June 30, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 PM


"I only ask the West one thing: Stop arming our assassins"  : Interview with the Syrian Orthodox Patriarch, Aphrem II  (GIANNI VALENTE, 6/30/15, Vatican Insider)
Some Western circles accuse the Christians of the East of submitting to authoritarian regimes.

"We have not submitted ourselves to Assad and the so-called authoritarian governments. We simply recognise legitimate governments. The majority of Syrian citizens support Assad's government and have always supported it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Jeb Bush releases 33 years of tax returns, advocates for fairer tax code (Stephanie Talmadge, 6/30/15, The Week)

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush published a whopping 33 years of personal tax returns to his campaign website Tuesday, a new record in American politics. The former Florida governor reported an effective rate of 36 percent over the years.

"In my case, I paid the government more than one in three dollars that I earned in my career. Astounding," Bush writes. "I think I speak for everyone, no matter your tax rate: we need to get more money back in your pocket and less in the federal kitty."

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Why the church should neither cave nor panic about the decision on gay marriage (Russell Moore, June 26, 2015, Washington Post)

The church will need in the years ahead to articulate what we believe about marriage; we cannot assume that people agree with us, or even understand us. Let's not simply talk about marriage in terms of values or culture or human flourishing. Let's talk about marriage the way Jesus and the apostles taught us to -- as bound up with the gospel itself, a picture of the union of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:32).

As we do so, we must not just articulate our views of marriage, we must embody a gospel marriage culture. We have done a poor job of that in the past. Too many of our marriages have been ravaged by divorce.

Too often we've neglected church discipline in the cases of those who have unrepentantly destroyed their marriages. We must repent of our failings and picture to the world what marriage is meant to be, and keep the light lit to the old paths.

This gives the church an opportunity to do what Jesus called us to do with our marriages in the first place: to serve as a light in a dark place. Permanent, stable marriages with families with both a mother and a father may well make us seem freakish in 21st-century culture.

We should not fear that. We believe stranger things than that. We believe a previously dead man is alive, and will show up in the Eastern skies on a horse. We believe that the gospel can forgive sinners like us and make us sons and daughters. Let's embrace the sort of freakishness that saves.

Why not abandon the merely legal institution of marriage and recraft our religious version?

Pro-Lifers Didn't Give Up After Roe v. Wade. Here Are 3 Critical Steps to Take on Marriage. (Ryan T. Anderson,  June 29, 2015, Daily Signal)

Now everything the pro-life movement did needs to be done again on this new frontier of marriage. Here are three critical steps to take.

First, we must call the court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges what it is: judicial activism. Just as the pro-life movement successfully rejected Roe v. Wade and exposed its lies about unborn life and about the Constitution, we must make it clear to our fellow citizens that Obergefell v. Hodges does not tell the truth about marriage or about our Constitution.

Second, we must protect our freedom to speak and live according to our beliefs. The pro-life movement accomplished this by ensuring that pro-life doctors and nurses would never have to perform abortions. It won the battle to prevent taxpayer money from paying for abortions. And it made sure that pro-lifers and pro-life organizations could not be discriminated against by the government.

Pro-marriage forces need to do the same: Ensure that we have freedom from government coercion to lead our lives, rear our children, and operate our businesses and our charities in accord with our beliefs about marriage. Likewise, we must ensure that the government does not discriminate against citizens or organizations because of their belief that marriage is the union of husband and wife.

Third, we must redouble our efforts to make the case for marriage in the public square. To do this, we must use reason and our own personal stories. This is the most compelling way to bring the truth about marriage to light.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Clean Energy Beats the Market (Matthew A. Winkler, 6/25/15, Bloomberg View)

Environmentalists love energy companies that don't pollute. That should be obvious. Not so obvious: So do investors.

Stocks of clean-energy companies are proving to be better investments than those of companies that produce most of the Western Hemisphere's power, and are outperforming the rest of the stock market as well.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Iran nuclear talks extended; Iranians meet key obligation (MATTHEW LEE and BRADLEY KLAPPER, Jun. 30, 2015, AP) 

Pushing past a Tuesday deadline, world powers and Iran extended negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear agreement by a week as the U.N. nuclear agency prepared to announce Tehran had met a key condition -- significantly reducing its stocks of enriched uranium that could be used for atomic weapons. [...]

As for Iran's reduction in its stockpile of enriched uranium, diplomats said the country had removed a potential hurdle that nuclear experts had been watching closely over the past several weeks.

Uranium can be used to generate energy, or as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon, depending on its enrichment level. Under the preliminary deal from November 2013, Iran agreed to cap its stockpile of lower-enriched uranium at a little more than 7.6 tons and transform any remainder into a form that would be difficult to reconvert for arms use.

June 29, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


In memory of Ben J. Wattenberg, 1933-2015 (Karlyn Bowman, June 29, 2015), AEI

In 1975 he wrote an article for the New Republic, calling worries about a population explosion nonsense. He argued that the problem facing many societies going forward would be a birth dearth. At the time, the New Republic received more letters than the magazine had ever received about a single article, and most of them were hostile. But Wattenberg's analysis was correct, and declining fertility is one of the most important demographic stories of our time.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Pressure on the president : For Hassan Rohani, delivering a deal on Iran's nuclear programme is vital (The Economist, Jun 29th 2015)

SINCE he became Iran's president two years ago Hassan Rohani has transformed the tone of his country's relations with the West. But he has had a tougher time charming his own people. Iranians are tired of the sanctions that have blighted the economy, bringing both unemployment and inflation. Millions of young Iranians now want change. An agreement to end the row with the outside world over Iran's nuclear programme could be the start of it: talks on the deal are in their closing stages in Vienna, supposedly to a deadline of June 30th, but one that is liable to slip a few days more.

For Mr Rohani, a cleric with the common touch, there are big risks. His opponents--he has acquired many in the past two years--fear the adulation a nuclear deal could bring the 66-year-old, and will want to see him fail. "He really could be the history man, who solved the nuclear crisis," says a longtime friend, explaining that Mr Rohani, then a relatively unknown backroom operator, only ran in the 2013 election after telling Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that the country needed to transform. 

End of Sanctions Worth Hundreds of Billions to Iran (ERIC PIANIN, 6/29/15, The Fiscal Times)

A combination of tough economic sanctions by the U.S., Europe and the U.N. dating to the U.S.-Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981 have seriously stunted Iran's economy and frozen literally hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of assets and oil revenues. More recently, the U.N. has slapped Iran with additional sanctions for violating the Nonproliferation Treaty of 1967.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew recently noted that since 2012, Iran's economy is 15 percent to 20 percent smaller than it would have been without the sanctions. Tehran has also lost $160 billion of oil revenues and the use of an additional $100 billion in assets being held in restricted accounts outside the country. 

According to a report last January by Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle East affairs at the Congressional Research Service, the tough sanctions on trade have caused many private Iranian businesses to close, leaving about one in every five Iranian workers unemployed.

The impact of the sanctions on oil sales by Iran has also been substantial. While Iran sold about 2.5 million barrels of oil a day in 2011, during the past year it has averaged just 1.1 million barrels a day, according to Katzman. Roughly half the decline resulted from sanctions by the European Union, which went from purchasing 600,000 barrels a day to almost zero. China and India, meanwhile, cut back their purchases of Iranian oil by a combined 31 percent in a show of support for U.S. policy against Iran.

Finally, U.S. allies have cooperated in freezing vast sums of Iranian assets. Two years ago, Iran held an estimated $100 billion in various currencies in accounts outside the country, but only about $20 billion of those funds were accessible to Tehran. The rest was held in banks adhering to sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Poll: Democrats face big enthusiasm gap in 2016 (Linda Feldmann, JUNE 29, 2015, CS Monitor)

[T]he Democratic Party faces a big enthusiasm gap with the Republicans, according to a poll sponsored by Democracy Corps and Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund. 

Among Republicans, 67 percent reported the highest level of interest in the 2016 elections - rating it a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 - compared with 52 percent of Democrats. Among the so-called rising American electorate (unmarried women, minorities, and Millennials), only 48 percent responded with a 10. 

Campaigning in South Carolina, Jeb Bush calls Confederate flag 'racist' (Ed O'Keefe June 29, 2015, Washington Post)

The Confederate flag is a "racist" symbol, Jeb Bush said Monday during his first visit to South Carolina since a deadly church shooting here.

Bush, a former two-term Florida governor, explained that in 2001, "I decided to do something politically incorrect" and ordered the removal of a flag that included the Confederate symbol from the Florida State Capitol grounds.

"The symbols were racist," he told workers at a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant here. "If you're trying to lean forward rather than live in the past, you want to eliminate the barriers that create disagreements."

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


King v. Burwell: Two roads for Republicans (Stuart M. Butler, June 26, 2015, Brookings)

[R]epublicans have two alternatives after this ruling. They can choose to adopt "repeal" as simply an election battle cry for 2016, using the ACA as a "messaging" issue much as they did with the Clinton health plan after its collapse in 1994. Or they can engage in a more focused and deliberate strategy to change the direction of an established program, as they did successfully in accomplishing welfare reform in 1996. If Republicans choose the first alternative there may be some short-term election gains - although that is far from clear - but they will probably lose the long-term health reform war. The features of the ACA they so dislike would likely become entrenched. But if they choose the second alternative, and focus on the redesign of core elements of the law that could win bipartisan support, they could well change the structure and evolution of the ACA.

There's something in reform for everybody.  Universal coverage would not improve the physical health of the American people, but it would assuage peoples fears about what might happen to them and their families if illness struck and vindicate their desire not to have to seek charity in such cases.

Meanwhile, under cover of this universal health care the GOP could turn the program into a way of building personal capital universally.  Grant the coverage but do it in the form of HSAs, so that for the 60 years of life when most of us are healthy we're accumulating so much wealth that even the wasteful end-of-life spending we engage in won't deplete the accounts and we'll pass them on to our heirs.

Posted by orrinj at 1:13 PM


Some physicists believe we're living in a giant hologram -- and it's not that far-fetched (Joseph Stromberg, June 29, 2015, Vox)

The thinking goes like this: Some distant two-dimensional surface contains all the data needed to fully describe our world -- and much like in a hologram, this data is projected to appear in three dimensions. Like the characters on a TV screen, we live on a flat surface that happens to look like it has depth.

It might sound absurd. But if when physicists assume it's true in their calculations, all sorts of big physics problems -- such as the nature of black holes and the reconciling of gravity and quantum mechanics -- become much simpler to solve. In short, the laws of physics seem to make more sense when written in two dimensions than in three.

June 28, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


How Small Gains With Black Voters Could Boost GOP in 2016 (DANTE CHINNI, 6/28/15, WSJ)

A Small Share Makes a Big Difference.

Look at Florida, the nation's largest swing state. Mitt Romney won 4% of the black vote there. If he had won 10% of the African American electorate, he would have gained enough votes to edge President Obama. In Ohio, the second-largest swing state, Mr. Romney would have drawn nearly equal to Mr. Obama--to within one percentage point--had he won 10% of the African American vote, up from the 3% of the vote he garnered.

...will be the turnout.  The Democrats aren't going to have a candidate who blacks will turn out in Qbama-like numbers to vote for, nor is Jeb the sort of nominee they'll turn out to vote against. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


Rift with Greece sets Europe into uncharted territory (Alastair Macdonald, 6/28/15, Reuters) 

Europe's grand project to bind its nations into an unbreakable union by means of a common currency lurched into uncharted waters after EU governments refused funding to save Greece from defaulting on its debts.

While finance ministers of the other 18 euro zone states chorused their insistence that Greece would remain inside the bloc, exasperation with the leftist government's decision to reject creditors' final offer and instead call a referendum was manifest and some officials spoke privately of expelling Athens.

"They were playing poker," said Austrian Finance Minister Hans Joerg Schelling after the Eurogroup that runs the currency met on Saturday without their Greek counterpart to discuss how to limit the fallout. "But in poker, you can always lose."

...what can a new Greek currency conceivably be worth?  Keep in mind, they have a TFR of 1.41--even worse than Japan

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM

DORSEY, HOLIDAY, CROSBY... FRANK (profanity alert):

Swoonatra : a review of Sinatra: London (Ian Penman, 7/03/15, London Review of Books)

When Sinatra's new booking agency, GAC, persuaded the owners of New York's Paramount Theatre to add him to its big New Year show, their driven young client had none of the star power of already signed performers like Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee; his billing read 'Extra Added Attraction', and for Sinatra this particular gig was a pretty big deal. As Donald Clarke puts it in All or Nothing at All: A Life of Frank Sinatra (1997), the Paramount Theatre was 'one of the shrines of the Swing era'. And so, on 30 December 1943, Sinatra was brought onstage, in an almost desultory way, by Benny Goodman. 'And now, Frank Sinatra ...' The 28-year-old Francis Albert Sinatra stepped up, and history turned a small corner. He was met by a tsunami of hysterical screams from a passel of young female fans. Goodman was initially thrown, completely struck dumb in fact, then looked over his shoulder and blurted out: 'What the [****] is that?' Clarke: 'Sinatra laughed, and his fear left him.'

Sinatra may have left damp seats and shredded hankies in his skinny-bod wake but he was nobody's idea of a teenager. By the time of the Paramount 'Swoonatra' incident he was four years married to his first wife, Nancy, with one young child (Nancy Jr) and a second (Frank Jr) just about to arrive. He dressed like other adults of the time. (His sole concession to dandyism was a lasciviously Borromean, outsize bow-tie.) His day-to-day social intercourse was conducted among hard-bitten, resourcefully cynical musicians - we can just imagine the ribbings they dished out to young Francis about his undiscerning new fan base. Sinatra's bandmates were actually more bewildered than bothered by this latest development: despite his major rep as a real ladies' man, no one had him pegged as the next Valentino. This was a scrawny, underfed-looking Italian kid with big ears: there was definitely something of a semolina dough Mickey Mouse about his looks. But he obviously gave off some subtle radar peep of rapt carnality, equal parts vulnerable boy-child and lazily virile roué. Unlike the pendulum-hipped Presleys up ahead, he could intimate sexual confidence with his eyes alone. His sexual charge was like his song: underplayed, tinged with unflappable cool picked up second-hand in the shady cloisters of jazz. Just as he could mine exquisite sadness from superficially happy songs, he managed to suggest bedtime fevers with a barely perceptible finger's brush of his microphone stand.

As Clarke points out, none of this was entirely new: there had been previous scenes of clammy hysteria triggered by male musicians and screen stars, from Franz Liszt to Rudy Vallée. But these hormonal crazes tended to fizzle out, often ignominiously, even if (like Sinatra) you had a resourceful press agent hyping the script. This was a watershed moment between the insider hegemony of jazz-inflected Swing and the wider plains of Elvis-era pop music. The 'Swoonatra' craze might easily have been a barrier to wider public acceptance for Sinatra, but as it transpired he made the coming decade entirely his own. In conventional sales-ledger terms it was his starry apotheosis.

Working the road in the 1930s and 1940s with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey bands, Sinatra acquired a lot of jazz life knowledge by osmosis. (Jazz inflections peppered his speech for the rest of his life: 'I've known discouragement, despair and all those other cats.') He learned what not to do: how to hold back, live in the space between instrumental arcs. By Sinatra's own account, the three main figures who shaped his navigation of song - how to float and sustain and linger - were Tommy Dorsey ('the General Motors of the band business'), Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby. Anyone surprised by the inclusion of the latter should do a bit of digging: Crosby is a fascinating character. As well as a subtly revolutionary singer he was a technophile obsessed with recording techniques, and with how best to refine and update them to suit the new, softer style of singing and playing. Crosby was the original 'crooner' when the world was full of vocalists who belted out songs to the back of the hall. An old-school jazz fan like Sinatra, he worshipped Louis Armstrong and closely studied Satchmo's self-presentation and singular way with a tune. Crosby's delivery was 'cool' in a way that was entirely new to the mainstream, studded with jazz tics such as unexpected pauses and slurred or flattened notes. His understanding of microphone technique meant he could step back and let the audience come to him. He was a pivotal figure on the journey of cool jazz tones from a largely black, underground world into the mainstream, and a big influence on younger acts like Sinatra.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


The chief justice's dissent is heartless. (Richard A. Posner, 6/29/15, Slate)

It was no surprise that the Supreme Court held Friday that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. It is very difficult to distinguish the case from Loving v. Virginia, which in 1967 invalidated state laws forbidding miscegenation. There was, as an economist would say, a "demand" (though rather limited) for biracial marriage, and it was difficult, to say the least, to comprehend why such marriages should be prohibited. In fact the only "ground" for the prohibition was bigotry. The same is true with respect to same-sex marriage. No more than biracial marriage does gay marriage harm people who don't have or want to have such a marriage. The prohibition of same-sex marriage harms a nontrivial number of American citizens because other Americans disapprove of it though unaffected by it.

John Stuart Mill in On Liberty drew an important distinction between what he called "self-regarding acts" and "other-regarding acts." The former involves doing things to yourself that don't harm other people, though they may be self-destructive. The latter involves doing things that do harm other people. He thought that government had no business with the former (and hence--his example--the English had no business concerning themselves with polygamy in Utah, though they hated it). Unless it can be shown that same-sex marriage harms people who are not gay (or who are gay but don't want to marry), there is no compelling reason for state intervention, and specifically for banning same-sex marriage. The dissenters in Obergefell missed this rather obvious point.

...you can't compare it to miscegenation which is wholly healthy nor can you square it with Christian decency, which acknowledges that we are affected when our neighbors destroy themselves.  Mr. Posner is speaking for the most repulsive, self-centered sort of libertarian. It is heartless because it denies that we need to love and try to help these neighbors. 

Medical Downside of Homosexual Behavior : A Political Agenda Is Trumping Science, Says Rick Fitzgibbons ( (Zenit, 12/01/05) 

To shed light on the medical and scientific research into same-sex attraction and homosexual behavior, we approached Dr. Rick Fitzgibbons. Fitzgibbons is a principal contributor to the Catholic Medical Association's statement on "Homosexuality and Hope."

Q: Could you explain why homosexuality is not normal, from a medical standpoint?

Fitzgibbons: Homosexuality was diagnosed and treated as a psychiatric illness -- abnormal behavior -- until 1973, when it was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual in psychiatry because of political pressure.

Numerous conflicts make homosexual behaviors abnormal, including rampant promiscuity, inability to maintain commitment, psychiatric disorders and medical illnesses with a shortened life span.

The sexual practices of homosexuals involve serious health risks and illness. Specifically, sodomy as a sexual behavior is associated with significant and life-threatening health problems.

Unhealthy sexual behaviors occur among both heterosexuals and homosexuals. Yet the medical and social science evidence indicate that homosexual behavior is uniformly unhealthy. Men having sex with other men leads to greater health risks than men having sex with women, not only because of promiscuity but also because of the nature of sex among men. [...]

Q: What are the medical illnesses associated with homosexuality?

Fitzgibbons: The list of medical diseases found with extraordinary frequency among male homosexual practitioners as a result of abnormal homosexual behavior is alarming: anal cancer, chlamydia trachomatis, cryptosporidium, giardia lamblia, herpes simplex virus, human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, human papilloma virus -- HPV or genital warts -- isospora belli, microsporidia, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis types B and C, and syphilis. 

Sexual transmission of some of these diseases is so rare in the exclusively heterosexual population as to be virtually unknown. Others, while found among heterosexual and homosexual practitioners, are clearly predominated by those involved in homosexual activity. 

Men who have sex with men account for the lion's share of the increasing number of cases in America of sexually transmitted infections that are not generally spread through sexual contact. 

These diseases, with consequences that range from severe and even life-threatening to mere annoyances, include hepatitis A, giardia lamblia, entamoeba histolytica, Epstein-Barr virus, neisseria meningitides, shigellosis, salmonellosis, pediculosis, scabies and campylobacter. [...]

Q: Legalizing abnormal behavior would seem to dissuade people from seeking the help they need to overcome it. Would that be a fair assessment? 

Fitzgibbons: I think that is a very fair assessment. There are attempts to prevent people from seeking help for same-sex attraction. There's definitely a movement to stop mental health professionals from providing treatment. 

The Spitzer report from the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which will publish in October, surveyed ex-homosexuals who were out of the lifestyle for five years, and it found that 64% of the men and 43% of the women considered themselves to be heterosexuals after they received treatment. Dr. Spitzer of Columbia University led the task force of the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 that removed homosexuality from our diagnostic manual. 

In a number of studies, when people with same-sex attraction were treated, a third of the patients get better, a third get mixed results, and a third don't get better. In my clinical experience, when a spiritual component is brought in to the treatment, the recovery rate is much higher. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


3D Printing And The New Economics Of Manufacturing (Rick Smith, 6/28/15, Forbes)

3D printing production is just scratching the surface of the multi-trillion dollar global manufacturing industry.  But its dominance is already inevitable.

This is because modern manufacturing, despite numerous technological and process advances over the last century, is still a very inefficient global system. Today's world of mass production is based on one simple rule: the more things you make, the lower the cost of each of those things. We have literally pushed this equation to its extreme limits. [...]

Ford mastered mass production and created the world's first mass consumer product. But there is another reason why Ford is such an important figure historically.  Henry Ford literally punctuated the industrial revolution. We have all been taught about the industrial revolution as if it were a binary switch. There was a before and an after. We all believe we live safely in the after. This IS the future.

But what if that's wrong?  What if mass production is not the end of this story, but rather just a stop along the way to something completely different? What if a technology came along that could turn everything upside down all over again?

3D printing is a technology that allows you to create things differently, from the ground up, layer by layer until you have a fully formed 3 dimensional object. Just like you now send a computer file of a document to a printer in your home or office, you can now send a computer file of an object to a 3D printer, and out comes that physical object. Eventually, you will be able to print almost anything you can imagine.

And will have ample time to do so.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


This is Vin Scully's 66th season broadcasting Dodgers games. Really. (Chuck Culpepper, June 26, 2015, Washington Post)

There have been 87 Novembers since his birth in the Bronx barely made the November (29th) of 1927, and 66 summers since he started at WTOP radio in Washington as a "summer replacement announcer" fresh out of Fordham in 1949, and 65 November 12s since a fateful one at Fenway Park in 1949. On any list of adjectives about Vin Scully, No. 1 is "grateful," his gratefulness sustained even through the deaths of his first wife at 35 from an accidental medical overdose in 1972 and his first son at 33 in a helicopter crash in 1994. His birthdays include 16 grandchildren and zero self-congratulation: "I don't want to say, 'Hey, hooray, I've made 80,'" he said. "I don't want to do that. I just will take it, thank you very much. I accept it." Hours before a first pitch in late May, he says, "I've always felt, it's a gift of God, whatever I have, whatever has made me do what I do for as long as I do it. But I know I can lose that in one second. A stroke. Whatever. One second. Blow the whole thing. So, when you do think about that, you realize how fortunate and how blessed you've been, and that's really how I feel."

He's seasoned enough that he fields one question before it's asked: "If anybody asks me about longevity, I would say I have my mother's genes, and she lived to be 97. So that's the only idea. I mean, I don't have any secrets like, 'Well, I've lived this long because I eat tapioca every day.' No." He's seasoned enough that he once played center field in a Fordham-Yale game during which George Herbert Walker Bush, who turned 91 last week, played the opposing first base. "Mr. President," Scully once said to Bush during a golf round, "as long as you're in the White House, remember, you can say anything you want about your baseball career, but remember the day that we played each other, we both went 0-for-3."

Bush roared. [...]

Sixty-five-plus years on, in the agreeable air of Los Angeles, one of the most treasured figures in the entire American culture still accepts the barrage of compliments that gush toward him. He still says his near-blushing thanks. On June 6, Dodgers versus Cardinals, he mixed his play-by-play with D-Day stories, including one about the soldier and eventual author J.D. Salinger. Even so, his appeal to so many has to stem from the way he spends much of his broadcasts, from the nuts-and-bolts of the game, from the sound of that voice after the care of his pre-game study, from such subtleties as his use of a "mercifully" as in, May 24, Dodgers versus big-inning Padres, ". . . flips over to first, mercifully, the double play to end the inning . . ."

All along, he has sustained an appreciation for the skill on the field. That began in earnest his first year, 1950, in Brooklyn Dodgers days, when manager Burt Shotton had heard of Scully's Fordham center-field days -- good field, good throw, jammed too often as a hitter -- and asked him to don a Gil Hodges uniform one day before an exhibition in Battle Creek, Mich.

"Gil Hodges was a marble statue," Scully said. "And here I am, 'Dodgers' is down by the belt. My number is halfway down the back of my pants. But I got the uniform on, and I have a glove and all that. And I go out, and I remember, I played pepper with Carl Furillo, he was our right fielder, terrific guy. And it was just like college, playing pepper and everything. And then, I went out in the outfield, and Shotton said, 'I want to see you shag some balls.' And I said, 'Okay.'

"I went out to center field, and there was a left-hand pitcher named Joe Hatten. And Joe and I were standing out there, maybe 300 feet from home plate during batting practice. And Roy Campanella got into the batting cage. And he swung, and he hit what I would call a high line drive. It just stayed straight. And I said, 'Joe, I've got it.' And he said, 'Okay.' And I caught it, but you know, the impact was like no impact I ever felt before. It was like maybe I was playing third base. And as soon as I caught it, I remember I turned to Joe and said, 'Joe, I don't belong out here.' And you have no idea how fast that game is that they play."

And: "And I watch them day after day and I think, 'How good they are. Ho-oh-ly mackerel.' And that's what I love about it."

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Obamacare and Reagan (David Leonhardt, 6/26/15, NY Times)

What Reagan got wrong, however, was the definition of socialism. Under socialism, the government controls every major sector of the economy. Under capitalism, most activity happens in private markets, and the government steps in to handle areas where the market struggles to earn a profit - be it defending the country, policing the streets, educating children or providing medical care to the sick and the elderly.

The best sign that government-guaranteed health insurance doesn't equal socialism is that Reagan, a president committed to defeating socialism, changed his position on Medicare once it became law. As president, he not only didn't try to repeal it; he vowed to protect it. Two decades later, another Republican president - George W. Bush - expanded it, just as Reagan predicted it would expand in 1961.

The reaction to last week's Supreme Court decision was a sign that Obamacare has entered the very beginnings of its Medicare phase. The law will still come under attack, especially rhetorically. But it's here to stay. We know that because some of its most virulent opponents just decided that a victory for Obamacare was actually a victory for them.

Republican reforms will make Obamacare both more "socialist"--extending it until it is truly universal--and more capitalist--building that universality around HSAs, so that it develops personal capital universally.
Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


In an Uber World, Fortune Favors the Freelancer (TYLER COWEN, 6/27/15, NY Times)

On the positive side, the so-called sharing economy allows workers to use their time more flexibly. Drivers can earn money without working full time, and without having to wait around at taxi stands for the next passenger. The workers can use their newly acquired spare time for other purposes, including studying for college, teaching themselves programming or simultaneously offering themselves out for different sharing services: If no one wants a ride, go help someone with repairs around the house.

They'll have even more free time when the cars drive themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Amid intense talks, US and Iran shift from foes to frenemies (BRADLEY KLAPPER AND MATT LEE June 28, 2015, Yimes of Israel)

For a relationship that was frozen after the 1979 Islamic revolution and subsequent US Embassy hostage crisis, the long hours spent in nuclear negotiations clearly have helped each side build a grudging understanding of one another. Although neither will use the word trust, for the first time in decades, US-Iranian ties have in some ways "normalized." [...]

The discussions gained steam after Hassan Rouhani's election as Iran's president behind promises to take his country on a more moderate course and end its isolation. But the outreach in each direction grew slowly, and both sides closely guarded preparations for a historic telephone call in September 2013 between Rouhani and President Barack Obama. Two months later, world powers and Iran reached the first of two interim nuclear agreements.

Since then, the interactions between Kerry and Zarif, and the two countries' other negotiators, have expanded dramatically. They regularly chat in hotel breakfast halls before their daily discussions, hold regular calls and coordinate schedules.

At their previous meeting in May, Kerry and Zarif even bantered in front of reporters about democratic progress in Nigeria, another country engulfed by insurgency but one far removed from the battlegrounds of the Middle East.

Kerry, having just arrived in Geneva from the African nation, called the inauguration of a popularly elected president in Nigeria "very good historically for democracy." Zarif, whose government is routinely criticized by other countries and human rights groups for its democracy failings, offered his verdict: "They have serious difficulties."

But the limited snippets of public conversation often have been more personal in nature.

In March, Kerry began a meeting by offering condolences to Rouhani after his mother died and wished the Iranians a happy Persian New Year with the traditional declaration of "Nowruz Mubarak." Later, he approached Rouhani's brother, a member of the Iranian negotiating team in Lausanne, Switzerland, and hugged him.

On some occasions, the perceived coziness that has emerged has had repercussions for the Iranians.

When Zarif was photographed walking across a Geneva bridge with Kerry, hard-liners accused him of catering to the enemy. Shortly afterward, stories appeared in Iran's press with anonymous officials talking about Zarif losing his temper with Kerry in private meetings, as if to make amends.

They also have spoken about bike riding -- a regular pursuit of Kerry's during the nuclear talks until a crash last month in France that broke his leg. Zarif, who was then dealing with a recurring back issue, called Kerry to commiserate.

And the good will has spread to others in the negotiating team.

For example, US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Iran's atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi, both MIT-trained physicists, have struck up their own understanding and, by all accounts, a well-functioning relationship. Salehi isn't in Vienna because of illness.

US allies also aren't entirely pleased as the warming to Iran has coincided with a fraying of some of America's long-standing partnerships in the region. Washington clearly remains light years closer to Middle East allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, but their coolness or outright hostility to the Iran talks has taken a toll. For the Obama administration, it has created the strange dynamic of sometimes finding it easier to discuss nuclear matters with Tehran.

June 27, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


How an Iran nuclear deal would impact oil prices (Nick Cunningham, JUNE 27, 2015, CS Monitor)

 Western sanctions have knocked 1.2 million barrels per day offline since 2012. Although estimates vary, Iran might be able to bring 400,000 barrels per day online within a few months, perhaps as much as 700,000 barrels per day by the end of the year, growing to well over 1 million barrels per day sometime in 2016.

Also, Iran has somewhere around 40 million barrels of oil sitting in storage, a lot of which could essentially hit the market as soon as sanctions are lifted. 

If news breaks that a deal is in hand, oil prices will sink on the expectation of this future volume, potentially dropping by $5 to $10 per barrel. And as Iran actually does ramp up output over time, and the rest of OPEC opts against cutting back to make room, global supplies will increase. That will keep a lid on future price gains and extend the current period of soft pricing.

OPEC's Crude Market Share Fell to Lowest Since '03 Last Year (Grant Smith, June 24, 2015, Bloomberg)
The erosion of OPEC's dominance by surging North American shale oil prompted the group to abandon its decades-long role of balancing world markets in November. Guided by Saudi Arabia, the organization chose instead to maintain output and pressure higher-cost rivals to curb their production in the face of a global glut. The kingdom completed the most wells last year since 2008, and the increase from 2013 was the biggest in a decade in percentage terms.

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM


Activist pulls down Confederate flag in front of South Carolina statehouse (Alan Yuhas, 27 June 2015, The Guardian)

An activist in South Carolina climbed a flagpole in Columbia early on Saturday morning and removed the Confederate flag flying in front of the capitol building. The woman's action came a day after President Barack Obama gave the eulogy for a black pastor who was murdered by an apparent white supremacist along with eight other people in a Charleston church last week.

A woman identified by a protest organizer as Bree Newsome, a 30-year-old youth organizer from Charlotte, North Carolina, climbed the flagpole before 6am and took down the controversial emblem of the antebellum, slaveholding south, with the assistance of another activist. Newsome was halfway up the 30ft pole when police demanded that she climb back down, but she continued upward and removed the flag.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


The Trade Battle Is A Symptom Of Larger Differences (IRWIN M. STELZER, 6/27/15, Weekly Standard)

In effect, the coming battle over TPP is a subset of the battle over the reasonableness of this country's income distribution system. Conservatives and liberals battling over trade issues are passing like ships in the night. Conservatives tend to argue that freer trade will stimulate economic growth by opening new markets and forcing domestic producers to become more efficient. Liberals are concerned less, if at all, with aggregate growth rates than with the distribution of the fruits of growth. To them, freer trade means more profits for multinational corporations and fewer and less well-paid jobs for workers.

That's it in a nutshell : would you rather artificially protect inefficient jobs as the means of redistributing less wealth or generate more wealth through greater efficiencies and then figure out an alternative means of redistributing it? 

There's not a neat left/right divide though.  Many on the right are so repulsed by the thought of the unwashed masses having leisure time instead of "working" that they too prefer makework jobs to profits.

June 26, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 PM


We Are Winning Even If It Doesn't Feel That Way (AUSTIN RUSE, 6/26/15, Crisis)

Economic conservatives are happy to note that taxes are lower today than they were before Reagan, but they also have to contend with the fact that the US government is bigger now and growing bigger every day. And regulation? Is there any area of our private lives the federal government does not see a role for itself?

While it is arguable that the most successful part of the conservative triad is national security this was due almost completely to the Cold War and after our win there even that issue faded. The U.S. may still have the most powerful economy and most powerful military in the world. But it is also clear that most Americans are happy to allow our world dominance to wither. Even in the age of ISIS it has been a long time since that issue drove a national election.

What about the social issues?

We begin with Roe v. Wade. It is a solid rock. While social conservatives have been pretty wily in going around it, the only way to ultimate victory is right through it. This means moving the people, the US Senate, the president who appoints justices to the Supreme Court and ultimately the Court itself.

Recall, that on the day it was handed down, the issue was declared closed and settled by the New York Times and by virtually all elites.

Within society, within all the power centers of our time, within the Republican Party, and even within the conservative movement, elites left, right and center have opposed pro-lifers.

Some would say the scenario that greeted pro-lifers that day in January 1973 was utterly impossible. Pro-lifers started out so deep in the hole hardly anyone thought they could dig out.

And now?

The Supreme Court has upheld a ban on an abortion procedure.

Courts have upheld state restrictions that have made it more difficult to get abortions and for abortionists to practice their grisly trade. We are on the cusp of 20-week abortion bans around the country.

