly inconsistent, however; indeed, in many policy areas, they're pushing for greatly expanded regulation. They've joined the fight for local minimum-wage hikes in cities from Chicago to Los Angeles, for instance, and they regularly try to block chain retailers such as Wal-Mart from expanding in their neighborhoods.

The regulatory spirit is particularly relentless when it comes to the environment. San Francisco has restricted plastic water bottles and banned single-use plastic bags from stores, prompting the alternative weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian to cheer the city for continuing to "lead the way in the nation's environmental policy." New York's liberal icon mayor, Bill de Blasio, has announced a ban on polystyrene packaging starting in July.

Smoking policy brings out the most absurd contortions, as the left champions the legalization of marijuana even as it vilifies tobacco. San Francisco -- it's easy to pick on San Francisco -- has banned cigarette smoking at outdoor events, but exempted pot smoking for "medical" purposes.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Miliband made 'terrible mistake' in ditching New Labour, says Mandelson (Nicholas Watt, Rowena Mason and Toby Helm, 10 May 2015, The Guardian)

In a sign of the scale of the challenge facing Labour, the modernising candidates used dramatic language to explain the giant steps the party needed to take to win again. Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, said Labour would only win if the party championed aspirational voters who shop at John Lewis and Waitrose. Umunna, the shadow business secretary, who appeared alongside Mandelson on the sofa on the Marr show, said that Labour had been wrong to run a fiscal deficit as Britain entered the downturn in 2008. Kendall, the shadow care minister, called for a "fundamentally different approach" which would see Labour reach out to Conservative voters.

Mandelson, a veteran from the Labour battles of the 1980s, praised Miliband for showing passion but said that the party lost the election after making a "terrible mistake" in discarding New Labour and failing to revitalise it. The former business secretary, who said that Labour faced a challenge on the scale that Neil Kinnock faced in the late 1980s as he moved on after the challenge from the Militant Tendency, warned that the party could not ignore middle income earners.

"Far from embarking on a short-term beauty contest of leaders what we really need is a very, very thorough debate in the party of the sort that was denied us in 2010," he said. "We were sent out and told to say things and to make an argument, if you can call it an argument, that said we are for the poor, we hate the rich - ignoring completely the vast swathes of the population who exist in between."

Mandelson also said Labour must make sure that trade union leaders were not able to abuse the leadership contest as they did in 2010 when they placed large photos of Ed Miliband on ballot papers sent to their members. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


The Pills That Mother Gives You : Review: Theodore Dalrymple, 'Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality' (Blake Seitz, May 10, 2015, Daily Signal)

The first issue of National Review in 1955 included the essay "Why They'll Never Get Me on that Couch," in which movie maven Morrie Ryskind declared himself a "non-conformist" for rejecting Hollywood's latest craze, psychoanalysis. Five years later, in the same magazine, John Dos Passos put psychology on a level with communism when he wrote about "the twin myths of Marx and Freud." Modern conservatism had it in for shrinks from the get-go.

Now, Theodore Dalrymple, once a practicing psychiatrist, joins in with a new book called Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality. Dalrymple's predecessors to this subject were mostly writers, not clinicians--laymen distrustful of an initiated class that sought to explain the troubles of adult life according to whether, as children, they had ever walked in on their parents having sex. Dalrymple's background brings credibility to this tradition of skepticism.

If you have encountered Dalrymple's work in City Journal then you will be familiar with his thesis: that psychology has been abused by man, who is ever eager to shift the blame for his moral shortcomings onto forces beyond his control. Dalrymple devotes most of Admirable Evasions to cataloguing the psychological fads that have rippled through the culture. He starts with Freud, who "was to human self-understanding what Piltdown Man was to physical anthropology." Outside of your average university English department, it is now difficult to believe how seriously Freud's body of work was taken at its height, especially by cultural elites.

May 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


THE CULT OF THE OFFENSIVE: THE ISLAMIC STATE ON DEFENSE (Alexandre Mello, Michael Knights, 4/30/15, CTC-West Point)

The Islamic State has been on the defensive in Iraq for more than eight months and it has lost practically every battle it has fought. After peaking in August 2014, its area of control has shrunk, slowly but steadily. The group's ability to control terrain has been dictated largely by the weakness of its opponents. When the Iraqi security forces (ISF) and the Kurdish Peshmerga have committed resources to an attack they have dislodged the Islamic State's defenses, particularly when Western airpower, intelligence, and planning have been a large part of the mix.

This paper will use case studies from recent battles in north-central Iraq[1] to argue that the Islamic State has a distinctive defensive operational style and that this style has many exploitable weaknesses as the coalition considers new offensives in Anbar province and Mosul. In many ways, the Islamic State's defensive style is reminiscent of the German military between 1944 and 1945:[2] At the tactical level they are highly dangerous and can still win engagements, but at the operational level they lack strategic coherence and they display a chronic inability to defend terrain.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


How Employers Can Spark a Health Care Revolution (Robert Moffit, May 09, 2015, Daily Signal)

[E]mployer-sponsored coverage will change in 2018. Obamacare's "Cadillac Tax"--a 40 percent excise tax on all plans above a specified amount--will make these plans even more expensive. One safety valve, for both private and public employers, may be a new approach to employer-sponsored coverage: privately run health insurance exchanges.

A private exchange is a marketplace for private health plans. It enables workers to choose different health plans, weighing alternatives and balancing their costs and benefits. By contrast, the minority of employers who offer a choice today provide a limited range of options, typically two or three plans. The plans are often offered by the same carrier with the same provider networks, with no opportunity to make meaningful comparisons among formularies, physician networks, or the total costs.

In a private exchange, an employer can make a defined contribution to a tax-free group plan chosen by the worker. If the worker purchases a less expensive plan, the worker can keep the difference in savings. A worker who wants a more expensive plan can top off the employer's contribution with her own money.

In a well-run private exchange, self-insured employers can offer greater flexibility in benefit design, allowing workers and their families choice among a variety of health plans offered by multiple carriers. With cost calculators, plan and provider performance ratings, and easily accessible network and formulary information, workers are suddenly empowered to make well-informed health care decisions. In the style of 401(k) pensions, the private exchange could emerge as the transformative platform for a revolution in health care financing.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


Tony Blair tells Labour: return to the centre ground to win again (Toby Helm, 9 May 2015, The Guardian)

Tony Blair has insisted that Labour can recover from its disastrous general election defeat only if it reoccupies the centre ground of British politics, proudly championing a pro-business agenda and bold new ideas to reform public services.

As the party attempts to come to terms with a devastating result that saw the Conservatives returned to office for five more years with an unexpected Commons majority, the former prime minister and three-times election winner said Labour has to be "for ambition and aspiration as well as compassion and care".

While generous about Ed Miliband - praising him for showing "courage under savage attack" and campaigning brilliantly - Blair made clear in an article in the Observer that he believes Miliband's left-of-centre agenda alienated the business community and failed to appeal to those wanting to get on in life. In an unashamed call for the party to return to the approach of New Labour which Miliband abandoned, Blair wrote: "The route to the summit lies through the centre ground.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


My part in a masterpiece of political correctness (James Delingpole, 5/09/15, The Spectator)

What happened was this. Anglia Ruskin staged a 'Sustainable Art' competition and the winning entry was a 6ft high mock stone slab (made out of plywood) engraved with the names of six notorious 'climate deniers' including me, Christopher Booker and Lord Lawson, no less.

It's a handsome piece of art, clever too because in ingenious installation-y style a continual stream of symbolic engine oil cascades down the face of the slab, which bears the legend 'Lest we forget those who denied.' But I think what probably clinched it wasn't the design or the technical skill but the impeccable correctness of its politics.

The piece's creator, a third-year fine art student called Ian Wolter, clearly knows how to please a sustainability prize judging panel. He declared: 'With this work I envisage a time when the deliberate denial of climate change will be seen as a crime because it hinders progress towards a low-carbon future.'

So young, so certain. I wonder what deep background research led him to form this considered view. Actually, no I don't, because it's obvious. He'll have got it from his science and geography teachers at school; from BBC nature documentaries and news reports; from comedians like Dara Ó Briain and Marcus Brigstocke; from celebrity mathematician Simon Singh, whispery-voiced gorilla-hugger David Attenborough and pouty-mouthed astronomer Brian Cox; from every other article in the Guardian; from the Science Museum in London; from Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth; from his fellow students and university professors; from the '97 per cent' of scientists who, so legend has it, say the science on global warming is settled... .

Never once, in all likelihood, will young Ian ever in his entire life have been put in a position where he has been given intellectual permission even to consider the possibility that the sceptics might have a point. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Boom in Latino Evangelical churches underscores growing population (Karina Ioffee,  03/23/2015, Bay Area News)

Though the majority of American Latinos still identify as Catholic, the percentage has dropped from 67 percent in 2006 to about 59 percent in 2013, according to a Pew Research Center study released last year. Meanwhile, the number of Latinos who identify as Evangelical rose by more than a quarter -- up from 14 percent in 2006 to 18 percent in 2013, making Latino evangelicals the fastest-growing religious group in the country.

Locally, Latinos who now call themselves Evangélicos say there are several reasons they're happier at their new churches: being able to participate in spiritual practices, gatherings and festivities that connect to the cultural traditions of their home countries; hearing messages of hope that help them rise above hardships; and finding ways to become leaders as immigrants in a new land.

"There is a lot more flexibility and freedom (than in Catholicism) in terms of starting new churches and leadership roles," said Jonathan Calvillo, a researcher at UC Irvine studying Latino Evangelical congregations in California. "You can go from leading a Bible study to being a pastor in less than a year, which creates new pathways for gaining respect and status previously not available to them."

Mike Stewart, a pastor at Foothill Baptist Church in Los Altos and executive director of missions for the Central Coast Baptist Association, based in Santa Clara, said Latinos also find a personal link to community in Evangelical churches.

"People are coming to a new area and there are a lot of changes for them," he said. "These churches allow them to connect with people they didn't know, but also see people from home."

Also, faith is expressed through joyful, exuberant celebrations accompanied by lively music, and singing that are integral to their culture.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Can Iran even handle success in the nuclear talks? (J. Matthew McInnis, May 4, 2015, AEI)

The Iranian leadership is finally settling in to the reality of a potential nuclear deal come this summer, and bracing for the political and economic impact. Optimism in Tehran for a deal remains high, as best shown by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's overweening tour de force in New York last week touting a likely agreement and the potential for a new post-deal Middle East order. But, even if a deal is reached, Iran will still face significant domestic and foreign challenges. Iran's need to shore up its resources for the long regional fight ahead--and for the daunting economic restructuring needed at home--will only strengthen its determination to get a deal. But the US needs to understand Iran's insecurities could produce some harsh crackdowns internally or seemingly erratic or escalatory behavior in the region. Iran may not know what do with success once it has it.

Rouhani encourages foreign investment...: President Rouhani continued efforts to convince Iran's elite that an influx of foreign investment after an agreement should be welcomed instead of feared. At a press conference on April 30, the president stressed that without the presence of foreign capital and technology, growth for Iran will be very difficult. Rouhani is continuing the public debate he began January 4, and arguing that Iran's foreign and economic policies should prioritize enriching the state over preserving old ways of doing business and funding ideologically-driven adventures abroad. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and their deep networks of former personnel within the state economy remain nervous about what opening to the West will mean for their interests. And Rouhani knows it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Former Soviet spy: We created Liberation Theology (Catholic News Agency, May 1, 2015).- Espionage deep in the heart of Europe. Secrets in the KGB. Defection from a communist nation. Ion Mihai Pacepa has seen his share of excitement, serving as general for Communist Romania's secret police before defecting to the United States in the late 1970s.

The highest-ranking defector from communism in the '70s, he spoke to CNA recently about the connection between the Soviet Union and Liberation Theology in Latin America. Below are excerpts of the interview. All footnotes were provided by Pacepa.

In general, could you say that the spreading of Liberation Theology had any kind of Soviet connection?

Yes. I learned the fine points of the KGB involvement with Liberation Theology from Soviet General Aleksandr Sakharovsky, communist Romania's chief razvedka (foreign intelligence) adviser - and my de facto boss, until 1956, when he became head of the Soviet espionage service, the PGU1,  a position he held for an unprecedented record of 15 years.

On October 26, 1959, Sakharovsky and his new boss, Nikita Khrushchev, came to Romania for what would become known as "Khrushchev's six-day vacation." He had never taken such a long vacation abroad, nor was his stay in Romania really a vacation. Khrushchev wanted to go down in history as the Soviet leader who had exported communism to Central and South America. Romania was the only Latin country in the Soviet bloc, and Khrushchev wanted to enroll her "Latin leaders" in his new "liberation" war. [...]

Was the Theology of Liberation a movement somehow "created" by Sakharovsky's part of the KGB, or it was an existing movement that was exacerbated by the USSR?

The movement was born in the KGB, and it had a KGB-invented name: Liberation Theology. During those years, the KGB had a penchant for "liberation" movements. The National Liberation Army of Columbia (FARC), created by the KGB with help from Fidel Castro; the "National Liberation Army of Bolivia, created by the KGB with help from "Che" Guevara; and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), created by the KGB with help from Yasser Arafat are just a few additional "liberation" movements born at the Lubyanka -- the headquarters of the KGB.