Most Americans now believe that most abortions should be illegal and the ground has been well prepared by pro-lifers so it will not surprise even pro-aborts when the Supreme Court overturns Roe. In fact, even some of their scholars openly admit Roe was badly decided.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 PM


Reflections on an Extraordinary Decade of New Orleans School Reform (Frederick Hess, 06/26/2015, Education Next)

Katrina killed 2,000 residents, forced a massive evacuation, and shut down the city's schools for a year. In the aftermath, all district employees were terminated and the collective bargaining agreement was allowed to expire. The state took control of nearly all local public schools via the Recovery School District and rebooted the district as a system of charter schools. [...]

It seems to me that the story of New Orleans' success entails two parts: a disaster that created room to reinvent a deeply troubled urban school system and an energetic commitment to seize that opportunity. Post-Katrina New Orleans wasn't just about reforming what already existed; it was an invitation to be free of rules, regulations, relationships, and routines that had created the status quo and to start anew. Of course, as Howard Fuller pointed out in New Orleans on Saturday, this restart also meant that the good embedded in those relationships and routines was lost along the way. Offered a fresh start, a platoon of private actors seized that opportunity. It's a testament to what can be created when reform is given a fresh slate, but it's also a reminder that neither a fresh start nor school choice guarantee anything--they provide only an opportunity to design promising solutions and then make them work.

New Orleans also offers an intriguing story when it comes to teacher quality. New Orleans has posted remarkable results even while witnessing a substantial drop in the share of certified teachers and veteran educators--and despite a big increase in teacher turnover. According to conventional wisdom, what happened in New Orleans should've been a recipe for disaster. Instead, the results have been quite positive.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


Book Review: Domesticated : Evolution in a Man-Made World by Richard C. Francis (Steve Donoghue, Open Letters)

Richard Francis, in his refreshingly comprehensive new book Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World, gives pride of place in his overview of humanity's steady adaptive impression on the animal kingdom to dogs, devoting his first chapters to the slow, still-murky process by which early man shaped wolves into tamed canines, proto-dogs that helped their human benefactors in ways that persist today [...]

Francis portrays it as a keystone alliance, and he stresses the initial unlikely nature of the thing itself:

What makes this amazing evolutionary story even more remarkable is that for many thousands of years, all wolf-human interactions were overtly hostile. We competed fiercely for the same prey and probably killed each other at every opportunity. In this respect dogs are unique among domesticated animals. Their evolution by domestication represents, in many ways, a reversal of eons of prior evolution by natural selection.

That innovative process - the steady, intentional reversal of the forces of natural selection, or rather, humanity's subsuming of the role of natural selection, shaping and directing the lives of client animals straight into the "anthropocene," the modern era in which human overpopulation and human technology have re-shaped the entire world. In that anthropocene, the handful of species domesticated by humans may win the Pyrrhic victory of outliving their wild brethren at the cost of their own freedom.

Central to Darwinism is the notion that Man liberated himself from it, which refutes the theory.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 PM


Big Oil getting cozy with Iran as talks near end (Alanna Petroff, 6/25/15, CNN Money)

Big Western oil companies are beginning to forge business relationships with Iran during the final days of international talks that could lift sanctions against the oil-rich nation. [...]

Iran is considered to be full of economic potential. It has the second largest population in the Middle East with 80 million people, 9% of proven global oil reserves, 18% of proven gas reserves and an abundance of strategic minerals.

"If you put together the consumer potential of Turkey, the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia, the natural gas reserves of Russia, and the mineral reserves of Australia you have it all in one country," said Ramin Rabii, CEO of Iranian investment firm Turquoise Partners, on a recent visit to the United Arab Emirates.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 PM


American Jews Reject Israeli Rabbinate (Lisa Goldman, 6/23/15, Daily Beast)

The growing rift between liberal American Jews and the Israeli government was exacerbated last week when the newly appointed Minister of Religious Affairs, David Azoulay, referred to Reform Judaism as "a catastrophe for the people of Israel." 

The liberal Reform movement is important in the United States, but relatively insignificant in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate is a branch of the government. Most Israeli Jews are either Orthodox or completely non-observant. But the majority of American Jews identify with the liberal Conservative and Reform movements, and this fact has become enormously divisive--particularly as the Rabbinate becomes ever more radically right-wing in its religious rulings and political pronouncements. [...]

While there are some adherents of the Reform and Conservative movement in Israel, the vast majority are immigrants from the United States. For decades, identifying with Israel was important for Reform and Conservative Jews in the diaspora. But the hostility of the Orthodox rabbinate, coupled with the indifference of the politicians, threaten to undermine that once-axiomatic support, which was once an intrinsic part of American Jewish identity. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of the New York Jewish Week, wrote in an editorial published last month that the growing rift between U.S. Jews and Israel had "reached crisis proportions."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 PM


Whole Foods Overcharging Customers for Pre-Packaged Foods (NBC, 6/25/15)

An investigation by the Department of Consumer Affairs has found that Whole Food's New York City stores have been overstating the weights of pre-packaged products -- including meats, dairy and baked goods -- resulting in customers being overcharged, the agency said Wednesday.

...given that the customers shop there to be overcharged.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


Schumer's Carbon Tax Prediction (WSJ, June 24, 2015)

A carbon tax is the emerging fashion in Washington because it serves two goals: It collects heaps of revenue while raising the cost of energy from fossil fuels. [...]

Our view of a carbon tax is that it might be acceptable as part of a tax reform that eliminated--entirely--some current revenue source such as the payroll or corporate income tax. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Obama scores a major trade win, burnishing his foreign policy legacy (David Nakamura, June 24, 20-15, Washington Post)
President Obama won new powers from Congress on Wednesday to bring home an expansive Pacific Rim free-trade deal that analysts said could boost U.S. economic standing in Asia and ultimately burnish his foreign policy legacy.

Obama's victory on Capitol Hill, coming 12 days after House Democrats nearly scuttled his bid for "fast-track" trade authority, sets the stage for his administration to complete the multi-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, by year's end.

It represents a hard-won payoff for a president who was willing to partner with his Republican rivals and defy a majority of his party in pursuit of an accord that aides have said will ensure that the United States maintains an economic edge over a rising China.

"This looks like a big, strategic piece," said Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, a global risk analysis firm. "It's a global strategy doctrine that will move the world in a direction that, in the long term, is useful for the investments of America."

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


How Polarization Weakened Confederate Flag Support (Sean Trende, June 25, 2015, Real Clear Politics)

If you had sat down with me last Friday and offered a million opportunities to guess what the political reaction to Dylann Roof's act of racial terrorism would be, I would never have come up with "the collapse of state- and corporate-sponsored Confederate nostalgia." We have, after all, had numerous acts of racial violence and gun violence in the past few years, which have spawned discussions of a broad swath of issues: Stand-your-ground laws, the justifications for rioting, the scope and effects of privilege and inequality, gun control, sentencing reform, police brutality . . . but not the Confederate flag.

Perhaps more importantly, I've witnessed various attempts to remove the flag from statehouses during my lifetime. Few have ended well.  While there are successes, the shortened political careers of David Beasley and Roy Barnes, along with the near-end of Zell Miller's in 1994, had led me to believe that the flag was not going anywhere anytime soon.

So why now?  Part of it is generational replacement.  [...]

[U]ntil fairly recently, poor rural whites were the key to winning in the South. So the parties competed over them, and very little happened with the flag. But in the past few years - and generational replacement is playing a part here as well - the South has become increasingly polarized, along with the rest of the country. Rural whites have begun voting Republican from the top of the ticket to the bottom, and Democrats have either written off the region or looked to form coalitions of minorities, urban liberals and suburbanites rather than of minorities, urban liberals and poor whites.

Because Democrats no longer see any electoral payoff in talking to guys with Confederate flags in the back of their pickup trucks, they no longer have any incentive to make even weak gestures toward keeping the flag around. Progressives are freed from their need to keep up their awkward dance with rural Southerners for the sake of maintaining some degree of power in the South (a dance that dates back at least to FDR's reluctance to endorse anti-lynching laws). Polarization has forced them - and freed them - to explore new paths to power.

At the same time, it's important to realize that most prominent Southern Republican politicians have roots in either the suburban or old establishment Democrat wings of the party. I doubt if Nikki Haley or Bobby Jindal grew up with much affection for the Confederate flag. The same goes for Mitch McConnell - who entered politics in Jefferson County (Louisville), an old Union town whose Republicanism was strong enough that it almost voted for Herbert Hoover in 1932. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


The Avengers star Patrick Macnee dies aged 93 (Chris Johnston, 25 June 2015, The Guardian)

The Avengers ran from 1961 to 1969 in Britain and was shown in the US from 1966.

The "spy-fi" show made the cold war seem somewhat enjoyable and presented espionage as a glam, swinging 60s accessory.

"What sort of fiend are we dealing with?" said the quintessentially English Steed in one episode. "A man who would bite the end off a cigar is capable of anything!"

Macnee nearly lost the role of bowler-hatted Steed because of his aversion to violence. In a 1997 interview he recalled being told by producers that he would have to use a gun on the show.

"I said, 'No, I don't. I've been in World War II for five years and I've seen most of my friends blown to bits and I'm not going to carry a gun.' They said: 'What are you going to carry?' I thought frantically and said: 'An umbrella.'"

As well as Macnee and Diana Rigg, The Avengers - and its 1970s reboot The New Avengers - also made stars of Honor Blackman, Joanna Lumley, Linda Thorson, Gareth Hunt and Ian Hendry.

...where Macnee thinks he's Watson and forces Higgy to play Watson.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


Today's new homes are 1,000 square feet larger than in 1973, and average living space per person has doubled (Mark J. Perry, June 26, 2015, AEIdeas)

With the average new house in the US getting larger in size at the same time that American households are getting smaller, the square footage of living space per person in a new home has increased from 507 to 987 square feet using the median size home, and from 551 to 1,059 square feet using the average size home. In percentage terms, that's a 95% increase using the median home size and a 92% increase using the average home size. In either case, the average amount of living space per person in a new home has almost doubled in just the last 41 years - that's pretty amazing.

3. What about the cost of new homes over the last 41 years? On a per square foot basis using median home prices and median square footage, the inflation-adjusted price of new homes (in 2014 dollars) has been relatively stable since 1973 in a range between about $104 and $130 per square foot (see bottom chart above). And the price of just under $113 per square foot for new homes sold in 2014 was almost 14% below the peak of $130.67 per square foot for a new home in 2005, and was also below the cost per square foot in most years during the 1970s and 1980s, and below the cost per square foot in every year from 2004 to 2008.

June 25, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Pragmatic Conservatism At The Heart of Chief Justice's Ruling To Uphold ACA Subsidies (John Osborn, 6/25/15, FORBES)

To the dismay of political conservatives, Chief Justice John Roberts has now rescued President Obama's Affordable Care Act (ACA) not once, but twice, from provocative legal challenges. Recall that in June 2012, the Court ruled that the penalties to be meted out under the law for failing to have health insurance were really just a tax by another name, and were constitutionally permissable. Three years later, the Chief and five colleagues now find that context trumps a literal reading of the words. Ironically, while this long running spectacle has proved once again (if we really needed further evidence) that it is fairly easy to find fault with the legislative "craftmanship" of massive omnibus laws produced by this or any other Congress, the larger lesson for me is that the Chief is deeply respectful of the political process and is at heart a philosophical conservative in the classic sense of the term. We are better for it. [...]

As a lifelong Republican I must point out that the Republicans have had their chances to put forth alternatives to the ACA, and they have failed to do so -- at least not in any constructive, meaningful way. Mitt Romney had a chance to clarify exactly why his Massachusetts plan differed from the ACA and what he would do, if elected President, to modify and improve the ACA; I don't recall any such speech or policy memorandum making the rounds. Let's remember that there are millions of Americans who now have health insurance coverage who did not have it five years ago, including those with pre-existing health problems and children. Let's remember that insurance markets work best when risk is spread across a broad continuum of the insured population. Let's hope that the Accountable Care Organization concept and the cost control measures will reduce the aggregate cost of healthcare in America over time; I am still skeptical about this. But I have no apetite to play a metaphorical Monopoly game and begin again.

Our Constitution limits the bounds under which each branch of government may act, and if the Congress truly had exceeded its constitutional authority, or infringed upon the prerogative of the states in establishing the ACA framework, I have no doubt that the Court would have struck down all or key parts of the legislation. But after more than five years of reform and implementation, do we really want to start over with a new and slightly different model of health insurance reform just because the Congress was imprecise in its use of a single phrase in a sea over 900 pages of statutory language?

Now sit down with the president and write some real reforms.

June 24, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 PM


So Long, Centrist Democrats (Peter Roff, June 24, 2015, US News)

During Barack Obama's presidency, the ground has shifted considerably under the Democrats. The party's base is becoming more liberal according to the latest Gallup poll.

The firm, which has followed shifts in the ideological leanings in each party for some time now, reports that "47 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents now identify as both socially liberal and economically moderate or liberal." Previous surveys revealed the affinity for such terms was much lower. The one taken the year Obama was first elected president, 2008, found that only 39 percent of respondents regarded themselves that way. In 2001 that number of 30 percent.

It's a far cry from the time Bill Clinton, riding the horse of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, came to the party's rescue in 1992. Placing himself firmly in the middle of the road, he eked out a narrow win against George H.W. Bush with less than 50 percent of the popular vote in a three-way race. Four years later he managed to do it again, also in a three-way race, by governing from, as historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put it, "the vital center" of the country and through a strategy that used to be called "triangulation."

Labour's choice: neoliberalism or more neoliberalism (BEN WHITHAM, 24 June 2015, Open Democracy)

The weeks since Labour's crushing general election defeat and the run-up to the party's leadership election have been characterised by calls for major changes to its economic policy. Of the four candidates that will appear on ballot papers in the leadership contest, three have demonstrated at least one shared commitment in this regard:

"We can't be set against the government's recent cut in corporation tax for the future. Our rhetoric can't be set against the wealth creators and drivers of our future economic growth. We can't be set against business." 
Yvette Cooper

"Today I want to focus on another weakness: our relationship with business. I am clear that no political party can win a general election in Britain if they convey a sense of being anti-business, wealth creation and success."
Andy Burnham

"I champion wealth creation, because without a dynamic economy in every part of the country, we won't get the decent jobs or public services people need." 
Liz Kendall

Before pulling out of the race early, leadership favourite Chuka Umunna had also suggested that one of the most important reasons for the party's electoral defeat was that "we allowed the impression to arise that we were not on the side of those who are doing well" and "we talked too little about those creating wealth and doing the right thing." [...]

So who are these "wealth creators" and "drivers of our future economic growth"? Like everyone from Tony Blair to Alan Sugar, Burnham, Cooper and Kendall are all clear that they are referring to what we now tend, euphemistically, to call "business leaders" ("capitalists" just sounds too archaic in the post-Steve Jobs world)

This cycle has repeated itself over and over in every Anglospheric nation for the past thirty years.  A party of the right pursues the 1st Way, of the left the Second Way, making it uncompetitive at the national level.  A leader--Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, John Howard, Stephen Harper, John Key, etc.--runs on the Third Way and wins.  His party's activists convince themselves that those national election results mean that the public accepts the old Way and demands the fealty to those ideas of the next leader, who promptly loses, to a party that has been willing to jettison the old Way because it has been in the wilderness.  

Thus, the GOP will nominate a Third Way candidate as the Democrats force their nominee to run har Left.  And Labour will return to Blairism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


New report finds Conservatives demonstrate more self control than Liberals (Dawn Fuller, 6/23/15, Phys.org)

Findings from three separate studies link a person's political ideology and their self-control performance, with conservatives demonstrating greater self-control than liberals. The research led by Joshua John Clarkson, a University of Cincinnati assistant professor of marketing, is published in this week's early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


The Wars Are Over, the Military Spending Lives On (JANINE DAVIDSON AND EMERSON BROOKING,June 23, 2015, The Fiscal Times)

For nearly fourteen years, the U.S. military has been on a war footing. Extraordinary amounts of money--often in excess of $100 billion dollars each year--have been appropriated beyond the military's base budget to fund operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. At the peak of the Iraq surge in late 2007, $211 billion was allocated for the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund, on top of $541 billion in base spending.

Today, even as most of our troops have redeployed from Afghanistan and Iraq, the OCO fund has remained high. Atop a base budget of $496 billion, Congressional leaders have added an OCO of roughly $89 billion. By contrast, President Obama has requested a base budget of $534 billion with an OCO of $51 billion.

Someone is going to get undeserved credit for the Peace Dividend.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


US universities on symbolic visit to Iran (Sean Coughlan, 23 June 2015, BBC)

A group of senior United States university representatives has visited Iran, in what is believed to be the biggest academic delegation since the 1970s.

As relations between the two countries begin to thaw, the delegation met representatives of 13 Iranian universities and research institutes.

The symbolic visit revives what were once strong academic links. Before the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran was the biggest source of overseas students in the US. [...]

The university delegation was headed by Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, a New York-based organisation that supports US international education exchanges.

Prof Goodman, speaking on his return, said that the US delegation had come away with a strong sense of the Iranians wanting more engagement with the West. And he said this had been helped by a legacy of links in previous generations between Iranian students and the US.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


What if health insurance doesn't make you much healthier? (Ezra Klein, June 22, 2015, Vox)

Is Medicaid a bad idea?

That's what Tyler Cowen asks after reading a working paper from economists Amy Finkelstein, Nathaniel Hendren, and Erzo Luttmer. The paper is highly technical, but its headline finding is that a dollar in Medicaid spending doesn't lead to anything near a dollar in value for Medicaid beneficiaries.

It finds this two ways. First, if you test whether Medicaid users would pay the price of their Medicaid coverage if the government took it away, they say no. This makes some sense, as they are very poor, and one reason they have Medicaid is they don't have the money to buy insurance on their own.

The more interesting finding is the second one: if you look at where Medicaid's money goes, less of it than you might think goes to covering the uninsured -- and more goes to paying back the people who are already covering the uninsured. [...]

There's one fact that drives pretty much every other finding in Finkelstein's new paper: the poor and uninsured only pay about 20 percent of the cost of their medical care.

Who pays the rest? Finkelstein and her co-authors don't know. There's good evidence that a lot of it is borne by hospitals, who in turn pass it on to the government, the insured, and so on. But it's also likely that some of these costs are being borne by churches, charities, family members, etc.

Whoever is paying these bills, the result is that a lot of Medicaid spending ends up offsetting this pre-Medicaid spending. "We estimate that a substantial portion of the government's Medicaid spending -- $0.6 on the dollar -- represents a transfer to the providers of this implicit insurance," the researchers write.

Universal health insurance is about people not having to ask for free health care.  It won't improve their health.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Iranian Public Opinion on the Nuclear Negotiations (Nancy Gallagher, Ebrahim Mohseni, Clay Ramsay, June 2015, CISSM/UTCPOR/IranPoll.com)

1. Iran's Nuclear Program 

Overwhelming majorities of Iranians continue to say that it is very important for Iran to have a nuclear program. The nuclear program is seen as one of Iran's greatest achievements. A large majority continues to see the program as driven purely by peaceful goals, though one in five see it as being an effort to pursue nuclear weapons. This support for Iran's nuclear program appears to be driven by a combination of symbolic and economic considerations.  However, while a majority sees the program as being an important way for Iran to stand up to the West, serving Iran's future energy and medical needs is seen as more important.

2. Views on Nuclear Weapons 

A large and growing majority of Iranians express opposition to nuclear weapons in various ways. Two thirds now say that producing nuclear weapons is contrary to Islam. Eight in ten approve of the NPT goal of eliminating nuclear weapons and establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. Consistent with these views, Iranians express opposition to chemical weapons, with nine in ten approving of Iran's decision, during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, to not use chemical weapons in response to Iraq's use of them.

3. Iran - P5+1 Nuclear Deal 

Given information about the nuclear deal being negotiated between Iran and the P5+1, a substantial majority favors it and only one in six oppose it. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:14 PM


Asia in Focus (RICHARD WIKE, BRUCE STOKES AND JACOB POUSHTER, 5/23/15, Pew Research)

The 2015 Pew Research survey involved 9 of the 12 countries engaged in the TPP negotiations. Among those publics, a median of 53% think the deal would be a good thing for their country. A median of 23% say it would be a bad thing.

The strongest support is in Vietnam, where 89% of the public backs the potential accord. [...]

The U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review has committed the U.S. to rebalance military resources to the Asia-Pacific region. [...]

The strongest support for the defense pivot is found in Vietnam (71%) and the Philippines (71%). 

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


The Hillary Paradox : Pity the woman's admirers (ANDREW FERGUSON, 6/29/15, Weekly Standard)

The Hillary Paradox--that a woman of such excellent character should be capable of such tawdriness and worse--the paradox vanishes if you drop the first part of the proposition. Her reputation for good character, after all, rests largely on simple assertion, on what she says as a public figure, on her politics, rather than on what she's done. Leave aside the politics, and the shabby behavior is easily explainable: She does what she does because she is who she is. 

But renouncing their admiration is precisely what supporters of Hillary Clinton can't bring themselves to do. Otherwise her enemies might win.

It is odd the things they will swallow, and odd the things they choke on. During her last presidential campaign a group of left-wing women writers put together a book called Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary. Not all the essays were admiring, but I violated my rule and read them anyway. The writers objected to Clinton's caution, her ideological compromises, her weird devotion to her husband--and, strangely enough, to the "listening tour" with which she opened her first Senate campaign in 1999.

Remember? The candidate was photographed visiting coffee shops, classrooms, and shop floors in every corner of New York state, nodding as her future constituents prattled on. The listening tour was indeed a silly gimmick, executed with effortless smarm--politics as usual. 

But to Elizabeth Kolbert, a political writer for the New Yorker, it seemed to expose something especially worrisome. 

"That Clinton would engage in such a charade doesn't make one admire her," Kolbert wrote. "Women should wish for a more principled candidate. They should wish for one who's more honest. .  .  .

"Yet one simply has to admire her."

Yes. One simply has to.

Posted by orrinj at 2:56 PM


Doomed: Saudi Arabia Will Fail in Yemen (Asher Orkaby, June 24, 2015, National Interest)

Despite emerging evidence that the Saudi-coalition's aerial campaign is not only ineffective but counterproductive to the promotion of a political settlement in Yemen, the bombings continue with no sign of concluding. The relentless pursuit of an aggressive military stance towards the Houthi movement is in part a reflection of Saudi Arabia's struggle against the ghost of Iranian involvement in South Arabia. There is no Saudi exit strategy in which the bombing can stop, short of a complete Houthi political withdrawal. Otherwise, this war will demonstrate a weakness in Saudi policy towards Iran. This aggressive policy is driven in particular by the new Saudi King Salman's need to exhibit political and military dominance to quiet his many doubters. The Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the director of operations in Yemen, feels additional pressure to act decisively in order to prove his resolve as the world's youngest minister of defense at the age of 30.

Even with all of King Salman's resolve and Mohammad bin Salman's machismo, the Saudi aerial campaign will be limited by a difficult propaganda war by the Houthis and the same historic terrain that served as an obstacle to British and Egyptian aerial control of Yemen during the 1960s. Saudi Arabia cannot triumph through force of arms alone as its air force has reached the upper limits of what it can achieve against the Houthis. Continuing a fruitless aerial campaign will only foster increasing anti-Saudi political alliance in Yemen and lead to an ignominious withdrawal reminiscent of British and Egyptian withdrawals of the past.

Posted by orrinj at 2:53 PM


A Senate Majority Leader Worthy of the Title : Mitch McConnell has achieved more in six months than Democrats managed in years. (BOB DOLE And  TRENT LOTT, June 23, 2015, NY Times)

Recently a reporter asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell what he thought about the fact that so many of his fellow Senate Republicans are running for president. His response: If they want a real challenge, they should try running the Senate.

We understand the sentiment. Having had the majority-leader job ourselves, we well know the frustrations of trying to unite a conference of willful and independent operators, all of whom feel the constant tug of their home-state interests and their own ambitions.

All of which is why we have both been impressed with Sen. McConnell's leadership in these first months of the 114th Congress, perhaps best illustrated by the current bipartisan effort to give the president trade-promotion authority, also known as fast-track, in support of American jobs and exports. Tuesday's 60-37 vote to break a filibuster clears the way for TPA to be signed by President Obama after a final Senate vote.

It is a relief to see an institution that we both devoted so much of our lives to working again. And it is an encouraging development for the country to see the Senate addressing big problems after years of inaction when it was controlled by Democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


When even the Timesmen are making fun of Malthusian thought, we've won.
Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Scott Walker, Set for a Bigger Stage, Faces G.O.P. Revolt in Wisconsin (TRIP GABRIEL, JUNE 23, 2015, NY Times)

Lawmakers are stymied over how to pay for road and bridge repairs without raising taxes or fees, which Mr. Walker has ruled out.

The governor's fellow Republicans rejected his proposal to borrow $1.3 billion for the roadwork, arguing that adding to the state's debt is irresponsible.

"The governor rolled out $1.3 billion in bonding," Scott Fitzgerald, the Senate majority leader, said in an interview. "It's not been well received, is the best way to put it."

The budget stalemate forced Mr. Walker late last week to move the goal posts on the announcement of his all-but-certain presidential candidacy. For months, he said it would come after he signed a new budget -- timing meant to contrast his ability to get things done with Washington dysfunction.

But on Thursday, Mr. Walker said he would announce after "the end of the budget year." That is, any time after June 30, the last day of the fiscal year. With lawmakers saying they might not finish their work before mid-July, he will not wait for a finished budget.

He still broke the unions. 

June 23, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


The surprisingly uncomplicated racist history of the Confederate flag (Marc Ambinder, June 22, 2015, The Week)

In 1948, Strom Thurmond's States' Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president's powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party's somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.

Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court's ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.

The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before -- namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people -- these are the major plot points that make up the flag's recent history.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


Charging your phone will soon be a thing of the past (David Goldman, 6/23/15, CNN)

Amazingly, charging your phone may soon be a thing of the past: Technology companies are developing a way for your gadgets to power up while they're sitting in your pocket.

By converting radio waves into battery-replenishing power, smartphones equipped with special receivers can literally pull energy right out of the air.

It's not far-off in the future stuff -- the technology is making its way to the real world in a matter of months.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


Has Sisi lost control over state repression? (MAGED MANDOUR 22 June 2015, OpenDemocracy)

Egypt is currently undergoing one of the worst periods of repression in its modern history. Thousands languish in overcrowded prisons, hundreds have been sentenced to death, and the use of sexual violence is unprecedented.

There has been a qualitative change in the nature of state violence in Egypt. During the years of the Mubarak regime, the state used violence and torture, as it does now, but its use was kept at a level that was socially acceptable to the urban middle class. [...]

The current levels of violence seem to be counterproductive to the stability of the regime.

Stability for stability's sake is repression for repression's sake.  Democracy is designed to be "unstable." It is what the Sisi regime, like the Mubarak regime before it, opposes.  The Brotherhood were the democrats.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Jim Webb Is the Only Presidential Hopeful Who Won't Comment on the Confederate Flag Controversy (Max J. Rosenthal and Tim Murphy, Jun. 23, 2015, Mother Jones)

By now, every 2016 presidential contender from both parties--those announced, those undeclared--has weighed in on the Confederate flag controversy that erupted after last week's mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, except for one: Democrat Jim Webb.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 PM


Are the Dems Being Sucker-Punched on Trade? (ROBERT KUTTNER JUNE 22, 2015, American Prospect)

In recent years, as Republicans have cut back benefits, and increased obstacles to coverage, TAA has benefitted only a tiny fraction of workers directly affected by trade. A Labor Department report to Congress in 2011 showed that only some 46,000 workers received wage support. 

In the meantime, trade deals have become less about trade barriers and more about corporate wish-lists and the use of back-door trade provisions to dismantle a regulated form of capitalism. Workers have lost out not just from direct job displacement, but from the broad assault on an array of safeguards. The proposed Pacific trade deal would intensify the trend.

The current brand of trade adjustment assistance is even weaker than its counterparts a generation ago. And since it is targeted only at workers who can show direct displacement, it does nothing to offset the broader damage of the deal. Backers of the deal claim (somewhat implausibly) that it will produce hundreds of billions of dollars in economic benefits yet the TAA part of the deal would provide displaced workers with just $300 million. So even in its own terms, this is one lousy deal.

Republicans have tried to frame the legislative situation as a fair trade-off: if they can get their reluctant caucus to vote for adjustment assistance, Democrats are somehow honor-bound to support the whole package. (Republicans don't like TAA both because of its budget impact and their ideological belief that the free market will take care of displaced workers.) 

But if Democrats fall for this ploy, they are dupes.

The UR has been duping them for this long, why stop now?
Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Kurds' Syrian offensive against Islamic State rolls forward (HAMZA HENDAWI June 24, 2015, AP) 

Backed by US-led airstrikes and buoyed by battlefield successes, Kurdish fighters kept up an offensive through northern Syria on Tuesday, driving Islamic State militants out of a town near the extremists' de facto capital of Raqqa.

The capture of Ein Issa came just hours after the Kurdish forces had overrun a nearby military base, increasing the pressure on the Islamic State group less than two weeks after it lost the strategically located town of Tal Abyad on the Turkish border, severing a vital supply line.

The advances by the Kurdish fighters in Syria as well as in northern Iraq has been credited largely to a high level of coordination between the ground forces and the nearly year-old air campaign being led by Washington against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL in English and by its Arabic acronym, Daesh.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


François Hollande calls emergency meeting after WikiLeaks reveals US spied on three French presidents (Kim Willsher, 23 June 2015, The Guardian)

The French president, François Hollande, has called an emergency meeting of his country's defence council for Wednesday morning after revelations that American agents spied on three successive French presidents between 2006 and 2012. According to WikiLeaks documents published late on Tuesday, even the French leaders' mobile phone conversations were listened to and recorded.

It had better be more than three.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Devolution settlement had 'corrosive effect' on UK, says Wales secretary (Nicholas Watt, 23 June 2015, The Guardian)

Britain's original devolution settlement has had a "long term corrosive effect" on the whole country by creating a culture of blame and grievance directed at the UK government, a cabinet minister has said.

The failure to ensure that the devolved bodies took some responsibility for raising taxes created a "long running perpetual complaint" that Westminster was to blame for difficult spending decisions, Wales secretary Stephen Crabb warned.

Crabb has spoken out in a Guardian interview on the eve of a speech to the National Assembly for Wales in which he will outline plans for the most far-reaching reforms to the Welsh devolution settlement since the referendum in 1997.

Crabb will announce that he is to scrap the conferred model of devolution, in which Westminster grants certain powers to Wales, in favour of a Scottish-style reserved model in which all powers are presumed to be devolved unless specified otherwise.

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


Endgames with Iran (ROBIN WRIGHT, 6/22/15, The New Yorker)

The legislation's tough language is very much about sovereignty--and suspicion. "Our nuke facilities were inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but some information was given to others," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the bill's sponsor and chairman of the Committee on Foreign Policy and National Security, told me, as the bill was being prepared. "We lost some of our scientists--assassinated by Mossad. If they ask for interviews with scientists, would it guarantee that they would not be assassinated? Trust is a two-way street. Mistrust is a two-way street, too. If they don't trust us, we don't trust them."

Tehran has already acknowledged, however, that it will have to sign the so-called "additional protocol," which gives "further inspection authority" to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency "to provide assurance about both declared and possible undeclared activities and to get a more complete picture of a state's overall nuclear program." In these final days of negotiating a deal, the challenge for the Americans and the Iranians will be defining precisely the difference between "complete" and "everything."

The deal--a twenty-page draft and five annexes, expected to total about seventy pages--has taken so long because every word is being parsed, a senior Administration official in Washington told me, noting, "Words are staggeringly important. It's all about words."

The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, now the lead Iranian negotiator, described the often tortuous talks as an "unholy exercise." If the diplomacy fails, he told me, "It won't be the end of the world. The U.S. will have lost a major opportunity, probably unique. But, for us, our population is accustomed to making necessary sacrifices to preserve its dignity and its rights." He went on, "It's not about nationalism or chauvinism. It's simply about having historical depth. Several years are a brief period in the history of a country with millennia as its depth."

In a hopeful sign, the proposed Iranian legislation stripped out the tougher amendments and, in the end, limited its own power to kill a deal. It mirrored congressional action last month in the United States, when Republicans and Democrats backed off some of their most demanding amendments. "We want to help the country and not create new problems," Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament, said. The legislators ultimately opted to defer a final decision on the nuclear deal to the Supreme National Security Council. It is led by President Rouhani, a former nuclear negotiator who won the presidency, in 2013, by vowing to end a decade of tensions--and international sanctions--over Iran's nuclear program. The other members are appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, effectively giving him the final word.

Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


Senate Hands a Victory to Obama on Trade Pact (JONATHAN WEISMANJUNE 23, 2015, NY Times)

[R]epublican leaders -- with support from the White House -- found a parliamentary way to corner the Democrats, by separating the two pieces of the bill. By Wednesday evening, legislation will almost certainly be on the president's desk giving him the power to complete the trade deal, the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, knowing Congress cannot amend or filibuster the final accord. He can sign it whether or not the House passes worker dislocation assistance when it is scheduled to come to a vote on Friday.

Ah, the benefits of one-party rule....

June 22, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Pentagon: Islamic State operative suspected in 2012 Benghazi attack killed in US airstrike (Associated Press June 22, 2015)

An Islamic State operative suspected of involvement in the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, has been killed in a U.S. airstrike in Iraq, the Pentagon said Monday.

Ali Awni al-Harzi "operated closely with multiple ISIL-associated extremists throughout North Africa and the Middle East," Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said in a statement, using one acronym for the militant group. "His death degrades ISIL's ability to integrate North African jihadists into the Syrian and Iraqi fight and removes a jihadist with long ties to international terrorism."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


Controversial citizenship law that bans Palestinians married to Israelis from living in Israel extended by the Knesset (DOUG BOLTON,  Wednesday 17 June 2015, The Independent)

Israel's Knesset has extended a law that bans Palestinians married to Israelis from living with their spouses in Israel for another year.

The law was first passed in 2003 and extended in 2008, and forbids Palestinians married to Israelis from living in Israel, or becoming Israeli citizens.

Many critics say that the law essentially makes marriage between Israelis and Palestinians impossible, as the couple would have to live in different countries that are very difficult to pass between.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


How Jeb Bush dealt with the Confederate flag when he was Florida governor (Ed O'Keefe, June 22, 2015, Washington Post)

In early February 2001, Jeb Bush quietly ordered the removal from State Capitol grounds of "The Stainless Banner," a mostly white flag that featured the Confederate battle flag design in the top left corner.

The flag flew outside the west entrance of the Capitol in Tallahassee with three other flags memorializing the history of the Sunshine State. Bush had decided to remove the flags in December 2000 -- in the wake of a bitterly contested presidential campaign that featured both a primary season debate about the Confederate flag, and the protracted recount that resulted in his brother's election as president. Two months later, they were gone.

Before his decision, Bush had already telegraphed his opinions on the flag. In Jan. 2000, as national organizations began pressuring Southern states to remove the Confederate flag from public spaces and public property, a resident named Suzi Harper e-mailed: "What is your thoughts on this confederate flag issue?"

Bush responded: "I am happy that we don't have a confederate flag."

The flags came down quietly on a Saturday morning, and the decision went unnoticed for another eight days, until news reports spread the word. Within hours, Bush -- an avid e-mailer who urged Florida residents to write to him directly -- started receiving often-heated criticism in his inbox.

"You are not from the South," wrote Carole Shelton. 


Posted by orrinj at 2:27 PM


Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott calling for Confederate flag's removal today (Post & Courier, Jun 22, 2015)

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott today will join the chorus of public officials calling for the Confederate flag to come down today.

It is not known if he will attend Gov. Nikki Haley's news conference in Columbia at 4 p.m. today at which, sources said, she will call for the Confederate flag to come down from the Statehouse grounds.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


Polls show Clinton weakness in big states -- and even the New Hampshire primary (Michael Barone, 6/22/15, AEI)

Negative news for Clinton's prospects comes in the latest Quinnipiac polls in the key mega-states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. In each of them she leads or ties Republican opponents, though in many cases not by statistically significant margins.

But she also is running under 50 percent of the vote in every pairing, averaging 47 percent against six different Republicans in Florida, 44 percent against seven Republicans in Ohio and 46 percent against four Republicans in Pennsylvania. That's a danger zone for a candidate with universal recognition.

Similarly, less than 50 percent -- 47 percent in Florida, 44 percent in Ohio and 46 percent in Pennsylvania -- express favorable feelings about her. Only 43 percent in Florida and 40 percent in Ohio and Pennsylvania feel she is honest and trustworthy.

And, perhaps surprisingly for a Democrat, only 48 percent in Ohio and Florida and 45 percent in Pennsylvania say she "cares about the needs and problems of people like you."

Clinton campaign spokesmen have said their goal is to reassemble Barack Obama's winning coalition. But she's falling short in three large states which Obama carried in 2012 with 50, 51 and 52 percent of the vote. These states have 67 electoral votes, without which Obama would have won only 265 -- and Mitt Romney would be president.

The latest Detroit News poll has Clinton averaging 44 percent against four Republicans in Michigan, whose 16 electoral votes Obama won with 54 percent in 2012.

..not to squander this Peace Dividend, as they did in '92.

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 PM


Downtown Dublin Is Getting Rid Of Cars : A city known for some of the world's worst traffic jams is getting a radical pedestrian makeover. (Adele Peters, 6/22/15, Co.Exist)

In the proposed plan, the city wants to route cars around the city center, and turn major streets into car-free plazas and passages for buses, bikes, pedestrians, and a new tram line. Along the banks of the River Liffey, polluted roads will become promenades. On Grafton Street, a former car lane will turn into a tree-shaded terrace with cafe tables, while the other lane has tram tracks. New bike lanes and wider sidewalks will be added as well.

All of this still needs to pass public approval, but the city expects that to happen. The changes will come gradually. "Dublin won't become car-free tomorrow, but as we improve our light rail network there are fantastic opportunities to create car-free areas where you can breathe, think, and hear yourself speak," Cuffe says. "Dubliners are very receptive to this. The true test of a civilized city is whether you can let go your child's hand and allow them to explore the city by themselves. That is our ultimate goal."

Dublin is already spending about $420 million on a new network of tram lines throughout the city, and plans to spend another $170 million to pedestrianize the downtown streets.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


In U.S., Socialist Presidential Candidates Least Appealing (Justin McCarthy, 6/22/15, Gallup)

Between now and the 2016 political conventions, there will be discussion about the qualifications of presidential candidates -- their education, age, religion, race and so on. If your party nominated a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be _____, would you vote for that person? June 2015 results

Posted by orrinj at 2:06 PM


Florida Men Lead the 2016 Pack (Kenneth T. Walsh June 22, 2015, US News)

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey finds that Bush and Rubio have solidified their positions as top choices measured by the percentage of Republicans who say they are open to supporting either candidate. Three-quarters of GOP primary voters say they could support Bush or Rubio, a larger share than for any other contender (Bush gets 75 percent support, Rubio 74.). Sixty-five percent say they could support former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, an ex-Fox News commentator.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Sicilian Town Tells Outsiders: Take Our Homes. Please. (ELISABETTA POVOLEDO, JUNE 22, 2015, NY Times)

Looking for a home? One Sicilian town is making an offer that is hard to refuse: It is giving away houses. [...]

Gangi had a population of about 16,000 in the 1950s, the mayor said. Today it is home to about 7,000.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Low-Hanging Fruit Guarded by Dragons: Reforming Regressive Regulation to Boost U.S. Economic Growth (Brink Lindsey, June 22, 2015, Cato)

[T]he U.S. political debate today is beset by intractable ideological conflicts over tax and budget policy, financial regulation, health care financing, and many other issues with a strong bearing on the climate for economic growth.

Despite today's polarized political atmosphere, it is possible to construct an ambitious and highly promising agenda of pro-growth policy reform that can command support across the ideological spectrum. Such an agenda would focus on policies whose primary effect is to inflate the incomes and wealth of the rich, the powerful, and the well-established by shielding them from market competition. A convenient label for these policies is "regressive regulation"--regulatory barriers to entry and competition that work to redistribute income and wealth up the socioeconomic scale. This paper identifies four major examples of regressive regulation: excessive monopoly privileges granted under copyright and patent law; restrictions on high-skilled immigration; protection of incumbent service providers under occupational licensing; and artificial scarcity created by land-use regulation.

Although there are vigorous debates about proper policy in all of these areas, the contending sides are not divided along left-right or Republican-Democratic lines. And it's not simply the case that one can find policy experts on both sides who favor reform. Rather, it's very difficult to find disinterested experts anywhere on the political spectrum who support the status quo. Such support is largely confined to the well-organized lobbies that profit from the current rules.

...since we need to create the wealth to redistribute.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Iran's Forces and U.S. Share a Base in Iraq (Josh Rogin & Eli Lake, 6/22/15, Bloomberg View)

The U.S. military and Iranian-backed Shiite militias are getting closer and closer in Iraq, even sharing a base, while Iran uses those militias to expand its influence in Iraq and fight alongside the Bashar al-Assad regime in neighboring Syria.

Two senior administration officials confirmed to us that U.S. soldiers and Shiite militia groups are both using the Taqqadum military base in Anbar, the same Iraqi base where President Obama is sending an additional 450 U.S. military personnel to help train the local forces fighting against the Islamic State. Some of the Iran-backed Shiite militias at the base have killed American soldiers in the past.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


Modern humans and Neanderthals 'interbred in Europe' (BBC, 6/22/15)

Modern humans and Neanderthals interbred in Europe, an analysis of 40,000-year-old DNA suggests.

The study suggests an early Homo sapiens settler in Europe harboured a Neanderthal ancestor just a few generations back in his family line.

Previous work has shown our ancestors had interbred with Neanderthals 55,000 years ago, possibly in the Middle East.

The new results reveal there was additional mixing once modern humans pushed north into Europe.

June 21, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Can Jeb Bush Unite the GOP's Establishment and Religious Wings? (ROB GARVER, 6/21/15, The Fiscal Times)

[Santorum] didn't dwell on the cultural issues, explicitly warning the audience that doing do would limit the Party's appeal to voters. [...]

From there, the Louisiana governor spent a considerable amount of time speaking about his personal religious journey, but also eventually swerved into current affairs. Though he did it with far less specificity or scope than Santorum managed, he still seemed to be recognizing a new reality in the GOP field. Jeb bush might be able to unite the religious and establishment bases in a way that hasn't happened since his brother, George W. Bush, managed it in 2000. 

His Republican opponents seem to be recognizing it, and it may end up being something the eventual Democratic nominee will have to contend with as well. 

Republican governors who combine economics and Evangelicals don't lose elections.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Why Roger Goodell might be in tough spot on Tom Brady suspension (Sally Jenkins, June 17, 2015, Washington Post)

Tom Brady is said to be seeking total exoneration, and it appears he's entitled to it. The idea that Brady and the New England Patriots intentionally deflated footballs for a competitive advantage has been discredited by everyone from sidewalk chemists to Web physicists to unlicensed ceramicists, not to mention your own common sense. But most importantly, it is utterly shredded in a new scientific analysis by the American Enterprise Institute, which shows the only inflation problem is in NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's head.

The NFL paid millions for a fundamentally flawed report by lawyer Ted Wells that made Brady and the Patriots out to be slam-dunk guilty, based on more than 100 pages of mathematical analysis of ball pressurization . . . that turns out to be erroneous. The AEI's report totally rejects the finding that the footballs used by the Patriots in the AFC championship game had a significant drop in air pressure compared with those used by the Colts. But the truly damning sentence is this one, buried in its erudite phrasings and equations: "The Wells report's statistical analysis cannot be replicated by performing the analysis as described in the report," the AEI concludes.

Basically, the math didn't add up. It's a standard principle in science: If you can't replicate a set of results, then there is a problem with it. A flaw or a fraud is at work. Either you made a mistake, or you made it up.

...could turn the Pats into sympathetic figures.  

June 20, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


L.A. Times' original 1975 review of 'Jaws' unearthed: We hated it (CHARLES CHAMPLIN, 6/20/1975, LA Times)

[W]hile I have no doubt that "Jaws" will make a bloody fortune for Universal and producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, it is a coarse-grained and exploitive work which depends on excess for its impact. Ashore it is a bore, awkwardly staged and lumpily written.

The opening sequence, an underwater camera giving a swift shark's-eye view of the depths, over the ominous murmuring basses of John Williams' good score, is excellent, carrying the promise of suggestive power. Then an abrupt and jolting cut takes us to a beach beer party to establish the great shark's first victim. The tension rises again as we are allowed to imagine the evil lurking beneath the water's placid, moonlit surface.

Land and sea quarrel thereafter. Peter Benchley's story, which he adapted with Carl Gottlieb, has Roy Scheider as the sea-fearing resort town chief of police, trying in vain to close the beaches over opposition of the merchants led by Murray Hamilton. A reward offered for the shark evokes a comical flotilla of amateurs.

Most of this, despite an intense performance by Scheider, is flat-bush melodrama, broad and obvious. Richard Dreyfuss arrives as the rich boy who, after a childhood experience, has become a shark expert. Robert Shaw is the local shark hunter, more than half-mad, a poor man's Captain Ahab who, having survived the shark infested seas after wartime torpedoing, is out to exterminate the species.

If the whole project from manuscript forward has been a commercially calculated confection, the tipoff in the movie is the stubborn refusal of the key characters to come in to sharp focus.

...than when the shark dies and Dreyfuss survives?

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


Shale 2.0 : Technology and the Coming Big-Data Revolution in America's Shale Oil Fields (Mark P. Mills, 5/16/15, Manhattan Institute)

John Shaw, chair of Harvard's Earth and Planetary Sciences Department, recently observed: "It's fair to say we're not at the end of this [shale] era, we're at the very beginning." He is precisely correct. In recent years, the technology deployed in America's shale fields has advanced more rapidly than in any other segment of the energy industry. Shale 2.0 promises to ultimately yield break-even costs of $5-$20 per barrel--in the same range as Saudi Arabia's vaunted low-cost fields.

The shale industry is unlike any other conventional hydrocarbon or alternative energy sector, in that it shares a growth trajectory far more similar to that of Silicon Valley's tech firms. In less than a decade, U.S. shale oil revenues have soared, from nearly zero to more than $70 billion annually (even after accounting for the recent price plunge). Such growth is 600 percent greater than that experienced by America's heavily subsidized solar industry over the same period.

Shale's spectacular rise is also generating massive quantities of data: the $600 billion in U.S. shale infrastructure investments and the nearly 2,000 million well-feet drilled have produced hundreds of petabytes of relevant data. This vast, diverse shale data domain--comparable in scale with the global digital health care data domain--remains largely untapped and is ripe to be mined by emerging big-data analytics.

Shale 2.0 will thus be data-driven. It will be centered in the United States. And it will be one in which entrepreneurs, especially those skilled in analytics, will create vast wealth and further disrupt oil geopolitics. The transition to Shale 2.0 will take the following steps:

Oil from Shale 1.0 will be sold from the oversupply currently filling up storage tanks.

More oil will be unleashed from the surplus of shale wells already drilled but not in production.

Companies will "high-grade" shale assets, replacing older techniques with the newest, most productive technologies in the richest parts of the fields.

And as the shale industry begins to embrace big-data analytics, Shale 2.0 begins.

Only taxes can make oil uneconomical.
Posted by orrinj at 11:56 AM


Torrential, Gut-Bucket Jazz (Geoff Dyer, 6/20/15, NY Review of Books)

One of the things that the most extreme first-generation of free players such as Ayler and Pharoah Sanders shared with Ornette was the experience of playing R&B in their journeyman years. The open-throated, gutbucket sound came as readily to them as breathing. This was every bit as important--and as present in their playing--as the tradition-shattering qualities that provoked such fierce hostility or reverence. Their musical apprenticeship earthed them and explains why free jazz was able to take root. Which makes it extraordinary that Charles Mingus--to say nothing of Roy Eldridge and Miles Davis--refused to hear what seems now to be a defining aspect of Ornette's sound. Surely Mingus, of all people, should have responded to the honk and holler, the cry and call. Miles's hostility was probably due, in some measure, to his highly developed sense of rivalry or threat. Unblemished by any such feelings, Coltrane was an immediate convert and an eager pupil.

Another irony about the way R&B underpinned such radical experimentation is that R&B has since become the blandest musical pap on the planet. Listening to contemporary R&B is about as challenging as listening to the Eagles. Ornette's early recordings for Atlantic (collected in the indispensable box set Beauty Is a Rare Thing), on the other hand, still sound far-out--and as drenched in blues and roots as a Mingus album.

Ah, but how old it's become, this still new-sounding music! In March I went to see Oliver Lake (seventy-two), Andrew Cyrille (seventy-five), and Reggie Workman (seventy-seven) at the Village Vanguard in New York--a legendary venue that has not been at the vanguard of anything for at least thirty years. With the best will in the world you couldn't say it was a great gig, though it's wonderful, of course, that Workman (who played with Coltrane) is still a working man. But you can't play their kind of music without taking the roof off the place. That's what Ornette's quartet did when they came east, to New York, in 1959. They didn't just take the roof off the 5 Spot; they took the roof off the idea of the roof and, as a result, left jazz exposed to the elements. In the following decade jazz became torrential.

As with so many revolutionary happenings this one began with a small cabal of initiates bonding together while the soon-to-be-shaken world looked and listened elsewhere. I find it incredibly moving to think of Cherry, Haden, and Blackwell (or Higgins) gathering at Ornette's place in Los Angeles to immerse themselves in his musical philosophy, playing a new kind of music in which the song's form could be dictated by collectively improvised melodic lines, rather than harmonic progressions. They're all dead now. Ornette outlived everyone in Old and New Dreams, the band of his alumni (including Dewey Redman on tenor) devoted to exploring his music, its legacy and potential.

It hardly needs emphasizing that the desire for freedom in jazz is bound up with the larger dreams of freedom itself. This, obviously, is a vast topic, one that cries out for treatment in a full-scale documentary film (especially since the relevant episode from Ken Burns's otherwise magnificent series was so cursory). To simplify things let's stick to a few obvious examples.

Sonny Rollins's Freedom Suite (1958) was a pre-Coleman declaration of musical and political liberation--but there was no explicit statement of this conflation on the album. And the music on offer was still sufficiently conservative for a cover version of a Noel Coward tune to sit happily alongside the ambitious title piece. Recorded two years later, We Insist! Freedom Now Suite by Max Roach (who played drums on the Rollins album) was explicitly interventionist, with its cover featuring a news photograph of a lunch counter sit-in. Even after the smaller-scale detonations of Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959) and Change of the Century (1960), his album Free Jazz (1961) was a musically incendiary event, but Ornette tended to play down the connection between his musical project and the larger social turbulence of which it might have seemed a product and expression. Hereafter, however, "free" playing became so ideologically freighted that the struggle to gain acceptance for this music--the purpose and attraction of which lay, to a considerable degree, in the way that it was audibly unacceptable to a significant portion of the population--became part of a larger struggle.

The problem, of course, is that freedom for the sake of freedom is a worthless thing.  Freedom is important only when it is a means to an end, rather than the end in itself.  When jazz freed itself of even the necessity that the music be beautiful it distanced itself from the population and headed down the same dead end as modern art, architecture and literature. As Mr. Dyer accidentally suggests, it appeals to us only to the extent it references traditional R&B.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Magna Carta: The birth certificate of the rule of law (John Steele Gordon, June 18, 2015,  AEI.org)

The war sputtered on until 1217, when Prince Louis agreed to end it and give up all claims to the English throne, provided that the rebel barons get their lands back and that the charter be reissued.

Magna Carta was now embedded in English law. In 1225, in return for taxes worth 40,000 English pounds, Henry again reissued the charter; this time, he said that it was being issued by his "spontaneous and free will" and sealed it with the royal seal.

Henry's son, Edward I, also reissued the charter in 1297, and this is still part of the statute law of England, although many of its provisions have been repealed.

Thus, Magna Carta became the foundation of that uniquely English concept, personal liberty. Because of Magna Carta, Englishmen (or at least, at that time, property owners) had rights that even the king was bound to respect. Within a century, Parliament began to develop and law became something that was not just the work of the king, but of the "king in parliament," a fundamental difference.

Over the centuries, Magna Carta profoundly influenced the English Bill of Rights of 1689, such political philosophers as John Locke, James Madison and the other American Founding Fathers, and the American Bill of Rights. After all, Jefferson's immortal "all men . . . are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," is but the distilled essence of Magna Carta.

Thus, Magna Carta, thought a dead letter two months after it was written, lived on to become nothing less than the birth certificate of the rule of law.

Posted by orrinj at 11:46 AM


Conservatives should be on board the Jeb Bush express (A.J. DELGADO, 6/18/15, Miami Herald)

Following Jeb's announcement on Monday, something funny began to happen. Conservatives squirmed in their seats, thinking: "Hang on, we kind of like him." Social media posts along those lines, from previous Jeb-naysayers, were rampant. What we watched was a solid defense of conservative views, delivered by a towering, Lincoln-esque figure who seemed every bit a statesman. Here was an accomplished, seasoned candidate, with the record one expects from a potential presidential nominee -- which we'd previously written off because he comes from, literally, a presidential family.

Floridians may have forgotten just how much Jeb accomplished as governor: created over 1 million new jobs (the most of any state); cut taxes each and every year, totaling as much as $19 billion (the biggest tax cuts in Florida history); vetoed $2 billion in wasteful spending; repealed the unfair tax on investments; created the state's first school voucher program; ended affirmative action in state university admissions; signed into law "Stand Your Ground"; eliminated regulations that stifled development; implemented faith-based prison reforms; and reduced the state government workforce by 13,000 via creative solutions such as privatizing certain government tasks.

Under Jeb, Florida boasted a 4.4 percent growth rate, a whopping eight balanced budgets, and soared to a AAA bond-rating. He left office with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, when the national average was 4.4 percent.

Any way one slices it, that's one heck of a résumé -- how can we still argue the surname is at all relevant?

The eventual nominee will be as much like Jeb as possible, which gives Jeb an obvious advantage.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


When America Says Yes to Government (CASS R. SUNSTEIN, JUNE 19, 2015, NY Times)

Republicans and Democrats agree that soft interventions can help people meet their own goals with respect to health, safety and economic security. Americans might not like paternalism, but when they are asked about specific nudges, they tend to be supportive. And when they dislike some interventions -- as they definitely do -- Republicans and Democrats usually agree as well, suspecting that government has illegitimate goals, or that it is acting inconsistently with people's interests or values.

About 87 percent of those questioned in the survey approve of the federal government's requiring calorie labels at chain restaurants. Nearly 85 percent favor an aggressive public education campaign from the federal government, "consisting of vivid and sometimes graphic stories and images," to discourage distracted driving. About 80 percent want the federal government to encourage automatic enrollment in pension plans. Indeed, 71 percent would support a federal mandate requiring large employers to adopt automatic enrollment. In every one of these cases, majority support cuts across partisan divisions.

There are many more ways that choices can be informed or influenced, and Americans want some of them to happen. About 82 percent favor a public education campaign to reduce obesity, at least if it consists of "information that parents can use to make healthier choices for their children." Over 75 percent would like the federal government to engage in a public education campaign to encourage people not to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

More than 72 percent would favor a warning label on products with unhealthily high levels of salt. About 70 percent would like state governments to require people to say, when they obtain their driver's license, whether they want to be organ donors. (Such a requirement could end up saving a lot of lives.)

More than 70 percent want the federal government to encourage electricity providers to enroll consumers automatically in a "green" energy source, while allowing consumers to opt out if they wish. Strikingly, 67 percent say that they would favor a federal law compelling large electricity providers to adopt such a system. In all of these cases as well, support comes from majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


Hold Your Zorses (Jason Bittel, 6/19/15, Slate)

Mix a zebra and a horse, and you get a zorse. Swap the horse for a donkey, and you have yourself a zonkey. When a pony and a zebra love each other very much, you wind up with a zoni.

On Michael Portillo's Great British Railway Journeys, he visited the museum containing Lord Rothschild's animal collection, including the zebras he trained to pull a carriage:

Rothschild with his zebra carriage, which he drove to Buckingham Palace to demonstrate the tame character of Zebras to the public

So much for Jared Diamond.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


Plan for woman on $10 bill is praised, but Alexander Hamilton has backers (SAMANTHA MASUNAGA, 6/19/15, LA Times)

News that a woman will appear on the $10 bill in 2020 prompted an explosion of candidate suggestions and celebration, tempered by criticism of how the change will be carried out.

...to view entree to a dying institution as a victory--they'll get a woman on a bill just as we phase out paper money.

The problem is therew's really only one woman historically significant to warrant a spot--Harriet Beecher Stowe--and even she's a stretch.  Lincoln and Grant have that moment covered.

Posted by orrinj at 11:28 AM


A new strategy for Iraq and Syria (Charles Krauthammer, June 18, 2015, Washington Post)

It's time to rethink Iraq and Syria. It begins by admitting that the old borders are gone, that a unified Syria or Iraq will never be reconstituted, that the Sykes-Picot map is defunct.

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


Charleston church shooting: Why is Confederate flag at full staff? : As flags atop South Carolina's State Capitol fly at half staff in a gesture of mourning following a deadly shooting at a Charleston church, many are wondering why a nearby Confederate battle flag flies at full height. ( Lisa Suhay, JUNE 19, 2015, CS Monitor)

Posted by orrinj at 11:21 AM


GM Luhnow at center of Cardinals-Astros hacking scandal (KRISTIE RIEKEN, Jun. 18, 2015, AP)

Luhnow in no way fits the traditional mold of a baseball front-office employee. He didn't play, coach or manage. He wrote a paper in school about how the Chicago Cubs might win the World Series, but that was years before he ever came close to working for a team.

He graduated from Pennsylvania with a dual bachelor's degree in economics and engineering before getting his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. Luhnow founded Archetype Solutions, a data analytics company, and was the company's president and chief operating officer before moving to baseball.

He was a general manager before joining the Cardinals, too, but it was far from any baseball diamond. It was with a discount company called Petstore.com.

Luhnow worked for several years at a global consulting firm, McKinsey, after leaving behind the world of dog bones and kitty litter before joining the Cardinals as vice president of baseball development in 2003. He kept busy in the Dominican Republic, rising quickly. When he was promoted to vice president of amateur scouting and player development in 2006, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote the following: "If you aren't familiar with Jeff Luhnow, then remember the name. Why? One day he'll be running the Cardinals."

That doesn't mean it was all smooth sailing in St. Louis with a manager at the time in Tony La Russa that was none too fond of the sabermetric approach that Luhnow so coveted.

But the divide created by the two different approaches didn't keep Luhnow from building a team at the same time he built his name in baseball circles. His 2009 draft was considered his best with the Cardinals and included Matt Carpenter, Shelby Miller and Matt Adams. That draft paid dividends for the Cardinals after he left, and 16 of the 25 players on the 2013 World Series roster, including Carpenter, Miller and Adams, were drafted when he was in charge of player development and scouting.

"He really had his own little department," Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said Thursday. "He did interface with the baseball ops people. It was a new initiative for the Cardinals. It was really a blank slate. We were starting from scratch ... to see if we couldn't be a leader in this field. It was looking at everything out there, it was not trying to emulate Oakland or maybe others were doing. At the very start we wanted to do it as a Cardinal model."

Jim Crane grew up in St. Louis and was a longtime fan of the Cardinals, who have 11 World Series titles. When he bought the Astros in November of 2011, his first big move was to fire general manager Ed Wade. The second? Lure Luhnow away from the Cardinals to be his GM.

Luhnow was in St. Louis when the team built a computer database called Redbird and where he first hired Sig Mejdal, a former NASA employee, as director of amateur draft analytics. Mejdal joined Luhnow in Houston in January of 2012 with the unique title of director of decision sciences, and the pair and the rest of the staff made the Houston version of Redbird and called it Ground Control.

Posted by orrinj at 11:13 AM


House passes 'fast track' trade bill (Susan Davis, 6/18/15, USA TODAY)

The U.S. House narrowly approved, 218-208, a six-year renewal of trade promotion authority in an ongoing effort to revive President Obama's trade agenda in the face of stiff Democratic opposition.

Republicans, working closely with the White House, are executing a new strategy to pass the authority, also known as TPA or "fast track," as well as trade adjustment assistance (TAA), an aid program for displaced American workers.

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


Why is the Justice Department bullying a small libertarian magazine? (Damon Linker, June 16, 2015, The Week)

Predictably, the comment thread attached to it quickly became a fever swamp filled with vulgarity and vitriol. Another day, another out-of-control online comment thread -- what else is new? Yet in this case the problem went a bit farther than normal when a handful of anonymous commenters threatened Judge Forrest with murder.

That's more than enough to warrant deleting those comments and banning the people who made them. But that wasn't good enough for the Justice Department, which decided to issue a subpoena demanding that Reason turn over, in the words of an NPR report, "'any and all identifying information' for the users, including subscriber accounts, credit card information, associated email addresses, and the unique IP address of each post."

Commenters like the ones who drew the attention of the federal authorities are pests. They poison online discourse on websites all over the internet. They're a menace to civility and manners. But do they really constitute a threat sufficient to justify the government issuing subpoenas to magazines, demanding personal information about their readers, putting financially vulnerable publications in the position of having either to comply with the order or risk spending vast sums of money on pricey legal counsel?

And what of the loudmouthed jerks themselves -- the people who spend their days anonymously spewing venom online? Sure, they're irritating. But they're also taking advantage of anonymity freely offered to them to express unpopular and extreme views. Do we really want to live in a country where such people need to fear a government unmasking followed by the FBI knocking on their door, asking intimidating questions and threatening them with prosecution?


Charleston shooting: Dylann Roof 'almost backed down' from church massacre 'because everyone was nice' (Gianluca Mezzofiore, June 19, 2015 IB Times)

The white male who shot dead nine church-goers at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, told police he almost did not engage in the attack because "everyone was so nice to him", according to sources quoted by NBC News.

However the 21-year-old, who was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina, after a 14-hour manhunt, decided to go ahead with his mission. Anonymous officials told CNN that Roof, who was extradited to South Carolina and is expected at a bond hearing, confessed to killing African-American people at the Emanuel AME Church because he wanted to start a race war.

The shooter is reportedly a committed racist, with his roommate revealing that he had been "planning something like that for six months".

Dalton Tyler told ABC news that Roof "was big into segregation and other stuff". "He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself," Tyler said.

Posted by orrinj at 10:53 AM


Will Humans Go the Way of Horses? : Labor in the Second Machine Age (Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, 6/16/15, Foreign Affairs)

In 1983, the Nobel Prize-winning economist Wassily Leontief brought the debate into sharp relief through a clever comparison of humans and horses. For many decades, horse labor appeared impervious to technological change. Even as the telegraph supplanted the Pony Express and railroads replaced the stagecoach and the Conestoga wagon, the U.S. equine population grew seemingly without end, increasing sixfold between 1840 and 1900 to more than 21 million horses and mules. The animals were vital not only on farms but also in the country's rapidly growing urban centers, where they carried goods and people on hackney carriages and horse-drawn omnibuses.

But then, with the introduction and spread of the internal combustion engine, the trend rapidly reversed. As engines found their way into automobiles in the city and tractors in the countryside, horses became largely irrelevant. By 1960, the United States counted just three million horses, a decline of nearly 88 percent in just over half a century. If there had been a debate in the early 1900s about the fate of the horse in the face of new industrial technologies, someone might have formulated a "lump of equine labor fallacy," based on the animal's resilience up till then. But the fallacy itself would soon be proved false: once the right technology came along, most horses were doomed as labor.

Is a similar tipping point possible for human labor? Are autonomous vehicles, self-service kiosks, warehouse robots, and supercomputers the harbingers of a wave of technological progress that will finally sweep humans out of the economy? For Leontief, the answer was yes: "The role of humans as the most important factor of production is bound to diminish in the same way that the role of horses . . . was first diminished and then eliminated."

But humans, fortunately, are not horses, and Leontief missed a number of important differences between them. Many of these suggest that humans will remain an important part of the economy. Even if human labor becomes far less necessary overall, however, people, unlike horses, can choose to prevent themselves from becoming economically irrelevant.

Indeed, the phenomenon that saw women and blacks added to the workforce without displacing any white males was a function of choice triumphing over economics.  But jobs had social cache at that point, and it was a triumph for women and blacks to obtain them.  The great question is can those who want to maintain this artificially inflated workforce in the face of economic pressures and the declining status associated with having a job.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


The romantic Englishman : George Orwell is often credited with elevating political writing to an art. However, writes Enda O'Doherty, it might be useful to separate out the terms "political" and "writing". For while his writing is undoubtedly of the highest order, the quality of his political judgment remains questionable. (Enda O'Doherty, 6/17/15, Eurozine)

Orwell brought to Wigan his intelligence, connections brokered by his political (chiefly Independent Labour Party) friends in London, some convictions about socialism gleaned from his reading, no doubt some knowledge of local conditions based on specific research, and certain attitudes to exploitation, power and the possibility of political change which we might surmise were as much informed by his experience of the oppressive regime of colonial Burma as by parliamentary politics in 1930s Britain (in which he took little enough interest). What he did not bring with him was any particular understanding of the British working class, of their history, traditions, aspirations or modes of organization. In George Orwell: English Rebel (Oxford University Press, 2013), Robert Colls writes:

That they shared a certain organizational talent he accepts, but there is no sense of leadership or thought or even point of view in his account [in The Road to Wigan Pier]. For a man on the brink of breaking his ties with "bourgeois intellectuals", it is strange that Orwell does not know any labour history, seems to regard socialism as some sort of fad ... shows no knowledge of the Socialist Sunday Schools and Leagues of Youth [... or has] no interest whatsoever in the more gregarious aspects of life in the industrial town - the chapel oratorios and concert parties, or the rambling and cycling clubs, or the boxing booths, banjo bands, and brass bands, the weekly hops, the free-and-easies, the charabanc outings, and Lancashire's famous Wakes [...] Lancashire was the home of football, but there is no football in Orwell. Yorkshire was a stronghold of the Workingmen's Club and Institute Union, but when he attends their delegate meeting in Barnsley he does not approve of the free beer and sandwiches [...] The friendly societies took the subscriptions of half of all working-class men in 1914, but Orwell says not a word on how they had managed to organize such a vast undertaking, nor indeed on how, along with all the other mutual societies, sick clubs and boxes, they had secured their place in law to allow them to do so. There is no fun, no ambition, no zest, no obscenity, and precious little sociability in Orwell's north. A night out in Blackpool would have done him (and English literature) the world of good. Where are the comedians? Where is George Formby, Wigan's favourite son? Where are the factory lasses? Where's our Gracie? He says that all trade-union and Labour party officials are middle-class, automatically so, and shows almost no time for those bulwarks of working-class defence - the Miners' Federation, the cooperative societies and guilds, the trades councils, the Labour party, and the multi-layered and infinitely resourceful female communities of the street. He notes the poverty, but where is the thrift? He notes the grind, but where's the Ritz Super [cinema]?

Victor Gollancz, who might be said to have been "close to the thinking of the Communist Party of Great Britain", was not entirely pleased by the book which Orwell submitted to him in December 1936 and for which he had paid so large an advance. Not a great deal of exception could be taken to the first part, which was a fairly straightforward account of conditions in the North. Indeed Gollancz at first proposed - though the suggestion was not accepted - that this should be published on its own as a Left Book Club edition. Into the second part, however, Orwell had stuffed his analysis and his always plentiful opinions, many of them strongly expressed and often focusing on the kind of people who formed a large part of the readership of the Left Book Club. Here are the urban, middle class intellectual socialists:

the more-water-in-your-beer reformers of whom Shaw is the prototype, and the astute young social-literary climbers who are Communists now, as they will be Fascists five years hence, because it is all the go, and all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of "progress" like bluebottles to a dead cat.

Famously, there is the attraction of socialist doctrine for "cranks":

One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words "Socialism" and "Communism" draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, "Nature Cure", quack, pacifist and feminist in England.

And finally, rising to an apparent pitch of impotent frustration:

If only the sandals and pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly.

Perhaps more than a little of this is tongue in cheek. One conclusion, however, can be tentatively drawn before moving on: at this stage of his life and intellectual development, Orwell preferred to portray socialism as chiefly a middle class fad and, while he was quite ready to idealize the working class "other" if it came to him in the right shape, he showed virtually no interest in working class politics or social organization as they actually existed.