The birth of Liberation Theology was the intent of a 1960 super-secret "Party-State Dezinformatsiya Program" approved by Aleksandr Shelepin, the chairman of the KGB, and by Politburo member Aleksey Kirichenko, who coordinated the Communist Party's international policies. This program demanded that the KGB take secret control of the World Council of Churches (WCC), based in Geneva, Switzerland, and use it as cover for converting Liberation Theology into a South American revolutionary tool. The WCC was the largest international ecumenical organization after the Vatican, representing some 550 million Christians of various denominations throughout 120 countries.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


Why the 2016 GOP race may be all about taking down unions (Thomas Geoghegan May 6, 2015, Reuters)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is emerging as a strong potential candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination largely because he took on the public-employee unions in his state. If he wins the White House because of his union-busting chops and for pushing right-to-work laws, maybe he'll abolish the U.S. Labor Department, too. [...]

Meanwhile, the aim of many leading Republicans now seems to be to de-fund labor: to starve it of money so it is too weak to bargain in the public or private sector. Or support Democratic candidates, as unions often do. Ultimately, their goal would ensure that, except for regal chief executives, no one in this country makes too much money. It is typical that leading Republicans' answer to wage stagnation is to take an ax to labor -- or to hoot at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is now talking about wage inequality in her campaign for the 2016 Democratic nomination.

Still, it is shocking that Michigan -- the home state of the United Auto Workers, the union that established the high wages that lifted the boats of everyone in America -- is now a right-to-work state like Mississippi. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Why can't Muslims laugh at Mohammed? (David P. Goldman, May 6, 2015, Pajamas Media)

Why do Jews as well as Christians-but not Muslims-laugh at jokes about the founders of their faiths?

The answer is that radically different deities are in question. Judaism begins with a covenant between God and human beings-Abraham and his descendants-that is a partnership in which God is normally, but not always, the senior partner. As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks observes, the Jewish sages of antiquity envisioned Moses acting as a judge for God, permitting God to annul his earlier vow to destroy the Jewish people after the sin of the Golden Calf. This is unimaginable in Islam, just as unimaginable as the Christian God who humbles himself on the cross.

That does not diminish the sanctity of holy writ: if a Torah scroll is dropped accidentally during Jewish services, Jewish law binds the congregation to a month of fasting. But the Jewish (and hence also the Christian) God allows his children to give him an argument, as Abraham does in the matter of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Moses does on several occasions. Humor arises from the impossible tension between an infinite God and finite man. "Humor is intrinsic to Christianity," wrote the great Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard, "because truth is hidden in mystery."

Jewish and Christian Scripture are human reports of an encounter with the Divine. The foundation of the Christian Bible are four separate reports of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth that in some respects contradict each other. The Koran, to be sure, has contradictory elements, which are addressed through so-called Abrogation Theory (Naskh), allowing one Koranic verse to be nullified by another. But Mohammed's revelation of the Koran is not a human report so much as a stenographic transcription of the purported words of Allah. No Muslim argues that Mohammed was more than human, but for practical purposes he is indistinguishable from Allah, because he was simply the vessel into which Allah supposedly his directions.  To make light of Mohammed is to impugn Allah. It is not blasphemous to laugh at Moses, whose human failings prevented him from leaving the people of Israel into the promised land. To humanize Mohammed, though, is an act of lèse-majesté against the Muslim God. That is not quite the same thing as joking about Moses or St. Matthew.

...think He minds a little laughter?

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


How Much Smaller Can Britain Get? (Clive Crook, 5/06/15, Bloomberg View)

Britain's sense of purpose in the world is trending downward. Indisputably, tomorrow's election marks a new low in national ambition, and it's likely to be followed by a further, perhaps accelerating, decline. British voters seem to think the country's global standing no longer matters. The truth is, they're right.

The realization has been a long time coming. It's 60 years since the Suez Crisis showed Britain how little of its hard power was intact after the catastrophe of the Second World War. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 PM


Self-driving semi hits the road (Peter Valdes-Dapena, 5/07/15, CNN Money)

Freightliner has been given a license to test out its autonomously driving tractor-trailer truck in the state of Nevada. The big-rig manufacturer already has such a truck in operation and will now begin test driving it on public highways there.

There will always be a licensed truck driver in the driver's seat but the Frieightliner Inspiration is designed and equipped to drive itself on limited access interstates. There are currently two of the trucks. A human driver will take full control when the truck is in city and suburban driving situations. Nevada is one of a few states that has legislation specifically allowing for the licensing of self-driving vehicles.

The Freightliner truck will stay in its lane and avoid hitting cars ahead with no driver input. Radar sensors and cameras will watch lane lines and surrounding traffic. Freightliner is owned by Daimler AG (DDAIY), which also makes Mercedes-Benz luxury cars. Mercedes has also been testing self-driving cars.

Trucks like this could reduce driver fatigue, according to Freightliner executives, and allow drivers to be more productive. While the truck is going down the highway, the driver could safely attend to paperwork or plan the next trip, for instance.

Since the truck can drive itself on highways, Freightliners says, the driver can occuppy himself with other pressing business.

Automated trucks could also save fuel by driving in "platoons." In this scenario, automated trucks, communicating with one another electronically, could drive in a tightly packed line behind a lead truck. This would have huge aerodynamic benefits because only the truck in front would have to push through a lot of air. Each following truck would ride in a sort of bubble created by the truck in front of it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Safety Net More Effective Against Poverty Than Previously Thought (ARLOC SHERMAN AND DANILO TRISI, 5/06/15, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities)

Previous analysis of Census data showed that safety net programs cut the poverty rate nearly in half.[1] Data released recently by the Urban Institute, which correct for underreporting of key government benefits in the Census survey, reveal an even stronger impact: the safety net reduced the poverty rate from 29.1 percent to 13.8 percent in 2012 and lifted 48 million people above the poverty line, including 12 million children. (See Figure 1.) Correcting for underreporting reveals that the safety net also did more to reduce deep poverty than previously shown, although 11.2 million Americans remained below half the poverty line.

And ith the official poverty level at $23,000 for a family of four, even the poor are wealthy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Why Obama is happy to fight Elizabeth Warren on the trade deal (Matt Bai, May 9, 2015, Yahoo)

Obama wasn't through. He wanted me to know, in pointed terms, that for all the talk about her populist convictions, Warren had a personal brand she was trying to promote, too.

"The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else," he said. "And you know, she's got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that. And on most issues, she and I deeply agree. On this one, though, her arguments don't stand the test of fact and scrutiny."

This is remarkable stuff for Obama. All presidents are forged, in a sense, by the moments at which they come to public life. Obama entered politics during Bill Clinton's presidency, when urban liberals were growing disgusted with the president's strategy of "triangulation," popularly interpreted as the idea that you can win broad support by picking fights with the ideologues in your own party. Obama has always been reflexively averse to anything that might be construed as him pushing back against his friends to score political points with everyone else.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has mostly avoided public feuds with what his first press secretary, Robert Gibbs, liked to call the "professional left" -- even when it's meant sidestepping important disagreements on policy. Democratic politicians and interest groups, in turn, have been cautious in their criticism, offering only muted resistance when Obama stepped up the war in Afghanistan, or when he nearly negotiated a deal that would have restructured entitlements.

But like a marriage in which the spouses pretend to be happier than they really are, Obama's polite alliance with the populist left appears to be suddenly crumbling under the weight of free trade. The more Warren and Senate colleagues like Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown attack the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, joined by big unions and environmental groups, the more liberated Obama seems to feel in portraying them as reckless and backward-looking, much as Clinton might have done. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:41 AM


The High Share of Part-Time Workers Helps Explain Weak Wage Growth  (KATHLEEN MADIGAN, 5/09/15, WSJ)

[Y]early growth in average hourly wages remains stuck at about 2%. If the economy were facing a shortage of labor, then businesses should be boosting pay at a faster clip to keep their employees and attract new ones.

One possible explanation is that more companies have restructured their staffing to focus on part-time workers. Because of that, there is slightly more slack in the labor markets than the jobless rate indicates. And these part-timers have less bargaining power to negotiate higher wages.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


The Next Technology Revolution Will Drive Abundance And Income Disparity (Vinod Khosla, 5/07/15, Forbes)

There have been and will continue to be multiple big technology revolutions, but the most impactful on human society may be the one that finally builds systems with judgment and decision-making capability more sophisticated and nuanced than trained human judgment. Machine learning, sometimes called big data or artificial intelligence, is making rapid progress in complex decision-making (for instance: driving a car was thought to be too difficult for computers even five years ago). Without speculating on what is probable, it is at least possible that such systems may even be better at creativity, emotion and empathy than human beings (for instance: writing the best music, love story or creative fiction). At the very least these systems may be able to handle much more data to which we now have access and use it to make better judgments than humans with their supposed instinct, gut, holistic and integrative decision capability. Although any one software program may not do everything a human brain can do, specialized programs will likely make decisions and predictions in their domain better than most trained humans. Many, if not most, domains will be well covered by such programs. Many problems in our work environments aren't ones the human brain evolved to solve for in the African savannah. To achieve these goals, a machine learning system does not need to exactly replicate the brain or even use brain like techniques.

While the future is promising and this technology revolution may result in dramatically increasing productivity and abundance, the process of getting there raises all sorts of questions about the changing nature of work and the likely increase in income disparity. With less need for human labor and judgment, labor will be devalued relative to capital and even more so relative to ideas and machine learning technology. In an era of abundance and increasing income disparity, we may need a version of capitalism that is focused on more than just efficient production and also places greater prioritization on the less desirable side effects of capitalism.

...a process that will be made easier precisely because of the vast increases in wealth and the disparities in who it goes to under the current system.  If democracy could effectively redistribute wealth when we were all taxed to do so, it won't be dificult to do so when only a fraction of the electorate needs to be taxed to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


UK Election Results: A Conservative Surge and a Defeat for Socialism (Nile Gardiner, May 08, 2015, Daily Signal)

2. Britain is at heart still a conservative country.

Britain's two main center right parties, the Conservative Party and UK Independence Party won 49.4 percent of the total vote. In England, the Right was dominant in terms of the overall vote.

The idea that Britain is becoming a more liberal country is a myth. From government spending to immigration, the U.K. has become more, not less, conservative in recent years on most key issues.

The Conservative Party would have secured an even greater share of the vote had David Cameron not alienated many grassroots supporters with highly controversial "modernizing" policies such as backing gay marriage and increasing spending on foreign aid, both deeply unpopular with the Conservative base.

3. The European Union referendum will go ahead.

David Cameron has pledged to hold a referendum on Great Britain's membership of the European Union in 2017. Ed Miliband opposed holding a popular vote on the EU, and the defeat of the Labour Party now opens the way for the referendum to move forward.

If the British people vote to leave the EU, the U.S.-U.K. special relationship will be further strengthened, and Britain will be in a strong position to negotiate a free trade agreement with the United States.

If we added Australia, New Zealand, Britain (and Scandinavia) to NAFTA, the rest of the world would have no choice but to seek deals.  It would be GATT by the back door.
Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Overkill : An avalanche of unnecessary medical care is harming patients physically and financially. What can we do about it? (ATUL GAWANDE, 5/11/15, The New Yorker)

It was lunchtime before my afternoon surgery clinic, which meant that I was at my desk, eating a ham-and-cheese sandwich and clicking through medical articles. Among those which caught my eye: a British case report on the first 3-D-printed hip implanted in a human being, a Canadian analysis of the rising volume of emergency-room visits by children who have ingested magnets, and a Colorado study finding that the percentage of fatal motor-vehicle accidents involving marijuana had doubled since its commercial distribution became legal. The one that got me thinking, however, was a study of more than a million Medicare patients. It suggested that a huge proportion had received care that was simply a waste.

The researchers called it "low-value care." But, really, it was no-value care. They studied how often people received one of twenty-six tests or treatments that scientific and professional organizations have consistently determined to have no benefit or to be outright harmful. Their list included doing an EEG for an uncomplicated headache (EEGs are for diagnosing seizure disorders, not headaches), or doing a CT or MRI scan for low-back pain in patients without any signs of a neurological problem (studies consistently show that scanning such patients adds nothing except cost), or putting a coronary-artery stent in patients with stable cardiac disease (the likelihood of a heart attack or death after five years is unaffected by the stent). In just a single year, the researchers reported, twenty-five to forty-two per cent of Medicare patients received at least one of the twenty-six useless tests and treatments.

Could pointless medical care really be that widespread? Six years ago, I wrote an article for this magazine, titled "The Cost Conundrum," which explored the problem of unnecessary care in McAllen, Texas, a community with some of the highest per-capita costs for Medicare in the nation. But was McAllen an anomaly or did it represent an emerging norm? In 2010, the Institute of Medicine issued a report stating that waste accounted for thirty per cent of health-care spending, or some seven hundred and fifty billion dollars a year, which was more than our nation's entire budget for K-12 education. The report found that higher prices, administrative expenses, and fraud accounted for almost half of this waste. Bigger than any of those, however, was the amount spent on unnecessary health-care services. Now a far more detailed study confirmed that such waste was pervasive. [...]