On returning from Wigan, Orwell and his new wife, Eileen, moved out of London to rent, for seven shillings and six pence a week, a disused cottage in remote Wallington in Hertfordshire which had formerly hosted a village shop. Energetically, he tackled the overgrown garden, sowed vegetables, built a henhouse, bought chickens and geese and introduced into the family the goat Muriel (who was to resurface as a character in Animal Farm) and a black poodle called Marx. He also reopened the shop, selling small grocery items, and sweets to local children.

To believe Orwell a man of the left one must have never read a word he wrote nor observed the life he chose to live.
Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


How a devastating loss in Florida taught Jeb Bush what it takes to win (Karen Tumulty, June 14 , 2015, Washington Post)

It was a typically chaotic afternoon in Judge Kathleen Kearney's Brow­ard County, Fla., courtroom, where she heard dozens of cases a day involving abused and neglected children in foster care.

One father -- a tiny man -- suddenly became agitated. He was speaking in Spanish, and Kearney could not understand him.

A visitor in the courtroom stepped in: "I think he needs to be someplace. He needs someone to translate for him."

So on the spot, Kearney swore in the helpful stranger as an officer of the court. His name, it turned out, was Jeb Bush.

The frantic man was a jockey at a nearby horse track, and the court proceedings were running so late that he was likely to miss his next race. "He's worried, because he's afraid to lose his job. And if he loses his job, he can't get his daughter back," Bush explained.

Bush stayed for hours, until that and every other case had been dealt with. Then, Kearney recalled, Bush asked her: "Can we have lunch next week?"

That was late spring of 1997, a time in his life that Bush now refers to as "wandering around."

But he was far from aimless.

In that period, Bush retooled himself and his image from that of a sometimes cartoonish ideologue into what he is today. Indeed, as he prepares to formally announce his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the question being asked is whether he is strident enough.

Humbled by defeat the first time he ran for office, Bush spent the mid-1990s broadening and deepening his knowledge of how his state worked, forging relationships that softened his profile and striving to talk about what he believed in a way that would bring people together.

"I learned tone," Bush said in an interview. "You can say the same thing that represents your core beliefs in a way that draws people toward your message, rather than pushes people away.

"And that's a lesson in 2016," he added. "To win, you've got to get to 50. To get to 50, you draw people toward your message, not use language that makes the dramatic point, which is effective in political discourse but turns some people away."

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Church shooting forces Charleston, S.C., to confront underlying racial tension (CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE AND KURTIS LEE, 6/19/15, LA Times)

In a state where the Confederate battle flag still flutters over the Capitol grounds, Charleston is a place frequently described as "genteel," and -- because of the abundance of churches -- as "the Holy City." People say it's awkward, if not impolite, to talk about race.

Now, in the aftermath of the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church -- at the hands of a 21-year-old white man fond of white-supremacist symbols, police say -- the subject is inescapable. Many black people say a sense of abiding uneasiness was never far from the surface.

"Black folks remain on edge, especially since this is the South, and we got history," said Clinton Brantley, 73, pastor of St. Matthew Baptist Church in North Charleston.

Kay Hightower, 50, attends Emanuel AME and knew the pastor -- one of the victims -- well.

"People need to take ownership of all the history," she said. "And that's a painful thing to do. Until you have these awkward conversations, you can't get over it."

Hightower said she moved back to South Carolina from New York 11 years ago to raise her family. "It's more racialized down here," she said. "I'm very cognizant of the separation between white people and black people. It's more complicated than to say it's segregated."

She said she was troubled when she heard a politician describe the church massacre as "an attack on Christians," because to her mind that misses the point. The victims in the church "were murdered for the color of their skin," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


Falling Inequality Defies Piketty's Dark Vision (Noah Smith, 6/16/15, Bloomberg View)

A Belarusian immigrant economist who eventually won a Nobel, [Simon] Kuznets helped create the notion of gross domestic product, which measures a society's overall wealth. But Kuznets was concerned with more than just GDP -- he recognized that inequality was a bad thing for society, and that the only good economy was one where a rising tide lifted all boats. 

Kuznets hypothesized that as a society gets rich, inequality first goes up, and then falls. The rationale was simple: in the early stages of industrialization, a flood of workers migrating from farms to cities holds down wages and enriches the owners of land and factories. But when the flood of cheap labor is over, wages will rise and inequality will fall. This hump-shaped pattern was dubbed the Kuznets Curve. It seemed to fit the experience of the rich Western nations, which had seen inequality soar in the Gilded Age, but then plummet after the World Wars. 

Nowadays, people are starting to question the sunny optimism of the Kuznets Curve. Inequality has risen in rich countries as globalization has progressed. People are beginning to turn to the darker prophecies of Thomas Piketty, who claims that inequality will naturally widen until a catastrophe (like the World Wars) strikes. 

But I believe the doomsayers are jumping the gun. If you think of countries as being self-sufficient, isolated units -- as people did in the era of Kuznets -- then you have to be worried. But if you think of the worldwide economy as one integrated unit -- as might be more appropriate in a globalized age -- then you should be encouraged by what the data show. 

Tomas Hellbrandt of the Bank of England and Paolo Mauro of the International Monetary Fund show in a new working paper that global inequality is falling, as poor countries power ahead. The global Gini coefficient -- a standard measure of income inequality -- is falling fast. In 2003 the coefficient was 69 (with 0 being perfect equality and 100 being perfect inequality). In 2013 it was down to 65. If current trends continue, it is on course to reach 61 by 2035. 

Now consider that the developed economies are simply at the point where outsourcing (via trade and immigration) and outright elimination (via software and machines) of labor are once again driving wages downwards--eventually to zero for most people.  As we reach that point the wealth being created will just be redistributed by some mechanism other than wages.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


HOW VOLVO PLANS TO END ALL TRAFFIC FATALITIES BY 2020 (Eric Adams  Posted June 16, 2015, Popular Science)

Short of turning the XC90 into a fully autonomous car, Volvo has used every driverless tool at its disposal. Radar-based cruise control keeps the vehicle a safe distance from traffic ahead. Cameras monitor traffic lines for automatic lane centering. If the car senses you're letting it drift, it vibrates the steering wheel. Radar scans your blind spots, so if you attempt to merge into an occupied lane, an alarm sounds and lights in the side mirror flash.

A lot of that technology has found its way into other vehicles too. But the XC90 takes auto­­mation a step further, into the realm of artificial intelligence. It has software that learns your driving tendencies and, by monitoring your steering, braking, and acceleration patterns, can catch your mistakes before they turn deadly. The car compares your behavior to previous drives. So, if you start jerking the wheel, the center console will flash a text warning advising you to take a break. It's also the first SUV in the world to automatically brake if it's headed toward an oncoming car, cyclist, or pedestrian. The car does this with windshield-mounted radar that scans more than 600 feet ahead, night or day, rain or shine. If a collision is imminent, it will brake even if the driver is pressing the gas.

All of these innovations make the XC90 SUV the crown jewel of Volvo's audacious in-house pledge to eradicate death and serious injury in all of its vehicles by 2020. As such, it even protects you against other drivers' recklessness. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


What Louis Armstrong taught Egypt and the Middle East about itself : Armstrong's encounter with the Middle East was a reflection of the wider socio-political disease of denial and scapegoating in the region--one that just festers with time. (AMRO ALI, 19 June 2015, OpenDemocracy)

If there was one legacy (among many) of president Gamal Abdel Nasser that Egypt could have done without, it is the peculiar suspicion towards foreigners, to the point of embarrassment, that rode the region's pan-Arab nationalism wave in the 1950s and 1960s. A problem that still, in various manifestations, continues until today in institutions, mass media and the public discourse.

Behind the iconic image of legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet at the Pyramids was an artist that you would think had no relation to Egypt's politics and the Middle East conflict. In fact he once stated, "I don't know nothin' about politics", but he was dragged into a mind-boggling controversy.

On his visit to Egypt in 1961, Armstrong was standing in a Cairo hotel lobby packed with over twenty news reporters who asked him if he supported Zionism. It must have been like asking Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez on a visit to Russia what he thought of the imperialist forces in the emerging Vietnamese conflict.

An incredulous Armstrong replied: "What is that Daddy?" The reporters were surprised that an artist, immersed in his own world, was ignorant of their regional issues. The reporters said: "You helped the Jews a lot." Armstrong replied: "Yeah, I help them. I help anybody. I help you. You need help? I help anybody'. He continued: "I'm going to tell you this. I got a trumpet, and I got a young wife, and I ain't got time to fool with none of the stuff you guys talking about."

Armstrong just walked off and left them all in the lobby. [....]

The 1959 Middle East tour, that Nasser referred to, saw a prophetic Armstrong when, in Beirut, sitting around with colleagues and reporters, all smoking hashish, was asked "Say, how come you going playing for them damn Jews down in Israel?" Armstrong replied: "Let me tell you something. When I go down there, the first thing they going to tell me, how come you play for them damn Arabs over there? Let me tell you something, man. That horn", pointing to his prized instrument, "you see that horn? That horn ain't prejudiced. A note's a note in any language."

True enough, when Armstrong landed in Israel, the first question he was asked as to why he plays in Arab countries, a furious Armstrong responded "I told them that you guys were going to say the same damn thing. So ain't none of you no better than the other side. You's as bad as they are, man."

Posted by orrinj at 9:02 AM


The State of the Kurds : With a political win in Turkey, victories over Islamic State and autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Kurds are enjoying a triumphant moment--and thinking of a country of their own (YAROSLAV TROFIMOV, June 19, 2015 WSJ)

The Kurdish awakening has emerged from the upheaval of the 2011 Arab Spring, and it is adding fresh disruption to the region's old order. "The events in Iraq, in Syria and in Turkey have profoundly altered the place of the Kurds in the Middle East--they provide fresh impetus and momentum toward Kurdish independence in some form," said Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador to Iraq and to Syria and is now dean of the Bush School of Government at Texas A&M University. Such Kurdish independence, he cautioned, "could produce permanent fragmentation of Iraq and Syria--and launch a whole new dimension of instability in the Middle East."

Numbering some 30 million people, the Kurds are one of the world's largest ethnic groups without a state of their own, scattered since antiquity in the mountainous lands straddling today's Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Their language, Kurdish, is part of the Indo-European family of languages--close to Persian (Farsi) but unrelated to Arabic or Turkish. Unlike Iranians, who are mostly Shiite Muslims, most Kurds are Sunnis.

After World War I, the Kurds sought self-rule at the 1920 peace negotiations between the defeated Ottoman government and the victorious allies. The resulting Treaty of Sèvres called for the establishment within a year of an independent Kurdistan in what is now southeastern Turkey, with the prospect of quick "voluntary adhesion" to the new country by the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

But the Sèvres accord was dead on arrival. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, denounced it as treasonous and launched a war that led to the abolition of the Ottoman state. The brief glimmer of hope for Kurdish self-rule was extinguished for generations.

In the following decades, Atatürk's fiercely nationalist Turkey denied the very existence of the Kurds, banning their language and officially referring to them as "mountain Turks." By the mid-1980s, a far-left guerrilla movement, the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, was fighting a bloody war against the Turkish state (and against fellow Kurds whom it viewed as collaborators). The fighting ended only after the PKK's leader Abdullah Ocalan, who had been jailed by Turkey since 1999, proclaimed a cease fire in March 2013.

Across the border in Iraq, Kurdish autonomy was sometimes recognized, but Kurdish uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed by successive governments. Repression reached its bloody peak in 1988, when Saddam Hussein's forces used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians during the so-called Anfal campaign. As for Syria, though it backed the PKK against Turkey, it stripped many of its own Kurds of Syrian citizenship. And in Iran, both the shah and the Islamic Republic that overthrew his monarchy in 1979 have suppressed Kurdish aspirations.

The quarreling Kurds, with their alphabet soup of rival political groups, have also repeatedly undermined their own cause. In 1982, Saddam Hussein remarked that he didn't have to worry about the Kurds because they were "hopelessly divided against each other." Indeed, the two main Kurdish factions in Iraq--the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan--fought a devastating civil war the following decade, though they had reconciled by the time the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, ousting Saddam's regime and giving the Kurds an unprecedented opportunity.

All they have to do is decide they are a nation.

June 19, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Despite obstacles, chances grow for final Iran nuclear deal (LOUIS CHARBONNEAU, PARISA HAFEZI AND JOHN IRISH, 6/19/15, Reuters)

One former senior negotiator for one of the six powers told Reuters the chances were as high as 60-40.

For Rouhani, failure to secure an agreement could lead to his political demise. Iran's foreign minister warned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about that earlier this year, saying it would give hardline conservatives who oppose the deal a chance to reassert their authority, Iranian officials said.

"It is very crucial for Rouhani and his camp to clinch this deal," a senior Iranian diplomat told Reuters. "Failure means failure of Rouhani and reforms. It will strengthen the position of his hardline rivals."

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Massachusetts Takes On a Failing School District (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, JUNE 17, 2015, NY Times)

[T]he receiver, a well-known Boston educator named Jeffrey Riley, understood that the turnaround mission required a scalpel, not a bludgeon, and that even sound plans are likely to fail if parents and community leaders, principals and teachers were not convinced to buy into them.

One of the first things Mr. Riley found was that local parents were eager to help with the schools but had been alienated by school officials who essentially told them to stay away from their buildings. Worse, many school officials had come to believe that dismal results were the best that they could do.

He replaced more than a third of the district's principals right away. He also pushed out the least effective teachers -- about 8 percent of the teacher corps -- and cut the central office bureaucracy by about a third, transferring the savings to the schools. He created leadership roles and awards of recognition for excellent teachers and devised a system for continuously moving poor performers out of the district.

Meanwhile, he lengthened the school day in grades K through 8; created programs to provide still more instruction time for struggling students; and developed a dropout prevention effort that actively seeks out at-risk students before they cut their ties to school. Most interesting, the system brought in charter school operators to take charge of some the lowest-performing schools on the condition that they accept students from the neighborhood instead of filling seats through a lottery. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


Why We Celebrate the Magna Carta : THE CHURCH'S ROLE IN GUARANTEEING OUR FREEDOMS (Eric Metaxas|Published: June 15, 2015, Breakpoint)

[I]n 1215, rebellious barons were objecting to what they saw as King John's infringement on their traditional rights, including unlawful imprisonment and excessive taxation.

With the disagreement threatening to turn into a civil war, the Archbishop of Canterbury, working as an intermediary between the King and the barons, helped to draft a proposed charter that would settle the dispute.

The Charter was not limited to the barons' concerns. As historian David Carpenter has written, what made the Magna Carta beloved by the likes of our Founding Fathers and Nelson Mandela was that the Charter "asserted a fundamental principle--the rule of law. The king was beneath the law, the law the Charter itself was making. He could no longer treat his subjects in an arbitrary fashion."

As Carpenter says, "in 1215 itself both John and his enemies would have been astonished had they known that the Charter would live on and be celebrated 800 years hence." In 1216, they fought the war the Charter was intended to avoid. But John's successors reaffirmed their commitment to the Magna Carta, and in 1289 made it part of the laws of England.

Since then, virtually every opponent of despotism and tyranny in the English-speaking world has drawn inspiration from the Magna Carta, which declared, "To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice." When the Founding Fathers complained about "taxation without representation," they were appealing to the Magna Carta.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 PM


Why immigrants make America's crime rate plunge (Matt Hansen, June 19, 2015, The Week)

According to the study, the crime rate in Los Angeles has fallen to historic lows, in line with a nationwide trend. But L.A. -- a city in which 35 percent of residents were not born in the U.S. -- has actually seen crime rates go down at a faster rate than cities with fewer immigrants.

Other research backs up the link. A 2008 study from the Public Policy Institute of California found that despite comprising 35 percent of the state's population, only 17 percent of California's prisoners were foreign-born immigrants. This means that adult males born in the United States were jailed nearly 3.3 times more often than men born outside the country.

And a 2009 study from the Rand Corporation found that kids growing up in first-generation immigrant households were less likely to be victims of violence than kids growing up in U.S.-born households, even when they lived in the same low-income neighborhoods. The researchers said their findings indicated that living in an immigrant household was "a protective mechanism even in distressed neighborhoods" where violence was common.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:44 AM


Pete Christlieb / Warne Marsh: Apogee

Tenor sax duos have long held an honored place in jazz.  Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt (egged on by Dizzy; see ATJ #7), Dexter Gordon and Wardell on "The Chase", Johnny Griffin and Lockjaw Davis, and countless jam sessions from New York to Kansas City to Los Angeles.  Often these encounters are described as "battles" or "cutting sessions" with the sense that the participants are combatants, striving to vanquish the competition.  And, often, that perception is correct.

Apogee features two great tenor men, Pete Christlieb and Warne Marsh, going toe-to-toe, but this album is a conversation, not a brawl.  What makes this recording so interesting is the contrast in sounds and styles: Christlieb, an alumnus of the Johnny Carson-era Tonight Show band and the tenor soloist on pop hits such as Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues" and the Nat Cole/Natalie Cole "Unforgettable," is a musical extrovert, preaching to the audience with a propulsive, bluesy and rhythmic attack.  Marsh, a student of jazz iconoclast Lennie Tristano and frequent collaborator with alto player Lee Konitz, played with a more introverted and intellectual tone and style.  His solos often sound like the inner monologue of a person working through a problem in his head, with ideas flowing in eddys, switchbacks and lunges forward.  And if Pete's sound sound can be described as robust, like a big Napa Cabernet,  Warne's is as astringent as straight gin.  

Although this album is about as straight-ahead as jazz can get, it owes its existence to the leaders (and, in reality, only members of) Steely Dan, one of the most popular rock groups of the 1970's and '80's.  Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, two self-confessed music nerds and jazz fans, featured Christlieb on "Deacon Blues" (from their phenomenally successful Aja album, which also featured tenor heroes Wayne Shorter and Tom Scott) and decided to use their commercial muscle at Warner Music to release this Christlieb/Marsh pairing.  According to some on-line stories, the relationship did not go well.  Becker and Fagen were used to over-producing...to put it mildly...their recordings, while jazz guys like Pete, Warne and pianist Lou Levy, were used to a looser recording atmosphere and less control from the producers.  In fact, Christlieb later said that after the session in LA, Becker and Fagen took the tapes to New York for post-production, and Pete never heard anything until the album was released.  Certainly the sound on the album, especially the LP version, is more compressed and manipulated than a typical acoustic jazz record.  While Levy's piano does not quite have the Fender Rhodes sound of the electric keyboards used by Steely Dan, it doesn't quite sound like an acoustic grand piano either.  I'm not a fan of the overall sound of the album, but the over-dubbing towards the end of "Magna-tism" which gives the impression of 4 saxes playing is kind of cool and reminds me of  Supersax (ATJ #22), a group that Pete and Warne both played with on occasion.

All of the cuts here are worth repeated listening.  The opener,  "Magna-tism" (based on the chord changes of "Just Friends"), starts with the two saxes improvising together, without accompaniment, leading into the head.  This kind of open improvisation happens often throughout the record, and it is amazing how, at times, Marsh and Christlieb end up improvising in harmony.  Pete solos first, followed by Warne, so it is a good chance for you to get their respective sounds and styles in your ears.  "317 E 32nd" is a winding Tristano tune (based on the changes of  "Out of Nowhere").  Marsh opens with the head and solo, followed by Lou Levy and then Christlieb.  "Rapunzel" is Becker/Fagen's stab at writing a bebop/hard bop tune (based on the changes of Burt Bachrach's "Land of Make Believe"...a song I do not know)..  The head is ok, but they are better at rock hooks, and should leave this stuff to Benny Golson and Horace Silver. "Rapunzel" does feature a nice solo by bassist Jim Hughart.  (A note about the rhythm section here...although all 3, Levy, Hughart and drummer Nick Ceroli are all fine players...especially Levy...I don't think their playing here is up to the level of the sax players.  I've been listening to this album since it came out more than 35 years ago, and before writing this review, have never found myself rewinding to hear something from the piano, bass or drum.  Maybe it was their job here just to lay down the groove and to stay out of the way of Marsh and Christlieb, but a little more from the trio would have elevated this from a merely terrific album to an all-time great.)

"Donna Lee" is the cut that got me hooked on this record back in high school...Charlie Parker's re-working of "Indiana" is one of the great bebop anthems.  Here Pete and Warne play the head just a step off beat from each other, which seems incredibly complicated if you try to play or sing along with it, but comes off naturally, and breathes new life into the tune.  They then each play great, and totally in-character, solos, with Pete going first, all ballsy and hard-charging, then Warne, sly and snakey.  The LP ended with Pete swinging his way through the ballad "I'm Old Fashioned."  But the CD version contains 3 more excellent cuts, all of which are the equal of the primary 6 songs....I'm not sure whether this says more about the time limits of the 33 rpm or the tastes of Becker and Fagen.  The bonus track "How About You?" may be one of the best cuts of all.  A great tune with two great stylists playing their butts off.

As I was listening and preparing this post, it provided inspiration for 2 upcoming ATJ's: a review of Aja, which despite being one of the most critically-acclaimed rock albums of the '70's is filled with jazz and jazz influences; and a review of Gary Chen's "They Call Me Stein on Vine," the rollicking memoir of a Taiwenese immigrant who becomes an employee, and later the owner, of the iconic music store and gathering spot for jazz musicians in Los Angeles. Stay tuned.

June 18, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


With 6,000 new warehouse jobs, what is Amazon really delivering? (Jessica Bruder, June 17, 2015, Reuters)

On his 2013 jobs tour, President Barack Obama stopped to deliver a speech at the aforementioned Amazon warehouse in Chattanooga. The audience cheered when he called for restoring the middle class through "good jobs with good wages." But today that same warehouse is hiring at $11.25 an hour. That's $23,400 annually, or $850 below the poverty line for a family of four.

Hourly wages at the other warehouses listed in Amazon's recent hiring announcement range from $11 in Jefferson, Indiana to $12.75 an hour in Robbinsville, New Jersey and Windsor, Connecticut.

Even by industry standards, those are some thin paychecks. Wal-Mart pays distribution center employees an average hourly wage of $19, said a spokesman for that company.

Meanwhile, Amazon's treatment of warehouse workers has been under scrutiny since 2011, when an investigation by the Allentown Morning Call newspaper revealed what were -- quite literally -- sweatshop conditions. When summer temperatures exceeded 100 degrees inside the company's Breinigsville, Pennsylvania warehouse, managers would not open the loading bay doors for fear of theft. Instead, they hired paramedics to wait outside in ambulances, ready to extract heat-stricken employees on stretchers and in wheelchairs, the investigation found. Workers also said they were pressured to meet ever-greater production targets, a strategy colloquially known as "management by stress."

Amazon declined to answer the newspaper's specific questions about working conditions in the warehouse but, eight months after the story was released, company officials announced that they'd spent $52 million to retrofit warehouses with air conditioning.

In my own interviews with dozens of Amazon warehouse workers, I've heard reports of repetitive stress injuries, pain and exhaustion. (Some called themselves "Amazombies." Others said they tried to think of the job as a free fitness program.)

Those issues relate to job quality. What about job quantity?

On the same day Amazon announced 6,000 new hires, teams from around the globe competed in the first-ever "Amazon Picking Challenge" in Seattle. Their goal? Build robots that can "pick" shelved items -- in this case, the objects ranged from rubber ducks to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - with enough dexterity to someday replace human hands. (Amazon already has some 15,000 Kiva robots that transport shelves of merchandise to human "pickers," but the act of picking has proved much harder to automate.)

Amazon maintains a very low headcount for its sales volume, which rose to $89 billion last year. Amazon creates just 17 jobs for every $10 million in sales, according to figures in its annual report. Compare that with traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, which create jobs at more than twice that rate: 42 positions for each $10 million in sales, according to an analysis of census data by the nonprofit Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

"From a regional perspective, this is clearly not a path to greater employment and more economic activity," said Stacy Mitchell, the organization's director. 

Losing forty pounds was worth some repetitive motion problems.
Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


The VAT is back (but don't use the V word)  (Alan D. Viard, June 18, 2015, AEIdeas)

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) unveiled his plan to "blow up the tax code and start over." His plan makes him the most recent public figure to propose a value added tax (VAT).

Senator Paul's plan would repeal the Social Security and Medicare payroll and self-employment taxes, the corporate income tax, the estate and gift tax, tariffs, and some excise taxes. And, it would dramatically reduce individual income taxes, slashing rates to a flat 14.5% and offering a $50,000 exemption for a family of four while maintaining the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.

Of course, repealing and reducing those taxes would cause a large revenue loss. The plan would make up a little of the revenue loss by eliminating income tax deductions, other than for charitable contributions and mortgage interest. It would look to unspecified spending cuts to make up part of the revenue loss. But, the plan's biggest revenue offset is a new 14.5% VAT.

Posted by orrinj at 11:44 AM


Meet the New Common Core (JORDAN ELLENBERG, JUNE 16, 2015, NY Times)

What's replacing the Common Core is, by and large, the same thing in a new package.

Standardized tests certainly aren't going anywhere. States that have dumped exams aligned with the Common Core aren't dumping high-stakes testing; they're just switching to new tests, like the ACT's Aspire. (Other ACT offerings include the Explore, the Engage and the Compass. Apparently standardized tests are titled by the same people who name midsize sedans.)

Frequent testing is locked in by federal funding requirements and, in many states, by accountability statutes long predating the Common Core. Just recently, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey announced that his administration was moving to abandon the Common Core curriculum but sticking with the corresponding state exam, all but conceding that the new standards would be essentially identical with the old.

And what about the material itself? Will new standards banish the homework problems that make Louis C.K.'s kids cry? I doubt it. The South Carolina Education Oversight Committee found that the new South Carolina math standards were 92 percent in alignment with the content of the Common Core. In other words, the math they're asking students to learn is largely the same. [...]

True, the new South Carolina standards are 92 percent aligned with the Common Core. But the Common Core was 97 percent aligned with the math standards South Carolina was using before! The term "number sentence," which the comedian Stephen Colbert mocked, is 50 years old, and the kind of problem it describes appears in textbooks from the 1920s.

Posted by orrinj at 11:37 AM


Report: Hamas mulling long-term ceasefire with Israel (TIMES OF ISRAEL, June 16, 2015)

Leading members of Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas convened in Qatar over the past several days to discuss a proposal for a long-term ceasefire with Israel, the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper reported Monday.

According to Palestinian officials quoted by the paper, Hamas representative Moussa Abu Marzouk went to the Qatari capital of Doha on Saturday in the hopes of finalizing a three-to-five year truce with the Jewish state. [...]

The Qatari proposal pushed by Ahmadi involves a long-term ceasefire, ending the blockade of Gaza, inviting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government back into the Strip and giving him control of the border crossings, rehabilitating Gaza, and constructing a seaport and an airport.

The truce proposal reportedly includes a clause regarding the establishment of a seaport in Gaza, NRG reported.

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Why Bloggers Are Calling It Quits : The Internet can be a rough place for writers. (Amy Julia Becker, 6/12/15, Christianity Today)

Blogging itself--its immediacy, its informality, its conversational tone--is fleeting. There's always an occasion for another update, another issue to comment on.

With such a transient, "what next?" mindset, bloggers and tweeters may experience what media theorist Douglas Rushkoff calls "present shock." In his book of the same name, Rushkoff explains, "Our society has reoriented itself to the present moment. Everything is live, real time, and always-on. It's not a mere speeding up... It's more of a diminishment of anything that isn't happening right now--and the onslaught of everything that supposedly is." Our focus upon the present leads to "narrative collapse," the end of storytelling, the end of understanding our place in the world as something with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Perhaps writers like Andrew Sullivan--and storytellers like Louis C. K. and Joss Whedon--are responding to the tyranny of the present when they refuse to remain beholden to the constant information cycle of blogging and tweeting and posting photos online. Perhaps they refuse to believe in the inevitability of narrative collapse.

...when the immediate refuses to conform to your narrative. If your narrative is correct the news of the day just confirms it. 

Consider the folks like Mr. Sullivan who wanted to believe the Unicorn Rider was a revolutionary figure. For them, the past 7 years have been bewildering and psychically disturbing.  If you, instead, understood him to be the protypical organizational man, who would go along to get along, then his invariance from prior administrations is not just predictable but endlessly amusing.

Posted by orrinj at 11:16 AM


How Detroit is rising from the ashes (Ravender Sembhy, June 16, 2015, IBT)

Investors, convinced that they are buying at the bottom in anticipation that the only way is up, have been snapping up real estate at rock bottom prices. Dan Gilbert, a Detroit born billionaire, has become the poster boy of such investment. Hailed as Detroit's saviour in some quarters, he has pumped $1.7bn into buying up 70 major buildings and has promised to restore several to their former glory.

Quicken Loans, the mortgage firm Gilbert owns, has moved thousands of employees downtown and the tycoon is now encouraging other businesses to follow suit through his "Opportunity Detroit" scheme.

Speaking last week to an audience of entrepreneurs, Gilbert spoke of his vision for the city. "We have to create an environment, a garden for small businesses to grow. It's hard to go to New York and make a splash, and we use that as a sell line. Here you can impact a great American city." [...]

Last week billionaire Richard Branson also got in on the act, travelling to Detroit to celebrate Virgin Atlantic's new route from London. He aims to attract business travellers, pointing to the changing picture of the city.

"Detroit is beginning to boom again and we want to play our part in helping the mayor make this city great again."

Parallel to Gilbert - and sometimes in conjunction with him - trendy cafes and restaurants have been springing up in increasing number as budding entrepreneurs enjoy cheap rents and low start-up and staffing costs.

In the last year alone, 30 restaurants have opened up and Detroit is now home to the highest concentration of designers in the US. There are also 1,300 urban community farms that produce enough fruit and vegetables to supply 20% of the city.

Art is also flourishing. The Heidelberg project, designed to improve peoples' lives through art, is just one of a number of creative initiatives. Murals, graffiti and street art are spearheading Detroit's beautification.

The city is now seen as on its way to gentrification and, ultimately, resurrection.

June 17, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 PM


Sessions: Fast Track Would Lead to 3 Pacts Encompassing 90% of World GDP (DANIEL HALPER, 6/17/15, Weekly Standard)

Senator Jeff Sessions is worried that the adoption of the Trans-Pacific Partnership would lead to an "historic international regulatory Commission" that would eoncmpass 90 percent of the world's GDP.

Universal free trade is within the reach of our Republican president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Some House Democrats Question Fast-Track Strategy ( ISAAC STANLEY-BECKER, 6/15/15, WSJ)

The prospect that lawmakers could move forward with a version of fast-track trade negotiating authority unlinked to a workers' aid program made some House Democrats, prepared last week to declare victory over President Barack Obama's trade agenda, fear they may have outsmarted themselves.

Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D., Ill.) said he is having second thoughts about voting against the program, Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, which provides aid to workers harmed by trade. House Democrats on Friday revolted against the aid program, ordinarily a Democratic priority, as a way to scuttle fast-track power. In the House, the measures were linked such that neither could reach Mr. Obama's desk without the other. That may now change.

Mr. Gutiérrez said he cast his vote against reauthorizing workers' aid under the "mistaken belief" that it would sink trade for good. "They told us if this loses, we all go home," he said. "I now believe anything can happen."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


Why Do Some Doctors Reject Evolution? : Presidential hopeful Ben Carson isn't the only practitioner who's got some doubts. (FRANCIE DIEP, MAY 19, 2015, Pacific Standard)

All of the physicians Pacific Standard talked with, both on and off the record, had the same answer to "How is it possible?": Although doctors use many insights from biology, many don't actually need to understand or believe in evolution correctly to do their jobs.

"Most physicians are not scientists. This is not a knock, but they're more akin to engineers," Gorski says. "They take science that's already known and they apply it to a problem, the problem being making patients better."

"Routine medical care doesn't require a whole lot of thinking about underlying biology or evolution," says Gilbert Omenn, a doctor and researcher at the University of Michigan. "The why and even the how is not essential, if you have good published evidence that something works and you've seen it work in some of your patients, then it's enough to try and help your patient as best you can."

...Evolutionary Theory has no practical applications, so practitioners are unlikely to believe in it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 PM


The Catholic Church Wasn't Always a Fan of Religious Liberty : Celebrating 50 years of Vatican II's Digitatis Humanae (DANIEL PHILPOTT, 6/15/15, Aleteia)

This coming December 7th, the Catholic Church will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty.

Of all of the Council's teachings, Dignitatis Humanae evoked the hottest debate and broke most sharply with the past.  A great enthusiast for the document, I recall sharing my interest with my Protestant grandmother: "Well, it was about time," she shot back tartly.

Why indeed did the Catholic Church take so long to embrace a principle that Protestants had discovered three centuries earlier and that Enlightenment philosophers had proclaimed two centuries earlier?

The Church's opposition to capitalism, democracy and protestantism were just reactionary.
Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


Military-wise, There Is No Europe (Jyri Raitasalo, 6/16/15, ISN)

The differences between the 30-ish European states, and their conflicting depictions of threats and military priorities, are so staggering when compared to the military capability of the United States that Washington should not expect a militarily capable Europe as an ally anytime soon. Even if statesman in Europe did what they promise at NATO summits (such as the constant unfulfilled commitments to commit 2% of GDP to defense) the lack of cohesion and the almost 30 different security and defense priorities of European states mean that the United States can only really hope for political support and rhetorical solidarity. European-wide military capabilities, interests and the expeditionary tradition just are not there. And very likely it will not develop anytime soon. Military-wise there is no Europe!

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 PM


The consequences of the Magna Carta : How the Great Charter signalled the eventual end of tyranny. (Nicholas Vincent | Jun 15 2015, MercatorNet)

Magna Carta did not put an end to royal tyranny. Henry III and his successors were capable of ruling just as badly as King John. Kings continued to make war for their own glory rather than for the public good. Taxes continued to mount. Several of the clauses of Magna Carta went unenforced. Judicial visitation of the counties, for example, remained a haphazard affair. Justice continued to favour the rich over the poor. The influential remained more powerful than those without influence at court. Even so, within society at large, the repeated and frequent reissue of the charter encouraged the growth of a belief in essential rights and liberties standing above the authority of any particular king. On occasion, when baronial or local discontent boiled over, as it did in 1258, 1264 and again in 1297, there were calls not only for the reissue of Magna Carta but for root and branch reform of royal government on behalf of the 'community of the realm'. This 'community', first referred to in the security clause of the Runnymede charter, came to play an increasingly significant role in politics, as the King's need for taxation led to the summoning of 'parliaments' (literally 'speakings together'). Here the barons were expected to approve taxation in return for the hearing of petitions and the redress of their own particular grievances.