Virtually every family in the country, the research indicates, has been subject to overtesting and overtreatment in one form or another. The costs appear to take thousands of dollars out of the paychecks of every household each year. Researchers have come to refer to financial as well as physical "toxicities" of inappropriate care--including reduced spending on food, clothing, education, and shelter. Millions of people are receiving drugs that aren't helping them, operations that aren't going to make them better, and scans and tests that do nothing beneficial for them, and often cause harm.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Hillary Rodham Romney (Matthew Continetti, May 8, 2015, Daily Signal)

Hillary Clinton is moving so quickly to the left that it's hard to keep up. Her aides are telling the New York Times she wants to "topple" the One Percent, she's pledging solidarity with union bosses over lunch meetings at Mario Batali restaurants in Midtown, she supports a constitutional amendment to suppress political speech, she's down with a right to same-sex marriage, she's ambivalent over the Keystone Pipeline and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, she's calling for an end to the "era of mass incarceration," she wants to go "further" than President Obama's illegal executive amnesty. It's called pandering, but the press is too frazzled or sympathetic to call her on it. There's desperation to Clinton's moves, an almost panicked energy, to close the gap between her and her party's base. If Elizabeth Warren called for full Communism, Clinton would be at the barricades the next day.

Warren's the reason for the policy shuffle. Clinton is so terrified of losing the Democratic primary--again--that she's willing to trade consistency for security against an insurgent from the left. But she may be trading electability too. The Democrats have an advantage in presidential elections, but last I checked the country hasn't turned into a really big MSNBC greenroom. One day Clinton will have to defend her positions against a non-witch Republican, and she'll have eight years of Obama to answer for as well. She doesn't have the gall, the rakishness, or the aw-shucks charm that allowed her husband to slither out of such difficulties, and judging from Bill's most recent interviews he's losing his abilities too. Indeed, the politician Hillary Clinton reminds me most of lately isn't her husband or Warren. It's Mitt Romney.

Like Clinton, Romney ran twice. Like Clinton, he established his political profile under a different set of circumstances than when he ran for president. He got his start as the modern, technocratic Republican, fixing the Olympics, delivering universal health insurance to Massachusetts, and projecting moderate sensibilities on many issues. But the dynamics of Republican presidential primaries forced him to swerve right, mix up his identity. He's not Disraeli so the moves caused him trouble. The press mocked his "severely conservative" remark, his desire to "double Guantanamo" (a fantastic idea, by the way), and his support for the "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants. There had always been a false assuredness to Romney, the Eddie Haskell feeling that he was putting you on, trying a little too hard. The policy shifts played into this aura of inauthenticity, and by the time Eric Fehrnstrom was likening Romney to an Etch-a-Sketch, the battle to define the Republican nominee was close to lost.

...was that people on the left simply assumed he was liberal enough because he was black.  No amount of Austin Goolsbee assuring the Canadians and the markets that he was a free trader was ever going to shatter the delusion.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Denmark moves closer to a cashless society (DOUG BOLTON, 07 May 2015. The Independent)

Denmark has moved one step closer to becoming the world's first cashless society, as the government proposes scrapping the obligation for retailers to accept cash as payment.

The Danish government has said that as of next year, business such as clothing retailers, restaurants and petrol stations should no longer be legally bound to accept cash payments.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Did Scott Walker 'Evolve' on Immigration? (Ken McIntyre,  May 08, 2015, Daily Signal)

First, Walker disavowed an openness to amnesty for illegal immigrants that he had held for a decade or more.

"My view has changed, I'm flat-out saying it," Walker told host Chris Wallace in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" that aired March 1. "I don't believe in amnesty, and part of the reason that I made that a firm position is because I look at the way this president has mishandled that issue."

In the same interview, however, Walker said he could envision "a way" for illegal immigrants to win citizenship after paying penalties yet to be determined.

...on the negative, Mitt lost the election by disavowing everything he believed to try and woo the Right.  Animus is a tar baby.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Why anti-government tea partiers still love government entitlements (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, May 8, 2015, The Week)

Many conservatives and tea party types talk a good game about shrinking government and cutting spending, but also react virulently when an entitlement they cherish, like Social Security and Medicare, is threatened. [...]

The most common piece of rhetoric used to defend these programs is that once you had "paid into" them throughout your working life, you are entitled to the benefits you paid for. You are entitled to reap what you have sown.

But this is not how Social Security actually works. What you sow goes into a giant black hole. What you reap comes out of that same black hole, but it doesn't have all that much to do with what goes in, at least not directly. Instead of reaping your own crops, you reap your children's crops, but that is artfully concealed.

It was old white people who were afraid their programs would get cut to fund "socialism."

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


New opera website to offer free live streams of performances worldwide (The Guardian, 7 May 2015)

The Opera Platform ( is a three-year project with an overall budget of almost €4m (US$4.5m), of which about half comes from the EU's cultural budget.

"The Opera Platform is an online platform for the promotion and enjoyment of opera. It is designed to appeal equally to those who already love opera and to those who may be tempted to try it for the first time," a press statement said.

It said internet users throughout the world would be able to watch the simulcast and future live transmissions from the stages of 15 participating European opera companies in 12 countries.

There will be on average about one live transmission a month, which will be available for viewing on the website for six months. Subtitles are provided in English, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish.

The site will also offer documentaries, opera archive materials and highlights of productions throughout Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 9:17 AM


When Israel turns its back on pluralism (Steven C. Wernick, 5/07/15, Times of Israel)

This past week was exhausting, but not in the way I've become accustomed to as the father of three children in a demanding profession.

It began with the uplifting gala of the Masorti Foundation and a conference celebrating 30 years of women's ordination, but was immediately followed by the soul-draining news that the ultra-Orthodox mayor of Rehovot, Israel, decided to cancel the b'nei mitzvah ceremony of children with disabilities because it was to be held in a Conservative synagogue. [...]

The Rehovot incident is merely the latest in a string of insults against non-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Although Rabbi Tucker can preach movingly about the necessity of promoting the Zionism of love, we are being confronted with the Zionism of fear and prejudice, a Zionism that has been hijacked by an extremist, coercive and inflexible rabbinate.

To be a committed Conservative or Masorti Jew in Israel is to be subjected to a series of assaults against your religious freedom. Some are physical, as evidenced by last month's shocking attack by haredi Orthodox men at the Western Wall, where a dear friend had his chest and head pounded. Others are to human dignity, as in this past week's case.

I cannot help loving Israel, but lately it seems that Israel simply does not love me back.

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Life Lessons From My Summer Job as a Caddie (AMBY MELISSA KORN, 5/09/15, WSJ)

1 Find a Sense of Balance

Golf bags regularly weigh upwards of 30 pounds. Carry one for a full round--roughly 5 miles on many courses--then do it again after lunch, and you'll blow out a shoulder pretty fast. Grant Cassell, a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, who caddied at Cherry Hills Country Club in Englewood, Colo., preferred a two-bag approach. By lugging one bag on each side, the 5'7" student says, "You balance yourself out." (He would also earn double, up to $120 per round.)

2 Don't Bet the House

Caddies have a lot of down time between rounds or on rainy days, but smarter ones stick with movies and board games and steer clear of gambling to pass the time. Casual poker games at the Midlothian Country Club in Midlothian, Ill., quickly turned sour for young caddies, recalls Northwestern University junior Kathleen McAuliffe. They'd often make $40 caddying a round for members and then lose $100 in a single hand.

An even worse idea for passing time in the caddy shack? Mumblety-peg

May 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


Will Hispanics Reject the GOP Once Again? (JILL LAWRENCE, April 29, 2015, Politico)

"He has the most potential," UCLA professor Matt Barreto, co-founder of Latino Decisions polling, says of Bush. "Historically, he's been more moderate than Rubio has been on a host of Latino issues. And his family situation can't be ignored."

That family situation includes brother George W., who as president championed immigration and education reforms important to Hispanics, as well as Bush's own immediate family. "I know the immigrant experience because I married a beautiful girl from Mexico. My children are bicultural and bilingual," Jeb Bush said Tuesday at Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan.

The trip to Puerto Rico was followed Wednesday by a keynote speech to the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference in Houston. In San Juan, Bush talked about statehood and rum in Spanish and English. In Texas, it was education and immigration, in Spanish and English. Boxes, checked.

Rubio is an eloquent speaker who can reach "these Latinos who don't really feel that the party's talking to them," says Stephen Nuno, a Northern Arizona University professor who is writing a book about Latinos and the GOP. "Unfortunately for Marco Rubio, Bush can make the same speech in the same language to the same people, and he comes with a little more gravitas."

A Bush aide notes that in addition to his Mexican ties, Bush spent six months in Puerto Rico running his father's 1980 campaign, and before that lived in Caracas, Venezuela, where he was a vice president and branch manager for Texas Commerce Bank. "The governor does have the ability to resonate culturally within the different groups in the Hispanic community. He understands how to communicate within the different sectors," the aide says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


The dawn of artificial intelligence (The Economist, May 9th 2015)

The first step is to understand what computers can now do and what they are likely to be able to do in the future. Thanks to the rise in processing power and the growing abundance of digitally available data, AI is enjoying a boom in its capabilities (see article). Today's "deep learning" systems, by mimicking the layers of neurons in a human brain and crunching vast amounts of data, can teach themselves to perform some tasks, from pattern recognition to translation, almost as well as humans can. As a result, things that once called for a mind--from interpreting pictures to playing the video game "Frogger"--are now within the scope of computer programs. DeepFace, an algorithm unveiled by Facebook in 2014, can recognise individual human faces in images 97% of the time.

Crucially, this capacity is narrow and specific. Today's AI produces the semblance of intelligence through brute number-crunching force, without any great interest in approximating how minds equip humans with autonomy, interests and desires. Computers do not yet have anything approaching the wide, fluid ability to infer, judge and decide that is associated with intelligence in the conventional human sense.

Yet AI is already powerful enough to make a dramatic difference to human life. It can already enhance human endeavour by complementing what people can do. Think of chess, which computers now play better than any person. The best players in the world are not machines however, but what Garry Kasparov, a grandmaster, calls "centaurs": amalgamated teams of humans and algorithms. Such collectives will become the norm in all sorts of pursuits: supported by AI, doctors will have a vastly augmented ability to spot cancers in medical images; speech-recognition algorithms running on smartphones will bring the internet to many millions of illiterate people in developing countries; digital assistants will suggest promising hypotheses for academic research; image-classification algorithms will allow wearable computers to layer useful information onto people's views of the real world.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


How Russians Lost the War (MIKHAIL SHISHKINMAY 8, 2015, ny tIMES)

Every year on May 9, Victory Day in Russia -- marking the anniversary of the day that news of the German surrender in 1945 reached Moscow -- my father would go to the closet and take out his sailor's uniform, which required regular alteration to accommodate his growing belly, and pin on his medals. It was so important to me to be proud of my father: There had been a war and my papa had won it!

When I grew up, I realized that in 1944 and 1945, my father was sinking ships that were evacuating German civilians and troops from Riga, in Latvia, and Tallinn, in Estonia. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people met their deaths in the waters of the Baltic -- for which my father received his medals. It's been a long time since I was proud of him, but I don't judge him. It was war.

My father fought the evil of fascism, but he was taken advantage of by another evil. He and millions of Soviet soldiers, sailors and airmen, virtual slaves, brought the world not liberation but another slavery. The people sacrificed everything for victory, but the fruits of this victory were less freedom and more poverty.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Cameron's Stunning Win (Clive Crook, 5/08/15, Bloomberg View)

 The blow this election has dealt to Labor's confidence and sense of purpose would be hard to exaggerate.

After Tony Blair's third-way centrism was impaled on the spike of Iraq, Gordon Brown moved Labour a bit to the left, then  Miliband moved it more. He struck an anti-business, anti-finance tone and proposed left-pleasing measures such as rent controls and higher taxes on the rich. To be sure, this was not "Old Labour." Core Blairite principles such as fiscal conservatism and market-driven prosperity weren't overthrown. But voters suspected, perhaps, that they might be.

Kinnock reportedly greeted Miliband's appointment as leader in 2010 by saying, "I've got my party back." That comment, one can now see, foretold disaster and should have caused weeping in Labour HQ -- because Kinnock's Labour Party was optimized for losing elections. for the party of the left to run on the Second Way or the party of the right to run on the First.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


In an Early Adopter, Common Core Faces Little Pushback (CAROLINE PORTER, May 8, 2015, WSJ)

The Common Core education standards have become a lightning rod in many of the states where they have been rolled out. But that controversy has largely avoided the place where they have been in effect the longest.

Kentucky is in its fourth year of testing linked to Common Core State Standards, at a time when most other states are counting the tests for the first time. While students here were slow to show improvement, scores on standardized tests have begun to pick up. Pushback from teachers unions, which has been fierce in a number of states, has been minimal here.

"At the end of the day, we put our political hatreds aside," said Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat who championed the tougher standards. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is about more than trade (Daniel W. Drezner, May 7, 2015, Washington Post)

The security effects of free-trade agreements can be significant -- indeed, one could argue that this was the most important thing about the North American Free Trade Agreement, the deal that has caused DeLong such existential angst. It's worth remembering that prior to NAFTA, Mexico had a ... let's say "fraught" relationship with the United States. NAFTA made it clear to U.S. policymakers that Mexico was now a key partner and merited treatment as such. Which is why the United States helped Mexico in the mid-1990s and during the 2008 financial crisis. And the lock-in effects of NAFTA also helped Mexico transition from a one-party-dominated state to a true multiparty democracy.