Magna Carta did not itself create 'Parliament'. Nonetheless, by requiring that taxation be imposed only after consultation with the 'common counsel of the realm', Magna Carta in many ways pointed the way to the emergence of parliamentary government. Above all, by insisting that there were rights and customs that stood above the authority of any particular king, Magna Carta, in its many reissues and confirmations, embedded the sense that England was a land of liberties. Even the most powerful of tyrants, the charter suggested, would now have to answer to the rule of law.

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


CDC announces abstinence is best method for avoiding STDs (Bob Kellogg, 6/15/15, OneNewsNow.com)

To the surprise of abstinence education supporters, newly released CDC guidelines say that abstinence is "the best way" to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

Rather than saying abstinence is "a reliable way" to avoid STDs - as stated in the 2010 guidelines - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just released revised guidelines saying abstinence is "the most reliable way."

June 16, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 PM


US Drone Strike Kills Al Qaida's Second Ranking Leader (Natalie Johnson,  June 16, 2015, Daily Signal)

Al-Qaida confirmed Tuesday a CIA drone strike killed its second in command, Nasir al-Wuhayshi.

Al-Wuhayshi also commanded the terrorist group's Yemen affiliate, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the deadliest branch of the global network according to U.S. officials. The group said in a video statement two operatives were additionally killed.

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


More College Rape Hype -- This Time from the Washington Post (K.C. JOHNSON AND STUART TAYLOR JR., 6/16/15, Weekly Standard)

Since 2012, the New York Times has led the way in systematically biased coverage of on-campus sexual assault allegations and how colleges are responding. The paper has relentlessly hyped the issue, has smeared quite possibly innocent students while omitting evidence that they were innocent, and has cheered efforts to presume guilt and deny due process for the accused. It has also parroted egregiously misleading statistical claims used by the Obama administration and others to portray the campus rape problem, which is clearly serious, as an out-of-control "epidemic," which it clearly is not. (In fact, the campus rate rape has plunged in the past 20 years.)

Now the Washington Post has joined a race to the bottom among the legacy media, in a June 12 package of two very long front-page articles and a third inside the paper that includes both the results of a Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll and detailed interviews of some respondents. The main headline: "1 in 5 women say they were violated." The articles and the poll purport to confirm claims by the administration, its congressional supporters, most of the media, and campus activists that around 20 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted while at school. In this portrayal, the nation's campuses are hotbeds of violent crime.

But like many other advocacy polls on sexual assault, the Post-Kaiser poll misleads readers--most of whom surely will assume that "sexual assault" means criminal sexual assault--by using that criminally charged phrase for shock value in the articles while deliberately avoiding it in the survey questions. As detailed below, those questions are so broad as to invite survey respondents to complain about virtually any encounter that they later regretted, including many that were not sexual assault or rape as defined by law.

Establishing that pre-marital sex is always assault is a cultural victory.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Kurds celebrate fall of Syrian border town, another blow to Islamic State ( Dominique Soguel, JUNE 16, 2015, CS Monitor)

The fall of the strategic Syrian border town of Tel Abyad represents a significant blow to the self-described Islamic State, for which the town was a key transit point for its men and materiel.

The capture of Tel Abyad also marked the second major victory over IS forces for the US-backed Kurdish forces and their allies, prompting much celebration Tuesday.

Getting them to take towns gets them to cluster enough that we can kill them.

Posted by orrinj at 2:44 PM


Does This Ex-Con Know the NBA Better Than LeBron (Pat Jordan, 6/16/15, New York)

A few days before Easter, at 8:30 a.m., Donaghy and I are sitting at the kitchen counter of his modest townhouse in Sarasota, studying his website, Refpicks. It's a handicapping service for sports gamblers that employs a dozen other handicappers around the country who specialize in sports other than basketball. Donaghy himself only makes picks for the NBA, using his knowledge of the officials for each game. "I'm the only handicapper in the country who bases his picks on the refs," he says. He's successful roughly 60 percent of the time -- that's about five points higher than most professional gamblers, which means that in the world of sports gambling, the name Tim Donaghy is gold. In the real world, that name is mud. Donaghy is usually referred to in the media with a prefix, like a tail pinned to a donkey: "disgraced referee" Tim Donaghy. [...]

"The NBA is entertainment, too, not sports," he says. And the refs are the closest thing the league has to dramaturges. They can make a big difference, even when they don't mean to: A few years ago, an academic study demonstrated that in the NBA, the referees confer an advantage on the home team. Particular refs respond in particular ways, of course, which is something that a veteran like Tim Donaghy knows. He also knows which refs have histories with which players and which coaches, and a pretty good sense of how those histories will play out on the court. He knows which coaches can bully refs and which can't, and he knows which refs are especially likely to defer to superstars or to give an advantageous call to one team or player to make up for an earlier mistake. These are all small effects, but they add up, and, especially in the playoffs, when games tend to be tight, they can explain why one team advances while another goes home -- and why some gamblers win while others don't. 

Donaghy works seven days a week, an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half at night. The day I'm with him, at precisely 9 a.m., Donaghy receives a phone call from Danny Biancullo, a.k.a. "Danny B," a northeastern handicapper and sports-talk-radio-show host. Biancullo has the gravelly voice one would expect of a sports handicapper. He mentions the name of another gambler to Donaghy and says, "This guy loves ya, pal."

Donaghy says, "He's on an eight-to-one win streak, 30 G's."

Danny B complains about the northeastern weather. "Still snowing. My Maserati won't drive in the snow." Then, "How's Molly?" Donaghy says, "Molly's good. How's your son?" Danny B says, "He's playing the saxophone now. I can't concentrate on the games."

They discuss two NBA games, and Donaghy offers his thoughts about the referees managing each. One of them, he says, "can be controlled" -- lobbied by a coach into giving favorable calls to that team. As it happens, that referee is officiating a game featuring an especially skilled lobbyist. He suggests betting on that coach's team. The other game's ref not only "can't be controlled," he won't even give the home team a typical home advantage. Donaghy suggests picking against them. That night, both his picks covered their spread and were winners for him.

Donaghy doesn't much watch the NBA, and when he does he just studies video of the last few minutes of games that ended with a controversy. "I'll look for a ref's missed calls," he says. "In a Cleveland game in March, a Cleveland player kicked the ball out of bounds but the ref missed it and gave the ball to Cleveland. Now after the game, when he sees video showing his mistake, it'll affect the ref's next game with Cleveland. He feels he owes that visiting team a call. So I look for that next Cleveland game with that ref and that same visiting team. Sometimes, too, if a coach complains about a ref to the media, that ref will want to stick it up his ass the next time he works that coach's game." Game 2 of this year's finals is a good example -- two calls late in overtime went against LeBron James, a phenomenon so unusual the announcers couldn't stop talking about it. "LeBron James was clobbered on a shot and no whistle was called," Donaghy tells me after Game 2 -- calls the NBA later acknowledged the officials had missed. "There's no logical reason for ref Tony Brothers not to call that foul. It could've cost Cleveland the game. Just like those two no-foul calls in overtime on jump balls. The league's lucky Cleveland won Game 2 or those three blown fouls could've determined the series."

These are the kinds of plays Donaghy focuses on, trying to determine whether the ref made the right call, blew it accidentally, or blew it for a reason -- a vendetta against a coach, say. If the ref just blew the call accidentally, then the next game he might feel compelled to give that team a few extra calls, he says. If he blew a call on purpose, then Donaghy figures he'll do that whenever he faces that coach again.

Of course, the NBA denies that its referees are influenced in this way, or that they'd ever feel obligated to give a team a makeup call (though the idea is so common that television announcers invoke it to explain confusing calls). The great insight of his operation is that refs are petty creatures at the center of an extremely high-stakes environment. Donaghy says refs are paid in the low-to-mid six figures, plus expenses and a few hundred dollars per diem. "We're on the road 27 days a month during the season," he says, "which is fine, if you've got a bad marriage." He says refs are small-minded men with big egos "who resent the fact they don't get the recognition the players do. They think the fans come to see them. So they hotdog it, like Joey Crawford." That's a ref Donaghy reportedly once punched out in a fit of anger. "If a player's ready to shoot a free throw, Crawford will grab the ball from him and rush over to the scorer's table and begin screaming about something." That way, he knows the cameras will follow him.

Posted by orrinj at 2:33 PM


Saudis Above, Houthis Next Door, and Death All Around (SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS, JUNE 15, 2015, Foreign Policy)

Since the beginning of June, analysts and residents in the capital say, the bombing campaign has entered a new phase: Planes have begun targeting the homes of Saudi Arabia's enemies, rather than just military targets.Planes have begun targeting the homes of Saudi Arabia's enemies, rather than just military targets. Civilians have found themselves increasingly caught in the crossfire.

The street where the Amari family lived was home to the residences of Saleh's nephew and his brothers. They weren't home at the time. Earlier this month, the house of Saleh's son, Ahmed Ali, was bombed, as was his office, which is located near a popular Internet cafe in Sanaa. On Sunday night, June 14, the home of a close Houthi ally in the Faj Attan area of Sanaa was also bombarded.

"They are trying to terrorize and punish their opponents," said Maged al-Madhaji, a Sanaa-based political researcher, adding that Saleh's allies do not sleep in their homes anymore. "It's an idiotic strategy and it's a sign of their failure. They don't know what to do. They can't win this war from the air."

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Underage drinking is down: Are teens partying less? (Gretel Kauffman, JUNE 16, 2015, CS Monitor)

A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that the rates of underage drinking among young people ages 12 to 20 fell from 28.8 percent in 2002 to 22.7 percent in 2013. 

Underage binge drinking is also on the decline. In 2002, 19.3 percent of teens reported consuming five or more drinks at a time, compared to 14.2 percent in 2013. 

Drinking isn't the only wild behavior that teenagers have cut down on. Research shows that rates of sexual activity, cigarette use, and physical fighting among young people have also dropped. 

June 15, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 PM


Scott Brown goes from Senate to cycle assembly (Casey Conley, 6/14/15, fosters.com)

If you bought a bike from Gus' Bike Shop in North Hampton in the past few months, there's a good chance it was put together by Scott Brown.

The former Republican U.S. senator from Massachusetts started volunteering at the store in December, about a month after narrowly losing the Senate race to Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. Since then, Brown has learned the basics of bike maintenance and repair. He's also assembled almost 40 bikes under the guidance of longtime mechanic Dean Merrill.

"Back in December, I came in and said, 'Listen, I don't need a job, I don't need any money, but I've always wanted to learn how to put together and take apart bikes'," Brown said during a recent interview.

Brown is an avid cyclist and tri-athlete who owns a high-end Felt racing bike, but he came in with relatively little experience in bike repair. He's starting to feel more confident and he's served as the on-site bike mechanic for recent cycling events in Rye.

"I kind of like it. It gets me out of the house and it gets me doing different things," he said.

During a recent visit to Gus' Bike Shop on Lafayette Road, Brown took a break from truing a bike wheel to discuss presidential politics, the New Hampshire primary, Congressman Frank Guinta's illegal campaign contributions and his plans for the future.

No one will miss jobs.
Posted by orrinj at 8:37 PM


Libya says former al-Qaeda leader killed in US strike (Al Jazeera, 15 Jun 2015)

Libya's recognised government says that the leader of an al-Qaeda-linked group in Algeria, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has been killed in a coordinated attack with the US.

Earlier on Sunday, the US Department of Defence said the US military conducted a counterterrorism strike against an al-Qaeda-associated target in Libya on Saturday night, but were assessing results before providing more details.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


The Progressive Death of Comedy (Anthony Sacramone, June 15, 2015, Intercollegiate Review)

Christopher Lasch diagnosed this condition as early as 1979, when he wrote:

Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience. His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. . . .

For the narcissist, the world is a mirror, whereas the rugged individualist saw it as an empty wilderness to be shaped to his own design.

Everything comes down to power: who has it, who defines it, who wants it. In the '60s, "political" comics shared a wink and a nod with fans as to who was due a beat-down, a comeuppance, a reversal of fortune. The power was Johnson or Nixon, the big chemical companies that manufactured napalm, the military-industrial complex, the KKK and its think-alikes--even the networks themselves. When the Smothers Brothers (whose writers included Steve Martin and Rob Reiner) started doing sly political humor, stinging critiques of the Vietnam War, guns, and even censorship, CBS canceled the Emmy-winning variety show.

But now the one perceived as having the power--even as much as the one-percenters, the banks, the NSA--is the celebrity comic himself. He must audition for the right to deliver a pointed opinion as if it were just one more entitlement. Big names like Seinfeld, Rock, and Maher--rich, famous--have to prove they're worthy of their privilege before their observations on the economy, civil rights, domestic spying, dating, marriage, you name it, are given a fair hearing.

The comic is barely performer anymore; he is more the audience. It's his or her job to applaud the people in the seats for being exactly who they are, the evolutionary high-water mark of sensitivity to other people's powerlessness, which is just a projection of their own inner insecurities and dissatisfactions.

What's lost in all this talk is what's funny.

June 14, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Brownback Finds Himself on Wrong Side of a Tax Hike (ERIC PIANIN, 6/14/15, The Fiscal Times)

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback - the supply side Republican who made his reputation by slashing income taxes in hopes of boosting his state's economy -- now finds himself on the wrong side of the tax issue.

With his state facing large deficits because of a chronic deficiency in tax revenues brought on by the governor's zealous tax cuts shortly after taking office, Brownback reluctantly asked the state legislature to raise sales and cigarette taxes to help close a yawning budget deficit. Without it, he warned, the state would have to make deep and dangerous cuts to schools, prison and other programs.

Just transition all the state's taxes to consumption taxes and raise or lower them as needed.

June 13, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


American Hegemony Is Here to Stay : U.S. hegemony is now as firm as or firmer than it has ever been, and will remain so for a long time to come. (Salvatore Babones, June 11, 2015, National Interest)

Cycles of hegemony run in centuries, not decades (or seasons). When the United Kingdom finally defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, its national resources were completely exhausted. Britain's public-debt-to-GDP ratio was over 250 percent, and early nineteenth-century governments lacked access to the full range of fiscal and financial tools that are available today. Yet the British Century was only just beginning. The Pax Britannica and the elevation of Queen Victoria to become empress of India were just around the corner.

By comparison, America's current public-debt-to- GDP ratio of less than 80 percent is relatively benign. Those with even a limited historical memory may remember the day in January 2001 when the then chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, testified to the Senate Budget Committee that "if current policies remain in place, the total unified surplus will reach $800 billion in fiscal year 2011. . . . The emerging key fiscal policy need is to address the implications of maintaining surpluses." [...]

The U.S. Census Bureau has projected that China's working-age population would reach its peak in 2014 and then go into long-term decline. In the twenty years from 2014 to 2034, China's working-age population will fall by eighty-seven million, while its elderly population will rise by 149 million. In the language of economic punditry, China will "grow old before it grows rich."

The U.S. population, by contrast, is young and growing. In 2034, the U.S. population is projected to be growing at a rate of 0.6 percent per year (compared to -0.2 percent in China), with substantial immigration of talented, productive people (compared to net emigration from China). The U.S. median age of 39.2 will be significantly younger than the Chinese median age of 44.8. Over the long term these trends may change, but the twenty-year scenario is almost certain, because for the most part it has already happened. Economic trends can turn on a dime, but demographic trends are mostly immutable: tomorrow's child-bearers have already been born. [...]

[T]he effective borders of the American polity extend well beyond the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. If the Edward Snowden leaks have revealed nothing else, they have shown the depth of intelligence cooperation between the United States and its English-speaking allies Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These are the so-called Five Eyes countries. These English-speaking allies work so closely with the United States on security issues that they resemble ancient Rome's Italian allies. Despite their formal political independence, they do not make major strategic decisions without considering America's interests as well as their own.

Curiously, America's English-speaking allies resemble the United States in their demographic structures as well. While East Asia's birthrates have fallen well below replacement levels and parts of continental Europe face outright depopulation, the English-speaking countries have stable birthrates and substantial immigration. The most talented people in the world don't always move to the United States, but more often than not they move to English-speaking countries. It doesn't hurt that English is the global lingua franca as well as the language of the Internet.

One surprising result of these trends is that the once-unfathomable demographic gap between China and the English-speaking world is narrowing. According to U.S. Census Bureau projections, in 2050 the U.S. population will be 399 million and rising by 0.5 percent per year while the Chinese population will be 1.304 billion and falling by 0.5 percent per year. Throw in America's four English-speaking allies, and the combined five-country population will be 546 million--nearly 42 percent of China's population--with a growth rate of 0.4 percent per year. No longer will China have the overwhelming demographic advantage that has historically let it punch above its economic weight.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


After Netherlands, Germany victories, USMNT riding wave of confidence into Gold Cup (Andy Edwards Jun 10, 2015, ProSoccerTalk)

Winning this summer's edition of the Gold Cup (July 7-26) represents the loftiest goal the USMNT is bound to chase over the next 24 months.

Perhaps the better question is this: when was the last time the USMNT prepared to enter a major tournament (Gold Cup or World Cup) with this kind of momentum and so obivously full of confidence? Following victories over the Netherlands (last Friday) and Germany (Wednesday), the USMNT finds itself in possession of just that -- an abnormal amount of momentum and belief. [...]

In Michael Bradley, Klinsmann's side (finally) has its undisputed leader and most influential player turning in some of the best performances of his prolific career. In Kyle Beckerman, the USMNT (finally) has exactly the kind of player -- a defensive shield in midfield -- that allows Bradley to perform at his very best. In Jordan Morris, the Yanks have a breath of fresh air and (finally) the kind of unexpected game-changer they've craved for so long, in the form of a 20-year-old college kid.

...but beating two of the World Cup final four teams on their own soil in one week is even better.  And, best of all, despite playing his Germans too much, Jurgen seems to have conceded the reality that what can make the USMNT uniquely dangerous is the pace and power of our forward players--Zardes, Yedlin, Morris, Wood, Agudelo, Johannsson, etc.  One player he really needs to add to the team is Andrew Farrell, who'd add the same qualities from the back line.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


The case for moving to New Hampshire, in one chart (Dylan Matthews, October 7, 2014, Vox)

The OECD -- a club of various rich, developed countries -- recently unveiled a new dataset on well-being across the world, which they measure holistically, taking into account everything from the murder rates to unemployment levels to broadband access. Conveniently, they broke the numbers down not just by nation but by region. Adam Carstens conveniently graphed the US state data.

New Hampshire comes out on top, followed by Minnesota and Vermont.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Syrian Kurds say begin advance toward Islamic State-held town (TOM PERRY, 6/13/15, Reuters)

The Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said it began an advance toward an Islamic State-held town at the Turkish border on Saturday, thrusting deeper into the jihadists' stronghold of Raqqa province with the backing of U.S.-led air strikes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


A Crisis at the Edge of Physics (ADAM FRANK and MARCELO GLEISER, 6/05/15, NY Times)

A few months ago in the journal Nature, two leading researchers, George Ellis and Joseph Silk, published a controversial piece called "Scientific Method: Defend the Integrity of Physics." They criticized a newfound willingness among some scientists to explicitly set aside the need for experimental confirmation of today's most ambitious cosmic theories -- so long as those theories are "sufficiently elegant and explanatory." Despite working at the cutting edge of knowledge, such scientists are, for Professors Ellis and Silk, "breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical."

Whether or not you agree with them, the professors have identified a mounting concern in fundamental physics: Today, our most ambitious science can seem at odds with the empirical methodology that has historically given the field its credibility.

Science forsook credibility quite awhile ago.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Deflating 'Deflategate' (KEVIN A. HASSETT and STAN A. VEUGER, 6/12/15, NY Times)

The Wells report's main finding is that the Patriots balls declined in pressure more than the Colts balls did in the first half of their game, and that the decline is highly statistically significant. For the sake of argument, let's grant this finding for now. Even still, it alone does not prove misconduct. There are, after all, two possibilities. The first is that the Patriots balls declined too much. The second -- overlooked by the Wells report -- is that the Colts balls declined too little.

The latter possibility appears to be more likely. The Wells report notes the expected pressure for the footballs at halftime in the Patriots-Colts game, factoring in the decline in pressure to be expected when a ball, inflated in a warm room, has been moved to a cold outdoor field. If the Patriots deflated their balls, their pressure levels at halftime should have fallen below the expected level, while the Colts balls at halftime should have hovered around that level.

But when we analyzed the data provided in the Wells report, we found that the Patriots balls declined by about the expected amount, while the Colts balls declined by less. In fact, the pressure of the Colts balls was statistically significantly higher than expected. Contrary to the report, the significant difference between the changes in pressure of the two teams' balls was not because the pressure of the Patriots balls was too low, but because that of the Colts balls was too high.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


The Growth of 'Multiracial' America (NEIL SHAH, 6/12/15, WSJ)

A few caveats: "Race" is a slippery and vexing intellectual concept, with a troubled history in the U.S. [...]

[P]ew's survey findings suggest U.S. multiracials are becoming more likely to embrace their multiethnic heritage rather than see it as a liability. That could mean even more interracial marriage and childbearing and a more diverse U.S. population.

Multiracial Americans are already growing at a rate three times as fast as the overall U.S. population. The share of marriages between spouses of different races has increased almost fourfold since 1980. The share of multiracial babies has risen from 1% in 1970 to 10% in 2013.

This process may be about to speed up.

If Asians and Hispanics--America's more recent, immigrant-influenced minorities--are most likely to celebrate their mixed heritage, that could mean "multiracial populations will explode even faster than we might have thought," says William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer whose 2014 book, "Diversity Explosion," details how Hispanics, Asians and multiracial Americans are quickly transforming U.S. society.

Nearly 60% of white-Asian Americans said having a mixed racial background has been an advantage, Pew said. Around one-third of multiracial Hispanics said the same. [...]

As multiracial Americans become more comfortable with their identities--and as their ranks grow--the boundaries of these categories may start to erode. America's melting pot won't just hold different ingredients; it will turn into soup.

"The definition of race and race-related identity in America going forward will be more fluid than we have ever experienced," Mr. Frey says. "The concept of race will be fuzzy and may eventually fade away, despite its importance today."

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


New questions arise about House Democratic caucus's loyalty to Obama (David Nakamura and Paul Kane, June 12, 2015, Washington Post)

Cheers rang out Thursday evening when President Obama made a surprise visit to the annual congressional baseball game at National Park. Thousands of Democratic staffers began to chant: "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!" More unexpectedly, Republican lawmakers and staffers, who have been locked in battle with the president for more than six years, began a cheer of their own: "TPA, TPA!" they chanted, voicing approval for Obama's trade promotion agenda.

Obama flashed the GOP side a thumbs up.

Inside the Democratic dugout, according to several senior aides and lawmakers, the president's usual allies were appalled by the scene: He was waving to Republicans in approval of trade legislation that most of them opposed.

Posted by orrinj at 4:44 AM


22 Incredible Facts About The Life and Career Of Sir Christopher Lee (Rob Bricken, 6/12/15, io9)

2) He mother was an Italian contessa, and through her Lee descended from the Emperor Charlemagne of the Holy Roman Empire and was related to Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.

3) He met Prince Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, the assassins of the Russian monk Rasputin. He didn't do this as research for his later film role as Rasputin (in the 1966 Hammer film Rasputin the Mad Monk), but just as a child in the 1920s.

4) At age 17, he saw the death of the murderer Eugen Weidmann in Paris, the last person in France to be publicly executed by guillotine.

5) During World War II, Lee joined the Royal Air Force but wasn't allowed to fly because of a problem with his optic nerve. So he became an intelligence officer for the Long Range Desert Patrol, a forerunner of the SAS, Britain's special forces. He fought the Nazis in North Africa, often having up to five missions a day. During this time he helped retake Sicily, prevented a mutiny among his troops, contracted malaria six times in a single year and climbed Mount Vesuvius three days before it erupted.

6) At some point during the war he moved from the LRDP to Winston Churchill's even more elite Special Operations Executive, whose missions are literally still classified, but involved "conducting espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis powers." The SOE was more informally called -- and I can't believe this somehow hasn't been made into a movie yet -- The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.

June 12, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


On the Wells report (Kevin A. Hassett,Stan Veuger, June 12, 2015 | American Enterprise Institute)

ABSTRACT: In the current "Deflategate" controversy, the New England Patriots have been accused of illicitly deflating footballs before the start of their 2015 American Football Conference championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. The National Football League and the lawyers it hired have produced a report -- commonly known as the "Wells report" -- that has been used to justify penalties against the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. Although the Wells report finds that the Patriots footballs declined in pressure significantly more than the Colts balls in the first half of the game, our replication of the report's analysis finds that it relies on an unorthodox statistical procedure at odds with the methodology the report describes. It also fails to investigate all relevant scenarios. In addition, it focuses only on the difference between the Colts and Patriots pressure drops. Such a difference, however, can be caused either by the pressure in the Patriots balls dropping below their expected value or by the pressure in the Colts balls rising above their expected value. The second of these two scenarios seems more likely based on the absolute pressure measurements. Logistically, the greater change in pressure in the Patriots footballs can be explained by the fact that sufficient time may have passed between halftime testing of the two teams' balls for the Colts balls to warm significantly, effectively inflating them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Soon, Cars May Take Away the Keys of a Drunken Driver (AARON M. KESSLER, 6/11/15, NY Times)

[R]ecently the Department of Transportation unveiled the latest steps toward developing anti-drunken-driving technology that would allow a car to detect drivers impaired by alcohol and stop them from turning on the car.

Auto safety officials demonstrated a new test vehicle equipped with special touch pads that can instantly measure whether a driver has been drinking. The technology, which could exist on the steering wheel or the starter button of keyless ignitions, could become a reality for consumers as soon as the end of the decade.

A competing system being developed captures drivers' breath and instantly analyzes it for alcohol content. Research into both systems is being financed by auto regulators and a consortium of automakers as part of what is known as the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program.

The goal is for at least one of the two options -- or both, possibly working together -- to be ready by 2020 and available as optional equipment on most vehicles sold in the United States.

Mandatory, not optional. It's the least drivers owe.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Inside the Islamic State (Malise Ruthven JULY 9, 2015, NY Review of Books)

[B]in Laden is dead, thanks to the action of US Navy SEALs in May 2011, but as Abdel Bari Atwan explains in Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's official successor as leader of "al-Qa'ida central," looks increasingly irrelevant. Bin Laden's true successor is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy caliph of ISIS, the so-called Islamic State. As "Commander of the Faithful" in that nascent state he poses a far more formidable threat to the West and to Middle Eastern regimes--including the Saudi kingdom--that are sustained by Western arms than bin Laden did from his Afghan cave or hideout in Pakistan.

One of the primary forces driving this transformation, according to Atwan, is the digital expertise demonstrated by the ISIS operatives, who have a commanding presence in social media. A second is that ISIS controls a swath of territory almost as large as Britain, lying between eastern Syria and western Iraq. As Jürgen Todenhöfer, who spent ten days in ISIS-controlled areas in both Iraq and Syria, stated categorically in January: "We have to understand that ISIS is a country now."

In his book, based on visits to the Turkish-Syrian border, online interviews with jihadists, and the access to leaders he enjoys as one of the Arab world's most respected journalists, Atwan draws a convincing picture of the Islamic State as a well-run organization that combines bureaucratic efficiency and military expertise with a sophisticated use of information technology.

For security reasons, and to enhance his mystique, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled caliph, keeps a low profile, rarely appearing in public. He is sometime known as the Phantom (al-shabah) or "'the invisible sheikh' because of his habit of wearing a mask when addressing his commanders." His real name is Ibrahim bin Awwad bin Ibrahim al-Badri al-Qurayshi. He was born in 1971 in the Iraqi town of Samarra, once the seat of the caliphs in the Abbasid period (750-1258), whom he seeks to emulate. Crucially, the Bobadri tribe to which he belongs includes the Prophet Muhammad's tribe of Qurayshin in its lineage. In the classical Sunni tradition, the caliph is required to be a Qurayshite.

According to Baghdadi's online biography, supplied by the IS media agency al-Hayat, he is from a religious family that includes several imams (prayer leaders) and Koranic scholars. He is said to have attended the Islamic University of Baghdad where he received his BA, MA, and Ph.D., with his doctorate focusing on Islamic jurisprudence as well as including studies of Islamic culture and history. He first attended the university during Saddam Hussein's "Faith Campaign," when the Iraqi dictator encouraged Islamic religiosity as a way of rousing national feeling against the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq after the US liberated Kuwait from Saddam's occupation in 1991.

While Baghdadi's academic credentials confer legitimacy on his claim to be a religious guide as well as a political and military leader--an authority possessed by neither bin Laden nor Zawahri--his extensive battlefield experience and reputation as a shrewd tactician have enabled him to gain the support of experienced commanders and administrators from the former Baathist regime. As Atwan writes:

Islamic State always has the advantage of surprise and is able to seize opportunities as and when they arise. Rather than "fight to the death," its brigades will slip away from a battle they are clearly not going to win, regrouping in a more advantageous location....

In January 2015, for example with the US-led alliance bombarding Islamic State targets in Iraq, the Military Council decided to redeploy its efforts to Syria. Fighters inside Iraq were ordered to lie low...while battalions and sleeper cells in Syria were reactivated. As a result, the group doubled the territory under its control in Syria between August 2014 and January 2015.
While skeptics may doubt the sincerity of the ex-Baathists, assuming they are seeking a return to the power they enjoyed before the US invasion, it seems more likely that their support for ISIS has been motivated by religious conviction. With their former hegemony lost, and the previously despised "infidel" Shias in the ascendant in Iraq, these erstwhile secularists are returning to their faith.

This is not to say that the expertise they acquired under Saddam has been lost. As Atwan explains, ISIS is a "highly centralized and disciplined organization" with a sophisticated security apparatus and capacity for delegating power. The caliph--as "successor" of the Prophet--is the ultimate authority; but despite his sermon exhorting believers to "advise me when I err," any threat, opposition, or even contradiction is instantly eradicated. Baghdadi has two deputies--both former members of the Iraqi Baath Party. Both were his fellow prisoners in Camp Bucca, the sprawling American detention center in southern Iraq now seen as the "jihadist university" where former Baathists and Sunni insurgents were able to form ideological and religious bonds. Abu Muslim al-Turkmani, Baghdadi's second-in-command, was a member of Saddam's feared military intelligence. Baghdadi's second deputy, Abu Ali al-Anbari, was a major general in the Iraqi army.

The sooner we can get them to declare borders, field an army and establish structures of governance the easier our target acquisition becomes.
Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Jerry Seinfeld and the Progressive Comedy Pause (Jon Gabriel, June 8, 2015, Ricochet)

Tell a joke to a liberal. Between your punchline and his laughter, there is a Progressive Comedy Pause. In this second or two, the liberal will process the joke to make sure he is allowed to laugh.

Is that joke racist? He mentioned Obama, but didn't make light of him, so to speak. He also mentioned Michelle, but I didn't notice sexism. Is it dismissive of the LGBTQIA community? Latinos? Muslims? Vegans? Will this joke hurt progressive causes? Will my laughter trivialize oppressed communities? Will I appear intolerant? I think it's okay if I laugh. Yes, I'll laugh now to signal my appreciation and to indicate that I'm not a joyless liberal scold.

"Ha ha."

I first noticed the Progressive Comedy Pause while sharing my hilarity at office staff meetings. The majority would laugh but the committed lefties would stare blankly, each eye like that spinning wheel your smartphone shows while an app is loading.

Liberalism, however, is joyless.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


The new frenemies : Shared interests have brought Israel and the Arab world closer, for now (The Economist, Jun 13th 2015)

So eyebrows lifted less than might have been expected when on June 4th Saudi Arabia and Israel admitted at a conference in America that they have held a series of meetings. Their improving ties are a manifestation of shared strategic interests, says Ilan Mizrahi, a former head of Israel's National Security Council. [...]

In truth, Mr Netanyahu is keener on the idea of friendship with the Arab states than they are. It helps him that they are delivering the same message in Washington and Europe, where he cuts an increasingly isolated figure. It is noticeable that Israel's interlocutor, Dore Gold, the incoming director-general of the foreign ministry, is far closer to power than his Saudi counterpart.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Think You're Sensitive to Gluten? Think Again : Chances are, you can still enjoy bread, pasta and other gluten-containing foods. (Julie Upton June 11, 2015, US News)

A recently published study in the journal Digestion found that 86 percent of individuals who believed they were gluten sensitive could tolerate it. Individuals with celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune condition that affects about 3 million Americans, or roughly 1 percent of the population, must avoid gluten. Those with extremely rare wheat allergies must also remove gluten from their diet. In addition, those with gluten sensitivity, a condition that affects 6 percent of the population (18 million individuals), should also avoid gluten.

That doesn't explain why an estimated 30 percent of shoppers are choosing "gluten-free" options, and 41 percent of U.S. adults believe "gluten-free" foods are beneficial for everyone, especially when many of those foods are often lower in nutrients and higher in sugars, sodium and fat than their gluten-free counterparts. And much of the growth in the category is coming from cookies, crackers, snack bars and chips.

Thanks in part to a lot of hype from gluten-free evangelists and celebrity wheat-bashing, many Americans are convinced they're "gluten-sensitive" and better off avoiding foods that contain it. "People want to believe that they are gluten intolerant because it's a way for them to avoid carbs, because they also think carbs make them fat," explains registered dietitian Vandana Sheth, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

To believe in things like gluten and lactose intolerance is to disbelieve evolution.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


We're Making Steady Progress in Ukraine, Despite Putin (PETRO POROSHENKO, June 10, 2015, WSJ)

When I became president of Ukraine a year ago this month, Crimea had been annexed, the country was standing on the brink of war and--after more than 20 years of Soviet-style governance, endemic corruption, cronyism and inefficient policy--our economy was sliding into decay.