But the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not NAFTA. President Obama and his army of op-ed allies have made the case for TPP as a means to advance U.S. interests while preventing China from writing the rules of the game in the Pacific Rim. And generally speaking, TPP is an intrinsic part of Obama's rebalancing strategy. One obvious bonus is that it would send a reassurance signal for its East Asian signatories, including Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Trouble on the Left (Kenneth T. Walsh, 5/08/15, US News)

Democratic strategists say that few of the party's legislators share a personal bond with Obama. They believe he puts his interests ahead of theirs, seeking to burnish what he considers his legacy on trade, Iran and other issues even if those policies hurt rank-and-file Democrats in tough elections. So his promises of political help tend to fall flat.

The Heritage mandate, the WoT and trade--which is why, from a historical perspective, it will be his continuity with the Bushes that is most remarked upon.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Landslide win for Scottish National Party taking 58 of 59 seats (Gordon Rayner May 8, 2015, The Telegraph)

The Scottish National Party was on course for a virtual clean sweep of Westminster seats in Scotland after the exit poll predicted Nicola Sturgeon would win 58 out of 59 seats.

The SNP, which won just six seats in Parliament in 2010, was on course to wipe Labour off the map north of the border and place the stability of the Union back in question.

Question?  That was the answer.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Miliband, Clegg, Farage quit as Tories win (Philippe Naughton and Philip Webster, May 8 2015, Times of London)

Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage stepped down as leaders of their parties today after the most unpredictable election in a generation shook British politics to its core.

All three announced their resignations in the space of an hour, even before David Cameron visited Buckingham Palace after securing an outright majority that confounded all the pollsters' predictions. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


Iran and U.S. cut deal on new diplomatic offices in Washington, Tehran (Al Kamen May 8, 2015, Washington Post)

The United States, in what may be among the first negotiated deals with Iran since relations broke off in 1980, is allowing the Iranian Interests Section in Washington to move to new headquarters on 23rd Street Northwest in West End.

In exchange, Switzerland, which had been looking for new space for the U.S. Interests Section in Tehran -- because the current offices, we were told, were "no longer viable and pretty decrepit" -- will be getting new offices as well for the U.S. facility.

May 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


The return of the shy Tories? (The Economist, May 7th 2015)

THE official British election exit poll has not been badly wrong for a long time. Today, as on previous general election days, a consortium of pollsters spoke to over 20,000 voters outside polling stations around the country and asked them how they had voted--an enormous sample based, unlike pre-election polls, on reported behaviour, not voters' intentions. Yet what they discovered defies all the opinion polling that took place before today's general election. No recent, mainstream projection had put the governing Conservative Party on much above 290 seats. But the exit poll says David Cameron's lot will hit 316, up by 10 from 2010. It puts Labour, which had looked on track to take some 270 seats, on a mere 239. The separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) have taken all but one seats in north of the border, it suggests. And it indicates Liberal Democrats have crumpled more dramatically than anyone had expected, seeing their seat-count fall from 57 in 2010 to ten.

The party most closely identified with the Third Way always wins.  And the one way to ensure that is for the opposition to run against reform.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


US airstrike kills al-Qaeda leader who claimed Charlie Hebdo attack (AFP May 8, 2015)

A US airstrike in Yemen last month killed the senior Al-Qaeda official who appeared in a video claiming the deadly January attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo, a monitor said Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


Even Climate Skeptics Should Support a Carbon Tax (IRWIN M. STELZER, 5/07/15, Weekly Standard)

For makers of fiscal policy, the wrong question is, "Is the planet warming?" The right question: "In formulating future tax policy, does it matter whether the earth is warming?" The answer is "no". At least not when we are working to reform a sub-optimal tax structure.

Cold, hot or just right, we should be aiming for a tax structure that

·     puts a greater burden on consumption than on work and risk-taking, thereby stimulating economic growth;

·     reduces the burden of taxation on lower-income and middle-income tax payers by generating revenues that can reduce regressive payroll taxes without adding to our deficit or raising gasoline prices more than perhaps 18 cents per gallon, a figure well within the range of past fluctuations;

·     makes it possible to dial back some of the subsidies and what have come to be called "loopholes" built into the current structure by leveling the playing field on which renewables and conservation compete with fossil fuels, making continued subsidies both uneconomic and unfair; and

·     enables us to reduce the burden of regulation, especially on the energy sector, by internalizing externalities, making consumers of fossil fuels bear the full costs of their consumption, and allowing tax-inclusive prices to guide consumers' decisions rather than tax-eating regulators.

That would seem to be a program with which politicians of all stripes, and ideologues of all sorts can agree. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Ayatollah Khamenei begs not to be humiliated (J. Matthew McInnis, May 7, 2015, AEI)

The return of somewhat more bellicose language from US officials comes at a sensitive time in the nuclear negotiations. As we approach the June 30 deadline for a comprehensive deal, Khamenei is stressing his redlines on issues like upfront sanctions relief and inspections. That is all part of the game to get the best terms possible. A final agreement will almost certainly require Iran to back down somewhat on these critical points. Tehran will finesse the backtracking for domestic audiences, but Khamenei cannot look like he is buckling under US military pressure. That is likely the humiliation he fears. they help him pretend he's winning.
Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Jeb Bush's War on Poverty (Jeb Bush, 5/06/15, Chicago Tribune)

If our government leaders want to attack poverty, they should first acknowledge that an effective anti-poverty program is a strong family, led by two parents. The evidence on this is incontrovertible. And conservatives should not be afraid to say that as the family breaks down, so does opportunity. Our goal should be to build up families.

Then we must take aim at our deeply failed education system. The schools in our cities are not underfunded. But they nevertheless fail to prepare their students for the demands of life -- college, a job and the responsibilities of citizenship.

If we raise standards, demand accountability, reward great teachers and provide meaningful choices, we can create the tools that parents and kids need to rise up from poverty. Baltimore spends more than $15,000 per student each school year. That is more than virtually every developed nation in the world spends. And the third-highest for a large school system in America. Yet Baltimore's results are among the worst.

It is shameful that we have allowed the teachers unions and the economic interest of adults to leave school systems in cities like Baltimore in shambles with no plan for fixing them. Low-income kids have the God-given ability to learn and to succeed just like anyone else does. It is incumbent upon us to give them that chance.

To do so requires policies that encourage people in the toughest neighborhoods to start up businesses. Reducing regulations, removing expensive licensing requirements for startups and cutting occupational fees would make a substantial difference and give self-starters a chance to create high-paying jobs and hope where they live.

It can get better. I know it because I've seen it as governor, where a combination of education reforms and pro-growth policies helped raise household incomes up and down the income ladder -- and gave a generation of children a real chance to rise up.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


The Iran Bill Clears the Senate (RUSSELL BERMAN, May 7 2015, The Atlantic)

The Senate on Thursday afternoon overwhelmingly approved legislation allowing Congress to review a potential nuclear agreement with Iran. The vote was 98-1, as lawmakers came together across party lines to assert their role in a key foreign-policy decision.

The only senator to oppose the legislation was Tom Cotton, the freshman Republican from Arkansas who has campaigned against the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran and was blocked from offering amendments to the bill. The House is expected to take up--and likely pass--the measure in the coming weeks.

Passage of the legislation still won't make it easy for Congress to reject the Iran deal. Under a compromise worked out by Senators Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican, and Benjamin Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, lawmakers would have 30 days to approve, disapprove, or take no action on a final nuclear agreement. If Congress failed to act, the deal would take effect. And any vote of disapproval would be subject to a presidential veto, meaning that President Obama would need the support of just 34 senators to sustain an agreement. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


Why Assad is losing (Charles Lister, 5/05/15, Brookings)

After roughly two years of being on the defensive, Syria's rebels are making dramatic gains in the north of the country. In the span of six weeks, coalitions of insurgent fighters captured the city of Idlib and won a series of key strategic victories elsewhere in the governorate. In the face of the opposition, the Syrian Army and its supporting militias appear at their weakest point since early 2013.

However, while much of the subsequent commentary proclaimed this as the beginning of the end for President Bashar al-Assad's regime, we are still a long way from that. In fact, the regime reacted to its dramatic losses in the north by carrying out hundreds of air strikes, barrel bombings, and chlorine attacks in rural Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo. Regime ground offensives were launched in eastern Damascus, in areas of Homs, and in the mountains around Zabadani near the Lebanese border. Meanwhile, a major joint regime-Hezbollah offensive in the Qalamoun mountains now also looks imminent.

So what is happening in Syria? Recent events have clearly tipped the psychological scales back into the opposition's favor: Losses in Idlib and the southern governorate of Deraa have placed great pressure on Assad, whose severe manpower shortages are becoming more evident by the day. Frustration, disaffection and even incidences of protest are rising across Assad's most ardent areas of support on Syria's coast -- some of which are now under direct attack. Hezbollah is stretched thin and even Iranian forces have begun withdrawing to the areas of Syria deemed to be the most important for regime survival.

The regime is no longer militarily capable of launching definitively successful operations outside of its most valuable territories, while its capacity for defense against concerted attack now appears questionable at best. It also looks diplomatically weaker, as Russia appears no longer wedded to the Assad regime's long-term survival and is now more open to the idea of a managed transition that would ensure the best chances of post-regime stability. Meanwhile, Iran's apparent rapprochement with the United States and its expected involvement in talks in Geneva convened by UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura may open the door for, at the very least, discussions of a negotiated solution in Syria.

May 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 PM


Wheelchair-bound contestant wins treadmill on Price is Right (Daily Mail,  May 7, 2015)

A woman with no legs who uses a wheelchair was a contestant on the Price is Right, but it doesn't look like she'll be using her winnings any time soon.

Danielle Perez, of Los Angeles, won a treadmill on Monday's episode of the famed game show and she managed to handle the awkward situation with grace and hilarity.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Mike Huckabee, Anti-Reform Conservative (Ross Douthat, MAY 6, 2015, NY Times)

[C]hange itself can be a frightening thing, and the heart of the Republican base now consists of a demographic, senior citizens, that's getting a pretty good deal relative to just about everyone else from the welfare state as it currently exists. And then of course even among non-seniors old-age retirement programs are very popular, both because they lift some of the burdens of caring for aging parents and because they offer a promise of future security to people struggling in the present.

Conservative reformers have tried to take these political realities into account, which is why their/our preferred entitlement reforms tend to be more moderate and gradualist than what some on the right have supported in the past. But in the end all of the plausible proposals floated to date, whether they involve some version of premium support for Medicare or a means-tested redesign of Social Security, do necessarily involve real changes to those programs, and reduced benefits over the long term for some people covered by them. Because those programs are expensive, and their projected costs are devouring so much of the budget, you basically can't have a coherent right-of-center reform agenda if you just leave them alone.

But if you don't care about having such an agenda, if you're willing to eschew real reform entirely and and simply promise to protect Medicare and Social Security indefinitely while cutting spending on some unspecified range of "wasteful" government programs instead -- well, then you can craft a message that in its own way speaks to precisely the socioeconomic anxieties that reform conservatives are trying to address, but does so in a much simpler and therefore perhaps more reassuring way. Instead of promising that conservative ideas can change public policy for the better, you can just exploit conservative instincts to hammer everyone else -- the left in some cases, your rivals on the right in others -- whenever they propose any kind of alteration to entitlements.

This is basically what a number of Republicans did with Medicare throughout the Obamacare debate. The G.O.P. crafted a message that was more explicitly responsive to middle class anxiety than a lot of right-wing policy talk tends to be: They attacked the president and the Democrats for making a "raid" on entitlements, for breaking faith with seniors, for skimping on retirement spending in order to achieve their universal health care dream ... and while it wasn't a winning presidential-level message, with the older whiter midterm electorate it worked out pretty well.

As a matter of policy, such a Mediscare strategy clearly makes any kind of actual conservative reform, to health care or entitlements or both, that much harder to achieve. But as a political matter, this sort of anti-reform conservatism no less (and perhaps sometimes more) than reform conservatism can speak to many anxious voters where they are.

Now it seems that Huckabee intends to run for president on what is basically an amped-up version of this strategy: Medicare today, Medicare tomorrow, Medicare forever, and keep your government hands off my Social Security too.

It's wealthy old white folk who were afraid their government checks would go to young coloreds instead, not that there's anything wrong with voting naked self-interest.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


StoreDot promises electric car that charges in 5 minutes (David Shamah, 5/06/15, Times of Israel)

At last year's Microsoft ThinkNext event in Tel Aviv, where new technologies by several Israeli start-ups go on display and get their "big break," Dr. Doron Myersdorf, CEO of Israeli start-up StoreDot, wowed the crowd by promising within a year to develop a technology that could reduce the time needed to recharge cellphones from hours to minutes.

At ThinkNext 2015 Tuesday in Tel Aviv, Myersdorf, fulfilled that promise, displaying before a crowd of some 1,500 a phone as it recharged from zero power to 100% charged in about two minutes.

And while he was doing that, Myersdorf made another promise: "Next year, we will present a technology to recharge an electric car in five minutes."

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Clinton to Call for 'Full and Equal Path to Citizenship' (KEN THOMAS, 5/05/15, Associated Press)

Hillary Rodham Clinton intends to draw an early distinction with Republicans on illegal immigration, pointing to a pathway to citizenship as an essential part of any overhaul in Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


Sweden urged to rethink parents' choice over schools after education decline (Richard Orange,  4 May 2015, The Guardian)

Sweden has been urged to halt the steep decline in the international ranking of its schools by taking action to limit parents' and pupils' right to choose.

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recommends "a comprehensive education reform" to restore the Swedish system to its previous standards.

but Mother & Child Economicus is an inherently fictional creature.  

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Jon Stewart Wrong on Education in Baltimore (Alex Tabarrok, May 4, 2015, Marginal Revolution)

Is it true, as Stewart suggests, that Baltimore schools are underfunded relative to other American schools? The National Center for Education Statistics reports the following data on Baltimore City Public Schools and Fairfax County Public Schools, the latter considered among the best school districts in the entire country:

school data2

The great thing about his show is that Colbert was right.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


The jihad of Pamela Geller (Bruce B. Lawrence, May 6, 2015, Religion News Service)

One can disagree with Hirsi Ali in a civil forum. While she panders to a level of fear about Islam and Muslims, at home and abroad, she also tries to reconstruct the "good" Muslim as part of humanity.

There is no humanity in those whom Geller decries. They are subhuman beasts, worthy of any assault, whether a punitive police or all-out military action. Jihad for Geller can never encompass the self-denying, ever-burning Sufi adept. Jihad is only and always the blinkered savages who hate us; they use jihad as both instrument and pretext for endless war. Hers is a responsive jihad, to equal their hate with her hate, matching their physical violence with her verbal violence.

There is more than a minor difference between free speech badly performed and public space consciously subverted. Hirsi Ali upholds free speech yet undermines its practice, never granting her opponents a grain of truth. Geller, however, has made as her modus operandi the repeated abuse of public space for dissemination of her vitriolic message.

The true lovers of Islam, like Rumi, twist and turn, twirl and burn for Allah. The free-speech jihadis, led by Geller, fume and bluster, excoriate and desecrate. Absent love, they lust for fame, to see their names in headlines yet again, a trophy of ill gain, their only glory but a fleeting fantasy.

May 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


In Senate GOP's Iran Standoff, the Rebels Are Losing (LAUREN FOX AND ALEX ROGERS, May 4, 2015, National Journal)

 A pair of rebellious foreign policy hawks is on one side, and the party establishment is on the other. In the battle for Senate GOP hearts and minds on a carefully crafted Iran review bill, the establishment appears to be winning.

Many Republicans are ready to rebuff freshman Sens. Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio, who have offered measures that could upturn a broadly popular Iran nuclear review bill. They say Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no choice but to leave behind scores of other GOP amendments, which still frustrates many who wanted to add their voice to the process.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Patients Not Hurt When Their Hospitals Close, Study Finds (Jordan Rau, 5/05/15, US News)

While the researchers noted that some people might be inconvenienced by having to travel further for care, they found no significant changes in how often Medicare beneficiaries were admitted to hospitals, how long they stayed or how much their care cost.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


US oil clients en route to Tehran  (MNA, 5/04/15) 

A delegation of oil dealers and investors from the US are scheduled to have a business tour of Iranian oil industry and meet with Iranian authorities in this week. Authorities, commissioners, and executives of oil companies are in the meeting agenda of the Americans.

Deputy petroleum minister of Iran, Abbas Sheri-Moghaddam confirmed the news and predicted more cooperation with US big companies and refineries on Iran's oil and gas projects after the removal of sanctions.

He also announced that some European-American companies have stepped forward for participation in new petrochemical projects in Iran and added that Iran is now bargaining with companies from Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands who are willing to invest in petrochemical projects of Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Naked, armed woman accused of kidnapping man near Bloomfield (Steve Garrison, 4/27/15, The Daily Times)

A 30-year-old naked woman armed with an ax and a knife allegedly took a man hostage last week on U.S. Highway 64.

James Sides told police that Jennifer Lee Brown jumped into his vehicle, and, at knife-point, forced him to drive to a Sonic Drive-In in Bloomfield.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Reid won't go all-out to block Obama's bid for 'fast track' trade clout (CHARLES BABINGTON, 5/05/15, Associated Press)

The Senate's top Democrat fiercely opposes expanded trade deals, but he signaled Tuesday he won't stand on the railroad tracks to block them. [...]

"I'm leaving this to my colleagues to parse out what's good and bad in the bill," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


India to Sign Port Deal with Iran, Ignoring U.S. Warning Against Haste (Nidhi Verma and Manoj Kumar, 5/05/15, Reuters) 

India will push ahead this week with plans to build a port in southeast Iran, two sources said, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi keen to develop trade ties with Central Asia and prepared to fend off U.S. pressure not to rush into any deals with Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Louisville factory: 100 printers, 3 employees (Parija Kavilanz , 5/05/15, CNNMoney)

3D printing still a novelty? One startup wants to bring the tech phenomenon into large-scale manufacturing.

On Monday, CloudDDM unveiled a 3D printing factory embedded in the heart of UPS' worldwide hub in Louisville, Ky.

The first-of-its kind, fully-automated facility will be able to use the tie-in to UPS to ship its products quickly.

"We'll have 100 high-tech 3D printers running 24 hours, 7 days a week," said CloudDDM's founder Mitch Free. And it'll need just three employees: one for each of the eight-hour shifts. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


A trade watershed? (Robert J. Samuelson,  May 3, 2015, Washington Post)

Liberalization has generally served us well. Trade has delivered geopolitical benefits in many, though not all, cases. After World War II, Europe traded together and avoided another war. Or consider Mexico. Since joining NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) in 1994, its exports to the United States have expanded more than sevenfold. (Over the same period, U.S. exports to Mexico rose fivefold.) This has helped stabilize Mexico's economy: something in U.S. interests.

Of course, there are costs, most obviously job loss. One study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that Chinese imports eliminated between 2 million and 2.4 million U.S. factory jobs from 1999 to 2011. That's roughly 40 percent of the 5.6 million lost manufacturing jobs in these years. Not everyone agrees. Harvard economist Robert Lawrence says continuous production efficiencies explain most job loss.

Whoever's right, there's a larger truth: Swings in the U.S. labor market, now with 148 million jobs, depend mostly on the domestic economy's health. Meanwhile, imports provide other economic benefits: lower prices, more consumer choice.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


US safety agency rejects request to probe unwanted acceleration in Toyota Corollas (TOM KRISHER, 5/04/15, AP)

U.S. safety regulators have rejected a Rhode Island man's request for an investigation into low-speed unintended acceleration problems with Toyota Corolla compact cars.

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Hezbollah captures Syrian village from jihadists (AP, May 5, 2015)

Hezbollah fighters captured a Syrian village near the border with Lebanon on Tuesday after intense fighting with Islamic militants, the group's television station said, while an activist said battles are concentrating near a strategic Syrian hill. [...]

The battles also come amid reports in Lebanon that Hezbollah and the Syrian army are expected to launch an offensive against members of the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State group in Qalamoun.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Ultra-Orthodox parties aim to roll back religious reform (BEN SALES, May 5, 2015, Times of Israel)

A coalition agreement signed last week between the Likud party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction promises to dismantle a raft of legislation enacted in the last two years that chipped away at several longstanding entitlements enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox community, also known as Haredi. Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party, signed its own coalition agreement with Likud this week that will cement the power of religious parties in the next government.

May 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


How Utah reduced homelessness by more than 90 percent (Samantha Laine, MAY 4, 2015, The Christian Science Monitor)

Utah's chronically homeless population has dropped by 91 percent since 2005, and may altogether be gone by 2015. The state has achieved this by approaching homelessness in an innovative, although simple, way:

If someone is homeless, give that person a home.

The Abolitionist : Bush's homelessness czar has some new ideas. Will liberals listen? (DOUGLAS MCGRAY  JUNE 2004, The Atlantic)

With his dark tailored suits and his silver banker's coif, Philip Mangano looks like a liberal Democrat's idea of a conservative Republican's idea of an advocate for the poor--which, as the Bush Administration's homelessness czar, he happens to be. It is difficult to imagine Mangano fasting on the Capitol steps in a ratty Army-surplus jacket, as the late activist for the homeless Mitch Snyder once did, much less winning over the bleeding hearts in the nonprofit world by promising to apply the President's governing philosophy to their cause. But the latter is precisely what he does. "Any investment we make will be research-and-data-driven, performance-based, and results-oriented," I heard him declare on a cold March morning in New York City, to a gathering of social workers and housing advocates. It is something he has said again and again.

Mangano's message is as pure an example as can be found in government of "compassionate conservatism," which argues that traditionally liberal social concerns can be advanced through such conservative principles as responsibility and accountability. Though this was the centerpiece of George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, the "compassion agenda" heralded in the President's inaugural address seemed to dissolve in the face of partisanship, underfunding, and an all-consuming foreign policy. [...]

Mangano believes that the breakthrough in the battle to abolish homelessness occurred only in the past five years, after Dennis Culhane determined that about one percent of the nation's urban population was homeless each year--more than anyone expected. Culhane studied this group and discovered that most were homeless for less than two months, but a hard-core minority--about 10 percent--stayed in shelters about two years, on average. "The emergency-shelter system," Culhane explained, "designed as a safety net, was serving as an expensive form of permanent housing." He measured just how much the chronic cases cost by tracking 10,000 mentally ill homeless people in New York, 5,000 of whom were placed in supportive housing and 5,000 of whom remained in shelters or on the street. It turned out that the first group cost the city no more, and probably less, than the second. A wave of similar studies reinforced his findings.

This hard-numbers approach amounted to a radical shift for advocates on behalf of the homeless, who had long focused on emotional appeals for greater attention and investment. Although sympathetic to their motivation, Mangano believes that political leaders have grown numb to sob stories, especially since the debate over welfare reform. "There were homeless advocates saying the sky is falling, the wolf is at the door, if welfare as we know it is changed," he says. None of it happened. Now "research is the new advocacy."

Mangano arrived in Washington, in 2002, well liked by both Republicans and Democrats. But skeptics wondered whether he could defend anti-homelessness programs from spending cuts, much less persuade a preoccupied conservative Administration and dozens of Democratic mayors to work together on an issue that doesn't register as a priority for voters. Through relentless travel and lobbying he has produced encouraging results.

On that March morning Atlanta's mayor, Shirley Franklin, an outspoken supporter of Mangano's, and Angela Aliota, a civil-rights lawyer in charge of San Francisco's chronic-homelessness plan, had traveled to New York to meet with city officials who were preparing to release their plan to battle homelessness, and to visit two programs that Mangano was eager to replicate elsewhere. We piled into a white cargo van and headed to East Harlem, where Pathways to Housing manages close to 500 apartments for the mentally ill. Its founder and executive director, Sam Tsemberis, is a man after Mangano's heart. When we arrived, he distributed copies of a new study in the American Journal of Public Health that tracks Pathways's performance. "Every program can bring forward people whose lives they saved," he explained. But that doesn't make them all equal. "If we didn't have scientific data, it would become a debate." Tsemberis has ministered to the so-called "treatment-resistant" for decades, and pioneered his "housing first" model after being struck by how many clients distrusted social workers and simply wanted a place to live. Offer them the apartment first, he believes, and you don't need to spend years, and service dollars, winning their trust. His success rates are high, his costs relatively low. "You can see why that resonated with the compassionate-conservative types," Culhane says. "It's exactly the kind of thing they've claimed they're looking for: sensible policy interventions that do right for the people and for the taxpayer."

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 PM


Tesla Battery Economics: On the Path to Disruption (Ramez Naam, 5/04/15, Gizmodo)

Here are two ways we can calculate the LCOE of the Tesla Powerwall.

1. Rule of Thumb: 1,000 Full Charge Cycles. This gives an LCOE of $0.35 / kwh. That compares to average grid electricity prices in the US of 12 cents / kwh, and peak California prices on a time-of-use plan of around 28 cents / kwh.

2. 10 Year Warranty + Daily Shallow Cycles. Tesla is offering a ten-year warranty on these batteries, which is bold. Yet evidence shows that Tesla automotive batteries are doing quite well, not losing capacity fast. Why? It's because they're rarely fully discharged. Most people drive well under half of the range of the battery per day. So let's assume 10 years of daily use (3650 days, if we ignore leap days) and 50% depth of discharge on each day. Using the 7kwh battery, that gives us a price of around 23-24 cents / kwh.

Both of those prices are the price to installers. It's not counting the installer's profit margin or their cost of labor or any equipment needed to connect it to the house. So realistically the costs will be higher.

Tentative Conclusion: The battery isn't quite cheap enough for most in the US to buy on a purely cost-benefit basis, yet. Unless outages are extremely expensive.

Outside the continental US, the batteries economics look far better, though. 43 US states have Net Metering laws that compensate solar homes for excess power created during the day.

In some of the sunniest places in the world, though, retail electricity prices from the grid are substantially higher than the US, plenty of sunlight is available, and Net Metering either doesn't exist or is being severely curtailed. [...]