Now, another revolution is under way. The struggle this time is just as vital as during the 2013-14 pro-democracy Revolution of Dignity on the Maidan in our capital city of Kiev. It has the potential to move Ukraine closer to the European future that the majority of its citizens want. We have already made great progress.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


What's in store for the Siberian movement? : Siberian neo-regionalism has recently gained momentum, writes Stanislav Zakharkin; a development fuelled not least by widespread concern about the uneven distribution of revenues from the region's oil and mineral resources. But is this diverse grassroots movement capable of effecting real change? (Stanislav Zakharkin, 6/11/15, Eurozine)

In recent years, the so-called Siberian movement has started to gain in popularity to the east of the Ural Mountains. The movement was born in the late 2000s in the regions, among a predominantly ethnic Russian population, and is becoming more active every year. 4100 people identified themselves as Siberians during the population census in 2010 - a 400 per cent increase on the previous census in 2002. It is probable that this increase is related to the information campaign "Siberian is a nationality!", carried out by activists of a virtual movement called "True Siberians". In addition, the number of people who did not indicate their nationality in 2010 sharply increased by more than four million people, as compared with 2002 - when 1.46 million people across Russia did not indicate their nationality. This, despite the fact that the total population of Russia decreased by 2.31 million people during the same period. Activists in the Siberian movement claim that many of the 5.63 million "people of no nationality" are Siberians, whose existence the federal government chose to ignore.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


New Jersey, You Should've Built That Tunnel (Matthew A. Winkler, 6/12/15, Bloomberg View)

More than 20 years ago, Colorado residents defied business leaders, airline executives and not a few politicians (led by consultant Roger Ailes, now president of Fox News). They voted to borrow a lot of money -- a total of $4.4 billion by now -- to build the Denver International Airport. At twice the size of Manhattan it's the largest airport in the U.S., and it's been pumping up the economy ever since.

Denver International makes more money for the state than any other enterprise, pumping $26.3 billion a year into the economy while supplying 225,000 jobs. It gave Denver, the 22nd-largest U.S. city, the nation's third-largest domestic flight network, with a record 53.4 million passengers last year and revenue of $322.8 million. [...]

Now look at what happened in New Jersey, the third-richest state based on median income, after it rejected a chance to improve its transportation infrastructure. In 2010, the federal government offered New Jersey $3 billion to build a rail tunnel to double commuter capacity to New York City. It would have relieved pressure on the overburdened existing tunnel, built in 1910 and damaged in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy.

Governor Chris Christie, predicting cost overruns in a rare period of disinflation and exceptionally low borrowing costs, canceled the project. The new tunnel would have created at least 200,000 jobs, and would have generated $9 billion in business revenue and $1.5 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue during nine years of construction, according to a March 2012 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Since cancellation, New Jersey's economic performance has lagged. Adjusted for inflation, its median household income declined 12.2 percent, compared with an average drop of 3.9 percent for the U.S. New Jersey is among only 12 states with deteriorating economic health defined by jobs, mortgage delinquency, personal income, home prices, tax income and stock performance, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The same data shows Michigan and California, where infrastructure has been a priority, as leaders in job growth. By the same measures, New Jersey is No. 6 from the bottom.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will: A Review of Alfred Mele's "Free" (Dr. Edward Feser, 6/11/125, Strange Notions)

In his Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein complained that "in psychology there are experimental methods and conceptual confusion." What he meant is that academic psychologists too often interpret empirical evidence in light of unexamined and dubious metaphysical assumptions. What is presented as good science is really just bad philosophy.

The recent spate of neuroscientific and psychological literature claiming to show that free will is an illusion provides a case in point. Philosopher Alfred Mele's new book, Free: Why Science Hasn't Disproved Free Will (Oxford, 2015), is a brief, lucid, and decisive refutation of these arguments. Mele demonstrates that scientific evidence comes nowhere close to undermining free will, and that the reasoning leading some scientists to claim otherwise is amazingly sloppy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


The Koch Brothers Usually Have Scott Walker's Back. Not This Time. : Americans for Prosperity has joined the opposition to a $250 million stadium deal the governor is pushing. (Russ Choma, Jun. 12, 2015, Mother Jones)

When Walker announced a plan last week to spend $250 million in taxpayer money for a proposed $500 million basketball arena in downtown Milwaukee, the local chapter of the Koch-founded advocacy group Americans for Prosperity joined the chorus of detractors who condemned the project. The National Basketball Association is demanding the new venue and is threatening that the Milwaukee Bucks franchise may have to move if the arena isn't built by 2017. This has put Walker in a tough spot. The failure to retain the team would be an ugly black eye for Walker, but the plan to spend taxpayer funds propping up a highly lucrative private business is irritating Wisconsin Republicans and Democrats alike.

While Walker's forays into union-busting had strong conservative backing, the political dynamics involved in the public financing of sports arenas and stadiums are much different. Across the nation in recent years, conservatives and progressive groups and activists have questioned the notion that financing arenas for lucrative sports franchises with taxpayer funds will spur the local economy. And Walker is feeling the backlash.

Wisconsin Democrats predictably oppose Walker's plan, but few of his fellow Republicans are rushing to join him in standing with the NBA. At the moment, 12 of 19 GOP state senators are against the idea. In the state's lower chamber, Walker's not faring much better. State representative David Murphy (R), who recently called Walker's plan to slash $300 million from the state university system "a bold vision for the future," declared, "I'm not a believer in government supporting sports arenas for millionaire players and billionaire owners."

Let them leave.  No one will miss them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Lebanon's fabric is fraying. This is why it matters. (Mohamad Bazzi, June 11, 2015, Reuters)

Lebanon's problems are rooted in a 1943 power-sharing agreement installed when the country won its independence from French colonial rule. The system was designed to keep a balance among 18 sects, dividing power between a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni prime minister and a Shi'ite speaker of parliament. The system was enshrined under the National Pact, an unwritten agreement among Lebanese leaders. Seats in parliament were divided on a 6-to-5 ratio of Christians to Muslims, and that partitioning was extended to the lowest rungs of government.

The division was based on a 1932 census, which showed Maronites as the majority in Lebanon. Since then, the government has refused to hold a new census. By the 1960s, when Muslims began to outnumber Christians, Muslims clamored for change in the balance of power. When civil war broke out in 1975, the political imbalance helped drive the major sects to form their own militias. Because of the sectarian system, Lebanese political institutions never got a chance to develop; the country remained dependent on the powerful clans and feudal landlords that held sway in much of Lebanon. The zaeem, or sectarian leader who usually inherited rule from his father, became paramount during the war.

As the war waned in 1989, Lebanon's political class convened in the Saudi city of Taif to salvage the sectarian system. Brokered by Saudi Arabia and Syria, the resulting Taif Accord restructured the National Pact by taking some power away from the Maronites. The presidency was weakened and most of its powers were given to the prime minister and his cabinet. Parliament was expanded to 128 members, divided equally between Christians and Muslims. Taif also called for all militias to disarm -- except for Hezbollah, whose military branch was labeled a "national resistance" against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000. All factions in Lebanon constantly affirm that they will abide by Taif, elevating the document to the status of a Magna Carta. Yet few acknowledge that the agreement also called for eventually abolishing the sectarian system, although it gave no timeframe for doing so.

The sectarian political structure leads to a weak state. It encourages horse-trading and alliances with powerful patrons. And it is easily exploited by outside powers, including Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. But most of the current players are too invested in this system to really change it. And foreign patrons do not want change, because that could reduce their influence.

Even if the various factions defuse the latest stalemate and reach a compromise on a new president, another political crisis is sure to emerge, unless Lebanon's leaders -- and its people -- tackle the root causes of the country's instability. Eventually, the Lebanese will have to decide what kind of country they want: one built on sectarian gerrymandering, or a more democratic way of sharing power. Otherwise, Lebanon will be dragged into the relentless cycle of sectarian violence sweeping the Middle East.

"fabric"?  What other undemocratic regime do we refer to as a fabric?
Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Poll: Most Israeli Jews back segregated West Bank buses (JTA AND GEDALYAH REBACK, June 11, 2015, Times of Israel)

More than half of Jewish Israelis support having separate Jewish and Palestinian buses in the West Bank, a new poll found.

June 11, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


U.S. Ousts Russia as Top World Oil, Gas Producer in BP Data (Rakteem Katakey, June 10, 2015, Bloomberg)

The U.S. has taken Russia's crown as the biggest oil and natural-gas producer in a demonstration of the seismic shifts in the world energy landscape emanating from America's shale fields.

U.S. oil production rose to a record last year, gaining 1.6 million barrels a day, according to BP Plc's Statistical Review of World Energy released on Wednesday. Gas output also climbed, putting America ahead of Russia as a producer of the hydrocarbons combined.

The data showing the U.S.'s emergence as the top driller confirms a trend that's helped the world's largest economy reduce imports, caused a slump in global energy prices and shifted the country's foreign policy priorities.

"We are truly witnessing a changing of the guard of global energy suppliers," BP Chief Economist Spencer Dale said in a presentation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


U.S. Strategy in Lebanon Stirs Fears (JAY SOLOMON, June 9, 2015 , WSJ)

[T]he U.S. move feeds into an alarmed narrative held by many Arab leaders who say that U.S. and Iranian interests appear increasingly aligned--at their expense. Both Washington and Tehran are fighting Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria, with U.S. conducting airstrikes against the militants, but notably not against Mr. Assad's Iran-backed regime.

Hezbollah, which the U.S. classifies as a terror organization, receives extensive funding and arms from Iran. It has deployed 10,000 soldiers in Syria to back Mr. Assad's forces and counter Islamic State, U.S. officials estimate.

Saudi Arabia's leadership, which supports the exiled leader of Yemen, was concerned when the U.S. last month met secretly with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels there that caused him to flee.

Most significantly, the Obama administration is seeking to conclude a deal with Iran by June 30 to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.

Some pro-democracy activists in Washington also voiced concern that cutting Hayya Bina's funding will send a message that the U.S. is tacitly accepting Hezbollah in an effort to appease Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 12:33 PM


How Isis crippled al-Qaida : The inside story of the coup that has brought the world's most feared terrorist network to the brink of collapse (Shiv Malik, Ali Younes, Spencer Ackerman and Mustafa Khalili, 10 June 2015, The Guardian)

[M]aqdisi and Qatada have looked on as Isis's young radicals rampage from victory to victory - cursing, mocking and betraying the old guard as they go, while al-Qaida, largely guided by veterans of the Afghan era, has been brought to its knees in this jihadi civil war.

As Qatada poured tea into small glass tumblers, he began reeling off images to better communicate the depth of his loathing for Isis. He likes speaking in metaphors. The group, he said, was "like a bad smell" that has polluted the radical Islamic environment. No, they were better described as a "cancerous growth" within the jihadi movement - or, he continued, like the diseased branch of a fig tree that needs to be pruned before it kills the entire organism.

Qatada, who was once described by the British Special Immigration Appeals Commission as a "truly dangerous individual ... at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al‑Qaida", has a strained, high-pitched voice, like an alto version of Marlon Brando in The Godfather; he speaks slowly, pausing for effect. His broad frame easily filled one of the throne-like Louis-XIV-style armchairs that line his reception room. Comfortably ensconced, he turned to yet another metaphor to describe how Isis has recruited a generation of young Muslims who barely remember the 9/11 attacks. "You go to a restaurant and they present to you this beautiful meal. It looks so delicious and tempting. But then you go into the kitchen and you see the dirt and the filth and you're disgusted."

Both men are particularly appalled, they said, by the way Isis has used their scholarship to cloak its savagery in ideological legitimacy, to gain recruits and justify its battle with al-Qaida and its affiliates. "Isis took all our religious works," Maqdisi said. "They took it from us - it's all our writings, they are all our books, our thoughts." Now, Abu Qatada said, "they don't respect anyone".

Such impudent behaviour, the two men agreed, would never have been accepted in the days when Bin Laden was alive. "No one used to speak against him," Maqdisi lamented. "Bin Laden was a star. He had special charisma." But despite their personal affection for his successor, Zawahiri - whom they call "Dr Ayman" - they both admit that he does not possess the authority and control to rebuff the threat from Isis. From the "very beginning" of his tenure, Zawahiri lacked "direct military or operational control," Qatada said. "He has become accustomed to operating in this decentralised way - he is isolated."

According to Maqdisi, al-Qaida's organisational structure has "collapsed". Zawahiri, Maqdisi said, "operates solely based on allegiance. There is no organisational structure. There is only communication channels, and loyalty." And unfortunately for Zawahiri, Isis has done its utmost to ensure that loyalty is in short supply.

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


The world's first penis transplant has reportedly resulted in a pregnancy ( Rachel Feltman June 11, 2015, Washington Post)

June 10, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Move over Tesla: Mercedes-Benz takes on Powerwall with a home battery of its own (ELLIE ZOLFAGHARIFARD, 6/09/15, DAILYMAIL.COM)

Tesla may think it has cornered the home battery market, but there is another car manufacturer vying for a slice of the action.

Mercedes-Benz has unveiled a personal energy cell that, like Tesla's Powerwall, uses batteries to charge up during off-peak hours.

The German car manufacturer revealed that each pack holds 2.5kWh of electricity. Combined, eight of them to can hold 20kWh.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Scott Walker's Revolt Back Home : The governor's presidential maneuvering is wearing thin in Wisconsin. (JR ROSS, June 08, 2015, Politico)

[G]OP state lawmakers aren't nearly as enthusiastic about an agenda some see as geared more toward what plays well at those out-of-state stops than what's best for the people back home. While Walker chatted up Iowans from the seat of his Harley-Davidson last weekend, his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature continued to rework Walker's budget, having already reversed politically unpopular cuts to education, among other things.

It was just the Friday before last that the Legislature's budget committee eased Walker's cuts to the University of Wisconsin System after previously stopping his $127 million hit to public schools. Right about the time the Joint Finance Committee wrapped up its final vote on that piece of the budget late that evening, Walker was 1,000 miles away in New Hampshire addressing the Belknap County GOP Sunset Dinner Cruise.

"The university doesn't deserve this cut. This is just reality," GOP state Sen. Luther Olsen said ahead of the vote. "To tell people that they're not working hard enough and they should teach more is probably just ridiculous," he said, responding to the claim by Walker and others that the university could absorb the cut through things like requiring professors to teach one extra class a semester.

It's a scene that's played out more than once this spring as lawmakers wrangle with Walker's budget and other issues. His frequent out-of-state trips have given Democrats plenty of fodder to declare Walker an absentee governor placing his expected presidential run above the needs of Wisconsinites.

Walker has repeatedly brushed off the suggestion, pointing out he's on the phone constantly with his chief of staff and legislative leaders, no matter where he is. He's also scored significant victories on the things he likes to tout on the national campaign trail, like holding down property taxes, and GOP lawmakers insist publicly the governor is just as available to them as he was in each of his first two budgets, even if he's often not at the table.

But it is somewhat odd to see a likely presidential candidate who has pinned much of his candidacy on the fights he's won back home suffering loss after loss on his latest set of budget priorities--especially at the hands of his own party. Some GOP lawmakers privately see a governor who's rarely on the bully pulpit to provide leadership on things like passing right-to-work, the effort by some Republicans to repeal the prevailing wage and securing the long-term future of the state's transportation fund.

Some also complain bitterly--though almost never in public--that Walker's budget was drafted with his presidential aspirations in mind, not what's good for the state long term.

"We may have a crap budget, but we're going to make it better," freshman GOP state Rep. Rob Brooks said in an unusually blunt moment while on the Assembly floor.

No use running on your executive experience if your own state rejects it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


China's Troubling Robot Revolution (MARTIN FORD, JUNE 10, 2015, NY Times)

OVER the last decade, China has become, in the eyes of much of the world, a job-eating monster, consuming entire industries with its seemingly limitless supply of low-wage workers. But the reality is that China is now shifting its appetite to robots, a transition that will have significant consequences for China's economy -- and the world's.

In 2014, Chinese factories accounted for about a quarter of the global ranks of industrial robots -- a 54 percent increase over 2013. According to the International Federation of Robotics, it will have more installed manufacturing robots than any other country by 2017.

Midea, a leading manufacturer of home appliances in the heavily industrialized province of Guangdong, plans to replace 6,000 workers in its residential air-conditioning division, about a fifth of the work force, with automation by the end of the year. Foxconn, which makes consumer electronics for Apple and other companies, plans to automate about 70 percent of factory work within three years, and already has a fully robotic factory in Chengdu.

Chinese factory jobs may thus be poised to evaporate at an even faster pace than has been the case in the United States and other developed countries. 

As the observer noted, China, uniquely among developed economies, is doomed to grow old before it grows rich.

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


Kremlin chief of staff: If Western sanctions stay, so will Russian ban on Western food (The Associated Press, 6/10/15)

Thus spake the Black Knight.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Removing Assad is the best way to defeat Isil in Syria (Con Coughlin, 10 Jun 2015, The Telegraph)

According to Downing Street sources, dinner on the final night of the summit at the Bavarian resort of Schloss Elmau was dominated by discussion of the deepening crisis in Syria and Iraq. One of the ideas actively being mooted, apparently, is that Assad will be sent into exile as part of a deal between Russia and the West to combat the rise of Islamic State. As a Downing Street official commented as the summit wound up: "We don't want to overplay it, but there is a greater sense that a political solution is possible than there has been for many months."

Several factors explain this sudden change in thinking. The obvious one is the growing realisation that Assad, after his early success in preventing Islamic State (Isil) fighters from penetrating the regime's Alawite heartland around Damascus, is now very much on the defensive, with reports circulating in the region that the regime could collapse at any minute.

This has focused minds in Western capitals as much as it has in Russia and Iran, the countries that have most to lose if Assad is driven from power. Moscow remains wedded to its long-standing strategic partnership with Damascus, while Iran needs a friendly regime running Syria to maintain its vital supply lines to Hizbollah in southern Lebanon.

If Assad's fate really does hang in the balance, then it is very much in the interests of Russia and Iran to reach an understanding with the West, whereby Assad's removal is managed in such a way that prevents the capital being overrun by Islamist militants.

...then we want them to "take over."  The main difficulty in fighting non-state actors is target acquisition. As they attempt to become a state they simply make themselves convenient targets.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


The secret life and death of a hockey analytics pioneer (Marin Cogan, 5/29/15, ESPN)

FOR YEARS, THE hockey analytics community has lived almost entirely online, communicating via email or their blogs or a Yahoo group. Until the summer of fancy stats, many writers who had talked regularly for years didn't know anything about one another outside their work. Until they learned of Purdy's death, most of his fellow bloggers never even knew his name.

In this world, Tore Purdy was known exclusively as JLikens, the brilliant author of the blog Objective NHL.

Years after the Moneyball revolution, the NHL lagged miserably behind other sports in adopting analytics, and there were only a handful of writers -- Tyler Dellow, Gabriel Desjardins, Tim Barnes (writing as Vic Ferrari) and JLikens among them -- doing groundbreaking work. JLikens first came onto the blogging scene in 2008, launching Objective NHL with an article that briefly and elegantly disproved the commonly cited correlation between NHL goalies' save percentages and shots against. "There is absolutely no evidence that high shot totals have an inflationary effect on goaltender save percentage. Why, then, is it often argued that such a relationship exist[s]?" he wrote in the post. "More than anything else, the phenomenon seems to be driven by wishful thinking on the part of the claimants, a disproportionate number of whom belong to certain fan bases. I'll say no more."

From there, he quickly built a body of work that blazed a trail for the practitioners of advanced stats who came after him. "It's people like JLikens who laid the foundation. If there's a Mount Rushmore of hockey analytics, he'd be on it for sure," Yost says.

JLikens' grasp on mathematical modeling was strong, which enabled him to tackle the big questions -- questions that would seem merely rhetorical to the average right-brained reader, like "how often does the best team win?" He would pose a question that seemed unanswerable and then meticulously set about deriving a formula, running the numbers and coming up with the charts and tables he needed to prove it. JLikens presented his findings in the dispassionate, clinical tone of a researcher: "It turns out that the best team wins the cup 22 percent of the time -- about once every five seasons," he wrote, before outlining in detail the limitations of his research.

"He was certainly one of the first people to really get into doing what I call the hard proofs," says Dellow, another early analytics blogger, who now works for the Edmonton Oilers. "A lot of us would have ideas and kick them around. He came at it from a harder math angle, trying to prove some of the stuff."

A single JLikens article could articulate a subject-level mastery many people would struggle to convey over the course of their lifetime, and his blog felt like essential reading to anyone interested in advanced metrics. His breakthroughs helped spearhead the idea of studying statistics in games when the score was close, because leading teams tend to play more passively. He also advanced the idea of scorekeepers' home-rink bias and showed how significantly a team's stats can change depending on whether it's chasing or protecting a late lead.

"He basically verified everything we were doing in a rigorous statistical manner, in a way that made you comfortable with the results," says Benjamin Wendorf, a writer for The Hockey News. Concepts that hockey analysts now use regularly -- puck possession and how it's measured, shooting percentage regressions, shot quality -- "are only spoken about so confidently because a lot of his work has held up."

Most of JLikens' commenters were enthusiastic about his work, but when someone was uncivil, he wouldn't take the bait. Instead, he'd patiently dismantle the other guy's argument, burying him under an avalanche of facts. The only time he expressed impatience was when someone said something vague or euphemistic, like "good teams make their own luck." "What does that even mean?" he'd shoot back, before returning to his preferred mode of fact-based argument.

"A lot of people, when they're geniuses, like to use that to tell everyone else why they're wrong and flawed," says Rob Vollman, who runs the analytics site Hockey Abstract and contributes to ESPN. "He was purely seeking out insights. He'd never get distracted with what someone else was doing wrong." The passion in JLikens' work came through in its complexity, in the hours he'd clearly spent painstakingly running models and putting his posts together. "He'd be trying to answer a question with numbers and then just along the way he'd invent or create or discover or innovate something amazing, almost off-handedly, as an aside," Vollman says. "He'd create something that someone else would have to devote a lot of time to target. It was really a genius that he had."

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Lebanon's Hezbollah repels attack by Islamic State on its positions on Lebanon-Syria border (Associated Press June 9, 2015)

 Hezbollah gunmen repelled an attack Tuesday by Islamic State extremists in an area along the Lebanon-Syria border as a major battle between the two groups looms in the rugged mountainous region, Hezbollah's TV station reported.

According to Al-Manar TV, the IS group targeted several Hezbollah positions outside the northeastern Lebanese border village of Ras Baalbek.

The ensuing battle left at least five IS fighters dead or wounded, including the group's leader in the Qalamoun border region identified as Saudi national Walid Abdel Mohsen al-Omari, the channel said. It did not say whether there were casualties among Hezbollah fighters.

Posted by orrinj at 2:20 PM


Nevada Enacts Universal School Choice (LINDSEY M. BURKE, June 8, 2015, National Review)

As of next year, parents in Nevada can have 90 percent (100 percent for children with special needs and children from low-income families) of the funds that would have been spent on their child in their public school deposited into a restricted-use spending account. That amounts to between $5,100 and $5,700 annually, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Those funds are deposited quarterly onto a debit card, which parents can use to pay for a variety of education-related services and products -- things such as private-school tuition, online learning, special-education services and therapies, books, tutors, and dual-enrollment college courses. It's an à la carte education, and the menu of options will be as hearty as the supply-side response -- which, as it is whenever markets replace monopolies, is likely to be robust. 

Notably, families can roll over unused funds from year to year, a feature that makes this approach particularly attractive. It is the only choice model to date that puts downward pressure on prices. Parents consider not only the quality of education service they receive, but the cost, since they can save unused funds for future education expenses. 

Accountability is infused throughout the ESA option. Funding is distributed into the accounts quarterly, and parents provide receipts for expenditures to the state. In the event there is a misuse of funds, the subsequent quarter's distribution can be withheld and used to rectify it. Students must also take a national norm-referenced test in math and reading, a light touch that doesn't dictate students take a uniform state test.

As long as they get taught to the test, who cares how.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


New Jersey Governor Christie wins court victory over pension cuts (MEGAN DAVIES AND JONATHAN STEMPEL, 6/09/15, Reuters)

The state Supreme Court, in reversing a lower court ruling, said while it lamented the "staggering" loss of public trust resulting from broken promises, the pension payment was not a contractual obligation entitled to constitutional protection.

Christie cut a state contribution to the public pension system last year because of a revenue shortfall. The state's pension system has about $83 billion of unfunded liabilities and was funded at only about 44 percent in fiscal 2014.

Public-sector unions sued the administration, and in February Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson sided with them, finding that a 2011 pension reform law, signed by Christie, created a contractual right that the state make its contribution. The state appealed to New Jersey's highest court, which heard arguments in May.

"That the State must get its financial house in order is plain," wrote Justice Jaynee LaVecchia in the opinion. "The need is compelling in respect of the State's ability to honor its compensation commitment to retired employees. But this Court cannot resolve that need in place of the political branches."

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 AM


Endgame in the Iran negotiations: The choice is Tehran's (Robert Einhorn | June 9, 2015, The National Interest.

Now that the Corker-Cardin legislation has been adopted without poison pills attached, it is virtually certain that Congress will be unable to block President Obama's ability to conclude and begin implementing a nuclear agreement with Iran that he believes meets U.S. requirements. The main domestic impediment to a deal lies in Iran. If negotiations are to be brought to a successful conclusion, Supreme Leader Khamenei must decide that he wants an agreement, that he is willing to make the hard choices necessary to achieve one, and that he is prepared to use his authority to bring Iranian critics on board.

June 9, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 PM


OIL TRUCKS IN CANADA WILL SOON DRIVE THEMSELVES (Kelsey D. Atherton, 6/09/15, Popular Science)

If they ever make a show about oil sand truckers, the cast is going to be derided for their forced, mechanical acting. Because they're robots. Right now in Alberta, Canada's Suncor Energy Inc is testing driverless mining vehicles, to make sure they're okay to operate in the oil sands of the north.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


The Nation's Most Conservative Court Just Shut Down Two-Thirds of Texas Abortion Clinics (Molly Redden, Jun. 9, 2015, Mother Jones)

Federal judges upheld a sweeping anti-abortion law on Tuesday in a decision that will shutter most abortion clinics in Texas.

The ruling held that the law, HB 2, which requires abortion facilities to comply with hospital-like standards, does not pose an undue burden for the majority of women seeking abortion in Texas, millions of whom will now have to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion.

The law calls for clinics to follow the state's rules for ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs), facilities that are very costly to operate. In 2013, Planned Parenthood opened a brand-new ASC in Forth Worth at a cost of $6.5 million. Only seven abortion clinics in Texas comply with ASC standards; 13 other clinics face imminent closure.

June 8, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM



Nationwide, the AP survey showed a decrease in abortions of about 12 percent since 2010.

One major factor has been a decline in the teen pregnancy rate, which in 2010 reached its lowest level in decades. There's been no official update since then, but the teen birth rate has continued to drop, which experts say signals a similar trend for teen pregnancies.

The AP obtained the most recent abortion numbers from the health departments of all 45 states that compile such data on a comprehensive basis. (States not compiling such data are California, Maryland, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Wyoming.) With one exception, the data was from either 2013 or 2014 - providing a unique nationwide gauge of abortion trends during a wave of anti-abortion laws that gathered strength starting in 2011.

Among the groups most active in promoting the restrictive laws is Americans United for Life. Its president, Charmaine Yoest, suggested that the broad decrease in abortions reflected a change in attitudes among pregnant women.

"There's an entire generation of women who saw a sonogram as their first baby picture," she said. "There's an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born."

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


The Mischievous Science of Richard Thaler : a review of MISBEHAVING: The Making of Behavioral Economics, by Richard H. Thaler (CASS R. SUNSTEIN, 6/08/15, The New Rambler)

Thaler has a mischievous mind. At the same time that he was producing his math-heavy dissertation, he started asking people two questions. The first: How much would you pay to eliminate a mortality risk of 1 in 100,000? The second: How much would you have to be paid to accept a mortality risk of 1 in 100,000? According to standard economic theory, people's answers to the two questions should be essentially identical. But they weren't. Not close. The answers to the second question were much higher (often in the range of $500,000) than the answers to the first (often in the range of $2000).  In fact some people responded to the second question, "there is no amount you could name."  According to economic theory, that's serious misbehaving.

Thaler showed his results to Rosen, who told him to stop wasting his time, but Thaler was hooked.  As he eventually demonstrated, the disparity in people's responses to the two questions reflects the "endowment effect," which is now a centerpiece of behavioral economics: People value goods that they have more than they value exactly the same goods when they are in the hands of others. If you are asked to give up a right (say, to be free from a risk), you'll demand a lot more than you will pay to get that same right. The endowment effect can be found for countless things, including coffee mugs, candy bars, lottery tickets, environmental amenities (such as clean air), and legal protection of many different kinds.

It would be an overstatement to say that behavioral economics was born with this little survey, but Thaler started to collect anomalies, often involving the misbehavior of his friends, and resulting in what he called the List. As he explains it here, the List captures a series of differences between Econs (an imaginary species much discussed by economists) and Humans (our actual species). Here's one example: "Stanley mows his lawn every weekend and it gives him terrible hay fever. I ask Stan why he doesn't hire a kid to mow his lawn. Stan says he doesn't want to pay the $10. I ask Stan whether he would mow his neighbor's lawn for $20 and Stan says no, of course not." But Thaler didn't know what to do with his List, thinking that no one would want to publish an academic paper called "Dumb stuff people do."

In 1976, serendipity struck. Along with Rosen, Thaler went to a conference in California, where he met a young Israeli psychologist named Baruch Fischhoff, who told him about two psychologists unknown in economic circles named Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. That led him to read a paper of theirs the next day, cataloguing systematic departures from the standard predictions of economic theory. As he read the paper, his "heart started pounding the way it might during the final minutes of a close game. The paper took me thirty minutes to read from start to finish, but my life had changed forever." (In the last decades, a lot of people have had that reaction to reading Kahneman and Tversky, and Thaler as well.)

What particularly impressed Thaler, and where Kahneman and Tversky went beyond the social science of the time, was in demonstrating that people's errors are not random but predictable. Economists of course knew that people made mistakes but believed the mistakes occurred randomly, and so canceled each other out, leaving intact predictions based on the rational actor model. Kahneman and Tversky showed that this assumption was wrong. For example, Kahneman and Tversky showed that in assessing risks, people use the "availability heuristic." This is a mental shortcut, in which we assess risks not by engaging in statistical analysis but instead by asking whether we can easily think of events in which the relevant risks came to fruition. If you can think of recent thefts in your neighborhood, you might have a grossly inflated sense of the danger - and if you can't, you might be far too complacent. The availability heuristic plays a big role in individual lives and in public policy, sometimes leading to both excessive and insufficient precautions.

Kahneman and Tversky also emphasized the importance of "framing." Suppose that your doctor asks you to consider whether to have some operation for a serious illness, and he tells you that of 100 people who have that operation, 90 are alive after five years. You might well ask him to go forward. But suppose he tells you that of 100 people who have the operation, 10 are dead after five years. You might well hesitate. The influence of "frames" shows the pervasive impact of supposedly irrelevant factors (in Thaler's shorthand, SIFs), which economic theory deems immaterial, but which can have a large effect on what people end up doing. 

Importantly, Kahneman and Tversky did not claim that people are "irrational." On the contrary, they urged that our heuristics, or rules of thumb, usually work well. But in some contexts, they fail us, which can lead to systematic mistakes. Pressing this claim with skeptical economists, Thaler repeatedly encountered an argument that he calls "the invisible handwave." The basic idea is that even if individuals blunder, competitive markets and invisible hands will cure the problem and eventually set them right. Thaler says that economists cannot ever finish this argument with both hands remaining still. "Handwaving is a must because there is no logical way to arrive at a conclusion that markets transform people into rational agents" (p. 52). To be sure, he is aware of the more sophisticated argument that because of market pressures, prices might turn out to be fully rational even when individuals are not - an argument he deems "certainly plausible, perhaps even compelling. It just happens to be wrong" (p. 53).

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Conservative Jews furious with Israeli president over scrapped bar mitzvah service (Michele Chabin, June 8, 2015, RNS) 

Conservative Jews in the U.S. and Israel have accused Israeli President Reuven Rivlin of canceling a bar mitzvah ceremony at the official President's Residence because one of the rabbis scheduled to conduct the ceremony is non-Orthodox.

The ceremony, for four boys with autism, was scheduled about two weeks ago, after the ultra-Orthodox mayor of the city of Rehovot refused to allow the bar mitzvah, long planned by the Conservative movement, to be held at a Conservative synagogue. The Conservative movement has been running a bar/bat mitzvah program for Israeli children with disabilities for two decades.

The cancellation of both ceremonies hit a raw nerve with non-Orthodox Jews because non-Orthodox rabbis and institutions have no legal standing in Israel and, unlike the Orthodox establishment, receive virtually no government funding.

Conservative Jews, called Masorti Jews in Israel, said Rivlin's decision amounts to a de-legitimization of non-Orthodox Jewry.

...but they've already established that it isn't Judaism.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


American Pharoah's A Superhorse, But He's No Secretariat (BENJAMIN MORRIS, 6/07/15, 538)

Like Secretariat, American Pharoah has broken a multi-decade Triple Crown slump. Like Secretariat, American Pharoah won all three races without much difficulty. American Pharoah won the 1.5 mile (12 furlong) Belmont Stakes in a time unmatched by any other Triple Crown winner (save Secretariat) in history. American Pharoah also led wire-to-wire, and won by an impressive five and a half lengths.

But as great a run as American Pharoah had, it still didn't really approach Secretariat's. Picture how far ahead of the field American Pharoah was at the end of the Belmont. Now double it (multiply by 2.4 to be exact). That's about how far American Pharoah would have been lagging behind Secretariat (13 ¼ lengths). In a Belmont field featuring the 11 Triple Crown winners running their Belmont-winning times, Secretariat would have led the other horses by the following distances:


And if anyone had been within 13 lengths, Big Red would have just gone faster....

Posted by orrinj at 1:08 PM


Heartache for Japan's real-life 40-year-old virgins (AFP, 8 June 2015)

Takashi Sakai is a healthy 41-year-old heterosexual man with a good job and a charming smile. But he's never had sex, one of a growing number of middle-aged Japanese men who are still virgins.

Sakai has never even had any kind of relationship with a woman, and says he has no idea how he might get to know one.

"I've never had a girlfriend. It's never happened," he said. "It's not like I'm not interested. I admire women. But I just cannot get on the right track."

It might sound like the subject for a Hollywood comedy, but far from being the social misfit portrayed by Steve Carell in 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin", Sakai is one of a crowd.

A 2010 survey by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research found that around a quarter of unmarried Japanese men in their 30s were still virgins - even leading to the coining of a specific term, "yaramiso", to describe them.

Posted by orrinj at 1:05 PM


How New Orleans Made Charter Schools Work : Since Katrina, the Crescent City's schools have produced what some experts believe to be the most rapid academic improvement in American history--and created a reform model other cities are trying. (David Osborne, 6/08/15, Washington Monthly)

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, 92.5 percent of public school students in New Orleans attend charters. The Tulane University economist Douglas Harris, who leads a research team focused on education reform, calls it "the most radical overhaul of any type in any school district in at least a century."