The real prize, though, would be India. Northern India is sunny. The power grid struggles to provide enough electricity to meet the daytime and early evening peak. India is now rolling out Time-of-Day pricing to residential customers and reports indicate that retail peak power prices are edging towards 20 cents / kwh in some cities. (Most commercial customers in India are already on Time-of-Day pricing.) For now, the solar + battery economics aren't quite there for Indians that have access to the grid, though with outages there so frequent, high-income urbanites and commercial power users may find that the reliability value puts it over the top.

For most of the US, this battery isn't quite cheap enough. But it's in the right ballpark. And that means a lot. Net Metering plans in the US are filling up. California's may be full by the end of 2016 or 2017, modulo additional legal changes. That would severely impact the economics of solar. But another factor of 2 price reduction in storage would make it cheap enough that, as Net Metering plans fill up or are reduced around the country, the battery would allow solar owners to save power for the evening or night-time hours in a cost effective way.

That is also a policy tool in debates with utilities. If they see Net Metering reductions as a tool to slow rooftop solar, they'll be forced to confront the fact that solar owners with cheap batteries are less dependent on Net Metering.

That same factor of 2 price reduction would also make batteries effective for day-night electricity cost arbitrage, wherein customers fill up the battery with cheap grid power at night, and use stored battery power instead of the grid during the day. In California, where there's a 19 cent gap between middle of the night power and peak-of-day power, those economics look very attractive.

And the cost of batteries is plunging fast. Tesla will get that 2x price reduction within 3-5 years, if not faster.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


WE'VE BEEN IN A HURRICANE DROUGHT FOR NINE YEARS (Mary Beth Griggs, 5/04/15, Popular Science)

Want to know a secret? First, knock on wood, and whatever you do, don't tell the hurricanes, ok? This news might inspire them to pick up the pace, and we wouldn't want that.

Now that we've covered all the superstitious bases, here's the good news: a major hurricane hasn't hit the United States for the past nine years! [...]

The researchers wanted to know just how strange this drought was. To get a better sense of whether or not the severe storms' lack of landfall was an outlier or not, they looked at historical records and ran computer simulations of hurricane seasons from 1950 to 2002. They ran the simulations 1,000 times and estimated that a 9-year stretch like this is likely to occur only once in about 177 years.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Budget plan calls for $194 billion in unidentified cuts to federal workforce (Joe Davidson, April 30, 2015, Washington Post)

Federal employees should be wary, but not surprised.

The House and Senate Republican budget plan announced this week would continue hits on government workers, as expected, with cuts that could lighten their wallets by up to $194 billion.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Echoes of Charlie Hebdo in attack on Texas Muhammad cartoon event (Arthur Bright, MAY 4, 2015, CS Monitor)

Two gunmen were killed in an attack on a cartoon contest to draw the prophet Muhammad in Garland, Texas, Sunday night - an incident and event that has invoked both January's Charlie Hebdo attacks and the anti-Muslim cartoons from Europe that sparked the controversy over Hebdo.

The gunmen reportedly drove up to the event, a "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest," some time before 7 p.m.  at the Curtis Culwell Center, a public event space run by the local school district. The two men opened fire on the event, wounding an unarmed security guard in the ankle, before being shot and killed by police, who were already nearby providing security.

Posted by orrinj at 3:10 PM


Ex-CIA official says US drones rarely kill civilians, but saved hundreds by killing terrorists (KEN DILANIAN, 5/04/15, AP) 

President Barack Obama ordered a barrage of CIA drone strikes in Yemen in 2013 that killed the al-Qaida operatives behind the most serious plotting against American interests in years, a former CIA leader says in a new memoir that broadly defends the targeted killing of terrorists.

When the U.S. closed 20 diplomatic facilities across the Middle East and Africa in August of 2013, officials said it was in response to intercepted communications about an unspecified plot. They said little about how and why they later deemed the threat abated. But former CIA official Michael Morell says the reason was that that many of the key operatives involved in the plot were killed by U.S. air strikes. [...]

According to the New America Foundation, which tracks drone strikes, there were nine drone attacks in Yemen between July 27 and Aug. 10, which killed up to 38 militants and possibly two civilians. Morell calls the embassy plot the most serious terrorist threat to face the U.S. since another thwarted al-Qaida plan in 2006 to bring down multiple airliners over the Atlantic Ocean. [...]

[M]orell, who was traveling with President George W. Bush on 9/11 and was involved in the intelligence behind the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, mounts a staunch defense of two controversial CIA programs: brutal interrogations of al Qaida prisoners and targeted killing with drones.

While Morell says he is personally troubled by the harshest technique the CIA used on detainees, water boarding, he makes a case that agency leaders had no choice but to use what many consider torture in the years after the 9/11 attacks. He said such techniques saved American lives.

...and how lethal even the UR is in response to such minimal threat.

May 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:15 AM


Baltimore unrest puts spotlight on O'Malley's stint as mayor (KEN THOMAS and BRIAN WITTE, May. 3, 2015, AP)

Martin O'Malley often casts Baltimore as the comeback city that overcame the ravages of drugs and violence when he was mayor.

Now, weeks before the former Maryland governor expects to enter the 2016 presidential race and challenge Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primaries, Baltimore's turnaround has been marred by the unrest after the police-custody death of Freddie Gray. The turmoil has placed new scrutiny on O'Malley's "zero tolerance" law enforcement policies as mayor from 1999 to 2006.

The record shows that murders and violent crime overall declined in O'Malley's years as mayor. But it was when a grand jury concluded that too many arrests were being made in black neighborhoods without merit, and when the city settled a lawsuit from people who said they were wrongly arrested for minor offenses -- the sort of concerns driving some of the anger in Baltimore today. [...]

In the 1990s, more than 300 people were murdered each year in Baltimore. O'Malley advocated "stop and frisk" practices, cracked down on lower-level crimes such as public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and brought in two police commanders from New York steeped in such policing. The number of homicides fell to 253 in 2002 and stayed below 300 during his two terms, while never dropping to his goal of 175.

But the approach did lead to many arrests.

In 2005, a Baltimore grand jury found excessive arrests in black neighborhoods and recommended retraining so officers would use better judgment. Judge Joseph McCurdy Jr. had tasked the panel with determining "what can be done to address the lack of confidence that exists between many members of the public and law enforcement."

The ACLU and the NAACP sued in 2006 on behalf of 14 plaintiffs who said they were wrongly arrested as part of a policy that emphasized arrests for minor offenses under O'Malley's watch. The city agreed to the $870,000 settlement in 2010.

O'Malley's successors moved away from zero-tolerance policing.

It's practically a parody.

Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Revealed, Royal Navy has just ONE nuclear submarine on active duty (CLAIRE CARTERT, 3 May 2015, Daily Mail)

The Royal Navy has just one nuclear powered submarine in operation after the rest of the fleet has been left out of action due to defects and damage. 

Four of the Royal Navy's new multi-billion hunter and killer submarines are still in dock at Barrow-in-Furness because of defects that have delayed their production - 15 years after the new ships were first ordered. 

The Anglosphere's peace dividend stands to make an economic boomtime even better and to ease the transfer of money to the citizenry, rather than to the military-industrial complex.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


Congress Slowly Building Bipartisan Brawn (Jon M. Huntsman Jr. & Joe Lieberman, May 3, 2015, RCP)

In the last few weeks, several small steps have been taken in Congress to further bipartisanship and promote collaboration: 

- A sizable number of House members actively sought a solution by presenting a bipartisan-supported letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to fix the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate. This measure was debated and passed by Congress where, in the past, it had been "resolved" only by temporary, stop-gap measures.    

- The Iran agreement, another bipartisan effort on behalf of Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and co-sponsor Ben Cardin (D-Md.), also made strides in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, hopefully moving both chambers closer to a "teamwork" approach than we haven't seen in years.  

- On Thursday, President Obama signed into law a bipartisan energy-efficiency bill sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), as well as No Labels Problem Solver Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). There also has been bipartisan movement on a revision of the No Child Left Behind law led by Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). 

After years of partisan politics at the expense of real progress for the American people, Congress is beginning to take steps -- together -- toward real change. 

...Harry Reid was the problem, not Mitch.  

The UR is a huge beneficiary of this adult behavior, as his trade bills--TPP, Iran, etc.--will now sail through.  He'd be wise to work out an Obamacare reform package while he can and permanently cement his legacy : the mandate, the WoT and trade.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM


Our Police Union Problem (Ross Douthat, 5/02/15, NY Times)

FOR decades now, conservatives have pressed the case that public sector unions do not serve the common good.

The argument is philosophical and practical at once. First, the state monopoly on certain vital services makes even work slowdowns unacceptable and the ability to fire poor-performing personnel essential, and a unionized work force creates problems on both fronts.

Second, the government's money is not its own, so negotiations between politicians and their employees (who are also often their political supporters) amount to a division of spoils rather than a sharing of profits. Third, these negotiations inevitably drive up the cost of public services, benefiting middle-class bureaucrats at the expense of the poor, and saddling governments with long-term fiscal burdens that the terms of union contracts make it extremely difficult to lift.

Finally, union lobbying power can bias public-policy decisions toward the interests of state employees. To take just one particularly perverse example: In California over the last few decades, the correctional officers union first lobbied for a prison-building spree and then, well-entrenched, exercised veto power over criminal justice reform.

These points add up to a strong argument that the rise of public sector unions represents a decadent phase in the history of the welfare state, a case study in the warping influence of self-dealing and interest-group politics.

But as we've been reminded by the agony of Baltimore, this argument also applies to a unionized public work force that conservatives are often loath to criticize: the police.

That some good may come of riots.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


What Does Regime Change in Sri Lanka Mean for the United States? (Taylor Dibbert, April 30, 2015, The Diplomat)

The Obama administration is undoubtedly delighted that the increasingly authoritarian Mahinda Rajapaksa was thrown out of office in early January. And, since U.S.-Sri Lanka relations had turned quite sour under Rajapaksa's watch, Washington clearly wants things to be different this time.

Malinowski's recent statements are in line with what other senior American officials have said about Sri Lanka's recent transfer of power. As Malinowski suggested, it appears that the Obama administration still has not decided precisely how much the bilateral relationship will evolve, particularly on controversial issues like human rights and 'accountability' for alleged wartime abuses. A degree of patience may be warranted, although the reform program of newly elected Maithripala Sirisena has not been going that well. On the other hand, parliament's passage (this week) of the 19th amendment to the constitution (which trims presidential powers and establishes various independent commissions) is a significant accomplishment and has opened the door to even greater optimism regarding a reform program that had been floundering.

Indeed, it's likely that the Obama administration will stay upbeat for at least the next several months and continue to decrease diplomatic pressure on the new government. Sirisena is expected to dissolve parliament soon and parliamentary elections could come as early as June. Once the official electoral campaign begins, Washington would seek to avoid any perceptions of interference, aside from encouraging the government to hold peaceful, transparent elections.

Having ended a brutal civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has come under intense pressure over the past several years over accountability for alleged war crimes and ongoing human rights violations post-war. For better or worse, the Obama administration has taken the lead in ensuring that Sri Lanka's human rights and accountability issues stay on the international community's radar. 

May 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Why Jeb Bush Says He's Right About Immigration (Ken McIntyre, May 02, 2015, Daily Signal)

A gathering of conservatives gave Jeb Bush a strong applause earlier this week after he made a spirited defense of his call for decisive action on immigration reform, which many of them oppose.

Bush apparently got credit for standing up in the lion's den - in this case a program associated with the conservative National Review - and making the case for an influx of "young, aspirational and dynamic" Americans to help revitalize the economy.

"I just think you're wrong on immigration and you think I'm wrong, to be honest with you," the former Florida governor and likely Republican presidential candidate said during the first day of the National Review Institute's three-day Ideas Summit at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C.

"I may be stubborn, but I am willing to listen [although] I think I'm right on this." [...]

How to make sure immigrants assimilate better: All Americans, Bush said, need to have a "deeper understanding" of "our shared values," including how freedom protects citizens from an overreaching government. The citizenship test should be tougher, but Americans also "need to get back to civics education 

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Koch brothers make push to court Latinos, alarming many Democrats (Mary Jordan and Ed O'Keefe, April 30, 2015, Washington Post)

The LIBRE Initiative, an expanding grass-roots organization now operating in nine states, organized the four-hour test prep session to teach the rules of the road in Spanish -- no tome y maneje (no drinking and driving), el límite de velocidad es sesenta y cinco millas por hora (the speed limit is 65 miles per hour).

Paula Hernandez, 46, an undocumented restaurant supervisor from Mexico, was one of those sitting on folded chairs, listening. She has worked in the United States for 25 years and gave birth to three children here. She has never heard of the Koch brothers or LIBRE but said the free classes were a "great help," particularly because nobody else is lending her a hand. "President Obama promised to do more for us, and it just didn't happen," she said.

To Republicans, that sounds like an opportunity -- even though the Koch brothers and their conservative allies spend a great deal of their money supporting Republican candidates who oppose citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

"Latino celebrities, unions and left-leaning community groups" for decades have done a far better job in courting the Hispanic vote and "engaging directly with the Latino community," said Daniel Garza, executive director of LIBRE. Now, he said, his group aims to end what he calls the "deafening silence" from "libertarians and conservatives."

In addition to driver's license classes, LIBRE has started offering Latinos tax preparation help, wellness checkups, scholarships and food giveaways in Texas, Colorado, Florida and other states. It has bought ads touting the "free market," smaller government and school choice, and its officials are a growing presence on Spanish-language news stations talking about the virtues of "self-reliance."

By providing tax prep and driving classes, they are building goodwill in the Latino community and what they call a "platform for civic engagement." LIBRE officials take pains to say they are advocating policies, not specific candidates.

And they're having kids.  The Tea Partiers aren't (though they did 50 years ago).  

Posted by orrinj at 9:31 AM


In the PEN Controversy, Lessons on Art, Politics, and Really Bad Ideas : Or, why all great writers are conservative (Liel Leibovitz, May 1, 2015, Tablet)

What I learned, in my years of orbiting the intelligentsia, wasn't that the allegedly learned and refined weren't really that refined or learned; it's that they weren't really intellectually, emotionally, or morally present at all. [...]

[G]reat writers have always been, by definition, conservative creatures who know that if we amend the terms of the social contract that binds us together "as often as there are floating fancies," then "no one generation could link with the other. Men would be little better than the flies of a summer." The quote is Edmund Burke's; the principles of true politics, he argued, "are those of morality enlarged." The same is true of true literature, whose aim is never the whims of the individual but the rhythms of society, a living writhing mass in which no one individual is ever, existentially speaking, particularly privileged. We live, we love, and we perish, connected, whether we admit it or not, to those who came before us and to those yet unborn, urged on by a single, irresistible command: continue.

And we will, even if some of our contemporary writers won't. From the true masters of the literary magic, like Herman Melville, we've learned that "mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore." Those who see literature as discourse and who find no merit in honoring those slain for their right to practice their craft have set up their ramparts on the shore; beyond it lies all that is great and good.

Even better, the only good books by liberals are conservative (see under: Maltese Falcon)

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 AM


Pakistani prime minister praises armed forces for defeating militants in North Waziristan (Associated Press, May 1, 2015)

Pakistan's prime minister on Friday praised the country's armed forces for defeating militants in the North Waziristan tribal area, which was once considered the main base for the Pakistani Taliban.

Ending the Islamicist threat requires establishing sovereignty in such places.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Prenatal selection upsets sex ratio in Balkans ( 1 May 2015)

She tries to mutter a few words, but her mother-in-law, Sanije, silences her with a hard stare.

"A fourth one is a curse... either she will abort or there is no place for her with us," she says, handing a bundle of bank notes to a doctor at a private clinic in downtown Tirana.

Selective abortions are common practice in Albania and some other Balkan countries where an imbalance between boys and girls at birth is blamed on a preference for boys.

"Prenatal sex selection continues to be a persistent practice in Albania although the legislation specifically bans it," said Rubena Moisiu, head of an obstetrics hospital in Tirana.

It gradually leads to a demographic masculinisation of society, already visible among young children.

In countries such as Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro and in western Macedonia there some 110 male per 100 female births," Christophe Guilmoto of  the French Research Institute for Development, who specialises in gender imbalances, said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


On campaign trail, Walker sheds light on influence of faith (Daniel Bice and Annysa Johnson, 4/23/15, Journal Sentinel)

Few things are as central to understanding Scott Walker as his relentless political calculus and his evangelical Christian faith.

Those two facets of the governor are coming together as never before in his all-but-certain bid for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination. They will be on full display Saturday when the two-term governor joins fellow would-be presidential candidates at the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition 2015 Spring Kickoff.

So far, Walker's folksy mix of faith and politics has resonated with evangelical Christian voters, a key constituency for Republican candidates.

"He is definitely galvanizing our membership," said Timothy Head, executive director of Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, which stages the Iowa event.

A recent survey by Public Policy Polling showed the second-term Republican governor outpacing all other GOP contenders in his support from this powerful segment of the Republican Party.

If he can make this sale he can win IA and SC and knock Jeb out of the race.

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Pew: 22% of America's 35 million Latino adults are now Protestant : After centuries of Catholicism Latinos begin to experience serious Pentecostal reformation (Jennifer LeClaire Apr 30, 2015, The Christians)

God is moving through Hispanics--not only in Latin American nations like Brazil but right here in the United States. Indeed, Hispanics are poised to play a pivotal role in Christianity in the days--and even hours--ahead.

Nearly 1-in-4 Hispanic adults (24 percent) are now former Catholics, according to a major, nationwide survey of more than 5,000 Hispanics by the Pew Research Center. About 22 percent of America's 35.4 million Latino adults are Protestant--and many identify as Pentecostal or charismatic Protestants. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Hear What is Jazz?: Leonard Bernstein's Introduction to the Great American Art Form (1956) (Open Culture, April 30th, 2015)

In 1956, Bernstein was already known to the general public as an educator on classical music. He gave lectures on CBS' Omnibus TV program on the great symphonies, while he had already dabbled in the instrumentation and textures of jazz in his score to On the Waterfront, and was busy working on West Side Story. So he was in a perfect position to introduce a conservative mind to jazz. "I love it because it's an original kind of emotional expression, in that it is never wholly sad or wholly happy," he says.

Appearing on the album is Buck Clayton, Louis Armstrong, Buster Bailey, Bessie Smith, Teo Macero, and Miles Davis. Davis, who had just been signed by Columbia's George Avakian, plays "Sweet Sue," making this track his first recording for the label. Bernstein illustrates jazz music theory, "blue notes," dissonance, rhythm and explores the African origins of the music for 42 fascinating minutes. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


The Birth of Right and Left? (Bruce Frohnen, 4/29/15, Imaginative Conservative)

As Mr. Levin sums up the differences between these two important figures, "where Burke's considerable faculty for expression is most often employed to convey the complexity of social and political life, Paine's most often conveys a simplicity--a sense that the just and right way forward can be discerned by a proper application of key principles and that we are duty-bound to discern and to follow it." Each approach is capable of drawing the ire of opponents. For Burke the charge is that he did not care about justice and that he was satisfied to let oppression continue, so long as he could preserve stability. Yet he often fought corruption and abuse of power, working at considerable cost to himself to defend the Americans, Irish Catholics, the people of India, and slaves in English colonies. For Paine the charge is that he cared only for abstractions, yet he had to flee France because he refused to throw in his lot completely with the mass murderers of the Revolution.

That said, Mr. Levin is clear that he has, as he should, taken a side in the great debate. He sides with Burke, his suppositions, his goals, and his view of the person and the social order, over Paine. It is easy today to dismiss Burke's politics as too rooted in history, too accepting of existing injustices, and too hostile toward demands for change. It is easy to do so because the language of politics has in large measure become the language of Paine. But this language also is the language of abstraction, of simplification, and of power. For Paine, in his drive for justice and individual freedom, sought to construct a politics rooted in the individual and the demand for equality here and now. Political structures were to be reshaped to make them democratic and to make them capable of remaking society so that it would be friendlier toward the demands of individuals seeking their own good on the basis of their own, unfettered reason. Paine experienced how the drive for such a radical transformation, and such a radical rejection of the institutions, beliefs, and practices inherited from those who went before us and believed they were leaving an inheritance for those who would come after us, led to mass murder in the French Revolution. But he remained convinced that only a forceful re-founding of society on the consent (however gleaned) of the people taken as an (undefined) whole could be just and could lead to justice. He followed his own reasoning to its logical conclusion: promotion of a secular state seeking to free individuals from want, from the past, and from the confines of the social order. Succeeding revolutions and their aftermaths have shown how bloody and enervating such a program is. Yet the political left continues to insist that these are the only true principles, and that we try again and again to put them into action, whatever the consequences, because this is the only just and caring way to proceed.

Burke, meanwhile, insisted that order is the first need of all, that it begins in the soul, and that the soul is shaped through normative education rooted in society seen as an inheritance we must preserve and hand on to later generations. On this view, injustices must be addressed, and reforms made. But this must be done with an eye toward ameliorating abuses in a manner that preserves the functioning of society and the ability of people to go about their lives with an assurance of stability and the support of the cultural institutions and norms necessary for any good life.

As Mr. Levin emphasizes, it is more than anything else the emphasis on simplification that makes Paine's assumptions regarding the good society dangerous to actual persons. that this debate has allowed us to preserve stability/order while progressing/reforming.
Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


Nuclear Deal or Not, Iran Is Primed to Do Business (Ned Lamont, April 26, 2015, RCP)

The latest revolution to convulse Iran is rampant capitalism. The lobby of Tehran's international hotel, The Parsian Azadi, was a modern-day bazaar with business people from around the world busily negotiating ventures. The American members of our YPO delegation were the only Americans there -- and they were not doing business.  Whether we believe that the framework nuclear deal is the best we can get or sadly deficient, Iran and the rest of the world do seem to be moving ahead, assuming a final agreement at the end of June. 

Turk, German and Chinese business people were congesting the elevators and filling the conference rooms; last week Iranian President Rouhani was walking hand in hand with his Turkish counterpart (despite their differences over Syria); Russia announced a weapons deal, Qatar and Dubai are rushing to upgrade their ports in anticipation of legal trade with Iran, and China has already stepped in to be Iran's largest trading partner. 

Yes, the financial sanctions do bite, as evidenced by half built buildings all over Tehran and Isfahan and Shiraz, and the Iranian entrepreneurs and business leaders we met were very ready to jump-start their dreams. But for day-to-day life, the sanctions look pretty leaky (pass me another Coke). Kentucky Chicken and faux Starbucks will have to do until the real McCoys can buy them up. Facebook may be illegal but an estimated 15 million users are waiting for Rouhani to finish the 3G upgrade. The young entrepreneurs working out of incubators across the country are launching their Farsi versions of Craig's List and Groupon. Only Airbnb may be banned, since the law does not allow unmarried couples to rent a room. Temporary marriage certificates are a time-honored work-around for this prohibition. 

Iran has a well-oiled work-around economy. Sanctions have created a black market that, instead of punishing the government and its cronies, allows them to get rich; they oppose the nuclear deal for mercantile reasons. But the next generation is tired of the expense and hassle of this work-around economy.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Your Revolution is Killing Us (AUSTIN RUSE, 5/01/15, Crisis)

At least the communists thought the breaking of a few eggs might be regrettable but in the long run was beneficial to the omelet. The sexual revolutionaries deny the eggs.

The litany of broken eggs is tedious, certainly, but we must continue to recite it and in the recitation lay it all at the doorstep of the revolutionaries: more than 50 million dead babies in this country alone; almost one million deaths due to AIDS; 19 million new cases of STDs every single year in the United States; millions addicted to pornography; sex trafficking; galloping pedophilia; forty percent of children born without a father in the home. Your mother never heard of chlamydia. Now teen girls get shots to prevent it.

The Sexual Revolution, which Wikipedia oddly says ended in the 1980s, is the heart of the matter. It is the font of all our current difficulties. Many of us work on bits and pieces of it: ending abortion, defending marriage, religious freedom and the like. One person works right at the heart of it, Jennifer Roback Morse, who runs the Ruth Institute in California.

Roback Morse has a Ph.D. in economics and has taught at Yale and George Mason University. She has held fellowships at Stanford, Cornell Law School, and the University of Chicago. For years she has raised the alarm about the Sexual Revolution and its victims. She believes we can make common cause with them; the survivors and walking wounded anyway, and perhaps one day, in the hazy future, end it.

She has published a very helpful collection of her essays called The Sexual Revolution and Its Victims.

She starts by calling the revolutionaries liars.

"All we want to do is lower the cost of divorce to the handful of people whose marriages have irretrievably broken down."

"All we want to do is allow married couples to use contraception for serious health reasons."

"All we want to do is provide sexual education for children whose parents might not be responsible enough to do it themselves."

All lies, she says, told for the purpose of establishing an easily expandable principle. And we have certainly seen these "modest reforms" expand and expand again and again.

She calls these the battle cry of the "ruling class" and like all revolutions, this one has certainly eaten its young, feasting most ravenously on the defenseless, that is, children, and the poor.

Roback Morse describes the modern view of sex as "a recreational activity with no moral or social significance. The freedom we have come to value is to be completely unencumbered by human relationships. We are entitled to end or walk away from any relationship with a person who might legitimately make demands upon us that we don't want to fulfill. And the reproductive freedom in particular is the right to unlimited sexual activity without a live baby resulting."

She says the major tenets of the Sexual Revolution are that every person is entitled to unlimited sexual activity, contraception will cure all negative consequences including conception and disease, no one is required to give birth and therefore abortion is an absolute entitlement, any consequences not handled by contraception and abortion are not worth talking about, no one ever gets attached to an inappropriate sex partner, no one ever regrets a consensual sexual encounter, and teen depression linked to hooking up doesn't exist.

Such tenets are awfully expensive, both in terms of the individuals who live by them and those who are merely collateral damage. The cost to society runs to the hundreds of billions of dollars even if you just look at Federal money spent on the underclass whose problems have been exacerbated exponentially by internalizing the Sexual Revolution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


On the Stump, Jeb Bush Seeks to Keep Calm, Carry On : The presumed presidential candidate doesn't produce fireworks, but strives to connect. (David Catanese March 9, 2015, US News)

"My hope is that the '16 campaign ... will be about what we believe in, what we're for, that we draw people towards our cause, that we're not as reactionary, but that we're much more positive about the future of our country," he said in his remarks inside the wood-paneled visitor's center.