In Katrina's wake, a governor and legislature frustrated with New Orleans's chronic corruption and abysmal public schools placed all but seventeen of them into its new Recovery School District (RSD), created just two years before to take over failing schools. Gradually, the RSD converted them all into charters. Today it oversees fifty-seven charters in the city, while the old Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) oversees fourteen charters and operates five traditional schools. (The city also has four charters authorized directly by the state board of education and one independent state school.)

The city's two districts, unlike traditional districts, do more overseeing than operating; they steer more than they row. They authorize schools, negotiate performance contracts (charters), measure results, and close schools whose students are lagging behind. Not all the schools succeed; educating poor, minority students in the inner city is extremely challenging. But on a variety of measures, New Orleans is improving faster than any other district in the state, if not the nation. Indeed, it may soon surpass its state on many metrics, a rare feat for a major American city.

Before Katrina, most public schools were terrible. In 2005 the city ranked sixty-seventh out of sixty-eight districts in Louisiana, itself a low performer compared to other states. Last year, New Orleans was forty-first out of sixty-nine school districts in Louisiana.

Before Katrina, some 62 percent of students attended schools rated "failing" by the state. Though the standard for failure has been raised, only 7 percent of students attend "failing" schools today.

Before Katrina, only 35 percent of students scored at grade level or above on state standardized tests. Last year 62 percent did.

Before Katrina, almost half of New Orleans students dropped out, and less than one in five went on to college. Last year, 73 percent graduated from high school in four years, two points below the state average, and 59 percent of graduates entered college, equaling the state average.

And according to a 2015 CREDO study, between 2006 and 2012 New Orleans's charter students gained nearly half a year of additional learning in math and a third of a year in reading, every year, compared to similar students in the city's non-chartered public schools.

There's nothing wrong with cities that destroying and depopulating them won't help.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Russia is not strong. And Putin is even weaker. (Pavel K. Baev, June 8, 2015, Brookings)

Sergey Aleksashenko wants everyone to stop calling Russia weak. He contends that Russia is actually stronger than many people believe
--to include U.S. President Barack Obama and British military historian Lawrence Freedman among other prominent voices. But Russia is weak and Russian President Vladimir Putin is even weaker.  [...]

What is less obvious for many Russia-watchers is that the military strength demonstrated so pompously on the Red Square during the May 9 Victory Day parade is also in decline. In Ukraine, the lack of any meaningful political or strategic Russian goals erodes the morale of the troops who are clandestinely deployed there. Nervous about the domestic political consequences of growing casualties, Putin has classified information about warzone deaths as a state secret. The costs of the war are mounting, and over-spending in the Armaments 2020 priority procurement program is yet another item in the list of embarrassing fiscal setbacks. It is clear to serious Russian economists that military expenditures have been out of control for the last four quarters at least. Such spending cannot be sustained indefinitely, and deep cuts in the defense budget are certain this year.

Second, Alakshashenko's description of Russian intimidation of its neighbors misses that many of Russia's neighbors do not find it fearsome. While Georgia sees the need to tread carefully and avoid confrontation (even when signing an association agreement with the EU), Estonia and Latvia have turned their exposure to Russian pressure into a strategic advantage, requesting and receiving substantial support from NATO. Moscow continues its military provocations in the Baltic theater, but it realizes that the military balance there is ultimately not in its favor. In the Arctic, Finland has joined the international Arctic Challenge 2015 exercise, which makes use of the Rovaniemi air base; Finland is apparently unperturbed by the fact that Russia's newly-formed Arctic brigade is deployed just 30 miles across the border from this city.  

It is prudent of NATO to be vigilant along its northern flank, but Russia has little or no capacity for simultaneously waging two "hybrid wars." Back in 1940, Stalin amassed some 600,000 troops for the swift occupation of three defenseless Baltic states; now, Putin can deploy only about 50,000 troops for the (very probable) upcoming offensive in Donbass.

...is failing to recognize how weak the Soviet Union was.  Russia has declined from a depth, not a great height.

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


Peace would pump billions into Israeli economy, new study shows (RAPHAEL AHREN, June 8, 2015, Times of Israel)

Israel stands to gain some $120 billion (NIS 460 billion) over the next decade from a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on the two-state solution, according to an extensive new study from an American think tank.

The Palestinians would gain $50 billion (NIS 193 billion) from such a deal, according to the Rand Corporation, which measured current GDP growth rates, population growth rates and other factors to come up with the figures, released Monday.

The Palestinian gain would mean an average per capita income increase of about 36 percent, the group said in Jerusalem, while Israel, which has a larger economy, would see a more modest per capita gain.

June 7, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Turkey's Ruling Party Loses Parliamentary Majority (TIM ARANGO and CEYLAN YEGINSUJUNE 7, 2015, NY Times)

Turkish voters delivered a rebuke on Sunday to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as his party lost its majority in Parliament in a historic election that dealt a blow to his ambition to rewrite Turkey's Constitution and increase his power.

The election results represented a significant setback to Mr. Erdogan, an Islamist who has steadily increased his power as president, a partly but not solely ceremonial post. After more than a decade as prime minister, Mr. Erdogan has pushed for more control of the judiciary and cracked down on any form of criticism, including prosecutions of those who insult him on social media, but his efforts appeared to have run aground on Sunday.

The election was also a significant victory to the cadre of Kurds, liberals and secular Turks who found their voice of opposition to Mr. Erdogan during sweeping antigovernment protests two years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 3:28 PM


Early results show stinging blow to Erdogan in elections (SUZAN FRASER AND DESMOND BUTLER, June 7, 2015, AP) 

Preliminary vote counting in Turkey's parliamentary election Sunday suggested that voters have rejected the ruling party's bid to remake the constitution.

With about 80 percent of the vote counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, was well ahead of other parties with just under 43 percent, according to state-run TRT television. But the projections had it hovering around just 270 seats -- the bare minimum to retain a simple majority in parliament.

In a blow to the ruling party's chances, the main Kurdish party was running at over 11 percent -- above the 10 percent minimum threshold for representation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:25 PM


Tribal schisms tearing Israel apart, Rivlin cautions (AVI LEWIS, June 7, 2015, Times of Israel)

President Reuven Rivlin warned Sunday that predicted changes to Israel's population makeup could harbinger severe economic and social issues that will threaten the future of the Jewish state and bring about a "new Israeli order."

Speaking at an annual conference, Rivlin cautioned against the deterioration of Israeli society brought by burgeoning Arab and ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, birthrates, and voiced concern for the future of "Israeliness" -- or Israeli identity -- that may become subsumed by four separate groups split along "tribal" lines -- Arab, ultra-Orthodox, national religious and secular.

"The 'new Israeli order' is not an apocalyptic prophecy. It is the reality. A reality that can already be seen in the composition of the first-grade classes in the Israeli education system," Rivlin told the 15th Herzliya Conference.

Herzog warns of emerging binational state 'threat' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, June 7, 2015)

Israeli opposition head Isaac Herzog warned Sunday that, if efforts to reach a peace deal in the region fail, "the biggest threat to the existence of the State of Israel" is the possible emergence of a binational state roughly divided among Jews and Arabs.

"In about a decade, the Arabs between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a majority and the Jews a minority," Herzog stated during an address at the Herzliya Conference. "The Jewish national home will become the Palestinian national home. We will be, again, for the first time since 1948, a Jewish minority among an increasing Arab majority."

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


How Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson remained fierce competitors without becoming bitter rivals : a review of The Secret of Golf: The Story of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus by Joe Posnanski, (Cliff Schrock, 6/07/15, GolfDigest.com)

The rivalry between Nicklaus and Watson detailed in this new book by and large was never outwardly hostile and cold toward each other. Watson grew up an Arnold Palmer fan and, like many, saw Jack as the guy cutting in on his golf hero's reign at the top. But Posnanski writes that Watson recognized how incredible Nicklaus was as a player and person from the time he first met Jack in 1967 as a 17-year-old competing in an exhibition with him.

That first step in the rivalry relationship masks the fact that an ultimate friendship between Watson and Nicklaus wasn't strongly evident, or at least not initially. Jack and Arnold made sense, and Jack and Gary Player for sure as The Big Three triangulated. But Watson, at 10 years younger than Nicklaus and as a thorn who put a scarring puncture on Nicklaus' end-of-his-prime chances to win majors, would not come to mind as being on Jack's buddy list. Of course, the wonder of Nicklaus is that his greatness in golf as a champion may be outdone by his greatness as a loser. It takes a huge amount of moxie and recognition of where golf relates in life to be able to walk off an 18th green with your arm around the player who just put you in second place at a major. Nicklaus did that with several opponents, knowing where golf ranks in life, and he did it most memorably with Watson at Turnberry in 1977.

Posted by orrinj at 11:01 AM


Pink Slips at Disney. But First, Training Foreign Replacements. (JULIA PRESTON, JUNE 3, 2015, NY Times)

The employees who kept the data systems humming in the vast Walt Disney fantasy fief did not suspect trouble when they were suddenly summoned to meetings with their boss.

While families rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and searched for Nemo on clamobiles in the theme parks, these workers monitored computers in industrial buildings nearby, making sure millions of Walt Disney World ticket sales, store purchases and hotel reservations went through without a hitch. Some were performing so well that they thought they had been called in for bonuses.

Instead, about 250 Disney employees were told in late October that they would be laid off. Many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India. Over the next three months, some Disney employees were required to train their replacements to do the jobs they had lost. [...]

Too often, critics say, the visas are being used to bring in immigrants to do the work of Americans for less money, with laid-off American workers having to train their replacements.

"The program has created a highly lucrative business model of bringing in cheaper H-1B workers to substitute for Americans," said Ronil Hira, a professor of public policy at Howard University who studies visa programs and has testified before Congress about H-1B visas.

The robots will be even cheaper.
Posted by orrinj at 10:58 AM


These 11 charts show how American houses have changed since the '70s (ANDY KIERSZ, JUN. 2, 2015, Business Insider)

Houses have been getting bigger and fancier for the last several decades, and we have the charts to prove it.

Every year, the Census Bureau releases data on the characteristics of newly constructed homes, and they recently released info on houses built in 2014.

We decided to take a look at how different aspects of new single family houses have changed over the last several decades.

You don't just work fewer hours to pay for your house, you're getting more house--one of the many ways we underestimate deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Why the worst time to drink coffee is actually in the morning (Roberto A. Ferdman June 1, 2015, Washington Post)

[T]here is such thing as a less than ideal time to drink coffee. And that time is first thing in the morning, when cortisol levels are highest.

There are two basic problems with consuming caffeine when cortisol production is high. First, caffeine tends to interfere with the production of cortisol. The body then produces less of the hormone and relies more on the caffeine.

Second, drinking coffee while cortisol is high leads us to develop long-term tolerances for caffeine, which is why so many habitual coffee drinkers say it has less of an effect on them. In effect, caffeine replaces the boost we would ordinarily get from cortisol rather than supplementing it.

Three times throughout the day--in the early morning, around mid-day, and in the evening-cortisol levels rise. The chart below, plucked from a 2009 study, shows the ebbs and flows. Notice that it's highest between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. (particularly so between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.). While these vary a bit by person--depending on when someone tends to wake up--they are still a reasonable benchmark for people with normal to near-normal waking hours.

It's during the troughs above -- between roughly 10 a.m. and noon, and 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.--when people should drink coffee if they want to get the most out of their caffeine. Between those hours, the coffee is actually most needed, and, perhaps most importantly, will not interfere with our body's own essential mechanism for keeping us alert.

Studies have shown that when people talk about developing a "tolerance" for coffee, they are often talking--albeit unknowingly--about the reality that their coffee consumption has fostered a decrease in the amount of cortisol their body produces during the day.

Posted by orrinj at 9:29 AM


Ordinary Christian Work (Tim Challies, June 01, 2015)

Of the many legacies of the Protestant Reformation, few have had greater and wider-reaching impact than the rediscovery of the biblical understanding of vocation. Before the Reformation, the only people with a vocation or calling were those who were engaged in full-time church work--monks, nuns, or priests. As Gene Veith writes in God at Work:

The ordinary occupations of life--being a peasant farmer or kitchen maid, making tools or clothing, being a soldier or even king--were acknowledged as necessary but worldly. Such people could be saved, but they were mired in the world. To serve God fully, to live a life that is truly spiritual, required a full-time commitment. [...]

Paul's third point is especially important to ordinary Christian work. He tells these Christians to "aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one" (vv. 11-12). If the Bible was going to tell believers that full-time ministry was a better or higher calling, if it was going to tell us that the best Christians are the ones who sell all they own and move to the other side of the planet, this is exactly where we would expect to find it. But we do not. We find something altogether different.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul gives very simple instructions that transcend time, geography, and culture. He tells the Thessalonians to live quietly, to mind their own business, and to work with their hands. When he tells them to live quietly, he means for them to be content to be unknown and unnoticed. There is a paradox here: they are to work hard to be still, or to make it their ambition to be free from worldly ambition. They are to be content with their lot and to know that this contentment is how they can best honor God. When Paul tells them to mind their own business, he means for them to focus on their own work and to avoid being busybodies, who are busy with everything but what matters most. And when he tells them to work with their own hands, he means for them to carry on the work in which they are engaged, even (or especially) if that work involves manual labor. He could call them to all of this because their work had intrinsic value simply because it was their calling--their God-given vocation.

Especially manual work.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


Don't break up the megabanks : The Sanders solution is appealing, but the "mega" isn't the real problem. (MICHAEL GRUNWALD, 6/05/15, Politico)

Breaking up the banks is one of those ideas that sound great in theory but less so in reality, a no-brainer until you run it through your brain. It's not that size doesn't matter at all, but the debate over size has been absurdly one-sided, ignoring the benefits of bigness, the potential costs of breakups, and what's already been done to address the too-big-to-fail problem. With Wall Street salaries and bonuses once again as exorbitant as they were before the recent financial crisis,  there will be huge pressure on 2016 candidates to prove their hostility to financial elites; on the Democratic side, Sanders and Martin O'Malley are already calling for bank breakups, so Hillary Clinton will surely be tempted to join them. But before financial disintegration becomes a populist litmus test, people ought to understand what it would mean.

For example: Did you know that the financial institutions at the heart of the 2008 crisis were not the very biggest banks? That the very biggest banks were actually indispensable to defusing the crisis? That the U.S. banking system is far less top-heavy than its foreign counterparts? It's possible to know those facts and still support the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act, the chainsaw of a bill that Senator Sanders and Congressman Brad Sherman filed in early May. But they're important facts.

Before I explain, I should disclose that I helped former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner with his memoir about the recent crisis. But you can't blame Secretary Geithner for my views; I was writing favorably about the financial bailouts (which, by the way, ended up turning a profit for taxpayers) even before I met him. In any case, nobody wants the government to bail out irresponsible bankers. The question is how to structure and monitor the financial system to minimize the risk of the devastating crises that make bailouts inevitable.

Is splitting up financial behemoths the best way to minimize that risk? Some reformers think so. So do the small but well-organized "community banks" that tend to get their way on Capitol Hill. "This isn't a left-wing solution," Sherman told me. "Most banks endorse it!" They would, wouldn't they? There are about 6,800 banks in the U.S., and most of them would love to see the government take a hatchet to their largest competitors. Here are some points they rarely mention....

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM


The Time of the Kurds (A CFR InfoGuide Presentation)

The Kurds are one of the world's largest peoples without a state, making up sizable minorities in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Their history is marked by marginalization and persecution. Yet some Kurds may be on the verge of achieving their century-old quest for independence in a Middle East undergoing the convulsions of Syria's civil war, Iraq's destabilization, and conflict with the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

The Kurds are one of the indigenous peoples of the Middle East and the region's fourth-largest ethnic group. They speak Kurdish, an Indo-European language, and are predominantly Sunni Muslims. Kurds have a distinct culture, traditional dress, and holidays, including Nowruz, the springtime New Year festival that is also celebrated by Iranians and others who use the Persian calendar. Kurdish nationalism emerged during the twentieth century following the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the formation of new nation-states across the Middle East.

The estimated thirty million Kurds reside primarily in mountainous regions of present-day Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey and remain one of the world's largest peoples without a sovereign state. The Kurds are not monolithic, however, and tribal identities and political interests often supersede a unifying national allegiance. Some Kurds, particularly those who have migrated to urban centers, such as Istanbul, Damascus, and Tehran, have integrated and assimilated, while many who remain in their ancestral lands maintain a strong sense of a distinctly Kurdish identity. A Kurdish diaspora of an estimated two million is concentrated primarily in Europe. [...]

The quest for independence is intrinsic to Kurdish identity. However, not all Kurds envision a unified Kurdistan that would span the Kurdish regions of all four countries. Most Kurdish movements and political parties are focused on the concerns and the autonomy or independence of Kurds in their specific countries. Within each country, there are also Kurds who have assimilated, and whose aspirations may be limited to greater cultural freedoms and political recognition.

Kurds throughout the region have vigorously pursued their goals through a multitude of groups. While some Kurds established legitimate political parties and organizations in efforts to promote Kurdish rights and freedom, others have waged armed struggles. Some, like the Turkish PKK, employed guerrilla tactics as well as terror attacks on civilians, including fellow Kurds.

The wide array of Kurdish political parties and groups reflects the internal divisions among Kurds, which often follow tribal, linguistic, and national fault lines, in addition to political disagreements and rivalries. Tensions between the two dominant Iraqi Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), escalated to a civil war that killed more than two thousand Kurds in the mid-1990s.

Political disunity stretches across borders as well, with Kurdish parties and organizations forming offshoots or forging alliances in neighboring countries. Today, disagreement over the prospects for Kurdish autonomy in Syria or Iraqi Kurds' relations with the Turkish government fosters tensions that have pitted the Iraqi KDP and its Syrian sister organization, the KDP-S, against the PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the PYD. Still, adversarial Kurdish groups have worked together when it has been expedient. The threat posed by the Islamic State has led KDP-affiliated peshmerga to fight alongside Syrian PYD forces.

Kurdish groups have at times bargained with not only their own governments but also neighboring ones, in some cases at the expense of their relations with their Kurdish brethren. The complex relationships among Kurdish groups and between the Kurds and the region's governments have fluctuated, and alliances have formed and faltered as political conditions have changed. The Kurds' disunity is cited by experts as one of the primary causes for their inability to form a state of their own. Another is that as a landlocked people they are reliant on governments that oppose their independence.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


Assessing the Future of the US-UK Special Relationship (Ted Bromund, 6/07/15, Daily Signal)

For most of the era between 1776 and 1941, the U.S. was, for historical reasons that had increasingly little to do with reality, the standoffish partner in the Anglo-American relationship. There was, of course, anti-Americanism in the U.K., more often on the right than the left, but American Anglophobia was far more powerful. Nor did it disappear in 1941.

When the American people were surveyed in 1944, of the one-third who were dissatisfied with the extent of cooperation among the Big Three, 54 percent blamed the U.K. while only 18 percent blamed the USSR. Not until the late 1950s did Anglophobia cease to be a major factor in U.S. political life.

Today, when the U.K. stands second only behind Canada as the foreign nation that Americans like best, this is a difficult fact to remember, which is why it is tempting to treat this second condition as of strictly historical interest. But it is not yet a matter for history, because it indicates that something important has changed.

Since 1776, the fate of the Anglo-American relationship has usually rested in the hands of the United States, because it was U.S. sentiments that established the limits of the possible.

But now, precisely because U.S. views of the U.K. are reliably positive, the fate of that relationship rests--for the first time ever--fundamentally in the hands of the U.K. There are no votes to be won in the U.S. by criticizing the U.K. There are, however, votes to be won in the U.K. by criticizing the U.S. Of course, public opinion can be strongly negative (or positive) and yet not be salient: The beliefs are felt, but not felt often enough to matter. But just as it formerly did in the U.S., public opinion in Britain now determines the limits of the possible for the special relationship.

But the British public also limits what is possible where the EU is concerned. A 2014 YouGov poll found that only 17 percent of the British public identified itself as strongly European. The level of European identification in France was twice as high, even though half the French public wants to leave the EU.

British dissatisfaction is not limited to Europe: A 2008 poll found that British views of many Western or Western-allied foreign nations--India, Japan, and Germany--were strongly negative or barely positive. The only significant exceptions were Australia, Sweden, and Ireland. This poll found that the U.S. was about as popular in the U.K. as Germany, which, given both the Blitz and various World Cups, is remarkable.

When they withdraw from the EU they should simply seek admission to NAFTA.  Expansion to England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia/New Zealand and Scandinavia is natural.  Much of the historical tension is drained because we're no longer on the hook to fight each others wars.  Free trade and free movement of peoples is an easy sell.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Lord Mandelson: Labour's huge Northern Powerhouse mistake (BBC, 6/06/15)

Lord Mandelson has criticised Labour for failing to come up with a credible strategy for decentralising power from London to northern England. [..]

"We stepped back and passed the ball to the Conservatives and the coalition," he told BBC's Sunday Politics North West.

"And what did they do? They ran with it... and it was a strong part of their appeal both in the North West but also nationally.

"And the Labour Party, I'm afraid, has a long way to catch up. But catch up, it must do."

He added: "I think George Osborne got it. I think he got it because he saw an electoral advantage in it... and we let him do so. And that was a huge political mistake."

The election wasn't just about reducing government but about reducing the size of  polities--the EU, Great Britain and England--down to their constituent parts. 

June 6, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 PM


Air strikes against Isis continue day after US general defends bombing campaign (Agencies, 6 June 2015)

A day after a senior general offered an emphatic defence of the air campaign that has not stopped advances by Islamic State militants, the US military said it and its allies had carried out another 14 strikes in Iraq and seven in Syria.

In a news conference he said was called to counter misconceptions about the use of air power in an unconventional war, Air Force Lieutenant General John W Hesterman III said on Friday that pilots serving the US-led coalition were killing more than 1,000 militants a month while avoiding casualties among civilians and Iraqi government forces.

Posted by orrinj at 8:58 PM


As Labour tries to resolve its past, the Tories are mapping the future (Andrew Rawnsley,  6 June 2015, The Guardian)

[W]e don't see a Tory party lamenting that it has the keys of office in its grasp. Misery is not the emotion engraved on their faces. They think this was a good election to win. They have the opportunity to pursue their agenda for another five years and this time unshackled from the Lib Dems. Cabinet ministers are not treating the slenderness of their majority as a reason to go cautiously, but as a spur to entrench their advantages while opponents are still bandaging their wounds and they still enjoy the lustre of being freshly returned to power. As Labour tries to fathom why it lost in 2015, the Tories are already thinking about how they can win another and better majority in 2020.

Some elements of the Conservative plan are more subtle than others. In the crudely obvious category, there is the Tory intention to landscape the electoral battlefield so that it becomes more favourable to them. The Queen's speech announced a direct attack on Labour's funding base from the unions. Legislation will require union members to make a positive choice to "opt in" to paying the political levy. Some senior Labour figures privately think this might ultimately do a good turn for the party by weaning it off inertial funding from union members and forcing a radical rethink about the way Labour finances and organises itself. In the short-term, Labour is threatened with a serious hit that will increase the money advantage already enjoyed by the Conservatives. The Tories are not proposing - surprise, surprise - to address any of the issues about the way they are bankrolled by corporates, hedge funds and small numbers of exceedingly rich individuals.

The Conservatives think they can further help themselves by altering the franchise to extend it to Brits who have lived abroad for more than 15 years. There are more than three million of them and many are on the elderly side. The Tories sniff electoral gold in these older expats because they are likely to be more Tory than the typical voter. Then they plan to do what the Lib Dems stopped them from doing in the last parliament and redraw the constituency boundaries. There are varying estimates about the impact this will have. Everyone agrees that it will boost the Tories and make the intimidating mountain facing Labour even steeper to climb. Some projections suggest that it will mean that Labour will have to win more than 100 seats to secure a majority at the next election, a feat hardly ever achieved in Britain.

It is a truth universally, if rather belatedly, acknowledged by the leadership contenders that Labour lost Middle England because it didn't convince that it could be trusted with the economy. Even if the party had not been obliterated in Scotland, Labour would have wound up 60 seats behind the Tories because they lost the battle for swing voters in English marginals. Five years too late, the leadership candidates are trying to formulate answers to the charge that the last Labour government overspent. While Labour is still trying to resolve a question about its past, the Tories are mapping the future. The next few weeks of British politics will be dominated by the chancellor as he prepares his July budget and begins to reveal some of the cuts that he kept from the voters at the election. The spending reductions George Osborne announced last week were merely the overture. As the cuts are unveiled, there will be blood-curdling forecasts from unions, professional bodies, local councils and the Institute for Fiscal Studies about what they will mean for key public services. There will be protests and accusations that the government is recklessly cutting too much, too fast. That's what happened during the last parliament. The result? The Tories sliced £120bn from public spending and missed their deficit targets, but they still won the election because, whatever the swing voter of Nuneaton thought about the Conservative record, she had a lower opinion of Labour's economic competence.

...being that there's so much to cut before we get anywhere near muscle.
Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM



For the first time ever a computer has managed to develop a new scientific theory using only its artificial intelligence, and with no help from human beings.

Computer scientists and biologists from Tufts University programmed the computer so that it was able to develop a theory independently when it was faced with a scientific problem. The problem they chose was one that has been puzzling biologists for 120 years. The genes of sliced-up flatworms are capable of regenerating in order to form new organisms -- this is a long-documented phenomenon, but scientists have been mystified for years over exactly what happens to the cells to make this possible.

By presenting the computer with this problem, however, it was able to reverse engineer a solution that could explain the mechanism of the process, known as planaria.

June 5, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Israel, Saudi Arabia admit secret diplomacy for first time (Jerusalem Post, 6/05/15)

Israel and Saudi Arabia have held five secret meetings since the beginning of 2014 to discuss the common threat Iran posses to the region, it was revealed for the first time Thursday at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, according to Bloomberg.

Although the two are considered to be historic enemies, with Saudi Arabia refusing to recognize the Jewish State's right to exist, they never-the-less have engaged in a campaign of clandestine diplomacy in an effort to thwart the Islamic Republic's growing influence in the Middle East. 

Just as an alliance of those who support self-determination in the Middle East--the US and the Shi'a--was inevitable, so too was a partnership of those who oppose democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Did Antonin Scalia just confess to being a creationist? (Meghan DiMaria, 6/05/15, The Week)

In a speech at his granddaughter's high school graduation Thursday, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia hinted that he may believe some tenets of creationism.

"Class of 2015, you should not leave Stone Ridge High School thinking that you face challenges that are at all, in any important sense, unprecedented," Scalia said during the speech. "Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were."

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


John Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' survives censorship attempt in Idaho (MICHAEL SCHAUB, 6/05/15, LA Times)

The book was challenged last month by community members, including Mary Jo Finney, who said the novella "is neither a quality story nor a page turner." She and others objected to profanity in the book, including "bastard" and "God damn," and found the novella, set in California during the Great Depression, too "negative" and "dark."

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Outsider Artist: Understanding the Beauty of Steph Curry's Jumper (KIRK GOLDSBERRY, 6/04/15, Grantland)

There's never been a player like this. When Curry is hot, he can make a 3-pointer look as effortless as a clear-lane layup. He is changing how we think of 3-point shooting, and he's doing it as a point guard. Point guards aren't supposed to lead the NBA in made 3s, let alone break Ray Allen's shooting records. Curry doesn't care. He may play in Oakland, but in the parlance of nearby Silicon Valley, he has disrupted the perimeter market by doing things his own way. Now he's the CEO of the most exciting start-up venture in town.

Usually, 3-pointers are catch-and-shoot affairs. A playmaker wreaks havoc somewhere in the middle of the floor, defensive help collapses on him, and the playmaker finds the open man on the perimeter. The shooter collects the pass, sets his feet, and rises for a relatively clean, unfettered look at the rim. After all, it takes time and space to launch a 9-inch-wide ball through an elevated 18-inch-wide metal ring located 25 feet away. As a result, 84 percent of NBA 3s involve an assist, and 76 percent of 3s do not involve any dribbling by the shooter. But, of course, these typicalities do not apply to Wardell Stephen Curry II.

It's not that Curry isn't a good catch-and-shoot guy -- he most certainly is. He tied for ninth in the league by knocking down 136 no-dribble 3s this season, hitting at a ridiculous 47 percent clip. As you can see above, he's absolutely lethal in the corners, which is almost exclusively a catch-and-shoot zone. But while those are admirable numbers, catch-and-shoot specialists seldom make the All-Star team, let alone walk away with the MVP trophy. Something else is going on here.

It's telling that the NBA's top two MVP candidates -- Curry and Houston's James Harden -- happen to be the best at creating unassisted 3s. But with all due respect to the inventive skills of Harden, Curry is the patent-holder of the unassisted triple. Nobody on earth can self-generate beyond the arc like he can. This season, the Denver Nuggets ranked 11th in the NBA with 106 unassisted 3s. Curry had 118 by himself.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


Broad Public Support for Legal Status for Undocumented Immigrants (Pew Research, 6/04/15)

With immigration shaping up to be a major issue in both the final years of the Obama administration and the 2016 presidential campaign, most Americans (72%) continue to say undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met. [...]

However, while most Republicans support allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally if they meet certain requirements, a majority (58%) views a path to legal status as a reward for doing something wrong. [...]

Among Republicans, 42% think legal immigration into the U.S. should be decreased, compared with 34% who think it should be kept at its present level and just 21% say it should be increased. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


The Rise of Algorithmic HR : Why companies are turning to data-driven AI for hiring (Stowe Boyd, 6/05/15)

A group of researchers -- Nathan R. Kuncel, Deniz S. Ones, and David M. Klieger -- analyzed 17 studies of job applicant evaluations and found that a simple algorithm outperforms human decision-making by at least 25%. Why does this seem counterintuitive? Shouldn't human experience and understanding of company culture have a higher predictive power?

It turns out that human beings are good at defining what a job is, and also good at getting information from candidates to help evaluate them. But people are simply bad at synthesizing that information, and making the right determination. Why? The researchers explain:

The problem is that people are easily distracted by things that might be only marginally relevant, and they use information inconsistently. They can be thrown off course by such inconsequential bits of data as applicants' compliments or remarks on arbitrary topics -- thus inadvertently undoing a lot of the work that went into establishing parameters for the job and collecting applicants' data. So they'd be better off leaving selection to the machines.

Needless to say, there would be strong resistance to this idea. Surveys suggest that when assessing individuals, 85% to 97% of professionals rely to some degree on intuition or a mental synthesis of information. Many managers clearly believe they can make the best decision by pondering an applicant's folder and looking into his or her eyes -- no algorithm, they would argue, can substitute for a veteran's accumulated knowledge. If companies did impose a numbers-only hiring policy, people would almost certainly find ways to circumvent it.

Other research has shown that human cognitive biases get in the way, too. People tend to lend more weight to experiences and background that they share with candidates, like attending the same schools, speaking the same dialect, or having a common religion.

As a result, more companies are leaving decisions about hiring to algorithms.

June 4, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 PM


US Air Force Targets and Destroys ISIS HQ Building Using Social Media (MIKE HOFFMAN, JUNE 3, 2015, Defense Tech)

Much has been made about the ability of ISIS to master social media to recruit and broadcast their victories. But the U.S. Air Force is turning the militant group's eagerness to share on social media into that intelligence that produces targets.

Air Force Gen. Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command, described Monday how airmen at Hurlburt Field, Florida, with the 361st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, recognized a comment on social media and turned that into an airstrike that resulted in three Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) missiles destroying am Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) headquarters building.

"It was a post on social media to bombs on target in less than 24 hours," Carlisle said. "Incredible work when you think about."

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Who's Afraid of Social Security Reform? Not the GOP (HAL BUNDRICK, June 4, 2015, Fiscal Times)

Bush is not alone in suggesting a fundamental change to Social Security. In a large, and growing, field of Republican contenders, most are calling for boosting the retirement age. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie proposes a normal retirement age of 69 -- with early retirement benefits delayed to age 64. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has floated similar increases.

Rand Paul is also in favor of raising the retirement age, but only for younger workers. And like most Republicans, he favors "means testing" - a reduction in Social Security benefits for the wealthy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Steven Pinker explains how capitalism is killing war (Zack Beauchamp, June 4, 2015, Vox)

I spoke with Pinker this week to discuss some of the reasons why, specifically, he thinks the world has gotten so much safer, especially in the past 70 years. We talked about the idea that war just isn't as profitable as it used to be, why Vladimir Putin and ISIS seem to think differently, and what world leaders should do if they actually want to make sure the unprecedented peace of the past 70 years holds. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.

Zack Beauchamp: One story you hear from political scientists for why there's been less war recently that it's just less profitable --countries don't gain very much, economically or politically, from taking over new land anymore. Does that seem right to you?

Steven Pinker: Yes, it's one of the causes. It's the theory of the capitalist peace: when it's cheaper to buy things than to steal them, people don't steal them. Also, if other people are more valuable to you alive than dead, you're less likely to kill them. You don't kill your customers or your lenders, so the arrival of the infrastructure of trade and commerce reduces some of the sheer exploitative incentives of conquest.

This is an idea that goes back to the Enlightenment. Adam Smith and Montesquieu extolled it; it was on the minds of the founders when they built incentives for free trade into the Constitution.

I don't think it's the entire story of the decline in war. But I do think it's part of the story. There was a well-known study from Bruce Russett and John Oneal showing statistically that countries that engage in more trade are less likely to get into militarized disputes, and countries that are more integrated into the world economy are less likely to get into trouble with their neighbors.

June 3, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 PM


The Supreme Court Could Transfer A Lot Of Political Power Away From Cities (DAVID WASSERMAN and HARRY ENTEN, 6/03/15, 538)

[T]he Texas plaintiffs argue that states should be allowed to apportion seats based on where only U.S. citizens over 18 years of age live.

It seems like a minor detail, but it's actually a major distinction. The decennial Census doesn't track citizenship data, but the Census's American Community Survey does. And although all 435 U.S. congressional districts have roughly equal total populations, the number of eligible voters and rates of actual participation can vary wildly from place to place.

For example, in Florida's 11th District, home to the largely white retirement mecca of The Villages, 81 percent of all residents are adult citizens. But in California's heavily Latino 34th District, anchored by downtown Los Angeles, only 41 percent of all residents are eligible to vote. The variations across districts in terms of actual turnout can be even more eye-popping. According to results compiled by Polidata for the Cook Political Report, Montana's lone House district cast 483,932 votes for president in 2012, more than four times the tally in Texas's 29th District, 114,901.

A move toward counting only eligible voters, as logistically difficult as it may be, would drastically shift political power away from the urban environs with minorities and noncitizens, and toward whiter areas with larger native-born populations. That's bad news for Democrats: Of the 50 congressional districts with the lowest shares of eligible voters, 41 are occupied by Democrats (nearly all are Latino-majority seats). Meanwhile, of the 50 districts with the highest shares of eligible voters, 38 are represented by the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Shiite pilgrims tussle with Iran hardliners over nuke talks (AFP, June 3, 2015)

Iranian pilgrims at a Shiite holy site near the city of Qom intervened against the distribution of leaflets opposing Tehran's nuclear talks with world powers, state news agency IRNA reported Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 PM


Why Iran's Revolutionary Guard backs a nuclear deal: It's just business (Scott Peterson, JUNE 3, 2015, CS Monitor)

One reason is that the IRGC is loyal to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has cautiously endorsed a nuclear deal. But another, say analysts, is that years of managing lucrative companies have created a more flexible business-first mentality, offsetting its ideological orientation.

In short, sanctions relief is good for the economy, which is good for everyone's business. And more broadly, easing the daily plight of ordinary Iranians helps guarantee survival of the Islamic Republic - thereby preserving the IRGC's prominent role.

President Hassan Rouhani won the June 2013 elections in part by promising to remove the sanctions. While some in the Guard benefited from earlier years of sanctions, until about 2011, the far more comprehensive measures imposed under President Barack Obama - from curtailing Iran's oil exports to throttling its cash transactions - have hurt even the big players.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 PM


What is Civilization? (Imaginative Conservative, 6/03/15)

"There are few words which are used more loosely than the word 'Civilization.' What does it mean? It means a society based upon the opinion of civilians. It means that violence, the rule of warriors and despotic chiefs, the conditions of camps and warfare, of riot and tyranny, give place to parliaments where laws are made, and independent courts of justice in which over long periods those laws are maintained. That is Civilization-- and in its soil grow continually freedom, comfort, and culture. When Civilization reigns, in any country, a wider and less harassed life is afforded to the masses of the people. The traditions of the past are cherished, and the inheritance bequeathed to us by former wise or valiant men becomes a rich estate to be enjoyed and used by all." --Winston Churchill, 1938

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


George W. Bush outpolls Barack Obama (NICK GASS, 6/3/15, Politico)

Americans now have a more favorable view of former President George W. Bush than they do of President Barack Obama.

It is the first time in more than a decade that Americans have expressed a favorable view of Bush, at least according to a new CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday.

Bush is seen in a favorable light by 52 percent of those surveyed, compared with 43 percent who still view the 43rd president unfavorably.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Germany dominance over as demographic crunch worsens (Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, 01 Jun 2015, The Telegraph)

Germany's birth rate has collapsed to the lowest level in the world and its workforce will start plunging at a faster rate than Japan's by the early 2020s, seriously threatening the long-term viability of Europe's leading economy.

A study by the World Economy Institute in Hamburg (HWWI) found that the average number of births per 1,000 population dropped to 8.2 over the five years from 2008 to 2013, further compounding a demographic crisis already in the pipeline. Even Japan did slightly better at 8.4.

The Hun--at your throat, at your feet, or under them.

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


'Novorossiya' Falls From Putin's Vocabulary as Ukraine Crisis Drags (PAUL SONNE, May 29, 2015, WSJ)

When Vladimir Putin first mentioned Novorossiya over a year ago, alarm bells went off in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

The czarist-era term, which means New Russia, refers to a large swath of modern-day Ukraine that Catherine the Great won from the Ottomans and Cossacks at the end of the 18th century. Hearing it from the Russian president in April 2014 reinforced fears that Moscow's designs on its neighbor extended beyond the Crimean peninsula and across Ukraine's southern shores to Odessa.

But now, as abruptly as the Novorossiya movement appeared, it has begun to fade. Mr. Putin has stopped using the term. More modest borders for the Russia-backed rebel republics in eastern Ukraine have begun settling into place. The word is heard less and less on Russian state television.

It's not much of a feat, but the UR really mauled Putin.

June 2, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 PM


As ideology fades in Cuba, spirituality and popes intervene (Nick Miroff, June 1, 2015, Washington Post)

The island has experienced a religious revival of sorts in the past 25 years, as the demise of Soviet totalitarianism has made room for a tropical Marxism that is less than total but still highly controlling.

Cuba was never a deeply pious country in the cloth of some other Latin American nations. But the Catholic Church and other denominations have come a long way from the 1960s and '70s, when Fidel Castro's revolution sent religious believers to labor camps and enshrined atheism in the constitution.

Today, Christmas and Good Friday are national holidays once more. Churchgoers no longer face official discrimination. For the first time in five decades, the government has given the church permission to build a cathedral. And Catholic authorities face increasing competition from fast-growing evangelical denominations, many with close ties to U.S. churches.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


The feminist revolution is eating its own (Naomi Schaefer Riley, June 1, 2015, NY Post)

The revolution always eats its own. That's the lesson from a recent essay by Northwestern University's Laura Kipnis.

Two students were so offended by her article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on why banning romantic relationships between faculty and students was silly that they filed a Title IX complaint against her.

Yes, that's right, legislation that was originally supposed to combat sexual discrimination in public education and athletics is now being used to silence professors who write essays that contradict progressive wisdom.

The charges against Kipnis were dropped over the weekend, but not before she submitted to what she referred to as her "Title IX Inquisition." [...]

Kipnis learned (much to her surprise) that, as she wrote, "any Title IX charge that's filed has to be investigated, which effectively empowers anyone on campus to individually decide, and expand, what Title IX covers. Anyone with a grudge, a political agenda, or a desire for attention can quite easily leverage the system."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 PM


The Flexibility of Racial Bias : Research suggests that racism is not hard wired, offering hope on one of America's enduring problems (Mina Cikara and Jay Van Bavel | June 2, 2015, Scientific American)

There is little question that categories such as race, gender, and age play a major role in shaping the biases and stereotypes that people bring to bear in their judgments of others. However, research has shown that how people categorize themselves may be just as fundamental to understanding prejudice as how they categorize others. When people categorize themselves as part of a group, their self-concept shifts from the individual ("I") to the collective level ("us"). People form groups rapidly and favor members of their own group even when groups are formed on arbitrary grounds, such as the simple flip of a coin. These findings highlight the remarkable ease with which humans form coalitions.

Recent research confirms that coalition-based preferences trump race-based preferences. For example, both Democrats and Republicans favor the resumes of those affiliated with their political party much more than they favor those who share their race. These coalition-based preferences remain powerful even in the absence of the animosity present in electoral politics. Our research has shown that the simple act of placing people on a mixed-race team can diminish their automatic racial bias. In a series of experiments, White participants who were randomly placed on a mixed-race team--the Tigers or Lions--showed little evidence of implicit racial bias. Merely belonging to a mixed-race team trigged positive automatic associations with all of the members of their own group, irrespective of race. Being a part of one of these seemingly trivial mixed-race groups produced similar effects on brain activity--the amygdala responded to team membership rather than race. Taken together, these studies indicate that momentary changes in group membership can override the influence of race on the way we see, think about, and feel toward people who are different from ourselves.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 PM


Deciding who rules the Middle East isn't America's job, but knocking out the Islamic State is (Angelo M. Codevilla, June 1, 2015, Washington times)

Doing away with ISIS requires honesty about what America's business is and is not, what is within our capacity and right to do and what is not. In short, while we have neither the capacity nor the right to determine who rules whom or how anywhere but at home, we have the power and the duty to destroy any individual, band or movement that means to kill us.

Each side recognizes the American people's demand, and avoids it for its own reasons. The Obama administration does so by a de minimis military campaign in former Iraq, combined with mild cooperation with Iran. Thus, to avoid inconveniencing the Middle East's progressive forces, it kicks the ISIS can down the road. Meanwhile, Republicans Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina give that can another kick with implausible calls to "get the locals involved in dealing with their own problems." They seem not to notice that ISIS is our problem now.

Mainstream Republicans -- Sen. John McCain and commentators at Fox News and The Wall Street Journal -- also seem not to notice it because their salient concern is the same as that of the Bush administration: the unity of territorial integrity, and the decency of Iraq and other states in the region. Focused on other peoples' business -- on matters that, patently, are beyond our power or right to decide -- they neglect what it takes to forcefully mind our own business.

An analysis which is not just dishonest, but morally wrong.  ISIS is no threat to us, only to the people where it is trying to take over.  And the simple fact of the matter is that we do get to decide who doesn't get to govern.  It is because ISIS is not democratic that we will not allow them to establish a state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Not the Bush You Think He Is : Jeb Bush is more ruthless than he looks, more conservative than moderates like to believe, and possibly more appealing to Latinos than Marco Rubio. (Jennifer Senior, 6/01/15, New York)

"It doesn't matter where we came from, or why we came."

A narrator is speaking in Spanish. Different Latin American flags are waving in the breeze as he speaks. The Dominican Republic. Mexico. Colombia.

"In this land," the voice continues, "we find opportunity, a better education for our children, the medical care our families deserve, a state that has opened its heart and has told us this is our house."

Venezuela. Nicaragua. And then, finally, the state flag of Florida.

"We all want a better life." This is Jeb Bush now, appearing onscreen. "Together, we are making it happen in this land, our home: Florida."

He is speaking in Spanish. It is nearly flawless.

Jeb Bush made this campaign commercial in 2002. Thirteen years later, Sergio Bendixen, one of the best-known Democratic consultants to Latino candidates in the business, still shows it to focus groups. Doesn't matter that it was made by a guy on the other side. He says it unfailingly makes at least one person well up.

"What he figured out," says Bendixen, "is how proud members of each group are of their nationality and their culture. He knows that's a magic formula."

I had originally assumed, somewhat cynically, that Jeb Bush was not an honorary Hispanic but an honorary Cuban, representing solely the interests of Florida's wealthiest group of Latin Americans. Not so, according to Bendixen and many others I spoke to: In Jeb's days as governor, Latinos of all stripes liked him. When I ask Bendixen why, given that Hispanics have shown a demonstrable preference in surveys for expanding the role of government, he gives a simple answer: Jeb protected their dignity when others would not. "When Pete Wilson was the big leader of this huge anti-immigrant movement" -- Prop 187 in California -- "Jeb Bush and Giuliani were the only two Republicans who had the guts to say there was nothing to be gained." Isaac Lee, the CEO of Fusion and president of news for Univision, says something similar: "When you say that a vast group of people -- people who include your sister or your father or a close friend -- should be electrified on a fence, nothing else is worth listening to because you're being insulted." So when Jeb starts talking about compassion toward immigrants, says Lee, "immediately, how he feels about big government is less important."

Needless to say, this rhetoric does not endear him to the Republican base, the tea party in particular. Last year, at his father's own library, Jeb went so far as to say that those who came to the United States in search of a better life for their children "broke the law, but it's not a felony; it's an act of love." Yet Jeb has actually met with members of Congress (like Matt Salmon of Arizona) who are closely affiliated with the tea party in order to change their minds on this subject, says Clint Bolick, who co-authored a book on immigration with the governor. Luis Gutiérrez, the Democratic congressman who's been trying in vain to pass comprehensive immigration reform on the Hill, recently declared that Jeb was the best Republican option Democrats had.

These efforts may seem quixotic. But how could one be married to a Mexican woman and live (and do business) in Miami and not be concerned about issues of immigration?

Jeb met his wife, Columba (known to everyone as "Colu"), as an exchange student in Mexico when he was just 17 years old. He married her less than four years later, at the University of Texas, where he majored in Latin American studies. His mother was not pleased, nor was his father always tactful about Jeb's choice. "Remember," says Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat who briefly served in Congress, "he takes this personally. His own father referred to his grandchildren as 'the little brown ones.' " A true story, from 1988.

Writing in The Atlantic, the author and former presidential speechwriter David Frum had perhaps the most insightful reading of Jeb's marriage to Columba. He compared the former Florida governor to Barack Obama, of all people, noting that both men have "openly and publicly struggled with their ambivalence about their family inheritance." He continued:

Both responded by leaving the place of their youth to create new identities for themselves: Barack Obama, as an organizer in the poor African-American neighborhoods of Chicago; Jeb Bush, in Mexico, Venezuela, and, at the last, in Cuban-influenced Miami. Both are men who have talked a great deal about the feeling of being "between two worlds": Obama, in his famous autobiography; Bush, in his speeches. Both chose wives who would more deeply connect them to their new, chosen identity. Both derived from their new identity a sharp critique of their nation as it is.
As strange as it is to say, Jeb may be the true black sheep of the family, not W.

It's not an accident that Jeb and Columba landed in Miami. The city, particularly the community of Coral Gables, is rivaled by few places in the United States for its Latin biculturalism. Columba is family-focused, highly private, and less comfortable speaking English than Jeb is speaking Spanish; scour the web and you'll find almost no video footage of her, just enough to see that she has a gentle voice and stands a mere five feet tall. Jeb's first run for governor in 1994 was reportedly very hard on her and their marriage, likely contributing to his conversion to Catholicism. When he won and moved his family to Tallahassee, she was miserable. It's very hard to say what kind of First Lady she would be, given how limelight-avoidant she's been. "She would take on domestic violence and anti-drug programs," predicts Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a longtime Miami congresswoman and supporter of Jeb's. "But I don't think she'll dance with late-night-TV hosts."

At home with Columba, Jeb speaks mainly in Spanish, which he refined during his three-year stint in Venezuela, where he opened a branch of the Texas Commerce Bank. Like many bilingual people, he thinks in his second language, not just speaks it, and it's startling sometimes to hear him abruptly go to Spanish, mid-­sentence, continuing with the same verve. "When he switches from English to Spanish," says Ros-Lehtinen, "he comes across as a warmer person. He'll turn into a regular guy and not be so focused on being on-message."

I'd had this very thought. Just over a month ago, while visiting Puerto Rico, the governor had been asked, in English, whether he'd ever attended a gay wedding or would consider doing so. He answered that no, he hadn't, but "that's not to say I wouldn't." He then followed up in Spanish with a much more forceful affirmation: Claro que sí. Of course he would attend a gay wedding.

Jeb's biculturalism was likely key to his accumulation of power in the state. One of the now-obscure parts of his résumé is that he reinvented the Florida GOP, using the power of his name and connections to conscript many of the Cuban powerhouse politicians who now make up its spine. When Jeb first arrived in Miami in 1980, most of the Cuban politicos were Democrats, and they were getting nowhere in the primaries. Jeb soon took over the Miami-Dade Republican Party ("What a thankless job that was," says Ros-Lehtinen) and turned it into a recruiting tool for Cubans, convincing them one by one that the GOP better represented their values.

Today, Cubans are not quite as influential in Florida politics. They are no longer the majority of the state's Hispanic electorate. The new generation of Florida Latinos tends to lean more left than right, and even Cubans in the state have lately been tempted by Democrats, with 48 percent of them voting for Obama in the last election. Recent public-opinion surveys have made it clear that Hispanics overwhelmingly favor increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing the minimum wage. Jeb does not stand for these ideas; Hillary does. She, too, is popular with Latinos.

But if presidential elections are won or lost in Florida, and if Florida's electoral votes are won or lost based on the Hispanic vote, then Jeb, with his longtime celebration of those many, many flags, may be the only Republican candidate with a fighting chance to beat her. "Even Marco Rubio would be more limited to the Cuban base," says Bendixen. Rubio, for better or for worse, is still affiliated with the anti-immigrant tea party. Plenty of non-Cuban Latinos remember his comment from 2009 -- "Nothing against immigrants, but my parents were exiles" -- and hold it against him, because it implied that those who came here seeking economic opportunity deserved less. (It has since come out that Rubio's parents came here for economic opportunity themselves, rather than fleeing from Castro.) Ironically, it also turns out to be important that Jeb is not Latino. "Rubio is from the community," explains Anthony Suarez, the president of the Puerto Rican bar association and a former state legislator. "But Jeb is not. He can say, 'Immigrants are just other Americans.' " A gringo agitating on behalf of immigration rights -- what could be more powerful than that?

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Obama administration went to Jeb Bush for Common Core tips (Blake Neff, Jun 2, 2015, The Christians)

Emails released Thursday by Buzzfeed reveal that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sought and received advice about Common Core from an unlikely source: former Florida Gov. and possible Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.

Why would our Republican president go to anyone besides the Bush brothers in trying to improve public education policy?

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 PM


The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion (CLYDE HABERMAN, 5/31/15, NY Times)

After the passage of 47 years, Dr. Ehrlich offers little in the way of a mea culpa. Quite the contrary. Timetables for disaster like those he once offered have no significance, he told Retro Report, because to someone in his field they mean something "very, very different" from what they do to the average person. The end is still nigh, he asserted, and he stood unflinchingly by his 1960s insistence that population control was required, preferably through voluntary methods. But if need be, he said, he would endorse "various forms of coercion" like eliminating "tax benefits for having additional children." Allowing women to have as many babies as they wanted, he said, is akin to letting everyone "throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor's backyard as they want."

Dr. Ehrlich's ominous declarations cause head-shaking among some who were once his allies, people who four decades ago shared his fears about overpopulation. One of them is Stewart Brand, founding editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. On this topic, Mr. Brand may be deemed a Keynesian, in the sense of an observation often attributed to John Maynard Keynes: "When the facts change, I change my mind, sir. What do you do?" Mr. Brand's formulation for Retro Report was to ask, "How many years do you have to not have the world end" to reach a conclusion that "maybe it didn't end because that reason was wrong?"

One thing that happened on the road to doom was that the world figured out how to feed itself despite its rising numbers. No small measure of thanks belonged to Norman E. Borlaug, an American plant scientist whose breeding of high-yielding, disease-resistant crops led to the agricultural savior known as the Green Revolution. While shortages persisted in some regions, they were often more a function of government incompetence, corruption or civil strife than of an absolute lack of food.

Some preternaturally optimistic analysts concluded that humans would always find their way out of tough spots. Among them was Julian L. Simon, an economist who established himself as the anti-Ehrlich, arguing that "humanity's condition will improve in just about every material way." In 1997, a year before he died, Mr. Simon told Wired magazine that "whatever the rate of population growth is, historically it has been that the food supply increases at least as fast, if not faster."

Somewhere on the spectrum between Dr. Ehrlich the doomsayer and Mr. Simon the doomslayer (as Wired called him) lies Fred Pearce, a British writer who specializes in global population. His concern is not that the world has too many people. In fact, birthrates are now below long-term replacement levels, or nearly so, across much of Earth, not just in the industrialized West and Japan but also in India, China, much of Southeast Asia, Latin America -- just about everywhere except Africa, although even there the continentwide rates are declining. "Girls that are never born cannot have babies," Mr. Pearce wrote in a 2010 book, "The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet's Surprising Future" (Beacon Press).

Because of improved health standards, birthing many children is not the survival imperative for families that it once was. In cramped cities, large families are not the blessing they were in the agricultural past. And women in many societies are ever more independent, socially and economically; they no longer accept that their fate is to be endlessly pregnant. If anything, the worry in many countries is that their populations are aging and that national vitality is ebbing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Indian PM Announces Historic Visit to Israel (Yair Rosenberg, June 1, 2015, Tablet)

In the coming year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will become the first Indian premier in history to visit Israel. He will also travel to Jordan and the Palestinian territories. The move was announced Sunday by Modi's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, and marks yet another recent landmark in Israeli-Indian relations. In September, Modi met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, in the first such meeting in 11 years.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Gaza Salafist leader killed in gunfight with Hamas cops (AFP, June 2, 2015)

A local Salafist leader was shot dead in Gaza City on Tuesday during a confrontation with Hamas police and security officials who went to arrest him, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry said, as tensions between Hamas and Islamic State supporters in the Strip ramp up.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Sen. Cassidy Plans Obamacare Alternative (Elizabeth Harrington, June 2, 2015, Washington Free Beacon)

Cassidy, a doctor who unseated Mary Landrieu (D., La.) last November, narrowly focused his bill to be a response to a ruling in favor of Burwell, which would take away subsidies in states that are operated by the federal exchange. Only 13 states operate their own health insurance marketplaces, since the $205 million Hawaii exchange announced it would fold and be taken over by the federal government.

The Patient Freedom Act would give states the option of keeping Obamacare by establishing a state-based exchange, or using existing funding to provide tax credits to create Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) for the uninsured, averaging $1,500 per person.

"We are trying to give the state an option other than setting up an Obamacare exchange," Cassidy said.

"The president, I'm sure, will make it easy [to set up a state exchange], because he wants his law to take root," he said. "If we don't have a better plan, it will take root."

If states chose Cassidy's option, they could do away with various mandates under Obamacare, including the individual and employer mandates and requirements for minimum essential coverage. The legislation would also equalize tax treatment, and require health providers to publish cash prices for services reimbursed from an HSA.

Price transparency would enable patients to know the price before booking an appointment for medical services such as a CAT scan, which Cassidy said can range between $100 and $2,500 depending on the time of day.

Forget the credits, just create the accounts and make the deposits.
Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Sepp Blatter finally lets go of Fifa as FBI noose tightens (Owen Gibson,  2 June 2015, The Guardian)

Some of those close to him say that privately he was more concerned than he let on as rumours, fed by the networks of private investigators employed by Blatter and his rivals, swirled on the progress of the FBI investigation into alleged money laundering and tax evasion. [...]

In the face of a promise from US investigators that more indictments would follow and reading the scale and magnitude of the case being built up by the FBI and the US Justice Department, they say he finally listened.

In particular, his daughter Corinne is believed to have encouraged him to stand down.

Nor can he have been unaware of the fact that one by one, those closest to him over four decades at Fifa were being picked off.

June 1, 2015

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


Slim Pickings : The Democrats' weak bench. (FRED BARNES, 6/08/15, Weekly Standard)

The Democratic presidential candidates are a sad lot. Hillary Clinton is clumsily positioning herself inside the left wing of her party. She won't take questions. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is 73, looks 10 years older, and says a 90 percent income-tax rate would be fine with him. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island didn't run for reelection as governor in 2014 because his approval rating was so low. Jim Webb, the former senator from Virginia, is a better novelist than politician. As a campaigner, he's invisible. Martin O'Malley, ex-governor of Maryland, is chiefly famous for his enthusiasm for taxing anything and everything. [...]

For good reason, voters have a preference for electing governors to the White House. They've done things and have records. Senators give speeches and vote on legislation. Among Republicans, Jindal, Walker, Christie, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry, and John Kasich have impressive records as governors. Democrats have Chafee, a flop as governor, and O'Malley, the tax man.

The simple truth is Democrats have a weak bench at the presidential level, Republicans a strong one. This is also true at the state level, where Republicans dominate. Democrats hold 18 of 50 governorships and a mere 30 of 98 legislative chambers. Republicans are blessed with the most legislative seats they've controlled since the 1920s. Democrats are barely hanging on.

Strange as it sounds, the natural Democratic nominee is Jerry Brown.
Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


2015's Safest States to Live In (Richie Bernardo

[W]alletHub identified which of the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia offer the safest and most budget-friendly environments. We used 20 key metrics to analyze each state according to different safety standards, taking into account the rates of crime and traffic accidents, for instance, as well as data related to employer insurance coverage, climate disasters and more. Our findings, as well as expert commentary and a detailed methodology, can be found below.

Overall Rank


"Financial Safety" Rank

"Road Safety" Rank

"Workplace Safety" Rank

"Natural Disasters" Rank

"Home & Community Safety" Rank

4New Hampshire7222614
8Rhode Island41161176

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Marylanders Don't Like Martin O'Malley, So Why Would The Rest Of America? (HARRY ENTEN, 6/01/15, 538)

O'Malley has essentially zero support from Democratic office-holders.

He's garnering just 2 percent support in Iowa, New Hampshire and national primary polls -- far worse than Barack Obama at this point eight years ago.

O'Malley made some noise about running to Clinton's left, but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is already occupying that ideological space. Meanwhile, O'Malley has been attacked from the left for his policing strategy during his time as Baltimore mayor.

But there's a far simpler reason for why I've doubted O'Malley's ability to compete: The people who know him best don't like him. O'Malley is starting way down in the polls, and he's not well known. And we have evidence that more O'Malley exposure doesn't equal more O'Malley support. He earned just 3 percent (compared to Clinton's 63 percent) in a poll of Democratic voters in Maryland conducted in October by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland.

If this strikes you as a surprisingly low percentage for a two-term Maryland governor and former mayor of the state's most populous city, it should. It speaks to the fact that O'Malley was unpopular enough in deep-blue Maryland that by the end of his second term, Republican Larry Hogan came out of nowhere to defeat O'Malley's lieutenant governor in the 2014 governor's race.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Christie's flip on Common Core, and the growing character issue (Tom Moran, 6/01/15, Star-Ledger Editorial Board)

[I]t's time to discuss the character issue. Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, is taking heat for his support of Common Core, but he's sticking with it. So is Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

They seem to have something Christie and the other Lilliputians in this race lack: Core convictions.

And as usual, Christie larded up his speech on Thursday with falsehoods.

He said Common Core was a federal program that President Obama is forcing on the states. In truth, these standards were developed by the states themselves, and are optional under federal law.

He suggested that New Jersey didn't take part in writing the standards. In fact, our educators were at the table.

He faulted Common Core for failing to close the achievement gap. In fact, a core purpose of these standards is to finally ensure that all American kids aim at the same target, and that progress can be measured. Christie offered nothing on his own to address the gap.

It's measuring failure that has unions, backwards states and suburban moms howling.  And that's enough folks that some pols will be willing to pander.
Posted by orrinj at 5:05 PM


The Shale Boom Shifts Into Higher Gear (DONALD L. LUSKIN And  MICHAEL WARREN, May 31, 2015, WSJ)

The increase in domestic crude oil production of 3.6 million barrels a day in less than four years, reversing almost four decades of decline, has created a spectacular macroeconomic anomaly--a crash in oil prices without a recession to cause it.

Now, in response to sharply lower prices, domestic oil producers have shed jobs and cut operating rigs by more than half. [...]

The nimblest and smartest competitors have worked relentlessly to increase their productivity. Leading-edge operators report that they can produce more profitably today at a price of $65 a barrel than they could at $95 a barrel three years ago. Where can they be profitable three years hence--$40 a barrel? $30? The oil patch today is afire with the same technological imperative and competitive mission that has powered the U.S. electronics revolution--think Moore's Law--to dash headlong down the learning curve, crushing costs and prices and making up for it in volume.

Today's surge in production is coming predominantly from wells that are horizontally drilled and hydraulically fractured from drill pads with multiple wells. Because such wells exhaust quickly, many more of them must be drilled. The conventional wisdom is that fracking is therefore less amenable to the economies of scale exploited by traditional methods. But for today's shale operators, that's a feature, not a bug.

For one thing, the increase in the number of wells--which, necessarily, entails a great diversity of geologies and formations--means a commensurate increase in learning about a galaxy of processes that can be tweaked, combined and recombined to increase production and reduce costs. It's simple: When you get more at-bats, you become a better batter.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM


The Education Myth (Ricardo Hausmann, 6/01/15, Project Syndicate)

In fact, the push for better education is an experiment that has already been carried out globally. And, as my Harvard colleague Lant Pritchett has pointed out, the long-term payoff has been surprisingly disappointing.

In the 50 years from 1960 to 2010, the global labor force's average time in school essentially tripled, from 2.8 years to 8.3 years. This means that the average worker in a median country went from less than half a primary education to more than half a high school education.

How much richer should these countries have expected to become? In 1965, France had a labor force that averaged less than five years of schooling and a per capita income of $14,000 (at 2005 prices). In 2010, countries with a similar level of education had a per capita income of less than $1,000.

In 1960, countries with an education level of 8.3 years of schooling were 5.5 times richer than those with 2.8 year of schooling. By contrast, countries that had increased their education from 2.8 years of schooling in 1960 to 8.3 years of schooling in 2010 were only 167% richer. Moreover, much of this increase cannot possibly be attributed to education, as workers in 2010 had the advantage of technologies that were 50 years more advanced than those in 1960. Clearly, something other than education is needed to generate prosperity.

As is often the case, the experience of individual countries is more revealing than the averages. China started with less education than Tunisia, Mexico, Kenya, or Iran in 1960, and had made less progress than them by 2010. And yet, in terms of economic growth, China blew all of them out of the water. The same can be said of Thailand and Indonesia vis-à-vis the Philippines, Cameroon, Ghana, or Panama. 
Again, the fast growers must be doing something in addition to providing education.

The experience within countries is also revealing. In Mexico, the average income of men aged 25-30 with a full primary education differs by more than a factor of three between poorer municipalities and richer ones. The difference cannot possibly be related to educational quality, because those who moved from poor municipalities to richer ones also earned more.

And there is more bad news for the "education, education, education" crowd: Most of the skills that a labor force possesses were acquired on the job. What a society knows how to do is known mainly in its firms, not in its schools. At most modern firms, fewer than 15% of the positions are open for entry-level workers, meaning that employers demand something that the education system cannot - and is not expected - to provide.

Universal public schooling is a thing in America so that we could create better citizens, not to try and educate everyone.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Israel's Charade of Democracy (HAGAI EL-AD, MAY 31, 2015, NY Times)

[I]f the occupation has become permanent in all but its name, what about the voting rights of Palestinians?

Two months ago, on election day in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel's Arab citizens were flocking to the polls "in droves"-- a clear effort to cast the voting of one-fifth of Israel's citizens as a danger to be counteracted. That undermined basic democratic principles, but it paled in contrast to the status of the Palestinian population living next door in territories under direct or indirect Israeli rule. They have no say at all in choosing the government of the occupying power that is in ultimate command of their fate.

If you look at all the land Israel controls between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, that area contains some 8.3 million Israelis and Palestinians of voting age. Roughly 30 percent -- about 2.5 million -- are Palestinians living outside Israel under varying degrees of Israeli control -- in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They have some ability to elect Palestinian bodies with limited functions. But they are powerless to choose Israeli officials, who make the weightiest decisions affecting them.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


...but a third day of rain seems like a good time for Uncle Tupelo:

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Thousands of Arabs driven out by Kurds' ethnic cleansing (Hannah Lucinda Smith, June 1 2015, Times of London)

Thousands of civilians have fled their homes in northern Syria as Kurdish forces carry out what appears to be a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Sunni Arabs.

A source from one of the largest humanitarian organisations working inside Syria told The Times that the Kurdish people's protection units (YPG) -- the west's closest allies in the war against Islamic State -- have been burning Arab villages in areas of northeastern Syria under their control.

The only real question since we decided to liberate the people there from Saddam was whether the Sunni of Western Iraq could form themselves into a coherent third nation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:33 PM


Ex-FIFA Official Cites Satirical Article From The Onion in His Self-Defense (ROBERT MACKEY, 5/31/15, NY Times)

Jack Warner, a former vice president of world soccer's governing body, FIFA, defended himself against corruption charges on Sunday by citing an article from The Onion, apparently unaware that it was satire.

Mr. Warner, 72, who was arrested last week in connection with a wide-ranging criminal investigation by the United States Justice Department, held up the faux news report, calling it evidence of an American conspiracy, in a video statement that was uploaded to the web and then removed later in the day.

Of course, the funniest part is that taking down FIFA is an American conspiracy, as are all global law enforcement actions.
Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Supreme Court Rules Against Abercrombie & Fitch in Headscarf Case (ALI WEINBERG and KATE SHAW, 6/01/15, ABC News)

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 today that the retail chain Abercrombie & Fitch violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when an assistant manager denied Samantha Elauf, an observant Muslim woman, a job because her headscarf violated Abercrombie's "Look Policy," that prohibits "caps" from being worn on the sale floor.

Abercrombie acknowledged that was why Elauf was not hired.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Americans are savers now. It's a problem for the economy (Patrick Gillespie, 6/01/15, CNNMoney)

People in the U.S. spent less in April than they did in March, according to the latest data from the Commerce Department. It's hardly a new trend. Americans have been hesitant to buy much at the store or elsewhere for months.

Instead, they have been increasing their savings. The annual savings rate, now 5.6%, is higher than it was a year ago, and significantly higher than the pre-recession norm of around 3%, according to the Federal Reserve.

That same dollar will buy you more tomorrow than today.

Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Saudi Shia mobilise self-defence groups as Isis threat grows (Simeon Kerr, 5/29/15, Financial Times)

Members of Saudi Arabia's Shia minority are forming civil defence groups after twin suicide bombings over the past two Fridays -- claimed by the Sunni jihadi Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis).

The attacks, which killed about 25 people, mark an escalation of Isis activity in the oil-rich kingdom, with the group saying it wants to rid the Arabian peninsula of Shia Muslims.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


Group says California immigration policies contributed to drought (KATE LINTHICUM, 5/25/15, LA Times)

 The group that paid for it, Californians for Population Stabilization, has long called for stricter enforcement of immigration laws, arguing that the state's natural resources cannot sustain high levels of population growth.

The group has used the recent spotlight on California's dwindling water reserves to try to gain support for its many favored causes, which include ending the right to citizenship for every child born on U.S. soil and opposing state efforts to give immigrants in the country illegally access to Medicaid.

This month, CAPS asked its 128,000 Facebook followers to "'Like' if you agree California's drought could have been prevented with responsible immigration policies and limited population growth."

Last month New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine said analysts were overlooking the root causes of the drought -- that while immigrants to California "may be nice people ... they're competing for water resources."

In an article in the National Review, Stanford academic Victor Davis Hanson argued that while California's current dry spell is not novel, "What is new is that the state has never had 40 million residents during a drought -- well over 10 million more than during the last dry spell in the early 1990s." [...]

Some drought experts have taken issue with such claims, pointing out that the majority of the state's water supports agriculture.

Blaming the drought on immigrants "doesn't fit the facts," said William Patzert, a climatologist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The drought is caused by meager snowpack and poor planning, he said, "not because the immigrants are drinking too much water or taking too many showers."

Always fun to see the nativists fellow-travel with the Ehrlich crowd.  Malthusianism is one of those classic psychoses that both wings are prey to, because, while it fails to conform to reality it does mesh with their ideologies.