Bush's sober, placid performance drew encouragement from the crowd of neatly dressed establishment Republicans.

The first question in Urbandale, after all, wasn't even a question: A woman instead showered unadulterated praise upon Bush for his support of the much-maligned Common Core State Standards.

"You are an outlier in that sense," Mary Ellen Miller, a new member of the Iowa State Board of Education, told him. "Keep on that topic."

Bush didn't pause to revel in the rose petals being tossed at his feet.

He shot directly to an explanation about what he's for: higher education standards that are dictated by the states.

"I'm not gonna back down on that. What I can tell you is, the federal government shouldn't be involved in this," he said. "The federal government shouldn't have a role in influencing, directly or indirectly, standards or curriculum or content."

After his remarks, 24-year-old Eddie Failor approached Bush to commend him for hanging tough on immigration reform, another issue that's raised the ire of conservatives.

"Unlike some candidates recently in the news, he hasn't backed down from what he believes on the issue," Failor told U.S. News after his exchange, declining to name names.

A crush of media soon encircled Bush, and when a reporter asked about his solitary nature, he acknowledged he's trained himself to adapt to situations exactly like this one.

"Instead of wandering around, you ask me a question, I listen, I answer, I stay focused on you. There's like 25 people around us right now," he said, keeping his eyes trained on his inquisitor, even as a platoon of lights, microphones and recorders hovered over and around him. "Introverts sometimes just kinda go into a shell. So it's the discipline of listening, it's the discipline of engagement. I want to be better at this."

And at a retail stop the next day in Cedar Rapids, Iowa - about two hours east of Des Moines - he was better. Cedar Rapids is where his brother, George W. Bush, announced his presidential bid 16 years ago. It's also historically where center-right Republicans need to perform well in order to overcome anticipated losses in the northern and eastern enclaves of the state. Mitt Romney carried Linn County, where Cedar Rapids resides, in both the 2012 and 2008 caucuses. If Bush is to have any shot in Iowa next year, he'll need it, too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Knives out for Jim Murphy as poll suggests wipeout for Scottish Labour (Ben Riley-Smith, 29 Apr 2015, The Telegraph)

The SNP will win every seat in Scotland, a devastating poll has found as senior Scottish Labour figures demanded resignations over the possible wipeout.

They'd win seats if they competed with Blair's Labour in England.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Why are proud Hungarians mastering English? Simple pragmatism. : Hungarians and other Central Europeans are mastering English at a much greater clip than many of their continental peers (Sara Miller Llana, Staff writer MAY 2, 2015, CS Monitor)

David Nagy works on the ground floor café of a multinational bank in Budapest, where English is often the language of office-place banter. 

He's hoping to prime his own English skills for a future job search. Plus he likes American movies.

"I have met many Italians who don't want to learn English because they 'must' speak Italian," says the 25-year-old barista, fluttering his hands in mock outrage at speaking English.

His utter lack of pretension about Hungarian, on the other hand, is one of the driving reasons why Central Europeans have mastered English at a much greater clip than some of their lagging Western European peers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Baseball's officially on the clock now as enforcement of pace-of-play rules begins in minors (ERIC OLSON, 5/02/15, AP)

Friday marked the start of the enforcement of the rules intended to speed up play after the average time of a major league nine-inning game stretched to a record 3 hours, 2 minutes last year.

Pitchers now have 2 minutes, 25 seconds to begin their windup or come to set between innings. They have 20 seconds to do so between pitches. Batters must be in the box and ready for the pitch when the clock strikes 5. [...]

The new rules seem to be helping. The average game length in the majors was just under 2 hours, 54 minutes through Wednesday, more than 8 minutes under the 2014 mark. Games are 11 minutes shorter in the Double-A Southern League and 10 minutes shorter in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

...and they're all much more watchable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 AM


Louis Armstrong, the Real Ambassador (Joe Nocera, 5/01/15, NY Times)

March marked the 50th anniversary of Louis Armstrong's historic tour behind the Iron Curtain, as the Soviet bloc was then called. The second stop on the tour was East Berlin, where, on March 22, 1965, he and his All Stars played a memorable two-hour concert. The concert was broadcast on German television and radio; a few years ago, a condensed version found its way to YouTube. More recently, the Louis Armstrong House Museum got ahold of the entire thing, and on Thursday, it held a screening at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. [...]

There were two subplots surrounding Armstrong's East Berlin concert, which I want to dwell on here.

The first was the role jazz played during the Cold War. Starting in the mid-1950s, the State Department began sending jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington, and Armstrong on tours abroad as good-will ambassadors. Part of the rationale was that jazz was a uniquely American art form that could show off the best of American culture, just as the Russians used ballet troupes to show off their culture. The government also thought that these artists, most of them black, might, by their presence, help diffuse "the widely shared sense that race was America's Achilles' heel internationally," as Penny M. Von Eschen writes in "Satchmo Blows Up the World," her book about the jazz tours.

The State Department sent the musicians to Cold War hot spots all over the world. Everywhere they went, their music was received enthusiastically. It was great music, to be sure, but it also often represented "things that were culturally forbidden" in repressive regimes, says Dan Morgenstern, the jazz historian. At the height of the jazz tours, The New Yorker ran a cartoon showing a State Department meeting: "This is a diplomatic mission of the utmost delicacy," the caption read. "The question is, who's the best man for it -- John Foster Dulles or Satchmo?" Dave Brubeck and his wife, Iola, even wrote a musical celebrating Armstrong's international forays, called "The Real Ambassadors."

The second subplot involved timing: The East Berlin concert took place just weeks after Bloody Sunday in Selma, Ala. In 1957, Armstrong had been one of the few black stars to speak out when Gov. Orval Faubus of Arkansas called out the National Guard to block black students from attending Little Rock Central High School. Eight years later, Armstrong spoke out again. Asked for his reaction to the attack on the Selma marchers, he replied that he became "physically ill" watching it on television, and that if he had been marching the police would have "beat me on the mouth." Then he added, "They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched."

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 AM


In Hebron, they support Hamas but dream of Tel Aviv : While Islamic terror group has strong support among the youth, there is also talk of peace with Israel and a desire to live quietly (Avi Issacharoff, 5/02/15, Times of Israel)

"I'm with Palestine. I don't support any group or party. I can tell you that Hamas is very popular here, and that a war is being fought against them from within [the Palestinian Authority] and from without [Israel, Egypt and others]. I support those who serve the Palestinians and our issue. So if you were to ask me whom I would vote for, Hamas or Fatah? Hamas, without a doubt. Why? Because sometimes you have to know how to fight to get what is yours. Israel wants all of Palestine today. It is not willing to reach an agreement. And if your home were to be taken away from you, what would you do? I tell you, if there were general elections here, they would win without a doubt."

Amjad gets quite a few glances from the young Palestinian women who come in. Not open glances, like those of young Israeli women, but ones that are more hidden. He does not appear too conscious of it.

"I have Facebook and no, I don't have a girlfriend. It isn't customary. I can write to a girl in a friendly way on Facebook, but nothing beyond that. If I want to meet someone, I must go to her home with my family and meet her there. And then starts a kind of engagement period that lasts indefinitely. I have Instagram too, but not Twitter."

Hamza Tubahi, the bashful one of the group, sits quietly on the side. His father is a businessman from Hebron who is visiting Israel that day on business. He is only 20, is majoring in accounting and lives in the southern part of Hebron.

"I don't see any possibility that there will be peace with Israel, unfortunately," he says. "I can tell you that every Palestinian just wants peace and quiet, not problems. I'm a Palestinian citizen, right? But I can't go to the beach. Why not?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Ancient DNA Tells a New Human Story (MATT RIDLEY, May 1, 2015 , WSJ)

Low-cost, high-throughput DNA sequencing--a technique in which millions of DNA base-pairs are automatically read in parallel--appeared on the scene less than a decade ago. It has already transformed our ability to see just how the genes of human beings, their domestic animals and their diseases have changed over thousands or tens of thousands of years.

The result is a crop of new insights into precisely what happened to our ancestors: when and where they migrated, how much they intermarried with those they met along the way and how their natures changed as a result of evolutionary pressures. DNA from living people has already shed some light on these questions. Ancient DNA has now dramatically deepened--and sometimes contradicted--those answers, providing a much more dynamic view of the past.

It turns out that, in the prehistory of our species, almost all of us were invaders and usurpers and miscegenators. This scientific revelation is interesting in its own right, but it may have the added benefit of encouraging people today to worry a bit less about cultural change, racial mixing and immigration.

May 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation (RICHARD ROTHSTEIN, 4/29/15, Economic Policy Institute)
In Baltimore in 1910, a black Yale law school graduate purchased a home in a previously all-white neighborhood. The Baltimore city government reacted by adopting a residential segregation ordinance, restricting African Americans to designated blocks. Explaining the policy, Baltimore's mayor proclaimed, "Blacks should be quarantined in isolated slums in order to reduce the incidence of civil disturbance, to prevent the spread of communicable disease into the nearby White neighborhoods, and to protect property values among the White majority."

Thus began a century of federal, state, and local policies to quarantine Baltimore's black population in isolated slums--policies that continue to the present day, as federal housing subsidy policies still disproportionately direct low-income black families to segregated neighborhoods and away from middle class suburbs.

We still owe them 40 acres and a mule--let's give them homes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Israeli city asks court to OK ban on Jehovah's Witnesses event (JTA, May 1, 2015)

The city of Ra'anana in Israel's center petitioned the country's high court to allow it to prevent two gatherings by some 1,000 followers of the Jehovah's Witnesses Christian sect.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Of the Hundreds of Solutions to Baltimore's Woes, Just One Can Work (DAVID DAYEN, 5/01/15, The Fiscal Times)

We're seeing the pundit's fallacy play out in earnest in the case of Baltimore, where protests in response to Freddie Gray's death in police custody have played out all week. What Baltimore needs is school vouchers and charter schools, says Rudy Giuliani. Or it needs stronger father figures, argues Rand Paul. Or it needs conservative leaders in power, which was Rich Lowry's suggestion. The fact that these line up perfectly with the views of these figures when they only thought of Baltimore as a place to get good crab cakes is purely coincidental.

This isn't limited to one side of the political spectrum either. I could write a compelling column that the lack of economic opportunity and dwindling public investment in the inner city causes residents to lose hope, and that good-paying jobs would solve a lot of Baltimore's ills. I could blame corporate flight, first to "right-to-work" states in the South and then outsourced abroad, which narrows opportunities for low- and middle-skill residents to join the middle class. I could call for a living wage for service-sector jobs to pull Baltimoreans out of poverty. I could argue, as Sara Mead did, that early childhood education in communities of color would give Baltimore's kids a better chance to close the achievement gap.

I could say that the situation cries out for tighter restrictions on financial fraud, since foreclosures hollowed out Baltimore and lenders discriminated against its residents. I could even get esoteric and claim that Baltimore has been failed by the lack of filled vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, whose monetary policy has failed to hit their inflation target for three years, leading to sluggish economic growth that trickles down to make at-risk communities more vulnerable.

Not a single one of these theories relates to the actual touchstone for the civil disorder: the severing of the spine of a black man while under arrest. But there, too, there are plenty of "the solution happens to be the one I've always promoted" options, from ending the war on drugs and tough-on-crime lockup policies to removing burdens on cops who must deal with class divides and grinding poverty.

I feel I would be lying if I wrote a column highlighting a silver bullet to alleviate the woes of a downtrodden urban American city. Everyone believes their pet theory can have an impact on people's lives, and they assuredly can at a macro level. But that doesn't make them instantly applicable to the specifics of one place, and one group of people, and how they interact with one police department.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Iran changes its tune on peace talks (David Ignatius, April 30, 2015, Washington Post)

U.S. and Iranian officials have been insisting for years that they want to resolve the nuclear issue before discussing the sectarian wars raging across the Middle East. Not anymore. As the battles have escalated in recent months, so has talk about regional diplomacy.

The interest in peace talks was voiced by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whom I interviewed here Wednesday in a 90-minute public forum organized by the New America Foundation. His message, repeated several times, was that Iran wants dialogue with Saudi Arabia and other Arab powers to end the wars ravaging Yemen and Syria.

U.S. officials share Zarif's desire for negotiations, which he first floated in a New York Times op-ed piece last week. But they want to see evidence that Iran is actually ready to curtail its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Shiite militias in Iraq and Houthi rebels in Yemen. [...]

On the nuclear issue, Zarif was optimistic in the conversation that a final deal could be reached by the June 30 deadline. On details of the agreement, such as sanctions relief and inspection procedures, there seemed to be less difference between Iranian and U.S. positions than had appeared to be the case a month ago. "It's not a perfect agreement . . . but it's the best we can get," he said, echoing a line President Obama has used.

Thus the Sau'di panic.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


US manufacturing expands in April; evidence of less hiring despite increase in new orders ( JOSH BOAK, 5/01/15, AP)

More product with less work.  It's pretty nearly the ideal economy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 PM


Top 10 books about working life : From daydreaming about sex to the politics of tea-making, Melville's reluctant scrivener to Sylvia Plath's New York internship, here are some of the best books about the nine-to-five (Joanne Biggs, 4/29/15, The Guardian)

...which will cure the delusion that those manufacturing jobs everyone wants back convey dignity.